HC Deb 25 March 2003 vol 402 cc1-23WH

Motion made and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

9.30 am
Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

"Dignity at Work" is the affirmative title that has been given to trade union campaigns and two successive Bills to establish a legislative framework to ensure dignity and respect for everyone in the workplace. My direct involvement began, as so often for Members of Parliament, with a constituent's telephone call about being undermined, passed over for promotion, leaving and bringing a case for constructive dismissal. Such cases are distressing, but may initially lead one to question whether there was a clash of personalities, a misunderstanding or a lack of confidence. However, I soon reflected on the fact that I had other such cases; inquiries among friends and colleagues led to other cases coming to the fore. Such personal and workplace examples are often told with a sense of relief that at last someone is concerned.

I was aware of the general extent of the problem without knowing the details until November 2001—I first applied for this debate in July 2001—when Manchester School of Management at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology published a report entitled "Destructive Conflict and Bullying at Work". That survey was the result of responses from more than 5,000 people in 70 workplaces. It showed that one in 10 people—10 per cent. —had experienced bullying during the previous six months and one in four —25 per cent.—had experienced bullying during the previous five years. Bullying turned out to be particularly prevalent in the Prison Service, post and telecommunications and teaching. Since then, I have received further evidence from trade unions confirming that, despite years of campaigns against bullying, it remains a persistent and extensive problem. Far from going away, it seems to be intractable.

I want to thank Amicus-MSF and, especially, Chris Ball, the national secretary, for bringing the matter to public attention and for producing good material for the use of its members and officers, and draft policies for employers and organisations. It has extensive experience and states: We have organised conferences and training events and struggled to make sense of a phenomenon which blights the lives of millions of workers. The size of the problem cannot be overstated. The Work Foundation and, in particular, Angela Ishmael, also deserve credit for the research, campaigning and consultancy that have helped to raise awareness and to prevent bullying at work. The Work Foundation defines bullying as offensive behaviour through vindictive, cruel, malicious or humiliating attempts to undermine the competence, effectiveness, confidence or integrity of an individual or a group of employees on a regular or persistent basis. The contribution of the Andrea Adams Trust, the first charity to be set up to deal specifically with workplace bullying, should also be highlighted. It offers a national telephone helpline which, since it started in 1997, has provided a welcome source of help for thousands of people and a lifeline, literally, for some.

Linda Roy, whom I heard recently at a conference, was a postlady for 20 years and then, with the support of the Communication Workers Union, worked on a helpline for post office workers. Her stories bring tears to the eyes and include two suicides, so the matter is serious.

Trade unions, including CWU, the Public and Commercial Services Union, and Unison, offer training and support for their members. All recognise the value of dignity-at-work polices and the need for a legislative framework. Indeed, the Labour party, with its links with trade unions, has also recognised the need for further action. It stated in its manifesto: We are committed to working with managers and employees to reduce the problem of bullying and violence in the workplace". It went on to recognise that, particularly in the public sector where the Government have their main responsibility, it is important to improve the quality of work for employees and to help with recruitment and retention, stemming from the need to prevent bullying at work. Yet, so far, there has been no legislation, although the Government should be commended for improving employment legislation. Work conditions have undoubtedly improved under the Government. The introduction of the minimum wage, the part-time workers directive, the increase in the length and payment of maternity pay and the start of paid paternity leave all add up to an improvement in conditions for workers.

There is some legislation on the statute book, but it covers sexual, racial and disability discrimination. The Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 do not cover the persistent intimidation, undermining or malicious acts so often described to us in our surgeries and to trade unions and for which there is no immediate remedy. That complex set of legislation is difficult for any individual and, indeed, trade union representative to wade through to find the relevant sections for this general and extensive form of abuse.

Why have we made no further progress? The most frequently given reason for the lack of legislation is that bullying is extremely hard to define.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

Does my hon. Friend recall receiving a letter from a constituent of mine, who also sent it to me, making exactly that point: some employers evade their responsibility to employees because it is difficult to define bullying? What areas does she believe can be tackled in the first instance to provide an all-encompassing definition of bullying? That might be difficult to achieve.

Valerie Davey

I am grateful for that contribution, which, I am sure, echoes the experience of many hon. Members who have come here today to provide support. I acknowledge that it will be difficult to draw up the legal definition of bullying, but it will be no greater than the difficulty of defining sexual or racial harassment. The purpose of considering Bills in Committee is to tease out the legal framework and definition.

The Department for Education and Skills has worked on anti-bullying strategies for many years so the Government have defined bullying. Just this morning a Minister issued a press release on how to beat bullying, in which he states: Bullying is a blight on us all; it is painful and degrading for the victim, and tarnishes not only the reputation of the school but also the wider community. I am determined to do more to spare young people the indignity and distress of bullying. If that is so for schools and communities, how much more so for workplaces and communities?

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Given that bullying is a form of discrimination, might the EU directive designed to tackle discrimination in employment prove a useful vehicle for our purposes here?

Valerie Davey

We have to look at that very carefully. I would welcome consistency in legislation across Europe. Given the wide transfer of people from one country to another, creating a common factor in legislation under which all our workers were covered would be a welcome step. I do not think that legislation yet covers workers in the detail that I am asking for but, yes, the directive is one obvious way in which we can move forward together.

Given the work that has been taking place on this matter in the DFES for many years, perhaps there is a need for joined-up thinking across government or do even the Government have the erroneous idea that bullying happens only in schools? If so, we must apply a strong dose of reality. Legislation is needed and a Bill exists—we do not have to go back to square one. A definition of bullying is included in that Bill.

The first Dignity at Work Bill was introduced to the House of Lords in 1996 by Lord Monkswell and to the House of Commons by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). That Bill fell, however, with the end of that Parliament. In December 2001, a second Bill based on the earlier one was introduced to the Lords by Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen. It had its Second Reading almost exactly a year ago today and passed through all its subsequent stages, but failed to reach the Commons. I have a copy here, which shows the valuable work, including detailed analysis in Committee, that was done. The Bill deals clearly and concisely with the right to dignity at work and the action to be taken when that right is breached.

When Lord McIntosh of Haringey replied to the debate on the Bill for the Government, he stated that the Government were neither for nor against the Bill. I trust that we shall have a rather more positive statement from the Minister today. Lord McIntosh went on to say how strongly opposed to bullying the Government were. We have heard such a statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) this morning. Lord McIntosh then listed the existing legislation that provides protection, and concluded that bullying was extremely difficult to define.

