HL Deb 21 June 1963 vol 250 cc1494-528

11.18 a.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. It is a Bill with two objects: to establish for employees minimum rights to notice of termination of employment, and to require employers to inform their workpeople in writing of the main terms of their employment. Thus the underlying purpose of the Bill is to give greater security to workers. In this it forms part of the Government's wider plans for encouraging an atmosphere in industry helpful to economic change and growth. If we are to keep our economy competitive and bear our share of responsibility for helping the developing countries, our industry must be efficient, flexible and ready to adopt new and better techniques.

This means constant changes in the pattern of employment as some firms and industries expand and others decline. But at any particular point of time this process of economic change and expansion may mean for thousands of our fellow citizens a serious upheaval in their personal lives. It may mean finding a new job; it may mean uprooting home and family; it may mean that a man's skill, learnt over many years, has become outdated and that he must look to a fresh occupation for his livelihood. I do not think we have any right to expect that the workers affected will cooperate in bringing about economic changes or even acquiesce in them, if we leave them to face consequences such as these without adequate protection and help. Indeed the fear of change and what it may bring can breed resistance and be a powerful brake upon economic progress. The need for change will therefore be understood and accepted only if those concerned are helped to face the consequences. This problem of generating a sense of security, of helping the worker to meet change with confidence, is fundamental to our industrial efficiency.

The Government's plans for dealing with this problem include the proposals already announced for re-casting our industrial training system. We aim to secure a general improvement in apprenticeship and other training of young people, and also a substantial increase in facilities for training adults, so that our working population will be better equipped to meet the changing requirements of industry. The number of training places in Government centres is to be doubled and up to £10 million allocated for the establishment of industrial training boards. The Government are also determined to secure a general improvement in arrangements for dealing with the problems of redundancy and, as has already been announced, will if necessary introduce legislation for this purpose.

As I have explained, the Contracts of Employment Bill has a place in the Government's plans for dealing with this problem of security. It has a two-fold contribution to make. It gives the worker an entitlement to a minimum period of notice if his services are to be dispensed with. It also ensures that he will be given a clear understanding of his basic terms and conditions of employment.

My Lords, legislation on these matters is a radical step for the Government of this country. Hitherto length of notice and connected matters have been left to voluntary negotiation between the two sides of industry or have been settled individually between the employer and employee. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Bill in its early stages had a somewhat critical reception. The British Employers' Confederation, while not opposed in principle to longer notice, had a marked preference for leaving these matters to voluntary negotiation and was opposed to legislation. This view was very understandable. It was entirely in keeping with our traditional approach to these matters. Nevertheless, the Government could not accept it because we took the view that we needed a general and rapid advance, and this could be brought about only by legislation. But the British Employers' Confederation and other organisations consulted about the Bill also made a number of constructive suggestions which have contributed a good deal to improving it.

The Trades Union Congress had certain criticisms of the Bill as originally drafted. They considered that it was unfair to place on employees as well as employers an obligation to give extended notice. This point is no longer relevant. The statutory obligation on the employee to give not less than a week's notice after he has been with the employer for 26 weeks does not increase with longer service. The T.U.C. also said that the Bill did little for workers whose employment was less secure, in the main those connected with the construction industries, shipyards and shipbuilding. As I shall explain in dealing with the main provisions of the Bill, this point has been largely met.

My Lords, I return now to the Bill's main provisions. Clause 1 lays down the minimum periods of notice. When an employer gives notice the minimum is one week for an employee who has worked for him for at least 26 weeks but less than 2 years; 2 weeks if the employment has lasted between 2 and 5 years; and 4 weeks if it has lasted 5 years or more. When the employee gives notice, it is one week if the employment has lasted 26 weeks or more. This period does not increase with longer service. The period of employment must be continuous and is counted in weeks. The rules for reckoning it up are given in Schedule I. It is made clear in the Bill that these provisions do nothing to prevent either employee or employer waiving his rights to notice on any occasion or to prevent them from agreeing on a payment in lieu of notice. Nor do they affect the right of either party to terminate employment without notice in the sort of circumstances which would at present justify such action—such as serious misconduct.

I should like to draw attention to three main changes which have been made in the notice provisions since the Bill was introduced. First, a right to one week's notice after 26 weeks' employment has been introduced. Originally, the Bill gave no rights to notice to employees who had worked for their employer for less than 2 years. This left a gap. Although many workers qualify under their contract for a week's notice after their probationary period, there are important exceptions. In the shipyards and in building, for example—although in this latter industry a change is pending—workers may be discharged under their contracts with virtually no notice. Moreover, for many workers in these industries frequent changes of employer are customary, and they would be unlikely to satisfy a qualifying period of 2 years' employment with one employer. The two sides of the building industry have recently agreed to introduce in August provisions for one week's notice after six months' employment. This progress is most welcome. Nevertheless, for workers in shipyards and other employments, who are still liable to dismissal with little or no notice, the right to one week's notice after 26 weeks' work will be a real advance.

The second important change is that the notice to be given by the employee now remains at one week and does not increase with longer service. Without this change, long-service employees might have been held in the event of redundancy, while those with less service would have been free to leave before them and get the pick of the available jobs.

Thirdly, the rules in Schedule 1 about the effect of a strike on continuity of service have been changed. The Bill is not an anti-strike measure, but it cannot ignore the problem of laying down how a strike should affect continuity of employment. The rule proposed in the Bill respects the right to strike. A strike will affect continuity of employment only if it is in breach of contract. Since the Bill writes into the worker's contract important new rights to notice, it is only reasonable that these should be conditional on the worker's honouring his obligations under the contract.

My Lords, I should also like to mention another provision of Schedule 1 which has attracted some comment. To qualify for rights to notice, the worker must be employed under a contract which normally involves at least 21 hours' employment a week. The same dividing line is used to govern entitlement to a written statement of terms of employment. It seems to me right that the Bill should benefit those who depend on their employment for a substantial part of their livelihood and that inconsiderable and spare-time employment should be excluded. The precise number of hours to be chosen as the dividing line is clearly a nice matter of judgment. Twenty-one hours is half the normal working week common among industrial workers and seems a reasonable dividing line. The Government have, however, undertaken to consider, and we are considering, whether, in order to enable any adjustment to be made which experience shows to be necessary, they should seek powers to vary the limit.

The right to notice might mean little in itself unless the employee's right to payment during notice is defined. This is dealt with in Clause 2 and Schedule 2. The objective is clear: to safeguard the employee against a serious drop in pay when he is under notice. It has proved most difficult to find a formula which would apply satisfactorily in all employments. The original proposal—for payment based on average earnings over the previous 26 weeks—was criticised on the ground that it would give rise to serious anomalies and would place an undue administrative burden on employers. The new rules which are set out in Schedule 2 should be much simpler to operate. They distinguish between employees who have normal working hours under their contracts (and the vast majority of employees are in this category) and those who have not.

