Employment Protection

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th July 1979.

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10.16 p.m.

Hon. Members:

Where is he?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Anyone can move the order.

Hon. Members:

Resign.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If there is no Minister here, I do not think it is possible to proceed with the business. I should have thought that the best course would be for the House to adjourn.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I called the Minister, but any Minister is able to move the order.

Hon. Members:

Resign.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The Question is—[Interruption.] Order. I will formally propose the Question—

10.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Unaccustomed as I am to having this great audience on such an order, I beg to move, That the draft Employment Protection (Handling of Redundancies) Variation Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 10 July, be approved. This order reduces the time for notifications of redundancies for firms where there is a redundancy of 100 people or less, between 10 and 100 to 30 days instead of 90 days. [Interruption.] As hon. Members will realise, this is a very important order and one that should be discussed seriously in the House. That is what I am intending to do and what I am prepared to do. The sort of response that we are getting from the Opposition does not improve the situation.

Photo of Mr Ernest Roberts Mr Ernest Roberts , Hackney North and Stoke Newington

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The hon. Gentleman is able only to raise a point of order with me.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I refer to the purpose of the order. Under sections 99 and 100, two things are required of the employer: first, consultation with the appropriate recognised unions, and, secondly, notification of the proposal to the Secretary of State for Employment.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I thought that hon. Members wanted to listen.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Haringey Tottenham

The Minister is quoting the wrong order. He is talking about 90 days when he should be referring to 60 days.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The Minister is responsible for his own speech. I am not responsible.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

The Secretary of State should apologise for not being here earlier.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) should listen. We are dealing with the order about redundancy, not unfair dismissal. That is what I have been talking about.

The purpose of the requirements is sensible. Consultation is required so that the union can discuss the employer's plans to see whether there are ways of reducing redundancies or mitigating their effects.

Notification is required so that the Manpower Services Commission—[HON. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] I thought that hon. Members were interested in this subject. Just because they think that they have caught out the Government, they are not prepared to listen to the arguments. They do not even know which order we are discussing.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I suggest that hon. Members listen.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. There is no need for the House to be as excited as this. We must hear the Minister, and then there will be an opportunity for a reply.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling Falkirk and Grangemouth

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This subject affects human beings. It should not be treated in the cavalier manner in which the Secretary of State and his junior Minister have treated it.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The Secretary of State is moving the order. Afterwards I presume that an Opposition Front Bench spokesman will wish to reply.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I am being asked from seated positions to apologise to the House. I always apologise to the House if I believe that it is necessary—as I do in this case. I was not in my place at the right time, but I am now trying to make a sensible and reasonable speech about an important matter to which I hope the House will listen.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that he apologises to the House. He would have had a better hearing if he had not come into the Chamber in such a brazen and contemptible way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not know what the Secretary of State thinks is so funny about not being in his place, coming into the Chamber without any notes, reading the order to us and then gracelessly apologising.

He had better behave in the House as hon. Members expect him to behave. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] I warn Government Members that they had better keep quiet. It is the duty of Government Members to keep quiet and to take it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] The sooner they learn that, the more likely they are to get their business through and to have their mistakes forgiven. If they go on making mistakes at the rate that they made them in the last week, they will not get any business through.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

The Leader of the Opposition has been in the House long enough to know that these things happen. Many of us were under the impression that there was to be another order to be debated first. We were standing outside waiting to come into the Chamber.

Most reasonable and honourable Gentlemen will accept that as a full explanation of what happened. Instead of trying to create as much of a row as possible, hon. Members should discuss the two important orders with the seriousness which they deserve. Now that the right hon. Gentleman has had his say on the matter, I hope that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends will attend to the debate and will react accordingly. As I have already said—

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Haringey Tottenham

The Secretary of State was quick to try to correct my point of order, but when he began to speak about the two orders to which he has now referred he was speaking about the 90 days and their substitution. What he should be talking about on the orders is either 26 weeks or 60 days. Now will he have the grace to admit to the House that he was wrong in talking about 90 days?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

On the contrary. The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong. He has not got the order right. I am talking about the order which deals with redundancies, and he ought to listen to what I say. If he had done that, perhaps he would owe me an apology, as would some of his hon. Friends, too.

May I now continue my speech? The Act lays down certain time limits affecting consultation, and it is these and the effecting of notification that the order is about. The Act provides that consultation must start at the earliest opportunity, and there is no change there, but for medium-scale redundancies, where between 10 and 99 people are made redundant within 30 days or less, the Act goes on to provide that the employer must begin the consultation process at least 60 days before the first dismissal is due to take place. Where the number whom the employer proposes to make redundant is 100 or more, the employer must allow 90 days for the consultation process before the first dismissal takes effect. Where the number is under 10, no specific time lapse after the beginning of consultation is laid down.

I turn now to notification. The pattern here is the same. For proposed redundancies of 10 to 99, 60 days must elapse between the date of notification and the date when the first dismissal takes effect. Where the number is 100 or more, it is 90 days. Where fewer than 10 are to be made redundant, there is no obligation to notify the Secretary of State.

What all this adds up to is that, under the present law, when an employer finds that he has to lay off employees, perhaps because business has suddenly turned down, he may, if the numbers are between 10 and 99, be required to keep them all on his payroll for a maximum of 60 days after he has begun to consult the union and for a maximum of 60 days after he has notified the Secretary of State.

The Government believe that length of time to be damagingly onerous for small businesses in particular, and by the order we propose in each instance to reduce the period to 30 days.

The 90-day rule for large-scale redundancies we leave untouched. However, the 60-day rule is deterring smaller businesses in significant numbers from creating more jobs and taking on more workers. The reason is simple. As they have frequently complained, smaller business men often cannot fulfil their present obligations. They cannot afford to keep people on their payroll for 60 days after it has become plain that they must become redundant.

For many small businesses visibility does not stretch ahead as far as 60 days. It is to the small businesses that we must look in the main if jobs are to be created in future. The consequence is that small firms are driven either to delay redundancies at heavy financial cost or to introduce redundancies without the proper notice. When the latter course is taken, a union may complain to an industrial tribunal and an employer may find that a protective award has been made against him, which may amount to remuneration of up to 60 days. The order will reduce the maximum to 30 days.

It is true that an employer may claim to excuse himself by showing that there were special circumstances, but that means making representations to the industrial tribunal. The burden of proof is on the employer. Parliament has not made these problems crystal clear for the layman or even for the lawyer. In the present circumstances I doubt whether I am making them plain to the House.

On account of the effect of the present time limits on employment, there is a strong case for reducing the limits affecting medium-scale redundancies. That will principally be proposed by small business. However, their reduction would not be justified if it led to proper consultation with the unions not being possible, or to the placing and training services of the Manpower Services Commission not being able to be brought adequately to bear.