Lord McIntosh looked to the Health and Safety Executive to develop management standards to form the basis of a code of practice, but a code of practice is not sufficient.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

In relation to the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, does my hon. Friend think that if there were codes of practice, it would be possible for individual victims of bullying to bring claims against their employers, and that established claims could be the stimulus for employers generally to accept such codes of practice?

Valerie Davey

Clearly, we are moving forward in that way, which is valuable. However, as I shall discuss in a moment, good companies establish a code under which employees can appeal. If the HSE comes up with a code, that will be an improvement, but it will not give individuals or trade union representatives a legal code under which to appeal.

We must make strenuous efforts on the matter. We should accept the health and safety avenue as an improvement, but it is not the final objective—certainly not for the many people who have been working intensely on the issue for so many years. If, as trade union evidence suggests, we are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, poor administrations in institutions and companies will not roll over and accept a code and all that goes with it. The impetus of legislation is needed to give better conditions to their workers. I welcome the move in the HSE, but my immediate reaction is that by the time the HSE goes into companies to look for the stress factor, it is too late. We want legislation to prevent bullying at work, not to pick up the pieces afterwards. Picking up the pieces is important, but I and many others are concerned with prevention—with dignity, not just anti-bullying measures.

I can assure my hon. Friend the Minister that two important meetings in Parliament recently, one in the Lords and one in the Commons, were both attended by more than 100 people who had direct experience of bullying or were working on behalf of people who had been bullied. Not a single person at either meeting thought that the situation would change without legislation. There is a whole culture and ethos to be changed. Good companies and workplaces operate dignity-at-work policies. Trade unions have produced such policies in detail, which are recognised by good companies as being important, but the individual still has no clear legal remedy. In poor companies with no such policies, the need for a legal framework is even stronger.

I am sure that my colleagues will want to add to the debate, and endorse it by quoting experiences in their constituencies. There is a new all-party group on dignity at work, which will continue to campaign on the issue. Sadly, bullying is not diminishing. However, we will not diminish our efforts on behalf of the many people who, even today, are going to work in fear of further intimidation.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)

My hon. Friend has laid out in graphic detail the problems facing many people in work. Does she accept that a further facet is the number of days lost through associated stress-related illnesses, estimated at some 19 million per year? Does that not make a compelling case for my hon. Friend the Minister to recognise that legislation is required?

Valerie Davey

I am delighted that that point has been made. Although I have emphasised the importance to the individual of dignity and respect at work, from the other side—that of the employer or institution—the loss of working days, the cost to the company and the dysfunction are enormous problems. There is a lack of effective, efficient business and industry. There is a cost in stress to the individual, but also a cost to the health service. That shows that this is a matter for clear cross-party and cross-Government action, to benefit individuals, companies and Departments, in particular the Department of Health.

This is an enormous problem, which we have all, I think, wanted to push under the carpet. When we hear distressing cases, we do not initially want to believe them. We think that the case brought to our surgery is the exception, the extreme case. Then we realise that it is not. I have realised that since I put my head above the parapet and said that I wanted to campaign on the issue. I first spoke on it in the Adjournment debate that ended the previous Parliament, saying that if I was returned to Parliament this was the one issue on which I would personally campaign. As I have campaigned, attended conferences, received more correspondence and talked to colleagues, I have been made aware that the problem is extensive and affects many areas of government. The heart of the problem is that so many hundreds of thousands of individuals are affected that we cannot deny its existence any longer.

The all-party group will continue to work until we get legislation. For the sake of the people who have gone to work this morning in fear and those companies whose work is made less effective by bullies who, being unrestrained, continue to act in that way, our commitment to the legislation will not diminish.

9.51 am
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) on securing this important debate.

Last Thursday, the startled constituents of Salisbury woke up to the headline, "Council suspends 'bullying' whistle-blowers" in the Salisbury Journal, which is their excellent local newspaper. The newspaper stated: Four members of staff have been suspended by Salisbury district council after going public with complaints accusing council bosses of harassment and workplace bullying ߪ Councillors attending a meeting of the council's resources overview and scrutiny panel on Wednesday night were taken by surprise when the statements were produced during public question time. One of the objectors, who has worked for the council for 14 years, spoke in her statement of a 'culture of bullying, intimidation and inequality'. She claimed: 'I have watched people being bullied and good, capable people leave. I have been bullied myself and made to be frightened' ߪ The council acted swiftly in suspending the four staff, saying in a statement that they would remain off work on full pay pending an investigation into their actions. The statement ߪ said: 'It is totally unacceptable for staff to hijack an official meeting of the council to express personal views about their employer' ߪ In a letter to members this week, Salisbury branch organiser of the union"— Unison— said: 'We were not approached prior to this action being taken for our advice or support. If we had been, we would have counselled against this action. Had I been asked for my opinion, which I was not, I, too, would have counselled against.

It was distressing for those people that the union could not back them. The regional organiser for Unison is now being extremely helpful and has explained that the local organiser is compromised because he has to get on with the management come what may. He did not therefore wish to intervene; his position was difficult.

I have not told my councillors or the chief executive that I am raising the matter because I have no intention of getting inside the rights and wrongs of the issue. Important disciplinary procedures will be instigated, which will affect people's working lives, and I am not competent to judge the issues. However, the headline did not surprise me because in January I received an e-mail from an organisation called "Worms Can", which has a website at www.geocities.com/wormscan. It states that it was set up by and for employees of Salisbury District Council. Our aim is to make it possible for people across the Council to meet and talk. Our hope is that open discussion will reveal the extent to which workplace bullying is endemic in the culture of the Council. We believe that the first step towards solving the problem is to acknowledge that it exists, and this can be as hard for the victims to admit as it is for the perpetrators ߪ We realise that you are unable to interfere in the management of Salisbury District Council, but we feel that you are able to have influence. It is right; I will not interfere in the management of Salisbury district council. I am bringing my influence—such as it is—to bear today.

The organisation asked me to support early-day motion 198 on dignity at work. In my reply, I stated: I won't sign it for the good reason that it is a completely blank cheque and no government could accede to that. A pity it wasn't drafted rather better, really. But I do support the concept of 'dignity at work'.

