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Clause 22

Volume 226: debated on Wednesday 16 June 1993

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

Right To Maternity Leave And Right To Return To Work

Lords amendment: No. 24, in page 40, leave out lines 40 to 44.

3.45 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Forsyth): I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this, it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 25 and 26.

The amendments fulfil an undertaking given by my noble Friend Viscount Ullswater to Lord Mottistone in Committee in another place. Lord Mottistone had raised a particular concern of employers about a woman who comes back from maternity leave early, without telling her employer of her intentions. Employers have pointed out that if they are unable to plan for that eventuality, the person whom they have taken on to replace the employee during her maternity leave will still be in post. The employer will be liable to give the replacement at least a week's notice and will end up having to pay for two people to do one job—the woman and her replacement.

I do not expect that such a situation will arise often. Most women will probably choose to take their full 14 weeks' statutory entitlement and those who do not will, in the main, be in touch with their employer anyway and will want to let him or her know their date of return so that preparations can be made for it. Only a very small minority of employees are likely to behave otherwise. However, the Government agree with employers that it would not be reasonable for them to be put to trouble and expense by such thoughtless behaviour.

The main amendment therefore provides that, in the rare case where a woman seeks to arrive back at work early without giving her employer a week's warning, he or she will be able to send her away again to continue her maternity leave until the seven days have expired—or until the end of the statutory period of leave, if that is earlier. That will enable the temporary replacement to be given the proper week's notice to which he or she is entitled, at the end of which the woman on maternity leave can return to work.

The other amendments in the group are mainly consequential and ensure that employees are able to choose whichever is the more favourable of their contractual or statutory rights in any particular aspect. The provisions ensure that the position is equivalent—in respect of the new right to maternity leave—to the current situation regarding maternity absence.

I commend the amendments to the House.

I have listened carefully to the Minister. We are disappointed that the maternity provisions of the Bill have come back largely unchanged from the other place and that we shall consider only this rather modest amendment. We are therefore left with a highly unsatisfactory package of measures covering pregnant women at work and women who wish to return to work after having a baby. It is a pity that the new intake at the Department of Employment has not been prepared, even at this late stage, to take a fresh, positive look at the maternity provisions in the Bill.

The new Secretary of State is in his place. His reputation was referred to yesterday. He is also reputed to be a pro-European. It seems a great shame that, the day after being appointed to his new post, he should find himself in a minority of one in the European Community —seeming to embark on a route that would not endear him to his European colleagues, with whom we thought that he would work closely and have a great deal in common.

I am also disappointed that our amendments to Lords amendment No. 25 were not selected and were deemed to be technically incorrect; they would have given us a chance to vote on improvements to a very unsatisfactory situation.

The Minister explained that the amendment stemmed from a suggestion by one of his noble Friends who felt that it would help employers, although the suggestion does not seem to have been researched in any depth. I was reminded of a comment made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) when winding up the debate. He said that the minute that there seemed to be any conflict between the interests of employer and employee, the Government immediately jumped in without further examination and decided that the employer must be right in all circumstances. My hon. Friend said that that seemed to be some law of nature for the Government. I would go further and say that it saddens me that the Government always seem to be on the side of the had employer rather than the good one. It is a great pity that they seem to react in a knee-jerk manner.

Good employers already give better maternity benefits than those in the Bill, which is a weak translation of the relevant European Community directive. Only bad employers wish to deny employees rights and are fe]:t to be normal and natural elsewhere. It is they who cause us difficulties in that regard. Such employers exploit the good will of their work force. That seems to be why the amendment was introduced.

The Minister seemed to feel that not many women, employees or firms would be affected by the amendment, but how widely has he consulted? He has not had much time to consult about the amendment and the wisdom of altering the situation, adding greater complexity to an already complex set of arrangements which govern maternity provision.

The hon. Lady is usually extremely generous in her comments. However, is it not a little churlish to complain that no further amendments have come from the other place when, on Report, at her request and behest, we accepted two important amendments extending maternity rights? Does it not add insult to injury for her to complain that we did not consult fully before making amendments when she made no such complaints while urging the Government on Report to accept the changes in respect of entitlement to choose between sick leave and maternity leave, for example?

I am sorry if the Minister feels that I am being churlish, but having looked at the report of the proceedings of the Bill in another place I was impressed by the number and quality of the amendments put forward, in particular by Baroness Lockwood and Baroness Turner. I t is those amendments that I am disappointed the Government have not seen fit to accept.

I welcome the fact that in Committee the Government accepted some of the Opposition's suggestions, but to a certain extent consultation was not necessary as all members of the Committee had received wide representation from many people about the particular matter that the Government decided to take on board.

The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but there does not seem to have been wide consultation or a wide measure of representation on this amendment. It seems to have resulted from a comment made in the other place, to which the Minister referred. Apart from that, I know of no other representations that were made. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us if there were a large number of representations. The fact that he remains silent suggests that he has not been written to by a large number of firms on this issue.

In many ways the amendment is rather difficult to object to in detail, but we wish to vote against it as it is a symptom of the Government's willingness to see only one side of an argument and to introduce a further element of complexity which makes an already difficult position a great deal worse.

The Minister commented vaguely on the number of firms and individuals likely to be affected. It is a pity that he is unable to give further information. Certain women who are not well off may feel a compulsion to return to work even before 14 weeks, despite that being inadequate maternity leave. I have seen no figures on the number of women who might want to do that.

The hon. Lady is being extremely unfair on the Government. She suggests that we have been one-sided in respect of our response to representations on the amendment from the Confederation of British Industry. Equally, the CBI made representations that were not favourable to the amendment that the hon. Lady tabled at an earlier stage in the Bill's consideration, to give women the right to an extra four weeks' absence where they have a doctor's certificate indicating sickness arising from their pregnancy.

It is wrong of the hon. Lady to suggest that we have considered only one side of the argument. In this case, we responded to reasonable concerns expressed by business. I explained that it would be unlikely for notice not to be given, because most people will be courteous and have an arrangement with their employer, to ensure that such a thing would be done anyway.

I accept that the Minister listened to the CBI's point of view, but responded to a different one—although I do not believe that a particular point of view one way or the other was overwhelmingly held by employers.

The Government were dragged kicking and screaming into accepting the terms of the EC directive. They did not positively vote in favour of it, but attempted to weaken it at many stages in its progress through the Community. When the Minister and I recently crossed swords in a European Standing Committee, the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the Community should not bother itself with the whole range of social issues. He said that most robustly, and is now nodding his head, even though those social issues, as many members of the Committee forcefully pointed out, do not stem from the Maastricht treaty but from even further back than the treaty of Rome —to the treaty setting up the European Coal and Steel Community, when there was an obvious detailed and firm commitment to a social dimension in European institutions.

The Government's overall record on implementing that particular directive is far from distinguished. In nearly all cases, the Government have tended to back a narrow-minded employer's point of view.

The health and safety of the baby is paramount, and the amendment—which relates to the 14 weeks' maternity leave, which we feel is too short—encourages a system that is not in the interests of many mothers or their babies. Although it may be true that some employers like to receive notice if new mothers intend to return to work early, many employers disagree with the Government's overall view and would prefer to see longer rather than shorter maternity leave. They take that view in fairness to the employee and in terms of the ease of finding a replacement for the absent employee.

The shorter the period of maternity leave, the more difficult it can often be for an employer to obtain a replacement. A strong argument can be made for 18 weeks, plus the period of the right to return to work which many subject to employment protection currently enjoy but which the women who particularly concern us, at the end of the scale, do not enjoy. They are important points which the Government should bear in mind.

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Underlying the amendment is the argument that the Government have used many times. They do not want extra costs or administrative burdens to be placed on business. Behind that is the wider argument, which the Government persist in pursuing despite evidence to the contrary, that employment protection measures destroy jobs. That is the over-simplified view with which we have had to contend many times during our debates. In dealing with the argument about costs in another place, Viscount Ullswater did not provide detailed figures of how the costs break down in this and related matters.

I beg the Government to reconsider the question of costs. I recently came across an interesting publication produced by Business in the Community and the Institute of Personnel Management. It is entitled "Corporate Culture and Caring" and talks of what it calls the business case for family-friendly provision. Pages 59 and 62 show clearly that for many companies it is cheaper to give women generous maternity leave rather than to encourage women to leave their jobs or even to sack those who do not have employment protection because companies then have to bear the costs associated with starting and training a replacement. In the example cited, the company was saving about £250,000 by giving its employees generous maternity provision and generous help with child care and by following other family-friendly policies. I urge the Government to study the publication because a respectable case can be made for stating that employers can save money by offering proper employment protection, especially for women leaving work to have a baby.

The Government's costings were not very well received in another place. Indeed, they have been challenged there in the report of the Committee that scrutinises European legislation. It was found that the costs referred to by the Government could be offset by other considerations.

Although the amendment in itself is not substantial, it is nevertheless a symptom of the way in which the Government approach the issue. They have missed the opportunity provided by the Bill to give a fair deal to pregnant women and women who wish to return to work after having a baby. They have also, tragically, missed the opportunity to bring our standards up to those of many other countries in the European Community.

The Government seem to regard European legislation as a ceiling rather than a floor. In fact, it is meant to be only a floor of protection, and it is up to individual countries to provide extra protection if they wish. Unfortunately, the Government want to get away with the minimum, whereas we believe that they should go for the maximum in terms of benefits and employment rights for working women, which is the fair deal that they deserve.

This part of the Bill, which confers a number of extremely limited new rights on employees protected by law, reveals the Government at their most schizophrenic. The Minister of State in particular and the Government in general believe that any statutory protection for people at work is somehow a burden on business, merely a cost and something which should be reduced to the absolute minimum. Now, however, they are biting their tongue while introducing legislation to give minimum new rights to people who previously did not have them. In this case, it is to pregnant women who do not qualify for the existing right to maternity leave because they have not been working in the same job for long enough.

What is happening? As has already been said, I believe that the Government have been forced by European directives against their will to introduce rights with which they do not agree. They have therefore tried to introduce them as reluctantly as possible, in the most complex possible way, so that although women will be allowed to take them up, in practical terms it will be extremely difficult to claim them. The maternity provisions in the Bill provide a prime example of the Government in that schizophrenic state.

I hate to ruin the hon. Lady's theory, but may I draw her attention to the fact that all Conservative Members stood on a manifesto commitment to introduce those rights? The notion that we were forced to do so by the European Community is absurd.

Secondly, were it not for the British presidency the combination of the antics of the European Parliament and those of the Italians would have prevented the directive from coming into force at all. It was thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State, now the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in her role as president of the Social Affairs Council, that we were able to secure the directive, and the rights that accrue from it, within the Community.

I am touched that the Government seem so concerned about their manifesto commitments, although they have spent the past few months reneging on most of them in the Budget—but I do not want to go into that.

My hon. Friend may agree that if there were any praise to be allocated for managing to get the directive through the European Community, it should go to Christine Crawley, the Member of the European Parliament for Birmingham, East, who moved heaven and earth in the EC to ensure that the directive got through, against the usual obnoxious and ludicrous obstruction by the British Government.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Minister will not be surprised to know that that is also my interpretation of the shenanigans that went on in Europe while the maternity directive was going through the procedures there. Simply examining the record proves that the Government consistently opposed the directive, watered it down and delayed it as much as they could. In the end they could not find it in their heart to vote for it, so they abstained. That makes the case that they are reluctant converts to putting any legal protection for employees on to the statute book.

Two minor amendments have come from the House of Lords and, ironically, they put obligations on employees rather than on employers. That, too, illustrates the Government's priorities. One of the new provisions; is that a woman has to give seven days' notice if she intends to return early. Nobody could strongly disagree with that, but it is disappointing that the Government have not seen fit to use the Lords stage of the Bill to clarify further some of the practical difficulties concerning the length of maternity leave proposed, which is 14 weeks.

Many women start their maternity leave with 11 weeks of their pregnancy to go. That leaves them a mere three weeks after giving birth not only to get the child home and start caring for it but to recover and then to think about the practicalities of going back to work and making provision for the care of such a young baby. Even that assumes that women are so mechanical that the date of conception can be precisely pinpointed and that the date of birth will be precisely nine months after conception, so that it will all fit neatly into the 14 weeks. Any mother, and any doctor, will tell us that there is no precise science and that the dates are simply estimates.

We discussed in Committee the fact that the absurd situation could arise, albeit in only a few cases, when the 14 weeks have passed and the baby has still not been born. We dealt with that problem to some extent in Committee, but, according to Maternity Alliance, 48 per cent. of women still take their maternity leave at a time that they think is about 11 weeks before the birth. That leaves them only three weeks to deal with all the practicalities that arise afterwards.

The trouble stems not from the fact that women may suddenly descend on their employers without warning and cause practical problems, but that 14 weeks is too short a time and presents practical difficulties, both to the woman and the child, which may affect the child's health. I would have preferred the Lords to consider that, rather than trying to impose more duties on employees.

There are all kinds of reasons why a woman who has given birth may not be in a position to return to work and leave the baby at home well and settled in a mere three weeks. For example, 5 to 7 per cent. of live births in Britain are premature. Depending on how premature the babies are, they may need special care and they may have to stay in hospital, which causes practical problems for new mothers ensuring that their children are okay and that they can visit them. All those possible problems militate against a mother trying to return to work before the baby is thriving and settled.

One per cent. of babies are extremely premature and that can lead to months of hospital treatment before the baby is allowed home. The existing law and the proposed change in the law says nothing about what a mother in such a situation is meant to do when contemplating returning to work. As premature births occur in a small percentage of cases, the Lords amendment should have considered the practical problems that a minority of women must face having given birth prematurely, with the problems that arise thereafter.

Ten per cent. of newborn babies have problems requiring special or intensive care, which can last for several weeks. It means that not only are those mothers unable to return to work early but they are not even in a position to return to work after their 14 weeks' maternity leave. Those mothers then have the choice of giving up their jobs or trying to negotiate an unpaid period of leave. Just when mothers are incurring all kinds of costs after having a baby, they must contemplate taking unpaid leave and losing their earning power altogether.

With multiple births—as a twin, I speak with some feeling, and 30 in every 1,000 live births are now triplets or more—birth weights are lower and it takes longer for those children to reach the stage when they are stable and thriving. There are also practical problems suddenly facing a mother who, with many young children, has the organisational task of getting her home into some sort of equilibrium so that she can contemplate returning to work.

Caesarean deliveries require a longer period of recuperation for the mother than for the baby. Again there are only three weeks in which the new mother is meant to have sorted out all the practical difficulties and found herself back at work. The problem is not the employer's of having a woman decide that she is going to return to work early and giving a week's notice. The problems are all on the side of the mother and baby. Why have the Government decided to move Lords amendment No. 24, after one comment in the Lords on that relatively trivial matter, and to ignore serious, practical problems that occur day in, day out for new mothers?

Other issues such as the health of baby must be considered. It is thought that 14 weeks is inadequate to establish breast-feeding—as encouraged by the Government and especially the Department of Health. The number of the mothers who breast-feed is declining, which is a health threat to new babies. It should have been in the Government's mind to ensure that, before having to return to work, a mother was able to establish adequate breast-feeding arrangements for her new baby so that she could protect its health to the best possible extent.

The timetable for the immunisation of babies is more suited to the old system of maternity benefit than the new 14-week rule. The Department of Employment seems to have given little consideration to these matters, despite the fact that the Department of Health is extremely concerned about them.

