HC Deb 31 March 1999 vol 328 cc1197-203

Amendments made: No. 52, in page 80, line 16, at end insert—

Chapter Short title Extent of repeal
1992 c. 52. Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. In section 226(2) the word "and" at the end of paragraph (b) Section 227(2). In section 234A(7)(a) the words "otherwise than to enable the union to comply with a court order or an undertaking given to a court".'.

No. 64, in page 81, leave out lines 27 and 28.

No. 56, in page 82, leave out lines 13 and 14.

No. 65, in page 85, line 23, at end insert—

Chapter Short title Extent of repeal
1996 c. 18 Employment Rights Act 1996 In section 112(4), the words "or in accordance with regulations under section 127B".
In section 117(2) and (3), the words "and to regulations under section 127B".
In section 118(1), the words "Subject to regulations under section 127B,". Section 127B.
1998 c. 23. Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Section 8. Section 18(4)(b).'
[Mr. Pope.]

Order for Third Reading read.

9.41 pm
Mr. Byers

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is an historic occasion. I am delighted that I will joined shortly by the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who has been absent from illness.

The Bill establishes and fosters a new culture in the workplace, removing the outdated notion of conflict between employers and employees with a sense of new partnership—a partnership of rights matched by responsibilities. It will address the fundamental imbalance in the workplace that we inherited from the Conservative party.

Now more than ever, we need to foster a new culture in the workplace. The world is dramatically changing and the workplace has changed with it. More people are working part-time and on temporary contracts. More women than ever are working. More families depend on two earners. Those new working patterns put new responsibilities on Government, business and employees.

We want people to be partners in change, not the victims of that change. That places a responsibility on Government to ensure minimum standards of fairness and treatment for all in society and in the workplace. That places a responsibility on business to ensure that the task of making a reality of the flexible labour market does not fall solely and exclusively on working people, and a responsibility on employees to demonstrate loyalty and commitment to their employer.

The Bill will do three things: it will promote family-friendly policies; promote a new culture of partnership in the workplace; and ensure equal and fair treatment for all in the workplace, regardless of whether they work full or part-time, for a single employer, or through an agency. Those are all sensible and achievable goals. It is a matter of great regret that the Opposition will not support them.

We are just a little over two hours away from the introduction for the first time in this country of a national minimum wage, which will benefit 2 million of our fellow citizens by taking them out of poverty pay, and ensuring that they will not be exploited. Two million people will benefit from the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, but even more people will benefit from the Employment Relations Bill.

About 135,000 mothers will benefit from our improved maternity provisions. The 1 million people who work through employment agencies will have greater protection. Some 3.3 million people will benefit from our parental leave proposals. More than 6.5 million part-timers will be protected from discrimination.

The Government are acting for all our people, not just a privileged few. The Bill will play an important part in modernising our country, creating a better Britain and a more modern and fair society in which all the people will have rights coupled with responsibilities. The Bill discharges our responsibility by ensuring that we meet our manifesto commitment. We are a Government who deliver on our promises.

The Employment Relations Bill begins a new era in industrial relations, an era based on partnership and on putting aside the divisions and disagreements of the past. It is a new beginning for industrial relations that will benefit millions of our fellow citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.

9.45 pm
Mr. Boswell

In rising to oppose the Bill on the Opposition's behalf, may I agree with the Secretary of State on one matter by expressing our pleasure at the fact that the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry is shortly to return from his indisposition. We are pleased that he is able to be with us again.

Now, let me resume normal hostilities by saying that what we have just heard from the Secretary of State was, even from him, a disappointing concatenation of soundbites. The Secretary of State claimed as a credit to himself the imminent introduction of the national minimum wage, but he simultaneously omitted to mention the propensity of both that and of the Employment Relations Bill to destroy jobs by increasing the costs of business. The Government have taken no adequate account of that fact. For all their honeyed words and all their alleged readiness to consult, they are bent on doing damage to British business by imposing costs on it.

The conduct of the Bill has been remarkable. Two reordering motions were required, one on the very first day of consideration. Four major schedules have been tabled during the Bill's proceedings. Consultation and regulations were issued in pre-draft form 90 minutes before we considered them. That does not suggest that the Government understand much of the business about which they lecture real business people.

The Bill will impose statutory collective bargaining. Last time that was done, six short clauses damaged British industry and proved to be unworkable. This time, there are 27 long pages of a schedule, which will damage British industry and which will prove unworkable.

The Bill introduces, for the first time, parts of the European social chapter, which have not yet been fully discussed. The Government have gold plated some of the obligations that they have voluntarily undertaken, adding further to those obligations in ways that will increase costs on British business. The pattern of their policies—including the family-friendly policies—is to put burdens on to business and to reduce competitiveness while increasing costs.

