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Lord McCarthy: My Lords, will the noble Lord take it from me that all over Europe working days lost per thousand workers involved in strikes were falling at much the same rate, without any legislation?
Lord Tebbit: Come, come, my Lords. If they were falling at that rate, they would be negative in most of the rest of Europe. We are not going to fall for that one from the noble Lord. Experiments into industrial relations have never brought very much, except profit for lawyers.
The Labour Party was opposing this transformation from a basket-case economy, from which overseas investors were struggling to get out, to a success story, with overseas investors struggling to get in--indeed,
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the noble Lord has never fostered any degree of accuracy in comments that he makes. He is wrong about many of the things he has attributed to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. All I would say about the legislation that the noble Lord introduced is that it certainly had some benefits, but what an over-reaction!
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, we are getting there gradually. In another 20 years perhaps the noble Lord will be a little more generous about the matter. After all, in those days the noble Lord, like his colleagues, defended the car-park strike motions, the "Hands-up; out we go again, brothers" motions. I see the noble Lord, Lord Simon smiling. He can remember them too. He was probably a victim at some time. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, opposed secret ballots for strikes. The Labour Party resisted ballots for the governing bodies of trade unions. It preferred the old cronyism for fixing top jobs, and still does. It is part of its culture, as we see today in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.
As for the Liberal Democrats, I remember them very well on the night of the Third Reading of the 1983 Act. They split four ways, and it takes a great deal of ingenuity for a party so small to split four ways. Some supported me, some opposed me, some stayed away to abstain and some abstained in person. However, I pay a personal tribute here to Mr. Smith, who was an absolute pillar of support to me on the Liberal Benches as I took that legislation through. That was very much against the wishes of most of his colleagues.
Then we went through the coal strike. Who was the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, supporting then? I think he was out of politics in this country at the time, but I do not recollect him declaiming against Scargill and supporting the working miners. But in the end, as my 1983 Act became operative during that strike it made the attempted national rail and dock strikes which were being called in support of Mr. Scargill unlawful, and it was Mr. Scargill, not the country, who was defeated.
Now we have this Bill--to improve the situation, to get back towards where we were. It is not very far at this stage, but if enacted in its present form, what a pig in a poke of a Bill it is. I look back at my own legislation. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, just about everything in it was on the face
If "a domestic incident" were defined in the Bill, Parliament would have a chance to discuss and amend that definition, and surely that would be right, because what a domestic incident is will be crucial to the operation of part of the Bill. The Government will not define it. What is it? The Minister will define it at some time and bring forward an order, which cannot be amended.
But some things are clear. The Bill will make striking easier. It will increase the power of the trade unions. It will place an unfair obligation upon employers to recognise unions even when they do not wish to do so. That is called "partnership". But one party to an agreement is compelled to agree to what the other wants, whether it wishes to or not.
Then employers will have to accept further burdens arising from maternity rights and rights to time off for domestic incidents. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Simon, will now have the answer to the question which I asked him during his speech, because he had an opportunity to be briefed by his officials while the House was discussing Kosovo. Therefore, I give him the opportunity to intervene, if he wishes, to explain. Do all these extended rights apply to sole employees? Do they apply to the nanny of the lady who has gone to work and left her baby in the care of the nanny? I am sure the noble Lord is not sitting there thinking that it is a smart thing to do not to answer that question.
Will it be unfair to dismiss a worker who consistently and persistently attempts to foment strikes in a business? Do we know, do the Government know? Would Michael Edwardes still be able to fire Red Robbo under this Bill, unless the strike had gone on uninterrupted for eight weeks?
There is talk of team-building, but the Bill is full of powers for outsiders to come into the employer/employee relationship. How does that help to build a team, to have outsiders coming in and throwing in their fourpennyworth?
Clause 24 proposes to abolish the office of the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members. What does that do for the trades unionist who is at odds with his union? It does precious little; there is no team-building there.
