HC Deb 31 March 1999 vol 328 cc1110-53 4.43 pm
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Stephen Byers)

I beg to move amendment No. 59, in page 14, leave out from beginning of line 10 to end of line 40 on page 15 and insert— '. Schedule (Employment Agencies) shall have effect.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 1, in page 14, leave out lines 12 to 21.

No. 36, in page 14, line 21, at end insert— '(ed) regulating the conduct of hirers in paying appropriate fees to such agencies and businesses for supplying workers for permanent or temporary employment.'. No. 2, in page 14, line 21, at end insert— 'Provided that regulations under this section shall only be made with the purpose of protecting employees' rights and not otherwise to interfere with the commercial relationship between such agencies or businesses and employers'. No. 35, in page 14, line 21, at end insert— 'Provided that regulations under this section shall only be made in such a way as to avoid prejudice to the ability of the private recruitment industry to continue to expand its role in the labour market.'. No. 3, in page 14, line 43, leave out from beginning to end of line 5 on page 15.

No. 34, in page 15, line 38, at end insert— '(6A) In section 12—

  1. (a)in subsection (5), at the beginning insert "Subject to subsection (6) below,";
  2. (b)after subsection (5) insert— "(6) Regulations under section 5 shall not be made unless a draft of them has been laid before, and approved by Resolution of, each House of Parliament.".'.
Government new schedule 2—Employment Agencies.

Mr. Byers

I shall speak to amendment No. 59 and new schedule 2, but reserve my comments on the amendments tabled by the Opposition until I wind up the debate later this evening.

I shall explain the motives behind amendment No. 59 and the changes that we intend to introduce through new schedule 2. The proposals make changes that we believe are necessary to the employment agency standards inspectorate's powers of entry and to allow it to take away copies of documents.

It was observed during the passage of the Employment Agencies Bill in 1973 that it was modelled in part on the Croydon Corporation Act 1960. I do not know whether many hon. Members are experts on the Croydon Corporation Act 1960 but, if they are, they will know that the inspection powers follow the lines of governing agencies in the Edwardian era. The wording can be traced back further to the Manchester Corporation Act 1903. I know that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is an expert on that, and I am sure that he will regale us in great detail with sections of that Act. As the proceedings move towards midnight, we shall look forward to that with great pleasure.

Paragraphs 4(2) to 4(5) of new schedule 2 amend section 9 of the 1973 Act to ensure that its powers are appropriate to the beginning of the next century. Modern inspection powers are all the more important now that bureaux no longer have to be licensed. New section 9(1A) enables the Department of Trade and Industry's inspectors to enter relevant business premises, as defined in new section 9(1B). Those provisions extend the range of premises that the DTI's inspectors may enter in the course of their duties.

On the face of it, that seems a draconian power, but we hope that it will help employment agencies. The present wording of the 1973 Act allows DTI inspectors to enter premises to examine documents only if those premises are being used by an employment agency, even though, for practical reasons, the agency may have documents in another building. The changes will introduce flexibility to ensure that documents can be retained elsewhere provided that they can be inspected at reasonable notice and in a reasonable way.

New section 9(1C) takes into account the fact that we are now living in the computer age and allows for computerised information to be held remotely, provided that it is accessible from the relevant premises. The DTI's inspectors will not be able to take documents away with them, but new proposals will allow them to take copies of relevant documents.

Paragraph 4(4) amends section 9(2) of the Employment Agencies Act by replacing the existing provision against self-incrimination with a new provision that takes into account the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Saunders v. the United Kingdom.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)


Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mr. Byers

I give way to my hon. Friend.

Dr. Godman

Will the provisions have any effect on subcontractors, some of whom are utterly unscrupulous, who employ foreign nationals to work in our offshore oil and gas installations? Many of the employees concerned are taken on for disgracefully low wages and their terms and conditions of employment are, or should be, utterly unacceptable in an industrial society such as ours.

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend has raised two distinct issues. On levels of pay, he will be aware—he drew the situation to my attention—that people working in the circumstances that he described were not covered by the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, but we introduced in the House a few days ago an order—

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

indicated assent.

Mr. Byers

As the hon. Gentleman indicates from a sedentary position, we introduced an order that will extend the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act to individuals working in precisely those circumstances. Unfortunately, those provisions will not take effect tomorrow, when the national minimum wage will come into force for the bulk of employees, but on 1 May. Although that measure will take effect a month later, I am sure that it will be widely welcome.

We are trying to deal with my hon. Friend's second point, about abuse and exploitation, through the regulations that we shall introduce through the Bill. I can give him some comfort by saying that, when we introduce the proposals by way of regulation once we have consulted on the detail, he will be satisfied that we have addressed those concerns.

Mr. Bercow

The Secretary of State's historical exegesis has been much enjoyed so far by a packed House. On the subject of the notice required before premises are visited and inspected, will he assure the House that he will be guided by one or other of the many precedents in other legislation? It would be helpful if he could tell us at this point by which he will be guided.

Mr. Byers

This legislation stands on its own, and precedents will no doubt be created when it comes to be interpreted. It is far better to allow the courts to consider the wording that the House is putting in place and for them to interpret it accordingly. However, there are rules of statutory interpretation, which will apply to any legislation. It is wholly appropriate that the courts adopt that particular approach, and they will do so in the context of this legislation as they do with all other legislation.

Mr. Bercow

That was a marvellously fluent response, but I am afraid that the fog has, if anything, increased. I intend no discourtesy to the Secretary of State, but will he give the House an idea of what he would consider in this context to be a reasonable period of notice?

Mr. Byers

I have studied law for far too long not to know that one should not try to define what is meant by "reasonable" in any hypothetical situation. It must always be—[Interruption.] I see that the Opposition Whip, who is a lawyer, agrees with that approach.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

I was amused by it.

Mr. Byers

That probably speaks volumes. Reasonableness will always be a matter for the courts to decide in the circumstances of any particular case. The important point to bear in mind is that, if that is what is required, the test of reasonableness, to which the hon. Member for Buckingham referred, must be considered in the circumstances of the case.

I was saying that, in relation to self-incrimination, we have to take into account the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Saunders v. the United Kingdom, and these measures do precisely that.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

In opposition, one is always keen to ensure that one makes a positive contribution to a Bill. I wonder whether the proposal was always intended to be concerned with self-incrimination. When I made a speech on precisely that point in Committee, the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry was unaware that, by allowing this sort of inspection, one was effectively giving an unwarranted—I use that word in both its senses—access to people's records. That is extremely important as, once enacted, the Bill will extend the offences that can be investigated by the investigator so that they cover almost anything.

Mr. Byers

My approach is that if good ideas that can improve the Bill are put forward in Committee—from whichever party they come—we should try to incorporate them on Report. This may well be an example of that happening. It is good practice and one which I intend to follow so that we end up with better legislation.

I hope that Government amendment No. 59 and new schedule 2 strike a careful balance between the needs of regulation and the regulated. I am sure that the majority of bureaux will welcome the modernisation of record-keeping and inspection powers and the up-to-date safeguards that we are putting in place while ensuring that we, as a Department, exercise our inspection powers.

This is a good opportunity to pay tribute to the majority of private recruitment agencies. They play a key role in meeting the demand for flexible and multi-skilled staff. They provide hirers with the means of coping with fluctuating demand, as well as providing specialist skills in recruitment. They also help find work for many people who might otherwise be unable to participate in the labour market. Employment agencies can play a valuable role. Indeed, the industry is one of the economy's success stories. It has grown continuously in recent years. Most measures show that it has more than tripled in size since 1992, and provisional figures for the third quarter of 1998 show growth of more than 20 per cent. over the previous year.

We believe that the existing framework of regulation no longer meets the needs of the industry or of its clients and therefore needs to be changed. There is much good practice and much that the industry should be commended for. We are wholly committed to maintaining flexibilities in the labour market, but underpinned by minimum standards for those in work. However, its role can continue to expand only if it is based on fair and non-restrictive terms applying to both hirers and workers.

I am pleased that, when we introduce new regulations to underpin this measure, we shall be removing three sets of regulations and replacing them with one set. We shall see a number of regulations fall by the wayside. There will be an overall reduction in the amount of regulation as a result of the proposals that we are bringing before the House.

Mr. Bercow

The Secretary of State's last point is of particular interest. In the light of the prospective reduction in regulation that he envisages, will he be a little more specific and tell us precisely what impact it will have on the net figure of 2,380 additional regulations that have spewed forth from the Government since 1 May 1997? What is the new figure? Will the right hon. Gentleman open Pandora's box and tell us?

Mr. Byers

Not in the precise terms in which the hon. Gentleman invites me to respond. However, in the final three years of the Conservative Government—I will remind him of the figures because they should be placed on the record—we saw more than 10,000 regulations introduced.

Mr. Bercow

That was Hezza's fault.

Mr. Byers

It may have been the fault of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) as President of the Board of Trade.

We shall see a significant reduction in regulation. We shall see three sets of regulations with seven schedules reduced to one set with four schedules. There will be a relatively significant reduction in the number of pages of regulations, from 22 to 18. We are moving in the right direction. Instead of regulation escalating all the time—this applies to Governments of our persuasion and also to those of Conservative persuasion—at least with this measure we are beginning to see a reduction at long last. I hope that this is the beginning of a substantial reduction in the pages of regulations, the sets of regulations and the schedules that implement regulations.

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth)

It may be worth while to point out, for the record, that it was not only the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) who oversaw the deregulation unit. Also involved were the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and the then hon. Member for Tatton, Mr. Hamilton. I wondered whether the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) would shake his head so vigorously given that information.

Mr. Byers

When the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who leads for the Opposition on these matters, was a Minister with responsibility for corporate affairs in the Department of Trade and Industry, he had a pretty bad record on regulation. We will reveal the figures in due course. Conservative Members will have to wait a while before we can open that particular Pandora's Box. I am sure that we will look forward to that with equal pleasure.

As I have said, the Bill begins the reduction of regulation. We want to do so in a way that modernises the approach to employment agencies. We do not want to create a revolution in the way in which the recruitment industry operates. The draft consultation document shows that we are seeking, in the main, to clarify existing standards and to eliminate those that are outdated.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am extremely surprised that the Secretary of State should say that there will be only a slight amendment to the regulations. Surely he understands the principle that interfering with a contract between an employment agency and the person doing the hiring of either permanents or temps, and banning temp to permanent fees, wholly undermines an industry which has 200,000 permanent employees and ensures that 900,000 people are in temporary work. We are seeing a fundamental change which could lead to the abolition of employment agencies.

5 pm

Mr. Byers

I think that I mentioned in my introductory remarks that I am leaving my detailed comments on those matters to when I reply to specific amendments. That seems to be appropriate. I shall respond when I have heard the arguments of Conservative Members.

We have produced draft regulations—and, indeed, are consulting upon them—because we have no doubt that improvements can be made. The consultation is genuine and if people can show me evidence of difficulties along the lines of those to which the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) referred, I will be prepared to look again at our approach to this matter. I do not have a closed mind and we have an opportunity to create a framework within which employment agencies, which have a crucial role to play, can work well and honestly in the future. I believe that we can achieve that and I want to achieve it together, rather than seek divisions on what is a genuine approach to the way in which we can move forward.

I know that the recruitment sector has a number of concerns. I hope that I will be able to offer some reassurance that our proposals are sound and will provide a basis for a strong and confident industry, which can look forward to a prosperous future. Many people will see opportunity in our proposals and I look forward to hearing their views, as well as those of Conservative Members and of hon. Members generally. I am sure that, based on those views, we will be able to introduce regulations that support the industry. I await with interest comments from Conservative Members on their amendments.

Mr. Boswell

I thank the Secretary of State for moving his amendment and I agree with the way in which he proposes to handle this rather complex group of amendments, which consists of a Government amendment, a Government new schedule and six amendments tabled by Conservative Members. If he has undertaken any detailed textual criticism of those amendments, he will know that they all have slightly different provenances. Nevertheless, all refer to an issue of considerable concern.

