HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 cc657-9

Lords amendment: No. 62.

Alan Johnson

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 63 to 74.

Alan Johnson

Schedule 2 contains the text of the statutory dispute resolution procedures, which are the cornerstone of part 3, and have naturally attracted much discussion both here and in another place.

During and after the Committee stage, I said that we were prepared to look further at two aspects of the statutory procedures in response to points made by hon. Members—whether the statutory procedures could refer in some way to the need to investigate complaints, and whether they could refer to the right to be accompanied. We have since considered those issues in detail, and the Government introduced amendments in the other place, which deal adequately with those concerns.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

In that further consideration, is the issue of bullying at work taken seriously by the Government?

Alan Johnson

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is. A private Member's Bill has been introduced on bullying, and we are pursuing the issue with the Health and Safety Executive, which is the right forum for tackling the problem.

We considered the issues in detail, and the Government introduced amendments in the other place which deal adequately with Members' concerns. In addition, their lordships raised new issues about the statutory procedures, to which we responded with amendments to the schedule. For example, they expressed concern that the procedures may inadvertently interfere with employees' rights to make protected disclosures about wrongdoing.

I shall describe in a little more detail the changes to be made by the amendments. First, Lords amendments Nos. 62, 63, 66, 67, 71 and 72 ensure that where the statutory procedures require the parties to write to each other, they can do so by sending either a copy or the original of the written communication. Previously, the schedule required them to send a copy on all occasions. That is a sensible change, which removes the possibility that parties may accidentally fail to follow the procedures. Lords amendment No. 68 is a technical amendment, which removes inconsistent wording from the standard grievance procedure. Where the statutory procedures require parties to meet, they refer to the holding of "a" or "the" meeting. However, the text of step 2 in the standard grievance procedure refers to the holding of "at least one" meeting. That was unintended, and the amendment ensures that meetings are described in a consistent fashion across the procedures.

Lords amendments Nos. 64, 65, 69 and 70 deal with investigations, and all arise from the many debates during the passage of this Bill about investigations. We have resisted the idea that the statutory procedures should refer to the investigatory process. The procedures are written as a series of concrete and verifiable actions. The investigatory process cannot be described in similar terms or in a way which would generally apply to many different cases and circumstances. None of the amendments therefore uses the word "investigations". Instead, we have approached the issue from a different angle. Our amendments refer to the outcome of the investigatory process—the information or evidence which it typically uncovers. Accordingly, the amendments place obligations on the parties to disclose the information on which they initiated their action against the other. The requirement to assemble and convey such information would in practice be a strong encouragement to the parties to ensure that an investigation occurs.

It being Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Order [this day], put the Questions necessary to bring proceedings on the Lords Amendments to a conclusion.

Lords amendments Nos. 62 to 95 agreed to [some with Special Entry].

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You may be aware that today the Government published their consultation paper entitled "Local Government Finance Formula Grant Distribution". There was coverage of that document in today's media, which is hardly surprising, as 40 copies of the document were sent last night to various local newspapers. However, no copies of the document were available to Members of Parliament this morning in the Vote Office, and only by lunchtime today were four copies of the document available in the Library.

Since the document is 194 pages long, it is clearly difficult for the 659 Members of Parliament to have photocopied versions of their own. The only way that I was able to obtain a copy was by sending a member of my staff to sit and camp at the doorstep of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Can you advise me whether it is appropriate for such a document to be made available to the press, but not made available in sufficient quantity to Members of Parliament, who have a real interest in this vital subject?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I have no immediate answer to that matter, beyond pointing out that it is a consultation document at this stage. I am sure that his point has been heard and that the matter will be remedied as soon as possible.