Unfair Dismissal

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 10:28 pm on 15th May 1985.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment) 10:28 pm, 15th May 1985

I beg to move.

That the draft Unfair Dismissal (Variation of Qualifying Period) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 17th April, be approved.

Under the provisions of the employment protection legislation currently in force, employees have a right to complain to an industrial tribunal of unfair dismissal after one year's service with an employer or after two years with an employer of 20 or fewer employees. The purpose of the draft order — article 3(1) — is to standardise this qualifying period at two years for all employees. The change will not affect the qualifying period of one month in respect of unfair dismissal following suspension on medical grounds, nor will it affect the right not to be dismissed unfairly at any time because of membership or non-membership of a trade union or because of taking part in trade union activities, where no qualifying period is required.

Employees who work between eight and 16 hours a week will continue, as now, to have a qualifying period of five years. This order will have no effect on the protection afforded to employees under the sex discrimination and race relations legislation.

It is intended that the order should come into force on 1 June 1985. It will apply only to employees starting to work for an employer on or after that date. We believe that, in spite of the changes we have made since 1979, the employment protection legislation, in particular in the provisions relating to unfair dismissal, still discourage firms from taking more people on. The Government are deeply concerned about the level of unemployment, but there are few simple solutions to the problem. The White Paper "Employment The Challenge for the Nation" sets out our views on what the nation as a whole must do to create jobs and reduce unemployment.

Government cannot alone create jobs. Their key contribution is to create an economic climate in which enterprises can flourish. They can, and do, also provide direct help for those worst affected by unemployment. Government can help to improve the operation of the labour market by encouraging better training, more flexibility and fewer barriers of regulation and cost.

The changes introduced by the order are part of this strategy. I am interested in doing all we can to create the conditions in which more new jobs can be created. It is important that we should take all reasonable steps to remove the barriers that might be standing in the way. In this case the barrier relates to employers who want to take on more people but are afraid to do so because of their fear of being taken to industrial tribunals.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind, but I should like to continue with this point.

I think it is common ground among us that employees should have a right to protection against unfair dismissal after a reasonable period of service. I think it is also common ground that such protection should not generally be available immediately but that there should be a period of service during which time the employer has an opportunity to decide whether he wishes to retain a new employee. The length of this qualifying period is a matter for judgment and opinions on what is right may change.

Our judgment at the present time—in the light of the paramount importance of reducing unemployment— is that two years is a reasonable period for an employer to have to decide whether an employee should be retained, while the position of employees who have demonstrated their commitment to an employer over such a period is also safeguarded. The change will also bring the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims into line with the long-standing two-year qualifying periods for redundancy payments, maternity pay and the right to return because of absence due to pregnancy.

We believe that the change will have an important psychological effect. Employers will be more ready at the margin to take a chance and to employ people in the knowledge that they will have two years in which to see whether things work—

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

I am not giving way at the moment. Employers will be more ready at the margin to take a change and to employ people in the knowledge that they will have two years in which to see whether things work out as they hope, without the fear of being taken to an industrial tribunal.

But I must repeat that the right to complain to an industrial tribunal will remain, and I make no apology for that. Employees who have invested two or more years of their lives with an employer are entitled to safeguards. Employers should look after their employees in the same way as they would any other investment and make sure that they do not dismiss them without good reason. While it is inevitable that some dismissals will end up with the employer being taken to an industrial tribunal, most employers and employees would agree that this is something to be avoided. The best way of avoiding or minimising such cases is to agree and stick to disciplinary and grievance procedures so that both management and employees know where they stand. The employment protection legislation has had the effect of making such procedures more widely available, and I think this is wholly desirable. I commend this order to the House.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North 10:33 pm, 15th May 1985

The House will have noted that I attempted twice to intervene in the Minister's speech because I realised that he had an extremely short speech. Probably that was because he is ashamed of the order that he is bringing before the House. If he is not ashamed, he should be.

This order is just one more step along the road to the dismantling of the Labour Government's employment protection legislation. It is another element of the Tory Government's attack on working people and the dismantling of the welfare state. Previous Labour Governments started to build a framework of reasonable provision of pensions and social security benefits and a humane regime of protection in the workplace in terms of employment, health and safety, the right to belong to a trade union and against the worst excesses of unfair and arbitrary dismissal by an employer.

Since the Government took office we have seen a steady erosion of welfare state provision. We on the Labour Benches note with anger the Government's apparent determination to abolish the state earnings-related pension scheme which workers are currently paying for, just as we recall with contempt the Government's swindling of the workers when they abolished the six months' earnings-related unemployment benefit supplement which, again, workers had paid for.

Now the Tories are extending from one to two years the period during which an employer will be free to sack unfairly his employees. I pose this question to the Minister and to every Tory Back Bencher: why should an employer have the right to sack anyone unfairly at any time? If the Minister wishes to intervene, I will give way.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

If there were merit in the hon. Member's argument, why did his Government include a threshold in the first place?

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

I will come to that point in a moment, because I was one of those who served on the Committee that dealt with the original legislation on trade unions and labour relations.

Why should there be any qualifying period of two years, one year or 26 weeks during which a worker is exposed to the whims of an employer who can sack him or her on the spot?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

What is the answer?

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

I will come to the answer shortly.

Why should an employer have the right to sack anyone unfairly at any time? That is the issue. Is it not an absurdity, if not an obscenity, that Parliament is enacting legislation which instructs an employer that he cannot sack a worker who has been in his employ for two years or more, yet which at the same time gives that employer the freedom to sack any of his workers for whatever reason, no matter how unfairly, provided the worker has not completed the two-year qualification period of employment?

Let us consider the official reason for the order. We are told that it will enable employers to take on more workers. The Minister said as much in his speech tonight. The Secretary of State for Employment said so in the Budget debate: Employment protection legislation, especially the unfair dismisal provisions, causes small employers anxieties about the difficulties of such procedures and makes them reluctant to take on more employees. Later he said: We have already since 1979 taken some major steps to make the industrial tribunal system simpler for employers, but I accept that despite the changes the burden of this legislation can deter employers from recruiting more people." —[0fficial Report, 21 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 1023–24.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the same in his Budget statement: The qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims will thus become two years for all new employees. This is a reasonable period of time and should lessen the reluctance of some employers to take on new people. — [Official Report, 19 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 794.) Neither of those right hon. Gentlemen offered a shred of evidence to justify those sentiments and neither did the Minister this evening. All that we get from opponents of Labour's employment legislation is anecdotal saloon bar evidence and vicious propaganda from Tory Members. It is offered in the same fashion as the so-called evidence of the need to abolish the wages councils, and frequently by the same people. We are told that the lowest paid are paid too much, thanks to the councils. It is rather surprising that we are not getting evidence to justify the Government's claim that dismantling Labour's employment legislation

will create jobs. When the Conservative Government took office in 1979, the qualifying period laid down by the

Labour Government was 26 weeks. It was generally accepted that six months was a relatively fair and

reasonable period for a employer to assess the suitability of a worker before deciding whether to accept him as a

permanent employee. It was accepted that 26 weeks allowed the employer properly to arrive at a conclusion on the suitability or otherwise of his employee. The 26-weeks provision had nothing to do with sacking someone unfairly.

The Tory party bitterly opposed the 26-week provision and one of their first acts after taking office was to extend the qualifying period to 52 weeks. That was done in July, 1979. Two arguments were advanced to support that extension. The first argument was advanced tentatively and without conviction and the Minister adopted the same style this evening. It was said that 26 weeks was not long enough to assess a new employee's suitability and so the qualifying period was extended to a year and then to two years. A brand new aeroplane could be tested in a shorter time than that.

The second argument was advanced with considerable force and much more certitude. It was contended that the extension of the qualifying period would create more jobs. The then Under-Secretary of State for Employment, who is now the Solicitor-General, informed the House on 24 July 1979 that the Government's decision to lay the order again derives from our determination to see that the creation of new jobs is not curtailed by legislation that is unreasonable and unnecessary in its effect. Later he said: To anybody with ears to hear or eyes to read, it must be plain that the qualifying provisions are widely seen as discouraging employers from creating new jobs. That view was reiterated later in the debate by the then Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior). He said: However, we have to restore the confidence of management and small employers to take on labour and to be able to cany out their duties properly."—[Official Report, 24 July 1979; Vol. 971, c. 527–56.] At that time unemployment stood at 1–4 million. That was before the Tory Government started to massage the unemployment statistics. What has happened since then? How many jobs were created by extending the qualifying period from 26 to 52 weeks? What reduction in unemployment has taken place between July 1979 and today? Everyone knows the unfortunate answers to those questions. Far from the Government creating jobs, they have destroyed them on a colossal scale. If the method of recording unemployment statistics were the same now as in 1979, there would be almost 4 million officially recorded as being out of work.

The Minister has not offered any evidence—if he had allowed me to intervene, I would have asked him to support his claims with concrete evidence—to support his claim that the order will create more jobs, because there is no such evidence available to him. However, there is considerable evidence that thousands of workers will suffer as a result of the order. Millions of workers, including part-time women workers and workers in small firms, are already disbarred from challenging the unfairness of their dismissal by the Government's previous acts.

It should be noted that at present about one quarter of all males and one third of all adult females in full-time employment have less than two years' service with their current employer. Those numbers are fairly constant and have remained constant for a number of years. Therefore, it will be those people who will be affected by the order. If they are added to workers in small firms and those in part-time employment, one sees that about half the labour force of Britain will be debarred from complaining to a tribunal if they believe that they have been unfairly dismissed. This is modern, Tory Britain.

If one looks at another ministerial justification for the change, one sees the peculiar statement of the Secretary of State for Employment when he announced the details in a Department of Employment press notice of 19 March 1985 which said: The risk of unjustified involvement with tribunals in unfair dismissal cases and the costs of such involvement are often cited as deterring employers from giving more people jobs. This change․should help reduce the reluctance of employers to take on more people, while still preserving a fair balance between the reasonable 'interests of employer and employee. The Secretary of State did not explain what he meant by the curious phrase "unjustified involvement". The existing procedures are designed to minimise unjustified cases through the process of initial conciliation by the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service and pre-hearing assessments in cases where an employer believes a complaint to be spurious. Employees who bring complaints that are judged to be vexatious, frivolous or otherwise unreasonable — a very wide, catch-all description—are required to pay any costs incurred by the employer. No legal aid is available to help tribunal applicants to bring cases. The image given by the employers of "unjustified involvement" is a complete red herring. Fewer and fewer cases of unfair dismissal are being heard before tribunals. Tribunal applications regarding unfair dismissal were just over 30,000 in 1983 — 25 per cent. down on 1979. These applications represent only a fraction—about 12.5 per cent.—of all the dismissals that took place in 1983. Only one third of those cases—

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

The hon. Gentleman has just given some statistics which are at variance with those that I have received from the Minister. I am wondering whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to correct the figures that he has given. The applications registered in 1979 were 41,244, of which 16,180 cases were heard. There were 39,959 applications in 1983, of which 16,649 were heard. According to the official statistics, therefore, the 25 per cent. figure is completely inaccurate.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

I have long since given up believing in the statistics issued by the Tory Department of Employment, for a very good reason. If we were able to make comparisons—obviously they cannot be made across the Dispatch Box—I suspect that there would not be a very great deal of difference between my figures and those that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) has just read out. It will be interesting to see what figures are provided by the Minister.

Only one third of these cases—just over 10,000—proceeded to a hearing before a tribunal. The remainder were either settled before the hearing or were withdrawn. Of those cases heard by a tribunal, fewer than one third resulted in an award in favour of the employee—just one in 10 of all the original applications. When a tribunal ordered an employer to give an employee his job back —which ought to be a major criterion—in only about 100 cases did that happen. Only about three complainants out of every 1,000 got back their jobs.