David Taylor

In introducing the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West cited the Prison Service and education, and the hon. Gentleman is citing local government. Does he find it especially disappointing that the problem is prevalent in the public sector? Will he acknowledge that it is, of course, also widespread in the private sector?

Mr. Key

The problem is, of course, widespread. My example happens to be in the public sector. It shocked me that in a small local authority such as Salisbury anyone should even think that the problem exists, regardless of whether it does, which is something that I am in no position to judge.

When I met the people involved in "Worms Can", they said one or two important things. They said that one problem is: People won't give witness statements in the procedures of the council because they are circulated to the person complained about". The council is small and one can imagine that situation. I asked them whether that happens in other local authorities, to which they replied that it occurs in some. They said that in Wiltshire county council there had recently been a case of alleged bullying, which the county council had immediately put in independent hands for adjudication, but that course of action is not available in Salisbury.

My constituents threw the bullying and harassment procedure into doubt. They alleged: It is flawed in the mechanism of its application and in-house investigation and judgment is unlikely to be objective ߪ Where bullying is endemic in the culture, and people are fearful for their jobs, they do not feel able to question circumstances which may be improper or irregular. I have a copy of "Harassment Policy and Procedures" of Salisbury district council, which I have read carefully. Paragraph 1.3 of its introduction states that there should be independent support free from pressure". I subsequently discovered that independence means calling in an occupational health adviser who is not a council employee.

Stage 3 of the disciplinary procedure concerns investigation. It states: The Head of Personnel & Training Services will nominate an officer not within the Service Unit of the alleged harasser, to investigate the allegation, including all relevant parties. The investigator will establish the facts and complete the investigation and report within ten working days of the date of receipt of the complaint. If the allegation is against the Head of Service, their Director will undertake the Senior Officers role within the procedure. The process is entirely internal and there is no external adjudication, which is the fundamental flaw.

I wanted to know whether just Salisbury district council was involved. I therefore got hold of the "Sexual, Racial and Personal Harassment Policy" of Ryedale district council. The policy is good, but the "Formal Procedure" section states: If the Line Manager is approached he/she will consult with Personnel & Training Services and an investigating officer will be identified as responsible for conducting the investigation into the complaint. Again, the procedure is entirely internal, which is emerging as the real problem.

I turned to the House of Commons Library for help. Its business and transport section has produced an excellent briefing paper on bullying at work, which was last updated on 26 November 1999. It contains an answer from the Minister for the Environment to a written question on workplace violence and bullying: I have therefore asked the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) to consider options for further action that would make a significant impact on preventing assaults, verbal threats and abuse in the workplace. Any plans I make to introduce measures will be based on HSC's advice."—[Official Report, 14 June1999; Vol. 333, c. 47W.] I thought that that was good and that progress was being made.

I therefore asked this parliamentary question: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister, what advice the Government has received from the Health and Safety Commission on options for action to make a significant impact on preventing assaults, verbal threats and abuse in the workplace for employees of local authorities. The Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) replied: The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) is committed to tackling the problem of work-related violence. In March 2000, the HSC agreed a three-year programme to help employers tackle the problem of work-related violence ߪ HSE has published general guidance for employers to help them tackle work-related violence, and sector-specific guidance covering health services and education."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 740W.] He said nothing about local authorities and did not answer the question—what's new?

I asked the Library to probe further. It said: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister intends to issue regulations which would provide a framework for the investigation of such complaints and allegations, but I understand ߪ the drafting of the regulations have taken longer than expected—in part due to the large number of submissions received in response to the consultation document. One issue which emerged during the consultation was that section 66 of the Local Government Act 2000 envisaged that all allegations and complaints would be referred back to the local authority's monitoring officer for investigation. Many of those responding to the consultation document argued—as I understand is being argued in your constituency—that the investigation should be conducted by an investigating officer from outside the local authority, to ensure impartiality and fairness. Hooray! The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has got the message. So what is happening? To me, this absolutely is not a party political issue. My council is a Conservative council, but the incident distresses me very much.

I contacted the Local Government Association, which replied: I can confirm that Section 3 of the Local Government Act 2000 set out proposals for a code of conduct covering employees of local authorities as part of Labour's 'ethical framework' to improve standards in public life. However, to date no proposals have been drawn up or published by the relevant dept. (now of course the ODPM). It seems that these proposals have slipped due apparently to other more 'pressing' matters. The LGA added that its predecessor had published guidelines and recommended minimum standards, but that they had been totally voluntary and carried no legal weight. Local authorities can therefore do pretty much as they like in regard to a code of conduct at the moment. I asked the Deputy Prime Minister what statutory remedies were available to local authority staff who were victims of workplace bullying. The Under-Secretary replied: The main acts of parliament that are in place to deal with unreasonable behaviour or workplace bullying are as follows:

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 740W.] I also asked the Deputy Prime Minister when he will publish proposals under Section 3 of the Local Government Act 2000 for a code of conduct to protect employees of local authorities; and if he will make a statement. The Under-Secretary replied: Part III of the Local Government Act 2000 provides for the Secretary of State to issue model codes of conduct as regards the members (section 50) and employees (section 82) of local authorities. Codes of conduct under section 50 were laid before Parliament in November 2002. These codes place obligations on members to treat others with respect and not to do anything which compromises the impartiality of those who work for the local authority."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 740W.] Full stop—nothing about local authority employees. That is the root of the problem.

I ask the Minister for Energy and Construction to speed up the introduction of regulations that will provide a code of conduct for local authorities. If local authority employees in their tens of thousands felt that they could follow a route of impartial adjudication on their problems with bullying in the workplace. we could begin to crack this appalling problem.

10.3 am

Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

I shall try to be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) on securing the debate. It is very important that we discuss bullying at work in an Adjournment debate and that we continue to discuss its effects on the mental and physical well-being of people. Companies could provide examples every day of people who have been affected by bullying.

However, the issue affects not only councils and public services. In a way, that is a distraction, because workers want bullying at work to be dealt with, irrespective of whether they work in the public, private or even voluntary sector. Workers from all sectors have experienced and have had to deal with bullying at work—no one is exempt. Therefore, we must address the problem across British industry and the economy as a whole, rather than in individual sectors.