I turn to Clause 26, and I will end at this point, but there is so much to be taken up later in Committee. Clause 26 is one of the most amazing clauses I have ever seen. The exact wording of the Bill is:
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, just because a couple of Green Papers have been floated around the countryside under the guise of consultation does not mean that both sides of industry agree with this Bill. Indeed, I made that point earlier. I must advise the noble Lord that there is no element of vindictiveness either in what I have said today or in what I did in the past; but I do think that there is an element of vindictiveness in the abolition of the office of the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members. I consulted widely on my Bill--not only in advance of it, but again in the general elections of 1985 and of 1987, both of which the noble Lord's party lost.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I rise to welcome the Bill and to thank my noble friend the Minister for the clarity with which he introduced it. I should like also to express my appreciation of the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster.
Before the last general election, I spent a number of years on the Opposition Front Bench, dealing with a series of employment Bills, all of them directed, so far as I could see, to undermining trade unions and making it as difficult as possible for employees to organise together to protect their interests, and to removing all protection from vulnerable people.
In those days, unions were "the enemy within", according to a previous Conservative Prime Minister. That feeling was echoed in the address of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, today. The present Bill makes it clear that that era is at an end. Unions are now "social partners". That is, of course, what they were always called in the countries of the EU. Perhaps I may advise noble Lords opposite who have referred to unemployment problems in the EU that for many years the West German economy was regarded as a model and that there has been a rise in unemployment there only since the economic problems caused by reunification. That model economy also had well organised trade unions, which were regarded as social partners within a framework which itself was largely regarded as a model. It was only in Britain that the opportunity to develop successful working partnerships with employees through their unions was decisively rejected. I am glad that those days are now over.
Employers will no longer be able to resist the democratic right of a workforce that wants union representation. As my noble friend explained, the Bill sets out the procedures whereby unions may obtain recognition from employers. If the employer refuses, the union may then apply to the Central Arbitration Committee. Incidentally, I welcome the fact that the CAC has been given that task. For a number of years I was a member of the CAC and I believe that we did extremely good work, mainly in the area of arbitration. The previous administration practically wrote the CAC out of legislation by leaving it hardly anything to do. Incidentally, the employer from whom recognition is claimed must employ more than 20 people, so the Government have attempted to come to terms with those who would otherwise have grumbled about more burdens on business, particularly small businesses.
The procedures envisaged are set out in the very long Schedule 1. It is clear that emphasis is put on conciliation and voluntary agreement. However, if those prove impossible, further steps are envisaged in regard to establishing the bargaining unit. If the union can show that more than half the workers in the bargaining unit are union members, the CAC will then grant recognition. If automatic recognition is not granted, the CAC will then order a ballot.
Furthermore, if the employer wishes to derecognise the union where recognition has come about through a statutory procedure, he must go through a formal derecognition procedure. I particularly welcome that provision. There have been so many instances in recent years where employers, without any consultation whatsoever, have simply torn up procedure and collective bargaining agreements with unions. This provision is very good news indeed.
I well remember the last time round when there was legislative provision for union recognition. I seem to recall that the procedures we had then were rather more complicated than those proposed here. I think that the Government have learned a lot from the last time round. What we have here are relatively easily understood procedures. I believe that most sensible employers will find them quite acceptable.
Certainly, it is quite untrue that trade union recognition is in any way "bad for business", as the previous administration seemed to believe. Some of our most successful companies have long had good working arrangements with their trade unions. That was certainly my experience when I was a trade union official. Where such good relationships have existed, it has often been found that technological innovation, including the retraining of staff which is often so necessary, can be more fairly and more effectively accomplished. The good employer has nothing to fear and everything to gain from measures such as these.
There are other aspects of the Bill that I particularly welcome. There is a new range of rights for individual employees. In a dispute or grievance procedure, an individual employee will be able to call on a fellow employee or trade union official to represent him or her at any hearings and will be protected against any detriment if wishing to exercise that right.
