HL Deb 08 June 1973 vol 343 cc330-50

1.30 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. It is indeed a privilege to be invited to sponsor this Bill, which was introduced as a Private Member's Bill by one of my honourable friends in another place, where it happily reached its Third Reading. As your Lordships may be aware, a somewhat similar Bill was introduced in another place a few years ago by another private Member belonging to the Party of the noble Lords opposite. On that occasion the Bill did not obtain the support of Parliament, and my honourable friend sought in this Bill to make such alterations as might make it acceptable to Parliament. So far as another place was concerned, this seems to have been largely achieved. Indeed, I think it can be said that this Bill has the support of all the major Parties in that House. I trust that your Lordships will give it a similar fair passage through your considerations.

The purpose of the Bill is to introduce a measure of regulation of employment agencies throughout the country. It will be seen from the Schedule to the Bill that many local authorities, and principally the Greater London Council, have introduced regulations to control employment agencies to a certain degree. The effect of the Bill is to bring up to date the better features of the legislation affecting this matter in the counties, and to make it country-wide. In the process of preparing the Bill, my honourable friend consulted a wide range of interested parties, including, in particular, the Federation of Personnel Services, whose membership covers all the main employment agencies in the country, the Entertainment Agents' Association, the London Boroughs Association, and the Trades Union Congress. He was also in touch with the C.B.I. and the County Councils Association. All the bodies concerned recognise the need for reform. Indeed, there are many criticisms of the working of employment agencies which have substance in fact, and I am sure that many of your Lordships will have experience of some of them.

Examples with which I have been associated include the unfortunate experience of a friend of mine to whom a cook was recommended. She turned out to be paralytically drunk on arrival and had immediately to be dismissed. This in itself might have been an isolated incident, but it was subsequently discovered that the same lady had been drunk on arrival when taking up a previous post. In this case, if there had been legislation of the sort proposed it is likely that the agency concerned would have taken greater trouble to prevent the occurrence in order to protect its licence. As it was, all suffered: my friend had no cook, the cook had no job, and the agency lost a customer who is likely never to return.

Another example of which I have personal knowledge is that of girls and young men who are placed in employment as clerks or as typists by an agency which draws its fee from the employer, based on the starting salary of the person involved. When the person, often young, has been employed for a relatively short time, he or she is contacted by the agency, quite unnecessarily from the point of view of the person concerned, with the offer of a so-called better job, and quite frequently is persuaded to leave the first job before having had time to settle down.

All of us who have been in employ know that in a new job there is a point of disillusionment after a certain time, when the grass on the other side of the fence seems greener. Once past this point one settles down to enjoy the job and obtain satisfaction from it. If caught at a suitable time, one can be passed on to another job. at advantage only to the agency, which receives an extra fee. As a result of this the employer suffers from lack of stability in his staff, and the employee suffers, particularly if it is one of the first jobs that he has—which in many cases it is—in being encouraged to flit from one job to another. If your Lordships give approval to this Bill, it will serve to make agencies think twice before pursuing such a dubious practice, for fear that if complaints are made they may lose their licence.

I choose these two examples to illustrate that there are three sets of people whom the Bill seeks to protect: the employee, who will generally benefit from a settled way of life, except when voluntarily wishing to move; the employer, who seeks a stable staff; and the employment agencies themselves. All the reputable agencies take steps to-day to provide a reasonable and useful service to both employers and employees. They are, however, threatened by agencies which at the moment can relatively easily be established in many parts of the country and which may operate without sound principles.

In quoting my examples, because of personal knowledge I have chosen those which affect employment agencies mainly concerned with domestic and commercial employment. The Bill, however, seeks to cover all types of agency except those specifically listed in Clause 13. Types of agency covered by the Bill that might be thought worthy of special mention are theatrical agencies and agencies based in this country which may be recruiting from overseas, such as those concerned with au pair girls.