A man who has normal working hours and works for at least those hours during notice will be paid according to his contract. This, as I say, will cover most of the employees under notice. In these circumstances, the contract will be a sufficient safeguard, and no special calculation will be necessary. But protection is needed for those workers who do not work their normal hours during notice because of sickness, short-time working and other reasons. Time workers in this group are to be paid during notice not less than they would have received for their full normal hours of work. Piece workers are to be paid for each hour not worked at a rate not less than their average for the preceding 4 weeks. Protection is also needed for those with no normal hours. They are to be paid their average earnings, but the average will be struck over 12 weeks instead of 26. These new provisions stick more closely to the contract than the original formula. I think, too, that as a result of this the possibility of anomalies and misunderstandings will be greatly reduced. In most cases no special calculations will be needed.

Clause 2 of the Bill gives scope for alternative arrangements governing pay during notice where these would suit individual circumstances. Under subsection (3), the parties concerned can agree on a contract containing different provisions for pay during notice, provided that the notice which the employer must give is at least one week longer than that required by the Bill. Thus, the employer has to offer substantially longer notice before he can seek to vary the requirements of the Bill as regards payment during notice. It will always, of course, be open to the employee and his trade union to consider what is offered in the light of the statutory rights under the Bill.

Clause 4 of the Bill requires employers to give their employees written particulars of the main terms of employment. Terms concerning pay, hours of work, holidays and holiday pay, sickness and sick pay, pensions schemes and length of notice are to be included. With the exception of notice, the Bill does not lay down minimum terms to be included under these heads, but if under any of these heads no provision is made, then the statement must say so. The purpose of this provision is, of course, to let the employee know clearly on what terms he is employed. The clause also empowers the Minister of Labour by order to add to the list of particulars which are to be given. This will enable the requirements to be adjusted as and if circumstances change. The statement must be given to the employee within thirteen weeks of starting work. Originally the period of grace was five weeks but this has been extended to thirteen weeks to exclude seasonal, temporary and casual work, as it would be unreasonable to impose the obligation on employers in respect of such workers.

The preparation of the statement required by Clause 4 will mean some additional paper work for employers, but efforts have been made to keep this as little as possible. The employer may refer the employer for particulars to any reasonably accessible document without re-stating them. Changes in the terms of employment must be notified within a month by one of three methods: by individual notification; by circular or notice, provided a copy remains reasonably accessible or, where the original statement referred to any document, by keeping that document up to date.

My Lords, under Clause 5 registered dock workers, merchant seamen and fishermen are excluded from the Bill. The employment of registered dock workers is regulated by separate legislation, and it would not be appropriate to deal with it in this Bill. The Bill's provisions cannot be applied to the special circumstances of sea-going employment. Subsections (5) and (6) empower the Minister of Labour by order to vary these categories should circumstances change. Because of its importance this power is exercised only subject to Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

These then are the main provisions of this short but important Bill. Broadly speaking, they reflect existing practice in progressive firms. The Bill will thus raise the general standard in these matters, and will be generally welcomed as a reasonable measure, of benefit to many millions of workers. The Bill is an integral part of the Government's measures to increase security of work. It should help to create throughout the whole employment field an atmosphere in which co-operation, acceptance of necessary change, and efficiency will flourish. I commend it wholeheartedly to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Carrington)

11.35 a.m.


My Lords, first of all I think I ought to congratulate the noble Lord opposite on the manner in which he has introduced this Bill. He almost brought me to believe that this Bill is likely to bestow great benefits on the workers, which of course is not the case. I think I ought to confess at the outset that I am instinctively opposed to this Bill, because I have a sincere belief and faith in the British system of voluntary negotiation and agreements between employers and organised labour. I believe that our industrial relations will be all the better for reliance on and confidence in the voluntary system; and that in the long run we shall continue to encourage in industry an increasing sense of responsibility.

Over the last forty years or so we have built up a splendid system of national and regional joint industrial councils, and other negotiating bodies, covering the broad field of British industry and commerce. Only a very small part is subject to statutory wages councils carrying legal enforcement—mainly in unorganised trades where voluntary machinery is not practical. The British system of wages and conditions fixation, with all its defects, has been praised and admired, and indeed has been accepted as the model for less developed and emerging democracies. It is admired for the universal acceptance of voluntary agreements between managements and labour requiring little or no legal compulsions. I remember a delegation of young German workers coming over here shortly after the war, to study our system of wages and conditions fixation, and the voluntary system was explained to them in detail. During the questions they asked persistently: "How are these agreements enforced? What do the Government do to enforce them?" We tried to explain patiently that there was not any enforcement, and that it was not necessary. But I am perfectly certain that they went away and thought we were misleading them.

My Lords, in a democracy nothing is perfect, and democracy will work, and will survive, only if there is a social consciousness and willingness to make it work. In our industrial relations we have gone a long way towards making the voluntary system a success. As a nation we are very advanced in these matters, and that is why I deprecate the superimposing of legal enactments, particularly when they do not appear to be necessary. The survival of our democratic system will ultimately depend on the confidence placed in, and the success of, democratic principles and procedures, and it is in this direction that encouragement and support at all times ought to be given.

Throughout the vast field of industrial and commercial activity, with the exception of that small section covered by wages councils, men and women go to work, and employers meet the obligation of wages, salaries and conditions, not with legal enactments carrying penalties for non-compliance, but on ordinary man-to-man agreements; and, very often, simply on decisions of joint meetings, probably backed by nothing more than the minute of a meeting. I do not believe that it will do any good to bring into the field of politics the delicate and complex matters of wages and conditions fixation. Experience has shown that they are better dealt with by those within and close to the various industries. The employees concerned—and, indeed, the employers, too—have greater confidence in decisions so reached than they can have in legal enactments drawn up without the intimate knowledge of the various industries affected. There are already too many unions, and it would be a pity if we had the addition of another—the Parliamentary union. It is for these reasons that I profoundly dislike the Bill.