I should have liked the Lords amendments to give some recognition of those factors, yet once again the other place has not seen fit to make amendments to deal with such practical problems.

The Government are concerned about what they call "costs to business", but seemingly are not concerned about practical measures to ensure the health of mothers and babies and therefore the next generation.

4.15 pm

Lords amendment No. 25, rather than attempting to tackle the complex nature of the old system, new statutory provision and extra provisions that employers may make in some cases for the female work force, merely says that women can take the best provision that is available to them. Why on earth does not it simplify and consolidate maternity provision so that employers and mothers-to-be could simply work out the entitlement from a leaflet and plan for the birth of the baby?

Instead, we have three complex and convoluted systems working in tandem. Nobody is sure how they work together or what provisions a mother may be entitled to. The Lords amendment says that she can have the system that is best for her. Lords amendments Nos. 24 and 25 address the wrong problems. They are too obsessed with disbenefits to the employer rather than practical help to the mother.

Maternity leave should be seen as a right and not as a cost. If the Government were committed to sensible maternity provision of which Britain could be proud they would have considered it in that light rather than being so churlish about the new rights that they have introduced. Maternity leave is vital to ensure reasonable equal opportunities. It is a starting point for dealing with the many other matters necessary to ensure that women can take their rightful place in the economic life of the nation and in society in general.

There is a practical and moral case for women to be given provision that they and employers understand and that can be triggered easily. For those reasons, the Lords amendments address the wrong issues. They are too modest and they do not solve the serious problems that have resulted from the Government's seeming unwillingness to provide a simple, easy system of maternity provision that women can look forward to receiving.

I was staggered by the Minister of State's sedentary remark that the British Government saved the pregnant women at work directive. We have spent many hours discussing that, in Committee and in the Chamber, but clearly it has not sunk in with the Minister of State. Therefore, let us again examine how the British Government allegedly saved the directive.

When the directive was first proposed by the Commission, it suggested that any woman working since the beginning of her pregnancy, whether full or part-time, would be eligible for a minimum maternity leave entitlement of 14 weeks on full pay, with the flexibility of further time on 80 per cent. of pay.

I should like to ask the Minister of State whether the Government now support that. If he was in the Chamber, he would be able to give me an answer, but I shall return to it when he comes back.

The directive would apply to all companies, irrespective of size. Do the Government now support that? There would be two weeks' compulsory rest on full pay before the birth. Is the Minister now saying that the Government support that? Women would not lose pay for ante-natal appointments during working time. I understand that the Government support that principle—they just did not want it in the Bill because they said that it was self-evident, despite the fact that several industrial tribunal and other cases have shown that the matter is far from simple in practice. Periods of sickness during pregnancy could not be deducted from maternity leave. The Government have a rather ambiguous position on that matter, and I would like them to clarify it.

All work-related rights would be maintained during pregnancy. Dismissals linked to pregnancy would be outlawed. Employers would be required to improve conditions at work and find alternative jobs or an improved environment for pregnant and breast-feeding women should that be necessary. There must be a real alternative to night work for pregnant women, for at least eight weeks before the birth. That was the original draft directive introduced in 1990.

The final directive was approved two years later. It took two years, because the original proposals were watered down and blocked. The state that had more to do with that blocking process than any other was Britain. If the Minister is saying that the directive was saved by the Government, he has an obligation to say whether the draft directive containing real improvements for working women is now acceptable to the Government. If it is not, his statement that the Government saved the directive is no more than fluff.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said, if anyone saved that directive and is responsible for ensuring that some modest improvements have been adopted in European and now also in British law, it is probably Christine Crawley, the MEP for Birmingham, East. Organisations such as Maternity Alliance, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Equal Opportunities Commission should be thanked for the good work they have done. We have nothing for which to thank the Government. They have given every concession with a bad grace, and have had to be pushed and shoved into doing so.

I am sure that Miss Crawley is a perfectly splendid person, but will the hon. Gentleman explain what role she played in ending the difficulties resulting from a conflict with the European Parliament? I had the impression that my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State was responsible for bringing that to a conclusion. I would be more than fascinated if the hon. Gentleman could explain the role played by Miss Crawley in that.

Christine Crawley was the chair of the Committee on Women's Rights at the European Parliament. That Committee, more than any other body, was responsible for bringing the various parties together to ensure that the views expressed by the British Government and others did not wreck the directive. That ensured a successful outcome of sorts.

If the Minister is saying that the Government were in favour of that directive, why did they object to the specific provisions suggested by the European Commission and the European Parliament? Why was it that, in the final vote during a Fisheries meeting, Britain could not even bring itself to vote for the directive, but only abstained? It is odd to claim credit for a piece of legislation by saying that one abstained when it came up for a vote. That is an astonishing statement.

The amendment has been tabled by the Government because, without it, the Bill would be inconvenient. It would not be particularly inconvenient for women, but it would be inconvenient for employers, because a woman could return to work early after having a baby and not give notice. Taken in isolation, that point might be reasonable. But of course the legislation does not exist in isolation; it exists in the round.

If we want to ensure that the legislation is as convenient as possible for all concerned—mothers and employers—would it not be rather more useful for the Government to listen to the advice that they received from the Maternity Alliance, Opposition Members and all kinds of experts who suggested that the way that the legislation could be most simplified and made most effective and most convenient would be to extend the period of minimum maternity leave to 18 weeks—indeed, to extend it to the levels that were envisaged in the European directive in the first place?

If the Government consider that the welfare of the mother and the baby is important, let me give them some examples. Some have already been given by my hon. Friends. Under the Bill, even though there is some statutory protection for a woman from coming back to work before she is ready because of illness, there is very little or no protection if the baby is ill. Extending the period of statutory maternity leave in the way that we have been urging would not overcome that problem, but it would help. The Government have refused to help in that way.

We have already heard that the Government—indeed many Governments—encourage breast feeding, yet a woman will be required to go back to work perhaps just three weeks after she has had a baby. How on earth does that fit with a Government who claim to encourage breast feeding? The timing of the vaccination and inoculation programme that is recommended for babies these days just does not fit with the insistence that women should go back to work after just 14 weeks.

It has been proved that the chances of finding a child minder in the vital early weeks after birth are much more difficult. That position would be improved if the Government had seen fit to increase the period to 18 weeks. Those are real conveniences that the Government could have offered to employers and women, but they have not done so. Why not? They say that it is because of cost.

Cost has been mentioned time and again in respect of this aspect of the Bill. It is time that the point was answered. Ministers have thrown out figures and mentioned an alleged cost of £200 million if the maternity leave period is extended to 18 weeks. They have never stated the reasons or the basis for that calculation, but they have said that it would cost about £200 million and that it would be a burden on employers' costs. Two points arise.

I am not aware that the Government have ever said that. We have estimated the cost of the additional four weeks at £50 million. But £200 million is a big number and £50 million is also a big number, particularly when employers are obviously fighting to maintain employment and improve employment prospects for those who are unemployed.

I am grateful for that intervention. I find it interesting that the figure has apparently been revised downwards. I do not have to hand the Hansard reference showing where the £200 million comes from, but the reference exists. If the figure is now said to be £50 million and that it is a big cost, in terms of how much money the Minister and I have, it is a lot of money.

I would not say that £50 million, even if the amount were that much, was a great deal of money for a Government to spend to ensure that working women had decent maternity rights. When we compare £50 million with the £1 billion that was lost in one day in order to maintain the fig leaf over the Chancellor's economic policies, it does not seem a great deal.

Some information which I did not have available during our earlier deliberations on this subject reinforces my hon. Friend's point. A letter from the Federation of Small Businesses to the previous Secretary of State for Employment states very clearly:

"From the point of view of small businesses, this increase"—
that is, the extension from 14 weeks to 18 weeks—
"would make little difference and we would have no objection to the proposed amendment."
The federation says that costs are incurred at an earlier stage and can stay in place for an extra four weeks without any problem at all, and that extending the leave to 18 weeks would simplify the system and make it easier for small employers who find the present set-up, like the set-up proposed in the Bill, a real headache.

4.30 pm

My hon. Friend makes an exceptionally valid point. Ministers manage to talk at two levels when they refer to the costs involved. They are not always over-specific about who they expect to stand which cost. They say that the cost will be a burden on employers. However, if the state was prepared to extend the period of statutory paid maternity leave to 18 weeks, the cost would not fall on employers—it would fall on us as a society. But is it too much to expect society to give working women the same sort of rights that women in other countries get?

My hon. Friend made an especially valid point about the cost to employers. If a woman is on maternity leave and an employer appoints a temporary replacement, costs have been incurred, and increasing the period to 18 weeks would make virtually no difference. Indeed, it may be that employers' costs are reduced in the medium and longer term because the consequence of having inadequate maternity leave and not seriously addressing the issue of a baby being ill or the mother not being ready to come back to work, and the problems of breast feeding and finding a child minder, is often to force working women to leave their jobs. The result is that the employer must pay the cost of advertising, finding a replacement and so on. It would be much better if decent maternity leave was given in the first place.

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman again. I suspect that the figure that he has in mind of £200 million probably relates to the compliance cost assessment of between £100 million and £250 million that we produced, a copy of which is in the Library. If he is right about no costs being involved, and if the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) is right about the assessment of the Federation of Small Businesses that there is no cost in extending the period from 14 weeks to 18 weeks, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so. They are free to extend it. Employers can agree that the leave will be longer if they so wish. That is a contractual matter between employers and employees.

If the hon. Gentleman is right about all the advantages to business, we do not need to pass legislation to compel employers to do what he says is in their economic interests. However, our assessment is that it would add a cost of £50 million, which would create difficulties for employment in the future, especially for women.

It is precisely because enlightened employers understand that decent maternity leave provisions are in their interests, as well as in the interests of the mother, that so many of them offer maternity leave provisions that are well above the statutory minimum. The importance of having a statutory minimum is not to force enlightened or forward-looking employers to do what they see is in their interests and in the interests of the mother.

The importance of having a statutory minimum is to ensure that there is protection against bad employers, short-sighted employers or employers who have a narrow view of working women's rights, the interests of their enterprise and how they should operate in a civilised society, just as the importance of having wages councils has always been to ensure that pay does not fall below a minimum level.

The ridiculous thing about the Government's approach to this matter and the argument by the Minister, which underlies their proposal to abolish wages councils, will not make much difference as far as good employers are concerned. However, it will ensure that bad employers and bad employment practices are given statutory sanction. That is the tragedy of the Government's approach to employment legislation.

The amendment was not introduced when the matter was discussed in this place, but it was felt to be so important that it was introduced in another place. It was felt that, if the worst came to the worst and an unreasonable mother gave no notice to her employers but simply returned to work earlier than expected and demanded her work back—I cannot imagine many women doing that—the employer might have to bear an extra cost for a few days. That possibility is seen as so significant that it requires not only an amendment in another place but a debate here today.

Does it not reveal that the Government have an odd set of priorities when that possibility is seen as significant, but a mother's rights to decent child care, to breast-feed her baby for a reasonable period and to have a decent period of maternity leave are not seen to be important? It is not considered important to introduce legislation to ensure that bad employers are encouraged to become good employers. It seems that the Government, as so often, have their priorities wrong.

The statements that have been made about why it is unnecessary to legislate reveal the attitude that was displayed during the debates in Europe. I am pleased with the legislation as far as it goes. It is a small step forward, but does not go far enough. Instead of introducing one-sided amendments that benefit only the employer, it would be better if, for once, the Government started listening to working women, and introduced amendments to benefit them and guarantee decent maternity rights in this country.

I am surprised to see that a Conservative Member wants to speak at this late stage in our debate. I was beginning to think that no Conservative Members held a view on the important issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) and others. As my hon. Friend said, in yesterday's debate reference was continually made to the employer's need and rights. I hope that the Government will relax their guard a little and talk about the interests of the child. If they do not, they will go down as being the Government who favoured bosses before babies. I hope that that does not prove to be the case. Children should be given the highest priority.

Throughout the debates, both in Committee and in the other place, the Opposition have sought to improve on the Government's position. Some interesting exchanges have suggested that the Government are still in a rut and apparently listen more patiently to employers' organisations than organisations representing and supporting women of child-bearing age. That is an extraordinary position.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) referred, with the benefit of some personal knowledge, to the problems associated with multiple births. Knowing her sister as I do, I must say that if—or should I say when —she joins us in this place, it will present you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with an enormous problem. I cannot tell the two women apart and I look forward to seeing the Speaker being foxed over that.

I am not sure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) mentioned an important aspect of the debate—the availability of child care for parents of young babies. It is undoubtedly extremely difficult to find child care for young babies. A recent Equal Opportunities Commission report states that fewer than 10 per cent. of children between birth and the age of four have places in non-family child care. Recent Government child care regulations require one worker for every three babies in day nurseries and other collective child care arrangements. Although that is welcome as a measure to improve the quality of care, it restricts the number of places for babies in some nurseries.

I hope, therefore, that the Government will have fresh thoughts as we see how the legislation proceeds. Thirty-six per cent. of mothers returning to full-time work rely heavily on child minders for care, but many child minders are reluctant to care for children under the age of six months. The National Child minding Association has commented that the nature of the care required for young babies is particularly intensive. That is likely to reduce the number of minders willing to look after them. Caring for a small baby can make it impossible for a child minder to look after any other child and can reduce her income significantly. The 53 per cent. of working mothers who rely on relatives for care may also find them unwilling to care for babies who are as young as three weeks.

The Select Committee on Health recently commented on the EC directive on the protection of pregnant women at work—a subject on which we have just heard an interesting exchange between the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield. The Committee says in its second report that the United Kingdom Government have
"laid itself open to the accusation that it is only interested in the effects the Directive would have on employers and on the Treasury."
That underlines my point about the Government putting bosses before babies. Perhaps the Minister will try to refute that and adopt a more flexible approach to the legislation.

The maternity provisions of the Bill fail to give sufficient priority to the needs of the child. The legislation is wholly unsatisfactory, and I hope that the Government will give it another careful look.

The speeches by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) were classic examples of the Opposition's casual approach to placing burdens on business. They seem to discuss the issue as if it could be divided into two separate, unrelated boxes,. They seem to think that the burden on the employer is wholly unrelated to the situation of the mother and the child. The fact is that placing too many burdens on employers jeopardises chances of employment as well as the position of mother and child. The two issues are linked at every stage.

That was precisely the argument used before a Labour Government passed the equal pay legislation. It was said that, if women were granted equal pay, it would represent an extra cost and would militate against women being employed. Since then, there has, of course, been a huge growth in the employment of women.

4.45 pm

I prefer to stick to the point in hand. I maintain that the Opposition treat burdens on employers casually. Their attempts to sidetrack me from the issue do not detract from the point that I am trying to make.

Our 14-week statutory period has been pooh-poohed by the Opposition, but Germany, Ireland and the two countries of the Iberian peninsula all have similar periods. It is a perfectly respectable period, and children and mothers can deal with it. It is accepted as a compromise.

I support Lord Ullswater's amendment. It was his proposal on 6 May that led to the suggestion that employers should be protected from mothers who come back at no notice to reclaim their jobs. This sensible amendment merely attempts to give employers seven days—

The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to learn that I do not intend to take up his phrase about protecting employers from mothers. I would, however, like to ask him about his international comparisons. I am sure that he would agree that it is important to compare like with like. Is he, for instance, aware that Germany gives 14 weeks on 100 per cent. of salary and Ireland gives 14 weeks on 70 per cent. of salary? One of the criticisms of the legislation is that it guarantees nothing about pay. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a major omission from the Bill?