Concurrently with the passage of the Bill through another place, the Employment and Social Services Sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee made its Seventh Report, in which it remarked on the problem of both agencies and employment businesses, and stated that the Federation of Personnel Services estimated that throughout the country there are probably 3,000 agencies. It also stated that in the office staff sector alone there are about 800 branches operated by at least 500 different proprietors in Greater London, and about twice these respective numbers in the whole of Great Britain. The sub-committee went on to say that a large number of agencies means that job seekers and employers have considerable freedom of choice between agencies. Therefore—and this is a benefit—they can reject those which offer inferior service. On the other hand, there is the great disadvantage that unscrupulous or inefficient agencies can easily be established and, as there is no uniformity of licensing, can continue in business until the inadequacy of their services loses them all custom.

The sub-committee then described how agencies and businesses operated, and concluded with the recommendation that there should be obligatory licensing of employment agencies throughout the land, and that their operation, once licensed, should be regulated by the Secretary of State. They also recommended that there should be means by which licensing authorities could obtain particulars from each other of licences issued and withdrawn. The main point in the recommendations of the Employment and Social Services sub-committee is that agencies, once licensed, should be subject to regulations made by the Secretary of State. Accordingly, as I shall attempt to explain briefly as I go through its clauses, the details of such regulations are not written into the Bill, but guidelines for what they should cover are included.

With your Lordships' permission, I should now like briefly to outline the clauses of the Bill. I apologise that this is in the middle of the lunch hour. I am not sure quite whom to sue for the lack of my lunch and I ask my own Front Bench to advise me on this: whether it should be they for guessing wrong, or our noble and learned colleagues, who had a long and tortuous argument on a Schedule to their Bill, making it impossible for one to know precisely when it would end.

To return to the clauses of this Bill: Clause 1 establishes the main requirement of the Bill, that any person to whom it applies shall not carry on the business of an employment agency or an employment business unless he has been licensed to do so by the appropriate licensing authority. The licensing requirement applies to premises, and a multi-branch operator must have each of his premises licensed. This will enable a check to be made on the suitability of each of his premises and the staff running it. For the benefit of those agencies which are currently in business, arrangements are provided for existing licensed agencies to carry on business until the licence expires.

Clause 2 sets out the rules under which an application for a licence can be made. In subsection (2) reference is made to the fee for a licence. At present licence fees, where effective, range between £2 and £7. It is thought that this is totally inadequate to cover the costs of the enforcing authority, and in another place it was suggested that £100 might be a more suitable sum for the first licence. It will, however, be available to the Secretary of State to prescribe different fees in different cases for example, for new licences, renewals or extended licences. There is provision for the licensing authority to give a decision in writing on an application, including the reasons if a licence is refused. This last point is perhaps a safeguard, so that those agencies which have been refused may learn precisely why. In subsection (3) reference is made to the suitability of persons who can receive a licence. There has been some argument as to whether the proposed age of twenty-one as the limit below which a licence would not be granted is the correct one. On balance, it was decided in another place that this age was the most suitable, notwithstanding recent legislation establishing eighteen as the age of majority in most respects.

Clause 3 is concerned with the revocation of licences and Clause 4 deals with appeals. In particular, any person who is aggrieved by a decision of the licensing authority may appeal to the Secretary of State. Clause 5 sets out the guidelines for the regulations which the Secretary of State may make so as to secure the proper conduct of employment agencies and employment businesses. They include the keeping of records, the prescribing of qualifications of persons running agencies, regulating advertising and safeguarding clients' money. Clause 6 introduces a restriction on charging persons seeking employment. The effect of this would be that only certain types of agency, as prescribed by the Secretary of State, would be allowed to demand a fee from any person for finding him employment or for seeking to find him employment. Clause 7 relates to the display of licences and requires that a licence be placed in a position where it can be readily be seen by persons resorting to those premises.