For reasons that may become apparent, I am becoming increasingly familiar with the ways of lawyers. It was perhaps a tribute to the Secretary of State's skills in that respect that he was able to move his amendment to what is undoubtedly the most contentious clause of the Bill in tones of such sweet reasonableness. We will probably have to take him at his word and answer him in his own terms.

I should record my considerable concern about the proposed means of proceeding. The Government are bent on consulting on new regulations. It would be welcome if, as a result, they turned out to be simpler, briefer and less intrusive on the activities of employment agencies, but on Tuesday of last week we had the remarkable experience on opening our post of being invited to consider 60 pages of a pre-consultation document, which was evidently delivered to us in circumstances of great secrecy and privilege. There was no realistic possibility of our studying the document before our proceedings began.

I should say at this point that the whole House will be waiting for the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), who knows about these things and will no doubt have a great deal to say on the details—indeed, I defer to his knowledge of the matter.

Be that as it may, the infelicity about consultation—it would have been nice if we had had it in time for us to think about the results before we debated them—has been compounded by the Government's introduction of new schedule 2. There may be other occasions on which we would want to discuss the general handling of the Bill, but the new schedule runs to three pages of fairly closely typed print and it had been introduced without explanation, although the Secretary of State has now provided that. We are pleased to have had his explanation and I am even more gratified that it was coincident with my feeble understanding of what was intended.

We think that we know what we are about; as the Secretary of State said, it has to do with inspection and evidence. It is worth flagging up the point that it is becoming a habit for the Government to take the meat out of clauses, use them as paving measures and put all the meat into new schedules. New schedule 2 includes the meat of what we have been debating plus the new inspection provisions.

Perhaps we need not debate that method of drafting now, but there are concerns of substance and procedure relating to the new schedule. I was a little concerned when the Secretary of State said that it would make matters easier for agencies. When one hears that, one is always a little suspicious.

An example that might be congenial to the Secretary of State—and to his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)—is a chilling description I once heard of a visit late at night by the then nationalist South African police, which was described as the "friendly knock" of the police. I am sure that the Secretary of State will want to reassure the House that his inspectors do not work on that basis.

The schedule embodies and extends new powers. Even if the Secretary of State has the greatest of good will, the powers may cause difficulties, particularly where agencies may not be sympathetic to the conduct of the legislation or anxious to be entirely compliant with it or the wishes of inspectors.

The Secretary of State is a lawyer, and I am not, and he has access to advice that I do not have. On Second Reading, he issued a certificate to the House that the provisions of the Bill were compliant with the European convention on human rights. He referred to convention cases that informed Government decisions. He has now tabled a new schedule, with direct implications for human rights.

I did not participate in the debates on the Human Rights Act 1998, and I am not clear whether the new schedule is automatically certificated as compliant with the convention, whether it is deemed to be compliant or whether it has not been considered. Clearly, the Secretary of State would like it to be compliant, as would the Opposition. However, the matter should be explained to the House.

Government amendment No. 59 has some superficial similarity to some of the amendments that we have tabled to delete subsections of clause 28. However, the Secretary of State proposes the insertion of an even bigger schedule. That schedule has arrived at the last minute, and the gap between the conclusion of the Committee and Report has been sadly compressed. We have not had enough time to table probing amendments to the schedule; nor have we had the opportunity to consider fully the matter with our advisers, who might wish to reconsider and make suggestions for another place. The Bill passes from our control shortly, but that does not mean that the issues should not be addressed.

Paragraph 3 of the proposed schedule refers to classes of cases that the Secretary of State may prescribe as exceptions. However, no reference is made to any criteria by which the Secretary of State should decide the cases. It will be important—if only because he will wish to avoid judicial review—for him to do so on a proper, procedural and principled basis. He might wish to explain to the House the kind of criteria that would be appropriate.

Paragraph 3(c) could abolish what is known in the trade as temp to perm fees, and would drive a coach and horses through the custom and practice of the operation of employment agencies and businesses in this country. I shall return to that when I deal with the amendments that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have tabled.

The Secretary of State referred to inspection and new powers. It is characteristic of the drafting of this legislation that paragraph 4 of new schedule 2 inserts new subsections in the Employment Agencies Act 1973, one of which provides a power to enter any relevant business premises". No restrictions are prescribed. There is no reference to entry at any reasonable time—not necessarily on notice—or entry with any reasonable force that might be appropriate to secure access. I think that there ought to be such restrictions. Nor is there any requirement for an inspector who has had to force an entry to make good any damage that he may have caused.

Paragraph 4(3), interestingly, states that an officer may require any person on the premises … to inform him where and by whom the record, other document or information is kept". That is a reasonable requirement if the person knows, but it is not very reasonable if the person does not know. I feel that there should be a safeguard to cover those who, in good faith, may not have such knowledge. At present, the requirement applies to any person on the premises", not any person who is likely to have the information in question. That could be a cleaning lady, a tea lady or some other member of staff. Indeed, in some cases data protection legislation might make it impossible for a person to release the information.

The proposed subsection (1B)(c) of section 9 refers to an officer having "reasonable cause to believe" that premises are being used for the carrying on of a business by a person who also carries on or has carried on an employment agency or employment business". The Secretary of State mentioned that extension of powers, and I understand it. I know that, as a term of art, officers are expected to act reasonably at all times, but I am not sure whether an officer should be required to make a formal declaration to that effect, or whether it should be assumed, if he goes on to look at other premises, that he has reached such a conclusion. I suspect that, as a safeguard in terms of human rights, he ought to be required to make a formal statement.

Let me make two more points about the new schedule. Both have been made in earlier debates, but I think they are important. Paragraph 4(6) refers to a restriction on the disclosure of information. That is a widening provision, in that the release of information would no longer be tied to matters pursuant to or arising out of the Act". I am not sure that that is very safe. In Committee, the proposal coincided with press reports suggesting that, for example, the Child Support Agency and the Inland Revenue would be able to work more closely together.

There are some important safeguards, in terms of civil liberties, relating to the release of information by one Department to another. I think that, as a lawyer, the Secretary of State will want to ensure that those provisions are considered properly, and are proportionate only to any particular need.

My final point about the new schedule relates to the offences provisions, which have also been referred to in earlier debates. The Government want to increase the qualifying time from within six months following the offence in question to either within 3 years after the date of the commission of the offence or within 6 months after the date on which evidence sufficient in the opinion of the Secretary of State to justify the proceeding came to his knowledge. I shall not repeat the arguments that have already been presented, but I feel that three years would be a bit long in some cases. Evidence might be destroyed, and difficulties might be caused even for parties acting with good will.

5.15 pm

Let me now deal with the Opposition amendments. We are not at all happy with the current drafting of clause 28. Amendment No. 1 proposes the omission of lines that redraft the Employment Agencies Act 1973, because we prefer the status quo. We do not think that the Government have yet made out a case for change. The 1973 Act was in itself a departure from the norm of non-partiality in business activities—the general principle that particular business sectors should not be subject to legislation unless there is a problem that must be dealt with.

The Government of the time were prepared to countenance legislation that imposed specific restrictions in relation to agencies, with which the Secretary of State is familiar. I shall not reopen that debate. Although some of his hon. Friends might have disagreed had they been present, the Secretary of State implied that employment agencies and businesses had conducted themselves well, that they were useful and that he wanted to help them; and I think that the legislative umbrella under which they operate has itself worked reasonably well. The Secretary of State owes it to the House to say a little more about why the Government consider this change necessary, especially as it will further restrict the activities of employment agencies.

The following three amendments are all designed to curtail what might be termed over-enthusiasm with regulations. Amendment No. 36 provides for regulating the conduct of hirers in paying appropriate fees to such agencies and businesses". It is less about the fees themselves than about the way in which hirers go about their business. Is it "oppressive", as I think the lawyers would say? Is it unfair? Or is it the reasonable conduct that a well-founded, properly run agency should be undertaking?

Amendment No. 2 takes a slightly different approach. It deals with the purpose of regulations, and suggests that they should be restricted to the purpose of protecting employees' rights and not otherwise to interfere with the commercial relationship". The Bill provides for such interference. If the Secretary of State can make out a case for saying that, without such provision, it would be impossible to safeguard employees' rights, and that, in the circumstances, it is reasonable, we shall consider it; but subversion of the basic operation of the market is something which, given his rhetoric, the Secretary of State appears not to want. Certainly Conservative Members do not want it.

Amendment No. 35 stresses the importance of preventing regulations from prejudicing the ability of the private recruitment industry to continue to expand its role in the labour market. It is a useful amendment. Indeed, those are useful agencies, and they should not be seen as being unduly restrictive. The Secretary of State says that he wants to help them; well, he should put his money, or his regulations, where his mouth is.

Amendment No. 3 deals with the main issue: an agency's ability to claw back recruitment fees if employer and employee conclude a private arrangement for permanent employment—the so-called temp to perm arrangement. Such fees are analogous to the fee that would have been levied had the employer taken on the employee from an agency on a permanent basis in the first place. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset is an expert; but I cannot see that it is wrong to secure that in principle. The two cases are virtually the same. It is not a restraint of trade. The Government may, even if they do not intend to, preclude that arrangement and they should not do so.

The thrust of our concerns is summarised in amendment No. 34, which, in effect, subjects any subsequent regulations to the affirmative resolution procedure. I have mentioned our considerable disquiet about the way in which the legislation was chucked at us. Now that there will be consultation, there are opportunities for the Government to redeem themselves.

In fairness to the Government, in other areas, they have shown a readiness to listen to proposals, either voluntarily, or as a result of proposals that we have put to them. For example, the affirmative resolution procedure will be invoked in relation to clause 3, which deals with black lists, on which we spent some time last night. The Government have also promised that the affirmative resolution procedure will be used in relation to clause 16.

Apparently, the Government are no longer set against the use of that procedure. I agree with that because these are important matters of principle to get right. We say modestly that, even if we are not the world's greatest experts on these matters, we have an important lay role in saying that legislation does not seem to be quite right and that, if the Government want to get it right, they should look at it again.

I have set out an initial response to the Government's new schedule and expressed some concerns about the powers that it sets out. The amendments set out several ways in which the danger, as we see it, of restricting and regulating the important employment agency sector out of sight and out of existence could be curtailed.

We have noted the Secretary of State's rhetoric, but we remain deeply suspicious of it—the alleged intentions are not consistent with what is being delivered in the Bill. We await not only the contributions of other hon. Members, but the right hon. Gentleman's response on the amendments because, at the moment, we are far from satisfied and may have to put that dissatisfaction to the test.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I have seldom had a speech trailed so thoroughly. I hope that I will not disappoint colleagues, who have been told of my supposed expertise.

I repeat what I have said in all such debates: I have a declaration of non-interest, although people may believe that I have an interest. I should tell the House exactly the position. I ran an employment agency for 12 years. It is a limited company which, until the licensing of employment agencies was cut, had a licence. It is supposed to be an employment agency, but has not traded for the 11 years that I have been a Member of Parliament.

Although I advised the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services until the general election, I am not an adviser to that organisation now. I think that I am right in saying that I do not have a single penny of income coming from any employment agency source. I hope that, in making that clear, I am also showing that I have some 12 years' experience of trying to make my living running an employment agency. That is important information.

We started consideration of clause 28 in the dark about what the Government intended. They had had consultations with a number of organisations, including FRES. Indeed, FRES was quite calm about what was happening because it did not believe that the Government intended to implement the policy in the Labour 1983 manifesto, which was to abolish employment agencies as a matter of urgency. When one hears the rhetoric coming from Government, one is encouraged to believe that new Labour recognises that employment agencies and employment businesses are part of the flexible labour market that it is now supposedly signed up to.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

There has been talk about the history of the legislation. Does my hon. Friend recall that my pair—if we had pairs—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), referred to the 1983 Labour manifesto as the longest suicide note in history? Does my hon. Friend think that the Bill will turn out to be the same?