We have considered these matters carefully. We are satisfied that neither result would come about if such a measure were implemented. I am advised that within the reduced time scale the Manpower Services Commission will be able to provide its services as effectively and helpfully as at present. As for consultation, we are fortified by the knowledge that 30 days will still be within the requirement of the EEC directive on collective redundancies and will not put us out of step with other European countries. Furthermore, it is a change that the Labour Government specifically envisaged. In section 106 they provided that 30 days is the shortest delaying period that may be introduced by amending order.

Photo of Mr Edward Leadbitter Mr Edward Leadbitter , Hartlepool

The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that in his view there is an economic case for the assumptions that he is making. However, he has not made out that case. Will he tell the House what consultations he had with the trade union movement before introducing the order? What consultations has he had with the CBI? What conclusions has he drawn from the comments that have been made to him?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that intervention. I believe that one of the effects of employment protection legislation over the past few years has been to deter a number of businesses, especially small businesses, from employing additional labour. Therefore, we in the House have a duty at a time of high unemployment to do all that we can to reduce those number of matters that in the eyes of small employers deter them from taking on additional labour. On that basis we consulted a wide range of institutions and people before coming to a decision.

The hon. Gentleman asks me whether the Government have consulted the TUC and the CBI. The answer is that we have consulted much wider than merely the TUC and the CBI. The TUC, unfortunately, felt that no change should be made. The CBI and nearly all the other interests that we consulted took the view that we were quite right to make the change. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there has been widespread consultation on a personal basis and as a result of letters that we have sent to a number of interested parties.

I can be no more certain than Labour Members that what we are doing will help small businesses, especially to employ more people. All I know is that employment protection legislation as it now operates is considered by many small employers and other employers to be a deterrent to taking on additional labour. I also know that the 90-day rule has not been adhered to as strictly as it should have been. There have been numerous cases where the 90-day rule has been broken. It is not unreasonable that 30 days should, in these cases, be the time for notice. If the 90-day rule has not been adhered to, and if it is more reasonable to have 30 days than 90 days, it should help the psychology of small businesses to reduce it from 90 days to 30 days. That is the main point of the remarks that I wish to make.

We art not talking here about a specific point. We are talking about trying to create an atmosphere in which small business, and the Employment Protection Act in its main parts, may operate without the psychological effect of people, particularly employers, thinking that it is a bad Act. That is why we are seeking to make the changes contained in the order.

What is at issue is not the right to redundancy payments, the duty to consult with the unions, or the duty to notify the Department. What is at issue is solely the length of time which under the law must elapse before certain medium-scale redundancies which are proposed can be implemented.

In laying this order and the next one that we are to discuss, the Government are pressing on with the programme that they were elected to carry out, by changing employment protection law where it is damaging the ability of businesses to function.

I think that I was wrong in not making clear that we are changing from 60 days to 30 days. I am sorry that I did not make that plain in the course of my speech. The change will help small businesses by its psychological effect.

Opposition Members, before voting against the order—which I presume is their intention—should heed this warning. We are concerned here with employment. We are concerned with the effects that the legislation has had on small businesses in particular. It is generally recognised—I am sure that Labour Members will have found this, just as much as any of my hon. Friends—that over the past four years the Employment Protection Act has been built up as an ogre that is damaging the prospects of employment. [Interruption.] It is suggested that we built up that ogre. If this House could have that effect on small businesses, we might be able to get another impression going.

The truth is that all the evidence supports the fact—as I think Harold Lever recognised—that in many respects the Employment Protection Act has become a deterrent to the employment of more labour. That is what we are trying to get home in the order, and that is why I ask Opposition Members, despite all that has happened this evening, to listen to the argument and to recognise that in the order the Government are not only accepting what is reasonable in respect of redundancies on the scale that I have mentioned but are also doing something that is psychologically of great importance for small businesses and the employment of additional labour.

It is on that basis that I commend the order to the House.

10.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I doubt whether the Secretary of State has ever been as glad to resume his seat. I did not think that he could make such a shambles of the Department of Employment within 90 days of taking office. As has been said, what we have had is a recitation of what the order contains and virtually no case whatever made out for it.

We should be clear from the outset that the orders before us tonight are only the beginning of the Government's attack on the statutory protections and safeguards that Parliament—belatedly but rightly—has granted to workers in recent years. They are safeguards that not only the British Parliament but also Parliaments in Western Europe generally have thought it proper to provide in one form or another.

In addition to the two orders, there are further inroads into worker protection contained in the so-called "working papers"—one might have said "working medicine"—put out by the Secretary of State a couple of weeks ago. The House should be under no illusion that the proposals in those papers will exhaust the zeal of the Government to weaken the position of workers vis-a-vis their employers or diminish their eagerness to weaken the role and strength of the trade unions.

I mention these other matters because the orders, despicable as they are in themselves, must be seen as part of a yet more serious array of changes in employment legislation. Under review are the maternity provisions, guaranteed pay provisions, the provision for appointment of workers' safety representatives, the role of ACAS and a whole range of other matters. I ask the Secretary of State to come clean on them before the House rises for the recess.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he had been in correspondence with the TUC. It is fair to point out that he published these orders on the same day as he wrote to the TUC.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

That is not the case.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

The right hon. Gentleman says that that is not the case. I accept that, but there must have been very little in it.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I should like to make it absolutely plain that we wrote to the TUC, the CBI and many other organisations long before we published the orders and laid them before Parliament. In fact, from memory, I would say that it was at least three weeks before. Therefore, it is not true to say that we consulted on the same day as we published the orders.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I point to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman replied to the TUC on 10 July, which was the day on which the orders were laid. It is worth repeating the view of the TUC. It said: These changes represent a significant deterioration in the existing legal rights of many workers". I turn to the orders themselves. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to base his case on the surveys that had been carried out. With the exception of the TUC, and the possible exception of the Conservative Party Central Office small business bureau, only employers' organisations were consulted. Therefore, the reaction was entirely predictable. Understandably, an employer will resist and oppose anything that diminishes his freedom. It is, of course, true that they have objected to the Employment Protection Act. However, if I carried out a survey of workers and told the right hon. Gentleman that they were overwhelmingly in support of employment protection legislation, I am sure that his reply would be along the lines of Mandy Rice-Davies' comment "Of course, they would, wouldn't they".

