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Mr. Kevan Jones: In regard to trade union recognition, do not individual workers and members have to vote for that recognition? It is not the trade union bosses or the trade unions getting the recognition; it is individual workers demanding representation at work by trade unions.

Mr. Hammond: All that we are talking about here is a change in the mood—a change in the tilt of the playing field—and a perception that there is now an agenda to concede some of the points that the trade unions have been arguing for a number of years. My perception is that industrial relations during the 1990s—let us not go back to the 1980s—had stabilised at a generally constructive level. Since 1997, we have had a Government who have been determined to tilt the situation in favour of the trade unions, making life more difficult for employers at a time when they are facing significant economic difficulties themselves.

Part of the backdrop to these issues is that the trade unions are acting not as economic guardians of their members but as political pressure groups, apparently determined to wreck the Government's agenda of public sector reform—an agenda on which the Government were elected in 2001. There is a resurgence of militancy in the public sector unions threatening chaos across the public transport system. Many of our constituents in the south-east have to face that chaos, with the strikes by South West Trains. Other train companies face a similar situation in constituencies further north.

Against that backdrop of a rise in union militancy and an increase in disputes that have less to do with employee-employer tensions than with internecine warfare and power struggles between different would-be trade union barons, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central wants to send a signal that we wish to move further away from the status quo that was working well during the last Parliament, and to move back to a situation that would be more akin to the 1970s if the hon. Gentleman's new clause were taken to its logical conclusion.

Mark Tami: Did not the Conservative Government privatise the train system? We now have a vast number of companies, which encouraged the end of national bargaining and got rid of a lot of train drivers. The market is taking hold. Does not the hon. Gentleman support the market?

Mr. Hammond: To be honest, I am not sure of the import of that intervention. The rail disputes are being presented as an old-fashioned disagreement about differentials between train drivers, who are in extremely

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short supply and have to be paid good wages, and other workers, who are in less short supply. Inevitably, differentials are opening up.

Mr. George Osborne: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Prime Minister unreservedly condemns the strikes? Interestingly, Labour Back Benchers do not.

Mr. Hammond: I suspect that there is a large gulf between the Prime Minister and some of his Back Benchers, some of whom may even support the wreckers, who the Prime Minister condemns regularly and vociferously.

Rob Marris: My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) merely made the point that when the hon. Gentleman referred to the public sector he should have referred to public services. The railways are a public service, but they are not in the public sector. They were privatised by the Conservative Government.

I shall explain to the hon. Gentleman what happened with a number of train operating companies, because he clearly does not understand. After being privatised, they laid off loads of train drivers, causing them to be in short supply, and there was leap-frogging between the privatised companies, which needed to hire drivers. Train drivers are in short supply because the companies caused them to be in short supply.

Mr. Hammond: The disputes are not about train drivers. We all understand that drivers are extremely scarce, which is why they are cutting good deals with their employers. That is the marketplace working, and I have no problem at all with train drivers achieving good settlements. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] I have no problem at all with people who have valuable but scarce skills cutting good deals with their employers—that is bound to happen.

The events in the railway industry are being presented as an old-fashioned differential dispute with people in a different labour market demanding that some magical differential between them and the more highly paid train drivers be maintained in the face of the market evidence.

Mr. Lloyd rose

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) rose

Mr. Hammond: Before I give way, let me point out that it is not too cynical to observe that the real issue behind the rail strikes plaguing this country has nothing to do with the pay and conditions of guards, but everything to do with the ambitions of different would-be union barons to control the RMT and its extended and improbable election process.

Mr. Lloyd: I hope the hon. Gentleman will concede that his remarks are totally irrelevant to new clause 5. I can only assume that, as his new clause would remove any recourse to unfair dismissal procedures following industrial action, he wants employers to use the method of the sack to resolve industrial disputes.

Mr. Hammond: To get to the point, new clause 5 would make it always unfair to dismiss a person who

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breached his contract by striking. New clause 8 would return us to the pre-1999 Act position, which I submit worked very well. The hon. Gentleman said that dismissing a work force is unlikely to be a practical solution in an industrial dispute. Employers are not in the business of dismissing their work force, as their companies and livelihoods depend on them.

To put it bluntly, we are talking about sending signals, and the hon. Gentleman wants to send a further signal that the playing field is tilting in favour of the trade union agenda. We are moving steadily and further down that line. His Government imposed a solution only two years ago, but the matter is to be reopened and pushed further in the direction of the TUC's long-standing agenda. New clause 8 would send the signal that, in the face of increasing militancy, increasing disruption of public services and increasing chaos for our constituents, we shall not return to the industrial relations chaos over which the Labour Government of the 1970s presided. We turn our back on that. New clause 8 sends the signal that we would return to the status quo of the late 1990s, which was workable and coherent.

Mrs. Betty Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman at least concede that the catalogue of events highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) shows the true picture and what happens on the ground with ridiculous employment practices that take us back to the 19th century? Will the hon. Gentleman please agree with us on that point? We have an opportunity to put things right.

Mr. Hammond: It would be wrong to comment on the individual case, because I do not know the facts, and I certainly do not know the broader facts surrounding it. I hear what the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Manchester, Central have to say. On the facts presented by the hon. Gentleman, I agree that we have not heard about a model employer and his conduct towards his employees, but I tell the hon. Lady that if we in this place set ourselves the task of framing legislation that makes every injustice and every bad practice impossible, we shall fail.

The hon. Gentleman's solution—making it always unfair to dismiss a person who breaches his contract by going on strike and refusing to work for his employer as he is contracted to do—is totally disproportionate. He has not adduced a single example of the benefits of his new clause, other than in respect of the case from north Wales. He is sending a signal that must be examined in the context of where we are at this point: the Government, who are relatively newly elected, have a mandate to bring the public sector trade unions to heel and to deliver reform of public services that they have publicly rejected. That was always going to be a tough task for a Government who got themselves elected by taking £9 million of union money.

We face increasing chaos in our public transport system and the threat of a Post Office strike that will bring what remains of our postal services to their knees. I suspect that Consignia will never be able to recover, thus precipitating the collapse of postal services and the post office network which the hon. Gentleman predicted from the other side of the barricade in 1994.

That is the background and that is the situation: the Government are introducing Bill after Bill and moving in the direction of the trade union agenda. We are all aware

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that there is more in the pipeline—legislation from Brussels and from the Government's own agenda. In response to that, the hon. Gentleman wants to send the signal that the Government are not going far enough and not going fast enough: "We'd like more, please."

The hon. Gentleman cited one case in defence of his argument that we should make it always unfair to dismiss someone who is on strike, breaching his contract with his employer. There are two points of principle here. Yes, a person has a right to go on strike, but, equally, an employer must have a right to dismiss a person who has broken his contract and has decided to go on strike rather than working as he is contracted to do. Of course employers will not usually resort to that, because it would be absurd and would not be in their interests to do so, and of course employees and trade unions will not usually resort to strike action in pursuance of disputes and discussions with employers. We are talking about extreme cases.

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