Pay is a matter for the DSS. I was only comparing the periods involved, and I do not want to widen the debate to other issues.

I support the Lords amendment because I think that we should prevent more burdens from being placed on employers. It would seem sensible of the Government to support that idea. That does not turn our party into a party that is against children or mothers—a ridiculous suggestion. The amendment prevents an additional burden from being imposed and allows for the smooth running of the workplace. Sudden events in the workplace cause friction and a great deal of trouble.

We have had an interesting debate. When my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) said that we should remove burdens, I thought that he was referring to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden). Having heard his speech, I can see why my hon. Friend was provoked to adopt such an undemocratic view.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley about the importance of striking a balance between employment rights and costs. Compared with our European partners, we in Britain can be proud of the much higher proportion of our labour force that is in employment and the larger percentage of women who work. Apart from Denmark, which has about the same number of women at work, we have the highest proportion in Europe. In common with Denmark, we have a deregulated labour market. We may have different views about social provision, but we take a similar approach in respect of regulation in the labour market.

The socialist paradises that Opposition Members draw to our attention seem to find it difficult to provide employment opportunities for as large a proportion of their work forces—and especially for women—as we in Britain are able to provide. In the debates that are now taking place in the Social Affairs Council and elsewhere, it is evident that our European partners are coming to recognise the importance of regulation in the destruction of job opportunities—a recognition that is singularly absent from the contributions of Opposition Members.

Hon. Members cannot say, on the one hand, that they wish to see more opportunities for women to work and thereby contribute to our economy and, on the other hand, that they are prepared for whatever burdens on business are involved in the employment of those women. What they propose would deprive women of opportunity, just as has happened in Europe. It is no coincidence that the countries cited as examples to be followed have not been able to achieve the employment and job opportunities that Britain has achieved.

The Minister may have given the wrong

impression about Denmark, which has a Government whose views have much more in common with those of the Labour party than with those of the British Government. The current Danish presidency of the European Community particularly wants progress to be made on many of the social directives that the British Government say will put additional burdens on business; thus, it is hardly right for the Minister to claim Denmark as an ally.

I was not claiming Denmark as an ally; I was merely making the point that the Danish labour market is not regulated to the extent that the hon. Lady advocates. If she is saying that the Danish Government are about to embark on that course, I make a prediction: Denmark will not be alongside Britain at the top of the league in terms of the provision of employment opportunities for people of both sexes. The policies that Opposition Members advocate would destroy jobs—a fact that is becoming increasingly understood throughout the Community.

Does the Minister agree that, in almost all cases one can think of, men too are responsible for the birth of children? A woman' capacity to give birth should not be regarded as some kind of extra cost that she takes into the workplace—a cost that makes firms disinclined to employ her. Reasonable maternity provision should be associated with extended paternity provision; in that way, the costs could be shared between the genders, within the family, and employers would not be encouraged to regard the woman as a walking womb that imposes extra costs.

I agree with the hon. Lady on her biological points, but not on her labour market points. She must understand that it is not discriminatory to say that we must be careful about the costs that are imposed on employers. The hon. Lady's solution would involve more costs through the provision of paternity leave, but those costs would have to be borne by employers. Employers make their money by selling goods and services. If their goods and services are no longer competitively priced, employment opportunities are destroyed. There is a balance to be struck.

In suggesting that the Government are putting business before babies, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) ruined the quite good reputation that I thought he was building up following his service on the Standing Committee, where he seemed to be a thoughtful person who added a great deal to our debates. His description of a measure that provides a right to 14 weeks' maternity leave, with entitlement to all the normal benefits of contracts of employment, apart from wages or salary, as well as comprehensive protection against dismissal or unfair selection for redundancy on maternity-related grounds and new rights for women who have to be suspended from work on maternity-related health and safety grounds, is absurd. To say that this is putting bosses before babies is so ridiculous that I can only imagine that the hon. Gentleman does not really think it but put it in a press release to his local newspaper—or perhaps there is some other, equally fatuous, reason for his coming out with such nonsense.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving me an idea. I have not yet put this in a press release, but I think I shall now do so.

If the Government had listened more carefully to the advice of many professional organisation—particularly the Maternity Alliance—they could have gone much further without imposing any significant additional costs on employers. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) made the point in the context of the Federation of Small Businesses. Against that background, the Minister's remarks are churlish.

I should not be at all concerned if the hon. Gentleman were to issue such a silly press release. It might help to achieve the result that we should have had at the polls last year—the election of Mr. Andrew Pearce. A few more daft statements of that type will see the hon. Gentleman on his way out of the House.

I should like to press the Minister on the issue of costs. I shall try to avoid using the word "burden", but I may not succeed. The hon. Gentleman prayed Denmark in aid with regard to regulation. He probably knows that Denmark offers 28 weeks' maternity leave on 90 per cent. of salary. If the Minister regards that as a deregulated market, his view is different from mine. If he wishes to avoid the imposition of an excessive "burden" —I have used the word—on businesses but accepts the need to ensure decent maternity rights, he must accept also that the state should ensure decent levels of statutory provision. Would not that be better than cutting provision for working women?

The hon. Gentleman is getting frightfully muddled. He is confusing regulation of the labour market with benefits. We are not dicussing benefits, which are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. What the hon. Gentleman has said about the provision of welfare services in Denmark is quite right. That is why Denmark has very high levels of taxation.

I was not making the point that Denmark is an ally; I was simply pointing out something that Opposition Members do not seem to recognise—that, comparatively speaking, a very high proportion of our population are in work. Let hon. Members consider countries—such as Spain, whose unemployment percentage is almost twice ours—that have embraced the minimum wage and all the other social protection policies so beloved of Opposition Members.

Of course Conservatives are committed to the provision of a fair deal for employees, but they are not prepared to accept advice that would put people on the dole. If people were unemployed, they would not have the benefit of the legislation that we have brought before the House over the past 14 years.

The hon. Members for Northfield and for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said some very odd things. The hon. Lady said that no one could disagree with seven days' notice, yet the hon. Member for Gateshead began her speech by telling us that Opposition Members would vote against the amendment. As the hon. Lady has said that she could not possibly disagree with that, I expect to see her vote with the Government in the Division Lobby. The hon. Member for Northfield said that he did not imagine that anyone would not give notice; presumably he will be in the Division Lobby with us as well.

If the Minister had listened more carefully to the overall thrust of my remarks, he would not be quoting half-sentences out of context and he might have picked up that I said that the amendment dealt with a fairly trivial matter that happened on only a few occasions. Other matters affecting the health of mothers and babies are more serious and much more common, but the Government have seen fit not to deal with those. The thrust of my speech was that we should spend more time addressing the real issues rather than spend time on relatively trivial matters.

The hon. Lady has not added to what I have said. She said that the matter was trivial and that no one could disagree with seven days' notice. Now she says that she will vote against what she agrees is a reasonable provision because it is not something else. That is an extraordinary basis on which to vote down a perfectly sensible amendment.

The hon. Lady says that it is tactical. Her constituents will be astonished if they find that her voting record on amendments or other legislation is based not on what is in them but on what she thinks should be in them. That is absurd. If that is the hon. Lady's best argument to justify her speeches, she had better get herself a new research assistant.

5 pm

I shall intervene before the Minister gets too carried away by what he perceives to be Opposition contradictions. In Committee, Conservative Members voted against amendments to ensure that women had clear rights not to be subjected to action by employers if they sought time off for ante-natal care and relaxation classes. Those hon. Members said that that happens anyway, but there is clear evidence from tribunal decisions that it does not. Conservative Members are throwing stones from glass houses.

I did not entirely understand the hon. Gentleman's point. My assessment of what he said is that he could not imagine that anyone would not give notice and that he would support the amendment.

I said that I could not imagine many women not giving notice. I then gave the hypothetical situation of a woman who does not give notice to her employer but returns unannounced to work, demanding her job from that moment. The net cost of that to the employer would be a few days' pay while the temporary employee was still there. I contrasted the Government's concern for the cost of that few days' pay with the extent to which they are prepared to amend the Bill to show a lack of concern for women who are denied access to decent child care, are unable to breast-feed their babies for long enough and face all the other problems associated with the fact that there is no maternity leave of 18 weeks.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation. He disagrees with the Government about the extent to which the protection should be extended. However, if he votes against the amendment, he will look ridiculous, because the amendment says that there should be seven days' notice. The hon. Gentleman gaily writes off a week's pay for a temporary worker as it if were of little consequence. That betrays the fact that he has never had to run a company or a small business and does not realise that such sums are often the difference between profit and loss. They also make a difference to growth of employment and employment opportunities. As we say in Scotland, "Many a mickle maks a muckle." The hon. Gentleman should be more careful with other people's money.

I should not like the Minister to misunderstand our reason for voting against the amendment. As I have explained, the amendment adds a rule, an extra complexity, to an already complex system. From the beginning, we have argued for a comprehensive overhaul and simplification of the system of maternity leave. We are using the amendment as an example of the complexities that we have argued against all along.

The Minister has done little to justify the amendment. He has not said how many people will be affected by it, nor has he spoken about the number of people who were consulted before the amendment was tabled. If he could give us more information about that and say that he will look at the overall system of maternity leave with a view to making it much more simple, along the lines that we have suggested, that would be something else.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for contradicting her hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey, who said that no one could disagree with seven days' notice. She was clearly wrong, because the hon. Member for Gateshead, East obviously disagrees with it. She says that it unnecessarily complicates the legislation. Following a commitment to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East, we tabled an amendment on Report to give women the choice of sick leave rather than maternity leave if they were absent between the 11th and the sixth week of the expected week of childbirth.

Again at the hon. Lady's request, I tabled an amendment to provide four weeks' extra protection against maternity-related dismissal in cases where a medically certified sickness prevents women from returning to work at the end of maternity leave. The hon. Lady did not urge me not to do that on the ground that it complicated the provisions, as it does. However, it is not a question of whether it complicates the provisions. We want a system that is workable. The legislation may be complex, but the position of the employer and the employee will be perfectly straightforward.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East seems to apply one argument when it suits her and another when it suits people who are making representations. When the hon. Lady pressed me to table the amendments, she did not urge me to rush out and consult everybody. She wanted me to agree in Committee to consider the matter and table amendments at an early stage. She urged us to make those amendments in respect of the additional month after the end of the period that would be available for someone who was suffering from pregnancy-related sickness.

The CBI and others expressed reservations about those amendments. I have tabled a perfectly reasonable amendment, and the hon. Lady's colleagues have said that no one could disagree with it. However, because it has come from the CBI and is subject to exactly the same process as her amendments, she criticises us for not conducting proper consultation.

We are a listening Government. We listened to the arguments and tabled amendments in the light of discussions at every stage. The amendments will result in substantial extra benefits for women who become pregnant while they are still at work. Opposition Members cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that it is a good measure and fulfils the Government's manifesto commitment.

The hon. Members for Northfield and for Wallasey said that the Government had abstained on the vote on the European directive. We abstained because we thought that it was being issued on an inappropriate treaty base. It is extraordinary that Opposition Members should question our enthusiasm for the directive as adopted because we abstained on the issue of the treaty base. My right hon.

Friend the then Secretary of State for Employment moved heaven and earth in the presidency to conclude the Council's deliberations following the intervention of the European Parliament. That Parliament tried to overturn an agreed position by the Council of Ministers, thus risking the destruction of the directive itself. It was thanks to the Government's efforts in the presidency that the directive was brought into force. Opposition Members suggested that the Labour party in the European Parliament carried the day; in fact, it was the European Parliament, and the conflict that arose between it and the Council of Ministers, that put the directive at risk.

The Minister has just explained why the Government chose to abstain, although they really agreed with all the directive's provisions. Was that a tactical decision?

If the hon. Lady follows such matters closely, she will know that we abstained on the working time directive. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, we did not accept the treaty base, and we shall be challenging the directive in the European Court. When we believe that the treaty base is wrong, we shall abstain. The hon. Lady clearly does not pay careful attention to these matters.

The position on the EC pregnant workers directive was made clear. A common position text was agreed in December last year; it was originally produced by the Dutch presidency, because the Commission's original proposal was unacceptable to the great majority of member states. The treaty base, which we challenged, provided for qualified majority voting, not unanimity, and the United Kingdom was never in a position to threaten a veto—if that is what the hon. Member for Wallasey was implying. Ultimately, the United Kingdom secured agreement through its presidency; that is why the directive applies throughout Europe. The legislation is before the House because we had made a manifesto commitment to present such measures. We have been as good as our manifesto commitment and we were elected to implement it.

Can we be clear about the nature of the disagreements that we are discussing?

Order. Not unless they are related to the amendment.

I am sure that they are, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the ground that the Minister has been referring to them himself—

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was misled by Opposition Members, who made scurrilous remarks about the Government while you were not in the Chair, and thus unable to remind them of the matter under discussion. I hasten to add that I am making no criticism of Madam Speaker.

Rather than proceeding further with my speech, I invite the House to endorse the amendment. It is perfectly reasonable, as Opposition Members have said. I look forward to seeing the hon. Members for Northfield and for Wallasey in the Aye Lobby.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 25, in page 42, line 40, at end insert—

("Requirement to inform employer of return during maternity leave period.

.—(1) An employee who intends to return to work earlier than the end of her maternity leave period shall give to her employer not less than seven days notice of the date on which she intends to return.

(2) If an employee returns to work as mentioned in subsection (I) without notifying her employer of her intention to do so or without giving him the notice required by that subsection her employer shall be entitled to postpone her return to a date such as will secure, subject to subsection (3), that he has seven days notice of her return.

(3) An employer is not entitled under subsection (2) to postpone an employee's return to work to a date after the end of her maternity leave period.

(4) If an employee who has been notified under subsection (2) that she is not to return to work before the date specified by her employer does return to work before that date the employer shall be under no contractual obligation to pay her remuneration until the date specified by him as the date on which she may return.")— [Mr. Michael Forsyth.]

Motion made, and Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 282, Noes 238.

