Clause 43 - Union learning representatives

Employment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 22nd January 2002.

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Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 10:30 am, 22nd January 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 221, in page 45, line 33, after '(2)' insert

'and has obtained a nationally recognised qualification relevant to those activities'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 220, in page 45, leave out lines 35 to 41.

No. 222, in page 46, line 1, leave out subsection (6).

No. 226, page 47, line 4, at end insert—

'(aa) the training condition referred to in section 168A(4) of this Act is met in relation to him.'.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

The amendments primarily deal with qualifications and training for the job of union learning representative. We are all clear that the union learning rep is not a nominal appointment or reward to be given to somebody for long and diligent service in the cause of their union. It is a functioning post that, in best practice examples, will perform a vital function as part of the overall training and learning scheme in a firm. It is therefore essential that the people who fill the posts are properly qualified, which means appropriate qualifications and training to do the job in question.

The Government envisage that union learning reps will be appointed, or perhaps elected in some cases, and, once appointed, will undertake some training to fit them for the job. That is counter-intuitive because we are discussing a particular function for which someone will need a clear knowledge and understanding of the training process and the opportunities available to members of the work force. Opposition Members consider it reasonable for employers to expect that if they pay people to carry out duties during working time, the people who carry them out will be competent and qualified. That is so self-evidently necessary and uncontroversial that I am curious about the Government's objection to the inclusion of a requirement for a nationally recognised qualification for somebody to be eligible to be appointed as a union learning rep.

The rejection by the Government of amendment No. 221, which recommends that a ''nationally recognised qualification''—something like a national vocational qualification—should be required to make a person eligible for appointment as a union learning rep will suggest to employers that the Government see union learning reps less as contributing in a specific function, and more in terms of an award, reward or recognition. I cannot begin to imagine the argument that the Minister will make to suggest that people who are wholly unqualified should be eligible for these posts. The system will be brought into disrepute if people who are eminently qualified to act as learning reps in a workplace are passed over and people who are eminently unqualified are appointed.

If the Minister is unable to accept the amendments, I hope that he will indicate that there will be a requirement in guidance or regulations for appropriate qualification at the time of appointment. If an employer is to be required to recognise the appointment of a union learning rep, there should be a requirement for that person to have appropriate qualifications. The other amendments flow naturally from what I have just said.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

All the amendments refer to the training condition. Many respondents to our consultation exercise, especially employers, wanted

assurances that union learning reps would be sufficiently trained to carry out their specialist duties. There was majority, if not unanimous, support for that and one or two voices, such as that of the Trades Union Congress, were unhappy that we should insist on a training requirement. However, that is the decision that we have come to. Clause 43 requires employees to be sufficiently trained to carry out their duties either at the time that they begin functioning as a union learning representative or within six months of that date.

Amendment No. 220 seeks to remove subsections (4)(b) and (c) from new section 168A. Those subsections deal with the position of a union member who wishes to become a union learning rep but is, as yet, untrained in that role. Such individuals would find it difficult to gain the necessary expertise unless they had time off work to undergo the required introductory training. Indeed, evaluation of the existing union learning reps demonstrates that one in three find that an inability to have time off is a barrier to carrying out the role. The subsections make provision for that by allowing a new but untrained union learning rep to fill the position for an initial six-month start-up period. During that period, the union learning rep would receive the same time off rights as an established rep. However, if the person did not receive the required training during the six-month period, that person would no longer qualify for that right to time off.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Does the Minister acknowledge that there is a difference between training and qualification? The amendments propose that the provision that the training condition is met by training after the appointment be deleted and that, in its place, a recognised qualification is required as a condition of eligibility for appointment. That is, in practice, how we work across the piece. I am sure that his Department does not generally appoint people on the basis that if they undergo appropriate training, they might be capable six months later of fulfilling the role assigned to them. We tend to look for people who are capable of fulfilling it from day one.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

I accept that there is a difference between training and qualification and I shall come to that when I come to amendment No. 221. Equally, I expect the hon. Gentleman to accept that some forms of training and learning include learning on the job. During the six-month start-up period, new union learning reps will gain important experience in doing the job as part of their development in the role.

Subsection (5) ensures that a disqualified person—a union learning rep who did not take up the initial training within the six-month period—could not immediately requalify for time off by starting a second six-month period. Thus, there is a real incentive for the new union learning rep to undertake the initial training at the earliest opportunity.

