HL Deb 22 July 1963 vol 252 cc456-60

3.5 p.m.

Read 3a (according to Order) with the Amendments.

Clause 4 [Written particulars of terms of employment]:


My Lords, I apologise for bringing what is purely a drafting Amendment to your Lordships at this stage, but it is purely a drafting Amendment, and I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 5, line 3, at end insert— ("(11) The last foregoing subsection shall not affect the obligation to specify the date when the employment began in a statement under subsection (1) of this section, but in such a statement given to an employee whose period of employment began before the date of the coming into force of this section, and is not less than five years, the obligation may be discharged by stating that the employee has been employed for not less than five years.").—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In doing so, I do not intend to make a long speech, because we discussed this measure fully on Second Reading and had a most useful and interesting debate both on the Committee stage and on the Report stage. As a result of those discussions, a number of Amendments have been made which I believe will improve the Bill; but I am sorry that I have been unable to accept all the Amendments and suggestions which your Lordships have offered, and, in particular, a suggestion made by my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton. However, I hope your Lordships will realise the position, and will feel that the points made have been thoroughly examined and discussed, and that I have sufficiently answered them in letters individually to those of your Lordships who raised them.

I would just say one word, if I may, about my noble friend's Amendment, since I suggested on Committee stage that it might be possible to find a form of words which would take care of his point. I have written to my noble friend about it, but the difficulty really is that, whatever we do, we raise great anomalies. There is the problem of the three waiting days; there is the problem of deciding what the appropriate single rate of benefit is; there is the problem of the married woman who may opt out of the National Insurance Scheme; and there are a number of other anomalies which I could mention. I suppose it would be possible to solve some of them, though not all; but I am told that, if one did, then one would end up with something so complicated as not really to be worth the candle, and something which would give little satisfaction to the employer. For these reasons it was not thought worth while to put down an Amendment, and I apologise to my noble friend for having failed to find a way of meeting his point.

I noticed this morning that a leading article in The Times describes this Bill as "a modest but useful measure". I think it is more than that. It is an important part of the Government's policy in labour matters, and, as such, I hope your Lordships will now pass it. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Carrington.)


My Lords, from this side of the House I should like to express gratitude, particularly on behalf of my noble friend Lord Shackleton and myself, for the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and for the very detailed letters he has sent us on points which we raised during the Committee stage of this Bill. We do not agree with those points, but we appreciate the courtesy with which he put his point of view, and the fact that the letters arrived before this Third Reading, so that we were able to consider them.

He referred to The Times, and to its reference to this being a modest Bill. We let it go through with no enthusiasm whatever. So far as we on this side of the House are concerned, it is window dressing. It falls far short of the industrial charter which we heard so much about from the Tory Party well over ten years ago; and the plain fact is, as I mentioned on Second Reading, that there is not a trade union in this country dealing with a reasonable group of employers which has not got a far better agreement in regard to its workers than ever is provided in this Bill. The worst thing, from a trade union point of view, is that even many of those good employers, when in the future we go to negotiate with them the problems which are covered by this Bill, may refer to it and say, "That is the Government's minimum and, so far as we are concerned, it is the maximum". We let the Bill pass. It does not do any harm; it does not do any good—and there is still a long way to go before this Tory Government come up to their promise of a workers' charter which they talked about when they were in Opposition and when they first came to power in 1951.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, if I may keep your Lordships for a few minutes, I should like to make a few further remarks about this Bill. I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, in paying tribute to the way in which, with a great deal of industry and trouble, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has met us over the detailed points. We, from this side of the House, appreciate it as well.

On Second Reading, both sides of your Lordships' House gave only a lukewarm welcome to this Bill; and I think that that is how the matter stands at the present time. I should certainly not oppose the Bill, because I am in favour of its objects. But I am quite sure that if the Ministry of Labour had followed their usual practice, and consulted fully with the employers and the Trades Union Congress before endeavouring to put the matter on paper, we should have had a Bill which would be comprehensive and one that could be understood by the ordinary layman. This Bill is so complicated in its wording as to be almost completely unintelligible to folks like myself.

I would add that I think that this is not the usual practice of the Ministry of Labour. In the past, under whatever Government, we have always found them most approachable on the details of measures they wish to bring forward. I trust that this slight aberration, if I may so call it, on their part will not be repeated. I have already urged, as I think others also have done, that once this Bill becomes law, and the Minister is prepared to put it into practice, it will be absolutely necessary for a "child's guide" to be compiled, so that both employers and workers know their obligations and rights under this measure. Certainly they will not find it very easy to discover them by reading the Bill as it stands to-day.

The Minister has referred to the fact that he was unable to accept an Amendment which I moved on the Committee stage and which I thought had the general acceptance of the House. This was to try to put right the anomaly whereby, under this measure, those working out their period of notice would do much better in regard to remuneration if they stayed at home sick than if they stayed at work. The Minister promised to look into this matter and, as he said, wrote me a long letter explaining the difficulty of devising a form of words which would meet the point that the House raised without giving rise to even further anomalies. I am not sure that the difficulty could not be overcome; but I do not wish to press the point to-day; and I hope there will be very few cases in future of a man working out notice happening to fall sick.

I think it is a pity that the principle is established in this, and in other measures, that it pays a man better to go sick than to stay at work. I am sure that that is not a good principle. It ought not to be introduced into any Act of Parliament, and I hope that it will not be inserted in any other Acts in the future. I am not going to pursue the matter further this afternoon. I can only trust that this somewhat general measure, which I know is only part of a large scheme of things to the benefit of industrial relations generally in this country, will prove to be more important than we imagine.

On Question, Bill passed and returned to the Commons.