David Taylor

I wish briefly to remind my hon. Friend of the point that I made to the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) a moment or two ago. Is it not the case that people expect better of the public and voluntary sectors and related areas and, to a certain extent, condone and are unsurprised by the existence of bullying in the private sector?

Mr. Lyons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. It is important to consider the matter in the way that he describes, because it is not restricted to any one sector; it occurs across British industry. We must tackle the issue accordingly.

There is plenty of evidence about the extent of bullying at work. It is worth referring to some of the surveys that have taken place. When the TUC asked for information about bad employers, 38 per cent. of the responses related to bullying at work. That gives a fair indication of the spread of bullying across the UK. The public sector union Unison surveyed its members to try to identify the incidence of bullying in the workplace and found that 66 per cent. had either witnessed or experienced bullying there. Again, a substantial number of people said that it had occurred in their workplace. Of those who participated in the Unison study, 75 per cent. said that bullying had a mental or physical effect on their health and led to stress, depression and low self-esteem—part and parcel of the problem. Every day, people could give testimony to how they have been affected by bullying at work.

Not just trade unions but employers confirm that bullying is extensive in the workplace. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development surveyed more than 1,000 workers and found that one in eight had been bullied in the previous five years. The Institute of Management said that every day 270,000 people took time off because of stress and bullying at work.

The facts and figures are absolutely devastating. It is right that we try to drive bullying up the political agenda and develop joint working on the issue. Employers and trade unions are keen to tackle it, and the Government must show the same willingness and play their part through their legislative programme.

For years, the TUC has campaigned on bullying. At successive conferences, it has called for additional education, training and legislation. I am glad that many employers and trade unions have taken up the call and operate policies in the workplace to raise awareness and train people so that they are able to tackle the problem when it arises. It is the same in the private and voluntary sectors, and it is good that it is.

At the beginning of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West referred to the survey that Cary Cooper and others carried out on behalf of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. Again, the figures are staggering: £1.3 billion lost to the British economy, 18 million working days lost, one in 10 people—approximately 2 million—bullied at work and one in four bullied within the past five years. Approximately one in two report that they have been bullied or have witnessed bullying within the past five years. The physical and mental effects include anxiety, headaches, ulcers, nausea, skin rashes, suicide and sleeplessness.

Our agenda is clearly set. We must ensure that this opportunity for an Adjournment debate is not lost, but is part of the campaign that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West properly described in her opening remarks as trying to secure dignity at work. There is a good feeling in the country about doing that. Employers and trade unions are happy to do it, and the Government need now to show their willingness to do it.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr Edward O'Hara)

Order. Before I call the next speaker, it might be helpful if I point out that the first of the three Front-Bench spokesmen should be called not later than 10.30 if we are to leave time for them to make their winding-up speeches.

10.8 am

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) on securing the debate. She and other hon. Members have been trying for some time to secure a debate on the subject. Her speech illustrated the enormous amount of work that she has put into the issue, and I am delighted to support her.

My hon. Friend said that bullying behaviour in the workplace manifests itself in many ways. All forms of bullying are unacceptable. Not only does it make the employee's job considerably more difficult, if not impossible, but it can affect other aspects of people's lives. Stress and ill health may become part of their daily life. Well-known symptoms include anxiety, headaches, sleeplessness, skin rashes, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, tearfulness, loss of self-confidence and, in extreme cases, thoughts of suicide. Hon. Members have mentioned those points, but I reiterate them so that we remember what we are dealing with when we talk about bullying.

We need to appreciate the much wider cost of bullying to industry and the Exchequer. Many facts have been mentioned, and I will not go into all of them again. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) mentioned that somewhere between 19 million and 40 million working days are lost annually. The cost of that is estimated to be about £12 billion, but it could be in excess of £20 billion to £30 billion annually. That is equivalent to a hidden tax burden of over £1,000 per working person per year.

I also want the Government to consider why legislation is failing to do justice to UK employees. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West mentioned that harassment is all too prevalent in bullying. Harassment law is based on discrimination, but litigation can be pursued only on the grounds of race, gender or disability and that precludes employees who are being harassed for other reasons. In fact, studies have found that most bullying is targeted at confident staff, regardless of race or gender, who are seen as a threat to the perpetrators. It has also been argued that bullies focus their prejudices on things that are not covered by legislation.

Mr. Clapham

My hon. Friend will be aware that many local authority workers—for example, social workers—work in the community and that much bullying takes place outside the traditional workplace. Does he feel that legislation should embrace that situation?

John Robertson

My hon. Friend makes his case very well. He is absolutely right. The Government have to address that issue. The fact that we have considered only race and gender is wrong. Consideration of many forms of bullying has been precluded, and we should conduct an in-depth study of bullying. Bullying causes loss to manufacturing industries and local authorities. Particularly in the case of carers in the community, there is the stress of having to do a job for which there appears to be absolutely no reward and for which, in effect, it seems that all that one gets in return is abuse.

Unfortunately, each time new discrimination legislation is introduced, bullies change their prejudicial focus to remain outside the law. Bullying occurs not just because of gender or race, but because the target is talented, successful or co-operative and, ultimately, is perceived as a threat to the bully. Legislation must be flexible and adaptable. We cannot write it in tablets of stone. As the bully changes his or her tack, legislation should adapt to cover that.

Considerable steps have been taken to legislate against discrimination on the grounds of sex, race or disability. However, in such cases, the main thing that has to be established is the motivation for bullying; the issue is not just proving that bullying is taking place. In short, what we might term motiveless bullying is not covered at all.

Employers have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act, etc. 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. If they do not fulfil their duty, they are breaching an individual's contract of employment. Employers and/or bullies may find themselves facing fines, compensation and possibly a jail sentence. Currently, the only redress for many employees is to resign and claim unfair dismissal. However, only about 2 per cent. of bullying cases make it to employment tribunals owing to the inadequacy of UK law on bullying and the absence of provision for compensation for detriment caused by bullying. On average, only about 0.5 per cent. of cases result in compensation.

It has been argued that because bullying can be difficult to detect it can often be overlooked or dismissed as a weakness on the part of the person on the receiving end, a personality clash or a strong management style. The key feature of bullying is persistence of behaviour. It is never just a one-off incident and it is rarely targeted at a sole employee. In fact, it is estimated that 90 per cent. of cases involve serial bullying. A bully acts in that way all the time; once a bully, always a bully. Many would say that bullies have a medical problem. They perceive their behaviour as the way in which they do their job. Patterns emerge, and if there were legislation to cover bullying, it would be much simpler to take action against bullies who currently get away with their behaviour.