If there is to be a training condition, we must give all union members an opportunity to meet it. The two subsections are vital if we are not to exclude many people from the opportunity to undertake this role in the workplace in future.

Amendment No. 221 seeks to define the training condition as the attainment of a nationally recognised qualification relating to a union learning rep's activities, as the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge explained. At present no national vocational qualification covers all aspects of a union learning rep's role. Some units of existing advice and guidance non-vocational qualifications may well be applicable to that aspect of a union learning rep's role. In addition, there are specially designed courses for union learning reps who need them, which are accredited through the Open College network. It may be possible to design a national qualification in this area, but it is a totally different matter to insist rigidly, as the amendment does, that all union learning reps should obtain such a qualification.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

If the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment, how can we establish whether someone has undergone insufficient training? Normally, in our education and employment system, we establish that people are sufficiently educated or have undergone sufficient training if they have achieved a qualification. How can we prove that if the Minister does not accept the amendment?

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman will recall from our discussions last week that a code of practice is proposed. The clause enables either the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service or the Secretary of State to produce a code of practice that will help to define the training condition. The hon. Gentleman will also recall that we have discussed the balance between specifying provision in the Bill and the need for flexibility of application, workplace by workplace. The same principle applies to my argument about a qualification.

These courses, or a single, formal qualification, may not suit everyone. Union learning reps, like Members of Parliament, come in all shapes and sizes: they have different aptitudes and prior skills and widely varying personal characteristics, and people learn in different ways. We know from experience over the past three or four years that some of the most effective union learning reps are those who have come to learning late; a formal course may not be suitable for them, just as a formal course and the full qualification may not be suitable for someone who may previously have been a careers guidance expert or, indeed, a teacher. If we go down the hon. Gentleman's route, we risk, first, introducing rigidity and, secondly, denying the possibility of becoming a union learning rep to a number of people who might otherwise be able to serve in that capacity and help their workplace colleagues.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 10:45 am, 22nd January 2002

I want to put two points to the Minister. First, is he telling us that someone who does not have a qualification at NVQ level is the right

person to advise others on how to obtain such qualifications? That seems to me to be counter-intuitive.

Secondly, as I understand it, the paragraphs in subsection (4) should be read disjunctively, so subsection (4)(b) stands alone. It therefore says:

''The training condition is met if—

(b) the trade union has in the last six months given the employer notice in writing that the employee will be undergoing such training''.

There is no reference to training being done or being done by a specific date. If the trade union simply gives the employer notice in writing that the employee will undergo the training, that will satisfy the training condition and force the employer to recognise that person as a learning rep. That is entirely unsatisfactory.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

On the latter point, as I have already explained, the training condition will be met in those circumstances in order to give new union learning reps six months during which they have the right to paid time off to take the initial training required to bring them up to speed as a fully effective trade union learning rep. If they fail to take up that entitlement, the training condition lapses and cannot be reapplied for by the same person. That is why the provision is in the clause.

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I urge him to look at some of our evaluation evidence of the experience of union learning reps over the past four years. He may know that one of the biggest problems facing Britain today is that up to 7 million adults do not have the reading, writing and maths skills that we expect of our 11-year-olds. Of those 7 million, at least 3 million are already in the workplace. Our experience has been that some union learning reps with poor basic literacy and numeracy skills are in a perfect position for colleagues with similar difficulties to confide in them and to trust their advice and information about how, after many years in many cases, they can begin to tackle their basic skills problems. The value of union learning reps is that they can move among their colleagues and be someone whom both the employee and the employer can trust to raise the commitment and the motivation to tackle some of the learning and skills deficits that we face in workplaces today.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

In the situation that the Minister is describing, union learning reps have considerable responsibility, because they are dealing with people, as the Minister says, who may have poor literacy and numeracy skills, be poor at articulating themselves and need all the help that they can get. Surely that is even more reason why union learning reps should have a basic qualification for advising people? If they do not, we may find that someone with no qualifications, who may honestly be trying to do the best job he or she can, may give poor advice simply by not being qualified to help those people.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman makes a persuasive case, but it supports the case for training if a union learning rep is to do an effective job, and not necessarily the case for a single qualification, which

may lead to problems of rigidity and may rule out those who would otherwise have a valuable role to play as union learning reps. Above all, I have made it clear that we want to avoid the danger of a one-size-fits-all policy, which would not work in practice.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