Mr. Bruce

Unfortunately, the Labour party has become adept at not telling people what its real intentions are. It is called spin; it is good at it. Many of us will learn from it when it comes to the next general election. It has been careful not to sign suicide notes, but that does not mean that there is no conspiracy. However—I hope that the Secretary of State is listening—I was pleased with what he said about genuinely consulting on the Government's document.

We did not know what the Government's intentions were. We had a clue. It was in a press notice that was dated 25 September 1998 and released by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. It said that, in the modernisation—a wonderful word, but I always prefer "improvement"; we are always keen to see improvement and everything can be improved—of employment agencies, issues to be covered included the need to ensure proper standards on reference checking", no one has any worries about that, rules requiring agencies to pay workers promptly and fully", again, one has no arguments about that; it was already covered in the previous legislation, and an obligation on agencies holding clients' money to safeguard it properly. Who could argue with those things? A few cowboys might have been worried about that, but, clearly, FRES and all employment agencies that were not cowboys and were running their businesses properly were not concerned at all.

The press release said that we would see a consultation document by the end of 1998. As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) pointed out, that consultation document arrived on the Tuesday morning that I made my initial speech on clause 28. We did not have the opportunity—perhaps during one of the pauses for breath while I read the document—to see some of the things that were in the consultation document. In fact, it stood the Employment Agencies Act 1973 on it head.

The House should understand that that Act was a Conservative private Member's Bill, but that the regulations that came from the Act were enacted in 1976 by the then Labour Government. I have a little advice on that. The Minister at the time was Harold Walker, now Lord Walker of Doncaster. who served as a distinguished Deputy Speaker of the House. I understand that he put his reputation on the line because he had understood what the industry was saying and resisted old Labour's push to get him to interfere with the proper working relationships in the industry. Perhaps he was new Labour, even back then. He decided that it was not an industry which we should attack, but one that should flourish.

Amendment No. 35 includes the somewhat strange words: Provided that regulations under this section shall only be made in such a way as to avoid prejudice to the ability of the private recruitment industry to continue to expand its role in the labour market. Those words come directly from the draft consultation document. That is confidential, but I hope that the Secretary of State will not object to its words being used in the amendment. That is what the Government say they want to do, but, under the regulations—certainly, the draft regulations seem to suggest it—they will close the industry, or at least damage it seriously.

5.30 pm
Mr. Bercow

My hon. Friend is a tremendous authority on these subjects. Given that this is our final opportunity to debate employment agencies, does my hon. Friend agree that it is regrettable that the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) is not present? In the Standing Committee, the hon. Gentleman cited an example of appalling bad practice by an employment agency, giving the impression that it was in his constituency. Does my hon. Friend recall, however, that when challenged, the hon. Gentleman was not prepared to confirm that the culprit agency was in his constituency, or to name it? The effect is that a cloud of suspicion hangs over all employment agencies in Corby or in close proximity to it. Should that matter not be cleared up as it has created considerable uncertainty and confusion?

Mr. Bruce

My hon. Friend has jumped ahead to a point I had intended to reach. The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) has three times given his example on the Floor of the House. At least, I assume it was the same example; each time he told the tale, it altered slightly.

Mr. Bercow

It did not improve in the telling.

Mr. Bruce

It certainly did not. The Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services believes that such a case did exist some years ago. The agency involved was investigated, and it ceased to practise some years ago. The federation's disciplinary procedures also make it clear that any agency employing such practices would be declined membership or kicked out of FRES. That was appropriate self-regulation before the minimum wage came in, and the minimum wage regulations also deal with the matter.

It is fallacious to suggest that regulations are required in the new Bill. None of the regulations suggested by the Government seeks to deal with the matter. When we considered the regulations in advance, it seemed that the new clauses would do so. The federation and other bodies were not concerned because bad practice will always occur—perhaps in 1 or 2 per cent. of businesses, or even more. No one in the industry wants the Government to stop taking action against bad practice, but that is not dealt with in the draft regulations.

Mr. Bercow

If it is accurate, my hon. Friend's intelligence on this matter is extremely helpful to the House. Although he is not psychic, does my hon. Friend surmise that his intelligence might explain the absence of the hon. Member for Corby, who will be well aware that it would be a serious matter knowingly to mislead the House? Might the hon. Gentleman know that the example that he gave in a bid to whip up hysteria is dead and bogus, and that he dare not reproduce it this afternoon?

Mr. Bruce

In Committee, we shot the hon. Gentleman's fox. The record makes it is clear that employment agencies in Corby can hold their heads up high. Although their Member of Parliament has slagged them off, they have proved that they are of the highest standard.

Mr. Ian Stewart (Eccles)

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has tried to vilify a Labour Member by claiming that my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) did not give details of a particular company. If Conservative Members read Hansard for Standing Committee E, however, they will find that Members on their own side stated that several agencies fitted the bill, but did not give any details. It is all in Hansard.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman should check his facts. I have a complete set of the Committee Hansard which I should be happy to give him if he would like to check.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

Would the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) care to tell us in which columns we can find the allegations that we made against employment agencies in our own constituencies?

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, but we should not embarrass the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart), whose contribution to the Committee was very valuable. He has told me off several times for praising him too much. Apparently, genuine praise from this quarter is unwelcome, and he is once again embarrassed by it. His contribution to the Committee was extremely good, as were those of several of his colleagues. I should mention the excellent whipping of the Bill, which got it out of Committee exactly on time, although I do not want to damage anyone else's reputation by saying so.

I acknowledge that new schedule 2, which abolishes clause 28 by replacing it with a much longer schedule, goes some way towards solving the problem of allowing inspectors to enter premises to investigate almost any crime. The new schedule was published only on Thursday, and I did not see it until this week. I do not know of anyone who has read it in detail and produced a definitive view of how it affects employment agencies.

That is not the right way to introduce legislation. The new schedule has not been examined line by line, and we do not have the time to do so on the Floor of the House. I am sure that the Government have tabled the new schedule in good faith to try to deal with problems raised in Committee. However, a two-and-a-half page new schedule is replacing a page-long clause, and we have not examined it in detail. That puts Parliament in a difficult position. We are telling employment agencies that we have, during the few days of Report and Third Reading, created a new schedule that has not been properly debated.

Amendment No. 34 seeks to provide for positive resolution on this point. I hope that the Minister will give us that comfort. We rightly pay tribute to the Government when they do listen, and they were quick in Committee to say that they would allow positive resolution on virtually all other issues raised. This is a major part of the Bill—perhaps even a Bill within the Bill—and it requires time in Committee.

I am worried that draft regulations may be published in a few weeks' time, examined and reported on in May or June, and made on the last day of Parliament, which is exactly what happened with regulations on holiday pay contained in the working time regulations. The regulations would then come in a month later without any chance of discussion, even though we would be able, under the positive resolution procedure, to discuss them when we return in October. If the Minister considers the matter honestly, he will know that people could not ask their Members of Parliament what those regulations meant to them. That is no way in which to introduce major change in an industry that has many employees.

Until quite late in the proceedings, I had not appreciated that, interestingly, the Government have made a regulatory impact assessment of the Bill. Although the House should welcome the Government making such assessments, the problem is that—as hard as I looked—I could not find in that document one word about the regulations' effect on employment agencies. Extraordinarily, there was also no mention in it of cost compliance. Ministers have acknowledged that they are planning to introduce many regulations on the issue, but they have not even addressed the issue in the document. I hope that the Government will do the other place the courtesy of providing some type of impact assessment.

We are not talking about a minor part of our economy. The Government themselves believe that, on any one day, 900,000 temporary workers are out working. Therefore, today, 900,000 workers will finish their work, probably at about 5.30 pm, and will expect to be paid for that work. About 200,000 people are employed as permanent staff in employment agencies—attempting to find permanent jobs for people—and in employment businesses, which attempt to hire people out. They comprise about 3 per cent. of the United Kingdom work force.

To get even close to the number of people who would be affected by the regulations, we would have to add together the number of all those employed in the national health service, which is three quarters of a million people, and in the motor industry. We could also add in the number of Members of Parliament. We have to be extraordinarily careful about passing restrictions that will affect all those who take temporary work and the 380,000 people who gain permanent work each year through employment agencies.

Many people who study employment in the United Kingdom and the world say that ever more people are working in service industries. Some people might even say that employment agencies have no positive impact—other than to help other businesses to do more effectively what they do—and that it is a purely service industry. However, closing down or restricting that industry would affect the employment not only of the 200,000 people who work in it, but of the 900,000 people who gain temporary work through it. Such action could also restrict the speed at which the 380,000 people whom it helps to look for permanent work find jobs.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

My hon. Friend is making his point well, but I should like to develop it a little further, and link it to one of his earlier points. Restricting the industry would disproportionately affect certain types of work and jobs. Employment agencies provide particular types of work to a very large group of employees, and are the principal source of employment in certain types of jobs. Restricting the agencies would therefore have a disproportionate effect on certain parts of the labour market, and it is difficult to imagine another type of agency filling the gap.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to my hon. Friend—he has provided a neat point at which to give an example. I shall use as an example the operation of hon. Members' offices—with which we are all familiar. Let us say that, on a Monday morning, an hon. Member discovers that his or her secretary has taken ill or has had a home emergency. We might decide that, for the next week or so, we shall not answer our correspondence, but catch up later—perhaps expecting those who work for us to work that much harder. It is very difficult for parliamentary secretaries to work any harder than they do; we all know the volume of correspondence that they deal with. Those who work in business are faced with the same decision on whether temporarily to take on someone to help with the work.

It is good for the United Kingdom economy, for employment and for temporary employees if a temporary employee can arrive at a workplace within hours of someone picking up a telephone and saying, "We have a problem; someone has not come in today. Can you get someone down here to take over?"

The temp will be told over the telephone how much he or she will be paid. The amount often varies, depending on the job. Very often, secretarial temps might work as a personal assistant on one day, as a clerical assistant the next day, and in answering the telephone on another day.

Employment agencies try to get the best possible rate for the job. Many Labour Members seem to think that agencies try to pay the temp the lowest possible amount and to charge him or her out at the highest possible amount. In reality, everyone knows what a temp is being paid when he or she walks through the door. It is very much a cost-plus situation. If one is paying £7 an hour and employer's national insurance, the amount charged by an agency is that amount plus whatever mark-up it is trying to get. Therefore, very often, it is in temp agencies' interests to obtain higher wages for temps. Sometimes, however, agencies cannot send someone out at the desired rate, but will accept a lower rate, of which they will inform the temp. The individual does not accept the job until he or she knows the rate.

5.45 pm

The regulations would prevent someone going from a job paying £7 an hour to a subsequent job paying £6 an hour until that individual had come in to the agency and signed a contract saying that he or she agrees the variation. Under current regulations, within 24 hours—it is a very tight time frame—a rate can be agreed over the telephone, and, in that evening's post, the temp will receive a contract stating how much they will be paid, and the company will receive a contract stating how much it will be charged. Under the new regulations, temps would have to sign a piece of paper stating, "I'm aware of the change, and I agree to it." If it is all done by post, they will be able to start work in about three days' time.

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that everyone does not know what a temp is earning when they walk through the door? One of the problems for employers who use employment agencies is that they do not necessarily know—and often cannot find out—how much the temp they have engaged via an agency is being paid. Therefore, employers also have no idea of the commission that is being taken by an agency. Does he accept that the regulations and new schedule 2 will help in that process—which many clients find to be an opaque one?

Mr. Bruce

I do not think that the regulations will necessarily allow an employer to know the rate. People often say that one should not put up on a board what everyone in the organisation is earning, but that one should pay people as if that information will be put up on a board—in other words, one must be fair. Temps certainly do know the various available pay rates.