When we were in Government and received criticism of the employment protection legislation, we sought to carry out some objective and impartial surveys. It is perhaps worth referring to what they said, in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's comments. One was a study carried out by the Policy Studies Institute. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not sneering and suggesting that that is anything other than an impartial and objective body. It is a highly respectable body which surveyed firms employing between 50 and 5,000 people. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the way in which the Employment Protection Act had become an ogre for small businesses. The institute said: In discussing the nature of the effects of employment protection legislation, whether these are beneficial or not to management, and the variations in effect, there is a danger of giving an exaggerated impression of the impact of the legislation. As we said at the start of these conclusions the main finding to emerge from our study was really how modest had been the influence of an apparently major package of employment legislation. Many employers had developed policies and practices which were in advance of the minimum standards specified in the legislation.Many employers had developed policies and practices which were in advance of the minimum standards specified in the legislation". On the specific issue before the house, the institute said: only a quarter of the managers interviewed in our survey of 301 plants said that requirements on redundancy procedure had influenced them at all; and only 3 per cent. said that they had been a major influence. It went on to say: There was very little sign in our findings that employment protection legislation was inhibiting industrial recovery or contributing to the high levels of unemployment by discouraging employers from taking on new people. That is a direct refutation of what the right hon. Gentleman said from an impartial and independent source. I quote further from the report: Indeed we can unequivocally reject the crude form of that criticism … when we talked to managers where there was a rising demand for products but where they were not recruiting … they rarely cited any aspect of employment legislation as a reason for not increasing their work force … When we put the suggestion to employers that employment protection legislation did inhibit the recruitment of new labour directly to a sub-sample of our respondents to whom it was more likely to apply, the majority rejected it. I apologise for inflicting those lengthy quotations on the House but it is right to do so because they directly refute the right hon. Gentleman's case.

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are desperately anxious to point out that the PSI study was of the larger firms with a minimum of 50 employees. There was also a survey of small firms carried out, again by an independent body, the Opinion Research Centre. The right hon. Gentleman referred to that when he wrote to the TUC, and said of the employers interviewed: as many as 6 per cent. mentioned employment legislation as among their main difficulties. Why did the right hon. Gentleman not say "as few as 6 per cent."? He might also have pointed out that employment legislation was ranked twelfth in the difficulties facing employers. They attached a much higher priority to the burden of VAT, and that was when it was only 8 per cent. If the Government want to please small employers, they should chop VAT.

Only 2 per cent. of the employers questioned by the Opinion Research Centre mentioned employment legislation when asked about the main difficulties that they faced in running their business, and only 7 per cent. referred to it when specifically asked whether any Government measures had caused difficulties. Many months ago officials in the Department of Employment provided me with the figures that I have quoted, and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman was not given them.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why Mr. Harold Lever—now Lord Lever—said: We must be careful that the EPA is not turned into an Employment Destruction Act. If something is to be done for the pool of a million and a half unemployed, then small businesses are one of our best hopes."?

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that Lord Lever also said that he did not advocate any changes in the Employment Protection Act?

The right hon. Gentleman has sought to give the impression that he has been generous and could have treated the provisions with more severity, but he has exploited the statute to the maximum without having to introduce primary legislation.

The right hon. Gentleman gave the impression in his letter to the TUC that perhaps the only purpose of the 60 days' notice being given to his Department was to enable the MSC to mount training and retraining exercises. But that is far from the case that we argued when we introduced the provisions in 1975. The right hon. Gentleman should remember that. The notification does not go to the MSC; it goes to the Secretary of State. As we found, that provides an invaluable period during which the Department of Employment can examine a host of possibilities, often in conjunction with other Departments, to render advice and assist-Industry, to enable, if possible, the enterprise to avoid having to make workers redundant and, in conjunction with other Departments to render advice and assistance to enable the firm to avoid the loss of jobs. That is a proper role for the Department of Employment.

If that proves impossible, the time gap will also enable the MSC to do what it can, not just in terms of training and retraining but by the swiftest use of the employment placement services so that it can help people find new jobs wherever possible.

The Secretary of State should know that if an employer finds the 60 days' notice provision an intolerable requirement, for commercial or other reasons, he can find relief in section 100(6) of the Act, which provides: If in any case there are special circumstances rendering it not reasonably practicable for the employer to comply with any of the requirements of subsections (1) to (5) above, he shall take all such steps towards compliance with that requirement as are reasonably practicable in those circumstances. There is the answer for the employer who finds himself in difficulty. Why does the Secretary of State need the order? Many employers have exercised the option available in that section of the Act.

A similar provision qualifies the requirement to give prior notification to unions. No employer can plead that he is subject to an intolerable and inescapable statutory obligation. The prior notice for unions, which is affected by the order, has often been of great value to many companies. Frequently, in order to save the jobs of its members, the union will take an initiative that may lead to the introduction of changed working practices that benefit the company and improve its efficiency.

I ask again what benefit the Secretary of State believes will flow from the order. What is his purpose in introducing a measure which flows completely against the tide of employment protection developments in Europe and Scandinavia? It goes completely against the developing practice in the United States, where, on a visit last year, I learnt that lengthy prior notice is increasingly becoming a condition of labour contracts.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Kensington and Chelsea Chelsea

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the order is precisely in line with the EEC directive of 1975 on the notification of redundancies?

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

The trend in Europe is towards greater protection for workers and longer prior notification of mass dismissals, but the Secretary of State is turning our tide the opposite way.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling Falkirk and Grangemouth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the provisions in the order are in line with the minimum requirements of the EEC and that the Government are interested only in minimum standards and not in giving real protection to workers?

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I do not wish to do the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) an injustice, but if he consults the unions in Europe he will learn that they are seeking to extend prior notice requirements to come up to our standards. The Government want to cut them back.

The Secretary of State and the Government have shown not the slightest recognition of the hardship, misery and suffering that is endured by workers and their families when they are confronted with redundancies. The Government's approach to such deep human problems owes more to callous, cynical political opportunism pandering, in the run-up to the election, to an irrational prejudice which they did so much to provoke.

The Government give the impression of being completely indifferent to the effect that the issues before us and their wider strategy will have on industrial relations generally. To that extent, they seem to have learnt little if anything from the bitter lessons of the former Conservative Government. Perhaps they hope that, by dribbling out their proposals a little at a time, they will not have the same impact as would a comprehensive declaration of Tory policy. I tell them that it will not work.

Not only will it not work, but working people will see the kind of measure that we have before us as part of a wider attack on them and their standards. I pray that we shall not endure the kind of confrontation that the Conservative Government provoked. The policies we now see oozing daily from the Government, not only in industrial relations, seem deliberately calculated needlessly to arouse the conflict and the strife that we could well do without and that we could avoid.

The Conservative Party seems intent on dismantling the decent, modest and humane basic protections for ordinary workers that we have introduced over the past five years. I give the Government notice now that not only will we repair the damage that they are seeking to do but we shall build in future on what we have achieved so far.

10.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , Bedfordshire South

I do not think that it came as any surprise to the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) that when we returned to office we would be making one or two alterations to the Employment Protection Act. The order embodies one of the arguments we put in Committee on the Bill almost four years ago to the day.

When the right hon. Gentleman was answering our points then, he was in nothing like the bellicose mood that he is in tonight. I want to point out how conditions have changed since then because I think that, on reflection, he will agree that what we are trying to do is in line with what we were putting forward in 1975, which did not arouse the intense hostility of the Labour Government. Indeed, on many occasions then the Labour Government bent over backwards to try to meet us on our amendments.

