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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene when the noble Lord gives the House such an interesting historical perspective. However, he indicated that if I believed what he said was not accurate I should stand up. I take advantage of that opportunity and thank the noble Lord for his courtesy in giving way. The noble Lord said at the beginning of his speech that he thought the Opposition were against trade unions. He went on to mention maternity leave and parental leave. As to trade unions, my noble friend Lord Tebbit has clearly indicated that, following the legislation that he brought in, the present situation works well. We have no objection to that. We are concerned about what this Bill will do to the very fine relationship that has been created in many cases.
As to maternity leave, we have never been against it. My record in working for women's rights is very well known. However, this Bill will introduce the possibility of extending to 40 weeks maternity rights for women after one year's employment, which means 52 weeks. There can be many further pregnancies when the job must be given to a locum. After a certain period that locum cannot be removed. We believe that that will be a disincentive, not an incentive. As to parental leave, many noble Lords this evening have said that it is gold-plated. We know not what "domestic incidents" means. Those are the points that we shall probe in much more detail in Committee. I cannot allow the noble Lord to suggest for a moment that we are against all of those matters.
Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I did not suggest that. The Opposition are against the imposition of these matters by law. I believe that that will be found in the speech of the honourable Member for Wokingham. It is said that these are excellent things but at this point one should not introduce parental leave, increase maternity benefit and so on--all the matters referred to in the Bill--by fiat or legal enactment. That is the position which, generally speaking, the Conservatives have adopted over the years and now take in another place.
There are times when the Conservative Party is more far-sighted and support the idea of minimum wage legislation. It supported, pioneered and, if it had been in office, would have introduced the Redundancy
Of course it is not suggested that one can never have employment protection that puts people out of work. There have been examples of it. If one suddenly escalates minimum wages particularly for young people one will have a differential consequence. Employers will turn from the employment of young people to the employment of older people. There have been examples of that in France and elsewhere. In principle and practice one may have a level of minimum wage in particular legislation that has a negative employment effect. For that reason the present Government have been very careful to select the figure at which to go in. They do not want a negative employment effect. If there is a negative employment effect, I suspect that the Government will not raise the level of the minimum wage until there is no negative employment effect.
But this is different. We are not talking about minimum wages but about the way in which people are treated at places of work. I find most irritating the present attitude of the Opposition because it is so unfair to many good employers who do not find it impossible to pay decent wages, or grant maternity leave, and have had parental leave for years. It is not because they are big, prosperous employers in protected labour markets, but because they are decent employers. They know that benefits come from treating people decently. Some of my best friends are small employers; and they are good employers. They provide all the rights in the Bill. They are not in protected labour markets. They provide them because they believe that it is good for the workforce, productivity and commitment, and that is the way they want to run a business.
Many other employers do not take that attitude, but they respect the law. They do not want to fall out with the law. They got into employment protection, minimum wage legislation, and discrimination and non- discrimination legislation because it was lawful and they respect and practise the law. In the overwhelming majority of cases, having practised it, employers find that they rather like it because it helps to run the labour force in that way.
The real criticism that I have of the Opposition is that by this time they should know that. I suspect that in their own businesses where they are employers many of them know that. They pretend not to admit it because for ideological reasons or political practices they have decided to pretend that things are as they were in 1833.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, like the Minister, I come from business. I spent 30 years building up my own business, and, rather earlier than the Minister, I, too, learned that partnership, co-operation and balancing interests are the catalyst for success. What was achieved in those circumstances surprised and delighted. Divisions and self-interest sometimes brought short-term benefit, but in the end there was only trouble, disappointment and failure.
In his excellent maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Walker reminded us that there is nothing new about that. When I first started in business there was already concern to avoid strikes. We had joint consultations. Wilfred Brown urged us to have works' committees with unanimous voting. Barbara Castle produced her paper, In Place of Strife. Even the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when she became Prime Minister, misquoted that early proponent of peaceful relations, St. Francis of Assisi. She said,
The Bill seeks to establish a culture of fairness and respect for people's rights at work. Of course, that requires a balance between employer and employee rights. The Bill identifies three routes to union recognition: voluntary, automatic or by ballot. By doing so it seeks to facilitate union recognition but not necessarily to force it. I believe that my noble friend Lord Wedderburn discussed that. The Bill lays out rights and responsibilities during the process. It is right that employees should be protected against victimisation, discrimination or dismissal, and there has to be good faith on both sides.