Perhaps the Government's desire to deal with pay rate variations is based on the fact that two temps may go to the same organisation to do the same job, but be charged out and paid at different rates. Such a situation sometimes disturbs the work environment. Those in the industry might say, "Unless one is paying temps at a sensible rate, they will leave one agency and go to another."

We thought that the Government were concerned about people's ability to be flexible in marketing themselves, by going from one agency to another. However, in the regulations, they seem to be trying to deal with almost everything but that.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government seem to assume that the 900,000 people who are temping are doing so because they have been thrown on the scrap heap of life, and that they are being exploited by temporary agencies? More often than not, however, people seek temporary work because they enjoy the flexibility that temp work provides. They are able to do different jobs on different days, whereas, on other days, they are free to look after their children, to do the shopping, or whatever. They enjoy that flexibility, which would be restrained and constrained by the Government's proposals.

Mr. Bruce

I believe that Ministers and some of the members of the Standing Committee understand that. However, generally people are hostile to temping. People must understand that there are those who temp because that is how they want to do their business. There is also a group of people who do not want to temp, but want a permanent job.

There would be unintended consequences if the Government stop the temp-to-perm fees.

Mr. Hayes

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Bruce

I shall just develop my point. I do not want to lose track of what I am saying. [Interruption.] All right, I will give way.

Mr. Hayes

I shall give my hon. Friend pause for breath and thought. The key point is that not only is there a group of people who are happy with the flexibility my hon. Friend described—he is right about that—but employers are well aware of that fact, and are aware of the good agencies and those that are not so good. I have found from my business and commercial experience that employers build up a relationship with two or three agencies on which they -know that they can call because they are reliable. There is no mystery about that, and there is not a great deal of mystery about the standards of those agencies and the prices they charge or pay. It is not always a jungle out there, which is what some Labour Members would have us believe. There is a fair amount of knowledge on the part of the temps and those using them which tempers the worst excesses that are sometimes caricatured by Labour Members.

Mr. Bruce

Having had my train of thought disturbed I shall now return—

Miss Kirkbride

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his wonderful command of the detail of this legislation. His speech is illuminating for Conservative Members and, I suspect, for Labour Members. I should like to be clear about what he is saying about the notification period for a change in the hourly rate. There are many people who enjoy temping who may be cross if they cannot have a job that suits their arrangements in a particular week because of the notice period. I am not sure what my hon. Friend is saying about the time involved in the notice period if a telephone call is not enough.

Mr. Bruce

The current regulations are quite clear. If the terms of employment are to be changed from one week to another, an agency can ring someone and say that the terms are different—hopefully, they will be better. However, if someone is working as a personal assistant in a top company for a few weeks and then has to accept a copy typing job because that is all that is on offer, the pay will not be as much. The person may then say, "If there is nothing else for me, that is fine." A fresh contract will then be sent by first-class post and the employment agency will have done what it needs to do.

Under the regulations suggested by the Government, once they had agreed by telephone to work for a certain amount of money, it would be an offence for people to carry out that work until they had signed a contract to say that the terms were different and that they were willing to accept that. We are talking about people who might be contacted at 10 o'clock in the morning because somebody has not turned up for work because of ill health.

Under the proposed regulations, that individual would either have to go to the agency to sign the contract and perhaps lose a day's work or, if that were not possible, they would have to wait to receive the contract in the post, sign it and then return it. It would then be Wednesday or Thursday before they could work. They could not go until the contract is in the hands of the agency because it would be an offence not to have a signed contract. The bureaucracy is silly.

It is important for hon. Members to understand what sort of people might want to temp and what sort might want permanent jobs. Married women with children of school age are often able to come back to do secretarial work without having to work during the school holidays. They may also want time off if their child is to have an operation or to deal with any other domestic emergency. The temp controller ensures that that is taken into account.

During the school holidays, undergraduates or students at technical college may be available for work and some of them may have secretarial skills. They are available at exactly the same time, perhaps with an overlap, as the children are away from school. That is a perfect flexible market. There are two groups of workers, one that wants only temporary contracts, and the other willing to temp, but wanting a permanent vacancy. The regulations are attempting to stop the temp-to-perm process. Temp people would be sent only to where there is a permanent vacancy and a shortlist of those who want permanent work would be sent later.

A company that wants to take on permanent staff now can ring an employment agency and ask for a temp. If that temp proves to be good, the company may not advertise or ask the agency to send a shortlist, but may take them on as a permanent member of staff. The normal way of dealing with that is that a permanent fee is charged. It may be that £10 or £20 is being made on the margin while those people are temping and a recruitment fee is paid at the end of that time. I do not want to see the unintended consequence of employment agencies sending out only those who want to be temps and providing a separate shortlist of those who want permanent work.

Some people may become unemployed as temps simply because they are looking for permanent work. Temping is a good way for people to get back into permanent employment and to keep their skills up to date. Sometimes those returning to work, particularly women, want to work at a lower skill level because they do not believe that they have sufficient skills. From running employment agencies I have found that people who say that they can no longer do any shorthand or typing often turn out to be brilliant shorthand typists. Those skills can then be developed while working as a temp, specifically to get back into permanent work. There comes a time in women's careers in particular when the age of their children is the crucial factor in deciding whether they need to stay at home during the school holidays. If the children can stay on their own or go elsewhere, women do not need to stop work during the school holidays.

I am worried that the Government's proposals for the temp-to-perm process will mean that employees are no longer used in that flexible way. In fact, I would go a step further. I believe that this is crucial and that the Government do not understand what they are doing. If a company wants a temp urgently, it can ring the agency and ask for one. The agency may be making a few pounds an hour on top of the cost of delivering that individual. The company may believe that that is a bit steep, but agree to it because it has to have that person.

If there is no requirement for that company to pay a permanent fee, it could decide to employ that person directly as a temp. The employment agency would have used its skill in advertising, interviewing and checking skills and so on. That is a reason to prevent employers who are using the skills of the employment agency from employing an individual directly without paying the agency what it has agreed to pay under the terms of the temp contract. A company might cease the temp contract early and take the person on as a temporary worker, working directly for the company.

That is the temp to perm arrangement which would ensure that any individual trying to run a temporary employment business could be undermined by employers, who would say, "No, I don't have to pay a fee if I take this person directly on to the books." That would have unsatisfactory consequences, in particular for what the Government are trying to do.

6 pm

Employment rights are what the Government are about. Although we would not go down the regulatory route, we understand that they have a mandate to deliver that. Let us imagine the situation. Someone starts off at a temp bureau and undertakes a series of temporary assignments for one employer. After three months, he or she would receive all the usual employment rights—one qualifies for some after one month and for others after six. If individuals decided to swap and change, rather than stay with the one contractor—if they worked for one company for one week, under contract to the agency, were directly employed by the company for three weeks and then returned to the agency for another one week contract or whatever—that would break up the continuity of employment and deprive them of the employment rights that the Government have been struggling to give them. It would ruin their holiday pay, sick pay, maternity pay and all the other benefits that the Government say that they want. Those would be the unintended consequences of this measure.

I will not speak at great length about what one hon. Member has tried to tell people about the £1 an hour penalty clause. As I said, the employment agency industry works through its reputation for being fair to the employers to whom it is providing staff and to its employees.

I started off with three employment agencies in one town and I ended up with one. Unfortunately, my agencies were so successful that another five started up. We paid our temps more money and we gave employers a better service. That is how one succeeds. I had a temp controller who insisted that we should constantly try to get higher rates for our people and better people because that was the way forward. Employers wanted really good temps—well paid and well motivated—and that was the right way forward.

It is no business of the Government or of Parliament to decide how much people should be charged. In general, minimum wages do not affect employment agencies that much, but the minimum wage regulations have already been introduced. There is no requirement in this legislation or in the regulations to suggest that the Government are trying to decide that. They say that they are simply going down this route to stop restraint of trade when people who are taken on on a temporary contract do not convert to permanent employment because the company has to pay a fee. Clearly, that is not correct, because employment agencies make about 20 per cent. of their permanent placements directly through that route. I assure the Minister that it is a great deal more profitable to give a permanent job to temps, in particular outside London where plenty are available, than to take on a permanent employee directly.

It is suggested that some agencies, instead of charging a direct, normal, permanent recruitment fee, charge more to stop temps moving across. It would not upset employment agencies if the Government introduced regulations to stop that practice and to prevent employment businesses from charging more for a temp to go permanent than for someone who had been sent for an interview for a permanent post. Indeed, the businesses might suggest that people who temp for longer periods could go to the employer at a reduced rate—many companies already do so.

We thought that the Government were working on measures to deal with contract workers—people who work in an employment business, but are really being supervised to do a particular job of work. I am minded of organisations that provide telephonists. In this place, the telephonists are employed not by the House of Commons, but by a company that provides a service to the House. That also happens at Buckingham palace, the Treasury and—dare I say it—No. 10 Downing street. Recently, the company that everyone wants all employment agencies to resemble lost the contract at No. 10. Surprisingly, the Government seem to be almost recommending a number of the measures that we thought they were worried about, for example, zero-hours contracts. When someone works for Manpower—let us use that example, to avoid confusion—he or she is taken on on a zero-hours contract to be a permanent employee, but only when he or she works. That is one way around the regulations.

I thought that the House was upset about the fact that burger bars and suchlike use zero-hours contracts. Certainly, we think that a temp should know that he or she is being hired for so many hours, give or take a few. The arrangement should be fairly flexible and the temp should know that the contract might end early—someone who thought that he or she might be off ill for a fortnight could come back early, so the contract would end. Generally, temps who are sent in to do a week's work end up doing two, three or four weeks. It is the job of the temp controller and the employment business—the agency—to keep people working as much as possible, which is surely what the Government want.

The draft regulations would have another unintended consequence for people on a contract for services. The Government have noticed that, where carers go to individual homes, the little old lady who is receiving the care becomes the employer and is not charged the whole fee as though the entire contract is for services. The wages and national insurance are in effect paid by the little old lady and are shown separately on the invoice, while the margin that the company charges is put on the invoice and value added tax is charged only on that margin. That is a way to ensure that value added tax is not charged on top of the hourly rate paid to people who work for someone who cannot claim back VAT. No one goes through that convoluted rigmarole when putting temps into a company that is VAT registered and can claim the VAT back. The Government may want to ensure that the employment relationship is clear. Employment agencies are not in the business of attempting to get out of their responsibilities for employees. I urge the Minister to consider carefully before collecting VAT from old ladies who are buying care in their own homes because they have been given money by the Government to do so. No one intended them to pay VAT.

Perhaps supplying labour should be zero-rated. After all, when someone works for wages, he or she does not charge the employer VAT for having done so. There have been cases that prove that employment agencies can work around that anomaly—sometimes the Revenue wins, sometimes it loses—and ensure that individuals do not have to pay VAT that cannot be claimed back because they are not a business.

References are another issue. I do not think that employment agencies are too worried about a sensible regime on references. However, we get into all sorts of problems when tight regulations are involved. Let me give some suggestions. When someone comes to an employment agency, it is not certain that that person will be employed by it. People have interviews and the agency tries to place them. It is often not convenient, particularly if someone wants a permanent position, to seek references for that person at that point. The best method must be to telephone the company that the person is supposed to be working for and asking, when that person has supposedly given notice, for a reference over the phone or in writing. If people are lying about who they work for, that is when one usually finds that they are wrong 'tins. One cannot take the reference until the contract has been signed. People who were not wrong 'tins would lose their jobs if one rang up their employers for references before they had given in their notice. That would destroy the employer's confidence in them. It is important that the regulations deal with real, sensible things.

It is not necessary to go to the nth degree and check whether secretaries have the Royal Society of Arts qualifications that they say they have. After all, if one places a temp who claims to have shorthand, RSA stage III and all the rest of it, but clearly does not know one end of a typewriter from the other, that person's contract will cease, and the employment agency will not get paid for putting the person in. Under the minimum wage regulations, the agency will still have to pay such temps, despite their having lied through their teeth about their qualifications. The practical aspects are probably more important.