Clause 8 requires the licensing authorities to make annual reports to the Secretary of State on the exercise of their functions under the Act. These reports are open to inspection. The information on which they are based will, however, not be publicly available, except with the consent of the person supplying that information. It will be available to other licensing authorities and to the Secretary of State. This will enable an authority to check on any previous agency business of persons applying for a licence. Clause 9 empowers the licensing authorities to inspect the premises of any licence holders and gives the safeguard that any information obtained in the course of inspection shall be disclosed only under stated conditions. Clause 10 makes provision for penalties for fraudulent application and record keeping, and Clause 11 provides for the definition of offences when committed by a body corporate.

Clause 12 sets out the general conditions under which the Secretary of State shall make regulations and includes provision for consultation with representative bodies, which I think is an important point. The regulations will be one of the main features of the subsequent effect of the Bill, and I think that it is a good point that the Secretary of State, in making those regulations, shall have consultation before finally arriving at his decisions.

Clause 13 provides the definition of phrases used within the Bill. It includes identifying the difference between an employment agency, which is a business established for the purpose of finding workers employment, and an employment business which sends its own employees to work for and under the direction of a second employer. The other main point within these definitions which I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice is that the term "licensing authority" as described in broad terms covers all London boroughs, all metropolitan districts and all county councils in England, Scotland and Wales. There is also provision in Clause 13 for the exclusion of any business which is recruiting for the armed services, or any agency for the supply of nurses, as well as various other specialised forms of employment, some of which are covered by other Acts of Parliament.

To sum up, my Lords, we have a Bill which has received support from both sides of the House in another place, which embodies the recommendations of the Employment and Social Services Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee and which has the support of the reputable firms in this line of business. It provides guidelines and gives authority for the Secretary of State to introduce regulations after consulting with those most closely concerned. It places the onus for the issue of licences and the implementation of the regulations on the local authorities throughout the land and by those means makes it a local matter how this should be effective. It tries to safeguard the position of persons seeking employment and of employers and of the reputable agencies already in business. Above all, it provides a framework within which complaints of unfair or dubious practices by any of the parties concerned can be effectively handled anywhere in the country.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Mottistone.)

1.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord who has introduced the Bill with such a clear and persuasive speech for having taken on the responsibility of introducing it to this House and for having explained its provisions in such a straightforward and intelligible fashion. He has made it very interesting and I should have thought that he had established to your Lordships' satisfaction that this is a Bill which in general terms we ought to support. The noble Lord made it clear that both sides of the House in another place gave it general support. I think he was a little shy in not referring to the fact that it also happens to have the support of the Government, which is no bad thing to have when one is introducing a Private Member's Bill. I can assure him that so far as all those behind me are concerned, we want to facilitate the passage of the Bill.

Nevertheless, it is appropriate that the Second Reading of a Bill of this importance, which deals with the employment of human beings and the opportunity for them to spend the greater part of their working hours in either satisfactory and enjoyable or unsatisfactory and horrible conditions, should have our careful consideration. I am sure it has had this from both the noble Lord himself and from all Members of your Lordships' House. too, have given careful thought to the proposals, especially in relation to the Bill which we discussed only yesterday. It is very fortunate that this Bill comes so soon after that Bill, which reshapes the whole of the country's provisions for finding employment and for the training of persons in this country. I am bound to say, therefore, that although I should want to support the general principles of the Bill, when a Bill has been brought forward with such general consent it ought to have gone a fair distance further in satisfying what are current standards—not necessarily what were the standards at the time —of control of the function of finding employment.

There is an I.L.O. Convention which was negotiated as long ago as 1949. We are still not signatories to the treaty. Under the Bill we shall not be able to sign the treaty because, as the noble Lord made clear, although there are many powers in Clause 5 it is stated specifically there that those powers should not include: … regulating or restricting the charging of fees to employers by persons carrying on such agencies and businesses. On the passage of the Bill in this form, therefore, this country will still not be able to adhere to the I.L.O. Convention. That is a great pity and, at the Committee stage, we ought to consider whether an appropriate amendment should be made in the Bill to enable us, as a nation, to subscribe to the I.L.O. Convention.