The Government, through the Ministry of Labour, have constantly pleaded for more and more and closer joint consultation between management and labour, and this exhortation to industry has been very well canalised through the Ministry of Labour's National Joint Advisory Council. This admirable body, on which I was privileged to serve for some twelve years or so, has been a source of strength to the Ministry of Labour on industrial matters. But, on the formulation of the provisions of this Bill, I understand that no prior consultation took place with the Advisory Council, which probably accounts for the very ragged Bill which was originally submitted to another place. Now the British Employers' Confederation made a statement in Bulletin No. 199, and this is what they said: In any event, the legalistic approach to industrial relation problems creates entirely the wrong atmosphere. It now appears that the Government considers that progress towards longer notice has been too slow. In the Confederation's view, the proper course is for the Government to say so, and give employers and workers an opportunity of adjusting their agreements. The British Employers' Confederation is right in this, because if it is construed that employers have been too niggardly and trade unions too weak or lackadaisical in pressing for longer notice, we cannot blame the unions, and particularly the more militant ones, for adopting in the future a more aggressive and militant policy in the prosecution of their demands. It is fallacious to argue that trade unions should condition their demands and approach in negotiations on increased productivity and industrial efficiency, and the capacity of industry to meet these demands, if, without any regard to these concepts, Parliament concedes them. Trade unionists will be quite justified, if this Bill becomes an Act, in saying to the unions, "Why haven't you secured those conditions in the normal way? Why should Parliament have to step in? You are too easy going; you are too weak; you are not sufficiently militant ". And, my Lords, this can be very dangerous.

It is now suggested that the employers or the unions have failed in this matter of adequate notice, and that therefore Parliament must act. During debates on this Bill in another place it was suggested strongly that there are other matters which the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Labour should tackle. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in his speech introducing the Bill, mentioned that there was to be another Bill on redundancy payments. There are many other matters which arise in negotiations in British industry that might also be the subject of future Bills: adequate holidays, shorter hours, sickness and accident payments, pension schemes, rest periods and low average earnings in some industries. Is it the intention to bring in Bills to deal with matters of this description? If so, whatever confidence there may be in the voluntary system will have been completely undermined.

It is claimed that this Bill gives some idea of security to the majority of the workers. This is an extraordinary interpretation. It does nothing of the sort. All it does is to provide for the bad news of dismissal to be given in advance. It is claimed that a worker receiving one, two or four weeks' notice will have so much time to look round for another job. But he has to work out his notice. How can he look round for another job? He will be working all day, so far as he is a day worker, and his free time will be in the evening, when other works are closed. If the employee working out his notice asks for a day or half-day off to seek other employment, the Bill specifies that, although the employer grants the employee permisison to be off for this excellent purpose, the employer is not liable, and need not make any payment for that time off. What security is there in this?

I think it would have been a much better Schedule 2, and a much better Bill, if it had provided for some minimum time off with pay—say, a day a week—so that the employee could seek other employment or keep an appointment with another employer for another job. The noble Lord opposite, I know, said that, notwithstanding the provisions of this Bill, employers could grant time off with pay; and of course, the progressive employers will do so. But this Bill is not directed against the progressive employers: it is directed against the backward employers who will not by voluntary negotiations concede longer notice.

The purpose of the Bill, as the noble Lord opposite has said, is to do two things: to provide for longer notice and to give the employee the terms of employment. These are two simple requirements for which any joint industrial council could provide in two or three simple clauses. Yet we have a complicated Bill of thirteen pages, parts of which are so complicated as to be capable of different interpretations, even by lawyers. For the life of me I do not know how a worker is going to understand the provisions of the Bill. I suppose he will go along to his trade union official to find out, and the trade union official will have to go to the union's lawyer. Then, the union's lawyer will say, "I can only give you an opinion. The final interpretation can be laid down only by the courts". My Lords, if one examines the conditions of wages councils, one sees how complicated must be legal enactments on this question of wages and conditions.

There is just one other matter in the Bill on which I should like to comment, and that is the provision to the employee of the terms of employment. Why on earth should an employee have to wait for thirteen weeks before he is told of the wages and conditions under which he has to work? How can there be a contract between an employer and a worker if the worker does not know for thirteen weeks the wages and conditions that are going to operate? I am perfectly certain myself that almost any employer could have a simple, cyclostyled statement of wages and conditions which could be handed to the employee when he commenced work, or that the wages and conditions could be posted in a notice inside the works on the notice board which is there for that and similar purposes. The time is limited this morning for discussion on this Bill and there is much more I could say about its shortcomings. I do not think that, if this Bill becomes an Act, it will do very much harm; but I certainly think it will not do very much good.

11.51 a.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill because it breaks into a new field of economic relationships in which the Government are co-operating with both sides of industry to compile a legal status for the workmen. But it touches only one relatively small aspect of these relationships; and I agree with the remarks of the preceding speaker who said that it will not do a lot of good but that it will not do a lot of harm. In particular, it does not go far to improve the security of the workman—a fact which has been pointed out by the employers' organisation's memorandum to which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, referred.

I should like to say a word about my personal relationship to the matters raised in this Bill. In recent years the Daily News has had many cases of redundancy and, as some of your Lordships will know, I have been associated with the Daily News for quite a while. When the copyright and the London assets of both newspapers were sold to Associated Newspapers, letters were exchanged between the chairmen of both groups saying that it was the intention of the board to devote the whole of the proceeds to pensions and compensation to the staff. In the event, although the Daily News was allowed to set aside a fund for continuing existing pensions, and to make certain payments in lieu of notice, a few of which were lower than the figures mentioned in this Bill but most of which were very much higher, it was prevented by the High Court, on the initiative of a shareholder, from carrying out its intention of paying compensation of one week's pay per year of service to all unpensioned members of the staff; and we were in a position to do that largely because the majority shareholder of the Daily News, Ltd., is the Daily News Trust, which specifically lays down that the property, profits, and so on of the Trust are payable for the benefit of the staff and may be so used. But, of course, that cannot always be the case.

Our experience disclosed a serious gap in the protection of our employees. Some other company which is prepared to close down may not be able to find, as we were, legal means of getting compensation into the hands of its dismissed employees, who may find themselves thrown out on to the streets. This problem is not seriously tackled at all in the present Bill. A year ago the Prime Minister, speaking at Luton Hoo, said: We must devise measures relating to the status and security of the whole working population whether on the floor of the factory, in the office or in the shop. It was impossible for me to refer to anything on that subject so long as the issue involving the Daily News was sub judice; but that is now out of the way and the employees have had their compensation. As the head of the Government made this very important announcement, that they were going to take steps to enlarge the security of the employees, it was clearly right then to say nothing about it but to leave it to the Government to do so.

But I confess that I was very disappointed when I saw, at the start of the current Session, that the gracious Speech from the Throne referred merely to this very modest little Bill. Revolutionary developments are taking place in man's control of nature which, for better or worse, are going to alter the conditions of life on this planet. All the Government have so far contributed to that is that the employer must write out the terms of employment and that there will be a time fixed for giving notice of breaking the contract on either side. I am not going to cover the details of that argument, because they have already been well covered by preceding speakers. But it was certainly given a bad reception in another place; and the employers' association and the speakers in another place on the Bill have all, with one consent, said that the number of people who will have greater security of employment is extremely limited.