Of course, if one sends someone out as a heavy goods vehicle driver, one wants to see the HGV licence—indeed, to see the real licence, photocopy it and get the guy to sign that for the record. That is good, common-sense practice. If employment agencies send people out without the appropriate licence, the legal document necessary, under common law, they could be liable for what happens. We must be careful not to have too much bureaucracy.

There is something amazing about the regulations. As one reads them to try to find what the Government are up to, one finds that, right at the end, they want to repeal the regulation that stops an employment agency that has placed someone permanently in a company ringing that person up a month later to say "You've done your month. We do not have to give any money back. Do you fancy another job?" That is very bad practice. Employment agencies do not think that that should happen. The regulation stops that, but the Government want to repeal it. That is extraordinary. It is there to stop the cowboys and is in the interests of employment agencies that do the job properly, but it is being removed.

Mr. Hayes

I am interested by my hon. Friend's last point, because that happened to me in my commercial experience. This reinforces his argument that employers soon get to recognise the agencies that behave like that and do not use them. Firms set up relationships with agencies for particular sorts of employees—indeed, we frequently used agencies when we needed a receptionist or telephonist. Companies will stick with agencies that conduct themselves professionally. Repealing this regulation will only foster the cowboys whom we would rather avoid.

6.15 pm
Mr. Bruce

My hon. Friend's point is sensible.

We would be out of order if we considered in detail the draft regulations that the Minister was kind enough to give us. They cannot be covered on Report, despite the fact that we did not have them to deal with properly in Committee. I hope that I can get his attention so that he can give some pledges when he replies and do what he said that he would do at the outset. He should consider the regulations from the point of view of allowing employment agencies to continue to thrive and flourish.

The Opposition do not believe in over-regulation. We think that self-regulation and many other things work very well. However, we accept that the Government have a mandate to regulate for what they see as employees' rights. Employment agencies are not going to resist what the Government have a mandate to produce, but they must be able to operate sensibly. We must understand that a temporary employee or someone applying for a permanent job can act independently of employment agencies and businesses. They can take out temporary contracts with employers. Much bar work and casual labour work in the leisure industry are done in that way. Some employees work through employment agencies. I contend that, in law, individuals, whether employed directly by an employer or by an employment agency, should be treated equally. However, I allow that individuals working in an agency might feel that they do not have enough power of negotiation and might wish the Government to protect their rights. Sensible regulations have therefore been accepted by employment agencies over many years, and they have worked successfully. The industry has developed.

The industry is usually relaxed about regulation. When I ran an employment agency in Yorkshire, it was great to have a licence. If Mrs. Smith decided to run an employment agency because she used to be a temp and thought it would be a great way to make money, which is how my two rivals started, I could close it down for three months. After its first advert for temps, I could ring the Department of Employment and say that someone was starting an employment agency. The Department would send an inspector or write a letter to say that a licence was necessary. A licence could be got without difficulty, but it used to take at least three months. The local authority had to check for planning permission; lots of forms had to be filled in—all the usual bureaucracy. It was great. I paid about £100 a year and had a restraint of trade on anyone who wanted to start competing with me.

Before I started my employment agency, I had been made redundant and had decided to start a management consultancy. As part of the base for that, I was going to have an office services bureau which would make lots of money. I set up the bureau and had people with typewriters and everything else. I spent all the money. I thought that I was a great marketing expert, but, however my cheap my service, I could not grow the bureau fast enough.

I thought, "God, what am I going to do?" The guy who was made redundant with me told me that he was doing interviews for employment agencies. He told me that I should start an employment agency because I would make a fortune. It was foolish; I had an office services bureau sitting there and had interviewed a lot of secretaries. Then I realised that I had an asset in the group whom I had employed and the group whom I could not employ, but who were really good, and that I could start an employment agency. I started almost overnight by ringing a few local companies and saying that I had some super secretaries for their vacancies and asking whether I could send some people around. That is how I started my employment agency. I suspect that if I had not got those early placements, I would have gone out of business very quickly. It is amazing how one can spend money setting up a business.

If I had had to wait the three months that the old system used to allow for, I would never have started. The two existing businesses would still be working today and BOS Recruitment would never have been born. That shows how employment agencies and the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services can be keen on ensuring that there are regulations to protect existing agencies and not necessarily to allow new entrants.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is speaking with great knowledge on this important subject. I wonder whether he thinks that the Government should look again at this rather cumbersome and lengthy draft new schedule in the light of the recently agreed Cabinet policy, which we heard about earlier this week, that regulations should be both necessary and proportionate. I know that my hon. Friend feels that in some ways regulation is necessary, although not always for the best of reasons, but is the new schedule proportionate? Can he draw on his experience to tell us whether the Government should take it back because it is clearly not proportionate to the problem that they have identified?

Mr. Bruce

The Government often come out with extremely good statements of intent. They say that they want to ensure that regulations are proportionate and do not go overboard, but, in trying to regulate, they suddenly discover that regulations beget regulations, and that loopholes appear that then require another set of regulations. That is why the draft consultation document, which runs to 70 pages, was necessary just to say what clause 28 would do. The Government have discovered that they needed to write new schedule 2 because clause 28 was not long enough.

Mr. Byers

I welcome the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) to this important debate. It is a shame that he was not here at the beginning of the debate, given its importance. Had he been here, he would have heard me announce that, as a result of our amendment, we are reducing three sets of regulations to one and seven schedules to four. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes that approach.

Mr. Bruce

Although the point was made to my right hon. Friend, I am sure that he will allow me to answer on his behalf. I am sure—

Mr. Byers

Let him answer.

Mr. Bruce

My right hon. Friend cannot make a speech while I am making a speech, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me. I am sure that you will remind him of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I allow that the Government set out to reduce the number of regulations, but since last Tuesday, when we discussed clause 28 in Committee, the Government have produced new schedule 2, which is twice the length of clause 28. On the Tuesday before we started discussing clause 28, we received draft regulations of 70 pages.

If the Government went through the existing regulations and struck through 50 per cent. of what was there, of course the industry would say that that was good. The words might even be clearer. But that is not what happens. The Government go off with good intentions of simplifying the regulations for employment agencies. I wrote an article for The Interviewer magazine in which I asked whether we should be concerned about the regulations or should panic about them. The industry is now panicking. I cannot pass out the draft regulations to all and sundry, because they still have not been made public. When the one person to whom I have shown them saw them, she panicked about what they contained. I accept that the Secretary of State is sincere in saying that he wants to remove regulations, but I am afraid that it is not happening.

Mr. Redwood

Of course I would have liked to be here to hear the remarks of the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend, who is speaking so well, but I went to the shadow Cabinet. Perhaps the Secretary of State agrees that, given the momentous events unfolding here and elsewhere, it was important that I was at the meeting. I was subsequently briefed by my hon. Friend the shadow Minister of State, who was here to listen to the earlier part of the debate.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the length of the regulations is not the only issue, although he rightly says that the latest version is long? The impact on business is also an issue. Only last night, the Secretary of State turned down the opportunity to exempt all small business from this rigmarole. That is why we are still unhappy about the proposals. We would prefer it if he exempted small business from the regulations so that their incredible cost is not imposed on it.

Mr. Bruce

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point, which I will not attempt to paraphrase.

When the Labour party was in opposition, it wrote in its 1983 manifesto that it would make employment agencies and businesses illegal. I suspect that such a measure could be encapsulated in a small number of regulations, but I predict confidently that if the Minister wants to restrict what contracts can be made between an employment agency or business and an employer who wants to take on staff, the regulations that we have now will pale into insignificance.

No one bothers to go to law about regulations that are reasonable and sensible, but if the Government try to outlaw practices that are normal and sensible and have worked well over the years, their regulations will be tested in the courts. I know that the Secretary of State's officials will be spending an awful lot of time, paper and ink in producing the regulations.

Miss Kirkbride

I served on the Standing Committee with my hon. Friend. The draft regulations were presented to us on the morning when we were meant to debate clause 28. That was breathtaking in itself. They were not to be made available to the employment agency industry. With his superior knowledge, does my hon. Friend have any idea when the industry might see the regulations? It would be wrong if the Bill were to pass through both Houses and become law before the industry could make its representations. However clever my hon. Friend is, there may be things that he has not noticed, and that it is necessary to draw to the attention of the Government.

Mr. Bruce

I would like to answer my right hon. Friend—I am sorry, I meant my hon. Friend; I am sure that, one day, she will become my right hon. Friend—on the Government's intentions. When I was asked the same question by the Federation of Recruitment and Employment Services, I rather cynically said that it would be when the Government had already got their Bill through the House of Lords and it had become an Act. We wanted to alert people, but when we asked the Under-Secretary whether we could make it public, he said, "No, we are not too keen on that." The 200,000 people in permanent employment for agencies and businesses would make the lorry drivers, farmers and the rest look like nothing demonstrating outside this place. It was clear that their employment would be under threat. Perhaps they do not know it yet, but the 900,000 people who do temporary work through employment agencies and the 380,000 who find permanent jobs every year through agencies may find that they no longer receive such an effective service.

If legislation is introduced that stops an employment agency making money in one way, agencies are bound to make it in some other way. Employment agencies are not something that can print money: they have to make a profit and they compete with other people. I know that because I ran one for a long period. In the first three or four years, I dared not show my bank manager what I was doing, because I was living off my savings. It takes an awful lot of money to set up an agency. If the Government are sincere in saying that they want employment agencies and businesses to be part of the flexible labour market in the United Kingdom—I accept the words in the draft document—the regulations that come after those comforting words must be wholly different from what the Government intend now.

The Minister has a mandate to regulate to protect employees who work through employment agencies and businesses. We do not argue against that, but the Government cannot reduce the employment opportunities of individuals.

I have given way extensively, and perhaps that has extended my remarks more than I intended.

6.30 pm
Mr. Ian Stewart

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bruce

How could I resist the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Stewart

Earlier, the hon. Gentleman asked why my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) was not in the Chamber and why, in a statement to the Committee, my hon. Friend had not given the name of a particular company. I intervened to point out that the hon. Gentleman had mentioned two companies without giving their names. I was asked to give the details from Hansard and I shall do so now—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make such long interventions.

Mr. Bruce

I invite the hon. Member for Eccles to buy me a drink after the debate and we shall discuss the matter; I am sure that we shall be able to sort it out. I suspect that, by not naming the companies, I was acting positively and trying not to advertise particular organisations—for example, those that now provide services in No. 10 Downing street. If I advertised such companies, I am sure that their principals would be only too pleased. The hon. Gentleman is a sportsman—

Mr. Stewart

And a friend.

Mr. Bruce

He is also a friend—in the real sense of that word—and will no doubt put me right later.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) began with what he described as a declaration of non-interest, but his remarks were clearly not a declaration of a lack of interest. It was a useful education for the House to spend a valuable hour or so listening to a former practising owner of an employment agency. I thank my hon. Friend for adding to my knowledge.

I have come across employment agencies in the past, but on the other side of the fence because I have used the temporary staff whom they sent me. The recruitment and staffing service industry is highly fragmented; I understand that the largest company has only about 15 per cent. of the market. Consequently, the industry is highly competitive and, as an employer, when I have looked for staff, either to work temporarily or to take on as a full-time employee, by shopping around, I have found the right people at the right price. Like my hon. Friend in his business, I developed a relationship with a series of different suppliers.

That demonstrates that restrictive practices do not exist in that industry and that price sensitivity is rather important. It also demonstrates that employers want the right person, and they are prepared to pay for that. The right person is not merely someone who can do the job, but someone who is happy to do the job. A temp who believes that she, or he, is being diddled by the temp agency is not a happy employee and will not do the job well.

