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Unfair Dismissal Procedures (Overseas Workers)

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 3 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he intends to bring forward new legislative proposals for the application of unfair dismissal procedures to people whose employment takes them abroad for substantial parts of the year.

I am aware that the effect of recent case law is to deny to some people who ordinarily work part of the time abroad the right to complain of unfair dismissal. A case on this is now pending in the Court of Appeal, and the Government will consider whether legislation is necessary when the Court of Appeal's decision is known.

Is the Minister aware of the distress and difficulty that this is causing to people affected, including some in my constituency? Could we at least have an indication from him of when he expects the Court of Appeal to decide this issue? If it decides that Parliament made a mess of it the first time round, could we have an undertaking that something will be done about it in this parliamentary Session, and not the next Session?

I understand the widespread concern, which the Government share. I cannot forecast when the case will be dealt with by the Court of Appeal. It has been pending for some months. I hope that it will be high on the list. Certainly, if the Court of Appeal decision goes what would be the wrong way for the hon. Gentleman and myself, I give him the undertaking that we shall act as swiftly as possible. As he will know, there is a Private Member's Bill before the House in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), which is not yet printed. We should have to look carefully to see whether that would be a suitable vehicle. Equally, we shall have to look carefully at the implications of the judgment in relation to the form of words used in other statutes, such as the Contracts of Employment Act and the Employment Protection Act.

Does my hon. Friend recall that about 37 weeks ago some waitresses who were working for Trust Houses Forte hotels were unfairly dismissed and that they have been on strike ever since, and that as a result of the efforts that have been made by myself and some others—including some who are now Ministers—in refusing to attend any functions at these hotels, Trust Houses Forte, which employs the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) as a consultant—

and has had the freedom in the last 12 months to pay a £12,000 increase—

Order. I call the hon. Gentleman to order. He was rude in the extreme. I want to tell him that he was quite unworthy of this House in what he has just done in refusing to acknowledge the Speaker. If others behaved in that fashion, this place would be impossible and would not be representative of the British people.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While accepting that when an altercation took place in Question Time I was regarded as unworthy by some hon. Members in this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."]—especially by those who line their pockets past and present from other jobs, particularly on the Conservative side, at a time when there are 1½ million people unemployed—

Will the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) come to his point of order?

Notwithstanding that, I am still unaware of why I was called to order by you, Mr. Speaker. At the time I was deeply engrossed in exposing Trust Houses Forte for refusing to allow pickets of the Transport and General Workers Union—

Order. I am sure the hon. Member realises that he cannot pursue now the question that he was advancing earlier. I want to know what point of order he wishes to raise with me. He must either come to the point or resume his seat.

Taking account of the fact that I was deeply engrossed in making that point, I want to know why I was called to order when Ministers had taken twice and sometimes three times as long to give their answers. Perhaps tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, you and I could examine the number of inches in Hansard to see who spoke the longest. If I was called to order on the matter of content, I want to know. Will you explain to me the reason for calling me to order, because I am unaware whether it was because of the length or because of the content?

I will explain to the hon. Member why I called him to order. It was because he refused to sit down when I rose to my feet, and he went on for several moments after I had shouted "Order". If there is no respect for the Chair in this House, democracy itself is undermined.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, too, would like clarification of this matter. I cannot understand whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was stopped for being too long or because he was making comments that obviously were not liked by some Conservative Members. It is still not clear to me whether he was stopped because he was speaking for too long. We are often stopped because we take too long. I have been stopped many times for that reason. However, I would object most strongly if I were stopped because certain Conservative Members did not like what I had said.

Order. It is not a matter of whether one side or another likes what is said. I was rising to ask the hon. Member for Bolsover to come to the point of his question. The hon. Member is quite correct—the answers were very long today; but when the Speaker rises he is entitled to expect the courtesy and support of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order is not unconnected with the bellowing of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in that it relates to what I regard as an abuse of the Order Paper and the procedures of the House by the Prime Minister and the Civil Service Department over matters connected with the Trust Houses Forte dispute. It was reported three weeks ago that the Civil Service Minister had issued instructions to all Government Departments not to use any premises of Trust Houses Forte. I wrote to the Prime Minister seeking clarification—

Order. Will the hon. Member tell me the point of order so that we may move on?

I sought guidance from the Prime Minister whether that action had his approval, and all I received was an acknowledgment from No. 10 Downing Street—

Order. It would help the House if the hon. Member would come to the point of order that he wishes to raise with me, and if he would tell me what he wants me to do, if there is anything that I can do.

I placed a Question for Written Answer on the Order Paper yesterday asking the Prime Minister when he would answer my question. The answer that I received was that the answer was contained in a letter that I would receive yesterday. I have not received that letter. Then, on today's Order Paper there was clearly a planted Question tabled by the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Hatton) asking the Civil Service Department to detail the arrangements whereby Government Departments had been instructed not to use any premises of Trust Houses Forte for hospitality. What protection do Back Benchers have from the connivance of the Civil Service Department and Labour Back Benchers who are trying to prevent Opposition Back Benchers from receiving answers to Questions placed on the Order Paper some days previously?

The hon. Gentleman's point of order has been heard by those concerned as well as by myself. I shall examine the matter to see whether there is anything I can do, but I very much doubt it.