I should like here to interpolate just this comment: I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in attaching great importance to building up personal relationships between the two sides of industry, but I think that, when they come to deal with redundancy, the Minister or Ministers in charge must never forget that redundancy unemployment affects much more the elderly employee, who cannot get started again in industry, than the people who are much younger. I feel that there is a danger in attaching so much importance to the personal relationships of trade unions and employers, from the fact that it is the strong trade unions who will get the good schemes. It is for the Government to take care of the unorganised or poorly organised workpeople; because, as I have said, they are the people who will suffer from unemployment when it arises. Therefore, while this Bills talks of notice, and writing out terms of agreement, it is all right when it applies to compensation in lieu of notice, and payment in lieu of notice; but when you get down to real protection for security you must have great flexibility, and cover age, period of service and income bracket. We cannot just keep people going, if they have been thrown out of work in large numbers, whether it be from the railways or coal mines or any other industry. Nor can we treat them all alike. Therefore, this must be very flexible.

I am not going fully into the question of what the Government are going to do. Many statements have been made and a certain amount of information is leaking out as to the form their action may take. It was suggested in the Budget speech that, when the Government had looked more fully into the whole question of redundancy, there might be legislation in the later part of this year. I think that it is a very optimistic hope that they will be able to do that this year, but obviously that is now the intention of the Government. I think that until the Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Labour have reported, it is too soon to make any serious comment or suggestion.

However, I think that it is relevant to say at this stage that our ideas are fat behind those of France, to quote only one other country in Europe. I mention this because we have paid compensation to a Frenchman in our Paris office on the basis of the French code, which gives a legal right of compensation in the event of an employee losing his job through no fault of his own, not on a basis of one week's pay per year of service but of one month's pay per year of service, and this is done automatically for fifteen years, a rate which is four times as large as the rate that we propose to pay to our unpensioned employees. And if a Frenchman's claim to compensation is not fully covered on that basis, he can take his case before a standing committee of employers and workers appointed by the Government and they may add to the amount of compensation paid, with no ceiling attached.

If the Government are going to take an increasing part in directing, expediting and keeping up to date the processes of change in the economy, this will become one of their major social services. It will not be so large or so expensive as, for example, the health service or education, but it will be one of the major social services, which covers a great area of activity. I do not think that the cost would be crippling, if considered in comparison with the total national income and, if it succeeds in removing the burden from the individual, it should tend to weaken his resistance to change. If it does that, it will be cheap at the price, because then we shall get more rapid growth as the result of good relations which will develop.

Finance is only one aspect of the problem. There are also different tasks, which have been mentioned by the noble Lord in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, including retraining, rehousing, planning how to make use of manpower as it comes from schools and so on. The Government will have some say in the use of the nation's manpower. Intensive study of these matters has been going on at Strasbourg by the Council of Europe, as well as by the Six, and many pages are devoted to this subject as a whole in the Treaty of Rome.

I regard this as a very urgent matter. Though at the moment negotiations on the Common Market are in suspense, I see no reason at all why we should not continue to try to harmonise social and working conditions between Britain and Europe. It is also an urgent matter for us in its own right for, unless we keep in the vanguard of progress—and your Lordships will appreciate that in making these comments I am thinking of the whole area through which we can give greater security to the employee—we cannot hope to retain our great position in the fields of industry and commerce.

12.8 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on the clarity with which he explained this Bill and the skill with which he put the best possible gloss on it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that this measure alone is a very small contribution. I think that it will do now more good than harm, but I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord in what he said about voluntary negotiation. Voluntary negotiation is always better, if we can manage it. My colleagues on the British Employers' Confederation, in their statement, emphasised how much better all this would be if it were carried out by voluntary negotiation, such as we know in this country, and I hope that this Bill will do nothing to hinder the forward march of voluntary negotiation between the parties in industry. Before I come to the Bill itself, I should also like to say how pleased many of us are to see my noble friend Lord Layton here and to hear his wise words on this subject.

May I say one word on the complexity of the Bill, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, referred? I think that the legal department of the Ministry of Labour must have sat up night after night struggling to put into legal language, without making more anomalies than they seek to remove, what we in industry are accustomed to write in half a dozen sentences. May I suggest that, if possible, some simple leaflet should be issued at a suitable time which could give the many millions who come under the ambit of this Bill a clear insight into what it means? Because I challenge anybody to understand, by reading the Bill, what it is all about. May I also apologise at this stage to the Minister and the House in that I have a longstanding engagement, whereby I have to speak at a hospital luncheon, which I entered into long before the horrid idea of your Lordships sitting on Fridays was ever mooted abroad?

As I have said, I rise to give a modified welcome to this Bill in its present form, and I emphasise "in its present form". The original Bill was introduced in the other place in somewhat of a hurry at the beginning of the year, and some of my friends, notably those in the Employers' Confederation, to which I belong, felt that there had been far too little consultation in the matter between the Ministry and the two sides of industry. I would say that, in general, the Ministry of Labour are most circumspect and careful to consult with the different associations—the T.U.C., the B.E.C. and other organisations—before they plunge into intricacies of this sort. In this case, this did not happen; and it was a great pity. My colleagues had serious misgivings about the way the intentions of the Bill were to be carried out, and we issued a very critical statement on the Bill, as it then stood. I hasten to add that the employers' organisations welcome the intentions of the Bill, as I believe everybody will, which are to give some measure of security to the worker, albeit a very small one, to which he has not any statutory right at the present time, and also to see that the employee knows fully his position and his contractual relations with his employer. I do not think anybody can object to those intentions.

The Bill was introduced with the laudable object of improving industrial relations, but we on the employers' side—and from comments made by leaders in another place from the Labour Benches it was quite obvious that the workers' organisations had the same view—felt that the original proposals were likely to have exactly the opposite effect, and would harm, rather than improve, industrial relations. One of the worst enemies of good industrial relations, both on the workshop floor and in higher negotiation, is to get into a state where anomalies abound and where friction can easily be engendered. Indeed, I would say that one of the principal duties of a good personnel manager—in fact of any manager in industry—is to eliminate, so far as possible, causes of friction and misunderstanding. We feared that this Bill, as it was introduced, would have rather the opposite effect.

There are many situations in which the thoughts both of the T.U.C. and of the employers' organisations run on parallel lines. People who suppose that the two sides in industry are always, or even mainly, at loggerheads could not be further from the truth. The curious thing is, though, that everybody urges, when talking about industrial relations, that the two sides in industry (as they are called) should be closer together; but when we do get closer together, we come under serious criticism for "ganging up" together. I sometimes regret that. In this case, the minds of the T.U.C. and of the employers' organisations run very much on parallel lines; and I would refer to the admirable speech made in another place by Mr. Gunter on the Second Reading of the Bill, as it was then introduced. After what was said yesterday on quite another subject about quoting from speeches in another place, I will not quote what Mr. Gunter said; but perhaps I may paraphrase without overstepping the Rules of Order. It was evident from Mr. Gunter's speech that he thought the Bill might raise difficulties in industry which might outweigh any advantages that would be gained. He quoted the fact that the T.U.C. and the British employers' organisations were thinking alike in the matter, and that there are all sorts of nuances and small matters which happen on the workshop floor which can be quite easily dealt with in the industrial council, but which cannot be put into a Bill of this sort.