Two things at least have changed considerably. First, the number of people who have been made redundant has increased substantially. That is regrettable. Secondly, the Manpower Services Commission is four years older and has acquired much more expertise in handling these situations where there is notification of redundancies.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the report by the Policy Studies' Institute in June 1978. He did not quote some of the more relevant parts of it. For example, it said: legislation on redundancy procedures had had little general impact because the bulk of employers had developed effective ways of avoiding and dealing with redundancy before their introduction. Voluntary redundancy schemes, in whose development trade union influence had been substantial, played a major part in such policies. That underlines what we were saying in 1975, namely, that much of the Act would bring employers and unions closer together, given the worsening economic situation then, and would certainly result in more refined measures in carrying out redundancy procedures.

But before the Labour Government put forward their plans in the Bill they introduced a consultative document. In paragraph 66 of the document, dealing with the question whether the period should be 60 or 30 days, they said that the minimum period of warning might be two months; they were not absolutely certain. I stress again that the alteration that the order will bring about does not in any way affect section 99 of the Act. Section 99(5)(e) provides the proposed method of carrying out the dismissals, with due regard to an agreed procedure, including the period over which the dismissals will take effect. Therefore, in no way can it be said that the order is an attack on the trade unions or a dramatic attempt to undermine big sections of the 1975 Act.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman of two things that he said when we were discussing our amendment four years ago. First, he said: On many occasions 30 days will be adequate, but it is not difficult to envisage occasions when it will not be adequate". Agreed, but the point is that he was uncertain whether the then Government had it right. When he replied to the debate on the amendment he said: I remind the Committee that the Secretary of State has power under Clause 95(5) to vary the periods here in question. If experience showed that, either generally or in particular cases, the 60 days might be varied in the way suggested"— which was to come down to 30 days— and that it might be helpful and construe-five to vary it from 60 days to, say, 30 days, we would seek to do that. But I think that for the time being we have it right, and ought to proceed on the basis as we have it in the Bill."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 13 July 1975; c. 1437–41.] The hon. Gentleman said then that for the time being we have it right". What we are saying is that because unemployment has risen in the past four years, and because there is plenty of evidence that the present drafting is a deterrent to small businesses to take on additional people, the very least the Opposition can do is to let us have a shot at changing the figure to 30 and see how we get on. If we get into difficulties, and if it proves unsatisfactory, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will use his powers under the 1975 Act to alter the period again.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman at least meet the spirit of his words in 1975 by not dividing the House tonight. He knows very well that huge sections of the 1975 Act went through with our support and approval. The Government of the day welcomed many of our amendments. I hope that the Opposition will at least give us a chance tonight to make an alteration that we think will help employment.

11.2 p.m.

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support the order and the order that we are to debate afterwards.

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

Some of us served on the Standing Committee that considered the Employment Protection Act.

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

And some of us have had practical experience of the working of the Act.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

From the employers' side.

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

Some of us have practical experience of the workers' side.

I have never taken the view that the Act was a serious deterrent to employers taking on workers, but I believe that it is part, though only part, of a whole area of bureaucratic control of employers, which in total prevents employers risking taking on more employees. I think that that applies to both orders, though to neither in isolation.

The fact that I do not accept that the Act itself has been a serious deterrent does not mean that we cannot pass amendments to improve it. If some of the amendments suggested by the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker), leading for the Opposition tonight, were proposed by the Government—on matters such as maintenance, maternity leave and so on—I for one should be in the Lobby against them. But it seems to me to be good common sense to make amendments which in practical terms have proved to be necessary.

I declare an interest as someone with a small business. Small businesses are sick and tired of legislation that has been imposed on them, of regulations that they have to follow for the slightest trivialities. They have a feeling that the law is never on their side but is always on the side of the employees.

Photo of Cyril Smith Cyril Smith , Rochdale

Whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not, it is a fact that that is how employers feel. They think that the dice are loaded against them. The orders will help to load the dice slightly the other way.

It is for these reasons that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be supporting the Government on both orders.

11.5 p.m.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer , Eye

I shall not detain the House for long. I believe that it is important for those of us who have had experience in dealing with small businesses to relate something of that experience to Members on the Opposition Front Bench, none of whom has been in the position of implementing the Act and, therefore, none of whom has any understanding of dealing with the problem. The right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) did not give way to any of my right hon. or hon. Friends who would have been able to help him by passing on experience of dealing with the Act instead of the theory which is constantly spouted by those who do not have to make it work.

We want to create a society in which businesses want to take on more employees instead of feeling constantly that the Government and the law make it difficult and complicated for them to do so. The right hon. Gentleman is an intelligent man, and we know that from the speed with which he was able to put forward his views. Many of those working in small businesses are concerned in the running of their own show and they are not experienced in the details of the law and the Acts which have been laid around their shoulders. They want a simple and clear way of taking on employees and they want to feel that the Government are encouraging them in that.

The problem with the Employment Protection Act is that it asked of the small business man a length of notice which it was not possible to give within the normal capital requirements and availabilities of small firms. The small business man had the deep feeling that the Government were concerned to make employment so difficult that it was better not to expand than to take on extra people. We have to deal with our unemployment problem, and that means making small businesses feel that it is worth their while taking on people and that they will not be laden with all sorts of extra requirements which make their position impossible.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster did not provide the opportunity for any Conservative Member to ask him about the matter. He gave way only to his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot).

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

My right hon. Friend gave way to the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott).

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer , Eye

When he gave way to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), the right hon. Gentleman did not answer the question.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

What does the hon. Gentleman know about the matter?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer , Eye

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has never run a business in his life.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

I should correct the hon. Gentleman. I helped to run a taxi business which helped to see my way through university because I received no grant from the local authority. The hon. Gentleman says that the Government desperately want to help small businesses. What will be said to the small businesses in intermediate areas which no longer have the small firms employment subsidy? What will be said to the 64 small businesses in my constituency that took advantage of that subsidy, which was phased out within a few days by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on the Government Front Bench?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer , Eye

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is perfectly able to tell small business men in his constituency what they may do in the circumstances. That has nothing to do with the order that we are discussing. Labour Members know perfectly well that it is a reasonable order and that it will be accepted by reasonable people. The sad thing about the right hon. Gentleman's speech is that it was a doctrinaire speech, written by someone who is concerned only to make party political points instead of saving jobs. We are concerned about the unemployed, not about theoretical arguments on the basis of a theoretical Government.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice , Chester-le-Street

If the issue of the small business is so important, why does the order not apply to the small business alone?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer , Eye

It is clear to me that it is not only a question of small businesses in present circumstances. It is necessary for all businesses to react much more quickly to the changing economic climate. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that we can make some firm distinction between small and medium businesses, again I suggest that he has never run a business in his life. This is the problem with the Opposition. It is extremely difficult, looking through the lists of names that made up the last Cabinet and that make up the putative Cabinet, to find anyone who has had any experience in business.

