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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Lest anyone thinks that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was scaremongering when he suggested that fewer and fewer people listen to what MPs say, I draw the attention of the Committee to The Times of Monday 23rd March 1998. An article by Peter Riddell, under the heading "Does anybody listen to MPs?", states under a sub-heading, "Ministers are increasingly ignoring the Commons". So if Ministers are ignoring the Commons, I should think many other people are as well.
I want to say a few words on the new employment chapter and on the social chapter because the employment chapter assumes that we are building and developing a partnership. But of course the countries of the European Union are not our partners; they are our competitors. When you talk about a partnership and when you talk about this new employment chapter you are working to further and cement that partnership--in other words, further integration.
Now it is quite true that within this new chapter there does not seem to be anything startling. There are bromide clauses, if I may put it that way, but those of us who have been au fait with this problem over a long period of time know perfectly well that innocuous clauses later on become binding decisions and binding articles. That is why I am a little worried about this new employment chapter--"title" I think is the right word. We have to be very careful about it.
When one looks at Europe, bringing to mind the diverse economies there are, the diverse cultural backgrounds, the diverse employment policies, the diverse trade union and management organisations, one sees the huge difficulty within the present 15 states. But in the not too distant future, if those who want expansion have their way, it will be 21 diverse countries, systems, cultural backgrounds and what have you. How are we going to handle this in employment terms? Are we going to have a "gosplan"? Are we going to have five-year plans? What are we going to have? How are we going to reconcile the French system with our own system?
Our Prime Minister went to Paris and spoke to the National Assembly. He saw straightaway that within that assembly he had not quite got it right, because the Left were down in the dumps and the Right were cock-a-hoop. It was not supposed to be that way. It should have been the Left who were cheering and the Right who were growling. So one can see how difficult it is to understand what other people are about.
The French want to deal with their unemployment problem by having a reduced working week to 35 hours. In this country we prefer to deal with our unemployment position in a different manner by providing opportunities in other ways. Some of us believe that if the French have a 35-hour week that will suit us very well because it will put up their unit costs and enable us to export our goods more easily. These are the problems that we shall have to face if we go too far down this line of co-operation in employment. Co-operation, yes, but I fear what will follow co-operation. We really do not want a sort of sovietised kind of system in western Europe now, do we?
Time is getting on. I turn very briefly to the social aspects. I am very interested in this because, like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I was a trade union official. I used to negotiate. There is a difference between the noble Lord and myself: he was paid and I was not. Nevertheless, we had the same problems to deal with. Again, my background in the Labour Party is different from that of the backgrounds of some of our newer entrants. I was brought up to believe that the way to obtain good industrial relations was by free collective bargaining. That is what I had always been taught. I have always understood and accepted that in a free society that is the way one goes about it. Workers are free to accept or reject an offer and employers are able to make offers either high or low. That applies to conditions of service as well. I have always found it successful.
My own party for very many years was opposed to government intervention in the bargaining system because it believed that it would work against the interests of workers. In many respects, so it has proved. So I do not believe in a lot of government intervention in the bargaining process and I am sorry that the TUC in this country should be a little taken in by what is happening about the social chapter.
Perhaps I may give another example. We are going to have imposed on us a consultation system where workers and managers will have a big "confab" at the top. I do not believe that is proper workers' consultation or involvement. I believe that one can only have workers' involvement if it grows organically from the bottom. I say that not because I am academic, but because I have been at the bottom and I know how these
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