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Employment Protection Act

Volume 949: debated on Tuesday 2 May 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he remains satisfied with the operation of the Employment Protection Act.

Yes, but I am continuing to keep the working of the Act under review.

Is not one of the most worrying aspects of the Act the difficulty that small employers have in meeting its maternity requirements? Does the Minister agree that there is a case for relaxing the requirements, especially for small employers who engage principally female clerical labour?

This was one of the matters that was fully discussed when the Bill, as it then was, was before the House. In response to various moves made by hon. Members and the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) we tried to help smaller employers by making significant changes in the scheme to arrange for central funding rather than for individual employers to have to carry their own burden.

How can my hon. Friend be satisfied with the working of the Act when we have had two Bills frustrated by the Opposition—Bills that are destined to try to put the Act right and to have workers consulted on what is happening in a factory? Is my right hon. Friend aware that although the Conservative Party is always talking about law and order it is conniving at producing more Grunwicks and preventing the two Bills to which I have referred passing through the House?

It would be unfortunate if our satisfaction with the Act misled the House into thinking that we do not think that some reforms are necessary. I believe that the reforms that have been put before the House would be a significant strengthening of the Act to enable it to deal with the sort of problems of which we have had experience in recent months. I regret that the Opposition have deliberately obstructed the passage of those Bills.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the answer to the Question about the Act, together with the answers that have been given throughout the afternoon by his fellow Ministers, shows that the Government are completely bankrupt of ideas of how to deal with the unemployment situation? Does he realise that even those on his own side of the Chamber, let alone the TUC, are reduced to silence on this issue? The only person who can say anything is the Prime Minister, and he seeks to mislead everyone.

I am sure that that wild, generalised statement will not be much help to the House. It might have been a little more constructive if the right hon. Gentleman had told the House, as we have repeatedly asked him to do, what changes in the Act he and his party would consider necessary. At some time he may care to tell us.