Division No. 298]

[5.13 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Churchill, Mr
Aitken, JonathanClappison, James
Alexander, RichardClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Amess, DavidCoe, Sebastian
Arbuthnot, JamesColvin, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Congdon, David
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Conway, Derek
Ashby, DavidCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Atkins, RobertCope, Rt Hon Sir John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Cormack, Patrick
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)Couchman, James
Baldry, TonyCran, James
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bates, MichaelDavies, Quentin (Stamford)
Batiste, SpencerDavis, David (Boothferry)
Bellingham, HenryDay, Stephen
Bendall, VivianDeva, Nirj Joseph
Beresford, Sir PaulDevlin, Tim
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnDickens, Geoffrey
Blackburn, Dr John G.Dicks, Terry
Body, Sir RichardDorrell, Stephen
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Booth, HartleyDover, Den
Boswell, TimDuncan, Alan
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaDunn, Bob
Bowis, JohnDurant, Sir Anthony
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesDykes, Hugh
Brandreth, GylesEggar, Tim
Brazier, JulianElletson, Harold
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Browning, Mrs. AngelaEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Budgen, NicholasEvennett, David
Burns, SimonFaber, David
Burt, AlistairFabricant, Michael
Butler, PeterField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Butterfill, JohnFishburn, Dudley
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Forman, Nigel
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Carrington, MatthewForth, Eric
Carttiss, MichaelFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Cash, WilliamFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Chapman, SydneyFreeman, Rt Hon Roger

French, DouglasMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gale, RogerMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gallie, PhilMawhinney, Dr Brian
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon TristanMerchant, Piers
Garnier, EdwardMilligan, Stephen
Gillan, CherylMills, Iain
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMoate, Sir Roger
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Gorst, JohnMoss, Malcolm
Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)Needham, Richard
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Nelson, Anthony
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Neubert, Sir Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Grylls, Sir MichaelNicholls, Patrick
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynNicholson, David (Taunton)
Hague, WilliamNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)Norris, Steve
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hampson, Dr KeithOppenheim, Phillip
Hannam, Sir JohnOttaway, Richard
Hargreaves, AndrewPage, Richard
Harris, DavidPaice, James
Haselhurst, AlanPatten, Rt Hon John
Hawkins, NickPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hawksley, WarrenPawsey, James
Hayes, JerryPickles, Eric
Heald, OliverPorter, David (Waveney)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPowell, William (Corby)
Hicks, RobertRedwood, Rt Hon John
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hill, James (Southampton Test)Richards, Rod
Horam, JohnRiddick, Graham
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir PeterRifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)Robathan, Andrew
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hunter, AndrewRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jack, MichaelRumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Jenkin, BernardSackville, Tom
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyScott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Shaw, David (Dover)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Key, RobertShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Kilfedder, Sir JamesShersby, Michael
Kirkhope, TimothySims, Roger
Knapman, RogerSkeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Soames, Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)Spencer, Sir Derek
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lait, Mrs JacquiSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lang, Rt Hon IanSpink, Dr Robert
Lawrence, Sir IvanSpring, Richard
Legg, BarrySproat, Iain
Leigh, EdwardSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lennox-Boyd, MarkStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lidington, DavidSteen, Anthony
Lightbown, DavidStephen, Michael
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterStern, Michael
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Stewart, Allan
Lord, MichaelStreeter, Gary
Luff, PeterSumberg, David
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasSweeney, Walter
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnSykes, John
MacKay, AndrewTapsell, Sir Peter
Maclean, DavidTaylor, Ian (Esher)
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickTaylor, John M. (Solihull)
Madel, DavidTaylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Maitland, Lady OlgaTemple-Morris, Peter
Malone, GeraldThomason, Roy
Mans, KeithThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marlow, TonyThornton, Sir Malcolm
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Thurnham, Peter

Townend, John (Bridlington)Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)Whitney, Ray
Tracey, RichardWhittingdale, John
Trend, MichaelWiddecombe, Ann
Trotter, NevilleWilletts, David
Twinn, Dr IanWilshire, David
Vaughan, Sir GerardWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Viggers, PeterWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Waldegrave, Rt Hon WilliamWolfson, Mark
Walden, GeorgeYeo, Tim
Waller, GaryYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Waterson, Nigel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Watts, John

Mr. Irvine Patnick and

Wells, Bowen

Mr. Timothy Wood.


Abbott, Ms DianeDewar, Donald
Adams, Mrs IreneDixon, Don
Ainger, NickDobson, Frank
Allen, GrahamDonohoe, Brian H.
Alton, DavidDowd, Jim
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Eagle, Ms Angela
Armstrong, HilaryEastham, Ken
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyEnright, Derek
Ashton, JoeEtherington, Bill
Austin-Walker, JohnEvans, John (St Helens N)
Barnes, HarryFatchett, Derek
Barron, KevinFaulds, Andrew
Battle, JohnField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bayley, HughFisher, Mark
Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretFlynn, Paul
Beggs, RoyForsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Bell, StuartFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Bennett, Andrew F.Foster, Don (Bath)
Benton, JoeFoulkes, George
Bermingham, GeraldFyfe, Maria
Berry, Dr. RogerGalbraith, Sam
Blair, TonyGalloway, George
Blunkett, DavidGapes, Mike
Boyce, JimmyGarrett, John
Boyes, RolandGeorge, Bruce
Bradley, KeithGerrard, Neil
Bray, Dr JeremyGodsiff, Roger
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Golding, Mrs Llin
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Gordon, Mildred
Burden, RichardGould, Bryan
Byers, StephenGraham, Thomas
Caborn, RichardGrant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Callaghan, JimGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Gunnell, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Hain, Peter
Canavan, DennisHall, Mike
Cann, JamieHanson, David
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)Henderson, Doug
Chisholm, MalcolmHeppell, John
Clapham, MichaelHill, Keith (Streatham)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hood, Jimmy
Clelland, DavidHoon, Geoffrey
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Coffey, AnnHowells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Connarty, MichaelHoyle, Doug
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbett RobinHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corbyn, JeremyHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cousins, JimHutton, John
Cryer, BobIllsley, Eric
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)Ingram, Adam
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr JohnJackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Dafis, CynogJackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Darling, AlistairJamieson, David
Davidson, IanJanner, Greville
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Denham, JohnJones, Lynne (B'ham S O)

Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Primarolo, Dawn
Jowell, TessaPurchase, Ken
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldQuin, Ms Joyce
Keen, AlanRadice, Giles
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)Randall, Stuart
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)Raynsford, Nick
Khabra, Piara S.Reid, Dr John
Kilfoyle, PeterRendel, David
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kirkwood, ArchyRoche, Mrs. Barbara
Leighton, RonRogers, Allan
Litherland, RobertRooker, Jeff
Livingstone, KenRooney, Terry
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Llwyd, ElfynRowlands, Ted
Loyden, EddieRuddock, Joan
Lynne, Ms LizSalrnond, Alex
McAllion, JohnSedgemore, Brian
McAvoy, ThomasSheerman, Barry
McCartney, IanSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Macdonald, CalumShore, Rt Hon Peter
McKelvey, WilliamShort, Clare
Mackinlay, AndrewSimpson, Alan
McLeish, HenrySkinner, Dennis
Maclennan, RobertSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McNamara, KevinSmith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
McWilliam, JohnSmith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Madden, MaxSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mahon, AliceSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Mandelson, PeterSoley, Clive
Marek, Dr JohnSpearing, Nigel
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Spellar, John
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Martlew, EricSteinberg, Gerry
Maxton, JohnStevenson, George
Meacher, MichaelStott, Roger
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Strang, Dr. Gavin
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Milburn, AlanTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Miller, AndrewTipping, Paddy
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Trimble, David
Moonie, Dr LewisTurner, Dennis
Morgan, RhodriTyler, Paul
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)Vaz, Keith
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Wallace, James
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Walley, Joan
Mowlam, MarjorieWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mudie, GeorgeWareing, Robert N
Mullin, ChrisWelsh, Andrew
Murphy, PaulWicks, Malcolm
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWigley, Dafydd
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
O'Hara, EdwardWinnick, David
Olner, WilliamWise, Audrey
O'Neill, MartinWorthington, Tony
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWray, Jimmy
Patchett, TerryWright, Dr Tony
Pike, Peter L.Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pope, Greg
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Tellers for the Noes:

Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)

Mr. Cordon McMaster and

Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)

Mr. Jon Owen Jones.

Prescott, John

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 26 to 28 agreed to.

New Clause

Lords amendment: No. 29— Entitlement to itemised pay settlement

(". After section 146(4) of the 1978 Act (provisions disapplied in relation to employment below minimum number of hours weekly) there shall be inserted—

"(4A) Subject to subsection (4B), subsection (4) shall have effect as respects section 8 subject to the following modifications, namely—

  • (a) the substitution of a reference to eight hours weekly for the reference to sixteen hours weekly, and
  • (b) the omission of the words "Subject to subsection (5), (6) and (7)",
  • (4B) Subsection (4A) shall not apply in relation to employment if, at the relevant date, the number of employees employed by the employer, added to the number employed by any associated employer, is less than twenty.

    (4C) For the purposes of subsection (4B) "relevant date" means the date on which any payment of wages or salary is made to an employee in respect of which he would, apart from subsection (4B), have the right to an itemised pay statement."")

    Read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient also to discuss Lords amendment No. 41.

    I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a) leave out subsection (4B).

    This is an important amendment and we will seek to divide the House on it, as it seeks to establish an important right for many part-time workers who will not otherwise be covered by the welcome concession by the Government.

    The amendment concerns the right of employees to receive an itemised pay statement. Many of us feel that that is a basic right for all people in employment. However, until the Government agree to amend the Bill, employees who work for between eight hours and 16 hours a week have to work for the same employer for five years before they have the right to an itemised pay statement. We find it quite amazing that some people have to work for one employer for that length of time before they can enjoy what most of us would consider a basic and necessary right.

    We are glad that, in order to respond to concerns expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Government have agreed to extend the right to an itemised pay statement to many part-time workers who work for between eight and 16 hours per week. The Lords amendment excludes part-time workers working between eight and 16 hours in firms with fewer than 20 employees. We feel strongly that that rather large derogation from the new rule is unjustified, so we have tabled our amendment to do away with it.

    The arguments advanced by the Minister in the other place in favour of the amendment were similar to those that I would put forward in favour of our amendment, which extends that right even further. In the other place, the Minister said that employees should have the right to know how their pay is made up, with which I am sure my hon. Friends agree strongly. But we do not see why that right should be denied to workers in firms with fewer than 20 employees.

    5.30 pm

    Does the hon. Lady agree that the majority of difficult contractual disputes between employers and employees arise in smaller firms, particularly those with half a dozen to a dozen employees, where the hours of work may not be fully noted and where the conditions may not be fully recorded because they vary from time to time? Does she further agree that the Lords amendment will remove a necessary protection from a large number of workers if the figure is as high as 20?

    I agree with the points made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, to which I shall come later. The evidence available to us suggests that what the hon. and learned Gentleman says is right and that the greatest difficulties have arisen for workers in small firms who have wanted itemised pay statements but have been unable to obtain them.

    Unfortunately, there is much evidence that the denial of itemised pay statements to employees is part and parcel of an attempt by employers criminally to defraud the Treasury by not registering employees properly for national insurance purposes. Therefore, they have been happy to deny their employees this right. Unless employees caught in that situation have written evidence of deductions from their pay, they might even be thought to be colluding with the employer in such frauds and malpractices. That is another important reason why we want to extend the right to an itemised pay statement as widely as possible.

    There is no doubt that having the right to an itemised pay statement would simplify the process of resolving disputes over pay and deductions which can arise, causing problems for employers and employees. In addition, the right to an itemised pay statement can be crucial to an employee's attempt to gain benefits to which he is entitled. Without such written proof in the form of an itemised pay statement, an employee may have great difficulty in proving his entitlement to benefits which may enable him to make ends meet. We are talking not about something theoretical, but about something that is of immense practical help to people if the system is made to work properly.

    It is also important for employees to have written proof of their pay—and conditions—if they transfer to another employer who asks for such information. I should also mention the value of such a system to the Child Support Agency that the Government have set up. There again, a person may need proof of his or her financial situation in the form of an itemised pay statement in order to support his or her case.

    It is odd that the Government should be so keen to ensure that the check-off arrangement should be spelt out in seemingly endless detail, as they clearly were in the early parts of the Bill, but are not prepared to allow every employee the basic right to an itemised pay statement. Surely, if the Government are so keen on allowing employees to see what deductions are made for trade union subscriptions, they should also be keen for employers to show employees the state of their pay and the full range of deductions.

    Those are important matters, to which, to be fair to the Government, the Minister in another place referred, but, having made those important points, he agreed, surprisingly, to deny so many people the right to an itemised pay statement.

    The Government have come out with some curious arguments for not wishing to extend that right to all people, even in small companies. The argument about costs has been put forward, but I do not know whether the Government will be able to persuade us today any more easily than the Minister in the other place was able to persuade the Members there. He singularly failed to convince them of what he was saying about costs. The cost of giving employees an itemised statement may be slight. The Minister in the other place agreed that various standard proformas were available, making it easy for employers to complete such requirement.

    During the discussion on the previous set of amendments, the hon. Lady criticised me for bringing forward an amendment without having consulted widely. Does she not think that it would be right for the Government, having consulted on this matter, to take account of the representations that we have received from organisations such as the Forum of Private Business?

    I hope that the Minister will consider the information and evidence available to him from all quarters. We have received interesting information from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and organisations such as the Fawcett Society. They have talked to employers in some detail in order to try to work out the costs involved.

    They concluded that many employers can produce itemised pay statements without any difficulty whatever, that they can be absorbed into existing administrative costs and that the booklets of proforma statements, which can be easily completed, would make that an easy job for small businesses. I hope that the Minister will address that evidence, as well as other representations made to him. I can only go on the representations that have been made to us, which have all been in favour of extending that right to many, if not all, employees.

    It is not only Opposition Members who are concerned about that issue. In Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) spoke first about extending that right to part-time workers—those who work between eight and 16 hours per week. We agreed strongly with the points that she made, and it was partly as a result of her representations that the Government tabled this amendment. However, I am not sure that the hon. Lady would support the Minister in this derogation for companies with fewer than 20 employees.

    The Minister is nodding. In that case I am disappointed with the hon. Lady, because it goes against many of the arguments that she advanced in Committee, where she spoke of the individuals about whom we are concerned in this amendment—those working in small companies that may exploit them by not giving them this information.

    I well remember the Minister in Committee making one of his revealing jokes. He said that there seemed to be cross-party agreement about the amendment, which probably meant that it was wrong. That tells us something about the Minister's attitude. I urge him to take into consideration the comments made not only from this side of the House but by Conservative Members in Committee, as well as the wealth of opinion from the Fawcett Society and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, to which I pay tribute for its work on that issue.

    I refer also to the views of organisations such as the townswomen's guilds, the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the United Kingdom Federation of Business and Professional Women, which all support the argument that we are advancing today. Those organisations carry considerable weight, not least in Conservative constituencies. The Minister ought to take that into account, consult those organisations, and learn their views. They feel strongly that many employees are being denied a basic right that most people would consider normal and natural in a civilised society.

    I referred to evidence collected by various organisations that some employers who are trying to defraud the authorities deny employees the right to an itemised pay statement. NACAB states that many employers do not issue employees with itemised pay statements, and that there is often doubt whether the employer is paying tax and national insurance contributions on behalf of the employee.

    A CAB in Essex reported that employees at one establishment were paid in cash, and handed back an amount to cover their tax and national insurance—but had no evidence whether those moneys were being passed on to the appropriate authorities. No itemised pay statement was issued, and the employer "turned nasty" when asked for one. The CAB's client found another job and asked for her P45. Instead of receiving an updated P45, that which she had originally given the first employer was returned to her—which seems to prove that that employer was trying to defraud the system and to avoid the regulations covering both employers and employees.

    A CAB in Warwickshire reported a client whose wages were paid partly by cheque and partly in cash, to enable the employer to default on national insurance and PAYE. The bureau explained that, as the client lived in a tied cottage, she was very reluctant to complain, because obviously not only her job but also her home was at risk.

    A CAB in Shropshire commented:
    "It is often only when employees leave their employment that they discover that their employer has not been deducting or paying over PAYE, income tax and national insurance contributions."
    It is extremely important for the right to an itemised pay statement to be widely available, so that attempted fraud can be overcome.

    The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) mentioned the number of people who might be affected. The Government are excluding many by the derogation that the amendment introduces. Figures supplied by the Library suggest that 7 million employees work in businesses having fewer than 20 employees—about 31 per cent. of all those in work. A number work for only between eight and 16 hours a week. I do not have Government figures, but I believe that hundreds of thousands of workers would be affected by the Government's proposal. I should be grateful for any figures that the Minister can give.