I am glad to note that the Government themselves regarded this rather novel Bill as one which could be, and must be, improved. They put down a whole range of Amendments to meet some of the criticism which both the T.U.C. and we had advanced, and they accepted other Amendments in Committee. I should like to pay tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary in another place for making himself complete master of this rather complicated measure, and for helping me personally, and I know many others, in considering the Bill. I think that nearly all the anomalies and the causes of friction have now been eliminated. I believe that we have a good little Bill before us, and one which will bring some positive benefits to our workpeople. It will take its place, as I said before, with what I regard (and this, I think, is generally accepted) as the much more important proposals with regard to training and redundancy which are now being fully discussed with both sides of industry. I believe that, with this trio of the training proposals, the redundancy proposals and this Bill on the Statute Book, some advance may reasonably be claimed. It seems to me that we should pay tribute to the initiative of the Minister of Labour in embarking on this difficult task, and wish him success. I am sure that all of us hope that whatever comes out will increase the happiness of all those engaged in industry.

My Lords, I am not proposing this morning, although it is tempting, to engage in any dissertation upon methods of improving our industrial relations in general. I believe that we should notify everybody in writing of what his or her rights are. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has a serious point when he asks why we should wait for a period of thirteen weeks. There are, I understand, great difficulties about doing this in certain casual employments, but I should have thought that it might be possible to eliminate this casual section, and to give to the worker, whether in private or industrial occupation, on arrival a statement saying what his terms of employment are. I hope that this may be considered. I would say that, in general, I wish this liberal Bill well; though there are one or two points that I hope we can improve still further on the Committee stage.

I wish at this stage to refer to one small, although rather important, anomaly which I hope we shall be able to consider. As I interpret Schedule 2, it appears that it would be to an employee's considerable financial advantage if he were to be away sick during the period of notice rather than to be at work. Paragraph 2(5) provides that any payments made to the employee by his employer in respect of the relevant part of the period of notice, whether by way of sick pay, holiday pay or otherwise, shall go towards meeting the employer's liability to payment during that period of notice; but no mention is made of the employer's liability being reduced by any benefits being received by the employee under National Insurance or sickness benefits.

A man who is away sick during the period of notice would, therefore, apparently receive both the wages to which he is entitled under the Bill and, in addition, any National Insurance or Industrial Injuries benefits to which he is entitled. He would also be excused from paying any contributions under the schemes and would, therefore, be quite considerably better off if he were away sick during the period of notice than if he were working it out. The Bill might therefore provide an incentive to an employee to go sick during the period of notice, which is obviously undesirable. He would, of course, normally have to prove to his employer that he was incapable of work due to sickness or injury (which I believe is the right phrase), but it is certainly not unknown in industry for people to obtain medical certificates which might be regarded by some as on totally inadequate grounds. As the provision stands, it might also give a financial incentive to an employee who is genuinely sick to give notice in order to obtain those extra benefits as well, although that is only a minor point.

It may be argued, on the other side—and I quite realise it—that, since an employee has contributed to the National Insurance scheme, he is entitled to the benefits of this scheme. The employer and the State have also contributed, and the employer is paying his wages and, if he is sick, is of course getting no advantage. It would therefore seem to me to be reasonable for an employer to be able to claim that his liability under Clause 2 of the Bill with regard to payment of wages should be such that the payment of the wages and the sick benefit together should be equal to the wages the man would get if he were in work.

An increasing number of employers, I am glad to say, are introducing contributory or non-contributory sick pay schemes for their employees, and, so far as I can make out, in these schemes, and in the schemes which provide for full wages while sickness occurs, in practically every case it is a fact that if the man receives full wages he forfeits his National Health benefits. I suggest that this is, although a small point, one which is worthy of consideration, and I hope to put down an Amendment at a suitable time so that we can discuss the matter further. I say that now only so as to give the Ministry warning. In conclusion, I would say, as I started, that this is a small Bill. I think that it will help. I give the Government full credit for accepting the many Amendments which were proposed on both sides of industry, and I trust that to the small section of the community, the employers, who do feel grateful, this statutory benefit may prove of assistance.

12.26 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a speech this morning from the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, whom we all recognised to be pre-eminently qualified to speak for the great trade union movement. We have had a speech just now from the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, whose qualifications and credentials for speaking on behalf of employers are probably unrivalled. I do not propose to follow either of these noble Lords over the ground which they have trod. I have been associated with the employers' side of industry before the war and since the war, and less executively I still am. But it is not at all as an employer that I wish to speak, and I should like to try to present to your Lordships, as briefly as possible, what I would call the case for the third party in this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, castigated the Government for intervening in this affair. I hope that I shall not be accused of ignorance about the importance and value of direct negotiations between the parties in industry. I certainly do not feel that I am ignorant, and I believe that I understand its value fully. But what I would say is that in these days industrial relations concern the third party in the matter, that is, the ordinary member of the community. They affect his standard of living and his pocket. They affect the whole nation, its prosperity and prestige. Industrial unrest is not a sort of private fight that other people cannot get into.

The interests of the community are very much involved and, surely, the custodian of the interests of the community is the Government, and if the Government feel, as I believe that they have every right to feel, that over this whole field covered by the Bill and the other Bills which are to follow there has been insufficient advance during the recent years, then they have the right and duty to intervene. I honestly believe, with great respect, that in view of the situation as it exists in the country, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, is on weak grounds to castigate the Government in this way.

As the noble Lord, Lord Layton, has pointed out, we are very much behind other nations here. He mentioned France. I am a director of a company that has workers in other European countries, and I know full well we are very much behind other nations in the arrangements we have for security of employment and looking after men when they have to change their jobs and so on. In parenthesis, I should like to qualify that with this statement. Some of these countries legislate far too much, and the result is that they have completely depersonalised industrial relations, and that is something I would not advocate.

However, it cannot be right that we have fallen so far behind them, as anyone knows who has knowledge of what is going on, and I think we are not being particularly helpful in the discussions which are going on in international bodies such as that at Strasbourg and in the International Labour Organisation. The situation which we have allowed to continue in this country is a drag on the progress towards prosperity. That has been said in other words already this morning, and it has been said by no less an authority than the N.E.D.C. "It is an affront to our conscience"—that has been said, not by me but by the Church of England in a pamphlet which was issued last year, headed "Redundancy", and I expect your Lordships are familiar with it. This pamphlet advocated legislation exactly on the lines of this Bill.

