Employment Bill

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Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): I welcome the amendments. It has long struck me as rather peculiar that under parts of the income maintenance system and the social security system, people who are too poor to access payments are denied them. The social fund springs to mind, under which people are denied loans because they are too poor to pay them back. A more pertinent example might be the lower-sum rule that prevents people from accessing grants. It is alleged that people are not allowed grants or loans below £30 because the administrative costs of the payments would be too high.

Like Labour Members, I have many people in my constituency who have part-time jobs and do not reach the lower earnings level. The reasons that they work part time are often structural. In marginal economies in rural or tourist areas such as mine, many people who wish to work full time have to take part-time jobs—or several part-time jobs, to reach a reasonable income. I support the amendments, and I urge the Minister to consider my points.

Judy Mallaber: I wish to add a point to the excellent contributions made by previous speakers and urge the Minister to reconsider the amendments and the point just raised about the prevalence of part-time workers who fall below the LEL. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North gave various explanations as to why people might fall below the LEL, including low basic hours and juggling several different part-time jobs.

The Minister made an excellent appearance before the Employment Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, of which I was a member in the last Parliament. We discussed the question of part-time workers' rights and the implementation of the directive. The Government put

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forward proposals that later came into effect to end discrimination against part-time workers. I urge the Minister to consider the amendments in the light of the Government's agenda on that item.

My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North spoke about consistency of Government objectives, specifically for social exclusion. Perhaps the Minister would consider the amendments in the light of our agenda on rights for part-time workers and people who work difficult, complicated hours and are finding it difficult to juggle different responsibilities. I hope that he will take that into account and try to remedy what would be a great injustice.

Rob Marris: I join my colleagues in urging the Minister to reconsider the amendments. I also raise a point that I confess I do not understand; it is more technical. Would someone who has three part-time jobs, each paying £60 a week, be eligible for paid paternity leave? Each job provides earnings below the LEL, but cumulatively they would be over the LEL. The way the clause is worded, it appears that he would be eligible, although that does not seem to be the intention and is not what the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers is saying.

Mr. Hammond: I shall speak briefly, because Government Members have made many points, and the Minister has enough on his plate without me adding to it. I noticed that none of the speakers mentioned trade union membership. A published agenda of the Trades Union Congress is the removal of the exclusion of people earning below the lower earnings limit. I would like to ask the Minister a few questions for clarification.

Mr. Lloyd: What exactly is the hon. Gentleman's point? Several of my colleagues and I have made it clear where our trade union loyalties lie. That is well known; it is not a secret. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that because an issue is espoused by a trade union, anyone who has an association with a trade union is debarred from speaking on it? For example, I represent poor people. Am I debarred from speaking about low pay because I chair the parliamentary trade union group? Is that what the Tory party really thinks about trade unions?

Mr. Hammond: With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I must say that he is talking nonsense. I have not suggested that he should not speak on those matters. However, on Second Reading, many hon. Members felt it appropriate to declare membership of an organisation that had a certain published agenda.

Mr. Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Conway. I am a member of a trade union. As far as I am concerned, that involves no pecuniary gain. In fact, I pay the union; it does not pay me. It beggars belief that I should have to declare that I am a member of a particular trade union to debate this important issue. Will you give guidance on that, Mr. Conway?

The Chairman: Order. The point of order is fair. Hon. Members must decide whether they have pecuniary interests to declare, and it may help

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Committee Members to know that if they receive outside remuneration for whatever purpose, that does not prevent them from taking part in the discussion. However, the House authorities would probably expect them to make that declaration before they contributed to the debate. I hope that that reassures hon. Members about their rights and privileges.

Mr. Lloyd: Further to that point of order, Mr. Conway. In practical terms, that means that no member of a trade union needs to bother about that frivolous point. However, an interesting point arises on which you may want to rule, Mr. Conway. Would those who declare themselves to be employers have to state whether they pay their employees below the lower earnings threshold?

The Chairman: Order. Neither the House authorities nor the Registrar of Members' Interests have taken a view on that. Hon. Members must decide what they want to make known to the House in the fullness of their contribution.

Mr. Hammond: If I were opposing an amendment that sought to remove entitlements below the lower earnings level and I were an employer, which thankfully I am not, I would feel it incumbent on me to make that fact known. The hon. Member for Manchester, Central is reading too much into my comment. I merely wanted to make it clear to the Committee that this perfectly legitimate issue is part of the policy agenda of the TUC. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor other hon. Members can be surprised that the question should arise whether trade union membership is relevant, because without exception every Government Back Bencher who spoke on Second Reading thought it appropriate to declare membership of a trade union, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Judy Mallaber: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that I pointed out my relationship with Unison, for which I worked for several years many years ago, to show that I have considerable experience of working with part-time workers on employment rights and conditions at work? That is relevant to my being able to speak on the subject, as is the fact that there are many low-paid workers in my constituency. Would the hon. Gentleman regard that as relevant experience that is declared to show that I have some expertise, rather than to show that I have some strange agenda?

Mr. Hammond: We have all become sensitive to the declaration of interests, and rightly so. However, the purpose of that issue is transparency, as I understand your guidance, Mr. Conway, so that people listening to a debate or reading Hansard can understand what outside influences are driving what hon. Members say. That is reasonable. I am surprised that Government Members are so prickly about my comment.

Judy Mallaber: It is what was implied.

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Mr. Hammond: I assure the hon. Lady that I did not imply anything, but was rather surprised that none of the Government Members chose to mention the TUC's campaign.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman mentioned to Mr. Amess on a point of order that although on Second Reading the Speaker had made a comment, most people declared an interest. I declared my membership of the Communication Workers Union, and many Labour Members declared their membership of a union. The hon. Gentleman said this morning that he had not declared membership in Committee, and if he had committed any offence by doing so he apologised retrospectively. However, he is surprised that Government Members who did the same on Second Reading did not declare union membership in this debate. That is a contradiction.

Mr. Hammond: I told Mr. Amess that I had not repeatedly declared the same thing at the beginning of each debate, which, as the hon. Member for Doncaster, North who moved the amendment noted, would have meant that I said the same thing over and over again. I declared my interest at the outset of the Committee. I have not declared it on each occasion that I have spoken, and on reflection, the Minister may be glad that I have not taken up the Committee's time in that way.

4 pm

I should be grateful if the Minister could provide some factual information. An important point has been raised. We seek to address issues of family breakdown, and the social behaviour that arises from inadequate parenting for children. Clearly, the point that Labour Members have made is valid. It is not always the case, but surely it is the poorest people who are most often involved with families that are most vulnerable to such a situation? Those are the people at whom we should be targeting support.

I want to ask the Minister about the contributory principle. There are benefits that people receive as a result of contributing through the national insurance system. Can the hon. Gentleman identify precedents where payment of certain benefits is not made to people not making national insurance contributions? I also want to ask him about the costs that would be involved in accepting the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Doncaster, North. I hope that the Government have estimated its cost to the Treasury.

I should also like the Minister to speak about the alternative forms of financial support that would be available to a person who is excluded as a result of the lower earnings limit threshold under the Bill. Will some people who are excluded be better off with the alternative provision for them that is available from public funds? I accept the question as to why some people should have to claim under another provision when others, on higher earnings, receive a statutory benefit as of right. I suspect that those people would be more interested in how much they receive than the route that they have to take in order to receive it.

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