    I understand that about 780,000 people work more than eight hours but fewer than 16 hours a week in companies employing fewer than 20 people. That substantial figure represents the number who will fall foul of the Government's amendment. We ask the Minister to consider those 780,000 people and their right to an itemised pay statement.

    5.45 pm

    The Minister may argue that there is nothing to stop employers issuing itemised pay statements. That is true, but we are concerned about employers who do not observe that practice. If many firms are already able to issue such statements, we see no reason why others should not he able similarly to comply.

    We are concerned also about employees who work fewer than eight hours a week. Although we have not tabled an amendment on that specific issue, it touches on the Government amendment under consideration. We see no justification for the eight-hour cut-off limit. In Committee, the Minister said that it would be inconvenient for employers to issue pay statements to those who only work two or three hours a week, but I ask the Minister to view the matter from the employee's point of view.

    An employee may work fewer than eight hours in one job but additional hours in another job. He or she may need to prove total entitlement to certain benefits, want to transfer to another employer, or meet all the other possible scenarios that I mentioned earlier.

    Many people in Britain today work in unsatisfactory part-time jobs. Sometimes, they have two or three such jobs—and may ultimately find it difficult to claim pension or other entitlements if they are unable to prove that they have worked as many hours as they have.

    The hon. Lady suggests that anyone in Britain who employs a cleaning lady, gardener, or someone else to do the odd job should be required—regardless of the amount of time worked—to produce an itemised pay statement as a matter of law. Is that her proposal?

    Employees, no matter in what capacity they work, should receive an itemised pay statement if they want one. Under the Government's rules, they will have no such entitlement. The Government do not understand the difficulties confronting many people in Britain today who have been casualised by Government employment policies. They work week in, week out in unsatisfactory conditions of employment, and then discover that the hours worked count for very little in respect of their benefits and pension rights, and that there is little to which to look forward in the future. They are therefore twice handicapped.

    I beg the Minister to examine more carefully than he seems prepared to do some of the dire working conditions that obtain in Britain today, of which the denial of an itemised pay statement is part and parcel. It may seem a small part, but it is an important element in an unsatisfactory equation.

    By removing the derogation for firms employing 20 or fewer employees and the time limit, the Minister will take a small but significant step towards improving the lot of part-time and temporary workers.

    We are concerned that part-time workers appear to have such a bad deal. In order to be entitled to many employment rights, they have to work for one employer for five years, which, in effect, denies about two thirds of part-time workers any employment rights at all. It is an absolute scandal.

    Other European countries do not make the same rigid distinctions between full-time and part-time workers; nor do they distinguish between different types of part-time work. For example; they do not distinguish between part-time work lasting 16 hours or eight hours, a distinction which is so unfavourable for many part-time workers in Britain.

    The Government should consider far more seriously extending full-time employment rights to part-time workers. They sometimes accuse us of being anti part-time workers. We are not, but we are anti part-time work in appalling conditions. We want part-time work to be a tremendous opportunity for women and men, but unfortunately it is not: it is merely a way of exploiting them and giving them fewer employment rights than their full-time counterparts. We are not opposed to part-time work—we are very much in favour of it—but we do not want it to be used to penalise people for the rest of their working lives, which is what appears to be happening under the system approved by the Government.

    I refer the Minister of State to the excellent report produced some time ago by the Committee which considers European legislation in another place. It is a very good report, which pours cold water on the Government's claims about the extra costs incurred in extending many employment rights to part-time workers. If the Minister studies the information in detail, he will see that a very impressive case was made for extending such rights to part-time workers.

    Indeed, a survey referred to in the Committee's report showed that less than 1 per cent. of firms which were contacted quoted poorer employment rights as the reason for employing part-time workers. Generally, there seemed to be a great lack of conviction in the Government's case that extending even basic rights to part-time workers would cost the earth. The evidence for the Government's argument is patchy, but the evidence that British part-time workers are getting a poor deal is not patchy but overwhelming.

    I urge the Minister to do what he has often said he favours, and encourage quality part-time work by accepting the ideas that we have proposed in all the debates. As a modest beginning, he could welcome the amendment and thus allow those who want an itemised pay statement to have it. It is a basic right, which should no longer be denied.

    My comments relate to the 20-employee limit. I am surprised that the Government have chosen such a high figure. It is almost inconceivable that an employer who has 19, 15 or even a dozen employees could remain in business if he was incapable of filling in a small form setting out the items that comprise an employee's pay. It does not require sophisticated machinery, a chartered accountant or a qualified bookkeeper to do so; it requires only a duplicate pad on which the employer's bookkeeper—who is often not qualified—jots down for the benefit of the employee the number of hours worked, the hourly rate for the work, any overtime, and any other items which make up his pay. If an employer is not capable of carrying out such rudimentary book work, it is unlikely that he will stay in business very long.

    As I am sire the Government have learnt in the past three years in particular, it is often small firms which go bankrupt or into liquidation because they are incapable of completing their books properly. The resulting debt is often crippling for the victims. All hon. Members are aware of small businesses in their constituencies whose proprietors have faced bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy because of the inefficiency of other small firms and organisations purchasing from them.

    I would suggest that modest bookkeeping requirements, including the provision of itemised pay statements, help towards the necessary measure of efficiency. I do not suggest that the requirement should be placed on the very smallest employers, those employing two, three, or perhaps fewer than half a dozen employees. In that respect, I take a slightly different view from the Labour party, but an employer who employs more than half a dozen people can be regarded as significant in an employment market where such a large proportion of working people are employed in small firms.

    I hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. He agrees with the Government that there should be an exemption for small firms, but says that it should apply to those employing six rather than 20 people. The Liberal party has not tabled an amendment to reflect that view. I should have thought that, if the hon. and learned Gentleman believed that the figure should be six rather than 20, he would have been able to make a case for that idea and tabled an amendment. What does he expect the Government to do in response to his representations, given the fact that we have reached this stage in our consideration of the Bill?

    I do not harbour the illusion that the hon. Gentleman would have urged his right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for such an amendment had I tabled it. It is for the Government to make the regulations. They are well aware of representations that have been made. [ Interruption.] If the Minister will listen for a moment, I repeat that the Government are well aware of the all-party representations made on this issue in Committee.

    As we have been reminded, it was the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), who is sitting behind the Minister, who urged on the Committee—indeed, who assisted Labour Members in urging on the Committee—an amendment that was incorporated in part in Lords amendment No. 29. It is somewhat surprising that the hon. Lady now seems to accept that the 20-employee limit is appropriate. When the Government fix an appropriate level, they should act in the interests of both employers and employees.

    In an intervention, the Minister of State mentioned the Forum of Private Business. I have considerable regard for that organisation, which provides useful information to hon. Members, enabling us to keep abreast of the requirements and concerns of small employers in particular. However, the organisation is not always right. Of course, the way in which it collects its material is founded on the sending of questionnaires for which it devises the questions.

    I shall give way in a moment.

    As a result, the information provided by the questionnaires may not always be entirely reliable in considering such issues. Does the Minister still want me to give way?

    I will just say that there were no Liberal representatives on the Committee, but, had the hon. and learned Gentleman had the pleasure of serving on it, as many hon. Members present today did, he would know that we listened to the Opposition's arguments and accepted many amendments.

    Many. My point is that at no stage have the Liberals tabled an amendment suggesting that six rather than 20 would be the appropriate limit. I am rather surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman talk down the importance of representations made by the Forum of Private Business, but we had similar representations from the Confederation of British Industry.

    I was telling the Minister that it is surprising to hear that the hon. Member for Tiverton, who in Committee apparently asked for something rather more extensive, now seems to accept the rather grudging 20-employee limit. That point was entirely fairly made.

    6 pm

    I shall not give way to the Minister again, because we do not want a ping-pong debate.

    I regret that the Government have not dealt with the amendment in the spirit that I understood from reading the Committee debate—I did not have the advantage of serving on the Committee—was the basis on which the Minister responded to that debate. In response to his claim that I tried to talk down the Forum of Private Business, I add that I did the precise opposite. I was at pains to point out that the information that that organisation provided was helpful. Nevertheless, it is not always right, and in my view it was not right on that occasion.

    There is another practical aspect of the 20-employee limit that the Government should consider seriously. Disputes that arise about terms and conditions of employment often relate to hours worked, and especially to whether national insurance contributions should have been paid, or whether the full tax due under the PAYE arrangements has been paid. As the Minister intervened in my speech, I should be grateful if he would take the trouble to listen for the next two or three minutes. I was addressing a comment to him in the hope that he might respond to it when he replies to the debate.

    As the Minister knows, the disputes that arise between employers and employees relate to a contract between the two parties. An employee is often at a considerable disadvantage if he has no documentary evidence of the terms and conditions of his employment, and especially of the hours worked in a particular week or other period. If an employer chooses to act dishonestly—he may well choose to do so if the issue is whether national insurance contributions or tax should have been paid—he can enter false particulars in his records at the time when the dispute arises. I am afraid that my experience over more than 20 years as a practitioner in the courts is that, unfortunately, that is just the sort of thing that happens from time to time. Of course, most employers are completely honest, but the employers with whom employees have the greatest difficulty are often those who are not.

    When, for example, an employee comes to his Member of Parliament and says that he is in dispute with his former employer, who should have paid national insurance contributions, the first thing that the conscientious Member of Parliament asks to see is documentary evidence of the employment. If the employee is not entitled to an itemised pay statement, even when he has been working as many as 16 hours a week, he is at a disadvantage. This can lead to a contest between the oral evidence of the employee and the not always entirely accurate or honest written evidence of the employer. Such disputes take up much time. They come before small claims courts regularly and take up the time of citizens advice bureaux. It is notable that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux takes precisely the same view as I.

    Why are the Government not prepared to impose on businesses that are not the smallest the relatively minor requirement to provide a weekly or monthly statement of particulars for employees? It is not asking much. I ask the Minister to explain the reasoning behind the views expressed by the CBI to which he referred. We have not heard the reasoning in the debate so far and there cannot be many CBI members who either could or would wish to take advantage of the distinction that the Government, with the arbitrary cut-off limit of 20 employees, seek to draw between large and small businesses.

    If the Minister is unwilling to change his mind, I ask him at least to give the House an assurance. My request is supported by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, which is concerned about the issue. Will he ensure that his Department monitors the operation of the 20-employee limit? I understand that it could be altered by statutory regulations, so primary legislation would not be needed. If the Minister were prepared to monitor the operation of the limit, and if the Government found that abuse was taking place, it would be possible to introduce regulations to reduce the limit. I hope that the Minister will find that to be a reasonable approach.

    I rise briefly to encourage the House to support the Lords amendments and to resist the blandishments of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin). I should declare two interests, one as a trade unionist—I am a member of Equity, enjoying what the union kindly describes as "honourable withdrawal", which I trust will continue for a full three decades—and the other as someone who is unwittingly currently taking part in an experiment on the 48-hour week, as it is 36 hours since we who serve on the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill last saw our beds.

    I urge the House to support Lords amendment No. 29, because everything in it is good sense. Clearly, it reflects a recognition of the changes in the labour market—both the considerable increase in the number of women in the labour market in recent years and the great increase in part-time workers. Incidentally, I look forward to studying the book by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), as I am sure it is full of interesting information on that very topic.

    The nub of the disagreement between the two sides of the House involves the 20-employee limit. The essence of what I wish to share with the House is what I have heard from employers in my constituency—yes, they are members of the Forum of Private Business. I sometimes think that Opposition Members have had little experience of running small businesses. There is no doubt that small businesses are the source of growth. Larger businesses grow from smaller businesses.

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman intends to tell us about his experience as a small business man. Does he provide itemised pay statements for the employees in the small businesses with which he has been involved?

    Yes, indeed. That is a marvellous example of good practice, and we want to encourage it. That is why the requirement is in the Bill. But we want to get the balance right. We do not want to impose compulsorily on small businesses—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] We want to encourage good practice. No doubt, in the fulness of time, more and more small businesses will provide itemised pay statements, but they do not wish to have their hands tied. This is all about getting the balance right. People asked for a listening Government and they have got one. We listen to the small businesses and we say, "We want to do this; it is good practice. But we also want to enable you to conduct your business in the way that you think best."

    I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman. Is there not a real weakness in his argument, in that it relies on good practice on a voluntary basis? Presumably he, as a small business man, provides itemised pay slips because he is a good business person, he has nothing to fear and he pays his national insurance contributions as he should. The worry about the voluntary system is that those who do not provide the information are those who most need to do so. Surely that is where, in any civilised society, the law has some part to play.

    The whole idea is to extend good practice. That is what Conservative Members want, but Labour Members have made it clear that they would like workers who work fewer than eight hours to be included. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Nestor (Mr. Miller) is nodding enthusiastically at the prospect of somebody working for one or two hours a week and being entitled to an itemised pay statement. That is because Labour Members are the friends of bureaucracy and regulation and want to increase the burden. We want to encourage good practice and, at the same time, allow small businesses to work and to grow. This is a small piece of legislation, but it is vital and I thoroughly commend it to the House.

    I want to support the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) and in so doing to add two further lines of argument.

    I want to develop the line that the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) has just taken, in which he accused Labour Members of paying no attention to what is happening in the labour market. The changes that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East advanced were based on what is happening in that market. An increasing number of people are active in the Labour party —the labour market, rather; thank God the two are not comparable, or the economy would be totally down the drain—and are part of what is called the flexible labour market. If we are not to store up trouble for those people and huge bills for taxpayers later, it is important that we ensure that minimum services are given and contributions are both paid and recorded.

    The argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East—that we should be concerned about both the cut-off point for employers with fewer than 20 employees and the hours cut-off point—is crucial. When we look back on our working lives, let alone those of our grandchildren, we will be amazed at the number of people who at some time worked for a few hours and at other times worked hours more like what we would call a full-time week. If, during those working lives, we are to build up contributions to the national insurance fund and, more important, as time goes by, to universalise private pension arrangements, we should ensure that all employees are safely linked in to building up wealth, from which they can draw on later in their lives.

    I hope that our argument, and the amendments that we have tabled, are seen as part of a broader argument for changes in, for example, national insurance contributions. At the moment, the labour market is rigged. As Mrs. Thatcher once said, however, "You can't buck the market." If employers' national insurance contributions are not required below £56 a week, we cannot be surprised when there is a massive extension in part-time jobs.

    I hope that Labour Members will increasingly call for employers' contributions to start at the first pound of earnings—not because we want to increase the amount of money raised by national insurance contributions, but because it is important to have a level playing field, whereby employers and employees can work out how many hours of work are offered and how many hours people want to work, rather than have a financial incentive that gears job creation to part-time jobs.

    If we take seriously the argument of the hon. Member for City of Chester—that we should be concerned with developments in the labour market—we will see him in our Lobby tonight. Changes in the labour market and an increase in the number of what are called "flexible workers" make our argument carry that much more force and leave the Government in some difficulty trying to defend their position.

    If the Government genuinely believe in not rigging markets and in level playing fields, workers' rights should begin with the first hour of earnings. The standards that the hon. Member for City of Chester applies in his own business will, we hope, be applied by all employers. The bad employers would apply those standards because the law compels them to do so and the good employers—who, we hope, are the vast majority—would have no difficulty in fulfilling that requirement because they already do so.

