HL Deb 08 June 1981 vol 421 cc65-6

7.9 p.m.

Lord Lyell rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th April be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Minister I beg to move the Motion which stands in his name on the Order Paper. The order before us this evening removes employees in voluntary aided schools from the provisions in Section 8(1) and Section 12 of the Employment Act 1980. These altered the unfair dismissal and maternity rights of employees in small firms. At the Committee stage of the Employment Bill in your Lordships' House my noble friend the Minister of State gave an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Parry, that if case law did not develop in a way which solved these problems for teachers in aided schools, the Government would give serious consideration to introducing amending legislation, and this is what I am doing on behalf of my noble friend this evening. In doing so, I should perhaps remind your Lordships of the background to this matter.

Legally, the employers of teachers and other employees in voluntary aided schools are the governors of the school, whereas for employees in county schools the employer is the local education authority. This means that employees in small aided schools could fall within the scope of the "small firms "provisions of the Employment Act 1980. Those provisions were intended to give some relief from employment legislation to firms with few employees—by extending from one to two years the period during which firms with 20 or fewer employees are protected from a complaint of unfair dismissal by a new employee, and by exempting firms with five or fewer employees from the obligation to reinstate an employee after maternity absence where it is not reasonably practicable for them to do so. These limited exemptions were designed to lift from small firms a burden which they found it particularly difficult to cope with, and to remove a disincentive to their taking on more employees. These considerations do not apply to small aided schools.

The present provisions are anomalous. The local education authority is the paymaster not only for county schools but also for aided schools. Aided schools are an integral part of the maintained education sector and part of the total pattern of school provision in the area. It is quite wrong for employees in a small aided school to be treated less favourably than their colleagues in a similar sized school in the same LEA which is provided entirely by the authority. This order is intended to rectify the anomaly. The order has the backing not only of representatives of the employees concerned—that is, teachers' associations—but also of the employers' representatives (namely, the Church of England Board of Education and the Catholic Education Council) and of local education authorities. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th April be approved—(Lord Lyell.)

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for that clear explanation of the order; he has cast a great deal of light on the subject. I obtained a copy of the order last weekend and read it. Utterly confused, I read it again—and again—and each time the situation became worse. Then I got copies of the Acts referred to and a slight glimmer of light began to emerge. Then, by good fortune, I got a copy of the notes sent to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and the whole thing became clearer. I am grateful therefore to the noble Lord for clarifying what I must call a certain amount of gobbledygook. I believe the order is justified, fair and reasonable and I have no objections to it.

Lord Lyell

I thank the noble Lord for those kind comments. Indeed, I recall that when I was in his position in the House I used to have to try to decipher a great deal of gobbledygook. I too found the subject matter fascinating, but I was more fortunate than the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in that I had a speaking brief prepared, together with the legislation and copies of what had been discussed in this House and in another place. However, I am glad the noble Lord has found the order acceptable.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8 o'clock.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.14 until 8 p.m.]