The main virtue of the order is that it puts forward a suggestion which comes from experience, following negotiation with those who are concerned to make it operate. Therefore, I believe that it is necessary—

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer , Eye

If the right hon. Member wishes me to give way to him, I shall gladly do so, even though he would not give way to me.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

I wanted the hon. Gentleman to give way to me because a few moments ago he made some rather personal references to me. Before making them, I think that he might have checked to discover how valid they were. I realise that I may not be able to remove his anxiety totally, but I must tell him that before I became a Member I spent several years in middle management in a medium engineering firm.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer , Eye

I am very pleased to hear that from the right hon. Gentleman. I also hope that he will take note of the fact that I gave way to him because I felt he might have something to contribute to my knowledge. I believe that debates in this House are intended to contribute to the knowledge of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides. I am only sorry that he did not extend the same courtesy to me.

The fact is that this is a reasonable measure, and I am sure that when the right hon. Gentleman was in middle management he, too, would have liked to have this precise order in being. He would have liked to be working with a 30-day period rather than with a 60-day period. Therefore, I suggest that all reasonable people running ordinary businesses would find the proposal in the order an acceptable period of notice. I suggest also that the right lion. Gentleman knows that most trade unions and most other groups in society would agree that this is not an unreasonable period of notice to lay upon the shoulders of the owners of small businesses.

All our employment protection legislation should be concerned with increasing employment opportunities. I believe that this order will do that and that to reject it would make employment more difficult to obtain rather than easier.

11.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling Falkirk and Grangemouth

It is appropriate that we are discussing this order on the very day on which unemployment in Great Britain has increased by 110,000.

I remind the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer) that those of my right hon. and hon. Friends whom he denigrates for not having any managerial experience succeeded in every month of this year from January to May in reducing unemployment, while his right hon. and hon. Friends who have had all the managerial experience have succeeded in the past two months in increasing the level of unemployment by more than a quarter of a million—[HON. MEMBERS: "Labour doubled it."] I hope that we shall have no more lectures about managerial experience from those who have added a quarter of a million people to the ranks of the unemployed since they came to power on 3 May this year.

As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) said, the orders on the Order Paper have nothing to do with encouraging small businesses to take on more employees. They have everything to do with making it easier for both small and large businesses to dispense with the services of employees at much shorter notice. I am astonished by the suggestion of the Liberal Party spokesman, the hon. Member for Rochdale, that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends will go into the Division Lobby to support a measure which will make it easier for employers to dismiss employees at shorter notice than hitherto has been the case.

Since the Act was introduced in 1975, I have received only one letter on this subject from all the industries in my constituency, which is the most highly industrialised constituency in Scotland. That letter was from what I would call a Victorian employer complaining about the 1975 Act and the protection that it gave to his employees. He was saying not that the Act made it more difficult for him to take on more employees but that it made it difficult for him to dis- pense with the services of employees at a minute's notice.

The order is a step along the road in the Conservative Party's philosophy. I hand it to the Secretary of State that he did not do too badly as a reluctant debutante thrown into the breach when the Under-Secretary failed to turn up for an important debate. But the right hon. Gentleman, in his unexpected speech, did not make the point that this is the first step along the road to switching what the Tories call the balance of power between the trade union movement and employers. That is what the order is about. It has nothing to do with the ability of industry or business, small and large, to take on additional employees.

Since 1975, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), assisted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker), introduced the legislation, there have been many occasions when the 60-day notice has provided sufficient time for management and unions of industries that would have gone out of existence to combine in an effort to save the industries. I can quote examples in my constituency where notice has been given that a firm was in difficulty, but the firm has got out of difficulty due to the joint effort of management and trade union. I can quote examples where redundancy notices have been issued and then withdrawn. There have even been cases where redundancy notices were not only withdrawn but the firm concerned was able to take on additional employees.

I hope that the House is under no illusions. I plead with the hon. Member for Rochdale not to be misled by what the Secretary of State has said. The orders have nothing to do with the ability of small business or large industry to take on additional employees. They have everything to do with making it easier for industries, both large and small, to dispense with the services of employees at much shorter notice. In the process, such industries will be put in greater jeopardy and greater risk because the time available to save them will be shorter.

The orders are totally misguided. We are talking about human beings. Conservative Members talk of redundancies as if they did not mean anything. One redundancy is a tragedy to the family that it affects. Although the Minister has apologised to the House for his late arrival, it is an insult to those families that he was not in his place when the order should have been moved. If I listen to the Under-Secretary with less respect than normal, I am sure that he will understand my feelings. I share the feelings of many of the people I represent that the orders will put them in a state of anxiety. Whenever employees see their firm drifting into trouble, they will know that the 60-day period has been cut in half by the Government.

The EEC insists that 30 days be the minimum standard. Tonight the Government propose that we adopt that standard—the lowest possible standard. Be it on their head. Working people and modern, enlightened employers will not thank them for it.

11.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Kensington and Chelsea Chelsea

We must become used to Satan denouncing sin. To hear a Minister in the Labour Government, with the nodding encouragement of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), denouncing the present Government for their unemployment record when his Government presided over a doubling in unemployment beggars the mind.

It has been said that the difference between the parties is in their attitudes to unemployment. It certainly is. I agree that it is appropriate to discuss this order on the day when unemployment was found to have increased by 120,000. That increase is almost entirely due to school leavers coming on to the unemployment register.

My view, and that of employers and, privately, of many others, is that school leavers have suffered most from the restrictive effects of the Employment Protection Act. Employers have been reluctant to take on young people because of the impact of that Act on the work forces. The passage of the order will offer hope and encouragement to young people entering the job market.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling Falkirk and Grangemouth

Does the hon. Member accept that 50,000 of those who make up the increase in unemployment have nothing to do with school leaving? In Scotland, not only has unemployment increased but the number of job vacancies has decreased. That is a direct result of the Conservative Government's policies.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Kensington and Chelsea Chelsea

The majority of those who have joined the register of unemployed are school leavers. Seasonally adjusted, the unemployment figures still show a downward trend.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why he considers it to be good management for business, large or small, to be free to make young or old people redundant without sufficient warning?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Kensington and Chelsea Chelsea

I shall deal with that matter.

The Employment Protection Act formed part of the bargain between the previous Government and the trade union movement, wrapped in the cocoon of the social contract. The trade union movement is anxious to protect employment. Trade union members are employed. The unemployed are not members of unions. It is understandable that the trade unions should be more anxious to protect those who are employed and who pay their union dues than to look after the rights of the unemployed. The figures demonstrate that the Labour Government failed the unemployed.

I come now to what was said by the right hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker). I must say that I am glad that he is not dyslexic, since anybody who could read at that speed deserves a prize in the House. He quoted at immense length from the PSI survey as though in direct rebuttal of the point that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made about the impact of the employment protection legislation on small firms. Eventually he admitted—although at that point he was reading so rapidly that it was difficult to pick it up—that the survey covered no firms with fewer than 50 people.

It is precisely firms with fewer than 50 employees that we are talking about and which have suffered most from the impact of the employment protection legislation. It is all right for ICI and the giants to be able to cope with the intricacies of the legislation. It is very difficult for small firms to do so.