    6.15 pm

    That is one of the arguments that I wish to advance. The other is about minimum standards. The Government have knocked away minimum standards in our society. We have seen that with the mutilation and abolition of wages councils and the abolition of the fair wages resolution and of security for people against being unfairly sacked. If I were speaking to members of the Tory party, they would have no difficulty in understanding my argument, but in the past 15 years a group of 19th-century liberals have climbed aboard the Tory party, thrown the crew overboard and steered the ship in a completely different direction.

    There must be minimum standards. The body politic and the economic arrangements of a society are like the complicated human body, which needs checks and balances; throwing them away results in some very distorted positions and gross exploitation of the weakest members of the labour market. I hope that, as we think about the next election, when we recognise that we are living in an economy governed by a social market, to which we have no fundamental alternative, we make a case against the unacceptable faces of a social market economy as run by this Government.

    Guaranteeing minimum standards for people at the bottom of the pile is one feature. Therefore, I very much support the arguments that were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East. In so doing, I merely wish to correct the record, because in some debates on the Bill it has been suggested that I am against minimum wage proposals. That is untrue. I have cautioned my party about the employment consequences of a minimum wage—of setting it at an absurd level in the early stages—and about the need for it to be very low, for it to be offset by reductions in national insurance contributions, and to link it to an industrial strategy for training and investment to increase productivity. I have not made a stand against a minimum wage, but have cautioned as to how we implement it.

    If Labour is successfully to challenge the unacceptable faces of a social market economy, it must come out very clearly in favour of laying down minimum standards, not in a way that kills the goose that lays the golden egg but with the confidence of a party that knows that all these questions are matters of balance and feels that it has that balance correct. Tonight, we can take one small step against the unacceptable faces that have driven wage rates down to less than £2 for workers in the Birkenhead jobcentre. That is not acceptable. We want countermeasures to tackle that.

    As we approach a much more flexible economy, it is crucial that employers do not get their employees on the cheap—that employers do not deny them their rights to have their national insurance contributions paid and to become part of a universalise provision of private pensions. We must ensure that those contributions are paid, because if we do not, and if the Government get their way, that failure will put that much extra cost on taxpayers and welfare in the future.

    I hope that the Labour party increasingly accepts a reform of welfare which sees the budget being reduced because we have been so successful in knitting people into jobs and into wealth that comes from work and from owning wealth. If that happened, there would be less need for people to draw on what we have traditionally thought of as the welfare state. If that is to be our approach, the House will oppose the Government today. They are moving away from that situation and are increasingly putting the costs back on the employees, and especially those who are least able to bear that cost.

    I welcome the decision of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East to divide the House. We will divide the House tonight on an aspect of the unacceptable faces of the social market economy. Those unacceptable faces are now the big divide between the two major parties in the Chamber.

    The Government's attitude never ceases to amaze me. I find it incredible that we are talking about people as if they were a motor car that was being repaired. Many hon. Members will have had their car fixed and then checked the bill. The bill is itemised, so that the customer can see how much he is being charged per hour for the fitter and the electrician and how much for oil and for the parts. It is not difficult. We live in a high-tech world where computers are an everyday thing, and where schoolkids probably know more about computers than any hon. Member.

    Has any young person been asked how he feels about the proposal? The Government seem to have asked the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses. I do not know one young person under the age of 20 who has been approached by the Government and asked about the abolition of anything that relates to young people. They have been taken out of the wage councils and have lost some of their rights to protection. There is now a suggestion that they will not get even an itemised wages slip. That is quite incredible.

    Despite the problems that the country faces, the Government are spending time supporting a Lords amendment such as this. I find that lamentable. Young people in my constituency want the right to get a job, to get training and to get a full education that will take them into a decent arena of work. Perhaps the Minister would agree with me. I know plenty of young people who would like the Minister's job, and would probably do a far better job than he does. In fact, I guarantee that nearly every 20-year-old in my constituency could do a far better job in coming forward with employment rights to suit the needs and requirements of young people than the Minister.

    I am trying to use my English accent rather than my Glasgow accent so that the Minister will understand. The nitpicking of the Government is unbelievable. The Bill is about trade union reform and employment rights, and we are saying to young folk under 20 that they will not get their rights. The Government want employers not to bother telling their young employees what their deductions are. They do not want to tell the young people what they are earning. Those young people may be working for eight, 10 or 16 hours and they will not be told what they have earned.

    We heard from the Government how many part-time workers are contributing to the country's economy. Are we going to treat them like a lump of stone to be shoved about, or are we going to treat them like human beings? I resent the Government treating our people like cannon fodder to be blown about and to be treated in such a fashion. The House is not talking about animals; it is talking about people. Surely our people have the right to be treated in a dignified fashion. If they work for an hour, they are entitled to know what their wages are for that hour. They are entitled to get a pay slip.

    Normally, the hon. Gentleman and I get on extremely well in debates such as this. Could I draw to his attention the fact that we are discussing a Government amendment which, precisely as he asks, gives people the right to an itemised pay statement? The Opposition amendment seeks to amend our amendment to remove the limit that has been set to exclude small employers. That is the issue. I should not want the hon. Gentleman to be put in a position where Conservative Members might decide that his job could be better done by a 20-year-old as well.

    I am convinced that literally hundreds of thousands of young people under the age of 20 could do a far superior job. I am here to give the House the benefit of my experience in a way that is fitting, given that my constituents sent me to this place.

    Could the Minister say why the matter has been discussed with employers only? Why has it not been discussed with young people? The Government never discuss anthing with the young people of this country, and they are treated like cannon fodder. In a war such as there was in the Gulf, it would not be long before the young people were in the front line and lying down and dying for this country. The Government would demand that they go to war.

    Why do not the Government recognise the right of young people to an itemised wage bill? Why should not young people see a breakdown of their pay? I know of plenty of duff employers. I know of some savage employers who have gone bankrupt and out of business. Some are hiding in Cyprus or Spain and did not pay any tax for their employees. I know some kids who are waiting for their holiday pay. I know people who have waited years for their holiday pay because they did not get it from a bum, bad employer. I have a list of those companies as long as my arm. We can supply the Minister with the list if he wants us to.

    I am sick and tired of the House debating the subject of young people without any real consideration for their thoughts. We are turning out some of the biggest bunch of old fogeys in the western world. Unfortunately, when I sit in the House, I realise that I am an old fogey along with other hon. Members. I have two young sons who do not miss me. When I come home, they ask: "When is the House going to get its act together? Why are there thousands and thousands of their pals on the dole who cannot get work and who want to work? Why are not the young people getting a proper education or proper training?"

    I challenged the Minister on the question of training credits for young people. I was told that there were thousands of training credits in my area. Last night, I asked an executive of Scottish Enterprise how many folk were getting the credits. The answer was none. There were six getting credits in Dunbarton and others elsewhere in Scotland. The point is that I got bum information, which was neither suitable nor acceptable to my constituents. If the Minister can get that wrong, he can get the amendment wrong, too.

    The other day I got a telephone bill from British Telecom. Have hon. Members seen it? There is an itemised bill—no problem. The customer sees that he has spent 64p here and 54p there, or talked for a minute here and one and a half minutes there. The customer can find out whether his wife has overdone the phone bill—my wife usually says that I have overdone it. If a customer goes to the grocers, or shops at Asda or Tesco, there is an iternised bill. Has the Minister ever been shopping? I go with the wife. The bill shows a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. It tells the customer that he has bought those things and gives him the price of them. There is no problem at all.

    Yet the Government tell us that they are helping small business by not giving employees an itemised wages slip. Their heads are in a tin—they are off their nut. That is not the kind of progress that we need. Let us have genuine discussions about employment rights, and no nonsense wasting the time of the House.

    6.30 pm

    :The statutory right to an intemised pay slip is fundamental. It is something that a worker should expect when he takes employment, no matter how many hours he works. The amendment will not extend that statutory right to tens of thousands of vulnerable people.

    Many, if not all, of those workers will be women who have been forced into part-time employment because of economic circumstances. They have had to take a few hours work to earn a little more money to support the family, to buy a little more for the table and to buy clothes for the children, because, generally, one person in the partnership is out of work.

    In these days of mass unemployment, when jobs are hard to come by, many part-time workers will be young people who have been unable to find full-time work and have had to take the first part-time job that comes along.

    The people who framed the amendment have little idea how many people might be affected. I said that tens of thousands of people will be affected. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) mentioned 780,000 people.

    This morning, in its submission to the Trade and Industry Select Committee, the Federation of Small Businesses said there are as many as 4 million self-employed small business men and I million small limited companies. It said that about 97 per cent. of small businesses employ fewer than 20 people, and 91 per cent. employ fewer than 10 people. A great many of those employees will be part-time. If we multiply that figure by 10, we will not be far short of the figure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East used—that is, 780,000.

    The 780,000 which my hon. Friend rightly quoted includes those in companies which employ fewer than 20 people who work more than eight hours but fewer than 16 hours. If we take into account those who work fewer than eight hours, we have a figure of 1·25 million. My hon. Friend is absolutely right; a very large number of people are affected.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. We are talking of more than 1 million workers being affected.

    Under this Government, small businesses have been treated rather shabbily. In 1992, for example, the failure rate was almost 63,000. Many employees will have claims against the small businesses that have folded. Those employees will be able to prosecute their claims, because they will have evidence that they were employed, evidence of the hours they worked, and evidence of how much they earned. Without an itemised pay slip, it is unlikely that an employee will be able to prosecute a claim.

    The amendment gives a nod and a wink to employers not to keep records. The Government should make it clear that records are necessary and should be kept by small businesses. The Lords amendment is a retrograde step; I ask the House to vote against it and to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East.

    No doubt the Minister will respond to our amendment by arguing that the small additional costs that might be incurred by itemising pay slips for employees in firms of fewer than 20 employees will be the straw that breaks the camel's back for some small firms, and will drive them into bankruptcy. The Minister might be interested to hear what representatives of industry, including small businesses and the Confederation of British Industry, have told the Trade and Industry Select Committee about ways of improving the competitiveness and productivity of British industry, so that the hon. Gentleman can be assured that the emphasis on cost is the least of industry's problems and that he can therefore support our amendment.

    Among the problems that have been identified, particularly by small business, are the way that VAT is collected; the attitude of the banks; difficulties in obtaining loans; the tax system, and particularly how it affects small businesses; the lack of an overall structure; infrastructure, including education; and the difficulty with training and transport. This morning, the representatives who attended the Select Committee did not touch upon any costs relating to labour. That has not been identified to us as a major problem, although representatives went on at length about some of the factors that I have drawn to the Minister's attention.

    It is becoming clear that the countries that do better than us and have more productive industries than ours —for example, Japan and Germany—have a fundamentally different attitude to their employees. That is reflected in employment and trade union rights and the bargaining process in respect of wage settlements. The reason for those countries' higher productivity is that their work forces have been managed properly and involved in firms' decisions. They feel that they have a long-term future and are therefore willing to work harder for their companies. That has led to higher productivity and higher-quality goods.

    That point is not difficult to understand. The Minister knows that anybody who is managed well will respond more favourably. I am sure that the Ministers whom the Prime Minister treats well behave much better than the Ministers whom he does not treat well. That is a fact of life: it is plain common sense. Indeed, this morning, the CBI acknowledged that there has been a problem with the lack of management skills in industry, and that we must involve people more. Only by doing so can we use the talents and skills of our people and stop the desperate malaise in British industry. I draw that to the Minister's attention because the issue of itemised pay slips, although small in itself, is important in recognising employees' rights.

    A Conservative Member talked about the odd job of a cleaning lady. It is not an odd job at all. Without women doing those jobs, the country would collapse. The problem is that no value is placed on that work. Itemised pay slips for those workers is a way of giving the message that they are important. It is up to the Government to show leadership. If the Government do not show leadership by saying that people and their jobs are important, we cannot expect the management of British industry to give that message. The Government have a chance to give that message by supporting our amendment. Cost did not prevent the Government from asking local authorities to send out itemised poll tax bills to all residents. Local authorities are a service industry. The Government asked local authorities to do that because they thought that it was right and proper that taxpayers should be aware of what they were being asked to pay.

    The hon. Lady is making the same mistake as the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham). As a result of our amendment, large employers will, for the first time, he required to give itemised pay statements to employees who work a small number of hours. What is at issue is small businesses, so an analogy with itemised statements being required by large employers such as local authorities is not a fair one.

    The Minister should recall that, at the beginning of my speech, I anticipated his argument about extending that right to firms with less than 20 employees. I anticipated that his argument would relate to cost. I have not misunderstood the amendment. My point is that, if something is right and the Government think that it is right, regardless of the cost—for example, to send itemised poll tax bills to all residents in a borough—the argument about cost is not one that the Minister can use at all because the issue is about rights. I see that the Minister now understands.

    Millions of pounds have been spent on sending out glossy brochures about the citizens charter and aspects of the health service. That has cost the service industries money, but the Government did that because they thought that it was right. My point is that, if it is right to send itemised pay slips to employees, it is right to send them to all employees.

    The Government have a fundamental problem in distinguishing rights from costs. There is a great strength of feeling in the United Kingdom that the contribution that people make is not valued and their rights are balanced by the Government time and time again on factors relating to cost. The contribution that people make is important, and they should not be denied basic rights simply because of the cost.

    6.45 pm

    When my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) was speaking, I noticed that the Government Whip had his handkerchief out. I thought that he was bursting into tears at the thought of having to provide an itemised pay statement for his valet, or whatever.

    The crux of the argument is the question: why should any worker not be entitled to an itemised pay statement? The Government bluntly said that it would be too costly. Indeed, in Committee on 14 January, the Minister of State suffered from the needle being stuck more than once, because he repeated himself three times in columns 435–36 when referring to the additional cost imposed on employers.

    The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) made an important point that followed the theme adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) in terms of legal cases. My hon. Friend referred to the evidence submitted by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery referred to a number of legal cases in his professional background that stemmed from companies with a small number of employees.

    Last night, I advised the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on an issue that affects her responsibility, which spills into this debate. It is ironic that she held the position of Secretary of State for Employment previously. It is a great pity that the Minister has chosen to ignore the evidence provided to the Committee by NACAB.

    In a document sent to me today, NACAB says that evidence shows that itemised pay slips can save a lot of time later if disputes arise. That is exactly along the lines of the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. For example, if an employee thinks that an employer has not paid the correct amount, made an illegal deduction from his pay or not been paying tax, it is the experience of the NACAB that some employers clearly flout their obligations under the law by not deducting pay-as-you-earn tax and national insurance contributions. Other employers may make the deductions but not pay the money to the Inland Revenue.

    In both cases, that is revenue lost to the Exchequer and deficient national insurance contribution records affect future benefit entitlements. The National Audit Office reported that there was large-scale under-collection of national insurance contributions.

    If those issues are not ones in which the Government should be interested, given the perilous state of the nation's finances, I do not know what are. It is ironic that the Government should choose to ignore that, from the Treasury point of view and that of individual citizens who are affected by some of the examples to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East referred.

    There are many other examples. A citizens advice bureau in South Wales reports a client who is employed by a nursing home. Her contract states that, if her pay exceeds the lower limit for national insurance contributions, she may receive store gift vouchers, which are exempt from national insurance. That is illegal. I am not entirely sure that having a pay statement would mitigate that. but it would go a long way to helping the employee to argue her legal rights if the matter went to court.