The Government are making a mistake in trying to restrict the fees of agencies, and that is borne out by my experiences as an employer. I would never want to take on a badly paid temp, because he or she would not work well. I would not be interested in taking on a temp from a cowboy agency; I want people who have been properly vetted and can do the job that I ask them to do. I do not mind paying for that, or for the flexibility that it offers. If I decided that a person was so good that I wanted them to take full-time work, I would not mind paying the agency for having found that person for me.

Miss Kirkbride

As an employer with his own business, my hon. Friend has experience that we now hear less about in the House. For hon. Members who have not had that experience, will he elucidate the difficulties that he might find in recruiting the right person if he went out into the market rather than going through an employment agency? Did he find that using an agency was better? How difficult did he find it to try to attract the right people using his own resources?

Mr. Sayeed

I thank my hon. Friend for those pertinent questions. In the past, I have tried to save the 10 or 15 per cent. charged by employment agencies. That was a mistake, because I spent too much time trying to interview people and checking their skills, their qualifications, their CVs and references. That was a waste of my time. Horses should stick to courses and, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset, my course was not choosing the right people to send to the right companies.

When I was running one company, it was so large that I set up an internal organisation to deal with recruiting, but I must admit that it was a bit of a failure and did not always attract the right people. One of the reasons is that, to attract the right people—especially in specialist areas—one has to broadcast one's message widely. I closed down that side of the business and went back to using professional recruiters. That is especially pertinent for the recruitment of specialist staff.

That brings me to my next point and to my problem with the Government's proposals. It is clear that the Government intend to penalise companies that restrict a temporary worker's ability to take a job directly with the hirer. Why do the Government want to do that? I should like to explain to them why it is a mistake from an employer's point of view. Often, temporary workers move, or are transferred, from one agency to another because it is simpler for the hiring company. Then, the employment agencies make arrangements between themselves about how to split fees. If one employs a large number of temps from different agencies, one often wants to consolidate them with one agency; it helps with the payroll and cuts down on administration. It is proper that, when a temp is transferred from one employment agency to another, the company losing the temp has a right to charge the company to which the temp is going. The Government appear to want to restrict that right. That is a mistake.

If we want employment agencies to be able to source, check and invigilate personnel so that companies can hire from them the best-qualified staff, the employment agencies must be rewarded for their work.

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend's experiences as an employer are most interesting. Does he agree that all Members of Parliament can join in this debate? It would be good to hear the views of Labour Members. Every Member of Parliament hires a secretary; many have more than one secretary and many have research assistants. Members often have to use the services of employment agencies when their staff are ill, on parental leave, or away for other reasons. Does my hon. Friend agree that the debate is relevant to all Members of Parliament, and that the experience of Labour Members might be useful in pointing out that the measure might be a step too far, because it would damage their capacity to find the temporary staff they need?

Mr. Sayeed

As I would expect, my right hon. Friend has made a most cogent point. However, we may well find that the researchers and secretaries of many Labour Members are hired by the trade union movement, which has supplied £100 million to the Labour party over the past few years. Labour Members might therefore be rather less interested than Conservative Members in the direct hiring of personnel.

The Bill will cause damage. The Government want to prevent employment agencies from benefiting from a temporary worker who becomes a permanent member of staff, but it is important that an agency is able to benefit from a company taking on as a permanent member of staff someone it has been sent as a temporary member of staff. The reason is simple: unless an employer has to pay the employment agent for providing it with a person of such quality that it might want to take on that person as a permanent member of staff, the likelihood is either that the agent will send someone who is just about adequate, and that is all; or that the employer will use that as a way of recruiting full-time members of staff at a cut price. The consequence of that is that the employment agent's quality of selection will decline. Therefore, it is a mistake for the Government to pursue the notion of restricting an agent from benefiting from a temporary worker's ability to take a job directly with the hirer.

We all want high standards of both staff and employment agents. We do not want workers to be exploited, in either their conditions or their pay. We clearly want action to be taken against restrictive practices in the contract between the employer and the employee, or the hirer and the employment company. Given that, the contract should count as a clear agreement between two consenting parties. There is no coercion in the employment and recruitment industry—it is too fragmented for there to be coercion. Consequently, provided that the industry abides by good practice, it should be left to get on with its important and valuable work.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

I, too, believe that the House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) for his detailed and knowledgeable speech. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), the experience that I bring to the debate does not nearly match that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset, but I speak as one who has used employment services. I am aware that I have not yet spoken on the Bill, but I have a specific interest in employment agencies and in a subset of that group. However, in Surrey, London and in the west country, I have had experience of using employment agencies and I can attest to their value in terms of finding people to work both in the workplace and in the home.

Until I listened to this debate, I had not realised that the incompetence displayed by Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry extended not only to the area that I am about to touch on, but across the board. It would appear that there is a total misconception about the point of temporary workers and the purpose to which agencies are put: both exist to oil the wheels of an enterprise economy, and they are not a threat to the regulated dirigiste economic system to which too many Labour Members still aspire.

Miss Kirkbride

My hon. Friend made me think of something. I suspect that Conservative Members do not have the figures, so it would be illuminating to hear the Government's figures on the number of full-time jobs found in the regular economy through employment agencies compared with the number found by the Employment Service, which is a nationalised state industry. I suspect that those figures will bear out the claim that the free market economy created by the employment agencies and their supporting ideology has been far more successful.

6.45 pm
Mr. St. Aubyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because we do know that the number of people finding jobs through employment agencies has trebled since 1992; we also know that, during that period, the Conservative Government deregulated the sector. No one can believe that those two facts are purely coincidental. After last year's announcements by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, it became clear that the Government's policy was far from being one of modernisation. In fact, they are turning the clock back to 1973, whereas we modernised in 1996; that is what is happening through legislation such as the Bill before us today. As the chopping and changing goes on, with new amendments tabled on Report, we see that the Government have no clue what they should be doing, or why they are even beginning to do it.

I have a particular area of concern, and that is the employment of au pairs, a matter which I raised in the House a few weeks ago.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

If the hon. Gentleman's memory stretches back to the mid-1980s onward, he will recall that tenure of employment shifted from permanent to non-permanent or short-term employment. That is what gave rise to the growth of the agencies, because people who had lost their job through downsizing and so on were desperate to find anything to bridge the gap until they found something. That is the insecurity that was built into employment practices during that decade.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am sure that you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if we started to debate the changes in employment practice in the 1980s. However, we have a successful economy, which the Conservatives bequeathed to the current Government; it is capable of generating new jobs and, in the flexible workplace, many of those jobs will be temporary.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Opposition Members might care to learn that, during that decade, the number of temporary workers increased from 6 per cent. of the working population to 7 per cent. In France, where temporary employment is effectively illegal beyond three months, the number of people on temporary contracts is 25 per cent. of all employees. That demonstrates what happens when the Government try to overregulate the market.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In addition, the average time that people spent in a job barely decreased at all under the Conservative Governments, because temporary employment was, and still is, so often converted into full-time employment. The very provisions that threaten us today would jeopardise, not help, that process of conversion to full-time employment.

Miss Kirkbride

My hon. Friend's remarks are stirring great interest and we are extremely keen to hear of his experiences with au pairs. One of the reasons for the success of employment agencies and why they would be damaged by the Bill is that, now that we have a more specialised labour market, the sort of measure that the Government are trying to introduce—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I find that, when the hon. Lady intervenes, she tends to make a little speech. We cannot have little speeches during interventions.

Mr. St. Aubyn

In that case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not be tempted down the path suggested by my hon. Friend.

I should preface my next remarks by saying that my wife and I have never employed an au pair. However, a great many au pairs are employed in my constituency, and representatives of several successful and long-standing agencies that create that employment came to see me some weeks ago when, on another occasion, the DTI got it completely wrong—so wrong that, on the same day as the Secretary of State announced that his minimum wage regulations would not apply to au pairs, one of my hon. Friends received a letter from the Home Office saying that au pairs would indeed be affected by the minimum wage legislation.

Mr. Boswell

Is it not because the Government were so arrogant in their assumptions in respect of the minimum wage legislation and so determined to confine the number of exceptions to the minimum that they have had the greatest legal difficulty in scrambling free from the chains that they have loaded on themselves and on an important sector of the economy?

Mr. St. Aubyn

My hon. Friend is right. The jury is out, and we cannot predict how the Government's masters in Brussels will interpret their wriggling on the hook of the regulations that they created. We have received several unsatisfactory letters from the Secretary of State and his colleagues trying to wriggle off that very hook. I am concerned that the regulations being rushed through the House may contain hidden legal traps that will come to light only when the officials in Brussels scrutinise the legislation and reinterpret it in the context of the many directives that the Government have signed.

I must touch briefly on the issue of au pairs. The previous Government, quite correctly, deregulated employment agencies. However, that action had some unintended consequences in the case of au pairs, and some agencies are not delivering the goods. I draw a real distinction between agencies that provide employment in the workplace and those that provide help in the home. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire made clear, adults can assess the quality of employees in the workplace. Companies will continue to use the services of an agency that delivers the goods and will rapidly cease to use those agencies that deliver second-rate employees. The market system will solve the problems.

When it comes to au pairs, the customer is the child in the home who is clearly in no position to assess the appropriateness or otherwise of the care provided. The logic of that argument extends to those who care for the elderly. Will the Secretary of State explain how he believes that the new regulations will affect au pair agencies? Will they continue to be exempt under the published regulations or will they come within the remit of his Department? If they do, there may be an opportunity to improve the present situation slightly, but the Government will risk damaging the entire au pair scheme.

I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). In responding to a recent Adjournment debate, she made it clear that she believed that au pairs who work for British families are taking advantage of one of life's big opportunities and must take their chances—I almost paraphrase her words. That approach could not contrast more starkly with the apparent attitude of the Department of Trade and Industry, which believes that employees must be mollycoddled from beginning to end by a Government who know exactly what is good for them. Regulations of the type that the Government propose will prove impossibly bureaucratic.

The Government might also consider the experience of the previous Government in promoting a helpline. In a deregulated system, a helpline is an efficient and cost-effective means by which those who have had bad experiences with employment agencies can alert the authorities and others to the risks that they pose. More practical assistance in the form of promoting that helpline would do more to improve the good-quality employment agencies in this country than the over-burdensome regulations with which we are threatened today. When the Government republished their advice to au pairs, they did not bother to include in their leaflet any information about the helpline that au pairs could call if they found their position unsuitable.

We must also consider that the Government might use the new regulations to force employment agencies to become second-class tax inspectors and tax collectors. A very good volunteer agency in my constituency works hard to find carers for the elderly, who would otherwise not be able to afford the service. That agency has experienced many difficulties because the local Inland Revenue office compels it to keep detailed records. The agency is required by law to provide information about the background details of all potential carers who pass through its doors.

Will the Minister assure the House that the remit of the regulations will not be too wide? We have heard that there might be an unfriendly knock on the door and that the regulations offer wide scope for inspecting business records. How can we be sure that, under the guise of these regulations, there will not be cross-fertilisation with the Inland Revenue and undue and unfair pressure applied to those who run the agencies to become tax inspectors and spies for a Government Department? If the Government are tempted down that road, many people will cease using employment agencies. They will relinquish the benefit of being properly assessed for work for which they are suited and the chance of discovering from employers where their best work prospects lie.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

Would my hon. Friend care to comment on the arrogation of power to the Inland Revenue that has occurred under this Government—particularly the way in which the Inland Revenue has assumed the operation of the working families tax credit?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are discussing the regulations as they relate to the Employment Relations Bill. The Inland Revenue may be debated during consideration of the Finance Bill, but not during this debate.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I look forward to debating the Inland Revenue's new approach for many hours when my hon. Friend and I consider the Finance Bill.

I have no doubt that the Government will be tempted to misuse the regulations. They have succumbed to temptation before, and the drafting of the latest regulations gives one absolutely no confidence that pressure will not be applied. As a result, many of those who might have used employment services will follow other routes and a grey market in temporary employment will be created.