I shall give the right hon. Gentleman two figures before I sit down. There are 1·5 million people unemployed in this country, and about the same number of small firms. If we relieved them of the burden of the Employment Protection Act and made it possible for each of them to take on one extra person, or gave them the encouragement to take on one extra person, that might very well make a bigger hole in the unemployment figures than anything else that the Government could do.

I urge the House to support the order.

11.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

In rising to speak at this stage, I apologise to those of my hon. Friends who are trying to catch the eye of the Chair, but I dare say that they will have an opportunity on the next order to make some of the points that they were hoping to make in the present debate.

We found the explanation given by the Secretary of State, when he read out the Under-Secretary's speech, totally unacceptable and unconvincing. To limit the period of advance consultation and notification to 30 days in respect of fewer than 100 redundancies is a move in the wrong direction, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) said, and certainly a move in the wrong direction in relation to Europe. When the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), the professional Young Conservative, intervened to refer to Europe, he plainly misunderstood the position in Europe. All Europe is moving in the kind of direction that we have been moving over the past few years. I shall show in a moment how a bad employer can make use of these changes.

We have two main objections to the changes made in the order. The notification arrangements currently in operation have been extremely valuable to workers for facilitating detailed discussions with a view to trying to avoid redundancies, finding means to avoid redundancies. We have many examples of that, for instance, when the temporary employment subsidy was in operation and when we were to proceed with the short-time working compensation scheme. That is a factor that the Secretary of State and other Ministers in the Department of Employment have not understood.

Second, when redundancies have been inevitable, as sometimes they are, the 60- day notification period has allowed for proper discussions about the level of compensation, which have helped the Manpower Services Commission. It has certainly given the Commission the opportunity to talk about training, retraining and all the other measures which could be put into operation to mitigate the hardship.

One of the main arguments which has been used by the Manpower Services Commission when redundancies have occurred has been that it should have adequate time to assist. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) wants to continue in this vein, interrupting and having chats. If he has something to contribute, perhaps he will do so. If he has nothing to contribute, perhaps he will keep his trap shut.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

I was so moved by his eloquence that I was suggesting to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) that in the leadership stakes he would be a much better candidate.

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

The hon. Gentleman ought to go back where he has been all evening, because he is plainly not in control of his wits.

One of the main arguments used by the Manpower Services Commission in relation to redundancies is that it needs time so that it may start to investigate, explain and try to place people in jobs. That is all to be denied, and we shall find that as a result of the changes here proposed people will go straight to the dole, they will be utterly demoralised, and they will form part of the long-term unemployed.

I should like to give the House some examples of how a bad employer can take advantage of the changes proposed in the order. As section 99 of the Employment Protection Act stands, an employer proposing to dismiss as redundant 198 workers obtains little advantage from declaring them redundant in batches. Under section 99(3)(a), if he proposes on day one to dismiss, for example, 198 workers within a period of 90 days, he must consult 90 days before the first dismissal and consultation has to continue up to day 90. Under section 99(3)(b), if he proposes on day one to dismiss 99 workers within 30 days, he must consult 60 days before the first dismissal. The best, or worst, he can do after that is to propose the dismissal of another 99 on day 31, and therefore he must consult for another 60 days about those dismissals. From day 31 to day 60 he would be engaged in consultation about all the 198 workers to be dismissed.

Under the order it would be an advantage to a bad employer—and there are some around—to dismiss 198 workers, if there were that number, in batches. That is what will happen in some cases. A bad employer will get round the protection afforded to a large group of people by dismissing them in small batches. There will be complaints in this House, probably from Tory Members, when this happens. All this has to be seen, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) was saying, against the background of today's mounting unemployment.

It is no good hon. Gentlemen talking about unemployment doubling. We know that the forecast set out in the Financial Statement and Budget Report shows that over the next 12 months, perhaps the next two years, unemployment will go on increasing month by month.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) rose

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I did not see him in the Chamber when we started the debate. I want to give his hon. and learned Friend the Minister the chance to intervene.

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

I shall give way to the hon. Member if he can honestly say that he was in the Chamber when we started the debate.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I was. Will the right hon. Gentleman please remind the House of what the numbers of unemployed were when the Labour Party came into power, and what were the figures when it left?

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

No one denies that the unemployment rate went up. Over the next 12 months the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State will not be able to say that for the first five months, or 12 months, of the Tory Government unemployment was falling. They will be coming to the Box every month and saying that unemployment is rising.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling Falkirk and Grangemouth

Does my right hon. Friend confirm that when the Labour Party came to power in February 1974 the unemployment figure was 3 million, on a three-day week?

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

That is true. All this has to be seen against the background of the Government's industrial policies. The fact that in the last few days £233 million has been lopped off regional assistance will force many of the small firms the Tories want to support to declare even more redundancies. We have to look at things against the overall background of the Budget. Many more workers will be out of a job. We do not know how many.

The Secretary of State is very coy about revealing the statistics. He shelters behind the time-honoured ministerial practice of saying that he does not make forecasts. He has admitted that unemployment will rise. Such things as the rise in MLR will place more people on the dole. Over the next few months there will be bankruptcies galore in the private sector, among some of the small firms that the Tories claim to support. In the new phraseology, jobs will be squeezed out of the public sector by penal cash limits, after the present Cabinet discussions.

The Secretary of State has made his reputation as the "nice guy", the man who can get on with the trade unions. He got away with that before the general election, but I doubt whether he will be able to do so over the next few months. I remember Mr. Alan Fisher, of all people, immediately after the general election, saying "I hope that the Prime Minister appoints Mr. Prior Secretary of State for Employment." I wonder what trade union leaders think of his performance so far.

Now we can judge the right hon. Gentleman by his actions, which so far have shown that he is pursuing policies which are extremely damaging to the trade union movement. First, we have the mean-minded cuts in the training programme and the programme of the Manpower Services Commission. Then we have his proposals for industrial relations legislation which are irrelevant and will prove as unworkable as the Industrial Relations Act 1972.

Whatever else the right hon. Gentleman was thought to be, we were always given to understand that he was the great consulter, that he would at least talk. There is no evidence that he has consulted the TUC about the order. He sent the TUC a letter, and then decided to lay the order nevertheless. If he has the interests of good industrial relations at heart rather than the unsubstantiated prejudices of the Conservative Party, he would do better to take this mean-minded order back and think again. Because I suspect he will not, we shall vote against it.

11.37 p.m.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

Mr. Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] I hope that I shall not be further delayed from beginning my speech with a sincere apology to the House for being late. It is nobody's fault but my own and I deeply regret it. I hope that I may now deal with the serious points raised in the debate.

The order has been blackguarded by the right hon. Members for Doncaster (Mr. Walker) and Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) and the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing). No creditable reason was allowed as being possible for the Government introducing it. The most serious way in which it was put was by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, who said that, by reducing from 60 days to 30 days the minimum period which has to elapse between the beginning of consultations and the date when the first dismissal becomes effective, we will be in many cases preventing the Manpower Services Commission from doing the valuable work that it can do.