Some loose ends will be left over. The Confederation of British Industry has expressed general concern about the Bill, but has gone along with it. Concerns remain about the importance of asserting the voluntary principle, the best by which to conduct industrial relations. Concerns remain about disciplinary and grievance hearings and about definitions in the Bill, some of which we have been able to explore and others of which we have had no time to explore.

The Bill is an extraordinary confection. There is little in the clauses, more in the schedules, and most of all has lain in the soundbites. Today, the Government are ringing their bells and making their claims, but, in the years to come, British industry will pay the bills and suffer the damage of a Bill which we are pleased to oppose.

9.49 pm
Mr. Chidgey

It falls to me, in the three remaining minutes of the debate, to have almost the last word on the Bill. I should like to reinforce what Liberal Democrat Members have been saying from the outset—that we have always supported the principles of fair and free industrial and employment relations. I should like also to sum up the past several weeks of our consideration of the Bill.

The Bill's provisions may be divided into three categories: on individual rights, on collective rights and on family-friendly policies. Despite our long debates and Committee sittings, the Bill's provisions—particularly in the first category, on individual rights—still do not provide the clarity that we should have liked. The problem of discrimination—on the basis of age, and of sexual orientation—is outstanding. We are still not satisfied that the Government have properly addressed the issue.

The Government's proposals on collective rights have left us wondering how they decided on the 40 per cent. threshold. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State and other Ministers would give us some further guidance on how they reached that conclusion, so that the wider community—the many whom they claim to represent—might be able to understand it.

We have concerns also about the Bill's proposals on family-friendly policies. Although we appreciate and welcome the introduction of European Community directives on family-friendly policies, we still do not understand why it was necessary for the Government to indulge in what can only be called the gold-plating of specific matters. We are particularly concerned about how the Government dealt in the Bill with leave for urgent family reasons. We feel that much more could have been done to make the provision simple, clear and efficient in operation.

This is an "enabling Bill". Time and again in Committee, we were told by Ministers that, "The detail will come later. We have not finished consulting. In fact, we are continually consulting." I thought that Governments were elected to legislate, but perhaps I have it wrong. We still have to wait. Time and again, massive Government amendments were tabled but with no time to study or analyse them, or to share in the Secretary of State's ambition—which he expressed again today—of improving the Bill.

We are left with an enabling Bill, and still await the regulations. The doubts that I have been expressing are about exactly how those regulations will work. On the Bills and Acts that the Secretary of State has trumpeted today—such as the National Minimum Wage Act 1998—to make them work, the Government have had to think again, to change their mind and to introduce new strictures and regulations. Will the same happen with this Bill after it becomes an Act of Parliament?

When the regulations are tabled, I look forward to examining them forensically, although—because of the way in which this place works—we shall have little time to do so. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government are listening, and that they will do their best to make the Bill work—not only for the many, but for those who employ the many.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 328, Noes 124.