The Bill is particularly supportive of women employees. The Government are to make regulations under Clauses 17 to 19 to make discrimination against part-time workers illegal. A very large section of the part-time workforce is female and they have often been exploited in the past by unscrupulous employers because of their need to do that kind of work and their inability, through domestic circumstances, to work a normal full-time week.
Then there is the family-friendly part of the Bill. There are to be new rights to parental leave, with a minimum of 18 weeks' maternity leave for all women, in line with pay. I remember how several of us tried to obtain that by amendment when maternity rights were debated under the previous government. I particularly remember the impassioned advocacy of the formidable and much missed Lady Seear who was very vocal on that issue. This time round, such a provision is in the Bill.
Time off for domestic problems will also be available in line with EU directives. There is to be consultation about the draft regulations which will make provision for all of this. That is all very good news and surely should be welcomed by everyone.
Another aspect of individual rights which I think of as particularly important is the prohibition against discriminating because of trade union membership. I well remember having an argument in this House in opposition when the previous government sought at a late stage in the passage of the 1992 Act to introduce an amendment allowing an employer to discriminate against an employee who refused to leave his union when it was derecognised. The discrimination involved paying him less than those who left the union. The government of the time succeeded, despite our opposition, in getting that provision into the 1992 Act. As I understand this Bill, that would now be illegal.
Another argument that I remember well relates to the balloting provisions as regards industrial action. There was a requirement in the legislation proposed by the previous government that could compel unions to disclose to employers the names of their members it was balloting on industrial action. I thought this was an outrageous requirement at the time and, to their credit, so did several noble Lords on the government side. Nevertheless, the Government persisted and went ahead. That will not now be a legal requirement. This is a very good Bill. There is much more in it of very great value to employees, whether in unions or not. I hope that it will speedily pass your Lordships' House.
There is one aspect of individual employment rights which occurred to me when reading the Bill. It relates to discrimination against some employees on grounds of sexual orientation. Reference has already been made to that by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall. Your Lordships will perhaps remember that I have been very active on this issue in the past. I twice introduced a Private Member's Bill designed to prevent such discrimination in employment. It does take place. There is no law at present which protects employees against such discrimination.
I was reminded of this again in the light of the recent horrific bombing incidents affecting minorities, in particular the recent bombing in Soho when so many people were either killed or horribly injured. It is clear that bigotry does exist and these dreadful incidents are the most extreme demonstration of it.
I therefore thought of putting down a suitable amendment to the Bill since it relates to employment rights. However, more recently there seems to have been a government announcement to the effect that it is intended to strengthen existing discrimination legislation. It would appear that that is probably the best way to deal with that particular issue.
I listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I came to the conclusion that we are not speaking about the same Bill. Knowing her as I do, I cannot really believe that she wants the situation to continue in which unscrupulous employers may exploit vulnerable people. I am sure that that is not her view at all. I welcome the Bill and look forward to its speedy passage through this House.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I apologise for missing the first few minutes of the Minister's speech. I was trying to be polite to a visitor. I heard the greater part of it and particularly his reference to new developments in working practices and the modern economy. I shall return to that subject.
I have to declare two interests. I am chairman of ITNET, plc, which is leading out-sourcing supplier of combined IT and business process management. I recently retired as a director of Associated British Ports Holdings plc, with which company I still hold a consultancy contract. Those interests give me reason on their own for wanting to ensure the maintenance of first-class industrial relations. But that interest grows wider.
My active involvement in British politics covers almost exactly the period of transformation from the time of In Place of Strife, through the Winter of Discontent that helped to make me a Minister; through the step-by-step approach that my noble friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden referred to and all the changes of the Thatcher era to the present time, when good industrial relations have helped to transform our competitive position as an industrial nation. Therefore, it seems to me to be of the first importance that nothing should be done to prejudice the progress that is being made referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster, in his very impressive maiden speech.