I think that all members of the Committee respect the argument that many people struggle to read and write—indeed, this morning I am struggling with my own words—but we must not confuse the pastoral role to which the Minister refers with the need for a qualification. Can the Minister explain whether the stance that he has taken this morning contradicts his Department's stance on, say, teaching in schools, which is clearly a comparable situation? The Government have rightly argued that qualified teachers are needed to provide the leadership, qualifications and skills necessary to do the job, and the same is surely true in the workplace.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

The situation is different. We are talking about lay people who are prepared to undertake extra duties to help their colleagues at work, and we are keen to ensure that such people have the support, information and basic training that they need to do so effectively. That could include diagnostic techniques, the ability to carry out skills audits, basic information advice counselling skills, and knowledge about the type of learning provision that might be available and appropriate. We look to our union learning reps to have such training, information and skills, but as I have contended that is not the same as a formal qualification.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health)

In terms of previous experience and learning skills, will there be a system of accreditation for those who might not have formal qualifications? Such a system is quite common in other areas of training.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

For those who are new union learning reps, the proposed code of practice and the provisions that introduce it will cover such matters by defining the training conditions and the circumstances in which they will be met.

Amendment No. 222 would remove the clause's definition of ''sufficient training''. It would also remove the power of ACAS or the Secretary of State to introduce a code of practice that gives guidance on what constitutes sufficient training—the matter on which the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) pressed me a moment ago.

As I argued in response to amendment No. 221, the Government recognise that the experience, attributes and prized skills that individuals bring to the job will vary greatly. I am therefore keen to avoid an unnecessarily prescriptive definition of ''sufficient training'' that treats all individuals as if they need to be, and are, the same. In practice, some individuals may need formal training, but others who learn best in different ways could pick up the necessary expertise by shadowing an experienced union learning rep, or through similar individual coaching and mentoring. Indeed, some may have already gained teaching or

training experience through their employment. For them, such previous experience might mean that they need little or no further training to undertake the role effectively.

We would expect the code of practice to discuss and deal with those varying circumstances, giving guidance on what should be taken into account in deciding whether an individual is indeed sufficiently trained. I expect the code of practice to be produced by the Secretary of State, although no final decision has been taken on that. It is within the power of ACAS to produce it, although this particular field is perhaps outside its expertise. In either case, a draft code would be put out for full consultation, and it is clear that it would be particularly important for us—or for ACAS—to receive the views of employers, unions and training specialists on its contents.

Amendment No. 226 seeks to ensure that trade union members have the right to access a learning rep only if that rep meets the training condition, and I agree with that aim. There should be no entitlement to time off—although such time off would be without pay—where the rep is a self-styled union learning rep with no backing. However, I believe that the clause will achieve that. It will insert proposed new subsection (2)(b) into section 170 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, and provide an employer who is also a union member with the right to unpaid time off for the purpose of accessing the services of a union learning rep. Proposed new subsection (2)(c), however, provides that that right will apply only if the union learning rep qualifies for paid time off under subsection (1) of proposed new section 168A. To so qualify, a union learning rep will have to meet the training condition, and an entitlement to time off will exist only where the union learning rep has indeed met that condition.

I hope that that somewhat lengthy explanation has given hon. Members the reassurance that they seek, and that, in the light of my comments, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge will regard the amendment as unnecessary. Through the consultation exercise, we have carefully weighed views on the question of requiring training and qualification. We have responded to employers' requests that a training condition be attached to the union learning rep role, and in a way that avoids over-prescription by catering for a wide variety of circumstances and for the wide range of individuals who might take up that role. A code will be introduced, giving more detailed guidance. We have also ensured that all qualifying members of a union will have a reasonable opportunity to become union learning reps themselves.