While we are dealing with that Convention, may I say that I should have preferred to subscribe to the Convention in the alternative way. There are two ways in which the Convention can be satisfied. First, there is everything that the Bill proposes, plus the control, or regulation, of charges and fees. The second way is to abolish fee-charging agencies within a reasonable prescribed period, in the meantime controlling them. That seems the more simple and straightforward method and one which coincides much more naturally with the major proposals which the Government introduced in this House only yesterday, to reform the whole of the employment and training functions of the State. However, the Bill does not go so far as that but, in the one exception to which I have referred, it prevents us from joining the Convention. That is one clear omission, which we should try to remedy at a later stage.

A weakness in the Bill as at present framed is in relation to those under the age of 18—to put it more accurately, those who, under the Government's proposed legislation, would be dealt with by the Youth Employment Service. The Government are absolutely right to distinguish between two forms of service for young persons: the general Employment Service, whose function is to find a job, and the Youth Employment Service, whose function is first to find out what is best for that youth in the long run, second to get him trained for it, and third to think of the job—third, but not first.

Therefore that is a deficiency in the provisions in the Bill, in that young persons under 18 can go to commercial, fee-charging agencies, whose sole responsibility is to find a suitable job, whose sole concern is to find the job which they have been asked to find, who charge a foe for so doing and who have no possible responsibility whatsoever for training, or satisfying the long-term needs of their applicant against his immediate short-term wishes and desires. In my view, it is a weakness that there is no provision in the Bill to prevent young persons under 18, and those who would be dealt with normally by the Youth Employment Service, from being dealt with by an ordinary commercial firm, seeking a short-term remuneration for a short-term job. That is an issue to which we can return perhaps at the Committee stage.

I am not sure that the licensing authority is well described in the Bill. There is a lot to be said for having a national licensing authority, as opposed to a local one, in order to achieve uniformity. As the Government have just introduced a Bill into your Lordships' House which sets up the Manpower Services Commission, that would be the ideal instrument to act as the national licensing authority. The Commission will be concernd with these matters and will need to know the movement of labour in the areas where the licensed employment agencies are functioning. The information would be extremely valuable to them, and vice-versa.

I do not feel happy about the provisions in the Bill because, having decided in principle apparently that there ought to be the local licensing arrangements, the draftsmen of the Bill have failed to carry their logic and argument to the sensible conclusion. If local knowledge is going to be placed as the major argument—which I can understand, although I do not share the view—certainly the authority ought to be the local authority, and not an in-between one. I have in mind that the licensing authority is proposed to be the county, and not the district.

For example, earlier in to-day's proceedings we had reference to Southampton, which is a busy city in Hampshire. It is proposed that the licensing authority should be the Hampshire County Council—which will not have anything like the same detailed knowledge of what is going on in the place where there are most of the jobs in Hampshire, namely, Southampton. On the other hand, the district council would know. Or, to take another case, there is Plymouth and Devon. These are examples in which it is clear that the county council, as the licensing authority, will be at a disadvantage if, indeed, what is sought is a local authority to act as the licensing authority. There is no need for me to repeat that I should prefer a national authority for the reasons which I have indicated, and that the Manpower Services Commission is the ideal instrument, as a national authority.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, made it clear that the Bill is a framework, in some respects, in that a whole series of regulations made by the Secretary of State under the powers conferred on him by the Bill will follow. I want to register a small, but nevertheless audible, protest against the practice of providing for the effective part of a Bill in regulations to be issued at a later stage, under our methods of delegated legislation. The excuse in the present case that, after all, this is a Private Member's Bill and not a Government Bill, will not be a wholly satisfactory one because everybody knows that it is a Bill which the Government favour. I think the polite phrase used is that the Government have greatly helped in the drafting of it. Therefore, I am looking at the representative of the Government when I say that there are several reasons why we ought to try extremely hard to depart from the grow- ing principle of legislation by other bodies than the Houses of Parliament. There is an increasing propensity to legislate by delegated legislation. We know that means legislation which often is never seen by a Minister and very often—although provided for—is never seen by either Chamber.

