Lords Amendment: In page 6, line 37, at end insert new Clause "B":
B.—(1) The Minister shall have power by order to provide that this Act shall have effect—
there were substituted a reference to such other number of hours less than twenty-one as may be specified in the order.
(2) Orders under the foregoing subsection may specify different numbers of hours for the purposes of paragraphs (a) and (b), and an order under paragraph (b) shall affect the operation of Schedule 1 to this Act as respects periods before the order takes effect for the purposes of sections 1 and 2 of this Act, as well as respects later periods.
(3) An order under this section may contain such transitional and other supplemental and incidental provisions as appear to the Minister to be expedient and may be varied or revoked by a further order so made.
An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument, but no such order shall be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.
I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
The Bill at present applies only to employees who normally work for their employers 21 hours or more a week. In our earlier discussions, I said that that was so that the Bill should benefit those who depend on that employment for at least a substantial part of their livelihood, and and that inconsiderable and spare-time employments should be excluded. The House will remember that after discussion of this 21-hour limit on Report, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that the figure of 21 seemed right at the present time but that the Government would consider whether there should be power to vary the figure in the light of developments in working hours. We subsequently tabled this Amendment, which gives this power to the Minister of Labour.
Clause 5 already contained the power to alter the scope of exclusions from the Bill in the light of developments. This new Clause similarly enables at 21-hour limit to be altered so that if, in the future, there are sufficient numbers of people who derive a substantial part of their livelihood from working less than 21 hours a week, they can be brought within the scope of the Bill.
I should point out that the Clause enables the number of hours to be reduced below 21, but not to be raised above. The 21-hour limit can be lowered separately for the requirements on written statements or for the notice provisions of the Bill. In the light of experience, it may prove desirable to fix the number of hours at different points for the two parts of the Bill.
Finally, I point out that Orders made under this new Clause will be subject to an affirmative Resolution. I imagine my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) will have noted that—I hope with approval. It seems right that this Clause should be in step with Clause 5 in this respect, because in both cases the exercise of the powers can result in large numbers of people being brought within or excluded from the scope of the Bill.
This new Clause continues, as it were, the process of dividing the original Clause 42. I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for saying that he wants to help my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) and myself, but I must warn him that, when he said that, there were signs of some discontent on the benches behind him. He may be stirring up a revolt there, as his hon. Friends probably think that he should be solicitous for them, also.
As I understand the Minister, 21 hours were chosen because 42 hours is now the standard working week over a greater part of industry, so that it was felt right to confine the operation of the Clause to those working at least half that time. Presumably, the Minister is now saying that if there is a reduction to a 40-hour working week, he wants power to make a reduction to 20 hours, and so on.
There may be a case for using this power rather more liberally. Fairly large numbers of part-time workers are excluded from the Clause—domestic workers, home helps, people in the school meals service, and so on—and experience may show them to be more in need of written statements of terms of employment than are those who work full-time. The latter are more likely to be covered by well-known agreements and, are more likely to be in strongly organised unions, and to them the written statement may not make much difference.
People who work on a part-time basis usually have fewer agreements applying to them so that, in some cases, there is scope for the imposition of unsatisfactory conditions and exploitation. If written statements became standard they might help to raise the standards of these people. We therefore urge the Minister to use more liberally the power he will have to vary the 21-hour limit in the light of information coming to his Ministry about conditions in certain types of employment.
At an earlier stage of the Bill we took this argument to a Division. We cannot do that now, but I take the opportunity to remind the right hon. Gentleman of our views, and I hope that he will use these powers to regulate in the way I suggest.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the last paragraph of the Amendment, which requires an affirmative Resolution before an Order is made, but the latter part of subsection (2) appears to be in the form of retrospective legislation. It states that
… an order under paragraph (b) shall affect the operation of Schedule 1 to this Act as respects periods before the order takes effect for the purposes of sections 1 and 2 of this Act, as well as respects later periods.
Subsection (1,b) refers to paragraphs 3 and 4 of Schedule 1, which are headed respectively "Normal working weeks" and "Employment governed by contract". I am concerned about how this new Clause affects that latter paragraph.
Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 gives the calculation of the period of employment by reference to the number of hours a man has worked during the past weeks. Although a man has for the past 12 months worked less than 21 hours a week and therefore does not come within the Measure at all and the employer has no obligations about him, if an Order is to say that because he has worked only 15 hours a week he shall come within these provisions it will be a form of retrospection which may cause a considerable amount of confusion to employers and employees.
I hope that I am misinterpreting this, and that the new Clause will not have that effect. Nevertheless, these words, logically read, seem to have the effect of altering the relationship of employer and employee under the Bill by reference to a back period of employment. I would be very grateful if my right hon. Friend could explain this a little further.
With the leave of the House, I can tell the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) that this Amendment goes some way to please him, and provides the flexibility which he felt was lacking before.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) will appreciate that Schedule 1 already works retrospectively, because employment engaged in before the Bill comes into force will count, so I think that he will agree that what we are doing is quite logical.