I want to consider what is happening abroad. In Sweden, an ordinance on measures against victimisation at work came into force in March 1994. It defines victimisation as recurrent reprehensible or distinctly negative actions which are directed against individual employees in an offensive manner and can result in those employees being placed outside the workplace". Guidance on the ordinance makes it clear that that includes adult bullying, mental violence, social rejection, harassment and offensive administrative sanctions. The ordinance requires the employer to plan and organise work so as to prevent victimisation; to make it clear that victimisation cannot be accepted; and to provide routines for the early detection and rectification of unsatisfactory working conditions. I ask the Minister to take a look at that legislation. It makes it clear that bullying is an organisational issue and that employers have a duty to organise work and the work environment so that they do not create a climate in which bullying is likely to occur.

I reiterate my call for legislation to counteract bullying. We need a new law that will close some of the loopholes in the existing legislation. Ultimately, employment law needs to be upgraded to provide the right to dignity at work regardless of the prejudicial focus of the bully or harasser. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West for initiating today's debate.

10.17 am
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) on securing this important debate. Until fairly recently, it was thought that workplaces were benign and free of bullying and violence. However, recent studies have shown that that is not the case. In fact, a study that was done at the time that Baroness Gibson introduced the Dignity at Work Bill to the House of Lords showed that large numbers of people were being bullied. At that time, it was estimated that about 18 million people were being bullied and that the cost to society in general was between £4 billion and £5 billion.

I note from the TUC's website that the latest study indicates that the worst region for bullying tends to be the north. I was particularly disappointed to read that because I had always believed that there was greater solidarity and compassion in the north and therefore that bullying was generally less prevalent there than in other regions. Clearly, that is not so. Much of the bullying has arisen because the demise of trade unions in many areas of work has exposed workers to the continual possibility of bullying by employers.

The Dignity at Work Bill described bullying and set out a legal definition. The International Labour Organisation has also set out a definition, which may well be adopted by the European Union and could be used for legislation embracing all EU countries.

During the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), I referred to the fact that many people who work for local authorities do not work in an environment that conforms to the traditional perception of the workplace. Before my wife came to work for me, she was a social worker, dealing with child abuse. I recall that she dealt with a problematic case, which resulted in the family being disruptive in the community and the local authority office being burgled. At the time that the burglary took place no one was convicted, and it was difficult to associate it with that particular case. It has come to light since that in all probability the burglary was related to the case. My wife was subjected for some months to shouts in the street and so on from family members. That is bullying in the community and when the Minister examines the legislation he will need to consider such situations and ensure that the legislation embraces them.

Last weekend, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and I were scheduled to meet cleaners at the local hospital. I could not be at the meeting, but my hon. Friend was and he was astounded to find that the bullying had become institutionalised to the extent that notices had been posted in various places throughout the hospital denigrating the cleaners. That sort of bullying undermines the position of those cleaners. We shall raise that matter with the hospital management during the coming weeks.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West said, there is an array of legislation. Health and safety at work legislation in particular gives a victim the opportunity to make a claim for compensation, but that is not what is required. We require legislation that deals with such cases at work in a more preventative way. The dignity at work legislation introduced in the House of Lords provides the way forward, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will pick up on that, and ensure that the legislation can move forward so that we can provide protection from bullying in the workplace.

10.22 am
Mr. Martin Caton (Gower)

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) on securing the debate, and the excellent way that she has led it. I congratulate her even more on the campaign that she has been involved with during the past two years to move the issue up the agenda.

Like my hon. Friend, and many hon. Members interested in the issue, I was alerted to the seriousness of the problem of bullying, harassment and victimisation at work by a constituent who was suffering such treatment daily. My constituent is a woman who had a professional career in a major public institution in south-west Wales. She had taken a job in a department working with other professionals, and thought that she had taken a major step forward in the development of her career and, because she loved—and loves—the area to which she moved, in the quality of her life. However, the bullying began almost immediately and affected the nature of the work that she was expected to do, the quantity of that work and the respect that she received, not just from her immediate superior, but from several of her colleagues. When she challenged her treatment or raised her concerns with the perpetrator she was promised change, but she experienced further victimisation. When she took up the problem with colleagues, she found that they either had a vested interest in supporting the status quo or were too scared to raise their head above the parapet.

Out of desperation, my constituent eventually sought redress from more senior management—including the most senior management—in the institutions that she worked for. She was listened to sympathetically and promised that the issue would be seriously addressed. She then found that that meant in practice that her complaint had been reported to the person doing the bullying, resulting in a new wave of increasingly petty acts of harassment on top of ongoing injustices.

My constituent managed to find an alternative employment opportunity that allowed her to use her training and skills. She still does not want me to name her, the bully or the institution because, even now, it could have repercussions. Since listening to that case, I have come across other examples. It occurred to me that the bullying that we find in the workplace is not so different from what we find in the playground. Frequently, it is carried out by people who have problems of their own and feel inadequate in some way. It involves creating an "us and them" gang culture in which people are pressured to take sides. It undermines the successful development and individual fulfilment not just of the bullied, but of the bully and his or her allies. In its most extreme forms it damages health and even takes lives. In the workplace, bullying also means lousy management practices.

John Robertson

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the problems inherent to bullying, particularly in management, occur when senior mangers encourage junior managers to bully and set impossible targets to ensure that they bully to meet them?

Mr. Caton

That is absolutely true. The culture of believing that good management is harsh treatment of people is a major part of the problem that leads to less effective work from all.

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need change to the law in this area. That is exemplified by the cases that we have heard about today from the public sector, where there are, ostensibly, codes of conduct and good working practices, but they are not being carried out. We need law so that everyone in the management chain knows that repeated offensive, abusive, malicious, insulting or intimidating behaviour is unacceptable. Repeated unjustified criticism and unreasonable punishments imposed under a cloak of discipline are nothing more than harassment.