Of course we would allow that a great deal of valuable work can be and is done by the MSC. The training and placing services are all put at the disposal of people threatened with redundancy. Naturally, if the Government believed that by reducing this period we would imperil the ability of the MSC to do that work, we should not do so.

The Manpower Services Commission has been consulted. The Government do not consult only the TUC and the CBI. We consult much more widely. Naturally we consult the Manpower Ser- vices Commission, which is an extremely important part of the Department of Employment group. We are assured by the Employment Services Division that a reduction in the period of statutory notification from 60 days to 30 days in respect of redundancies affecting fewer than 100 employees—that is all that the order is about—would not impair the service that it provides, given that the Department of Employment ensures that all statutory notifications received by it are processed speedily. That is set out in a letter from the Manpower Services Commission that was written in May. Naturally enough, we are content that by reducing the period we shall not imperil the valuable services that can be performed.

We recognise that consultation is a valuable function. Employers should consult unions when they propose redundancies. However, the purpose of the order is not to vent the spite of a Conservative Government upon workers upon whom the nation depends for its salvation. The reason is that job protection shall not stop at job protection but shall extend to job creation. It is because there is such overwhelming evidence that the present provisions frustrate and unreasonably curtail the creation of jobs that we wish to reduce the period and to meet some of the objections that we have heard expressed.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster

What is the evidence that is overwhelming?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Engineering Employers Federation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It seems that that is no good. Apparently it is no good to refer to the researches and opinions of those who have to do with the creation of wealth in this country. I refer to a survey carried out by the federation involving over 1,100 companies. Of those companies, 334, nearly 30 per cent., cited the redundancy handling provisions as being particularly influential in the running of their companies. If that is not enough, I shall cite the Birmingham Chamber of Industry and Commerce—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It seems that that is no good. Apparently Birmingham does not know enough about industry. The Opposition do not consider the chamber to be a reliable source. It cites as second in its order of importance the redundancy procedures. It considers them to be factors ranking as having much influence on decisions that affect employment.

There are those who take part in the business of trying to earn Britain's living who have been saying to us in our constituencies, and to Labour Members in their constituencies if only they would listen, that if we do not mitigate the burden upon employers of employment protection legislation in this respect among others they will not be prepared to meet an upturn in business by increasing the availability of jobs and they will be content to allow things to go on as they are because it is safer so to do.

If the Opposition are not prepared to listen to the voices of those who run businesses in their constituencies, I dare say that they will continue to lose general elections. That is a matter for them. We would be entirely content for that to happen. However, if they listen to those who speak for business, they will know that the burden of employment protection legislation—not entirely the redundancy handling provisions but those in part—is proving disastrous to the creation of jobs.

My right hon. Friend cited the remarks of Mr. Harold Lever, who said that the Employment Protection Act must not be turned into an Employment Destruction Act. That was pooh-poohed by the

right hon. Member for Doncaster, but Mr. Harold Lever did not end there, for he went on to say: I cannot see them"— the public authorities— taking up a million"— unemployed— in the next decade. Nor can we expect much from the nationalised industries who are suffering from overmanning. … It is vital that we help small businesses to expand. That was a very wise observation by Mr. Lever, and that is no doubt why he is now in the House of Lords. It is no less wise than it was when he said it in November of last—

Photo of Mr Edward Leadbitter Mr Edward Leadbitter , Hartlepool

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that, in dealing with statutory instruments, the procedure is that it is the responsibility of the Minister to place before the House—or, indeed, the Committee—as much evidence and documentation as is possible so that the House can debate the matter? Is it not, therefore, improper that the Minister should be giving—

It being one and half hours after the commencement of Proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No 3 (Exempted Business).

The House divided: Ayes 310, Noes 233.