The facts as we now know them have been well-established, in particular so far as the other place is concerned, that time is simply not available to deal with Prayers against regulations which have been made under powers of this kind. It is right, therefore, that while we are battling in another Committee with this problem of how to find Parliamentary time to deal with Parliament's duties, we should look at it from the other end also, and say that one way is surely not to put too many duties upon Parliament and too many impossible strains on the timetable.

I therefore think it is right to draw attention to it at this point and to suggest, if I may, that there is a procedure which I have certainly always welcomed and which I think is open to a Government. That is, when this kind of legislation is being enacted and the Government have consulted the interests concerned, as they obviously have done and will have done, and have in mind the general shape of the regulations that they are going to make and what they wish to achieve, they should at the same time issue a code of practice. This was a very helpful document at a very difficult stage, as the noble Earl will remember, on the Industrial Relations Bill. The Government kindly provided it at a most suitable time. They did this again at a subsequent stage. I suggest to the Government that this is a very convenient method, if not of providing your Lordships' House with the possibility of proving detailed legislation, at all events of providing your Lordships' House with carefully thought out ideas by the Government on the way in which they would like to see the bodies affected behaving. I think this is something which it is useful to comment on at this stage in a Bill the guts of which are Clause 5 and where Clause 5 indicates that everything will be done by the Government at a later stage.

Having said that, I want to reassure the noble Lord who introduced the Bill that it is undoubtedly a major step in the right direction and we on this side would like to help it forward with such improvements as our joint wisdom in the Committee stage may enable us to achieve.


My Lords, before making such brief remarks as I propose to make on the Bill, I should in a way declare an interest in that I am President of the Federation of Personnel Services of Great Britain, to which reference was made both by my noble friend Lord Mottistone who introduced the Second Reading of the Bill and by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, opposite. I am also a Fellow—but a very honorary one—of the Institute of Employment Consultants and I propose to mention that organisation briefly in the course of my remarks. The Federation of which I have the honour to be president supports the Bill, as have all speakers so far. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Mottistone mentioned this fact.

I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, into the difficult paths of I.L.O. conventions of 1949. I seem to remember long discussions of those when the previous Bill was before Parliament. Under Clause 12(2) the Secretary of State has a duty to consult such bodies as appear to him to be representative of the interests concerned. Of course, so far as employment agents are concerned it is the Federation of Personnel Services, which only recently changed its name from the Employment Agents' Federation. However, in this connection I would mention briefly the Institute of Employment Consultants, which is a would-be professional body of employment agents, or "employment consultants" as they now prefer to be called. We of the Federation are hoping that if a body with professional status is being sought Her Majesty's Government will turn to the Institute, which has been in being for a number of years, to protect the interests of the employment agents.

As I have said, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, into his Committee points. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Gowrie will take that bait—I do not know. But I should like to say that in common with everyone else who has spoken, and in so far as I can be held to be a speaker for the Federa- tion, which I am not officially, I support and welcome the Bill.

1.56 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords who have missed their lunch I might easily be tempted to take any bait going, but I think we must adhere to our conventions. I should start by pointing out that I am intervening at this point not as a winder-up but as one delegated to indicate the Government's attitude to the Bill introduced to us by my noble friend Lord Mottistone with all the clarity and conviction, if I may say so, that one would expect from the Director of the Distributive Industry Training Board.

I want to say right away, even if I have been pipped by the noble Lord Lord Diamond in this, that the Bill does of course have our unqualified support. Some Government Amendments were made to the Bill while it was under consideration in another place and it is now substantially in the form in which the Government would have been prepared to introduce their own legislation had this not been pre-empted by the advent of a Private Member's Bill. We are therefore very glad to give my noble friend any encouragement and assistance he may require in promoting his Bill through all its stages in your Lordships' House. And I must say that naturally, as supporters of the Bill, we shall be most attentive to the remarks made by the noble Lord. Lord Diamond, from the Opposition Benches, although I think it would be wrong for me to say more about them at this time.