The suggestion that unfair dismissal procedures inhibit employers from taking on labour has more to do with Thatcherite mythology than hard facts. To prove the mythology, I shall quote from a leaked confidential memorandum submitted on 7 July 1981 to a Cabinet subcommittee by the former Secretary of State for Employment the right hon. Member for Waveney. It related to his comments on the demand that was being made for alterations to the employment protection legislation and stated: In practice, employers are most concerned about the consequences of unfair dismissal. However, their fears should be put into perspective. Only about 7 per cent. of all dismissals lead to a complaint before an industrial tribunal․My conclusion therefore is that there is insufficient justification to amend the employment legislation further in favour of employers. Moreover, I believe that any attempt to do so would alienate large sections of the working population, trade unionists and others, and would there be politically damaging to the Government. I wonder whether that was one of the reasons why the former Secretary of State for Employment was sacked.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one or two of the statistics that he has given suggest that there are many cases where people have pursued unfair dismissal applications unreasonably, vexatiously or frivolously and that as a result unjustified time was spent by employers? The facts that he has given about the few cases which have been upheld by the courts demonstrate the point that I am making.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

If the hon. Gentleman studies the facts a little more he will find that the case is weighted against the employee making the application. There are pre-hearings. The employer is frequently legally represented and the employee is often on his own. In some instances he may have a trade union representative with him. However, there are people who do not belong to trade unions and, unfortunately, they are frequently sacked by the employer without any thought. They have no trade unionist to take with them to a tribunal. Such people foolishly have often not bothered to join a union. They learn to their cost one of the values of being a trade union member.

It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Employment lacks the political sensitivity that was shown by the right hon. Member for Waveney. He is oversensitive tonight, because he is not here. If he had showed some of that sensitivity, the Tories might not have needed a new team of centre forwards to which I presume the Under-Secretary would belong if he did not now sit on the Front Bench.

The Labour Government introduced the employment protection legislation. I am proud of the fact that I served on the Committees of the Bills that were introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), not to stop dismissals or prevent employers from managing their businesses, but to create a better framework of industrial relations in which proper selection and disciplinary procedures were agreed by both sides of industry. Most employers recognised that that led to better management practices.

One of the first things that the next Labour Government will do will be to introduce new employment protection legislation. The proof that our legislation was no disincentive to the creation of jobs is shown by the fact that when the Labour Government left office 315,000 more people were in work than when they took office.

Since then, for every job that Labour created, the Conservatives have destroyed six. Labour legislation helped to create jobs. Tory legislation has destroyed them. In their desperate search for scapegoats to blame for the appalling level of unemployment, the Government have come up with a brand new one: employers can be persuaded to employ more people only if they are first free to sack them. That is insulting to employers and the order is an affront to the British work force. That is why we shall vote against it tonight.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet 10:55 pm, 15th May 1985

The order adjusts the balance of protection given by unfair dismissal legislation originating under the Industrial Relations Act 1971, which was a Conservative piece of legislation. My hon. Friends and I take pride in the fact that good legislation to promote good industrial relations is Conservative legislation. The hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) seemed completely to overlook that in the thrust of his argument.

The order is part of a sequence of adjustments that have occurred over the years to put right many of the deficiencies that have crept into the legislation as a result of the changes which the Labour party, when in power, introduced into the original Act. The absurd overstatement of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North did nothing to earn him any credibility, though it may have gone some way to earn him an Oscar nomination.

The focus of the 1971 legislation was job protection. The focus today in legislation concerned with industrial relations must be job creation, and the two can be, have been and are now in conflict. Hence, the need to address the balance of the legislation in the light of today's changing priorities.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

What evidence does the hon. Gentleman have for saying that?

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

I shall come to the evidence shortly.

Some will argue that unfair dismissal legislation should be abolished altogether. I do not share that view. As a practising lawyer, I have for many years been involved in industrial tribunals as well as business, particularly small businesses. I readily recognise the importance of, and fundamental contribution that unfair dismissal legislation has given to, the improvement of the industrial relations climate.

Unfair dismissal legislation is essentially fair, and it has raised standards of management. But, apart from the question of fairness and raising management standards, it is fully justified in cost terms. In the 1960s, many strikes and industrial stoppages occurred as a result of dismissals. Since the legislation was introduced in the early 1970s, such industrial disruptions have become a rarity because most people accept that unfair dismissal legislation provides a reasonable alternative to taking industrial action. My argument is that the Government should return to the judgments that they made and incorporated in the 1971 Act.

Photo of Mr Stanley Crowther Mr Stanley Crowther , Rotherham

Does the hon. Gentleman, being a lawyer, agree that it is disgraceful that an employee claiming unfair dismissal and wishing to appear before a tribunal cannot even get legal aid, whereas the employer who is defending the case can offset his costs against tax and thus have part of his costs paid by the taxpayer?

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

The original judgment of the Industrial Relations Act, which has been accepted by subsequent Labour and Conservative Governments, was that the industrial tribunal should be an informal forum. If we introduce legal aid and inevitable legal representations in all cases, the procedure will be slowed down and become much more complex. Far from providing a greater source of justice for the people to whom the hon. Gentleman refers, I believe that it would be more difficult through delay and complexity for them to achieve their objectives. I do not accept that legal aid is desirable at industrial tribunals. I believe that people with good cases can obtain legal representation if they require it. [Interruption.] With respect, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) has very little experience in this area. I have represented employees at tribunals on many occasions.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

The hon. Gentleman should not suggest that Labour Members do not have as much experience as he in this area of the law. Where does he imagine that an ordinary working person who is not a trade union member will find skilled legal representation in the complex and difficult cases which everyone should know are the bane of industrial tribunals?

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

I accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's expertise and his many books on industrial relations, not to mention his lectures to other lawyers on how to conduct their affairs. If an individual seeks advice from a solicitor and is told that he has no claim of significance, but he then chooses to pursue the claim on his own, that is his right. The fact that he will almost inevitably lose is due not to lack of legal representation but to lack of merit in his claim. If the solicitor advises the individual that he has a claim, it is my experience that he will readily act for such an applicant before an industrial tribunal. I do not see the need for legal aid in those circumstances. On the contrary, I believe that legal, aid in tribunal cases would march us one step further down the American road towards an over-litigious society.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

Would not the informality of the proceedings be enhanced by the complete absence of lawyers?

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

I would happily subscribe to that view. As a practising lawyer, I accept that it must be up to the individuals on both sides to decide whether they want legal representation, but I believe that in most cases it is right for the parties to represent themselves rather than to have legal representation. Among large companies, the increasing trend is for the personnel manager or one of the line managers to represent the company at the tribunal, just as on the other side it is most often the individual applicant, a friend or a trade union official. I believe that the Opposition are making a bogus point, because the tribunals were always intended to be informal. I do not believe that there is any benefit for anyone in trying to make them more formal, complex and legalistic in their operation.

I believe that large companies have adjusted their procedures to the legislation and that it represents no serious disincentive to employment. So why is the order needed? There are two reasons. First, there must be a reasonable period for assessment. That was implicit in the speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North when he was asked why the Labour party accepted a period of six months. There is no difference in principle between six months and two years, only a difference in degree. If one accepts the basic principle that there must be a period of assessment, it is a matter of judgment how long that period should be.

The hon. Member argued that the Conservatives were breaking the consensus, but in fact the Labour Government broke the consensus because the original judgment under the 1971 Act was that the period of assessment should be two years. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman admitted that when the Labour Government reduced the period to one year and then to six months, it was in the teeth of the fiercest opposition from employers, who said that it was unreasonable and unworkable.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that when the 1971 legislation was before the House, the then Secretary of State for Employment, now Lord Carr, categorically stated that the Tory Government intended to reduce the period from two years? The two-year period was the inception period. I wish that I had brought the reference with me, so that the hon. Gentleman could look it up in Hansard.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

The 1971 Act represented a major change in the way in which this aspect of industrial relations had been handled. Until that time, the majority of the available protection related to redundancy payments. At the beginning in 1971 it was proper to form a conservative view of a reasonable assessment period. It was perfectly reasonable to examine that aspect from time to time to ascertain whether the original judgments were still correct. The Labour Government took the view that the period should be reduced. As a vice-chairman of the Small Business Bureau, I can say that that decision by the Labour Government to reduce the period of qualification has done grave damage to small businesses and to employment in them. [Interruption.] If an Opposition Member wants to intervene, I shall give way. Hon. Members do not need to shout from a sedentary position.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne North

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that every year many extremely important appointments are made in which probationary periods are laid down. Is he aware of any top post in industry where a probationary period of two years is laid down?

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why I think that a two-year period is important and in the interests of employers.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

I shall explain why I think this is so. The probationary period and the period of protection for unfair dismissal legislation cover two different situations because of the way in which they are viewed by employers. If we have a 12-month or six-month period of probation and a 12-month or six-month corresponding qualifying period for unfair dismissal legislation, two months or six weeks before the period expires, the employer would take a view of the individual and say, "If we are even in doubt about this man's fitness, we should get rid of him now." If we have a longer qualifying period, the probationary period would still remain at six months or 12 months, but—[Interruption.] In making such assertions, hon. Members show how remote they are from the realities of management.

The second reason why I support a two-year period is that it is anomalous to have differing qualifying periods for redundancy payments and unfair dismissal legislation. At the moment, a person can, after one year, bring a claim for unfair selection for redundancy, even if he is not entitled to a redundancy payment. This absurd anomaly must be corrected by bringing the two qualifying periods into line, as they were in the 1971 Act. I support the common two-year qualifying period and the original judgment of the 1971 Act.

Does the order go far enough? I have said that I do not support total abolition of the unfair dismissal legislation, but I accept the other judgment of the 1971 Act which exempted very small businesses from the legislation. Unfair dismissal legislation is a disincentive to very small businesses. I accept that the Government have done a great deal.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

They have done a great deal of damage.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

The hon. Gentleman keeps intervening from a sedentary position, but noise is no substitute for argument in this important matter.

The unfair dismissal legislation is a disincentive to very small businesses. I accept that the Government have done a great deal in the detail of the legislation to redress the imbalances which were injected into the legislation by the Labour party when it was in power. However much this Government seek to redress the imbalances in the legislation, two major disincentives to small businesses will inevitably remain. The first is that a one, two or three-man business simply cannot afford the time to fight a case before an industrial tribunal. The cost is wholly disproportionate in terms of business endeavour. However the balances or the burdens of proof are adjusted, that remains the position.

Secondly, a very small business is disproportionately at risk in relation to the cost of losing a claim before an industrial tribunal. A man can be dismissed from a business employing two or three people, he can then win a big award at an industrial tribunal, even though he may have contributed to his dismissal by his own conduct, and, as a result of that award, the whole business may go into bankruptcy, so that other employees lose their livelihoods as a consequence.

If the balance had been left as it stood in the 1971 legislation, it would be a much more realistic, sensible and practical piece of legislation. If every small business took on just one more employee, the unemployment problem would disappear. Given the overwhelming priority of job creation, the Government's duty is to remove the obstacles which stand in the way of that process.

I support the order, but I hope that the Government will soon go further and restore the 1971 position.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West 11:11 pm, 15th May 1985

Perhaps we can all at least agree that it is a great pity that a measure of this importance should be dealt with at this time of night and in the form of an order which we have no power to amend but can only accept or reject, and which does not go through the parliamentary process in its entirety. I hope we can agree that there are so many thousands of people who are affected and are likely to be affected that at least this is a matter which the House should consider at a time when it is awake and when it can consider fully all the matters concerned.