Then there is the effect that our position has on other nations. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said that after the war parties of young Germans came over here to study our industrial relations. Certainly they did. As a matter of fact, I sent them here under the authority given me at that time by the noble and gallant Field Marshal Lord Montgomery of Alamein. They learned a lot, I think, which has been of great value to them. Many of the younger nations of the Commonwealth also look to us for an example and guide in these matters, and I think that it is a pity that in this particular field we are not setting a better example than we are doing. So I find this Bill not a little Bill, but a very good and important Bill.

After all, is it not true that it at least breaks precedent in three important respects? In the first place, as was pointed out by the noble Lord who opened this debate, it introduces a drastic change and departure from tradition in that it recognises that industrial relations are not solely of concern to employers and to workers, but are also a concern of the community and therefore, maybe, of the Government. In the second place, it offers the worker a legal contract of employment, something he has never had before. Of course, many employers give their employees a contract and some measure of security. All employers, however, are not good employers. And, in any case, it is a new thing that they are now legally entitled to a contract which sets out not merely the period of notice but conditions relating to holidays, sick pay, pension rights and many other things, one of which I am going to deal with. In the third place, the Bill accepts the principle that the worker not only has rights but also has responsibilities, and this point, rather to my surprise, has not been touched on by any of the previous speakers.

Like the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, I feel after yesterday that I have to be very careful about referring to anything that was said in another place, but perhaps like him also I might paraphrase what was said by one speaker, which was roughly this: the people who drafted this Bill did not understand the mentality of the worker. If Bill Jones hears there is a better job going across the road he is not interested in a complicated Bill about periods of notice; all he is interested in is walking across the road and getting the other job. That may be so. But Bill Jones's interests, and indeed his employer's interests, are not the only interests involved. The interests of the community also are involved. As the Bill was originally drafted too long a period of notice was required from the worker. That has been conceded. But whether one week is enough to protect the interests of the community without any other qualifications, I am not entirely sure.

I will be very plain as to what I mean by that. In certain sections of industry, including one with which I am familiar, the contract of employment includes the provision that a man shall not withdraw his labour over a dispute while that dispute is still under discussion in the agreed machinery. That is a provision which, it seems to me, should be regarded as a good one by both employers and trade unions and one which should be made of general application. I hope that when the time comes for employers and trade unions to agree upon the terms of these contracts of employment they will think of that. I know quite well that I am putting my neck out a bit in speaking of this, but I do not think I shall be accused of being a strike breaker. Indeed, I once stood up for the right to strike to the extent of tendering my resignation. It was not accepted, and it seemed my offer was not even treated very seriously, but it was meant. And, moreover, the amusing thing about it is that the resignation was tendered to no less a person than the late and very lamented Mr. Ernest Bevin. I say that to excuse myself, as it were, for referring to this matter. Of course, the right to withdraw labour is a precious right and should never be withdrawn, but it is a right that should be exercised, surely, with responsibility and without wanton peril to the interests of the community.

There is just one other aspect of this matter which concerns not the worker but the employer. I have heard it said that provisions of this sort which seem to aim at limiting lightning or unofficial strikes are not any good; that you cannot legislate about these things. If there is a strike, when it is over the employer will be under great pressure and "No victimisation" will be the cry. Well, my Lords, why should the victim be the community? If this Bill becomes law, would it be right for an employer to flout the obvious will of Parliament and sacrifice the interests of the community by giving way to pressure of this kind? It does not seem to me it would be right.

The Bill was described by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, as having been a very ragged Bill. It has perhaps a few ragged edges still. My attention has been drawn to two, one of which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, namely, that the Bill apparently proposes to pay a man under notice more money for being sick and idle than for being fit and working. The other provision which seems to me a little dangerous is that in Clause 2(3). If an employer offers his workers more notice than he is required to do by the minimum laid down in the Bill he is apparently excused from the provisions of Schedule 2 as regards the level of payment he must make. This may be a matter for interpretation only, but it has been pointed out to me, and the Government may like to look at it, as being a loophole for an unscrupulous employer.

That is all I wanted to say to your Lordships on this subject. I think the Bill is a very important one and a very good Bill from the point of view of the community, and I think that is essentially so because it encourages the concept of responsibility towards the community, both among employers and among workers. I hope your Lordships will give it not only a modified welcome but a very warm welcome, as I do myself.

12.37 p.m.


My Lords, my welcome to this Bill is somewhat lukewarm, as was that of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton, so I am in good company. I also agree with them that if the Minister of Labour had had more consultations with both sides of industry he would not have had to accept so many Amendments in another place. But it is only fair to say that he did accept them, and the result is a very much better Bill. Whether the overt acceptance of the right to strike is a good thing, I think is open to doubt. Of course, the idea is that it will result in a great diminution in the number of unofficial strikes; but that remains to be seen.

The general ground has been covered very thoroughly already and I want to deal with only one point, and that is a problem which has been pointed out to me by the engineering industry. Let us suppose that there is a strike in one factory which results in a shortage of material in other factories—and, as your Lordships know, this frequently happens in the motor industry. It is then often necessary for employers in the other factories to put their work people on short time or to lay them off completely. At present when this happens in the engineering industry there exists an agreement under which the workpeople affected are guaranteed either four days employment each week, or, if production ceases entirely, 34 hours at their basic consolidated time rate. I believe similar agreements exist in several other industries.

But if the employer takes the view that owing to shortages of material there will be no work at all for his people for many weeks, what is he going to do? At present, in those circumstances, he can give his work people one week's notice or one week's pay in lieu of notice, and terminate their employment. Under the terms of the Second Schedule of this Bill, this will no longer be possible in every case, because employees covered by the Bill are entitled to the statutory period of notice prescribed in Clause 1, and they will have to be given two weeks' notice or four weeks' notice according to their length of service. It is only in respect of employees with less than two years' service that one week's notice will be possible.

I can, of course, think of other situations, apart from strikes in factories supplying materials—for example, transport strikes, or a strike in an electricity supply industry—which can result in factories having to cease or curtail production. Here an employer would be in exactly the same position. Only those employees with less than two years' service could he get rid of with a week's notice. I thought I would mention this on Second Reading so that the Minister should have time to consider it, because I propose putting down an Amendment on the Committee stage.

12.42 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Second Reading of this small Bill. I have listened with the greatest possible interest this morning to the speeches made by noble Lords, and there is really nothing much that I can add. I may say that I found much to agree with in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson; I found much to agree with in the speech of my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton; but, most of all, did I find myself in sympathy with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. Therefore my support of this Bill, like his, is largely unqualified. I believe the Bill will do something—perhaps only a little, but something—to improve human relations in industry for the working people and, as Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge has said, in the community.