The fields of economic activity covered by the Bill are truly enormous and are best summarised by the definitions of "employment agency" and "employment business" to be found in Clause 13(2) and (3). The House will appreciate that very many different employment relationships are covered by those definitions, and the Bill provides that in future any person whose activities can be defined in that way will need to hold a licence issued by their licensing authority.

We see this as an important development for a number of reasons. Before enumerating these, it might be helpful if I gave the House a brief historical sketch of the subject. The earliest legislation in this field that I have been able to trace was in the Glasgow local Act of 1901. A similar provision was to be found in a Manchester Act of 1903. Both of those Acts dealt with female domestic servants' registries and, although I was not around to observe the problem, were devoted chiefly to protecting girls from immoral abuses. In 1907 the Public Health Acts (Amendment) Act was passed, giving local authorities powers to make by-laws requiring female domestic servants' registries to be registered with them and for securing their proper conduct. About 200 authorities have taken advantage of those powers. Those of your Lordships who are scholars or students of Victorian literature will know that such improvements were not before time.

It was not until the London County Council Act of 1921 that employment agencies were specifically named in legislation. Under powers contained in that Act the L.C.C. was empowered to require all employment agencies to be licensed by it and to make by-laws for ensuring their proper conduct. In those days improper conduct was construed generally to mean immoral and fraudulent conduct. Since then, about 50 other authorities have taken similar powers through their local Acts, but the by-laws which they have made bear a remarkable resemblance to those first made in London in 1921.

The "bad hat" has been able to take advantage of this situation to operate in areas where no controls exist after being refused a licence in an area where one was required. My attention was drawn quite recently to just such a case at issue between the counties of Essex and Suffolk, the former having licensing laws and the latter none.

It is against this background, therefore, that the Government welcome the Bill now before us. Commercial practices have changed beyond all recognition since 1921, and it is necessary that the rules of conduct of employment agencies should be brought up to date. Commercial pressures in a competitive arena where large sums are often involved can encourage less than ethical methods on occasion. I need only mention the often-quoted example of a secretarial agent trying to induce one of his previous placings to leave her employer so that she can earn him another placing fee. It is against this kind of malpractice, among others, that the regulatory powers of Clause 5 will be directed.

The attention of the Department of Employment has also been drawn to a number of cases of agencies attracting sums of money from employee clients on the pretext of finding them employment, and Clause 6 is welcomed as a means of stamping out this practice, which appears to take two forms. The first is the straightforward collection of fees, after which the employee receives no or, at most, inadequate service. Sometimes such cases can be dealt with under the Theft Act, but it does not require much ingenuity to jump over that hurdle. The second malpractice is to offer to sell lists of jobs, usually by newspaper advertisement in the underdeveloped countries, while concealing the fact that the so-called agent is in no posititon to act as intermediary in obtaining any of the jobs for the clients involved.

We stand steadfastly behind the principle that it is wrong that an employee should have to pay in order to work. Clause 6, therefore, meets with the Government's full approval. However, Clause 6 gives the Secretary of State powers to admit the charging of fees to employees in certain circumstances—for example, in the entertainment industry, as my noble friend pointed out.

However, it is not only the commercial environment in which agencies operate that has changed since 1921. New types of enterprise, indeed new types of employment relationships, have developed in the intervening years. I thought I knew what the words "employment agent" meant; but, like so much that we take for granted, things are not always what we think they are. Employment involves a contract between an employer and an employee; whereas agency, in this case, involves the intermediate function of bringing the two together so that a contract can be arranged. Nowadays, however, we have also to deal with the entirely different concept of temporary hire, in which the so-called agent is the employer and the employee is sent out on loan to the second employer. There is, therefore, legally no agency involved, and the activity is not covered by the definitions of the earlier legislation. It will be within the scope of the Bill.