I suspect that the Minister was asleep when he talked, otherwise he would not have had to read his speech at such speed. One is reminded of the Member of the other place who dreamt that he was speaking in the other place and woke up to find that he was. In this place the Minister went through his speech with such speed that we listened to it with some amazement, waiting for a break when he would give way or perhaps add a dash of knowledge or an occasional statistic, or give the odd indication of evidence in support of what he was saying. But by the time we thought he might be reaching that break, he sat down, to cheers from his own side and gasps of amazement from those of us who thought that this measure, which is so important for so many people, would at least be given the courtesy of a full explanation by the Minister who was introducing it.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman worked on the basis that the least said the soonest ended, and the quicker he could return to yawning on the Front Bench in his charming way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] I will not "come on" because this is a matter which should be dealt with properly and has not been. It has been treated in a disgracefully cavalier fashion. We have not even been told by the Minister how many cases he believes will not reach tribunals which otherwise would have done. That is the most basic statistic, and until now even his party has given it when introducing this sort of measure.

The statutory trial period, as it is known, should be at the very most six months. I take the point that was made as to why the Labour party, when in office, saw fit to have any statutory trial period. I have always considered that it was wrong. Indeed, I asked Mrs. Castle, who was the Minister at the time, why she would not get rid of the trial period. She replied with one of the more exciting sentences in my recollection. She said, "It would be the end of hop-pickers, my dear". Apparently no one would take on hop-pickers if there were any worry about their being dismissed unfairly, and hop-pickers in Kent would be replaced by machinery. I never felt that that was the best argument that we managed to produce.

But at least to our credit we reduced the period from two years to 12 months and from 12 months to six months. If the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) cannot see the difference between two years and six months, he is well qualified to have made the speech that he made. As it is, we have a statutory two-year trial period during which a person can be dismissed, with or without good reason, fairly or unfairly. That is a major scandal. Like my hon. Friends, I believe that an employee who has been dismissed should always be entitled to say to a tribunal, "It was not fair. I have been deprived of my livelihood. This is how I support my family. I will be on the dole. I will be the scrap heap."

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that redundancy rights should be subject to the same time limits as every other remedy. Why should not a person who has been dumped on the scrap heap after a year say, "it is unfair to have treated me like this. I want compensation." Why should it be right for a small business to treat people unfairly any more than it is for a big business?

To give the right hon. Member the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry his due, there was a suggestion from the Select Committee on Employment, on which I sit—a suggestion made so as to achieve unanimity—that when the code of the Commission for Racial Equality came into force and introduced the idea of ethnic monitoring and positive action, that Code should not apply to small businesses. The right hon. Gentleman said no, because there was no reason why a small business should be any more entitled to discriminate unlawfully than a big business. If that is right for discrimination, why should it be wrong when treating people unfairly? Why should a small employer be entitled to treat people unfairly when a large employer is not?

Why should there be merit in an argument that a small employer will be driven to the wall if he has to go to a tribunal? A lawyer on the Government Benches has seen fit to argue that, without producing one example to hack it. There is a good reason why the hon. Gentleman did not produce one case—there is none. In the history of the law there has, so far as I can recall, never been a reported case of a company going into liquidation because it had to meet an unfair dismissal claim—either won or lost.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

If the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that he can see no difference between a company that employs one or two people and a company that employs a specialist personnel department, he is well qualified to be making the speech that he is.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

I can see no difference in unfairness or discrimination between a one-man firm and a dozen-man firm. I can see no reason why a small employer should be allowed to break the law any more than a large one. If a small employer is guilty of fraud, he goes to prison, as would a large employer. It is no good him saying, "I am only a small employer, so I am entitled to cheat the tax man or the customer." Why should the small employer be allowed to cheat his employee out of his job any more than a large employer? It is that person's job; it is his livelihood.

The Minister said that the order is necessary to enable employers to employ more people. That might have some truth in it if the present system adequately protected employees. Unfortunately, it does not. The 70 to 73 per cent. failure rate, which has been fairly constant, is not because 70 to 73 per cent. of claims are not worth bringing. Some may be poor claims. But in the main, it is because th average employee cannot produce evidence. He does not have documents, although his employer has them. Above all, he cannot bring anyone to give evidence for him because his colleagues dare not go to the tribunal and risk their jobs, their livelihoods and their families by giving evidence against their employers.

I always advise employees to take good care of themselves, not so much because they must win tribunal cases, but because, if they bring a case, they will almost certainly lose it. Even more important, most people, especially managers and higher level employees, dare not exercise their rights, because an application to an industrial tribunal is a passport to permanent unemployment. Therefore, there is not only a 70 per cent. failure rate of those who go to tribunals but a huge percentage of people who are unable to go to tribunals because they know that if they do they will never get another job.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that in the experience of most of those who practise before the industrial tribunals the great majority of applicants who obtain compensation have already obtained employment by the time that the case is heard?

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

There are some, but I am told by personnel managers and employers who have large numbers of people applying for jobs that when someone in the queue for a job gets an interview and gives references and the references from the previous employer are taken up, and when the previous employer says, "He is suing us in an industrial tribunal", the applicant is unlikely to go to the front of the queue, on the ground that he is a person of initiative. In some cases, such an applicant gets the job anyway, but it is a great disincentive. If the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) does not know that, perhaps he should listen to some of those who are unrepresented and they would tell him.

That brings us to the next point, the representation. I agree that the more informal these procedures are, the better. I have never believed that this should be a happy hunting ground for lawyers. But, unfortunately, a tremendous amount of tribunal law has accredited over the course of years. This is no longer a question of somebody giving judgment under a coconut palm on the basis of what he hears. There is a vast amount of case law in which both the hon. Member for Grantham and the hon. Member for Elmet are expert, and which they can go to their law books to find.

What happens in tribunals is that the chairman or chairwoman tries very hard, if he or she is good—and many of the women are first class — to help the applicant in person, but it is not easy. If one talks to them and listens to them, they will say that people who have complex cases involving difficult questions of law are certainly better off to have legal representation.

I do not put the blame entirely on this Government. Again, I turned to our own Labour Government when we were in power because I have always believed that we should have brought in legal aid in industrial tribunals when we had the chance. I should also point out that it was not altogether the fault of the then Labour Government. The trade unions did not want it, and when they were faced by people like me who said to them, "Why not?", their answer was, "Bloody lawyer, feathering your own nest." When I said to them, "If a doctor asks for more medical help, you do not say, 'Bloody quack, feathering your own nest—, they said, "Ah, but that's different." I suggested to them, which I could do because I do not practise in industrial tribunals, that it is wrong to deprive members and non-members alike of the right to go to tribunals—and, by the way, the right to bring all claims concerning contracts of employment to tribunals and not to have to go to courts with one lot and tribunals with another, which is another idiocy—their answer was that it should all be dealt with on the shop floor which, in theory, is absolutely right. But, in practice, the person who goes to a tribunal unrepresented is now, and will remain, often at a great disadvantage.

It is all very well for the hon. Member for Elmet to say that people should not be represented, but the fact is that a substantial company is generally represented either by a lawyer or by an articulate personnel executive, probably one who has been trained to do the job, whereas the employee goes on his or her own or through a friend and cannot get legal representation. They can get legal advice under the legal aid and advice legislation on how to bring the claim, and as to whether it is worth bringing, but they have to represent themselves.

Most people are afraid of tribunals and courts. Most people are apprehensive when they get there. They do not like it. It is not their livelihood, and they are scared. So there is already the disincentive to go, and there is already the qualifying period, which is much too long. It is a period that is about to be doubled. There is no justification for that. Neither is there, nor has there been given to the House, a shred of evidence that to do so will create one single job in any part of the country. It is a discourtesy to the House to claim to protect employees by doubling the qualifying period without giving the evidence. There is only one reason for that being claimed by a Minister who is articulate. It is that there is no evidence.

The Minister is a nice man. If he had evidence, he would give it to us. He does not provide that evidence because there is no evidence. He keeps his speech short because if he went further he would sink himself in the mire. Not only is the Minister a nice man, but he is also shrewd. He knows that he must skirt around the mire as quickly as possible and then run like hell. That is exactly what he has done.

There is no evidence that further jobs will be created. There is no evidence that businesses have suffered because of the one-year period. There is no evidence that the new qualifying period will help employment in any way and and no evidence that it will reduce cases which are allegedly vexatious, frivolous or unreasonable. There is no evidence that people go to tribunals for fun. There is no evidence that the present 12-month qualifying period discourages firms from taking on people. There is no evidence, no case, no sense—only a very bad rotten piece of legislation that I hope even Conservative Members will throw out.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh 11:28 pm, 15th May 1985

I should declare an interest because, although I am not a lawyer, I attend tribunals and represent people. Perhaps in my contribution I shall talk myself out of a job.

I shall describe the ways in which industrial tribunals have affected me. I was director of personnel, and the shop stewards' works committee told me that an employee was behaving in a peculiar way. We investigated the matter with the line manager and found that the employee was putting himself and other employees at risk and was liable to hurt himself and them.

After consultation we agreed that the employee should be dismissed. He went to the labour exchange to sign on and the first question that he was asked was 'Why are you out of work?" He said "I have just been dismissed." He was then asked whether he had commenced proceedings for unfair dismissal.

The chap was bemused at the time, signed a paper and proceedings were commenced against the company. In due course I and four or five colleagues, the convener and shop steward arrived at the place appointed for the hearing at nine o'clock in the morning and waited and waited. At the end of the day we were told that the man had not turned up. The chairman would not hear the case in his absence because he might have missed a bus or misread the date.

We all missed a day at work and had to work overtime to catch up and we were summoned to turn up at the tribunal four weeks later. The applicant did not turn up again and the chairman decided to allow the case to be heard. The convener of shop stewards said that the man was a herion addict and did not turn up for work regularly. That case cost the company many hundreds of pounds and it is not untypical. It is not the only case of which I have had personal experience.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

I find the hon. Gentleman's anecdote of some interest. I have a couple of questions, one of which I shall ask now. I shall ask the other later if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Why did that decision, if it was reached in such a fair manner, need to be defended by five managers?

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

Because, like so many employers, we were unsure of the case that would be presented by the man when he turned up. No one knows what sort of lies will be told by the applicant. Therefore, it was necessary to have everyone there to give evidence.

I am speaking primarily because I do not believe for one moment that the order will produce one single job. The introduction of the order goes nowhere in the direction that it should so that we shall have more jobs and so that employers will be freed from the shackles and worries of the industrial tribunal. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary suggested that the change to two years is reasonable. I suggest that it is unreasonable because any employer should be able to assess whether a person is good enough in a very short time and not have to wait two, three or four years. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, this whole thing is rather specious.

It has been suggested that the Government do not have any figures for the likely number of people who will be affected by the introduction of the order. I have the official figures in a Department of Employment reply to a question that I asked, which states: This information is not available in the form requested. On the basis of a sample analysis of complaints of unfair dismissal for the calendar year 1983 it is estimated that 1,650 such complaints heard by an industrial tribunal involved persons who had been employed for more than one but less than two years. The figure should be treated with caution because of the margin of error inherent in the sample."— [Official Report, 7 May 1985; Vol. 78, c. 361.]

If Ministers are to come along with legislation, and if they want support from Conservative Members as much as from Opposition Members, they have a duty and responsibility to present a case that is cogent and has statistical evidence to back it up. If the whole edifice is based on the probability of 1,650 cases as a sample analysis, albeit allowing for the errors that might accrue, I do not believe that it is worth keeping the House up until this time of night.

The case for small firms is another one of those "Spit in the wind and see that it doesn't hit you when it comes back," scenarios. Who picked on 20 people? Why not 25? Why not 50? Why not 100? How many employers will sit down, scratch their heads and say, "My God, I had better not take on another guy. That would mean I had 21 employees, which would put me within the scope of the Act."? In real life, that is not the way in which firms, personnel people and line managers deal with things. They say to themselves, "Have I got a vacancy? Do I need to employ somebody? Do I have the capability to offer a job to somebody? If I have, I shall offer someone a job, and I shall select the right person in the first place." In respect of small or large firms, no case has been made out for a period of one or two years, and the onus placed on the Government has not been discharged satisfactorily.

Small firms may have large turnovers. Alternatively, they may employ a large number of people — for example, on a vegetable stall—but their turnover may not be very great. However, all firms will be subjected to the majesty and panoply of the law.