The provisions are sensible and I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment. If he will not, I must urge my hon. Friends to resist it.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development)

I shall be brief. I have already expressed concern about the potential for abuse of this new right—we had that debate last week—and if it is to work, it must include an element

of flexibility. The amendments are overly prescriptive and could disqualify a number of people who genuinely want to contribute to improving education and skills among union members in the workplace. It would not be helpful to deny such people the opportunity to play a role, and on the whole I prefer the approach in the Bill as drafted. A code of practice that defines how the training should work is preferable to an overly prescriptive system that would deny opportunities to many potentially laudable representatives.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I am not soothed by the Minister's explanations. The issue is important, and it goes to the heart of the question of the Government's motivation in pursuing this measure. Generally speaking, the Government are pretty much wedded to objectively measurable standards, qualifications and thresholds. They like to measure, and to ensure that things are being achieved in a measurable way. Here, however, the woolly suggestion is made that those who are unqualified will be appointed unqualified. They will perhaps undergo some training—I shall return in a moment to the question of how we can be sure that such training will take place—at the end of which the assumption will be made that they are fit to do the job. As I understand it, there will be no test at the end to establish whether such people are competent, capable and qualified to preach to their fellow workers. There appears to be no mechanism for challenging the appointment of a union learning rep if it becomes self-evident during training that he is unsuitable or not committed to the role.

We have fundamental questions about the Government's real intentions. There is no debate about the need to encourage training and learning, or to secure co-operation between employers and those who work for them. The debate is about whether the exercise on which the Minister is embarked is genuinely intended to achieve that objective, and focused towards achieving it, or whether there is an alternative agenda.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development) 11:00 am, 22nd January 2002

I am absolutely with the hon. Gentleman over the need to ensure that the new right works as it ought to and is intended to, according the terms of the Bill, rather than being abused in the way that he suggests. Does he not concede, however, that in any given workplace the learning rep might be dealing with a human resources person, employed by the employer, who is equally unqualified, although perhaps very good at the job? It would be a little bizarre to impose a requirement of a specific training qualification on the union side of the workplace, but not on the human resources, employed, side.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

An employer dealing with a unionised work force, which is what we are talking about, who appoints a completely unqualified human resources manager is taking a pretty big risk with his business. I certainly would not recommend anyone to buy his shares, but that would be his risk.

Something very important came from the Minister's response to the amendment. I do not think that we need to have a party political confrontation on the point, but it became apparent to me as he was speaking that part of the problem is that we are trying to address two issues at once. In the Minister's recent remarks about union learning reps, he referred to dealing with illiteracy and the 3 million people who cannot read or write and who do not possess basic numeracy. Of course, that is a major problem in society, which must be addressed. He is right that someone with no formal qualifications and no educational background but who has sorted himself out might be in a better position to take the message to a younger colleague that he needs to focus on acquiring those basic skills. I do not disagree with that.

However, when we were talking about union learning reps at the start of this series of debates, I had in mind something a little more ambitious and exalted and I think that employers have that in mind when they examine the positive role that union learning reps can play. The United Kingdom has to fight its corner in the world, so we need highly skilled people in our workplaces. Skills are becoming outdated at an ever-accelerating rate and we need to encourage in the workplace a culture of learning, relearning and relearning again so that people constantly update their knowledge base and keep ahead of the game. That is where my legitimate concern about unqualified people comes in.

There are two different roles here and one of them is for the chap with no education but a good evangelical line for basic learning who can persuade others in the workplace that they need basic literacy and numeracy. However, the reality is that if someone is employed in a role that he can satisfactorily hold down without basic literacy and numeracy, it is unlikely to be of material value to the employer in the workplace to upgrade those skills. Of course, there is a huge benefit to society at large. I do not deny that, but that is different from trying constantly to persuade higher-skilled and medium-skilled people to test the ceiling of their capabilities by upgrading.

I do not have a solution off the top of my head, but I suggest that the latter role will not be adequately filled by someone with no recognised qualification in that area. I do not think that the Minister intends union learning reps to deal only with the rump end of the problem, the people left behind by the employer's skills and training schemes. I think that he intends those people to mesh into the training and learning schemes that employers develop.

We know that training will be defined in the code to be issued by the Secretary of State, but we have been told nothing about how long it should take or whether there should be any defined, measurable outcome at the end of it. I asked the Minister about that before and did not receive an answer. It seems to me that the training qualification will be satisfied, and that an appointment as a learning rep will therefore stand, if the condition in subsection (4)(b) alone is satisfied. That says that the training condition is met if

''the trade union has in the last six months''— that is, the six months prior to the rep's appointment—

''given the employer notice in writing that the employee will be undergoing such training''.

It does not go on to say, ''and the employee actually undergoes such training.'' As I understand it, the mere giving of a notice by the trade union to the employer is sufficient to satisfy the training condition. That cannot be the intention, and I suggest to the Minister that there is an unintended loophole.