Changes in work duties that devalue the employee for no reason are just a form of bullying. Everyone in the management chain, and all employees, should know that employees have recourse to a complaints procedure that will establish the truth and rectify injustices. If bullying, harassment or victimisation is exposed, there should be severe consequences for the perpetrator or perpetrators. All such provisions should be based on statute.

Surveys show that bullying is rife in the workplaces of our country. The cost of bullying to industry and taxpayers is estimated to be some £12 billion annually. Most important, bullying at work, as anywhere else, makes life unbearable for the victims, and often their families as well. Let us do something about it.

10.27 am
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) on securing the debate. In preparation, I read a speech that she made last September to the south-west TUC. In that speech, she explained that she had been applying for this debate every week since Christmas, by which she meant Christmas 2001. The debate is a tribute to extraordinary persistence on her part, and her case was extremely well made.

The hon. Members for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) and for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) and others have set out well the factual evidence of the high incidence of bullying, and the costs to employers and the economy as a whole. I will not repeat all that; the UMIST study is pretty comprehensive.

Listening to the contributions, I found some of the anecdotes compelling, such as the one that we heard from the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). I have several, too, which I was shocked to encounter. One was referred to me by my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who is trying to sort out the case of an 18-year-old man who started work after leaving school. He was in a carpet laying company and fell in with a group of fellow apprentices who systematically bullied and hounded him with violence and verbal abuse. The pressures were so extreme that he had a nervous breakdown and had to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983. In the mental hospital he tried to hang himself, and cut his wrists. One hears stories of such things occurring in young offenders institutions, but that case occurred at work. The problem is not yet resolved because the family cannot get legal aid. There was clearly a succession of legal failures by the company. That may be criminal failure, but the family cannot get access to the legal system to sort that appalling problem out.

My second example concerns a constituent. It is a less extreme case, but it shows circumstances that many people encounter. A young woman came to my surgery about three weeks ago. She works for a chain of pub restaurants. I shall not mention the name, because the case is still unresolved. She was happy working there. A new manageress came to the unit and decided to crack the whip. She made it clear that there would be a new, more abrasive style of management. Within a few days, my constituent had been ordered to remove an unobtrusive necklace. It was a little like that worn by the hon. Member for Bristol, West. There was no safe on the premises and, as the necklace was valuable, my constituent declined to remove it on the spot. She agreed to come back to work the following day without it, because she did not want to make trouble. However, the next day she discovered that she had been suspended for insubordination and failure to follow instructions from management. She then set in train an appeals procedure through the company's disciplinary process.

Six of my constituent's colleagues have been disciplined similarly by the same manageress and the atmosphere at the workplace is inflamed. I have advised my constituents to consult the union, so that the problem can be approached collectively. I said that, if they exhausted the company's procedures and did not receive satisfaction, we would try to name and shame it in the media. I accept that that case involved a subtler form of harassment than the first case to which I referred, and one to which legal remedies are not easily apparent.

The third case concerns another constituent and is more serious than the other two. It is difficult because it points to the fact that bullying can be perpetrated not only by management, but by other workers and members of the union. The case that was referred to me involved a Sikh gentleman who lives in Twickenham and who works for London Underground. He had an appalling history of abuse by his union, the RMT, which seems to be dominated in some branches by an unholy combination of Trotskyites and neo-Nazis. The neo-Nazis had their teeth in the individual and other Sikhs. I think that there had been 40 separate allegations of abuse. They had been subjected to enormous torment over the years.

The problem is that such matters cannot be dealt with under race discrimination legislation. The guy had been promoted on merit. There was no evidence that his career was impeded in a formal sense, but each day he ran the gauntlet of abuse. The management did not condone what was happening, but felt weak. They could not confront the union branch. They tolerated such activity, although they eventually sacked one of the worst perpetrators. However, the bullying did not stop.

The people involved in the harassment found out the gentleman's home telephone number. They rang perpetually. They abused his wife. His daughter was followed to school and beaten up in the toilets. The police were involved. My constituent has paid them enormous tributes.

However, such practices continue in London Underground to this day, so much so that I have sought an inquiry through the Commission for Racial Equality, the Mayor of London and London Underground. The problem may be as serious as the subject of the Ford inquiry a few years ago, although that remains to be established. The case demonstrates the different facets of bullying at work and the difficulties of finding a single solution to such a problem.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West argued that we need new legislation. I have sympathy with that suggestion, but we already have a considerable number of laws to deal with the problem, some of which the hon. Lady itemised. There is standard discrimination legislation, such as that on disability, sex and race. However, as the hon. Lady implied, we are dealing today with non-specific discrimination. In addition, there are separate pieces of legislation, such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which contains provisions on harassment. In 1995, there was an addition to the Public Order Act 1994. I am not a lawyer and I cannot evaluate such legislation, but it is difficult to believe that harassment cannot be pursued through those Acts. However, there could be a loophole in the legislation, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) said earlier. If so, that needs to be dealt with. Perhaps the Minister can advise us on such matters.

I was struck by the comments made by the Andrea Adams Trust, which the hon. Member for Bristol, West cited. It asked: Does the courtroom really have to be the appropriate battleground? … Surely in reality the ideal place to resolve the problem must be in the workplace itself. Recognition and awareness of workplace bullying is essential if we are to move forward. Whether or not there may be a case for workplace legislation, the report said that a concerted effort should be made by management and the unions to raise the profile of workplace bullying to ensure that it is properly monitored.

Lady Hermon (North Down)

One piece of legislation that has not been mentioned this morning is the European convention on human rights. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that one of the best actions taken by the Government was to make that part and parcel of our domestic law. Under article 3, the Government have an obligation to protect everyone, irrespective of their nationality, within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom from, among other things, degrading treatment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that bullying in the workplace and schools is degrading treatment and that the convention is valuable legislation?

Dr. Cable

I agree with the hon. Lady that such legislation is positive; indeed, we supported it. She is a distinguished lawyer, so she is in a better position than me to judge whether it is appropriate. I hope that it is. It reinforces my point that various legal remedies already exist.

The recent survey carried out by personnel institutions made the point that only 40 per cent. of employers have anti-bullying practices in place, whereas about 90 per cent. of personnel managers acknowledge that there is bullying in the workplace. The key step that must now be taken is to ensure that those employers who recognise the problem, but do not control it, have a policy. If there were a role for legislation, perhaps it is not laying down prescriptive procedures to deal with workplace bullying, but placing an obligation on employers to have an anti-bullying policy and to allow for flexibility in that policy to deal with particular problems.