The company of which I am chairman, namely, ITNET, operates in the high technology sector. Above all we depend on the skill and motivation of our workforce, training and flexibility. The workforce is growing rapidly. But not all of our employees come from the high-tech sector. About half of our business comes from local government and with it many of its former employees under TUPE arrangements. At the outset of a new contract we offer employment contracts that attract many employees to transfer to the group's
When I still worked in the City--it seems a very long time ago--my boss was my noble friend Lord Aldington who was sitting in front of me earlier this afternoon. I remember waiting for a very long time outside his office in Fenchurch Street while he, in his role as chairman of the Port of London Authority, held a crucial meeting with Jack Jones. The negotiations about employment relations in the docks are part of the bad period in the history of British industrial relations.
When I joined the board of Associated British Ports in 1987, the Dock Labour Scheme was still with us. I remember very well my first visit to the port of Hull. It was a deeply depressing scene. That once great port had almost committed suicide. There were acres of emptiness and dereliction. Today the port is thriving. There has been massive investment in the most up-to-date facilities and, like its sister ports on the Humber, its future is assured. The business grows year by year. The storm clouds have lifted and it is in everyone's interest that they do not return.
In the early 1980s, as the Minister encouraging inward investment, I was accompanied on one mission to Japan by the chairman of the Wales TUC. Together we made it clear that it was up to the company considering investing in this country to choose whether it wanted to be unionised or not. But if it decided to be unionised, we pressed the case for a single union agreement. I am neutral as to whether it is right for an individual company to choose, as many American companies do, to be non-union or, as most Japanese companies prefer, to start from the outset with union agreement. That above all is a matter for individual decision by the companies, taking account of their own individual circumstances. The choice is for the management and the workforce and not for government. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Government have recognised the need for flexibility in such matters. Again, I take up the phrase used by the Minister concerning new developments in working practices and the modern economy, which have to be properly catered for.
So I particularly welcome the statement in the White Paper Fairness in Work which referred to individual contracts and stated that since the current law allows flexibility and works well, the Government see no reason to change it. I also very much welcome what the Minster said in Standing Committee E in the House of Commons on 18th March at col. 477. He confirmed that the Government remained of that view. But he perfectly fairly made the point that he had received representations about the need to protect employees from any abuse and being forced to accept conditions which most of us would consider unreasonable. I welcome that.
During the same debate it was made clear that although the Government favoured regulation for dealing with many aspects of the Bill--I share my noble friend's concern about the way in which regulation is being so freely used as the way to proceed--they
Clearly the Government have had some difficulty in drafting the clause because no amended clause was introduced in the House of Commons and we now have the clause as Clause 15 in the Bill. Therefore I shall return and press the Government about their intentions in respect of this matter: whether they intend to bring forward a revised clause; and whether we can have some assurances that the matter will be dealt with in a way that removes the concerns of employers.
The redrafted clause will be very important. It is vital that it should not be drafted in such a way that perfectly reasonable offers made by individual companies to employees are excluded. As I understand it, the issue that causes most concern to employers is the possibility that offers made to employees which encourage them to enter into individual contracts might be deemed to come under the term "detriment by omission", the phrase currently used in Clause 15. If the matter was interpreted in such a way it would make nonsense of the statement made by the Government in the White Paper and the assurances given by the Minister. It is vital that we should deal adequately with that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the importance of trade union membership and the other benefits that it often provides. I entirely share his view about that. Certainly in ABP it was our practice to offer employees benefits for entering into personal contracts--as the overwhelming majority of our workforce did--but, in offering personal contracts, we always made it clear that anyone accepting such a contract could, if he wished, remain a member of a trade union in order to obtain whatever other benefits a trade union was able to offer, apart from collective bargaining. That option still remains even when individual contracts are commonly used in a company.
There have been repeated references to "consultation by Government". No doubt there has been widespread consultation by Government--of course I welcome that--but it is curious that if the consultation has been so widespread and so prolonged, it remains so difficult to tell us what the end product will be. We still have to depend on a Bill which leaves everything to be announced in future regulations.