We are all familiar with the arrangement known as au pair or au pairing. It is, for all practical purposes, an employment relationship; but because it does not involve a contract of employment those who run au pair agencies are not employment agents under existing law. When this Bill becomes law, such an anomalous situation will also have been swept away, and all agencies, whether of the permanent placing, temporary hire, or au pair variety will be under the control of a licensing authority.

I should like to mention two other relevant matters. First, the Government welcome the Bill because it goes far towards aligning our arrangements with those of the other Common Market countries. It is true that, in most E.E.C. countries, private permanent placing agencies are generally prohibited, and it is none of our philosophy that such a prohibition should prevail here. However, in all the other Member States except Italy, temporary hire agencies are allowed to operate, but there is a tendency for their conduct to be brought under legislative control. France produced such legislation in 1971, Germany in 1972, and I hope that we shall be able to say that Great Britain followed suit in 1973.

There is at present no E.E.C. legislation on either aspect of this subject, but the continuing development of the Community is likely to bring increasing problems with activities of agencies across international boundaries. The E.E.C. Commission is at present examining this question, and the Bill will, so far as we can see, enable us to comply with any directives which might emanate from Brussels.

Finally, my Lords, it would not be right for me to end without some reference to the Department of Employment's own employment agency service. Yesterday we were discussing a measure which would enable the public employment service to become more competitive. We recognise that a live public service is an essential feature of a flourishing economy. We also recognise that the labour market is complex, and needs a variety of ways of bringing employers and workers together if it is to operate smoothly. Here the services of the private agencies will continue to prove most valuable, always provided that they themselves are protected by scrupulous national standards of conduct. I am glad to say that the leading agents' federations are wholeheartedly behind these proposals in principle, and I am glad to have heard what my noble friend Lord Furness said about them. I repeat that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, for the exemplary way in which he has introduced his Bill, and I should like to thank him by recommending it to your Lordships.

2.17 p.m.


My Lords, I thank your Lordships for listening so attentively to this debate. In winding up, perhaps I might take up some of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, made. I would start by thanking him for reminding me of my almost unforgivable omission to thank the Government earlier for their support, both in another place and here. I extend my thanks to them now for their support, and to my noble friend Lord Gowrie for his expression of that support.

With regard to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, I have picked out one or two. I regret bitterly that I was not able, because of other engagements, to be here for yesterday's debate on the Employment and Training Bill, which, as you will appreciate, is close to my heart. Whether it is as close as it should be (and I do not want to divert this debate) is another matter; but I do not know that it has all that relevance to this Bill. In particular, the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, made, that the licensing authority should be national rather than local, and might in itself be the Man-power Services Commission, strikes me as going rather far in centralising the whole of this activity. After all, if we try to envisage how it will apply, we are talking, among other things, about having the ability of whatever authority it is to inspect. We are talking about something that concerns people every clay within their own local community. On balance, this is the sort of thing which needs to be handled locally rather than even as a subordinate department of some central body like the Manpower Services Commission.

I believe that, when one talks about how people should be employed, and how they should be trained—and this is something about which I know a little —one needs to apply this within the framework in which they work or live. One of the merits of the industrial training system—and this is not a digression but an example—is that the industrial training boards are centred on sections of the community which, in the broad sense, have a common training practice.

When we come to what the licensing authorities should be, we need something surely which has a closer local look at the situation in the particular vicinity where jobs are sought. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, cleverly covered himself by switching immediately from his Manpower Services Commission conclusion to saying that he thought that the county, in the case of the non-metropolitan counties, was too big an organisation to handle this, and that we should go to the district. That, with the greatest possible respect to the noble Lord, is a contradiction. For the same reason that to have something centred on Whitehall to look after this licensing task is to me a nonsense, I should have thought that going to the district in the non-metropolitan counties is perhaps going too far down the scale, and that a certain amount of Lord Diamond's earlier argument for viewing this matter more broadly within the county structure is applicable. I think that, on the whole, my honourable friend in another place had the balance right.