Division No. 79]AYES[11.46 p.m.
Adley, RobertBraine, Sir BernardCorrie, John
Aitken, JonathanBright, GrahamCostain, A. P.
Alexander, RichardBrinton, TimothyCranborne, Viscount
Alison, MichaelBrittan, LeonCritchley, Julian
Alton, DavidBrocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherCrouch, David
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBrooke, Hon PeterDean, Paul (North Somerset)
Ancram, MichaelBrown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Dickens, Geoffrey
Arnold, TomBrowne, John (Winchester)Dodsworth, Geoffrey
Aspinwall, JackBruce-Gardyne, JohnDorrell, Stephen
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Bryan, Sir PaulDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Atkinson, David (B'mouth East)Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alickdu Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Buck, AntonyDunn, Robert (Dartford)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Budgen, NickDurant, Tony
Banks, RobertBulmer, EsmondDykes, Hugh
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyButcher, JohnEden, Rt Hon Sir John
Beith, A. J.Butler, Hon AdamEdwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)
Bell, RonaldCadbury, JocelynEggar, Timothy
Bendall, VivianCarlisle, John (Luton West)Emery, Peter
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Eyre, Reginald
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Fairbairn, Nicholas
Best, KeithChalker, Mrs. LyndaFairgrieve, Russell
Bevan, David GilroyChannon, PaulFaith, Mrs. Sheila
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnChapman, SydneyFair, John
Biggs-Davison, JohnChurchill, W. S.Fell, Anthony
Blackburn, JohnClark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Fenner, Mrs. Peggy
Blaker, PeterClark, William (Croydon South)Finsberg, Geoffrey
Body, RichardClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Fisher, Sir Nigel
Bonsor, Sir NicholasClegg, WalterFletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)
Boscawen, Hon RobertCockeram, EricFletcher-Cooke, Charles
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Colvin, MichaelFookes, Miss Janet
Bowden, AndrewCope, JohnForman, Nigel
Boyson, Dr RhodesCormack, PatrickFox, Marcus
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)McCrindle, RobertRost, Peter
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Macfarlane, NellRoyle, Sir Anthony
Freud, ClementMacGregor, JohnSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Fry, PeterMackay, John (Argyll)St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Scott, Nicholas
Gardiner, George (Reigate)McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Garel-Jones, TristanMcQuarrie, AlbertShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Glyn, Dr AlanMadel, DavidShepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)
Goodhart, PhilipMajor, JohnShersby, Michael
Goodlad, AlastairMarland, PaulSilvester, Fred
Gorst, JohnMarlow, AntonySims, Roger
Gower, Sir RaymondMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Skeet, T. H. H.
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Marten, Neil (Banbury)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Gray, HamishMates, MichaelSmith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Mather, CarolSpeed, Keith
Grimond, Rt Hon J.Maude, Rt Hon AngusSpeller, Tony
Grist, IanMawby, RaySpence, John
Grylls, MichaelMawhinney, Dr BrianSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Gummer, John SelwynMaxwell-Hyslop, RobinSpicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Mayhaw, PatrickSproat, Iain
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Mellor, DavidSquire, Robin
Hampson, Dr. KeithMeyer, Sir AnthonyStainton, Keith
Hannam, JohnMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Stanbrook, Ivor
Haselhurst, AlanMills, Iain (Meriden)Stanley, John
Hastings, StephenMills, Peter (West Devon)Steel, Rt Hon David
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMiscampbell, NormanSteen, Anthony
Hawkins, PaulMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Stevens, Martin
Hawksley, WarrenMoate, RogerStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Hayhoe, BarneyMonro, HectorStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Heddle, JohnMontgomery, FergusStokes, John
Henderson, BarryMoore, JohnStradling Thomas J.
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelMorris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)Tapsell, Peter
Hicks, RobertMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Higgins, Terence L.Morrison. Hon Peter (City of Chester)Tebbit, Norman
Hill, JamesMurphy, ChristopherTemple-Morris, Peter
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Myles, DavidThompson, Donald
Holland, Philip (Carlton)Neale, GerrardThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Hordern, PeterNelson, AnthonyThornton, George
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Neubert, MichaelTownend, John (Bridlington)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Newton. TonyTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexieyheath)
Normanton, TonyTrippier, David
Hunt, David (Wirral)Nott, Rt Hon JohnTrotter, Neville
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Onslow, Cranleyvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Hurd, Hon DouglasOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs SallyVaughan, Dr Gerard
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Osborn, JohnViggers, Peter
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPage, John (Harrow, West)Waddington, David
Jessel, TobyPane, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Wakeham, John
Johnson Smith, GeoffreyParris, MatthewWaldegrave, Hon William
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Patten, Christopher (Bath)Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)
Jopling, Rt Hon. MichaelPatten, John (Oxford)Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Kaberry, Sir DonaldPattie, GeoffreyWall, Patrick
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElainePawsey, JamesWaller, Gary
Kershaw, AnthonyPenhaligon, DavidWalters, Dennis
Kimball, MarcusPercival, Sir IanWard, John
King, Rt Hon TomPeyton, Rt Hon JohnWarren, Kenneth
Kitson, Sir TimothyPink, R. BonnerWatson, John
Knight, Mrs JillPollock, AlexanderWells, John (Maidstone)
Knox, DavidPorter, GeorgeWells, P. Bowen (Hert'fd&Stev'nage)
Lamont, NormanPrice, David (Eastleigh)Wheeler, John
Lang, IanPrior, Rt Hon JamesWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnProctor, K. HarveyWhitney, Raymond
Lawrence, IvanPym, Rt Hon FrancisWickenden, Keith
Lawson, NigelRathbone, TimWiggin, Jerry
Lee, JohnRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Wilkinson, John
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MartiRees-Davies, W. R.Winterton, Nicholas
Lester, Jim (Beeston)Renton, TimWolfson, Mark
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Rhodes James, RobertYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonYounger, Rt Hon George
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Ridsdale, Julian
Loveridge, JohnRifkind, MalcolmTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Luce, RichardRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Lyell, NicholasRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Mr. Anthony Berry.
NOES
Adams, AllenBarnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)
Allaun, FrankBenn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodBuchan, Norman
Anderson, DonaldBennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBidwell, SydneyCallaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)
Armstrong, ErnestBooth, Rt Hon AlbertCampbell, Ian
Ashton, JoeBoothroyd, Miss BettyCampbell-Savours, Dale
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Bradley, TomCant, R. B.
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Carmichael, Neil
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Cartwright, John
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Home Robertson, JohnPrescott, John
Cocks, m Hon Michael (Bristol S)Homewood, WilliamPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Cohen, StanleyHooley, FrankRace, Reg
Concannon, FU Hon J. D.Horam, JohnRadice, Giles
Conlan, BernardHowell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Cook, Robin F.Huckfield, LesRichardson, Miss Jo
Cowans, HarryHughes, Mark (Durham)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Janner, Hon GrevilleRoberts, Gwliym (Cannock)
Crowther, J. S.Jay, Rt Hon DouglasRobertson, George
Cryer, BobJohnson, James (Hull West)Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Cunliffe, LawrenceJohnson, Walter (Derby South)Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Cunningham, George (Islington S)Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Rooker, J. W.
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Roper, John
Dalyell, TamKilroy-Silk, RobertRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Davidson, ArthurKinnock, NeilRowlands, Ted
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llaneill)Lamble, DavidRyman, John
Davies, E. Hudson (Caerphilly)Lamborn, HarrySever, John
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Lamond, JamesSheerman, Barry
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Leadbitter, TedSheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Leighton, RonaldShort, Mrs. Renée
Deakins, EricLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Dempsey, JamesLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Silverman, Julius
Dixon, DonaldLofthouse, GeoffreySkinner, Dennis
Dobson, FrankLyon, Alexander (York)Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Dormand, J. D.Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)Snape, Peter
Douglas-Mann, BruceMabon, Rt Hon Dr J DicksonSoley, Clive
Dubs, AlfredMcDonald, Dr OonaghSpearing, Nigel
Duffy, A. E. P.McElhone, FrankSpriggs, Leslie
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Stallard, A. W.
Dunnett, JackMacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorStoddart, David
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMaclennan, RobertStott, Roger
Eadie, AlexMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Strang, Gavin
Eastham, KenMcNally, ThomasStraw, Jack
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)McNamara, KevinSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Magee, BryanTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Marks, KennethThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
English, MichaelMarshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Evans, John (Newton)Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'n)Tilley, John
Ewing, HarryMason, Rt Hon RoyTinn, James
Faulds, AndrewMaxton, JohnTorney, Tom
Field, FrankMaynard, Miss JoanUrwin, Rt Hon Tom
Flannery, MartinMeacher, MichaelVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Mellish, Rt Hon RobertWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMikardo, IanWeetch, Ken
Ford, BenMillan, Rt Hon BruceWellbeloved, James
Forrester, JohnMiller, Dr M S (East Kilbride)Welsh, Michael
Foulkes, GeorgeMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Mitchell, R. C. (Solon, Itchen)White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Whitehead, Phillip
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Whitlock, William
George, BruceMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Wigley, Dafydd
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMorton, GeorgeWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Ginsburg, DavidMoyle, Rt Hon RolandWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Golding, JohnMulley, Rt Hon FrederickWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Gourlay, HarryNewens, StanleyWilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Grant, George (Morpeth)Oakes, GordonWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Grant, John (Islington C)Ogden, EricWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)O'Halloran, MichaelWinnick, David
Hardy, PeterO'Neill, MartinWoodall, Alec
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterOrme, Rt Hon StanleyWoolmer, Kenneth
Hattersley, Rt. Hon RoyOwen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWrigglesworth, Ian
Haynes, DavidPalmer, ArthurWright, Miss Sheila
Healey, Rt. Hon DenisPark, GeorgeYoung, David (Bolton East)
Heffer, Eric S.Parker, JohnTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Parry, RobertMr. Ted Graham and
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)Mr. Donald Coleman.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Resolved,
That the draft Employment Protection (Handling of Redundancies) Variation Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 10 July, be approved.