I can tell the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) that even a humble personnel director would quake at the thought of going before one of these tribunals, because one does not know what it will do. Not only is the job of the employee on the line, but so is the job of the personnel director. If he fails with too many cases, he is liable to find himself out of work. Therefore, everyone walks into these tribunals in fear and trepidation.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I am not giving way. According to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State's predecessor, the purpose behind the legislation was to provide a cheap, speedy and informal means of redress. Cheap? My fees are not cheap, so it will not be cheap to employ a lawyer. I can assure the House that my fees are only a fraction of those of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West.

Speedy? No figures are available as to the average length of time between a case being initiated and heard, but in those cases where there is a hearing, the median length of 13½ weeks has been estimated. In other words, the poor, cringing soul who has been fired, the poor, terrified personnel director, the foreman who did the firing and everyone else involved must wait 13½ weeks. More importantly, because of the way in which compensation is awarded, the employee will not take a job during that time because he will get more money if he is out of work. Therefore, the argument that people have gone into work is quite specious.

There are too many regulations. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West said that the situation had become too complex, too complicated and too difficult. He is absolutely right. Rather than lengthening the time from one year to two years, the Government ought to have a total review of tribunals and their procedures. They should ban all the lawyers from participating and should limit the hearing to the appellant, the respondent and the respondent's employer.

The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West talked about deprived livelihoods. There is nothing more galling for a company than to train a person for a job only for that person to say after a year or 18 months, "Here is my week's notice. I am going off to work for your competitor." At present, the employer has no means of redress.

It is suggested that in unfair dismissal cases we can, with our hands on our hearts, look to the costs for frivolous or similar actions brought by employees. We are told that the comprehensive statistics regarding costs are not collected and that the Ministry does not know. But we do know.

In 1982 costs were awarded against applicants in about 150 cases out of approximately 15,000. What sort of money does an employer get? He gets an average of £55. The range is £5 to £400. Why do so many people telephone me to ask what it will cost them if they dismiss someone? I say, "£300 for my services and probably £200 if you sweat it out and get the tribunal to make an award." So the case does not go to a tribunal. The whole thing is swept under the carpet. The person goes away with £200 or £300 and does not have the stigma on his record of having gone to a tribunal.

The whole business of the tribunal has become too complex, too costly and too legal. If you do not believe me, go there. When you go in, you have to sit on one side, with the other party on the other. There is the witness box —"How do you swear?", "Don't intervene," "Shut up." It is like the High Court. There is not a free and open exchange of information between two people so that the tribunal can determine in the final analysis whether in its opinion someone has been dismissed unfairly. What the tribunal has to decide is whether in its opinion the law has been interpreted correctly according to the advice given by the legal clerk. It has nothing to do with the realities of working in a factory, in an office, on a farm or wherever. Reality does not come into it. Industrial tribunals have become another arm of the law, just like any of the others that we watch in "Bleak House" from time to time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) talked about cutting down the number of strikes. The speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) on behalf of the Opposition was a travesty. I thought that tonight he might make a decent speech. Unfortunately, Opposition Members have not brought forward evidence to back up what they have been saying. I agree that it is difficult to prove that there has not been a strike for certain reasons. You would have to put into the ingredients the whole changing environment about going on strike. People are much more reluctant to go on strike than they used to be. Therefore, it is not reasonable to suggest with any degree of certainty that the number of strikes has gone down because of what has happened.

Photo of Mr John Evans Mr John Evans , St Helens North

I never mentioned strikes.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet mentioned strikes. If you want to intervene, I will sit down.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the percentage of strikes due to disciplinary causes dropped when the period was changed from 52 weeks to 26 weeks and then rose again when the period was extended? That evidence is on the record. I will quote the figures later if I am called.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I do not dispute that. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor I can prove or disprove negatives. Without a complete analysis of every case so as to reach conclusions, you are generalising—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not keep bringing me into these matters. I am not generalising at all.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I would not wish to bring you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, into something so uncontroversial as the order before us.

My hon. Friend the Minister might have brought along a welter of evidence to justify making the order. The prerequisite is that it will produce jobs. I shall judge whether the order will have that effect in my constituency, but I doubt whether it will produce many more jobs. I shall ask constituents whether they have been taken on as a result of the legislative changes that the Government have introduced.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

Will my hon. Friend ask employers in his constituency whether they found it more attractive to take on employees following the legislative changes?

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I do not accept that it is more attractive or that it will be. An employer will take on an employee if there is a vacancy, but he will not do so if there is a prospect of having to employ a barrister to defend the decision that he took in the prevailing circumstances.

I needed evidence before I could say that what the Government were doing was right. I do not believe that the Government's action is correct, but I take that view for reasons that are different from those of Opposition Members. The Government are not moving half far enough. They should be investigating the work of tribunals.

I thought that I would take the trouble, even if the Government would not, of acquainting myself with the views of relevant bodies. I telephoned the Institute of Personnel Management. Being a fellow of the institute, it cost me nothing to obtain the information. If the Government are short of a bob or two, I might give them a loan. The institute told me that it was still surveying the matter, but added that the order "would tidy up the present position". Does tidying up provide jobs? I suppose that the tidying-up exercise will make life easier for lawyers, but it will not make line managers, entrepreneurs or others in business any more inclined to take on employees or not to dismiss employees.

I contacted also the Engineering Employers' Federation. It said, "We welcome this but it should go further. It should be retrospective and for a longer period." It seems that the Government have not taken the federation along with them.

I spoke also to the British Institute of Management, of which I am also a fellow; therefore, I obtained free information. The institute has carried out a survey of its members to ascertain whether they feel that the order is right or wrong. The survey provided the crude statistical evidence that 65 per cent. are in favour of what the Government are doing, 32 per cent. are opposed and, typical of British management, 3 per cent. do not know what the answer is. I said to myself, "All is not lost, there is always the CBI." Accordingly, I contacted the CBI.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

Is the hon. Gentleman a member of the CBI?

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

No, I am not. I cannot afford that. The CBI kindly provided me late this afternoon with a glossy book which I have with me. As the House will see, it still bears a compliments slip. I shall read the CBI's official position on this issue. A passage in the book reads: Following the announcement in the Budget, the Secretary of State for Employment has laid a draft Order before Parliament to increase the qualifying period of service for complaints of unfair dismissal to two years for all employees. This change will come into force on 1 June. The effect on the number of tribunal cases will not be felt for some time, but even then it will not be enormous. The effect on companies, existing recruitment practices and disciplinary procedures is likely to be marginal. Of course I support the Government's attempt to produce more jobs.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

Is the hon. Member aware that it is common for the Confederation of British Industry to be sceptical about Government legislation? The confederation is as aware as are hon. Members that the Institute of Directors has more influence on this Government than practical industrialists. What is the view of the Institute of Directors?

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I must confess that I do not move in such exalted circles. Therefore, I am unable or unwilling to tread in waters where I might get my feet a little wet.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When the Government bring an order before the House it is incumbent upon them to produce evidence to justify the carrying of such an order. The only support the Government have received in this debate has been from the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) who is a member of the legal profession and who therefore has a vested interest in this matter. The devastating case put forward by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) suggests to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you ought to adjourn the House for 10 minutes to provide the Minister with an opportunity to produce evidence or to withdraw this tatty little order.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I have, I hope, made it absolutely and abundantly clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am not opposed to the Government's intentions. I am opposed to their actions. They do not go far enough. This Act has been on the statute book since 1971. There has been no thorough review of the work of tribunals. They have become more and more legalistic and more and more costly. Tribunals now cost this country £20 million.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

Could I please ask my hon. Friend, with whom I have the pleasure to share a room, and who frequently asks me for my opinion as a lawyer, which I am happy freely to give him at almost any time of the day or night, to tell me, because of the extreme attack that he has made on the legal profession this evening, how Acts of Parliament which come before tribunals would be interpreted if lawyers did not appear before them to provide help for those who need it in order that they may obtain justice before tribunals?

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I was hoping not to have to introduce one little anecdote, but I am now being forced to do so. I must say to my room mate, if I may use that phrase, that when I set up in business as a consultant with some colleagues from personnel management we offered our services to small businesses and to others—we are not proud; we will take money from wherever it comes—and we took the step of advertising in the journal of the Conservative Small Business Bureau. This was not an unreasonable thing to do. Within 24 hours I had a letter from the Law Society saying, "Lay off. This is something for the Law."

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

As the vice-chairman of the Conservative Small Business Bureau, may I say to my room mate that I should be glad to look into that matter, particularly as I happen also to be on one of the parliamentary committees of the Law Society. I shall take it up with both bodies.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I appreciate my room mate's offer. I shall take it up gladly and will be affected by it as much as I was affected by the letter from the Law Society. I continued to practise with my colleagues. We do a better job more cheaply than the lawyers, because it is based upon the real life experience of workers in factories. It is not based upon something that one has read about in books or seen inside a court of law or before tribunals.

Photo of Mr Stanley Crowther Mr Stanley Crowther , Rotherham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could not this private dispute between the hon. Members for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) and for Stafford (Mr. Cash) be carried out in the privacy of their room?

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

That is a practical proposition that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and I should be delighted to take up. I did share a room with someone else, but we would not have been able to have any conversation because I could not get a word in edgeways.

During the course of my short, frequently interrupted, contribution I have sought to introduce a small element of levity because I often find that the ponderous goings on of lawyers drive most people to despair. That is one of the reasons why few cases go to tribunals. None of us wants to go to them, even if the money is good.

If my hon. Friends cannot occasionally stand a little tickling around the ribs, they are not men enough for the job. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is man enough for the job and will take on board what I am saying. I am trying to make the serious point that the tribunals have become over-legislated. The order is meaningless. There should have been a proper review of tribunals and their procedures. I believe that that would be welcomed by both sides of industry and by all the elements of management to which I have referred. Although I have not tried to contact it, I dare say that the TUC would welcome it if tribunals were once again made simple, speedy and cheap.

If I may paraphrase, the order might be a small step for the Government, but I believe that it is a minuscule step towards helping the unemployed. The fanfare with which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor unveiled the proposal in his speech was a smoke screen. It will not create one job.

My job, as the Member of Parliament for a constituency which has the highest unemployment in mainland Great Britain, is to prod the Government into doing something which will help to produce jobs. The employers to whom I speak want the Government to wipe the legislation off the books, to stop tinkering with it, or at least to make it simpler, cheaper and speedier, so that, irrespective of whether the period is six months, one year or two years, the people who are most involved—those who have been fired and those who have done the firing—can go before a lay body as quickly as possible for it to adjudicate, like a jury, on whether the dismissal was fair or unfair.

In the last case with which I dealt there were 10 references to previous cases. We sat for hours going through what people had said previously to different tribunals. Finally the managing director was asked the simple question, "Given all the facts, would you do the same again?" He replied, "Yes, I would fire him because he was no good." The tribunal found against the company. I accept the fact that the tribunal found against the company that I was representing, but the case had cost too much in time, research, and heartache.

The Government would be well advised to let the order go through, but to study properly the whole subject of tribunals.

Photo of Mr David Penhaligon Mr David Penhaligon , Truro 11:59 pm, 15th May 1985

Considering that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) managed to spend 33 minutes talking about the order—and at the conclusion of his remarks I was not sure whether he was for or against it—I was surprised by his claim that he had managed to speed up the work of tribunals.

The hon. Gentleman, nevertheless, made some interesting points. I agree with him that the order will not make any difference to the nation's total unemployment statistics. Indeed, there cannot be many hon. Members who believe that it will have much effect on unemployment. Nor do I accept the claim of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) that labour protection legislation increases jobs. It does not make much difference either way.