Miss Kirkbride

My hon. Friend's remarks are very worrying. Many of my constituents rely on the assistance of carers, who are provided by temporary employment agencies. It is very important that the industry is regulated properly. Such people provide a lifeline for the elderly, who are incapable of looking after themselves.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, and I hope that we will have the benefit of the views of those Labour Members who are deeply concerned about such matters. Unfortunately, not many of them have the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), but I hope that they will not be too timid to contribute to this vital discussion.

The proposals and draft regulations require more scrutiny than can be provided on Report. They demonstrate how out of touch and incompetent the Government are in the vital area of employment law.

7 pm

Mr. Byers

This has been an interesting debate. In the past few hours, we have discussed in detail the important role that employment agencies play in the current labour market. I shall seek to address the various concerns and questions that Opposition Members have raised.

I shall begin by addressing the concerns expressed by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell). He asked specifically whether the new schedule would be in accordance with the European convention on human rights. I touched on that in my opening remarks, when I referred to the need to meet the requirements in relation to self-incrimination, which were set out in the decision in the case of Saunders v. the United Kingdom. We are confident that the new schedule complies with the convention, and I am pleased to give that assurance.

Mr. Boswell

While I am grateful for that substantive assurance, I also asked the Secretary of State a procedural question about whether a Minister who tables a new schedule automatically considers whether it complies with the convention, whether that compliance is assumed or whether, in this particular case, the right hon. Gentleman has studied the new schedule's compliance and he gives that assurance on a one-off basis.

Mr. Byers

When a Bill is presented to the House, the responsible Minister has to sign a statement to the effect that the measure complies with the European convention on human rights. It follows that any amendments or new schedules that are tabled by the Government will also comply with that convention, or they would not be tabled. I am certainly happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that this new schedule complies with the convention.

The hon. Gentleman also expressed concerns about the powers of inspectors relating to entry into premises, including the time of day at which such entry could take place. We heard about the knock in the middle of the night which might not be a friendly knock and the difficulties that individuals could be placed in if they were requested to provide information but lacked the necessary knowledge to do so.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that under the existing section 9 of the Employment Agencies Act 1973, there is a limit on the hours during which inspectors may visit. Those are restricted, in classic legal jargon, to "all reasonable hours". That is the sort of phrase which allows lawyers to make lots of money. Under the proposals before the House, those words would remain in the section. It is appropriate that there is a discretion to determine what is reasonable in the particular circumstances being considered by the court at the time. The existing precedents have established that a reasonable time is during a business's normal trading hours, and we continue to take that view. We can go further and say that in these situations it should be normal practice for inspectors from my Department to visit by appointment. That is good practice, and I intend to give that advice to inspectors on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry.

The hon. Gentleman also raised a point about whether forcible entry could be made, with damages arising as a result. I am informed that forcible entry is not allowed in the provisions that the House is considering. I hope that those clarifications are helpful to Conservative Members. We try our best.

Mr. Boswell

It is right that we should record our thanks where appropriate, so I say to the Secretary of State that we are very satisfied with the assurances that he has given so far. If he continues in that vein, it may affect the tenor of subsequent events.

Mr. Byers

I am conscious that if I go too far in that vein, I may well be the third Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to depart from office during this Parliament, so I shall move on quickly and try to find a point on which I can disagree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Byers

Before I resign or afterwards?

Mr. Bruce

The right hon. Gentleman will note that his two Labour predecessors were not as accommodating as he is, so perhaps he is ensuring his longevity in the job. However, I suspect that if he gets the legislation wrong for the people from employment agencies who are out in Parliament square, that may truncate his career.

Mr. Byers

We shall try to do our best for employment agencies as we do for other organisations, bearing it in mind that our Government were elected to act for all our people and not just a privileged few, unlike Conservative Members. Those words should help to extend my tenure.

The hon. Member for Daventry also expressed concern about a delay in the time in which someone could be prosecuted. The reason for that delay is that there will be circumstances in which individual workers may have to wait a considerable time before they feel able to complain, for example, about non-payment of wages. When a complaint is made in those circumstances, it is appropriate that a prosecution can be made.

The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) made an extremely informative contribution, which I am sure was welcomed by most, or at least some, hon. Members. He took us through his experiences in the employment agency service, which was beneficial. I accept his point about an impact assessment for regulations that might be introduced. There was no impact assessment for the regulations that were produced last week because those were in draft form. When the definitive version is produced, an impact assessment will be published along with the regulations.

On pay rates and notice of changes, I want to ensure that the regulations are as practical as possible for agencies. The present regulations contain no requirement to notify workers of their rate of pay, and we receive many complaints about that. That notification is good practice and is given by many agencies. There are contracts that include such notification, but there is no regulation to require that to happen. It is appropriate to ensure that that aspect is covered by regulation. Obviously, the regulation will build on the good practice to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Bruce

I certainly stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that one has to send a contract of employment to an individual. If that contract did not include the rate of pay among its conditions of employment, it would be invalid under employment contract legislation.

Mr. Byers

That legislation would require a written contract of employment to be provided, but the hon. Gentleman's point was that a telephone call could reveal that a job was available and that it was important, at that stage, that people knew the rate of pay at which they were being hired. That is the issue which we seek to deal with in regulations.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about temporary to permanent fees. I make it clear that we do not propose to prohibit the charging of those fees, but there is a need to control the circumstances in which they can be charged. The use of temp to perm clauses without any restriction can have serious consequences for individual workers and stand in the way of a free and flexible labour market. I shall explain why that is the case.

There is broad agreement that it would be wrong to allow the imposition on workers of terms that restrict them from taking up employment. Placing financial penalties on hirers who wish directly to employ workers whom they originally obtained through an agency has a similar effect to imposing direct restrictions on employees themselves because fees can be set so high that employers are deterred from hiring any workers who have been supplied by a particular employment agency. We seek to overcome that difficulty.

Mr. Sayeed

Can the Secretary of State give us any examples of that? I am not aware of any employment agency that has ever so end-loaded a contract with a fee as to try to force a person whom they are contracting out to another company to remain in temporary employment rather than going on to full-time labour.

Mr. Byers

Such an example was given in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope). He reported the case of a worker who formerly worked for a transport agency and was offered a better paid job by a distribution company. The transport agency through which he had previously worked had included in his contract an "introduction fee" of £2,500, many times the cost of recruiting a worker in that sector. As a result, that worker was unable to take up that particular post. That is an example of the difficulties that can be caused and which we are seeking to overcome.

Mr. Ian Bruce

We are getting to the nub of the issue. A penalty clause—one that makes it more expensive to recruit someone via a temp to perm arrangement—might well require some regulations. I do not think that the industry would be unhappy with that, but surely the Minister is saying that all such temp to perm fees would be outlawed. I have already said why that would mean that a temp could be taken on just for a week and then be followed by another temp. If someone is recruited under a temp to perm arrangement, I think that the industry wants a fee to be paid, as though that person had gone directly from the employment agency into a permanent job.

Mr. Byers

I said at the beginning that there would be no prohibition on the use of temp to perm clauses, but we are seeking to remove the potential for abuse of that system, whereby individuals can effectively have a price placed on their head and, as a result, find it very difficult to enter employment. That is the point I am seeking to clarify.

Miss Kirkbride

If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that he will allow temporary to permanent fees, will he say how he will judge what is an appropriate fee? Will it be based on a percentage of salary? What guidance can he give as to the level of fee that he would find acceptable?

Mr. Byers

These are issues on which I am prepared to take advice and to consult the industry. The level will need to be reasonable in the circumstances. That is the approach we intend to take. We want to prevent individuals from being exploited and denied employment opportunities. There is common cause among the parties that that is the mischief which we must address.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh)

While the Secretary of State is undertaking his investigation and consultation, will he take note of an issue that has come to my attention and which affects the teaching profession? Apparently there is increased casualisation of the teaching profession—[Interruption.] I hope that he is able to take on board what I am saying, although he is clearly being distracted.

There is increasing evidence of growing casualisation in the teaching profession. More and more teachers are finding that they cannot get permanent contracts, only supply work. That in itself is not too much of a problem, but difficulties arise because an increasing number of schools, instead of operating their own lists of supply teachers, are going to employment agencies which are able at short notice to fulfil—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is speaking about a highly technical matter, but the House's rules are clear: interventions must be brief. The hon. Gentleman has been as brief as I can allow him.

Mr. Byers

In that brief intervention, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) made his point. All I can say is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has some radical measures that will make teaching a much more attractive profession, which may help some of the individuals to whom the hon. Gentleman referred.

I hope that I have made the Government's intentions clear in respect of temp to perm fees.

The hon. Member for South Dorset raised a number of issues around the regulations, and we shall consider them as part of the consultation process. They were not really questions for me so much as general matters relating to the subject. His points were well made, and we shall consider his comments in the consultation exercise.

In speaking to amendment No. 34, the hon. Member for Daventry encouraged me to endorse the affirmative procedure for the regulations. I set great store by the regulations, and there is merit in ensuring that they are open to effective scrutiny. Clearly, if things remain as they are, there will be an opportunity for Opposition Members to pray against them, and we may well have a debate in the House or in Committee. If the regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure, such a debate will be guaranteed.

I cannot agree to amendment No. 34 this evening, but there is significant merit in the suggested approach. I should like to consider that approach; perhaps we shall be able to respond more positively in another place. I hope that I have been able to address Opposition Members' concerns on this very important matter.

7.15 pm

There is no prejudice against employment agencies on the part of the Government. We believe that they have an important role to play in a flexible and prosperous labour market. Very often, they deal with people who, for private reasons, choose to be temporary and do not wish to take permanent contracts. Employment agencies are a growth sector, one which we want to ensure can properly address the challenges that lie ahead in the next century. For those reasons, I invite the House to support Government amendment No. 59 and new schedule 2, but to resist the Opposition amendments.

Mr. Redwood

I am aware that we have had a longish debate, but I should like to make a few brief points in reply to the Secretary of State and in order to give guidance to Opposition Members in the light of his comments.

I found the Secretary of State's set of replies by far the best that I have ever heard him give. I am grateful to him for going some way to meet the concerns of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I thought that his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) was particularly good. We are reassured about the hours of visits and by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has checked with lawyers about the European convention on human rights—we do not want the taxpayers or the Government to be faced with an expensive court case. We are also reassured that no forcible entry is allowed under the regulations.

We accept the right hon. Gentleman's reassurances in the spirit in which they were intended. They show that the Report stage can be valuable in clarifying such matters, as we gave the Secretary of State the opportunity to put his assurances on record. Many people in the affected industry will be interested to read his remarks, and I am sure that they will be greatly heartened by them.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce), however, I fear that we did not get quite as much as we would have liked, as I am sure the Secretary of State will understand. My biggest worry about the late arrival of the new schedule and the associated changes is the absence of a proper cost assessment.

I quite understand why the Secretary of State is in a difficult position. He saw that the original proposals were not going to work very well, and understandably wished to amend them. Because of the pressure of time on the business of the House, he has not had enough time to go through everything properly and come to the House with an impact assessment of the costs. That is of course a pity because it follows the recent famous statement by the Minister for the Cabinet Office—made not so many hours ago—to the effect that one of the most important things for the Government was to ensure that any new regulation would be accompanied by a proper assessment of the costs for those affected. We now have one of the first examples of new regulations with no impact cost assessment.

I am worried about the possible costs. I understand that the proposals are well intentioned and that the Secretary of State considered their length in terms of the number of words and pages in an attempt to make them a little more user-friendly, to use the management jargon beloved of this Government. However, I would find it much more reassuring if we had a proper cost assessment from the Government so that we could see how much each employment agency is likely to face by way of additional compliance costs. We could then work out the impact on their charging policies and on the number of people they could afford to employ themselves. There is a worry that the cost could get out of control.

Previous Government exercises have revealed that the Government often understate the compliance costs, sometimes quite dramatically. We certainly felt that to be the case with the competition legislation. Indeed, we now learn from businesses around the country that it is proving much dearer to take the right advice from lawyers in preparation for the new regime than the House was originally told at the time.