10.37 am
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I thank the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) for securing the debate on such an important issue. I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), who has specific responsibility for such matters in the Conservative party, for his absence. At present, he is a member of a Standing Committee, so responsibility for responding to this debate has fallen to me. However, there is no harm in widening our expertise and understanding of the issues that have been raised during such an excellent debate.

When I first knew that I was to take part in the debate on behalf of the Opposition, I was asked why I was participating in a discussion about the conduct of the Government Whips Office. When the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) referred to "us and them" gang culture and lousy management practices, I thought that we were beginning to reach the kernel of the issue. It is easy to make a light-hearted remark, but that should not distract us from the seriousness of the issue raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, West.

The central question is whether legislation is the appropriate framework to pursue the problem. The hon. Lady and her supporters are of the view that that is the case. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) asked whether the courtroom was the appropriate forum for the battleground in respect of bullying. The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) said that employers and trade unions wanted to deal with the problem. He said that 38 per cent. of calls to trade unions concerned bullying and that 75 per cent. of such cases resulted in specific health effects, either mental or physical. That provides ample evidence, which is also mentioned in the UMIST study and elsewhere, about the widespread nature of bullying in the workplace. The central point is that bullying must be dealt with by everybody—employers and trade unions. We must decide whether tackling it through additional legislation is appropriate, because legislation is already on the statute book.

We must first define bullying. There is no official definition, although various suggestions have been offered. The one in the UMIST study is probably as good as any. It states: We defined bullying as a situation where one or several individuals persistently over a period of time perceive themselves to be on the receiving end of negative actions from one or several persons, in a situation where the target of bullying has difficulty in defending him or herself against these actions. We will not refer to a one-off incident as bullying. That definition emphasises the negative, persistent and long-term nature of the experience.

Workplace bullying is a widespread problem. We have heard evidence of the trauma that it causes. It damages businesses and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) made clear, the climate in which people work, especially in the public sector. The UMIST study suggests that bullying is more widespread in the public than in the private sector and several of the cases to which hon. Members referred appear to confirm that.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West did not mention one area of the private sector to which the UMIST study referred. The dance profession is an example of a profession or recreation in which bullying has taken place. Hon. Members who have learned to ride or sail will know that instructors in those activities tend to be extremely firm because of the danger that is sometimes involved and that firmness could turn into bullying.

On a wider scale, our armed forces are in action in the Gulf. The military have had to recognise the problem of bullying in training, when officers try to create a resilient work force prepared to put their lives on the line. They have to operate on the most extreme end of what is, in a sense, the workplace. Officers face the difficult task of developing resilience through training without overstepping the mark with actions that could be perceived to be bullying. Such work involves facing difficult issues.

A study by the London chamber of commerce published in 2000, estimated that bullying cost industry £2 billion a year. It identified 19 million working days lost per year because of abuse, which often resulted in accidents and mistakes, increased sick leave, lost productivity and higher recruitment costs. Causes of the problem included autocratic, insensitive and even abusive management styles, high work loads, unsatisfactory relationships and rapid changes. A survey in 1999 by Personnel Today and the Andrea Adams Trust found that 82 per cent. of respondents identified weakness in management as the prime reason for bullying, which seems to be supported by testimony from the public and private sectors that we have heard in this debate.

The problem is serious and widespread, but we should question whether more legislation is likely to solve it, given that previous legislation has failed adequately to do so. We should also question whether the extra burden that such legislation would impose is justified, especially for small businesses and the public and voluntary sectors. Large, private sector employers with adequate resources can and do use cost-benefit analysis to underpin a business case to tackle workplace bullying. However, it is not certain that small businesses would have adequate resources to carry out similar analyses should legislation require them to do so.

It is self-evident that bullying is counter-productive for any organisation or company. It is fair to assume that a company in which bullying is a significant problem will be less profitable and effective than competitors that have proper policies and look after their people properly, which must be a great incentive for companies to do the right thing.

Several UK companies already have serious policies in place to deal with workplace bullying. Indeed, about 6 per cent., including Rolls-Royce, Littlewoods and British Telecom, have specific anti-bullying policies. That is welcome, and reflects my belief that the best place to deal with the problem is in the workplace. It is important to create a culture in which bullying is seen to be unacceptable. Firms should be encouraged to deal with the problem by paying careful attention to the way in which they conduct their business.

I sound a note of caution to any firm considering taking action: it should recognise that employment rights also cover those accused of bullying, not only the employee who is being bullied. We must also recognise that, although in many instances it is clear that bullying is taking place and must be dealt with, in other instances, accusations of bullying might be used to disguise inadequate performance. Mr. Richard of the Institute of Directors has suggested that any legislation automatically faces difficulties. He said: How would you distinguish between times when people do need to be criticised and encouraged to do better, and those when people are being treated in an unacceptable fashion? I have already alluded to professions in which that boundary is difficult to identify.

Bullying is an emotive issue that must be dealt with. I support measures that aim to tackle bullying in the workplace and that raise public awareness of its existence. If a company has a well-publicised anti-bullying policy, it can learn to recognise and minimise the problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury referred to a case involving Salisbury district council. He made overwhelmingly clear the requirement for independent adjudication of bullying within the public sector. Why such adjudication is not already taking place on a voluntary basis within the public sector frankly escapes me. Such organisations are the very ones that should have developed personnel procedures to deal with bullying problems.

We should all aspire to the universal adoption of good practice. It is likely that people work best under good conditions. Ways of dealing with bullying present particular problems for small businesses, which comprise nearly 99 per cent. of businesses in the UK. They employ 44 per cent. of the private sector work force and generate 37 per cent. of our nation's output. They also create virtually all the new jobs in the economy.

A great deal of new regulation has been introduced to employment law over the past few years. Last year, more than 4,642 new sets of regulations were introduced in the UK, which amounts to one every 26 minutes for every working day. The IOD says that the recurrent annual cost of employment regulations introduced in the past five years could be as much as £6 billion, with those costs rising as new regulations come into force. Although it may be possible to find valid reasons for each new regulation, the cumulative total is undermining the enterprise culture. It is worrying to note that Britain has fallen from ninth to 19th in the world competitive league. That should give us pause for thought before we reach for the legislative or regulatory rule book.

