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Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, perhaps I may briefly return to the theme I have pressed before; that is that there is not enough information in these reports to encourage us to make decisions about passing them on. Your Lordships may recall that I have raised in the past the question of lack of information about the car park and the £2.5 million. I shall not embarrass the House by detailing the quite spontaneous public support I had from all quarters in correspondence and calls about this matter. Indeed, I believe I showed great restraint. A number of messages were given to me to pass on to the House authorities and I felt that they would be much better without them. We do not receive enough information.

Previously we discussed the Offices Report on 17th December. That was simply the membership of the various sub-committees. May 25th is the latest report and there is not a great deal in it. However, when I look at the minutes of the meeting, which is the substance of the report, I find that the first item is:

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I shall certainly bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, said. One of the considerations when putting forward a report from the Offices Committee is not to burden your Lordships unduly with a great deal of material and to concentrate on the essential matters. In any event, it is open to noble Lords in all parts of your Lordships' House to raise matters in other ways quite apart from when we discuss reports from committees.

The issue of car parks does not arise in this report and therefore does not fall to be considered on this occasion. The works programme is of course thoroughly considered in your Lordships' committees, but I must remind your Lordships that it was as a result of the Ibbs review some years ago that specific responsibility for executive action in relation to financial matters was placed on the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee of the Offices Committee. That needs to be borne in mind.

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In conclusion, bearing in mind the need for reasonable brevity so as not to overburden your Lordships' House, I will certainly take into account what the noble Lord said and if it seems appropriate to add one or two matters, I shall invite the committee to do so.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Employment Relations Bill

3.12 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Simon of Highbury.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 3 [Blacklists]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 234:

Page 2, line 18, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations under this section creating an offence may not provide for it to be punishable--
(a) by imprisonment,
(b) by a fine in excess of level 5 on the standard scale in the case of an offence triable only summarily, or
(c) by a fine in excess of the statutory maximum in the case of summary conviction for an offence triable either way.")

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 234, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 280 which is grouped with it. I shall then afford the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, an opportunity to speak to her amendments to our amendment before I respond to what she says.

Clause 3 gives the Secretary of State the power to introduce regulations to prohibit the blacklisting of trade union members and activists. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee made a number of observations about this clause. In particular, it asked that we should set down in the Bill the maximum limit for penalties regarding any criminal offences which the regulations might create. Amendment No. 234 sets down the Government's proposals for such penalties. They are based on the equivalent criminal sanctions in the Data Protection Act 1998.

The penalties are proportionate to the nature of the offences. They will not involve imprisonment. That would be too strong a penalty for an offence of this nature. Instead the amendment sets maxima for the fines that can be imposed. Those are the same as those provided for by the related legislation of the 1998 Data Protection Act.

Amendment No. 280 responds to a similar recommendation in the committee's report dealing with the power to create criminal offences under Clause 17, which deals with discrimination against part-time

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workers. Again, the committee recommended that the maximum penalty for any offence created under order-making power in Clause 17 should be specified on the face of the Bill. Again the Government propose to give effect to that recommendation by means of this amendment.

Any offences so created will only be for summary trial and will only be punishable by a fine up to level 5 on the standard scale; in other words, £5,000. That will be in line with offences under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. We expect that the power to create offences will be used sparingly, if at all. The Government are of the opinion that, given the disability precedent, this would be an appropriate maximum penalty for any offence created under this power. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 234, Amendment No. 234A:

Line 5, leave out ("5") and insert ("4")

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 234A, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 234B and 280A which are amendments to Amendment No. 234 to which the Minister has just spoken.

As we have heard, both the government amendments are to the same effect though slightly differently worded. They both provide for penalties in the form of fines for offences under Section 3. The insertion of a penalty on the face of the Bill was at the suggestion of the scrutiny committee, to which the Government rightly acquiesced. However, the level proposed is the maximum permitted. In their haste to table their last-minute amendments in time for your Lordships' Committee, they may not have considered totally the implications of the level they proposed.

The level of the fines imposed is at level 5. At current rates, as the Minister said, that is up to £5,000. That is the same level as for driving while disqualified, driving with excess alcohol, stealing, possession of drugs, criminal damage, violent disorder and causing grievous bodily harm. I do not detract in any way from the seriousness of blacklisting. Nor has anybody accused me of being soft on crime, especially not when I sat in the magistrates' court. Indeed, in the early days of opening my businesses in Germany and in Australia I was subjected to attempts by competitors to have me boycotted by suppliers. Although I defeated the attempts, it would have been a lot easier if there had been redress available such as is now proposed.

However, I feel that the maximum level of fine proposed is too high, considering the other offences in the same bracket I mentioned. Level 4--a fine up to £2,500--would be a sufficient deterrent considering that the perpetrator will end up with a criminal record. Looking at the other offences dealt with at level 5, the fine would be disproportionate. Proportionality is now supposed to be the criterion for criminal sanctions.

Finally, I turn to the second part of the amendment to Amendment No. 234, which is the deletion of paragraph (c). That may be a mistake by the draftsman. It repeats

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paragraph (b) because I understand the statutory maximum in case of summary conviction in cases triable either way in any event is level 5. However, as the Government omitted that subparagraph from Amendment No. 280, I assume that they noticed it and can probably manage without it in Amendment No. 234. I beg to move.

Lord McCarthy: I wish to ask two questions of the Government and one of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. First, if we cannot send the offenders to prison, what happens if they persistently do not pay? Secondly, what is the statutory maximum? I do not believe the Minister told us. The provision says,

    "by a fine in excess of the statutory maximum". He told us that level 5 was £5,000. What is the statutory maximum? Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, did not tell us what level 4 was.

Lord Monkswell: Perhaps I can speak in this debate, first, to correct the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I believe she said that the maximum penalty for GBH was a £5,000 fine. I can assure the Committee that one can actually go to prison for GBH, so that needs to be corrected.

My noble friend also raised the question about imprisonment. We are talking about two separate categories. One is in regard to Clause 3 where we are talking about blacklisting. We probably all recognise that the risk of blacklisting will probably not come from a company; it will come from a rich individual who has some curious views on industrial relations and the way to help them, which would be counter-productive to the good climate of industrial relations we are trying to engender. The idea of levying a £5,000 fine on a rich individual who happens to hold some curious views is risible.

I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter and insert the possibility of a term of imprisonment at the next stage. It does not have to be a very long term because the fact of someone being sent to prison is a significant marker in society. It would be a restraint to any individual who intended to set up a blacklisting organisation.

Amendment No. 280 is concerned with discrimination against part-time workers by a company or groups of companies. If the discrimination continues for a significant period of time, if companies underpay their part-time workers and do not give them pension provisions, there can be a lasting economic effect, beyond retirement. Again, this is a significant problem, and I ask the Government to reconsider the option of a limited term of imprisonment as a salutary marker.

The Government were right to respond positively to the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Scrutiny Committee by including the limits to penalties. Bearing in mind that this matter has only arisen since the report by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, have the Government been in consultation with the

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TUC, with the employers' organisations and the Institute of Personnel Development to ascertain their views on the penalties that could be included in the Bill?

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