Quite rightly, the Bill seeks to protect individual workers against overbearing or unscrupulous employers. It protects union members against blacklisting and discrimination. As my noble friend Lord Simon explained, it closes loopholes used by unscrupulous employers employing agency workers, part-time workers or workers forced to sign away their rights against unfair dismissal. What fair-minded person can object to that?
I agree that one of the most important aspects of the Bill is the family-friendly policies it seeks to encourage. As we all know, parenthood is not just having a new baby to look after in the home. It is also all about the ongoing responsibilities. The family-friendly regulations acknowledge this. The right to extended maternity absence, to the parental leave that may become necessary and to protection against unfair dismissal during that time is only reasonable. However, it is also fair that there is no obligation to pay for extended parental leave. Employers can deal with the question of pay according to the circumstances. We all have family emergencies which require time off work. How much healthier it is to bring that out into the open and systemise it rather than force people to conceal the emergency and perhaps lie about it to their employers.
Many of the family-friendly policies are tied up with European social regulations. When regulations are drafted it would be helpful if the Government clarified employers' responsibilities under the European regulations and the responsibilities under the Bill. There seems to be some confusion. Clarification is important because each European country has its own view as to where the balance between fairness and market forces lie. It is important that what works here should be incorporated into the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, drew our attention to Clause 26. I note that the Government are willing to create a fund to help train managers and employee representatives in promoting and developing partnership at work. It is important to encourage that. Perhaps the Minister can give us some details about how the scheme will work.
I believe that the objectives laid down in the Bill are beneficial to any business, large or small, because they benefit society. The regulations are not designed just to stop people doing things; they try to make people do things better by adopting best practice. That helps markets and competition work better and so speed up change and improves productivity and competitiveness. Perhaps the same objectives could be achieved by voluntary codes of practice. The Bill crystallises a probable code.
I know all about the dangers of forecasting. I believe, however, that the Bill will very soon cease to be a matter for discussion. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Razzall: it is a modest Bill. The basic, decent, minimum standards it lays down are already carried out by most reasonably run companies, large, medium or small. The Bill will hardly affect those companies. It will affect poorly run businesses and bad employers. But business is so competitive and fast moving nowadays that those people will disappear if they do not improve their performance-- and improve it pretty quickly, whether or not they can afford it. It is important not to exaggerate the importance of regulations or the regulatory burdens on industry generally.
The success or failure of any business, large or small, does not depend on regulation or industrial relations. Far more important for success or failure is quality, service, technology, management, skills, initiative and investment. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell,
The world has moved on. Modern unions do not want adversarial relations with employers and modern employers want to work in partnership and co-operation with modern unions. Both realise that they have different roles to fulfil. But beyond that comes their joint interest in the success of the enterprise. Thankfully, the Bill recognises that.
Lord Cavendish of Furness: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Highbury, for introducing this Second Reading debate. I thank him also for staying with the debate because, in the weeks ahead, he may find it invaluable to have heard the contributions.
It does not diminish my thanks to say that I was disappointed by one aspect of his speech. He reiterated the words which appear in Fairness at Work and in various speeches; that is, those words "rights and responsibilities". The rights were enumerated but there was a strange coyness about the responsibilities.
While I have been trying to follow the passage of this Bill in another place, I have been brooding about the nature of a modern government. If I understand it and if MPs made full and proper disclosure of interest, the committee members who debated issues of fairness at work and employment relations between them mustered a pay roll of one full-time person. I begin to wonder whether there will ever again be a time when, in another place, there will be a Member of Parliament or a Minister who has that incredible anxiety which we have all experienced in business, of wondering whether we can pay the wages on Friday; whether we can keep our labour force intact. Those are real, heartfelt anxieties and it seems to me extremely sad that Parliament is no longer recruiting such people.