Employers will not take the scheme seriously and at face value, as the Minister would wish them to, if learning reps are to be imposed on them by statute. It will be in everybody's interests if they can take the scheme seriously. An objective measure of qualification must be achieved—the amendment suggests before appointment, but we could come to a consensus that it should be afterwards, once the training has taken place. Otherwise the scheme could be discredited by patently incompetent and unqualified people filling the role of learning reps years down the line following their appointment.

I should like to hear the Minister's response to those points before I decide how to proceed.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

I shall try to deal with the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

First, he is right to argue that we need a more highly skilled work force that is constantly and regularly reskilled. However, that can happen only if people have the basic skills on which to build such additional training. That is the fundamental problem that has bedevilled so many of our employees in terms of their ability to reskill. It is a block on business and on the opportunities of those individuals. The hon. Gentleman was right to mention the need for different roles. I remind him that that was precisely my argument in response to an earlier amendment that sought to limit the number of union learning reps that could be appointed in any one workplace or bargaining unit.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is worried about the interpretation of subsection (4)(b). As I tried to explain, we are talking about a one-off temporary period of six months during which the newly appointed learning rep has to undertake training to meet the training condition. The key word is ''last''. If the condition is not met after six months, the right to time off to undergo that training, and the rights that accrue from being a recognised union learning rep, fall. Subsection (5) makes it clear that it is a one-off opportunity for a new learning rep to acquire the training to meet the training condition in order to be able to take up the rights for which the rest of the clause provides.

Thirdly, the code of practice and the consultation that will help us to confirm it will cover precisely the range of matters that the hon. Gentleman outlined.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman was worried about the situation of an employer who believes that the training condition in respect of a union learning rep has not been met after the initial six months. If an employer was worried that the training condition had not been met, he would not give time off to a learning rep to carry out duties or fulfil the rights that will flow from

this clause. It will be incumbent on the union and the learning rep to ensure that sufficient training, and evidence of it, are such that the employer's concern is settled. Ultimately, if the learning rep could not satisfy the employer that the training condition had been met, that would be tested in an employment tribunal. I hope that I have settled the hon. Gentleman's concerns and that he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

The Minister has not settled my concerns about subsection (4)(b). I have heard his comments, but my reading of the Bill is different. I am not a lawyer, but it seems that nothing requires the condition in (4)(b) to be conjoined with another condition that requires training to take place. The Minister has talked about the code of practice; it is not clear that that code will override the Bill. The code of practice will simply enable an employer to define sufficient training, and that is its essential purpose. That is relevant to subsections (4)(a) and (c) but does not seem relevant to 4(b).

I will withdraw the amendment with a view to tabling similar amendments on Report in the hope of probing the important matter of qualification. It is the key remaining issue for employers who recognise that the Government are determined to impose, by statute, union learning reps. Employers want to ensure that those who are appointed will contribute positively to training and learning in the workplace and will be appropriately qualified to do so. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I beg to move amendment No. 228, in page 45, line 43, at end add—

'(5A) This section shall not apply to an employer who has obtained and who maintains ''Investors in People'' status'.

I will not dwell on the drafting of the amendment—the Minister will probably have a hundred reasons why it is technically defective—but it probes the Government on why it is necessary to impose the model of the statutory union learning rep on an employer who is already exercising best practice in relation to training and learning in the workplace.

Many times the Minister has, using one of my favourite phrases, said that we cannot impose a one-size-fits-all solution. However, the clause offers precisely that. The statutory union learning rep is being imposed not where there is no training, or where training is inadequate, but where the training, by the Government's own standards and tests, is first class. The employer may have been certificated for being at the leading edge, yet the Government want to impose, in an unhelpful fashion, a statutory provision.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Department for Education and Skills effectively applies the amendment because, as can be seen from the copy of the Minister's letter, it has Investors in People status? The letter also states that there are no formally designated or accredited union learning representatives in the Department.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

There we are; the Minister's conduct as an investor in people is so excellent that he has no need of learning reps. That is obviously his conclusion, because he has not appointed learning reps voluntarily in his Department.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) 11:15 am, 22nd January 2002

May I ask the hon. Gentleman what he understands about whose job it is to appoint union learning reps? Surely it is the union's job, not the Department's or the management's. It is a fundamental misunderstanding to assert otherwise.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

It is not a fundamental misunderstanding, but a slip of the tongue. What I meant to say was that, as I understand it, the Department for Education and whatever it is—it changes its name every few weeks—has not introduced a voluntary scheme offering union learning reps paid time off work. Perhaps the Minister will tell me that it has offered such a scheme and that the unions declined to take it up, but that seems unlikely and would call into question what the Minister proposes to do through the legislation.