As noble Lords will know, if they have studied the various stages in another place, such a point was discussed at some length. In effect, we have arrived at a compromise about whom the licensing authority should be. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, went right down the road in the direction that perhaps noble Lords in the Party opposite are now feeling free to do, in view of the announcements they have made as to the way they propose to handle the country if they are ever allowed to have power in the future, namely, that fee-charging agencies should be abolished, the lot should be centralised and it should all be done by the Government's employment services agency and its bureaux around the country.

It just so happens that I quoted the Seventh Report of the Employment and Social Services Sub-committee, in which the point was made, with all-party support, that a large number of agencies means that job-seekers and employers have a considerable freedom of choice between agencies and are therefore able to reject those which offer an inferior service. This is a fundamental point which has been agreed upon as a statement by a joint Party committee and which in itself embodies a vital issue. If there is only one sort of employment agency, such as is established in a town under the employment services agency system which is set up in a modest way, there will not be the same degree of choice. There is in this particular area of hunting for jobs a great deal to be said for having a measure of choice.

Looking round the chamber, I do not know how many of your Lordships have ever had to job-hunt, but I have, and I can assure you that the more sources that one can have to apply to in order to find a job, particularly if one is doing it from scratch, the better. When I was fortunate enough to get my first job, I had to unwind, in various ways, 50 different applications, because it had been necessary to get that far before I got the job that I was happy enough to hold. So, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that although he gave us a little time and said that the fee-charging agencies would not be abolished tomorrow, if he had his way, it would perhaps be better if he did not pursue that subject.

As noble Lords will know, the I.L.O. Convention has been the subject of discussion in another place. All I would say is that it is a good thing that we are gradually coming to the stage of almost reaching the level which the I.L.O. Convention, in its wisdom, some time ago set up. Perhaps the day will come when the I.L.O. Convention will be modified to meet our requirements.

It seems to me that Clause 5(1)(g) makes a specific point about the under-18s, in regulating the provision of services by persons carrying on such agencies and businesses in respect of persons who are under the age of eighteen years or are undergoing full-time education. Surely this is a very good halfway house. I should have thought that if I were under 18—and I do know some people under 18, apart from having children of my own—I should be keen to think that I was not wrapped up in officialdom or in schools; that I did not have to go to the Youth Employment Service to get a job. I should want to start out in life by trying to get my first job all by myself. I should not want to go to the Employment Agency, because although it will look much grander in the future it will still have connotations of its past for some time to come.

I should want to go into a well-regulated agency, set up under a licence under this Bill; an agency which took me out of my child-like existence. I should not like to feel that I was still governed by my youth employment officer or by a Government body of any sort. At that age particularly, one wants to get away from officialdom and from any form of authority, parental included. Though perhaps it might be in the best interests of the under-18s to be handled in a particular way, one has to take into account their own views. In giving the Secretary of State specific power to make provision for the under-18s, surely this system goes far enough.

Forgive me, my Lords, if I am taking up too much of your time. I shall not be much longer. I shall not go into the technical argument between the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and the Government about whether it should be a code of practice instead of regulations. I am sure there is a technical reason why one or the other is better. The only point I can make is that I understand that the previous Bill, which was introduced into another place by one of Lord Diamond's colleagues, foundered partly because it attempted to cover too much ground. There may be various technical reasons why regulations cannot be handled on a day-to-day basis by the Houses of Parliament. When they are laid before us we never have time to look at them. But also there is surely a limit to what can effectively be put in a Bill, which on the whole does not want to be amended frequently.

The great point about having regulations is that, if one finds from experience that, for instance, one has not made enough provision for one particular category of person, then the regulations can be amended quickly. Furthermore, when it comes to discussing what they should be, they can be discussed in isolation without upsetting the Bill as a whole. I should have thought that this was a very good compromise. We have the guidelines for the regulations, and these are sensible and were argued very thoroughly in another place. There may be room for improvement, which I would not discount, but I think the principle is good. Finally, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Furness, for his supporting statements.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.