It is self-evident that that is not a partisan point but I cannot but be struck by the distance that today's political class has put between itself and the nation's wealth-creating heartland. Fewer and fewer entrepreneurs and manufacturers find their way into the political process. The noble Lord, Lord Simon, is a notable exception. My noble friend Lady Miller and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, are both involved with business. Thank goodness for the House of Lords!
Consultation is often a selective and hurried affair. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I do not believe that this was a particularly good consultation process. It is an easy cloak to hide behind. Governments, not only this Government, have done that before. I marvel at the readiness with which today's politicians rush to order people's lives on the basis of such slender collective experience.
By contrast, if my research is correct, 100 per cent of this Bill's Labour supporters are trade union members. Speaking as they do for only one-third of the labour force, I have no doubt that as this Bill goes through the
I have been in trouble in your Lordships' House, with a certain amount of mischief, for not declaring adequately a personal interest. In consequence, my declaration today is rather long-winded. First, to the best of my knowledge, my entries in the Register of Peers' Interests is up to date. Specifically, I declare the following interests: I am a government-nominated director of United Kingdom Nirex Limited; in the voluntary sector, I serve on a charitable trust to help children of horticultural employees who have encountered misfortune; in addition, I hold positions in a foundation concerned with medical research and a hospice for the terminally ill.
While the Bill could impact on all those concerns, a more significant personal interest lies with the family companies of which I am chairman and in which I hold a beneficial interest. That is the Holker Estate group of companies and its activities include property, agriculture, forestry, construction, aggregate extraction, leisure, horse-racing and slate quarries. That latter industry, which exports about 50 per cent of its product, employs about 130 people and for the purposes of wage negotiations and other matters, the workforce is represented by a trade union.
If I had a choice simply to continue with a trade union or not, the balance of advantage lies with continuing with a trade union. During great crises in a cyclical market, the trade union representative has been of immense help in communicating with the labour force.
There are a number of provisions in the Bill with which it is difficult to quarrel. For example, I support the principle of outlawing blacklisting. Likewise, I sympathise with the clauses which seek to prevent discrimination by employers against workers because they are members of a trade union.
There are some sensible measures, some nuggets, in the Bill which is otherwise, I am afraid, rather flawed. They are nuggets which reflect the changing pattern of the British labour market. That needs to be continually reviewed. So far, so good.
It is where the Government seek to make compulsory what most of us do anyway that I start to part company with them. It is as though they believe that they can legislate to eliminate bad employers. I am sad to say that that is to enter the world of make-believe. There will always be bad employers as there will always be sin. It gets worse because as we study the Bill, it emerges that it is not the measure that it pretends to be.
Since its inception, there has been no shortage of simpering ministerial pronouncements ahead of the Bill's publication. We are told that as much as anything, it is about partnership and competitiveness. We were reassured that there would be no burdensome regulation. In the foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister writes:
The truth is that we are being sent a clutch of Bills which have come quickly after legislation dealing with the Working Time Directive, the Social Chapter and the family tax credit scheme, to mention just a few. In a spirit of non-partisanship, I should say that it is not only this Government who have a monopoly of sending Bills to business. If Ministers seriously believe that they can continue to precept the wealth-creating sector without impacting on investment and employment, then I do not know where they have been living.
Employers do not need lecturing on the merits of having good industrial relations; they know it. When this Bill had its Second Reading on 9th February in another place, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Mr Stephen Byers, said:
This state of affairs did not happen by chance. Over the past 15 years greatly reduced regulations have accompanied a huge surge in living standards and a national performance which has been the envy of our European partners. I believe this to be an unnecessary Bill. Industrial relations is a continuous and seamless process, or so it should be. Legislation cannot foster trust, as the Government claim.