The Bill is still quite complicated and we need to be cautious about the costs that it might entail. That is my worry. I am glad that the Secretary of State made it clear that he does not wish to prohibit the charging of fees where there is a move from temporary to permanent employment. We would hope that the idea that someone obtains a temporary job and that that leads to permanent employment could be actively promoted.

That movement often occurs even though the temporary staff member has been found through an employment agency. Many employment agencies would regard that as a success. However, understandably, they wish to protect their business interests to a realistic degree. That being so, the Secretary of State's clarification that there is no prohibition on the charging of fees was most welcome.

As the Secretary of State has said, there may need to be some control over the abuse of clauses limiting or controlling the movement from temporary to permanent employment. I concede, as do my hon. Friends who know the employment agency industry better than I, that there could be such cases.

It is clear that these matters are confusing when even my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset and others who are well versed in them were not clear about the Government's intention from the amendment paper and the draft schedule. I ask the Secretary of State, with his draftsmen and lawyers, to reconsider the language of their proposals. It is not clear to us from the draft legislation before us that the right hon. Gentleman will achieve his quite sensible objective.

We should also like a little more information, when the Bill returns to this place, on how abuses can be controlled. We would want to ensure that abuses were narrowly defined so that a new burden was not placed on those carrying out these activities.

The Secretary of State made the sensible comment that he wants fewer restrictions because he would like to see a more flexible market. If we introduce the crude instrument of the law into a series of detailed and often different negotiations and contracts between individuals and firms, we shall end up with a worse answer rather than a better one.

When we have had time to study the schedule at greater length, I suspect that we will find that it is not loophole proof. The Secretary of State and his advisers may well find, following further consultation, that it is necessary to introduce additional amendments. He may find that it is possible to find a way round the provisions, which he has put forward in something of a hurry. To me, that implies that we need effective scrutiny of the regulations that will follow. We have only the bare bones before us tonight, even though there is quite a lengthy schedule and a series of amendments. We know that a series of regulations have to follow.

The Secretary of State did not give us a firm guarantee that we would definitely have a decent debate on the ensuing regulations, which we think is the minimum required given that what is before us came very late, did not go through the normal Committee process and may contain drafting problems. For that reason and others, we cannot simply accept the Secretary of State's amendments. Similarly, we cannot leave our amendments, which were meant well, to try to improve this draft legislation, without pressing them to a vote.

Mr. Bercow

I am sorry to trouble my right hon. Friend, but what he says about the absence of a commitment to a debate on the Floor of the House is of the utmost importance. That debate must be prior to the implementation of the regulations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the consultation period for the regulations should be no less than three months, and that the private sector should have three months' notice of the date of implementation, in contradistinction to the period that was provided for the working time regulations, which understandably caused a great furore?

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend has made a helpful point. It might be one that Ministers will be sympathetic towards. I am sure that the Secretary of State did not welcome arriving in the Department to discover that a mass of labour market and other regulations had been rushed through without proper consultation and that many problems had emerged as a result. I pay tribute to him again. There have been occasions when he has tried to sort out problems that he inherited from his predecessor. I think immediately of the au pair mess. We read in the newspaper that the right hon. Gentleman was extremely angry about what had happened. However, it is the Secretary of State's job to stay on top of all that and have the appropriate dialogue with his officials to ensure that the process of regulation and government runs as smoothly as possible.

The right hon. Gentleman may find that the latest proposals that are before us are still not the answer, as my hon. Friends have illustrated. It would greatly help him to agree at this stage—I shall willingly give way if he wishes to intervene—to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). My hon. Friend is suggesting that three months' consultation would be a very good idea and that we need proper time to scrutinise the Government's proposals to ensure that they are right. Better to have regulations in six months' time that are right, all the issues having been thought through, than to have botched regulations in three months' time, which would entail the House having to undertake its work again when the Government finally admitted that they had got them wrong.

Given the Secretary of State's new-found love tonight for a sensible parliamentary dialogue and process, and given the co-operation of both sides of the House on some elements of these proposals, I would think it only reasonable for me to ask for, and perhaps for him to accept, a longer consultation period and then a proper debate on the Floor of the House about any regulations. That would complete the job in the way to which we are accustomed, or would like to be accustomed, and in the way that would be best able to secure a sensible future for employment agencies.

I was heartened that the Secretary of State had honeyed words for employment agencies. That has not always been true of members of the right hon. Gentleman's party. However, now that the Government are using these agencies along with Members on both sides of the House and many people in the private sector, it makes sense for the Government and the Opposition to unite in saying that the agencies have a valuable role to play in our economy. They may need a modicum of sensible regulation to stop abuse but we need to be careful about over-regulating them.

We need to be careful about changing regulations in case words go adrift or because lawyers are cleverer than legislators, because there are too many loopholes or in case there are crudities in the approach to introducing law that would result in rich lawyers but limitations on the flexible labour market that the Secretary of State says he would like, which I would definitely like and which I have, in the past, tried to help on its way as a legislator on the Government Benches.

The Opposition welcome the concessions so far, think that we need a few more, would have liked the guarantee of a proper debate and would have liked a guarantee of a sensible period for reflection and consultation with the industry. As we have not yet received those promises from the Secretary of State, I would urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against Government amendment No. 59 to show that we would have liked additional matters to be cleared up.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 319, Noes 127.

Division No. 138] [7.27 pm
Ainger, Nick Canavan, Dennis
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cann, Jamie
Allan, Richard Caplin, Ivor
Allen, Graham Caton, Martin
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Atherton, Ms Candy Chidgey, David
Atkins, Charlotte Clapham, Michael
Austin, John Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Banks, Tony Clark, Dr Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Beard, Nigel Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Begg, Miss Anne Clelland, David
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Clwyd, Ann
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Coaker, Vernon
Benton, Joe Coffey, Ms Ann
Bermingham, Gerald Cohen, Harry
Berry, Roger Coleman, Iain
Best, Harold Colman, Tony
Betts, Clive Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Blackman, Liz Cooper, Yvette
Blears, Ms Hazel Corbett, Robin
Blizzard, Bob Cotter, Brian
Boateng, Paul Cousins, Jim
Borrow, David Cox, Tom
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Crausby, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Buck, Ms Karen Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Burden, Richard Dalyell, Tam
Burgon, Colin Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Butler, Mrs Christine Darvill, Keith
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies(NE Fife) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Dean, Mrs Janet
Campbell-Savours, Dale Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Donohoe, Brian H Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Doran, Frank Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Drown, Ms Julia Keeble, Ms Sally
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Edwards, Huw Kemp, Fraser
Efford, Clive Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Ennis, Jeff Khabra, Piara S
Etherington, Bill Kidney, David
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Kilfoyle, Peter
Fearn, Ronnie King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Fisher, Mark Kingham, Ms Tess
Fitzsimons, Lorna Kumar, Dr Ashok
Flint, Caroline Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Flynn, Paul Laxton, Bob
Follett, Barbara Leslie, Christopher
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Levitt, Tom
Foster, Don (Bath) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Linton, Martin
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Livingstone, Ken
Foulkes, George Livsey, Richard
Fyfe, Maria Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gapes, Mike Lock, David
Gardiner, Barry Love, Andrew
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McAllion, John
Gibson, Dr Ian McAvoy, Thomas
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McCabe, Steve
Godman, Dr Norman A McDonagh, Siobhain
Godsiff, Roger McDonnell, John
Goggins, Paul McGuire, Mrs Anne
Golding, Mrs Llin McIsaac, Shona
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mackinlay, Andrew
Grocott, Bruce McNulty, Tony
Grogan, John MacShane, Denis
Hain, Peter Mactaggart, Fiona
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McWalter, Tony
Hanson, David McWilliam, John
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Mahon, Mrs Alice
Harvey, Nick Mallaber, Judy
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Healey, John Marek, Dr John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hepburn, Stephen Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Heppell, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hesford, Stephen Martlew, Eric
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Maxton, John
Hill, Keith Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hinchliffe, David Merron, Gillian
Hodge, Ms Margaret Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hoey, Kate Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hood, Jimmy Miller, Andrew
Hoon, Geoffrey Mitchell, Austin
Hope, Phil Moffatt, Laura
Hopkins, Kelvin Moonie, Dr Lewis
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hoyle, Lindsay Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Morley, Elliot
Humble, Mrs Joan Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hurst, Alan Mountford, Kali
Hutton, John Mullin, Chris
Iddon, Dr Brian Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Norris, Dan
Jamieson, David O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jenkins, Brian O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) O'Hara, Eddie
Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield) Olner, Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Organ, Mrs Diana
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jones, Ms Jenny(Wolverh'ton SW) Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda Steinberg, Gerry
Pickthall, Colin Stevenson, George
Pike, Peter L Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Plaskitt, James Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pollard, Kerry Stinchcombe, Paul
Pope, Greg Stoate, Dr Howard
Powell, Sir Raymond Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stringer, Graham
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Prescott, Rt Hon John Stunell, Andrew
Primarolo, Dawn Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prosser, Gwyn Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Temple-Morris, Peter
Quinn Lawrie Tipping, Paddy
Rapson, Syd Todd, Mark
Raynsford, Nick Trickett, Jon
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Truswell, Paul
Roche Mrs Barbara Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooker, Jeff Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rooney Terry Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Roy Frank Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ruane, Chris Vaz, Keith
Ruddock, Joan Vis, Dr Rudi
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Walley, Ms Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Salter, Martin Watts, David
Sanders, Adrian Welsh, Andrew
Sarwar, Mohammad White, Brian
Savidge, Malcolm Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sawford, Phil Williams, Rt Hon Alan(Swansea W)
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Sheerman, Barry Wills, Michael
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Winnick, David
Shipley, Ms Debra Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Wise, Audrey
Singh, Marsha Woolas, Phil
Skinner, Dennis Worthington, Tony
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wray, James
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Soley, Clive Mr. Jim Dowd and Mr. Mike Hall.
Squire, Ms Rachel
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Curry, Rt Hon David
Amess, David Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Baldry, Tony
Beggs, Roy Donaldson, Jeffrey
Bercow, John Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Blunt, Crispin Duncan, Alan
Boswell, Tim Duncan Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Evans, Nigel
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Faber, David
Brady, Graham Fabricant, Michael
Brazier, Julian Fallon, Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Flight, Howard
Browning, Mrs Angela Forsythe, Clifford
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Burns, Simon Gale, Roger
Butterfill, John Garnier, Edward
Chapman, Sir Sydney(Chipping Barnet) Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Chope, Christopher Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Clappison, James Gray, James
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Green, Damian
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Greenway, John
Colvin, Michael Grieve, Dominic
Cormack, Sir Patrick Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Cran, James Hammond, Philip
Hayes, John Redwood, Rt Hon John
Heald, Oliver Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Horam, John Ruffley, David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) St Aubyn, Nick
Hunter, Andrew Sayeed, Jonathan
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Jenkin, Bernard Soames, Nicholas
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Key, Robert Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Streeter, Gary
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Swayne, Desmond
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Syms, Robert
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lansley, Andrew Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Letwin, Oliver Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lidington, David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Townend, John
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Tredinnick, David
Loughton, Tim Trend, Michael
Luff, Peter Tyrie, Andrew
McIntosh, Miss Anne Viggers, Peter
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Walter, Robert
Maclean, Rt Hon David Wardle, Charles
McLoughlin, Patrick Wells, Bowen
Malins, Humfrey Whitney, Sir Raymond
Maples, John Whittingdale, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Willetts, David
May, Mrs Theresa Wilshire, David
Moss, Malcolm Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Nicholls, Patrick Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Norman, Archie Woodward, Shaun
Ottaway, Richard Yeo, Tim
Page, Richard Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Paice, James
Pickles, Eric Tellers for the Noes:
Prior, David Mrs. Caroline Spelman and Mr. Tim Collins.
Randall, John

Question accordingly agreed to.