Faced with such facts, I worry that further legislation, however worthy its aims, could be damaging to business. The problem of bullying is real to business because it loses its competitiveness, but balancing that problem with the complexity of introducing more targeted legislation that has not succeeded in the past poses difficulties. Ways of dealing with bullying are difficult to identify and I am not able to provide an overarching solution. However, I welcome the attention that the problem has received, and I note with interest hon. Members' contributions to this debate, especially the Swedish example.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, West on raising the issue and on her persistence in obtaining this debate. In the end, we must make people in all work forces—both management and workers—aware that the problem is widespread and must be dealt with. People will then begin to deal with it because it is a matter of simple justice and decency.

10.49 am
The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson)

I echo the congratulations that have been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) on having raised this debate and on her general commitment to the campaign against bullying. I am sorry that she has had to wait for so long for it to take place. The debate has been a useful of airing of an important subject—which, in some extreme cases, is a matter of life and death.

As my hon. Friend said, she has been involved—particularly since the last election—in an ongoing and valuable campaign. The only caution that I would offer her came through in the other two winding-up speeches. Progress should not necessarily be equated with specific legislation. A lot is happening, and highlighting the issues in the way that my hon. Friend has done today will contribute to the pressure for more to be done, but it is open to question whether specific legislation is the answer—or the sole answer.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions would normally have responded to this debate. He is attending the Committee stage of the Industrial Development (Financial Assistance) Bill, but I will ensure that the letter and the spirit of the debate are communicated to him.

The most fundamental thing to say is that the Government take the issues of bullying and harassment very seriously. We condemn such behaviour unreservedly and believe that employees should be able to work without fear of encountering bullying or harassment from their employers, fellow employees or anyone else. It is worth recalling that the last Labour manifesto made the following commitment: To work with managers and employees to reduce the problems of bullying and violence in the workplace. Therefore, it is clear that we all share the same objective; we want bullying and other forms of degrading treatment to come to an end. That is an essential part of good employment relations and of a good culture in a workplace, but it is also inherent in the concept of human dignity and people's right to lead their lives free from harassment.

Lady Hermon

If I heard the Minister correctly, he described such behaviour as degrading treatment, and he said that he wished everyone to be free from it. Does he accept that article 3 on the prohibition of degrading treatment in the European convention on human rights and fundamental freedoms—which is now part and parcel of our domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998—makes that form of bullying illegal?

Mr. Wilson

Perhaps I could address that later in my speech. [Laughter.] I wish to do so for the best reasons—I do not want to evade the question. I had better keep a watch on how much time I have left, but I was interested in what the hon. Lady said earlier, and I asked for further advice on the matter. As she can observe, my only problem is that I have lost that advice.

We consider that a combination of legislative action and a change of approach in the culture of workplaces must be a key to solving the problem of bullying and harassment in the UK. The law that is already in place covers a wide range of definable undesirable behaviours. I must repeat a list that has already been made: the current legislation includes the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the Employment Rights Act 1996. All these laws provide protection and enable individuals to seek remedies to problems that are a result of detrimental behaviour against them.

Mr. Tynan

My hon. Friend the Minister has read out a litany of Acts, but does he accept that, in spite of a concentrated effort to reduce bullying at work, there is a growth in instances of it? Does he also accept that that means that we need to do more to control bullying at work, and that an Act would help in achieving that?

Mr. Wilson

I respect that point of view. One of the problems is that, while there may be a perception of such an increase, it is impossible to gain objective evidence of that because, for instance, for very good reasons more attention is now paid to the matter. People are more prepared to talk about it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West and others have taken it up as a campaign. I cannot comment on whether there is more or less of this behaviour, but everybody seems to recognise that it is a substantial and continuing problem.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West recognised in her opening remarks, a lot has been done, even since 2001. For instance, the Employment Act 2002 contains provisions to ensure that all employees have access to a good internal grievance procedure. It is estimated that that will benefit around 6 million employees who have access to no such procedures, or to procedures that are inferior to the new statutory minimum. It is hoped that the Employment Act 2002 will provide an important means for employees to raise their problems at work, and to have them addressed by their employer at an early stage. We are also extending this range of protection against the most extreme forms of abuse under the provisions of article 13 of the Amsterdam treaty. That will extend protection to cover age, sexual orientation and religious discrimination.

Reference has been made to the work that is going on to create Health and Safety Executive management standards on relationships. The Department of Trade and Industry and the HSE are working on a relationship management standard to address the problems caused by bullying through cultural change. The management standards will be introduced on a voluntary basis. However, employers have duties under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities.

The HSE has the power to issue enforcement notices if employers are not addressing stressful situations in the workplace. They are not used often, as it is hard to judge how stress affects employees and where in the workplace it is occurring. However, the management standards that I have described will help HSE inspectors and employers to identify where and how stress is occurring.

Officials have met Chris Ball of the MSF section of Amicus to discuss a wide-reaching partnership fund project to tackle bullying in the workplace, and the Andrea Adams Trust may be included in that as a partner. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West will recognise that as another productive outcome of her campaign, even if it falls short of the legislation that she seeks.

We had an interesting little sub-Adjournment debate about the problems of Salisbury district council and the wider issues that flow from that. I was interested in what the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) said, and I will draw attention to the anomaly that he suggested exists between the provisions for local authorities and other employees. I will ensure that he receives a response to that, and I commend him for raising an interesting subject.

Somewhat paradoxically, I will now return to the comments of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) on the Human Rights Act 1998. For private sector employers, we have checked whether the legislation that I listed complies with the Human Rights Act, but it is my understanding that the provision in that Act—which would, in any case, be the last course of action—applies only to the public sector. That requires clarification and elaboration, and I undertake to write to the hon. Lady about it.

The general message that has come through from this debate is that there is a substantial problem, which has been given more attention as a result of the campaigning that is going on and of the fact that people feel more confident about discussing it. Simply because a problem is submerged does not mean that it is not a problem, and the attendance at this debate, and the contributions to it, reflect the interest in this area of human suffering. Perhaps it was neglected to some extent in the past, and perhaps the measures that are in place do not adequately respond to it. However, the Government's current position is that there are ways ahead that fall short of legislation, although I have no doubt that pressure for further legislation will continue to be applied.

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