As a member of the Council of the Industrial Welfare Society, I am much aware not only of what our own Society is doing but of what others are doing in this field. I am also much aware of the number of inquiries which the Industrial Welfare Society receive, particularly from the smaller firms but even from some of the bigger and more progressive firms, asking the advice of the Society on how to handle this or that problem of human relations. Also, as Lord Robertson of Oakridge mentioned, the Industrial Welfare Society is doing a great deal to spread sound ideas which we believe in, in this country, far afield in the Commonwealth and even elsewhere. From all these sources one can read much and study much on this subject of human relations in industry and the community at large, but, by and large, I believe that it really boils down to two words: courtesy and consideration.

When I think of the word "consideration" I remember my early naval training, fifty years ago, at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, when we were taught "The men must have their dinner hour". I will not pursue this intriguing theme because it is approaching the time when your Lordships must have your dinner hour. I had hoped that my noble and gallant friend the First Lord would perhaps pipe us to dinner, but unfortunately, if I read my papers aright, he is abolishing the bosun's call and we are going to rely on loud speakers. I do not know what happens if the fuzes blow.

To return to the Bill, the main principle embodied in it is the right of both employer and employee to a minimum period of notice. Courtesy and consideration apart, we all know, probably only too well, the feelings of insecurity caused by the fear of the "sack" at literally minutes' notice. These feelings can, and should, be alleviated by the giving of adequate notice to an individual. Of course, nowadays dismissals arise often from redundancy for one reason or another. I must say that I regret that this Bill does not also deal with the question of redundancy. Similarly, the employee has to give seven days' notice. I think that is a good provision to embody in the Bill. It is part of the "courtesy and consideration" and, after all, the withdrawal of labour for any reason is not merely a question of profit or loss to the employer. The employer in his enterprise has undertaken wide commitments and contract; and all sorts of responsibilities to the community at large, and I think, therefore, he is entitled to some notice. I believe that the minimum periods laid down in the Bill are fair and reasonable.

In many cases progressive firms are already approaching that sort of point, and I do not think this statutory adoption will present any special difficulties in most industries—gat any rate not those with which I am familar. In my own industry a year ago we agreed with the trade unions an increased period of notice for people with 20 years' service or more. I must say that I have great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in preferring direct negotiations with the trade unions and keeping the Government out, whichever Government it may be.

However. I should like to point out that this Bill is silent about the minimum period of notice to be given to or by employees with less than 26 weeks' service. My own company's rule on the subject is as follows—perhaps your Lordships will permit me to read it: Your engagement during the first month of employment will be from day to day, and may he terminated by the company or by you at the end of any day. After one month's employment you must give the company one week's notice, to run from any day, before leaving the company's employment, and similarly the company will give you one week's notice before discharge. It occurs to me that the silence of the Bill on this particular question could give rise to the wrong impression among employees with less than 26 weeks' service—namely, that the contract that they had entered into at the time of their engagement (that is, to give seven days' notice of resignation) was invalid if it goes beyond statutory requirements. Clause 1(3) provides that either party can waive his right to notice on any occasion. It also provides that the clause shall not be taken to prevent either party from accepting a payment in lieu of notice.

I have always understood that an employer has the right at present, without committing any breach of contract, to pay wages in lieu of notice, and I think that this right should be specifically reserved in Clause 1(3). We all know that in most cases where an employee is dismissed, or even has given notice, it is infinitely preferable for all parties that the notice should not be worked out. I am a little doubtful about subsection (6) of Clause 1 where the employer's right to summary dismissal for gross breach of factory rules is preserved, but I am even more concerned that the right of suspension should be preserved. Many employers prefer suspension from work for a very short period where there has been a breach of factory rules or misconduct to using the much more serious practice of dismissal.

I should like now to refer to Clause 4. My friends and I interpret the phrases "terms of employment" and "terms and conditions of employment" as relating solely to contractual terms of employment. I think it is very important that there should be no room for misinterpretation of this clause. To the layman, at least, "terms and conditions of employment" might seem to embrace benefits that are received not of right but as privileges over and above the contractual terms of employment. In a sense, these are Committee points, and I will not waste further time on them, but I think I have given enough examples.

I should like now to turn to Schedule 1 and Schedule 2, in which there are some rather loose drafting examples—for instance, "by arrangement or custom ". What is "custom"? It is not the custom to sit in this House on a Friday, but we are here; and there are one or two things like that which will have to be dealt with on Committee stage. If this Bill is to be a success there must be no room for dispute or for the necessity to bring in lawyers. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, mentioned his own fear in regard to this matter. My friends and I have discussed it, and we have real fears that there are still points in the Bill which need tidying up if we are to avoid these ghastly disputes which aggravate and disturb otherwise good relations in our factories.

12.55 p.m.


My Lords, all our debates on industrial affairs in this House are, I think, good ones, and I say that having listened to most of them and heard noble Lords like Lord McCorquodale of Newton, Lord Ampthill and Lord Robertson of Oakridge on other occasions. We expect a degree of agreement between us that we should like to think existed in industry; and it is quite clear that my noble friend Lord Williamson and the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, are very close together. Unfortunately, however, industry in practice does not reflect what I would frankly call the progressive views of noble Lords in this House on these matters. I intend to speak briefly. This has been a good debate, and we always enjoy hearing the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who introduces anything with which he has to deal with rapidity, clarity, efficiency and all the desirable qualities. Of course, I disagree fundamentally with him when he says that it is a short but important Bill. It is a short but unimportant Bill. Nor does it reflect the practice in the most progressive firms. In fact it fails to do this.

I wish to deal with two main points, because some other interesting points I feel will be more efficiently dealt with in Committee. First of all, the proposals are clearly not good enough as a standard for a progressive firm, and what one is always afraid of in legislation of this kind is that people will tend to regard a minimum as a ceiling. It is also a little difficult to discuss the Bill without going into the redundancy question, and I was very interested in the remarks by Lord Layton and the interesting reference he made to the European situation. In many respects we are sadly falling behind European standards, not only in this matter but in other aspects of welfare.

If I may touch on redundancy, I would say that most progressive firms in this country give one week's notice for every year of service, and if it is a good contract—and this is the case in my firm, where anybody with over five years' service can have a six months' contract—it will add up to over a year. But even that will not make up for the really shattering disaster this represents to long-service employees. This is unavoidable, to some extent, in industry, because technological changes take place and individual firms or nationalised bodies must have regard at some stage to profitability. Until we have proper transferred pension arrangements—this is not relevant to the Bill, but it is relevant to the subject—and a much wider understanding of this matter, we are not going very far.