However, the justification for this kind of legislation is to inject into the labour market a degree of justice for the individual. When a person appears before a tribunal, local people—that person's friends and colleagues—have a view about whether the dismissal was justified, might have been justified or was completely unjustified. People have a corrosive feeling of anger when they believe that, say, Bill, who has given a substantial period of service to the company, has been dismissed for unjustifiable reasons. That is the real justification for legislation such as this. While no system can be perfect, it gives people an opportunity to have their cases heard and for some compensation to be offered if an outrage has been committed.

That is the justification for the legislation, but the order is a move in the wrong direction; and what saddens me is the feeling that the Minister agrees with me. He adduced no evidence for the order, just tittle-tattle about what might have been said over the bar in the Conservative club quite late at night.

Much the same level of argument is put to me by some of my local small employers about the abolition Of wages councils. They argue that if they could pay a little less, they would be more competitive and be able to offer more jobs. There is some truth in that, so long as it applies only to them and not to all their competitors who are beating them. If an employer is the only one to be allowed to lower wages, of course he can undercut his competitor down the road. But one presumes that if wages councils are abolished—hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, regardless of party, pray that they will be retained—they will be abolished universally. In other words, employers who argue that the abolition of wages councils will create more jobs are simply indulging in tittle-tattle.

The Minister argued that an employer needed a period in which to get to know the qualities of an employee. There may be some truth in the argument that a person may join a company and work with enthusiasm and dedication for a time, and that that period should be long enough to enable the employer to judge that employee's behaviour, attitude and enthusiasm. That is an argument for having a period of some length. The Minister argued, however, that by increasing the period from one year to two years, that will significantly increase the understanding that an employer can have of an employee. Not many employers believe that, certainly not many employees believe that, and we on the Opposition Benches do not believe that. If an employer cannot decide in a whole year—in 52 weeks of 40 hours a week—whether Bill or Mary, or whoever, is satisfactory to be employed by that company, the idea that two years will be the right period is a fantasy, and the Minister knows it.

This is part of a steady erosion of rights. Far too many Conservative Members believe that the solution to the 3·5 million unemployment problem is to remove some of the minimal rights that exist. They believe in a peculiar fatalistic way that if they remove enough of those rights fast enough, suddenly employers will begin to employ more people. That, again, is not true.

As the hon. Member for Langbaurgh said, employers take on employees because they see an opportunity to use those people's skills to their own advantage. I do not complain about that. That is the way in which our economy has grown. The reason why there are now nearly 4 million unemployed is that the Government are running the economy in such a way that employers no longer see any way of using the skills available in a satisfactory and economic way.

People tend, sometimes without justification, to feel weak and vulnerable vis-a-vis their employers, and the Government have made them feel even more so. People's rights in relation to unfair dismissal are gradually being taken away. That is a bad thing and it is a sad day for Parliament — one of a series of days that the Government will come to regret.

This is a move in the wrong direction and, saddest of all, I suspect that the Conservative Member most convinced of that is the Minister who made the rather inadequate attempt to justify the measure when he opened the debate.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham 12:05 am, 15th May 1985

Despite all the noise and excitement generated among the Opposition, we are actually discussing when a qualifying period should arise. That does not give rise to massive questions of principle, and in view of Labour Members' attitudes to this in the past they are not in a good position to argue about it as a matter of principle today.

The qualifying period of two years was first introduced in the 1971 Act. In 1974 the period was reduced to one year by the Labour Government and the following year it was reduced to six months. The concept of a qualifying period, however, has been preserved throughout. There is a similarity between the right not to be unfairly dismissed and the right not to be made redundant. For more than 20 years Parliament has accepted that there should be a qualifying period before a person becomes entitled to redundancy payment. That goes right back to 1960. The qualifying period is two years and the Labour party has always accepted that.

I do not find that fact at all remarkable, because the right not to be unfairly dismissed is a very valuable one, giving rise to a large number of fairly substantial financial benefits. The benefits may well be quite correct, but the House must always consider whether such rights should arise immediately upon the formation of a contract of employment and by virtue of that fact alone. I do not agree that they should.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) referred at some length to probationary periods, but that is not really the purpose of the qualifying period. In my view, the reason for the qualifying period is that people should have to justify their entitlement to this fairly valuable right. Whether the period of justification should be six months, 12 months or two years is not a matter of principle but a rather nice difference of judgment as to how the balance should be weighted.

I think that most Members now agree that the containment of unemployment is the strategic purpose of Government and Parliament at this time and every benefit and policy that we bring forward must be tested against that objective. When this measure is tested against that yardstick one sees the advantages that are likely to accrue.

My hon. Friends have referred to the disadvantages faced by small employers in this context. I appear frequently in cases involving these matters. Last month, I was involved in a case concerning a small employer whose entire work force of six would have had to attend the tribunal for two days. An employee had resigned. The employer was seeking to argue that the resignation constituted a constructive dismissal. I took the view that he was wrong and had no chance, and advised the employer accordingly. the employer was faced with the fact that he would necessarily incur substantial costs and his entire work force would have to attend for two days. That was understandably unacceptable to him, and so a payment had to be made. A payment was made. This happens repeatedly.

Hon. Members ask, "Where is the evidence that any job will be created directly as a result of this change in the legislation?" I admit that I cannot come forward with direct evidence.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

But, in the end, one comes forward with the impression, which is made in good faith — [Interruption.] Hon. Members must try to approach these issues with open minds. They must try to be open-minded on questions of employment. Repeatedly, both professionally and in my political capacity, it has been made clear to me that the framework of the legislation makes small employers in particular less willing take on more employees.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

We come back again and again to the question of judgments made in good faith.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

Of course it is based on evidence.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

I have told the hon. and learned Gentleman. If only he would listen, but he never does. I have told the House the evidence that I have been receiving.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

If the hon. and learned Gentleman would only shut up for one moment, he might hear it. I have repeatedly been told by employers, in my political and legal capacities—

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows all about hearsay, because he makes his living out of it. He would do well to listen just occasionally.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

There is no need to be offensive about it.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

I would certainly not be offensive to the hon. and learned Gentleman, whom I rather like, but he would do well just to listen. One repeatedly hears people say, "I would take on more people if it were less unattractive for me to do so."

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg , Grantham

They may be, but they may reveal the facts. We must try to reduce people's anxieties about the existing law. This measure is a legitimate step in that direction. I hope that, as a consequence, and judged against a yardstick of improving jobs, the House will support the order.

Photo of Mr Stanley Crowther Mr Stanley Crowther , Rotherham 12:12 am, 15th May 1985

Unlike a number of hon. Members who have spoken tonight, I intend to make a short contribution. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) referred to small firms. That matter is not strictly relevant to the order. Apparently, the order wipes out the difference between those employed by small firms and those employed by larger firms and subjects them all to the same injustice. I have never understood why people employed by a company with 20 employees should be denied rights that apply to people employed by a company with 21 employees. Apparently, the order applies the same injustice to everybody, so that seems to wipe out the difference.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) raised an interesting, but totally irrelevant, point. He talked of his belief, which I share, that an employer who has been employing someone for 12 months should by then know whether that person is suitable for the job. That is true, but it is totally irrelevant, because we are not talking about whether people are suitable for a job. If they are sacked because they are not doing the job properly, that is fair. Here we are talking about unfair dismissal. I do not understand why it is all right for people to be unfairly sacked at a certain period but not right for them to be unfairly sacked at a later period. It is wrong for people to be unfairly sacked at any time. If they have been working somewhere for only one day, they should not be unfairly dismissed. That is the real issue here.

I accept the point, rightly made by the hon. Member for Grantham, that my party has in the past accepted a qualifying period. I think we were wrong to do that. Justice demands that people should be compensated or reinstated if they are unfairly dismissed, irrespective of how long they have been employed. If they are incompetent or dishonest, they should be sacked without compensation, but if the dismissal is unfair the qualifying period is totally irrelevant.

Photo of Mr Ernest Roberts Mr Ernest Roberts , Hackney North and Stoke Newington 12:15 am, 15th May 1985

I speak not as a lawyer but as someone who has been a shop steward for 25 years, and as a national trade union official with some experience of dismissals and protection against dismissals.

The order will remove the right of a worker to go before a tribunal and appeal against unfair dismissal if he has been employed for less than two years. There are nearly 4 million people in Britain who have been unfairly dismissed. It is not their responsibilty that they have been dismissed. They have not been dismissed for any reason for which they have been responsible. It is the responsibility of the Government.

I am opposed to the order being sneaked in at this late hour because it cannot stand the light of day. The order is absolutely irrelevant to job creation. Its aim is to make sacking easier and cheaper. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) that, in spite of what has been said from the Conservative Benches, there should be no qualifying period.

I know from my experience that shop stewards, workers and trade union representatives generally are always under the threat of victimisation by their employers. It happens continually. There was far better protection under the essential works order. It often protected me when I was at work. It operated at a time when the country needed the workers' labour and was prepared to give them protection in their jobs.

The extension of the order to two years will hit particularly school leavers and those who are at present unemployed. They will be under constant threat of dismissal if, on getting a job, they do not work for the pay set down by employers and at the speed and under the conditions demanded by them. That is what the order is about. It is a weapon to be used for that purpose. The threat of the sack is the big stick that the employers will use against workers, and they will have two years' free bashing of work people to make them do what the employers want them to do.

Directors and top management — there are some representatives here—are well protected against unfair dismissal. They are protected by contracts with companies which provide massive golden handshakes. Those who own and control the means of production, distribution and exchange will use their power to hire and fire as they please. Their only concern will always be to make as much profit as they can and to squeeze as much work as they can from people they employ.

It would be far better if this Government introduced an order on the right to work rather than one on the, right to sack. They should pay more attention to that. The Government and the employers know that the order will produce more strikes because that will be the only method for workers to obtain justice because they cannot take their case to a tribunal until two years has elapsed. Their only defence of their jobs will be to strike. The order will provoke more industrial unrest.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme 12:20 am, 15th May 1985

One thing we know clearly — that the directors of this country have voted substantial sums of money, millions of pounds, to the Conservative party. That is the argument for the order. My hon. Friends have said that the Government have produced no argument for the order — they do not need to do so because they have received payment for this order.

I do not know whether the Government are introducing the order because it will please the Institute of Directors, or whether it is because the Institute of Directors has twisted their arm. The order is ideological. It is not even seen to be in the interests of those managers in industry who actually manage. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) gave the game away when he read from the CBI brief. The practical managers, who often find themselves at loggerheads with the directors, are saying that the effect of this order on employment will be marginal. So why has it been introduced? It is because the Government think that they must pay the debt that they incurred to the directors before the general election. They are paying with our time for the money that they received to help them win the general election.

The paucity of the Minister's speech has been mentioned already. Have we ever known a debate with so much criticism of the Minister, but not one note of reply being sent from the officials' Box through the PPS to the Minister? Not one item of refutation has been passed. The PPS tonight has been one of the idle layabouts on the Government Benches. It has been a remarkable debate. The Minister has not made a case and the officials have not been able to think of one refutation of the arguments presented.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain how it was that in 1978, when the precursor to this order was going through the House and the Labour party was in Government, it allowed a private Member's Bill that contained the essence of this order to be passed against the then Government's Whip because Labour Members did not turn up to support their Government?

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I do not think that that is relevant, for reasons that you and I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It may be embarrassing to Conservative Members because a very distinguished Member of the House was in charge of industrial relations legislation at the time. I know that there would be embarrassment if I referred to him.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

I wish to complete the story by explaining that I have some knowledge of this because I drafted the Bill in question.

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

The only argument we have heard from Conservative Members who are lawyers — and I emphasise that we have heard no criticism from Conservative Members who are practising managers—is that these procedures are inconvenient and costly to the employers.

I do not know whether Conservative Members know how inconvenient and costly it is to be sacked. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) has been unfairly dismissed, and has translated himself into centre forward. But, that apart, I do not think that Conservative Members know what it is like to go home to one's wife and family and explain that one has got the sack. It is more than an inconvenience. It is rather worse than having to sit two days in some ante-room waiting for a case to be heard. To have to go home and say, "I have had the sack. Look, it was unfair. Look, it was not my fault. I have suffered because of the arbitrary whim of some manager." It is not just inconvenient. It can be a disaster.