    A citizens advice bureau in Devon reports a client who was paid £23 a night to work in a residential care home, despite being told that she would be paid £24 a night. When she complained, she was told that it was to keep her payments below the national insurance level. She insisted on full payment, and her next wage packet had £6·50 deducted for national insurance contributions. As her wage was below the level for national insurance contributions, the deductions were clearly wrong. If she had had documentary proof of that in the form of an itemised pay statement, she would have been in a strong position to challenge her employer in court.

    I shall give the Government some advice about the way in which to encourage small businesses to think positively about this matter, and I shall do so in two ways. One way to encourage small businesses is by the use of modern technology—I say this as someone who has some knowledge of the subject.

    It is interesting that the training and enterprise council in my area has sent out 10,000 attractively produced glossy leaflets showing its successes and activities. I do not criticise the TEC for many of the activities in which it has engaged, but, I criticise the use of money to produce the glossy literature. That money could have been used to train small employers in how better to utilise modern technology in their industries to ensure that such simple things can be provided as a matter of course.

    Any company worth its salt keeps records. It is more efficient to keep records on a computer database than to do so manually. The Secretary of State will know Chester, Ellesmere Port and Warrington TEC—CEWTEC—and will doubtless praise many of its activities, but I am sure that he will agree that it could direct some resources towards helping to train small businesses in how to improve their record-keeping, administration and efficiency. Part of that process could be to encourage small businesses, many of which use computers, to utilise facilities that are available at minimal cost to provide statements to their employees.

    From his experience, can the hon. Gentleman say how long it would take to prepare an itemised statement?

    I shall stick to the point that I was making about computerised information, and will refer to manual records later.

    A good employer will collate the relevant computerised data, and it would take seconds to produce an itemised statement. If an employer has a well organised database, the stroke of a handful of keys will be all that is necessary to produce the statement. The process can he as quick as that in a well run business—and we are all in favour of encouraging such businesses.

    The same arguments can be applied to the question whether there should be an upper limit of 20. The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) made an important contribution in Committee, and I congratulate her on being positive. I hope that she does not back off one jot from the sentence, which is on record, in which she said:
    "As the trend is towards part-time work, especially for women, it is important that everyone who has deductions from pay, and who in future may have to prove them either to the Inland Revenue or to the Benefits Agency, has written proof of those deductions."—[Official Report. Standing Committee F, 14 January 1993; c. 434.]
    I absolutely agree—"everyone" must mean everyone in a company, irrespective of size. I hope that the hon. Member for Tiverton will support us in the Division Lobby. Why should there be an arbitrary limit on the number of employees in a company?

    To return to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), even if a very small company cannot justify the few hundred pounds' investment in a personal computer that could be used for other activities, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) has supplied the ideal solution. A proforma duplicate pad could be used to provide the basic information.

    An employer—no matter what size his business—must keep books in some form or another, so to produce information on a carbonised pad would not take any effort. It would require the employer to produce information in an honest, open and accountable way to all those involved—not just the employees, but all the public agencies. Even if the technology in a company extended only to a ballpoint pen, the employer would have the facilities at his disposal to provide the information required.

    It is against that background that I believe that the Government have slipped up badly. They had an opportunity to make a major advance and have failed to take it. Therefore, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East in opposing the Lords amendment.

    We have had an interesting debate and learnt that the official Opposition policy is to start a paper chase the length and breadth of Britain. Every cleaning lady and part-time handyman will be given a piece of paper by their employers, whether they want it or not.

    The Opposition have been thoroughly ungrateful today in the face of the Government's reasonable and responsible response to considered arguments.

    The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that that is not true. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) —I am delighted that she has agreed to become my Parliamentary Private Secretary today. It was in no small part due to the part that she played in Committee that my right hon. Friend and I felt that she would be a splendid addition to the Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton took the initiative in Committee. The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) supported the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend.

    The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) is not distinguishing himself today—he is no gentleman. He quoted my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton selectively. He did not quote column 436, where she said in response to my comments:
    "I am encouraged by my hon. Friend's comments"
    My comments in respect of the amendment were:
    "Once again, we are discussing an additional cost being imposed on employers. I am not certain what the costs or the implications would be. We have had no opportunity to discuss the idea with any of the organisations which represent small businesses, which would be affected by the proposal. If my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment, we can pursue her idea with outside groups which take an interest in these matters, and reach a conclusion."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 14 January 1993; c. 436.]
    That is precisely what we did—we consulted.

    Earlier, I was criticised for not consulting. On that occasion we consulted and found that the Confederation of British Industry, the Forum of Private Business and other organisations wanted a cut-off for small firms. That was why we introduced the amendment to improve the law by giving new rights to employees who work a small number of hours. We limited the legislation in terms of the impact on business and introduced it in such a way that any change to the limit can be made by secondary legislation should any Government decide to do so in the future.

    That policy marks an advance, and to be faced with Opposition criticism that we have not done enough in a sector where we have done a great deal as a result of discussions in Committee—and done so in double quick time—is harsh.

    I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and particularly for reminding us that the Government are a listening Government. We applaud the Minister for talking to the CBI and representatives of small businesses before reaching a decision. However, how many low-paid, part-time workers in his constituency did he speak to before coming up with his formula?

    The conversations that I have had with low-paid workers in my constituency showed that receiving itemised pay statements was not at the top of their agenda, where they listed more basic items such as how to improve their employment prospects, deal with housing problems and other such issues. One of the ways of solving such problems is to increase this country's wealth-creating capacity. We shall not achieve that by tying up businesses in red tape, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

    Did the Minister consult his colleagues in the Department of Social Security and in the Benefits Agency? I am worried that many people who will not now have itemised pay slips will not qualify for means-tested benefits and other benefits administered by the Department. What did the DSS have to say about his proposals?

    7 pm

    People in the tax system will get their P60s, which provide the information. There is nothing to prevent employers, the vast majority of whom follow best practices in this matter, from providing the information for people whose incomes fall below that. Just for once, the hon. Gentleman should bring himself to welcome a Government proposal and to acknowledge that the position of people employed by firms with more than 20 employees working a small number of hours has been greatly improved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Brandreth) said, there must be a balance between the benefits and the costs of the bureaucracy imposed on small businesses.

    The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said that not many members of the CBI have fewer than 20 employees. He should remember that these small firms are the future large employer members of the CBI, and if they have to spend every waking hour filling in forms and sending out bits of paper, they will never become the larger firms that will provide the jobs of the future.

    I am not knocking the Government for talking to the CBI—I thought that the Government were in the closet with the CBI all the time, anyway—but I do take issue with the Government over how many employees they may have consulted. Have they spoken to trade unions or youth organisations about their decision? We seem to hear a lot from the Government about small employers, but not much about employees. How will this measure help them?

    I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech. He said that computers are all around us and that high technology is a fact of life. I suggest that he go and talk to those who own the newsagents, corner shops and small firms in his constituency and ask them to show him their computers which will produce itemised pay statements. He will find that there, as elsewhere in the country, employers with small numbers of employees are struggling under numerous burdens, and they would not thank this House for adding to those burdens at a time when they are working hard to create wealth and to survive in difficult trading conditions.

    I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been listening long to our proceedings.

    The hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey), who is not now in her place, asked me to bear in mind the importance of competitiveness. She spoke about the evidence given by the CBI and others to the Trade and Industry Select Committee. She at least listens to the voice of business. She said that competitiveness was important and that we ought to learn from Japan, where there was a fundamentally different attitude to employees. I could not agree with her more. The difference between Japan and Europe is that Japanese non-wage labour costs are exactly half those of Europe. Opposition Members should stop coming up with bright ideas to add to the non-wage costs of our employers—especially small employers.

    The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery wanted me to give an assurance that we would monitor the progress of the legislation. The Government monitor every piece of legislation. I only regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not give us credit for having made an advance—

    Does the Minister mean to say that he has evidence that in Japan pay slips are not given to employees who work part time in industry? I suggest that the vast majority of Japanese employers give computerised pay slips to part-time employees who work less than 16 hours.

    I knew that the Liberals made up their policies as they go along; I did not realise that they did the same when it comes to arguments of this kind. I repeat: the non-wage labour costs of Japan are half those of the European Community, thus giving it a competitive advantage. If the hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues had had their way, British non-wage costs would be a good deal higher, as they would have made us sign up to the social chapter and all the other nonsense which will make it much more difficult for Europe to compete with the Japanese and others.

    Lords amendments Nos. 29 and 41 represent an advance. I ask the House to support them and to reject the Opposition amendment.

    Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:—

    The House divided: Ayes 255, Noes 281.

    Division 299]

    [7.05 pm


    Abbott, Ms DianeClark, Dr David (South Shields)
    Adams, Mrs IreneClarke, Eric (Midlothian)
    Ainger, NickClarke, Tom (Monklands W)
    Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Clelland, David
    Allen, GrahamClwyd, Mrs Ann
    Alton, DavidCoffey, Ann
    Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Connarty, Michael
    Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
    Armstrong, HilaryCook, Robin (Livingston)
    Ashton, JoeCorbett, Robin
    Austin-Walker, JohnCorbyn, Jeremy
    Barnes, HarryCousins, Jim
    Barron, KevinCryer, Bob
    Battle, JohnCunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
    Bayley, HughCunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
    Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretDafis, Cynog
    Beggs, RoyDarling, Alistair
    Bell, StuartDavidson, Ian
    Bennett, Andrew F.Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
    Benton, JoeDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
    Bermingham, GeraldDenham, John
    Berry, Dr. RogerDewar, Donald
    Blair, TonyDixon, Don
    Blunkett, DavidDobson, Frank
    Boateng, PaulDonohoe, Brian H.
    Boyce, JimmyDowd, Jim
    Boyes, RolandDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
    Bradley, KeithEagle, Ms Angela
    Bray, Dr JeremyEastham, Ken
    Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)Enright, Derek
    Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Etherington, Bill
    Burden, RichardEvans, John (St Helens N)
    Byers, StephenFatchett, Derek
    Caborn, RichardFaulds, Andrew
    Callaghan, JimField, Frank (Birkenhead)
    Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Fisher, Mark
    Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Flynn, Paul
    Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
    Campbell-Savours, D. N.Foster, Rt Hon Derek
    Canavan, DennisFoster, Don (Bath)
    Cann, JamieFoulkes, George
    Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)Fraser, John
    Chisholm, MalcolmFyfe, Maria
    Clapham, MichaelGalbraith. Sam

    Gapes, MikeMilburn, Alan
    Garrett, JohnMiller, Andrew
    George, BruceMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
    Gerrard, NeilMoonie, Dr Lewis
    Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMorgan, Rhodri
    Godsiff, RogerMorris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
    Golding, Mrs LlinMorris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
    Gordon, MildredMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
    Gould, BryanMowlam, Marjorie
    Graham, ThomasMudie, George
    Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Mullin, Chris
    Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Murphy, Paul
    Grocott, BruceOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
    Gunnell, JohnO'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
    Hain, PeterO'Brien, William (Normanton)
    Hall, MikeO'Hara, Edward
    Hanson, DavidOlner, William
    Henderson, DougO'Neill, Martin
    Heppell, JohnOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Hill, Keith (Streatham)Parry, Robert
    Hoey, KatePatchett, Terry
    Home Robertson, JohnPike, Peter L.
    Hood, JimmyPope, Greg
    Hoon, GeoffreyPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
    Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
    Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
    Hoyle, DougPrescott, John
    Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Primarolo, Dawn
    Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Purchase, Ken
    Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Quin, Ms Joyce
    Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Radice, Giles
    Hutton, JohnRandall, Stuart
    Ingram, AdamRaynsford, Nick
    Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)Reid, Dr John
    Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)Rendel, David
    Jamieson, DavidRobertson, George (Hamilton)
    Janner, GrevilleRoche, Mrs. Barbara
    Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)Rogers, Allan
    Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)Rooker, Jeff
    Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Rooney, Terry
    Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
    Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Rowlands, Ted
    Jowell, TessaRuddock, Joan
    Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSalmond, Alex
    Keen, AlanSedgemore, Brian
    Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)Sheerman, Barry
    Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
    Khabra, Piara S.Shore, Rt Hon Peter
    Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)Short, Clare
    Kirkwood, ArchySimpson, Alan
    Leighton, RonSkinner, Dennis
    Litherland, RobertSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
    Livingstone, KenSmith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
    Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
    Llwyd, ElfynSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
    Loyden, EddieSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
    Lynne, Ms LizSnape, Peter
    McAllion, JohnSoley, Clive
    McAvoy, ThomasSpearing, Nigel
    McCartney, IanSpellar, John
    Macdonald, CalumSteinberg, Gerry
    McKelvey, WilliamStevenson, George
    Mackinlay, AndrewStott, Roger
    McLeish, HenryStrang, Dr. Gavin
    Maclennan, RobertTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
    McMaster, GordonTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
    McNamara, KevinTipping, Paddy
    McWilliam, JohnTrimble, David
    Madden, MaxTurner, Dennis
    Mahon, AliceTyler, Paul
    Mandelson, PeterVaz, Keith
    Marshall, David (Shettleston)Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
    Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Wallace, James
    Martlew, EricWalley, Joan
    Maxton, JohnWarded, Gareth (Gower)
    Meacher, MichaelWareing, Robert N
    Meale, AlanWelsh, Andrew
    Michael, AlunWicks, Malcolm
    Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Wigley, Dafydd
    Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)

    Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)Young, David (Bolton SE)
    Winnick, David
    Wise, Audrey

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Worthington, Tony

    Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and

    Wray, Jimmy

    Mr. Eric Illsley.