I understand, however, that this Bill is not to be regarded as the last word on redundancy. If it is to apply to the conditions that should be enforced by good employers, it is again not good enough. I and a number of employers think that once a man has been employed, say, for five years it ought to be virtually contrary to fundamental policy to terminate his services. It may be that it is necessary to establish some degree of review or control, and this calls for greater refinement of management than is yet possible; but the time ought to come—and there are firms that apply this—when, after a period, employment is permanent, unless there is some really serious falling-off. If there is serious falling-off, then the highest authority in the firm ought to be sought before termination of service. I also feel that after five years a longer notice period than a month is desirable. One other point is that many firms make redundancy payments in a way in which the payment does not rank for tax, and therefore the week's pay may well be higher in this respect, especially if it is an ex gratia arrangement. I suppose when we have formal redundancy arrangements such payments will be taxable. That is a point of some interest.

I should like to turn to the position of the employer. There is no doubt that this Bill adds once again to the troubles of the employer in interpreting legislation. I handed this Bill over to one or two bright people in my office and said, "How will this affect my firm?", and I found they made a number of misinterpretations. I may say that I have the advantage, as has any large organisation, of expert legal advice in the firm, and we shall no doubt eventually get it right, but I think a large number of people will not realise for a long time that the piece of paper that is handed to them is not a written contract, but is merely a statement of terms and does not have any contractual significance. I hope the Government will give some attention to advice on interpretation, though here again bodies of employment associations, trade associations and trade unions will undoubtedly bear the main burden of interpreting these particular clauses.

There is one small point. I see that in a latter clause of the Bill the Conservative Government's curious prejudice on the subject of families comes in again, as it did in the Shops and Offices Bill. I really do not see why, when people employ members of their own family, ordinary protective provisions of this sort should not apply to them. It was only two days ago that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, had some encouragement from the Government about making the statutory position of married women in regard to property rather better. If the Government are prepared to see that it is necessary there—and all history teaches that it is necessary—I cannot see why we must have this ridiculous clause always excluding husbands, wives, sons arid daughters.

My Lords, I cannot say that I am too enthusiastic about the Bill. There is an interesting conflict which has arisen, which it is suitable to discuss, and that is the point of view of my noble friend Lord Williamson, as compared with that of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. Doubtless we shall have more opportunities to discuss the rôle of Government and the rôle of the outsider. There is no doubt that most progressive employers and trade union leaders prefer to settle their problems themselves. How far the Government might have proceeded in this legislation, in relation only to particular industries—those industries, for instance, in which wages councils exist—and might have sought to do this through wages council-type legislation, I do not know. My Lords, certainly we shall not hold up this Bill. If there is time, we hope to improve it a little further.

1.3 p.m.


My Lords, as your Lordships know, there is another important debate due to take place at two o'clock, and I think your Lordships will forgive me if I do not answer in great detail all the points which have been made, though, of course, I will look into them very carefully. On the whole, I do not think I can complain about the reception this Bill has received, although the temperature varied a little from one side to the other; I should have put on a light summer overcoat in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and a Palm Beach suit in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. But, on the whole, I think your Lordships agreed that this will be a useful Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and others of your Lordships, complained that there has been inadequate consultation. But, of course, both the T.U.C. and the British Employers' Confederation were consulted in the summer of 1962 about the general principles that might be incorporated in a Bill of this kind. Since then there have been many further discussions with these bodies as well as with outside interests, although, of course, it is perfectly true that they were not consulted jointly on the National Joint Advisory Council. Of course, when introducing legislation no Government can ever win, because if you introduce a Bill which is so perfect that you cannot amend it in any detail then the Opposition complain that you are rigid and will not take their advice about anything, but if you introduce a Bill on which you are prepared to accept Amendments from both sides of the House you are told that the legislation which you have introduced was insufficiently conceived and badly drafted, and that you should not have brought forward legislation of that kind. So you cannot win. But I think it would be true to say, as my noble friends Lord Jessel and Lord McCorquodale of Newton said, that the Minister of Labour and his Parliamentary Secretary were prepared to accept Amendments on the Committee and Report stages of the Bill in another place.

My Lords, I, too, was very glad to see once again the noble Lord, Lord Layton, taking part in debates in this House. He said—and I was glad he said it—that he thought the Bill would do good. He largely confined his remarks to the problem of redundancy, and he will, I am sure, have heard what I said in my original speech, which was that the Government are contemplating measures to improve measures to meet the problems of redundancy. The Minister of Labour is at the moment discussing with representatives of employers and workers in both the public and private sectors of industry on his National Joint Advisory Council, what measures we can take to deal with these problems; and, as I have said, it is quite on the cards that legislation will be introduced later on.

I noticed what my noble friend Lord McCorquodale of Newton said about the introduction of a simple leaflet. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, opposite, also took the view that this was a complicated Bill and that there might be some advantage in introducing a simple leaflet explaining its provisions. I can, of course, give no undertaking of that kind without consultation with my right honourable friend, but I certainly will look into the suggestion, as I will look into the anomaly which both he and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, raised about the question of sickness benefits. Perhaps we might leave these matters to a later stage of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Jessel was good enough to tell me before the Second Reading that he was going to raise a point about laying off workers in a factory affected by strike action taken by other workers. The preliminary view—and we can discuss this again at a later stage—is that collective agreements very commonly provide for guaranteed wages for workers who have to go on to short time or have to be laid off for any reason. These agreements usually provide for the guaranteed wage to be suspended if the short time or laying off is due to certain specified circumstances, including, almost invariably, strike action by other workers in the same establishment or, in some cases, anywhere else. The notice provisions of the Bill will not affect the right of employers to lay off workers temporarily without notice in circumstances where the contract of employment permits. A temporary lay-off of this kind can be distinguished from termination of employment, and the Bill applies only where termination is concerned. But this is only a preliminary view and, as I say, perhaps we might discuss this question at a later stage.

My noble friend Lord Ampthill, in his interesting speech, made one point in which he suggested that, because the Bill was silent on the question of notice after a month's employment, it might be considered that the Bill itself made the contract void. But, of course, all the Bill is doing, as I understand it, is to lay down certain minima, and in no circumstances would the sort of contract that he has outlined be void. As regards his other points, perhaps it would be better if I waited until the next stage of the Bill, when we can clear these smaller points up.

Finally the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in his speech made one or two interesting observations, and ended up with his usual speech about families and the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to families and family businesses. My noble friend Lord Newton, who, I am glad to say, is to assist me on the Committee stage of this Bill, is the expert on the Government's case on families, and I feel that it would be most unfair if, at this stage, and at ten minutes past one, I were to make his speech for him. So perhaps there again we might wait until the next stage of the Bill. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oak-ridge, said in the course of his speech. I think it is the duty and the right of the Government to legislate in this sort of field. I believe that this Bill, short though it is, will bring our national practice up to the better standards of the good employers. I therefore commend it to your Lordships and ask that you give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

[The Sitting was suspended at 10 minutes past one and resumed at 2 o'clock.]