Talking in terms of cost, in the survey, unprompted, managers disclosed that the cost was about £4,000. But when they thought of what they were claiming on their tax forms, they increased that to £15,000. Let us say that the cost for the employer is between £4,000 and £15,000. That is minimal when one considers the employer's turnover compared with the loss of wages to an individual who is unfairly dismissed. To a company, the inconvenience and the cost of having to go a tribunal to justify an unfair dismissal is infinitesimal compared to the cost to the individual who has been sacked.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

To reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) says, is he aware that the average award to a person who is among the 30 per cent. who succeed is only about £850, which is far less than the amount that could be awarded, which is very seldom reached?

Photo of Mr John Golding Mr John Golding , Newcastle-under-Lyme

I am not as familiar with the facts as is my hon. and learned Friend, but I do know that the legislation has had many beneficial effects. First, as has been pointed out—and whether one can quantify it I do not know—it has provided an alternative to strike action on the shop floor. It has removed a lot of the frustration and grievance among people who sometimes do not feel strongly enough to strike. It has removed the demoralisation that is always present among groups when they think that they are subject to arbitrary power.

What Conservative Members do not understand in my view is that working people without vast savings and an accumulation of capital behind them are in a weak position when faced with such employers. If the employers can do without the individual employee, the individual employee cannot do without the wages. These individuals are weak. When these weak individuals face people who can take decisions on an arbitrary basis, they feel very humiliated when the decisions are taken on anything other than just grounds.

I do not say that all dismissal decisions are unfair—obviously not. But some are. Conservative Members will cite cases of irresponsibility on the part of the employees. Of course there will be some of those. Of course in the isolated case the employee will be irresponsible. However, many employers take decisions which are based not on reason but on whether they feel at home with the employee. Sometimes the employer will be upset by what is happening in his domestic life and will take odd decisions for odd reasons. When a decision is as important as a sacking it must be fair. There must be some resort to an outside body when a person believes that his dismissal is unfair.

Government Members argue that at a time of high unemployment it is more important to create jobs than to be fair. In a nutshell, that is their argument. The argument is not new. During the period of the Labour Government between 1976 and 1979 I spent a lot of time talking to employers throughout the country. Often I heard the argument that the employment protection legislation militated against employment. When I cross-examined the person arguing that point I was usually told "That does not apply to us, but we've heard that it applies to somebody else." Not one employer said "It affects me."

We introduced a number of studies because the Government were worried about the effect of what they had done. At that time 1.4 million people were unemployed and we felt a deep sense of responsibility towards them. Those studies are often quoted. I refer to a paper by Daniel entitled "The effects of employment protection laws in manufacturing industry," published in the Employment Gazette, June 1978 and to a paper by Daniel and Stilgoe entitled "The impact of employment protection laws," published by the Policy Studies Institute in 1978. There is also a paper by Clifton and Tatton Browne entitled "The impact of employment legislation on small firms," published by the Department of Employment as research paper No. 6 of 1979.

I was responsible for those studies, which all came to the same conclusion. There was an impact, but it did not decide whether employers recruited. The biggest impact was on the care taken when recruiting. That is right. It is irresponsible for an employer to take on someone knowing that he might be sacked. A responsible employer knows what the job means and must ensure that the person recruited is suitable and that he fits in within the first few months.

To say that two years are needed before one can know whether a person is doing a job properly is poppycock. If it takes a person that long to decide, he is not doing his job properly and should be sacked. We are talking about manual workers, not sophisticated people. I believe that what the Government are doing is wrong.

I have talked about the inequality of the worker and the employer. It happens before the tribunal as well. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh almost brought tears to my eyes when he talked about how he, as a director of personnel, quaked before going into a court. But he went in with four other people. He was well briefed, with all the substantial resources of the firm behind him. He should think of the individual who has been sacked, who usually cannot take four or five people with him. Why? Because the others are frightened of victimisation. We in the Labour pan y know that that happens over and over again. If one asks, "Who will give evidence?", the first time Sarah, Jane, Bill and Joe say that they will. A week later they say that they are frightened to give evidence because the boss will victimise them.

My hon. Friends on the Front Bench are pleading with me to sit down. It is the story of my life, but I shall do so—only because it is a plea from my Front Bench. I believe this to be one of the most iniquitous things that the Government have done, because they do it without reason. They do it against workers everywhere. They do it to repay the debt of money given to the Conservative party before the last general election.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East 12:36 am, 15th May 1985

I had thought that following the speech by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) the Minister would graciously withdraw the order and creep away quietly, instead of keeping us up after the midnight hour.

The point that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh made about the law getting mixed up in tribunals is something that I have fought against ever since its inception. We had a first-class example of what happens when the law gets mixed up in such matters when the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) got on his feet. Never in his life has he been sacked on the spot and had to go home to reveal the news to his family.

With the present level of unemployment, employers can be very choosey when engaging labour. Prospective employees, for the same reason, are anxious to please prospective employers. Therefore, at present the scales are weighted heavily in favour of employers.

We were told by the Minister in his short speech that employers were afraid of going to tribunals. I believe that the fear is on the part of the employees, not the employers.

Last night, together with colleagues, I met a delegation of women clothing workers from the west midlands. Those who worked part-time were paid 50p an hour. I understand that the delegation was seen by a Conservative Member who is now in the Chamber. He may want to corroborate what I am saying. People in full-time employment were being paid about £1 an hour. The women found that their tax and holidays were being fiddled. They were in difficulty with the Department of Health and Social Security. Notwithstanding that, they were extremely chary of having their cases taken up, because, bad though they were, merely to reveal them would have meant the sack. Indeed, one woman, who had had the effrontery to organise her workmates into a trade union, was promptly sacked. In another case, the employer was so determined not to allow trade unionism into his factory that he shut it down and reopened a few months later in premises on the opposite side of the road.

Last night we listened to those women. I do not know whether the Conservative Member wants to corroborate what I have said. I shall give him the chance to do so, but I have not identified him because I do not wish to embarrass him unnecessarily.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor , Solihull

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Park) has referred to a visit here yesterday by some immigrant workers who, in the main, are largely employed by immigrant employers. Many of their circumstances were most unsatisfactory, and what the hon. Gentleman has said is largely correct.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East

Except that I did not mention immigrants. To me an employer is an employer. I am interested only in the circumstances. From what I heard last night, it was clear that fear existed among the employees. It did not exist among the employers, who seem to have the whip hand.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) that it stretches the bounds of credulity to suppose that, given the initial ability to be choosy, an employer should support the idea of requiring two years to assess whether an individual will fit into the set-up. I cannot believe that.

There has been no evidence to support the order. In fact, the hon. Member for Langbaurgh, figuratively speaking, stripped the Minister bare. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary has not responded at all, and that is a scandal. This is just another turn of the screw in relation to the policy announced by the Conservatives when they first came into office. They said that the balance of advantage was too much on the side of the trade unions and that they would do something about it. This order is part of that process.

The Government's purpose is to undermine the trade union movement and to remove the possibility that people can be treated fairly. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) said, the Minister must tell us why any employer should have the right unfairly to dismiss anyone at any time.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow 12:44 am, 15th May 1985

I agree with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) said about the traumatic consequences of whimsical managerial decision making. The shock of being sacked and deprived of one's livelihood is dreadful.

I saw a lot of scandalously bad management among British trawler companies north and south of the border. Since the 1970s many of those companies have gone to the wall. That should not surprise anyone, because they were lousy managers of that most important and valuable resource — their employees. Their strategic decision making about the development of their companies in the changing international fishery regime was as bad. Many of them have disappeared from the scene. There are a couple of honourable exceptions in Aberdeen, but many employers in the British fishing industry are inefficient.

Some elements of the Industrial Relations Act 1971 — the concept of unfair dismissal and the code of practice—led to a proliferation of industrial relations training in British companies for managers and shop stewards. In those days some of my hon. Friends talked about throwing out the whole Act when they returned to power. I used to say, "Have a care because you may throw out the baby with the proverbial bath water." As the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) said, the concept of unfair dismissal is valuable, not just to trade unionists. Many managers in British industry have suffered at the hands of superiors who have a philosophy and practice of hire and fire.

In my experience of fairly large Scottish companies, the 1971 Act, plus other legislation passed by the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979, led to a growing professionalism among personnel managers and among shop stewards. In the 1970s we saw the development of more humane grievance and discipline procedures in many large companies. I cannot speak about small companies because I have little or no experience of them.

At an industrial relations training course in which I participated as a trainer, the managing director of the biggest company in Edinburgh said to his managers who were assembled for the course, "I do not want this company ever to have to appear in front of an industrial tribunal. This labour legislation will ensure that we become better managers when we deal with that important resource—our work people."

There has been a reference to the informality of industrial tribunals. For many people the prospect of appearing in front of the three wise men, or the three wise women, is daunting. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) referred to someone not turning up because he was a heroin addict; that must be an exceptional case. I suspect that many people do not turn up at tribunals because they are frightened at the prospect of taking part in what is for them an intimidating procedure.

One aspect that has hardly been touched upon in the debate, is the effect that labour legislation over the past 20 years has had on the role of the personnel manager and on his or her increasing professionalism. It seems that the object of recruitment and selection processes is to obtain the right person for the job. With professional personnel management, we should not need the threat of being able to bag a person.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke , Monklands West

Does my hon. Friend recall that in his constituency Greenock Morton football club dismissed its assistant manager, Mr. Mike Jackson? His case was upheld when it was heard by a tribunal and it was considered that he was unfairly dismissed, but Mr. Jackson was told that he had to meet all the legal costs. He received not one ha'penny in compensation. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that instead of weakening protection for those in employment the Government should be introducing proposals to strengthen the right of those like Mr. Jackson, who was badly and unfairly treated.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for providing the House with that sad illustration. I am a supporter of Greenock Morton but not a director. Incidentally, the club has been overtaken by other sad circumstances in that it has been relegated from the premier league. I am sure that it will be back next season.

The regressive measure before us might take away some of the incentive to continue the process of enhancing the professionalism of industrial relations and personnel management. Surely the object of labour legislation is to ensure that an individual's terms and conditions of employment mean that he is treated fairly and reasonably.

I recognise that there are occasions when a person has to be dismissed if his or her conduct is sufficiently dreadful. However, with efficient recruitment and selection procedures there should be no need to provide harsh sanctions that can be used by less than honest and fair managers in both small and large companies. Over the past 20 years there has been a distinct improvement in labour relations in many companies. That improvement has been brought about to some extent by a more formalised set of grievance and disciplinary procedures. In many of the companies with which I have been associated, the individual can seek redress of grievance right up to board level. Some Scottish industries have tribunals that are formed from within the industries. That is the way ahead for industrial relations and for grievance and disciplinary procedures.

The measure that is before us will harm industrial relations. It will damage the position of skilled workers, including women workers, members of the hierarchy within a company and those in lowly positions. It will threaten the position of many managers. The order goes further than threatening the interests of those on the shop floor or those doing menial work in offices throughout the land. It is lousy legislation and it will encourage lousy managers to behave in a lousy way to their work force. It is a disgrace.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent 12:55 am, 15th May 1985

Nobody could have listened to this debate without concluding that the whole weight of the argument has been with the Opposition and against the Government's proposals. No attempt has been made by Conservative Members to present an argument in favour of the order, except the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), though I do not believe that he assisted the Government's case. For the Government to introduce in such a way a measure of this character and scale is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has just said, a disgrace. It will injure industrial relations in this country.