The point is a serious one. We recognise that not all employers are best practice employers where training is concerned, although we still have doubts about whether imposing the statutory model will deliver any benefits even with non-best practice employers. Clearly, however, it cannot be helpful to impose a statutory model on someone who is already performing in that area and is recognised officially as doing so. I invite the Minister to think about the underlying substance, and not to dwell too long on the imperfections of the amendment.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

I favour the amendment, especially as it highlights the benefits of the Investors in People programme. I am sure that various Committee members have had experience of that in the business world, as have I, both directly and indirectly. In a sense, the Investors in People programme typifies the best practice that there can be in industry, and raises the question of whether the statutory approach with which the Government are trying to proceed is necessary and being imposed in the right way.

Investors in People is popular because it allows individuals to learn and go on learning, with an ethos of continuous learning essential for all individuals at various levels. It also encourages firms to create teams. The creation of a real sense of teamwork is at the heart of the IIP programme. IIP contrasts with the Government approach because it is about collaboration between employer and employee, which we should promote if we can. A joy of the programme is that it allows individuals and firms to go at their own pace. The Minister's Department clearly understands that, because it is involved in the programme. The stages in the programme allow organisations, public and private, to move at their own pace. That is essential. For example, manufacturing is deep in recession and the many firms that wish to pursue IIP

are able to do so at a pace that suits them. If market conditions are difficult, the scheme allows them to reflect those conditions.

The great joy of the amendment is that it would give that programme a tangible boost. It would be a real advantage to many organisations—especially those that the Minister wants to encourage to become involved in training and learning—to give IIP a status with tangible benefits. It could be a real boost to the programme. Given that the Minister's Department and others are involved, why does the Minister believe that it needs to be promoted and supported? Why does he feel the need to take the statutory, imposed approach? I worry that that will cut across the real benefits of IIP.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

I shall start with my own Department. We are proud to have the Investors in People standard. We have found that it contributes enormously to our ability to manage and develop our work force effectively. It is a good tool, encouraging best management practice and good organisational development. We are, in policy terms, strongly behind the promotion and expansion of IIP. It happens to be a policy area that is my responsibility.

The question of union learning reps in my Department was raised on Thursday. What the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge described as a slip of the tongue in fact betrayed a misunderstanding of proper relations in the workplace and the operation of union learning reps. It is the union that decides the appointment, development and deployment of union learning reps.

In my Department, the principal union is the Public and Commercial Services union. It has more than 200 accredited learning reps throughout the civil service, and I understand that its priority has been to concentrate development of its union learning rep network on Departments with large field-operations staff, rather than those, such as the DFES, that have a relatively small headquarters staff. I hope that the factual information that I have provided in my letter is useful.

The question posed to me is certainly useful. Union learning reps work with employers. They are not the creature of employers and it is not an employer's role and responsibility to see them appointed. It is the proper responsibility and right of a union to do so. The hon. Gentleman may say that his remark was a slip of the tongue, but I see it as a fundamental misunderstanding by the Opposition of the nature of trade unions and relations in the workplace in Britain today.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

The Minister is making a ridiculous meal out of this light snack. Surely the point is—and there would be no point to the legislation if the Minister did not agree with me—that the employer, under a voluntary system, has to make paid time off available before the appointment of a union learning rep who can operate in working hours becomes a reality. What I should have referred to was not the

appointment of union learning reps by his Department, but whether it had made available paid time off to facilitate that.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

Making paid time off available for union learning reps is, of course, the fundamental purpose of the clause. Evidence shows that, under entirely voluntary systems, there are real barriers to union learning reps being able to do their job effectively. They do not all get a right to time off to undertake their duties or the initial training that will make them effective.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

In his letter, the Minister states that more than half of all trade unionists are employed in the public sector, but that only 37 per cent of union learning reps work in the public sector workplace. Does that suggest that public sector employers and Government Departments are less good than many private sector employers at providing time for union learning reps to work with them in a voluntary way? Should not the Government put their own house in order before imposing rules on the rest of society?

