HL Deb 20 October 2003 vol 653 cc1264-6

2.49 p.m.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made on strategies to eradicate bullying at work.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, the Government believe that employees should be able to work without fear of being bullied or harassed by employers, fellow employees or anyone else. The Government very much welcome and support awareness raising initiatives in this area, such as the Ban Bullying Day that took place last Thursday, organised by Amicus and supported by the Andrea Adams Trust, a charity chaired by my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, which is doing vitally important work in this area. We note that the Post Office, Rolls-Royce and many other large organisations took part in the day.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, I thank noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that since we debated the Dignity at Work Bill in your Lordships' House in November 2001, increasing numbers of employers and employees have been working together to ensure that bullying is eradicated from their workplaces?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, my noble friend is right. A number of important initiatives are now under way to stop bullying at work. The Department of Trade and Industry is considering a proposal under the Partnership At Work Fund for a nationwide survey of bullying at work. The Health and Safety Executive is developing stress management standards, one of which will relate to bullying. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service is active, but ultimately the Government can make only a contribution in the fight against bullying. That is why we so much welcome working with unions, companies and others to achieve the goal of reducing the enormous problem of workplace bullying.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, is the Minister aware that no fewer than 20,000 phone calls complaining about bullying are made each year to Childline? Does the Government's strategy include research on the extent to which children who are bullies at school continue their unacceptable behaviour into the workforce? If, as we would expect, the resulting numbers are significant, what further action do the Government intend to take within the school system to eradicate bullying there? Would that not be an effective way to nip workplace bullying in the bud?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely correct to say that bullying in schools is as widespread as bullying at work. In both areas, it is a huge problem that we must aggressively attack—if that is not interpreted as bullying language. We are doing much in schools. Every school must have a written policy on tackling bullying. Ofsted inspectors are giving priority to talking to children about bullying when they inspect schools. Heads and governors will be encouraged to adopt an anti-bullying charter to help them review what they are doing.

The noble Baroness asked an interesting question about the crossover from bullying in schools to bullying in the workplace. I do not know whether there are any figures. If there are, I shall certainly send them to her, but common sense would say that if one bullies at school and gets away with it, the chances are that one will take those anti-social habits into the workplace. So my guess would be that there would be a high correlation between children who bully at school and those who bully at work—and perhaps even between children who are bullied at school and those who are bullied in the workplace.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, given that we would all entirely accept the need to protect children, does the Minister not feel that there is a marginal difference between the protection of children, and our obligation to do so, and the protection of adults in the workplace? Even if it is possible—which I doubt—does he really think it desirable that Ministers and the Government should take on the responsibility of controlling workplace relationships?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, the first point is that children are vulnerable and therefore must have the maximum protection. We would all agree with that. My view, and that of the Government, is that, as I said, the Government can make only a contribution: this is not a problem that we can solve on our own. But we must do everything that we can to encourage the absolute defeat of bullying in the workplace. As I said, the Government will work with any initiative or organisation to help us to achieve that.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the case in which a man and a woman brought the same complaint against someone who was bullying them? They were forced to do so under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The man lost and the woman won. Does he agree that we need more specific legislation rather than using other legislation to deal with the issue?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, it is difficult for me to comment on individual cases. I noticed that in last Friday's newspapers, two cases of bullying at work were reported in two different newspapers. At present, the Government's view is that legislation will not work to defeat bullying in the workplace—probably, almost certainly, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. It is such a complex issue; it needs delicate handling; we feel that the law would be a blunt instrument to solve the problem.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that shop workers suffer abuse and violence in their place of work from the shopping public? That is a form of bullying; how is it treated?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

Yes, my Lords, that is a form of bullying. Last week, I visited a hospital and was appalled to see reception staff wearing bullet-proof jackets. The whole question of violence and bullying in the public and private sectors is something to which we must give constant attention.