The origin of the measures dealing with unfair dismissal was not necessarily the 1971 Act. Unfair dismissal was included for the first time in that Act, but its origin lies in recommendations contained in the Donovan report. That report recommended that certain industrial disputes could be avoided if proper and fair procedures were established in industry. The Labour Government intended to introduce such a measure before they left office in 1970. Later we repealed all of the odious and offensive provisions of the 1971 Act, but we insisted that the unfair dismissal provisions should be retained and improved. Many Conservative Members also agree that we should persuade employers to support such a measure. That is why the original legislation included a fixed period. We were able to persuade the vast majority of employers to back the legislation and to ensure that it worked.

All that the Government are doing is attempting to carry out the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget proposals. He knows nothing about industrial relations. Nobody has ever suggested that he does. Nor has it been suggested that the Department of Employment Ministers want the order. When it was examined in detail, it was found that no case had been made. Therefore, the best thing that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment can do tonight is to say that he will withdraw the order. That is the best service that he can render not merely to industrial relations, but to the Government.

I regret that the Tory wets have not attended this debate. We should greatly have welcomed a contribution from the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire South-East (Mr. Pym) and from several other Conservative Members who have vowed to introduce compassion and intelligence into this Government. Not one of those right hon. or hon. Members has attended the debate. Therefore, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will come out in his true colours and say what a miserable order this is, that he proposes to withdraw it, take it to the Prime Minister tomorrow, and dare her to dismiss him for doing a good deed.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood 12:57 am, 15th May 1985

This order is an example of policies based upon slogans and dogma rather than upon serious evidence. We are told that the Centre Forward group has realised that the economic policies of the Government are based upon slogans and dogma. That is clearly right. They have been tested to destruction. They are not working, yet the sloganising and the dogma continue. This order provides yet another example.

The debate has also demonstrated the advantage of trade union-sponsored Members of Parliament. I am proud to declare that I am sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees, while a number of my hon. Friends who have contributed to the debate are also sponsored by trade unions—for example, by the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, the Post Office Engineering Union and the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Conservative Members have suggested that these provisions are of no importance, that they provide no protection for workers and that they make no difference. Workers value them. Workers are unfairly dismissed, and they feel angry when that happens. They want the right to take action against an employer who treats them in such a way. It is not good enough to look at cases like that of the heroin addict. That story does not ring true.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

I am sure that the hon. Lady does not wish to call me a liar. I shall send her chapter and verse.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

I should not dream of calling the hon. Gentleman a liar. I meant that the case was not typical of cases with which my right hon. and hon. Friends are familiar.

The difficulties that firms face when dealing with an uncontested case have been mentioned. Conservative Members do not understand that we set standards so that most employers most of the time do not go around unfairly dismissing their workers. If there were no provisions and penalties, there would be far more cases of unfair dismissal.

It is not good enough to measure the cost of the contested case and say that it benefits only the individual involved. The protection of the law applies to all workers who are unfairly dismissed, because the provisions exist.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) quoted the extraordinary statement made by the Secretary of State for Employment in a press release on 19 March 1985 justifying this proposal shortly after the Budget. He said: The risk of unjustified involvement with tribunals in unfair dismissal cases and the costs of such involvement are often cited as deterring employers from giving more people jobs. This change․should help reduce the reluctance of employers to take on more people, while still preserving a fair balance between the reasonable interests of employer and employee. How weak that is. It says, "often cited" and "should help".

It contains no evidence.

Let me consider the evidence, because this is an important matter and a great deal of evidence is available, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) made clear. Allegations and rumours that the employment protection laws prevent employers taking on workers have been going on for a long time. The Labour Government therefore commissioned a series of academic studies to test them. The first was conducted by the Policy Studies Institute. W. W. Daniel, who has a reputation for high-quality research on this subject, with someone called Stilgoe, whose work I do not know, studied the manufacturing sector— in particular, firms employing between 50 and 50,000 people. Their conclusions were summarised in an article which appeared in the Department of Employment Gazette in June 1978. They had studied all the employment protection legislation. They said: The aspect of employment protection legislation to have had the most widespread impact upon employers has been unfair dismissal requirements. Their prime effect has been to encourage the reform or formalisation of procedures adopted in taking disciplinary action and in executing dismissals. They have had a secondary influence upon the degree of care exercised by managers in selecting new employees and appraising the performance of existing ones. At the same time our evidence suggests that unfair dismissal measures have reduced the rates of dismissal, particularly in establishments where levels were relatively very high prior to the legislation. There was no general indication in relation to the sectors of industry which we studied that employment protection legislation was inhibiting management from taking on new labour where they otherwise would have done so. That study was funded by the Department of Employment.

More significantly, the study tells us that when the authors asked managers what the effect of the legislation had been, many said that it improved the quality of their management. I quote from the findings of the study because the arguments are important and should be heeded by Conservative Members and, in particular, by the Minister. Managers felt that on balance the Employment Protection Act had been advantageous to them. They most commonly referred to the way it had helped and encouraged them to establish agreed procedures, most frequently with regard to discipine, but also for regulating other terms and conditions of employment. They no longer suffered the consequences of line managers or supervisors taking arbitrary or idiosyncratic decisions. Further benefits attributed to employment legislation included the report that it meant"— and we must bear in mind that managers are speaking in this passage— that trade union representatives had less scope to exploit uncertainty and ambiguity. That refers to less conflict in the workplace. Employees and their representatives knew where they stood and the labour relations climate had improved in consequence. Greater management attention was devoted to human resources and management was required to be systematic and explicit in its evaluation and use of human resources. Job specification, selection and appraisal of performance had been improved and more regard was paid to seeing that people were properly trained. I hope that the Minister has noted that. We continually hear speeches and receive press releases in which the Government bemoan the low level of training in this country, yet they disrupt the small amount of machinery that exists to encourage training. The example that we have tonight will encourage employers to adopt bad employment practices, including less training.

The study added: Personnel considerations were more salient and the influence of the personnel function had increased. In other words, according to that study, many managers said that the effect of legislation was to improve the quality of their management, to improve industrial relations and to lessen the amount of conflict in the workplace.

It may be said by some Conservative Members that that study applied to quite large firms — of 50-plus employees — in manufacturing, whereas they had referred to the problems of small firms. Another study was commissioned on that subject. The Department of Employment's research paper No. 6, on the impact of employment legislation on small firms, published in July 1979, having asked small firms a series of detailed questions, stated: What general conclusions can be drawn from these factual findings? The results counter the suggestion that the legislation had some massive and widespread effect on small firms. Only 6 per cent. mentioned employment legislation and 2 per cent. health and safety legislation as among the main problems faced by their firms. Less than 9 per cent. mentioned these issues when asked about Government measures that had caused difficulty. When asked directly if employment legislation had affected them, 65 per cent. said it had not. Only 12 per cent. had found particular pieces of employment legislation troublesome when faced with a specific list. Over 60 per cent. believed that the legislation had not made it more difficult to dismiss staff. When firms were asked to explain their labour market behaviour—that is, why they had not expanded their staff as much as would have been expected"— the whole thrust of the Government's argument is that treating workers in a worse way will lead to more employment— only two out of 81 respondents mentioned the Employment Protection Act. We can proceed to examine the statistics collected by the Department of Employment. An article by Kevin Williams analysing the statistics in considerable detail appeared in the Industrial Law Journal in which he examined the figures for 1972 to 1981. He wrote: The statistics do not support the popular mythology. It is the popular mythology, unsupported by the research evidence and unsupported by the statistics, on which the Government are proceeding tonight. They should be ashamed of themselves. The article went on to comment that since the legislation came into force and statistics were collected almost a quarter of a million complaints have been disposed of. Less than 1 per cent. of all employment terminations had gone through the procedures and less than 3 per cent. of all dismissals.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

To bring matters a little more up to date, does the hon. Lady accept that, of the 10,381 cases which went to hearing, 68 per cent. were dismissed, showing that there was no real substance in the cases?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

It is interesting to note that after the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme about the civil servants in the Box not passing any notes out the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) went over there and was presumably given that profound statistic. Certainly the operation of the legislation has deteriorated and there are fewer findings of unfair dismissal, but that is part of our case rather than the hon. Gentleman's case as fewer and fewer firms are inconvenienced by adverse findings.

Since the Government took power in 1979 and adopted the dogmatic and destructive economic policies from which the country is suffering the number of unfair dismissal claims has increased because when jobs cannot be found and losing one's job may mean prolonged unemployment workers are more likely to pursue their claims. The argument that out of sheer malice unreasonable employees complaining too much and causing great trouble to virtuous employers who are employers who are desperately trying to create jobs for all the poor unemployed is utterly false. There are endless procedures to screen out such cases and heavy penalties can be imposed on any worker acting in that way. Moreover, if costs are awarded against the applicant, that in itself is a serious penalty for a person who has no legal aid and has already lost his job.

Two thirds of all complaints are withdrawn or settled at the conciliation stage and never reach the tribunals which cause all the knee-knocking described by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) in his entertaining contribution. The employee may withdraw his claim or the conciliation process through ACAS may arrive at a settlement acceptable to both sides. The remaining cases go on to the tribunal, where the success rate is one in four and declining.

Who takes cases of unfair dismissal to the tribunal? According to Kevin Williams, in his article "Unfair dismissal: myths and statistics", the majority of complaints are made against small firms with fewer than a hundred workers by non-unionised and relatively poorly paid men in low status jobs whose workmates are frequently disinclined to testify against the employer for fear of jeopardising their own position—a point stressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner).

Low-paid, non-unionised workers in factories with a higher turnover of labour and poor management practices are the people who will be hurt by this tatty piece of legislation. Women are significantly less likely to complain—a phenomenon only partly explained by the fact that many more women than men work part time, generally have shorter service and so are less likely to be protected by the legislation.

Virtually everyone who has contributed to the debate and brought evidence to the House has torn the proposal to shreds and shown how disreputable it is. The one compliment that I can pay to the Minister is to say that I am sure that he does not believe in this measure—if it is honourable to try to convince the House of something in which he does not believe.

The present law has led to better recruitment practices, grievance procedures and training by firms — all improvements in industrial relations which the Government claim to favour. There is clear evidence that since these measures were introduced there have 'been fewer cases of industrial action over dismissals which the workers perceive as unfair. There has been a reduction in industrial action because of injustices in the work place — surely we would all be in favour of that. The evidence shows that the legislation does not prevent small or large firms from employing additional staff.

Conservative Members go on talking about the cost. There is a cheap system of insurance against the possible costs incurred by an employee taking action under this legislation. Paul Lewis tells us in the "International Labour Review" that in 1982 a firm with 10 employees could, for an insurance premium of £120 a year, cover itself for the risks involved in a case that might cost up to £30,000 per employee.

It is not that the present law is perfect. I agree with the hon. Member for Langbaurgh that we do not want great formal procedures involving lawyers and masses of expense. We can argue that the legislation has failed in one of its primary objectives—to return to work people who have been unfairly dismissed. Research evidence clearly shows that people who, immediately after they have been dismissed, would deeply like to have their job back may feel three and a half months later, after both sides have attacked each other, that they no longer want it back because the relationship has broken down. I agree with the hon. Member for Langbaurgh that there is room for more conciliation and informal procedures to return people to their jobs.

The present position is not perfect, but the Government's proposals are disgraceful. Part of their great economic strategy for the 1980s and 1990s is sweatshops, low pay, rotten standards of employment practices, lack of training and poor management. That is what the Government are giving us. That is what the Budget was about. This is just a tatty little part of that tatty little strategy.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment) 1:17 am, 15th May 1985

By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) concluded—I am sorry that she felt it necessary to continue for so long—by referring to the Budget. I believe that the Budget will have a greater impact on employment than this variation order, because it gives direct help to those employing lower paid people as a result of the restructuring of national insurance. It is important to keep our various debates and proposals in perspective.