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

Neither the hon. Gentleman nor I can explain precisely the reason for that pattern. I can only say that he should pose his question to the unions. As I explained earlier in response to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, the unions decide where they want to prioritise the development and deployment of union learning reps. In the first three or four years of the operation of union learning reps, those places happen to be where unions have developed the network most strongly.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

There seems to be a real issue here. Perhaps I am wrong, but my understanding is that under the present voluntary regime, the question is not where the unions decide that they want to prioritise, but where employers agree voluntarily to make paid time off available. That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) made. Are we to deduce from the figures that the availability of paid time off offered by employers on a voluntary basis has been less forthcoming in the public than in the private sector?

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

The figures relate to the number of union learning reps and where they are deployed in British workplaces. They do not relate to where those union reps also have a right to time off, voluntarily ceded by employers. I have already explained the problems that many reps experience in gaining those, which is the reason for the clause.

As the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge has explained, amendment No. 228 seeks to exempt employers with Investors in People status from the scope of clause 43. IIP is a status sign. It is a sign that employers have reached an important standard in respect of training and work force development. The hon. Gentleman rightly described them as leading-edge employers. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) gave an eloquent and cogent explanation of the value of IIP. IIP is a sign that employers have procedures and practices in place that allow for training and learning issues to be

regularly reviewed and developed continuously throughout an organisation. Anyone who has been a manager, as I have, of an organisation that has sought IIP status will know that it is about achieving and then sustaining that status. It is not a one-off effort.

Many companies with IIP status are unionised. Indeed, unions are usually very much engaged with those employers in helping them to attain and then retain IIP status. The CBI, in its response to the consultation, took the trouble to confirm that employers believe that union learning reps can be particularly helpful in supporting business training and development strategy and, in particular, can help to gain staff co-operation and help for initiatives such as Investors in People. It is therefore a somewhat bizarre idea that union learning reps should be less appropriate in such organisations than in those where the commitment to training is less pronounced. Indeed, the opposite is the case. In our experience, union learning reps help to reinforce the training message throughout an organisation, can improve the training performance of all organisations—the good, the bad and the indifferent—and can bring the poor up to a reasonable standard. All organisations, including those with IIP status, can improve.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

By enhancing the benefits of Investors in People status from the employer's point of view, the joy of the amendment is that it can encourage and widen that status to employers who are not involved at present. That is the aim of the amendment.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the amendment is not supported by Investors in People UK, which clearly does not see it in the terms that he does.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

Investors in People UK are the people responsible for the IIP standard and its promotion elsewhere.

Arguably, there is more scope for union learning reps to achieve positive results where the employer is committed to training. For that reason, I see no logic for the exemption proposed in the amendment.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

As the Minister is citing Investors in People in support of his position, can we be clear who constitute the board of Investors in People and who appoints that board?

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

Investors in People is a non-departmental public body. The appointments are made according to the due process of Government appointments. Its members clearly are the experts in the standard, its application, its promotion and its use by employers.

The amendment would also send a curious signal to unions. It would undermine their existing support for IIP initiatives. What incentive would there be for unions to co-operate and help employers to gain the

IIP standard if their status as union learning reps were removed as a result? I encourage the hon. Gentleman to seek to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I sometimes feel as though I am banging my head against a brick wall. No one has suggested that union learning reps are less appropriate in an environment where the employer has Investors in People status. We are suggesting that the statutory imposition by the state of union learning reps is not necessary in an environment where everything is working well. That has been our consistent argument throughout the debate, coupled with the secondary argument that we do not believe that the benefits achieved in those better workplaces will be achieved in environments where things are not working well and where relationships are not good. All that we are proposing is: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. That is the bottom line.

There is no suggestion that there would not be union learning reps. It is common sense to say that if something is working well, there is no need to interfere by statute. In cases where all is not well, the organisation presumably would not have Investors in People status. If it is working, why fix it? The Minister's answer is that he wants the statutory right to appoint union learning reps, whether or not the situation is working well. Why does he want that right? It is because it is on the tick-the-box list drawn up by the Trades Union Congress for supporting the Labour Government with its muscle and its money at the general election.

The Minister made some good arguments, but his refusal to listen at the margin to our suggestions for sensible exclusions and modifications convinces me that the agenda of the Minister and the Government has been written elsewhere. He is not listening to anything that we are saying.