    Wright, Dr Tony


    Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Dicks, Terry
    Aitken, JonathanDorrell, Stephen
    Alexander, RichardDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
    Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Dover, Den
    Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Duncan, Alan
    Amess, DavidDuncan-Smith, Iain
    Arbuthnot, JamesDunn, Bob
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Durant, Sir Anthony
    Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Dykes, Hugh
    Ashby, DavidEggar, Tim
    Aspinwall. JackElletson, Harold
    Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
    Bake, Nicholas (Dorset North)Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
    Baldry, TonyEvennett, David
    Banks, Matthew (Southport)Faber, David
    Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Fabricant, Michael
    Bates, MichaelField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
    Batiste, SpencerFishburn, Dudley
    Bellingham, HenryForman, Nigel
    Bendall, VivianForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
    Beresford, Sir PaulForth, Eric
    Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
    Blackburn, Dr John G.Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
    Body, Sir RichardFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasFreeman, Rt Hon Roger
    Booth, HartleyFrench, Douglas
    Boswell, TimGale, Roger
    Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Gallie, Phil
    Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaGardiner, Sir George
    Bowis, JohnGarel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
    Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesGarnier, Edward
    Brandreth, GylesGillan, Cheryl
    Brazier, JulianGoodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
    Bright, GrahamGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
    Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Gorman, Mrs Teresa
    Browning, Mrs. AngelaGorst, John
    Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
    Budgen, NicholasGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
    Burns, SimonGreenway, John (Ryedale)
    Burt, AlistairGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
    Butler, PeterGrylls, Sir Michael
    Butterfill, JohnGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
    Carlisle, John (Luton North)Hague, William
    Carrington, MatthewHamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
    Carttiss, MichaelHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
    Cash, WilliamHampson, Dr Keith
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulHannam, Sir John
    Chapman, SydneyHargreaves, Andrew
    Churchill, MrHarris, David
    Clappison, JamesHaselhurst, Alan
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hawkins, Nick
    Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)Hawksley, Warren
    Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHayes, Jerry
    Coe, SebastianHeald, Oliver
    Colvin, MichaelHeathcoat-Amory, David
    Congdon, DavidHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
    Conway, DerekHiggins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
    Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Hill, James (Southampton Test)
    Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Horam, John
    Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnHoward, Rt Hon Michael
    Cormack, PatrickHowarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
    Couchman, JamesHowell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
    Cran, JamesHowell, Sir Ralph (North
    Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)


    Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
    Davies, Quentin (Stamford)Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
    Davis, David (Boothferry)Hunter, Andrew
    Day, StephenJack, Michael
    Deva, Nirj JosephJackson, Robert (Wantage)
    Devlin, TimJenkin, Bernard
    Dickens, GeoffreyJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey

    Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
    Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
    Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
    Key, RobertRumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
    Kilfedder, Sir JamesRyder, Rt Hon Richard
    Knapman, RogerSackville, Tom
    Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
    Knight, Greg (Derby N)Shaw, David (Dover)
    Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
    Kynoch, George (Kincardine)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
    Lait, Mrs JacquiShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
    Lang, Rt Hon IanShersby, Michael
    Lawrence, Sir IvanSims, Roger
    Legg, BarrySkeet, Sir Trevor
    Leigh, EdwardSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
    Lennox-Boyd, MarkSoames, Nicholas
    Lidington, DavidSpencer, Sir Derek
    Lightbown, DavidSpicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
    Lilley, Rt Hon PeterSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
    Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Spink, Dr Robert
    Lord, MichaelSpring, Richard
    Luff, PeterSproat, Iain
    Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
    MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
    MacKay, AndrewSteen, Anthony
    Maclean, DavidStephen, Michael
    McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickStern, Michael
    Madel, DavidStewart, Allan
    Maitland, Lady OlgaStreeter, Gary
    Malone, GeraldSumberg, David
    Mans, KeithSweeney, Walter
    Marlow, TonySykes, John
    Marshall, John (Hendon S)Tapsell. Sir Peter
    Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
    Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
    Mates, MichaelTaylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
    Mawhinney, Dr BrianTemple-Morris, Peter
    Mellor, Rt Hon DavidThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
    Merchant, PiersThornton, Sir Malcolm
    Milligan, StephenThurnham, Peter
    Mills, IainTownend, John (Bridlington)
    Moate, Sir RogerTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
    Montgomery, Sir FergusTracey, Richard
    Moss, MalcolmTredinnick, David
    Needham, RichardTrend, Michael
    Nelson, AnthonyTrotter, Neville
    Neubert, Sir MichaelTwinn, Dr Ian
    Newton, Rt Hon TonyVaughan, Sir Gerard
    Nicholls, PatrickViggers, Peter
    Nicholson, David (Taunton)Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
    Norris, SteveWalden, George
    Onslow, Rt Hon Sir CranleyWaller, Gary
    Oppenheim, PhillipWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
    Ottaway, RichardWaterson, Nigel
    Page, RichardWatts, John
    Paice, JamesWells, Bowen
    Patnick, IrvineWhitney, Ray
    Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWhittingdale, John
    Pawsey, JamesWiddecombe, Ann
    Pickles, EricWilletts, David
    Porter, Barry (Wirral S)Wilshire, David
    Porter, David (Waveney)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
    Portillo, Rt Hon MichaelWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
    Powell, William (Corby)Wolfson. Mark
    Redwood, Rt Hon JohnWood, Timothy
    Renton, Rt Hon TimYeo, Tim
    Richards, RodYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
    Riddick, Graham
    Robathan, Andrew

    Tellers for the Noes

    Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn

    Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and

    Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)

    Mr. Andrew Mitchell.

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Lords amendment No. 29 agreed to.

    New Clause

    Lords amendment: No. 30— Dismissal on ground of assertion to statutory right

    (".—(1) After section 60 of the 1978 Act (as substituted by section 23 of this Act), there shall be inserted—

    "Dismissal On Grounds Of Assertion Of Statutory Right

    60A.—(1) The dismissal of an employee by an employer shall be regarded for the purposes of this Part as having been unfair if the reason for it (or, if more than one, the principal reason) was that the employee—

  • (a) brought proceedings against the employer to enforce a right of his which is a relevant statutory right; or
  • (b) alleged that the employer had infringed a right of his which is a relevant statutory right.
  • (2) It is immaterial for the purposes of subsection (I) whether the employee has the right or not and whether it has been infringed or not, but, for that subsection to apply, the claim to the right and that it has been infringed must be made in good faith.

    (3) It shall be sufficient for subsection (I) to apply that the employee, without specifying the right, made it reasonably clear to the employer what the right claimed to have been infringed was.

    (4) The following statutory rights are relevant for the purposes of this section, namely—

  • (a) any right conferred by—
  • (i) this Act, or
  • (ii) the Wages Act 1986, for which the remedy for its infringement is by way of a complaint or reference to an industrial tribunal;
  • (b) the right conferred by section 49 (minimum notice):
  • (c) the rights conferred by the following provisions of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consoldiation) Act 1992, namely, sections 68, 86, 146, 168, 169 and 170 (deductions from pay, union activities and time off)."
  • (2) In section 59 of the 1978 Act (dismissal on ground of redundancy), in subsection (2) (inserted by section 23(2) of this Act), after the word "(e)" there shall he inserted the words "or 60A(1) (read with (2) and (3))".

    (3) In section 64 of the 1978 Act (qualifying period for right not to be unfairly dismissed), in subsection (4) (inserted by section 23(3) of this Act), after the word "(e)" there shall be inserted the words "or 60A(1) (read with (2) and (3))".")

    Read a Second time.

    I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments Nos. 42, 59, 60 and 64.

    Government amendment No. 30, with which are grouped the associated minor and technical amendments, is an important addition to the Bill's provisions, making a further significant enhancement to employees' individual rights.

    The new clause was first introduced by the Government in Committee in another place to fulfil a commitment that I gave, I think from memory, to the hon. Members for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). We had undertaken to introduce a measure giving employees, regardless of their length of service or hours of work, protection against being unfairly dismissed for seeking to enforce the right to a written statement of main employment particulars. We had also said that we would consider the extent to which similar protection might be extended to employees seeking to enforce other statutory employment rights.

    We concluded that the new provision should be comprehensive, applying in respect of all statutory employment protection rights. The rights in question are: all rights conferred by either the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 or the Wages Act 1986 for which the remedy for infringement is by way of a complaint or a reference to an industrial tribunal; the right to a minimum period of notice; and all the rights which an employee may exercise against his or her employer under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

    The protection will apply where the employee's dismissal was on the ground that he or she had brought proceedings against the employer to enforce one of these rights and also where it was on the ground that he or she had alleged that the employer had infringed such a right. The protection will also apply where the employee was selected for redundancy on the same grounds.

    It will be unnecessary for the employee actually to have made detailed reference to the right in question, as long as he or she made it reasonably clear to the employer what that right was. It will also be immaterial whether the employee had actually qualified for the right and whether the right had been infringed, provided that he or she had acted in good faith in seeking to assert it. I am sure that the Opposition will agree that that is watertight.

    As I am sure all hon. Members will agree, dismissal of an employee for seeking in good faith to enforce his or her statutory employment protection rights is wholly unjustifiable. I am confident that few employers would ever contemplate acting in such an irresponsible manner. However, the new clause, which will make all such dismissals automatically unfair, will provide comprehensive new protection for individual employees against any misguided employer who might act in this way.

    I welcome this generous amendment, which more than fulfils the commitments given by the Minister in Committee. We are pleased that the amendment does not merely place a duty on the employee to show that his rights were impeded. Irrespective of whether it was later shown that he did not have a right to ask for information because of a technical problem, the important issue is that the employee acted in good faith. It is good that, for once, in the Bill the benefit of the doubt is given to the employee.

    The measure does not deal with whether an industrial tribunal can order reinstatement or award compensation. However, I should be ruled out of order if I started to discuss that and the Minister would think I was being churlish. In any case we discussed the matter in Committee.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

    New Clause

    Lords amendment: No. 31— Application of 1978 Act to service in armed forces

    (".—(1) In section 138 of the 1978 Act (application of Act to Crown employment) for subsection (3) (service in the armed forces excepted) there shall be substituted—

    "(3) This section applies to service as a member of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown but only in accordance with section 138A and it applies also to employment by any association established for the purposes of Part VI of the Reserve Forces Act 1980."

    (2) After section 138, there shall be inserted—

    "Application of Act to armed forces.

    138A.—(1) The provisions of this Act which apply, by virtue of section 138, to service as a member of the naval, military or air forces of the crown are—

    • Part I;
    • in Part II, sections 19 to 22 and 31A;
    • Part III;
    • in Part IV, section 53;
    • Part V, except sections 57A and 80;
    • Part VIII; and
    • this Part.

    (2) Her Majesty may, by Order in Council,—

  • (a) amend subsection (1) above by making additions to, or omissions from, the provisions for the time being specified in that subsection by an Order under this subsection; and
  • (b) make any provision apply to service as a member of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be specified in the Order.
  • (3) Subject to subsection (5) below, modifications made under subsection (2) above may include provision precluding the making of a complaint or reference to any industrial tribunal unless the person aggrieved has availed himself of the service procedures for the redress of complaints applicable to him.

    (4) Where modifications include the provision authorised by subsection (3) above the Order in Council shall also include provision designed to secure that the service procedures for the redress of complaints result in a determination, or what is to be treated under the Order as a determination, in sufficient time to enable a complaint or reference to be made to an industrial tribunal.

    (5) No provision shall be made by virtue of subsection (3) above which has the effect of substituting, for any period specified as the normal period for a complaint or reference on any matter to an industrial tribunal, a period longer than six months.

    (6) No recommendation shall be made to Her Majesty to make an Order in Council under subsection (2) above unless a draft of the Order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

    (7) In this section—

    "the normal period for a complaint or reference", in relation to any matter within the jurisdiction of an industrial tribunal, means the period specified in the relevant enactment as the period within which the complaint or reference must be made, disregarding any provision permitting an extension of that period at the discretion of the tribunal; and

    "the service procedures for the redress of complaints" means the procedures, excluding those which relate to the making of a report on a complaint to Her Majesty, referred to in sections 180 and 181 of the Army Act 1955, sections 180 and 181 of the Air Force Act 1955 and section 130 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957."")

    Read a Second time.

    I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) for his comments on the previous amendment. I am sure that he and his colleagues will also welcome this new clause, which will considerably improve the rights of members of the armed forces to enjoy employment protection measures equivalent to those that are enjoyed by civilian employees.

    It has always been recognised that members of the armed forces are in a special employment position, and that measures applying to civilian employees may well be inappropriate. This is why service in the armed forces has up to now been excluded from coverage by the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, by virtue of section 138(3). This subsection provides that subsection (1), which applies many of the Act's provisions to Crown employees, does not apply to those in the armed forces. However, in this day and age, such a blanket exclusion is unnecessary and unjustified. The new clause brings the provisions up to date. It applies to the armed forces almost the same list of provisions as apply to Crown servants.

    Nevertheless, it is clear that modifications will need to be made to the provisions to make them compatible with the special considerations that necessarily apply to the services. Therefore, the clause contains powers to enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to make an order providing that internal procedures will need to be exhausted before service men and service women can take a complaint to an industrial tribunal and make any other necessary adaptations.

    I have a special responsibility for defence for the Opposition and I welcome this new clause. It has been tabled because of cases of discrimination, especially against pregnant women. I hope that there will be no repeat of the recent case of an RAF sergeant, a skilled technician, who, although she was not dismissed when she had twins, was told that she would not be given housing accommodation and that if she was posted abroad and her children went with her they would not be given education or medical facilities. She was also told that if her children stayed in this country boarding school allowances would not be payable. That was discrimination of the worst kind.

    I understand that pressure was one of the reasons for the Government altering the Bill. Another reason is the EC directive, which would probably force the Government to accept contracts of employment. The debate in the other place was short. Will people in the armed forces be allowed a written statement of employment, an itemised pay statement and maternity leave? Will they be given a written statement of reasons for dismissal and will they be allowed the right to claim unfair dismissal and the right to go to an industrial tribunal?

    I understand that the clause precludes members of the armed forces from becoming members of a trade union. For that reason, it is important to place on record the rights that the new clause will extend to members of the armed forces. Those rights need to be spelt out in black and white and I hope that the Minister can state the exact meaning of the new clause.

    The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of detailed questions. I am grateful to him; I share his concern about, for instance, the rights of women in the armed services who become pregnant.

    The hon. Gentleman asked me about certain specific rights. The amendment replaces section 138(3) with a new subsection which will apply to members of the armed forces, relating to the rights specified in new subsection (1) —that is, rights to written statements of the main terms and conditions of employment, as amended to reflect, among other things, the requirement of the EC proof of employment directive. Those terms and conditions are itemised pay statements, the right to be paid when under medical supervision, time off for ante-natal care, maternity rights as amended by the Bill to implement the pregnant workers directive, a written statement of the reason for dismissal, a right not to be unfairly dismissed and resolution of disputes by an industrial tribunal.

    7.30 pm

    I have said that access to an industrial tribunal will be limited until the internal procedures have been followed —although there is a further safeguard in the form of a six-month time limit. Subsections (2)(a) and (b) of new section 138A provide that the provisions specified in subsection (1) may be added to, removed or modified by Order in Council.

    The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who probably knows more than I do about the details of arrangements for the armed services, will be aware that their members already receive itemised pay statements.

    ("( ) in Regulation 5 (effect of transfer on contracts of employment, etc)—

  • (a) in paragraph (1), at the beginning, there shall be inserted the words "Except where objection is made under paragraph (4A) below,";
  • (b) in paragraph (2) after the words "paragraph (I) above there shall be inserted the words "but subject to paragraph (4A) below,";
  • (c) after paragraph (4), there shall be inserted—
  • "(4A) Paragraphs (1) and (2) above shall not operate to transfer his contract of employment and the rights, powers, duties and liabilities under or in connection with it if the employee informs the transferor or the transferee that he objects to becoming employed by the transferee.
  • (4B) where an employee so objects the transfer of the undertaking or part in which he is employed shall operate so as to terminate his contract of employment with the transferor but he shall not be treated, for any purpose, as having been dismissed by the transferor."; and
  • (d) in paragraph (5), for the words "Paragraph (1) above is" there shall be substituted the words "Paragraphs (1) and (4A) above are".")
  • I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, amendment (a), in line 19, leave out

    'not be treated, for any purpose'
    and insert
    'be treated, for all purposes'.
    I fear that peace broke out for only a short time and that we are about to engage in battle again. The Minister and his hon. Friend do not like that idea at all; it frightens them. We are about to discuss the aspect of the Bill that the Minister and the Government probably hate most—the question of the European acquired rights directive on the transfer of engagement. It is more commonly known as TUPE, or the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1991.

    The Government have always opposed the directive. They have always tried to cover up its significance and have attempted to fiddle the law in order to do so. When they were caught, instead of saying, "It's a fair cop, guy," their line was, "We never did anything. We did not steal the car; we were just borrowing it. If they wanted it back, they could have had it back at any time—honest, m'lud. We were not trying to mislead the public in any way." According to the Government, their proposals were always intended to apply to competitive tendering. We are now dealing with an amendment to the regulation involved.

    The amendment was prompted by a case in the European Court of Justice. It is known as the Kastikas The Ministry of Defence is reviewing the policy that denies married quarters and boarding-school allowances to unmarried parents; I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is pleased about that, as I am.

    Peace has broken out in our consideration of these Lords amendments. I commend Lords amendment No. 31 to the House.

    Question put and agreed to.