As to the idea that the CBI is solidly behind the outcome of this consultation, I have received a parliamentary brief, dated 10th May, from the CBI. That says, among other things, that the CBI remains concerned about the following aspects of the Bill: what appears to be the gold plating of the EU directive on parental leave; the lack of clarity in some of the Bill's key provisions, exactly the kind of point that has been made by a number of my noble friends; and the effect on businesses of adding to a regulatory burden already increased recently as a result of recent legislation. I hope
The reality is that huge chunks of the Bill are still invisible; they cannot have been agreed. We do not know what the outcome is; the Minister, I suspect, does not know what the results of some of those consultations are likely to be. Indeed, from the question raised by my noble friend Lord Tebbit, it would appear that the Minister may not at the moment have the answers to some specific points. I do not find that surprising. This is a complicated Bill which covers a vast area. There will be plenty of opportunity to probe during the Committee stage. I am not criticising the Minister for not having an immediate response, but we are dealing with an extraordinary Bill; we are dealing with a Bill in which we have to trust the actions of future Ministers. If we are to proceed with a Bill of that kind it is right that we should probe the Government very hard indeed during the Committee stage.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster. It is good to see him, as usual it is good to hear him, and I hope we have the opportunity to do so more often.
I of course join him in congratulating the Government on bringing forward the Bill. After 20 wearisome years we have a Bill which regards trade unions and collective bargaining in a positive light and which shows an understanding of the contribution they make to a modern society. This is not a time when noble Lords can rehearse their speeches of the 1980s with any pleasure. As the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress said only three years ago,
I did not understand the noble Baroness when she spoke of the Bill being an advance of socialist policies. I will draft her a Bill with socialist policies if she likes, but that would be inappropriate. Nor did I understand the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew--we have met before on these matters--when he rehearsed his attack on the Trade Disputes Act 1906. That is what I expect to find with regard to the immunities when I read Hansard.
Over the past 100 years British trade unions have emphasised, for good historical reasons, the role of collective bargaining in place of the inequalities of the individual employment relationship. But there has always been a place in Britain for legal enactment--one can think of safety at work and working hours in the mines--and Beatrice Webb urged the Government in 1919 that,
"the National Minimum" (is) now fully demonstrated (and) integral to a decent society".
In passing, I do not disagree with noble Lords who say that they prefer to have matters on the face of the Bill rather than by regulation as a general proposition. But we see Bill after Bill where it is impossible to deal with the matter on the face of the Bill and there needs to be a regulation. It seems to me that it is a Committee point, that we should consider each requirement to be dealt with by regulation and ask whether it is the best we can do. I doubt whether anyone on these Benches would disagree with that idea.
It is important not to overlook the international dimension. The creation of the International Labour Organisation in 1919 was a measure largely undertaken by France and Britain. Today, the ILO is a uniquely tripartite agency of the United Nations. It is a powerhouse of international labour standards from child labour to freedom of association, holding fast to its central tenet that labour power is not a commodity.
The dismissal of a worker for taking lawful strike action is an affront to international human rights and ILO principles. We in this country have been criticised for our law in that respect. I wish to say clearly, first, that I welcome the provisions in the Bill to get us nearer to the domestic laws of all western European states,
That is something we could consider in Committee. That stage will be important to the Bill. A first class Bill deserves first class scrutiny. A Bill affecting the rights and duties of 26 million working people is entitled to as careful a scrutiny as other Bills, even those that affect the privileges of some 700 noble and unhappy souls in this House. There is no need to delay the Bill. The Committee stage will be important for its selection of key points. I suggest that the industrial action point is one.
Finally, in all systems of obligatory recognition in the world there is a certain duty. I interject that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, suggested that we could not stomach any system where the employer came under a legal obligation to recognise the trade union, it was thought we would collapse. There has been such a strong duty--the duty to recognise and bargain--in the United States since 1935. If the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, were right, the United States would have collapsed and fallen into the Gulf of Mexico because of the abominable provision at the centre of its labour relations law.
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