I shall not press the amendment to a Division; that would be wasting the Committee's time, because the Government have made their position perfectly clear. However, employers who have Investors in People status—more importantly, those who were considering investing substantial time, money and effort to attain it—will draw their own conclusion from the Minister's comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 11:30 am, 22nd January 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 227, in page 47, line 8, leave out subsection (6).

I hope that the Minister will deal quickly with the amendment and set our minds at rest. Subsection (6) invests extraordinary powers in the Secretary of State:

''The Secretary of State may by order amend section 168A for the purpose of changing the purposes for which an employee may take time off under that section.''

In other words, a section that allows an employee to take time off to perform union learning rep duties could, by order of the Secretary of State, be amended to allow the employee to take time off for something

completely different. Taken at face value, subsection (6) gives the game away. It creates a new class of union official who may or may not be engaged in training.

Clearly, if the scheme is to have credibility, the people who are appointed must be engaged in training and its promotion, and nothing else. I hope that I misunderstood the clause and that the Minister can point us to some other part of the text that will reassure us that the powers cannot be used by the Secretary of State to change the fundamental purpose for which union learning reps are appointed.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

The amendment seeks to remove entirely the order-making power in subsection (6), which would allow, by order, for alteration to the definition of the union learning representative's functions. The power would not be used to change the definition or nature of the union learning rep in the way that the hon. Gentleman fears.

Let me explain the reason for the provision. Union learning reps, a relatively new creation, have developed over the past four years as unions have widened their activities in the workplace, their services to members and their contribution to the success of the businesses with which they work. As partnership in the workplace has increased under the Government, the range of responsibilities and functions that union learning reps undertake has become clearer and is well defined in section 168A(2). However, it is possible that their activities may evolve with experience and that they may change in ways that are outside the purposes of union learning representatives as defined in subsection (2).

I will give an example that may help settle the hon. Gentleman's concerns and indicate the provision that we are trying to make under subsection (6). Union learning representatives may become more involved in organising child care arrangements for workers who are being trained, and subsection (2) may not capture such an activity. That may be an important area, especially for single parents. If there is an increase in that or another unforeseen demand on union learning representative services, we want to be able to respond without having to resort to primary legislation.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I understand the Minister's explanation, but will he confirm that nothing in the Bill would prevent the powers in subsection (6) from being used to include, in subsection (2)(a) for example, the purpose of promoting membership of the trade union, the general interests of the members of the trade union or collective bargaining with the employer?

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

The clause could not be used to create an entitlement for a trade union to bargain collectively on training.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills)

The provisions would not permit that, as I explained, and I am happy to reiterate that. On the narrow question of the evolution of the functions of union learning representatives, it is prudent to introduce an order-making power that will give us the

flexibility to deal with changes that we may need to make in the future. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I thank the Minister for making it clear that the Government do not intend to have a sweeping power to change fundamentally the role of union learning representatives. I hope that the Minister will be aware of the sensitivity of employer organisations to training becoming a part of collective bargaining. That issue in particular has prompted the concern that the provision could be used to broaden the remit of union learning representatives and to make them a part of a bargaining team.

The Minister appears to be telling us that there may be matters ancillary to the carrying out of their proper duties as union learning representatives that are not sufficiently covered by subsection (2)(a), and that he wants to give himself a power to deal with that issue as it arises. As usual, the instinct seems to have been to reach for the largest possible sledgehammer rather than the daintiest chisel. There are better ways of dealing with the issue. An additional category relating to matters incidental to the carrying out of the principal activities could be included in subsection (2)(a), or subsection (6) could be limited to make it clear that the Secretary of State's power could be exercised only in a way that broadened the fundamental role without changing it completely. The Minister clearly does not favour our amendment. Given what he said, I hope to be able to work on an amendment for Report that even he would consider, so that the Government can tighten the clause to ensure that it remains crystal clear that trade union learning representatives will always have a role that deals primarily with learning and skills and that activities are added only when necessary for carrying out their principal activities. I have noticed that the Government tend to favour amendments on Report dreamt up by them rather than by the Opposition, even when the wording is identical. I therefore hope that the Minister will table such an amendment. If he does not, I will try to do so for him and to have this discussion again on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 13, Noes 4.

Division number 5 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 43 - Union learning representatives

Aye: 13 MPs

No: 4 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.