Division No. 140] [9.52 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Ainger, Nick Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bradshaw, Ben
Allen, Graham Brinton, Mrs Helen
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Buck, Ms Karen
Atherton, Ms Candy Burden, Richard
Atkins, Charlotte Burgon, Colin
Austin, John Butler, Mrs Christine
Banks, Tony Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Barnes, Harry Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Barron, Kevin Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Begg, Miss Anne Campbell-Savours, Dale
Beggs, Roy Canavan, Dennis
Berth, Rt Hon A J Cann, Jamie
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Caplin, Ivor
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Caton, Martin
Benton, Joe Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bermingham, Gerald Chidgey, David
Berry, Roger Clapham, Michael
Best, Harold Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Betts, Clive Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Blizzard, Bob Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Borrow, David Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David Hesford, Stephen
Clwyd, Ann Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Coaker, Vernon Hill, Keith
Coffey, Ms Ann Hinchliffe, David
Cohen, Harry Hodge, Ms Margaret
Coleman, Iain Hoey, Kate
Colman, Tony Hood, Jimmy
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hoon, Geoffrey
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Hope, Phil
Corbett, Robin Hopkins, Kelvin
Corbyn, Jeremy Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cousins, Jim Hoyle, Lindsay
Cox, Tom Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Crausby, David Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Humble, Mrs Joan
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hurst, Alan
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hutton, John
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Iddon, Dr Brian
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Darvill, Keith Jamieson, David
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Jenkins, Brian
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Barry (Alyn &Deeside)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Denham, John Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Doran, Frank Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dowd, Jim Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Drown, Ms Julia Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Keeble, Ms Sally
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Edwards, Huw Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Efford, Clive Kemp, Fraser
Ennis, Jeff Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Etherington, Bill Khabra, Piara S
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Kidney, David
Fearn, Ronnie Kilfoyle, Peter
Fisher, Mark King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Fitzsimons, Lorna Kingham, Ms Tess
Flint, Caroline Kumar, Dr Ashok
Flynn, Paul Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Follett, Barbara Laxton, Bob
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Leslie, Christopher
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Levitt, Tom
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Foulkes, George Linton, Martin
Fyfe, Maria Livingstone, Ken
Gapes, Mike Livsey, Richard
Gardiner, Barry Lock, David
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Love, Andrew
Gibson, Dr Ian McAllion, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McAvoy, Thomas
Godman, Dr Norman A McCabe, Steve
Godsiff, Roger McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Goggins, Paul McDonagh, Siobhain
Golding, Mrs Llin McDonnell, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McIsaac, Shona
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Grocott, Bruce Mackinlay, Andrew
Grogan, John McNulty, Tony
Hain, Peter MacShane, Denis
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mactaggart, Fiona
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McWalter, Tony
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McWilliam, John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Mahon, Mrs Alice
Healey, John Mallaber, Judy
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Marek, Dr John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hepburn, Stephen Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Heppell, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martlew, Eric Sawford, Phil
Maxton, John Sedgemore, Brian
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Shaw, Jonathan
Merron, Gillian Sheerman, Barry
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Shipley, Ms Debra
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Short, Rt Hon Clare
Miller, Andrew Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mitchell, Austin Singh, Marsha
Moffatt, Laura Skinner, Dennis
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Morley, Elliot Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Snape, Peter
Mountford, Kali Soley, Clive
Mullin, Chris Spellar, John
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Squire, Ms Rachel
Naysmith, Dr Doug Steinberg, Gerry
Norris, Dan Stevenson, George
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
O'Hara, Eddie Stinchcombe, Paul
Olner, Bill Stoate, Dr Howard
Öpik, Lembit Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Organ, Mrs Diana Stringer, Graham
Osborne, Ms Sandra Stuart, Ms Gisela
Palmer, Dr Nick Stunell, Andrew
Pearson, Ian Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pendry, Tom Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin Temple-Morris, Peter
Pike, Peter L Tipping, Paddy
Plaskitt, James Todd, Mark
Pollard, Kerry Trickett, Jon
Pond, Chris Truswell, Paul
Pope, Greg Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (kemptown)
Powell, Sir Raymond Turner,Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Twigg Derek (Halton)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Vaz, Keith
Primarolo, Dawn Vis, Dr Rudi
Prosser, Gwyn Walley, Ms Joan
Purchase, Ken Ward, Ms Claire
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Wareing, Robert N
Quinn, Lawrie Watts, David
Radice, Giles Welsh, Andrew
Rapson, Syd White, Brian
Raynsford, Nick Whitehead, Dr Alan
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Wills, Michael
Rooker, Jeff Winnick, David
Rooney, Terry Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wise, Audrey
Roy, Frank Woolas, Phil
Ruane, Chris Worthington, Tony
Ruddock, Joan Wray, James
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian Tellers for the Ayes:
Sarwar, Mohammad Mr. David Hanson and
Savidge, Malcolm Mrs. Anne McGuire.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Boswell, Tim
Amess, David Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Brady, Graham
Baldry, Tony Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Bercow, John Browning, Mrs Angela
Beresford, Sir Paul Burns, Simon
Blunt, Crispin Butterfill, John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick
Chope, Christopher Malins, Humfrey
Clappison, James Maples, John
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Colvin, Michael May, Mrs Theresa
Cormack, Sir Patrick Moss, Malcolm
Cran, James Nicholls, Patrick
Curry, Rt Hon David Norman, Archie
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Ottaway, Richard
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Page, Richard
Duncan Smith, Iain Paice, James
Evans, Nigel Pickles, Eric
Faber, David Prior, David
Fabricant, Michael Randall, John
Fallon, Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Flight, Howard Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Fox, Dr Liam Ruffley, David
Gale, Roger St Aubyn, Nick
Garnier, Edward Sayeed, Jonathan
Gibb, Nick Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gill, Christopher Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Soames, Nicholas
Gray, James Spicer, Sir Michael
Green, Damian Spring, Richard
Greenway, John Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Grieve, Dominic Streeter, Gary
Hague, Rt Hon William Swayne, Desmond
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Syms, Robert
Hawkins, Nick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hayes, John Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Heald, Oliver Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, Sir Teddy
Horam, John Townend, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Trend, Michael
Hunter, Andrew Tyrie, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Viggers, Peter
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Walter, Robert
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Wardle, Charles
Wells, Bowen
Key, Robert Whitney, Sir Raymond
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Whittingdale, John
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Wilkinson, John
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Willetts, David
Lansley, Andrew Wilshire, David
Leigh, Edward Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Letwin, Oliver Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Lidington, David Woodward, Shaun
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Yeo, Tim
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Mr. Tim Collins and
McIntosh, Miss Anne Mrs. Caroline Spelman.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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