asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether the Employment Protection Act is achieving the objectives outlined by the Government.
I am satisfied that the Act is achieving its purpose to the extent that it has been implemented so far.
Is the Minister aware that his Government have suspended free collective bargaining, which ACAS is bound under the Act to develop? Will he resolve that contradiction and tell us what steps his Government have in mind or what consultations are in progress for the reform of collective bargaining?
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this Government have suspended collective bargaining, he will believe anything.
Does the Minister agree that the Employment Protection Act and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act do need amendment so as to restore protection against unfair dismissal to those thousands of people who work partly in the United Kingdom and partly overseas, or who have fixed-term contracts with provision to terminate them before their end —all of whom have lost their protection as a result of judicial interpretations?
Yes, there is a problem here, and my hon. Friend has put a Bill before the House in an attempt to remedy it. However, he will recognise that this is not a simple matter, because the words that have given rise to difficulty appear in a number of protective statutes, and it would be necessary to look at them all. However, one of the cases dealt with by the Employment Appeal Tribunal is still to be ruled on by the Court of Appeal, and I think that it would be wise to await the outcome of the Court of Appeal's decision.
With regard to ACAS, what action is the Minister taking to draw attention to the disgraceful happenings in a number of Surrey hospitals, which are causing immense suffering and are absolutely disgraceful? What action is his Department taking to bring this matter to the attention of ACAS and the appropriate union, and to call for an immediate halt to what is going on?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Secretary of State for Social Services has made a forthright statement, addressing his remarks to both the union involved and its members. I hope that there is a speedy return to normal working. Undoubtedly, this situation is causing the gravest hardship to a number of people, which should not be allowed. The services of ACAS are ready and available to help in this situation. I hope that if it cannot be speedily resolved by other means, the parties will have quick recourse to ACAS.
The whole House will be grateful for what the Minister has said. Will he see that his Department and ACAS play a full part in bringing this dispute to a speedy end? If there are any further developments, will he report back to the House, perhaps tomorrow?
On the first question, the right hon. Gentleman knows that in connection with industrial disputes we in the Department, having established ACAS as an independent body, want to preserve its independence. Nevertheless, I am sure that his remarks will be brought to the attention of the Chairman of ACAS. The second question would perhaps be more appropriately addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I shall certainly draw the right hon. Gentleman's request to his attention.