No one has claimed that this variation of period order will have a massive impact. It may have a significant psychological impact and a direct impact on some people who have faced trying to get rid of an unsatisfactory employee without believing that they had sufficient evidence to justify dismissal. They may be one of those two thirds of cases which do not come to a hearing, either because of conciliation or withdrawal, or one of the one third of cases that go to a hearing but the application is not upheld. In all these discussions, I caution the House against building too much on what is before it.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

The hon. Gentleman need not interrupt in the few minutes that his colleague the hon. Member for Ladywood has left me. We are dealing with the provision for employers of more than 20 people dismissing someone between the 12th and the 24th month.

Some hon. Members have openly said that they do not believe that there should be a qualifying period. Others are willing to accept that a qualifying period is reasonable. We have heard from the Opposition that, when changes were made in the 1970s, the qualifying period was not eliminated immediately in order to try to carry employers with the idea. That was at least an acknowledgment that employers do have a view to which it is worth paying attention. It is established that there is an impact which should be considered—whether direct or actual, because of the psychological effect.

I think I can still survive the compliments of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner); we may have to put up with each other for some time yet. He referred to the length of my speech and whether I was reading it too fast or too slowly. I was not too clear—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) now says that it does not matter.

At the beginning I was explaining the nature of the provision and the reason for it. I should now like to try to get the House to understand that we are not just talking about employees who are unfairly dismissed. We are talking about employees who are able to put in an application claiming to unfair dismissal and go to an industrial tribunal.

The House will not hear from me tonight a total justification which lines up the Government only behind those employers who feel that they have been unjustly treated by having to answer unfair dismissal complaints. Neither would the House expect me to be concerned only with those employees who presently may have been unfairly dismissed but do not have the possibility of an effective claim for unfair dismissal because they fall within the qualifying period. We want to try to find the right balance. That is what my right hon. Friend said in his press release.

However much scorn Labour Members pour on what the Government are trying to do, they should accept that we are trying to improve the prospects for employment. That is critically important. Although there may be differences of view as to the scale of a change of this kind, the fact that there is likely to be an impact leading to greater employment is not disputed by any of the evidence read out by the hon. Member for Ladywood.

If we were to turn the question the other way round and go through the period when the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was involved in these affairs, he might be able to demonstrate, through research, that there was no impact whatever on employment as a result of a specific change in the qualifying period. But I do not believe that that evidence is there. If one follows the line of Karl Popper, one should not be asking for evidence on something that one cannot actually demonstrate.

I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) about the improvements in industrial relations and in training on the management side, also involving shop stewards, together with the fact, mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) and by other hon. Members, that the number of claims for unfair dismissal is a small fraction of the number of people who lose their jobs. That shows that there is a sense of reality in the outside world, even though we in this House may occasionally lose it when debating issues of this kind. If people were listening to this debate and believing all they heard from the Opposition Benches, one might expect a good many employers to start dismissing people unfairly and wantonly and on a large and growing scale. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Ladywood thinks that that is what I want, she is flying in the face of some of the compliments that I am surviving from her hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West.

What the Government are trying to do—I believe rightly—is to recognise the changed circumstances of today, where we have a far greater need to get people into work. Some people in work may need to accept for that one period, between 12 months and 24 months, the reduced provision in regard to making a claim for unfair dismissal. That is the essence of the debate.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

The Minister has said that there is a reduced provision. Is it not the fact that the Government are removing that provision altogether for that 12-month period?

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

As the hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, people can still make the claim, and the industrial tribunal hearing might have to be put down, although a pre-hearing assessment might remove it. But there are cases which have been brought to my attention of cases involving people who clearly have not qualified through the qualifying period, where an employer has been summoned to attend an industrial tribunal hearing. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that that is wrong, I should be interested to hear from him, but it is the fact. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ladywood says that it is mad. When she reads Hansard I hope she will accept that that sort of experience can discourage an employer from replacing or taking on additional staff. I think that the hon. Lady's research confirms what is said in the document "Burdens on Business"—

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

Why does the Minister defend this mean and despicable measure? Does he not agree that 12 months is sufficient for any employer to assess the capabilities of any employee?

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

I am sure that we all welcome the Chairman of the Select Committee to the Chamber. If someone is taken on for a probationary period, and assessment comes within the first year, if that person is near the mark of being an acceptable employee but not quite there, giving him an additional year to demonstrate his capability may keep him in work. That is a simple and direct answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

There have been comments about the way in which industrial tribunals conduct their affairs, but that is outside the terms of the debate. However, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) for putting forward his points in a robust and good-natured way. The fact that he managed to keep Opposition Members unaware of his view on the order, as well as keeping me on tenterhooks, is a tribute to his debating skills. We look forward to debates on the issues that he raised—such as the question whether so many lawyers need to be involved. We may discover that some recent books on industrial tribunal procedure bear some consideration in deciding whether the current system is the most effective. We might also pick up the point about ensuring that some of the tribunal awards are paid and that people do not escape by going bankrupt because awards have been made against them.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, North tried to interrupt my opening speech. I am not sure whether that was because I was not saying what he expected, so he had to rewrite his speech, or whether he was trying to play for time because the Opposition had asked for an additional hour and a half. All the time available has been used by hon. Members, so it is right that my introduction was factual. I commend the order to the House because the balance will be more in favour of encouraging employers to take on more people, without feeling that they may have to face unfair claims for unfair dismissal up to two years after the employee joined the company.

I look forward to a continuation of improvement in industrial relations. I remind the House that the information from many experts is that those businesses that have effective grievance procedures and ensure that they carry them out to the letter will not be at risk from the unfair dismissal provisions in employment legislation.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Employment)

If the hon. and learned Gentleman says that I am wrong, perhaps we should have another debate in a few minutes. The fact is that we expect the number of cases to reduce by 4,000 a year, and I believe that future research will show some increase in employment—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) and order [10 May]:

The House divided: Ayes 221, Noes 138.

Division No. 211][1.28 am
AYES
Adley, RobertBottomley, Peter
Aitken, JonathanBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Alexander, RichardBowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)
Amess, DavidBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Ancram, MichaelBoyson, Dr Rhodes
Arnold, TomBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Ashby, DavidBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Brinton, Tim
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Baldry, TonyBrowne, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Bruinvels, Peter
Batiste, SpencerBuck, Sir Antony
Bellingham, HenryBudgen, Nick
Bendall, VivianBulmer, Esmond
Benyon, WilliamBurt, Alistair
Best, KeithButcher, John
Bevan, David GilroyButterfill, John
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Blackburn, JohnCarlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterCarttiss, Michael
Boscawen, Hon RobertCash, William
Chapman, SydneyKnowles, Michael
Chope, ChristopherKnox, David
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Lamont, Norman
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Lang, Ian
Clegg, Sir WalterLatham, Michael
Cockeram, EricLawler, Geoffrey
Colvin, MichaelLawrence, Ivan
Coombs, SimonLee, John (Pendle)
Cope, JohnLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Couchman, JamesLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Cranborne, ViscountLester, Jim
Crouch, DavidLewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Currie, Mrs EdwinaLightbown, David
Dicks, TerryLilley, Peter
Dorrell, StephenLloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Lord, Michael
Dover, DenLyell, Nicholas
Dunn, RobertMcCrindle, Robert
Durant, TonyMcCurley, Mrs Anna
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Eggar, TimMacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Evennett, DavidMaclean, David John
Fairbairn, NicholasMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Fallon, MichaelMcQuarrie, Albert
Farr, Sir JohnMadel, David
Favell, AnthonyMajor, John
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMalone, Gerald
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyMaples, John
Fookes, Miss JanetMarland, Paul
Forman, NigelMarlow, Antony
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Forth, EricMather, Carol
Fox, MarcusMaude, Hon Francis
Franks, CecilMawhinney, Dr Brian
Fraser, Peter (Angus East)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Freeman, RogerMayhew, Sir Patrick
Fry, PeterMellor, David
Gale, RogerMerchant, Piers
Galley, RoyMeyer, Sir Anthony
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMills, Iain (Meriden)
Greenway, HarryMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Gregory, ConalMiscampbell, Normar
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Ground, PatrickMoate, Roger
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Hampson, Dr KeithMorrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hanley, JeremyMoynihan, Hon C.
Hannam, JohnNeale, Gerrard
Hargreaves, KennethNeedham, Richard
Harris, DavidNelson, Anthony
Haselhurst, AlanNewton, Tony
Havers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelNicholls, Patrick
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)Normanton, Tom
Hawksley, WarrenNorris, Steven
Hayes, J.Oppenheim, Phillip
Hayward, RobertOsborn, Sir John
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidOttaway, Richard
Heddle, JohnPage, Richard (Herts SW)
Henderson, BarryParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Parris, Matthew
Hind, KennethPatten, Christopher (Bath)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Pattie, Geoffrey
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Pawsey, James
Holt, RichardPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Pollock, Alexander
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Portillo, Michael
Hunt, David (Wirral)Powell, William (Corby)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Powley, John
Hunter, AndrewPrice, Sir David
Jackson, RobertProctor, K. Harvey
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRaffan, Keith
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Robert (W Herts)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Rossi, Sir Hugh
King, Rt Hon TomRowe, Andrew
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Ryder, Richard
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)Sackville, Hon Thomas
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyViggers, Peter
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Walden, George
Speed, KeithWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Stanbrook, IvorWall, Sir Patrick
Stevens, Martin (Fulham)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stokes, JohnWilkinson, John
Taylor, John (Solihull)Yeo, Tim
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Tellers for the Ayes:
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Thurnham, PeterMr. Michael Neubert.
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCunliffe, Lawrence
Ashdown, PaddyDalyell, Tarn
Ashton, JoeDeakins, Eric
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Dewar, Donald
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Dixon, Donald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Dobson, Frank
Barnett, GuyDormand, Jack
Beckett, Mrs MargaretDubs, Alfred
Bell, StuartDunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Benn, TonyEadie, Alex
Bermingham, GeraldEastham, Ken
Bidwell, SydneyEvans, John (St. Helens N)
Boyes, RolandEwing, Harry
Bray, Dr JeremyFatchett, Derek
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Fisher, Mark
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Forrester, John
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Campbell-Savours, DaleFreeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Canavan, DennisGeorge, Bruce
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Godman, Dr Norman
Clarke, ThomasGolding, John
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHamilton, James (M'well N)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Cohen, HarryHardy, Peter
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Home Robertson, John
Corbyn, JeremyHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cowans, HarryHughes, Roy (Newport East)
Craigen, J. M.Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Crowther, StanJanner, Hon Greville
John, BrynmorPenhahgon, David
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPike, Peter
Kennedy, CharlesPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Kilroy-Silk, RobertPrescott, John
Kirkwood, ArchyRadice, Giles
Lamond, JamesRandall, Stuart
Leadbitter, TedRedmond, M.
Leighton, RonaldRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Richardson, Ms Jo
Lewis, Terence (Worsley)Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Litherland, RobertRobertson, George
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Loyden, EdwardRooker, J. W.
McCartney, HughRowlands, Ted
McDonald, Dr OonaghSedgemore, Brian
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Sheerman, Barry
McKelvey, WilliamShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorSilkin, Rt Hon J.
McNamara, KevinSkinner, Dennis
McTaggart, RobertSmith, C.(Isl"ton S & F'bury)
McWilliam, JohnSoley, Clive
Madden, MaxSpearing, Nigel
Marek, Dr JohnStrang, Gavin
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Martin, MichaelThompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Maxton, JohnThorne, Stan (Preston)
Maynard, Miss JoanTinn, James
Meacher, MichaelWallace, James
Meadowcroft, MichaelWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mikardo, IanWeetch, Ken
Millan, Rt Hon BruceWelsh, Michael
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Williams, Rt Hon A.
Nellist, DavidWinnick, David
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWrigglesworth, Ian
O'Neill, MartinYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Park, George
Parry, RobertTellers for the Noes:
Patchett, TerryMr. Frank Haynes and
Pavitt, LaurieMr. Robin Corbett.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Unfair Dismissal (Variation of Qualifying Period) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 17th April, be approved.