The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy--who is no longer in his place--spoke, with his huge experience of these matters, of compulsion. My feeling as regards industrial relations, certainly in the size of enterprise with which I am involved, is that one has to develop trust. If I am a good, fair, generous-minded, generous-spirited employer because I choose to be, there is trust. If I am
I was once faced with a strike in my works. That came about because I neglected industrial relations in my business through spending too much time in your Lordships' House. The strike resulted not just in lost revenues but in great misery and distrust. I recount the incident for two reasons: first, I am firmly of the view that this kind of legislation would not have alleviated matters or prevented me from making the mistakes I did at that time; secondly, I made one sensible decision, which was to call in ACAS. Although it was over the Christmas period, ACAS responded immediately and with huge energy. Through their good offices the process of rebuilding trust began, which continues several years later.
It was a humbling episode but one that I feel had to be experienced. There is a pulse in human affairs which teaches that even the best relationships need more investment of time, dialogue and understanding and--this is my point--less in the way of regulations, rules and law.
I cannot speak too highly of the skill, wisdom, sympathy and commitment with which the ACAS team helped our small enterprise through the problems of that winter. I raise that because they receive a mention in the Bill. I shall listen with great care to see that the Government, with their passion for meddling with things that are working--as have all governments--will not upset that extremely special organisation.
As regards some of the individual provisions, I see a plain objection in principle to the notion of compulsion in the matter of recognising trades unions. I do not share the Government's obsession with introducing democracy into every human activity. Because democracy is rightly regarded as a bastion against tyranny, I do not see that more democracy necessarily makes life better. If one thinks of the sheer ineptitude of government actions, the anomalies, unfairness, and time consuming expense of government, surely a lesson might be learnt that we do not want to democratise everything. Also, the trades unions experts must have known that the bogus democratisation of the trades unions did not serve them well in the long term. More accountability is needed, not more democracy.
The Government's own dislike of accountability is seen by their habit of bypassing Parliament. As has been said again and again, huge tracts of the Bill are subject to secondary legislation. That point will obviously arise again. Perhaps I may say to the Minister that if he looks carefully at this and listens to the anxieties we have expressed about secondary legislation, the Bill will have a much easier ride through Parliament.
The famous Clause 26 has been mentioned. I believe that it is a dreadful, really iniquitous clause. It would send a wonderful signal to your Lordships' House if the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said in his winding-up speech that that clause should be looked at again. I sometimes tell my children that one of the most frightening phrases in the English language is, "A Minister may from time to time decide". That is a sort of prelude to a total loss of freedom. I hope that will be challenged, and challenged successfully.
Like other noble Lords, I am concerned at the provisions in the Bill which are alleged to be no more than complying with EC directives. Where the Government are trying to gold plate directives, that should be discussed. I am not against gold plating in principle. I do not see why one should not sometimes improve on what has been done by the European Community on such matters. I should like to see a little more originality in the way in which we deal with our labour forces. However, I believe such matters need challenging and explanation. We shall certainly need a definition of "the domestic incident".
I conclude by saying that as there are good and bad employers, so there are good and bad employees. Every workforce with a score or more people will have somebody who will seek to exploit their company for their own gain. That is human nature. We cannot change it or legislate against it. The Bill offers no protection against such abuse. It is not only the employer who needs protection. As often as not it is the fellow worker who needs protection from the unscrupulous worker. This is especially so when we introduce, as many of us do, profit sharing schemes. It occurred to me during the debate that I should compile a list so that, in this new spirit of openness, I can tell my workforce of the Bills the Government are sending them. They can then write to the Government and ask for explanations when their profits are reduced and their shares of the profits go down.
An ancestor of mine in the last century was a Minister in numerous administrations in this country, three times declining the office of Prime Minister. He was well known in the Cabinet for the expression, "Far better not". He understood what little good governments had in their gift and what great harm they were capable of through gratuitous intervention. Of this ill-drafted, disingenuous, snivelling little Bill, designed to puff up trades unions and debilitate the wealth-creating sector, I echo my ancestor, "Far better not".
First, I wish to declare an interest, maybe a vested interest. I currently sit as a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, so criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who is not in his place.
The legislation is about fairness at work. It is designed for employers who listen as against those who deny a voice at work. It encourages a genuine partnership between employers and employees, and I am all for that. It is my belief that no one--employee or employer--has anything to fear from the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden so rightly said, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Of course, there are minor areas of concern to both the trade union movement and employers' organisations. But they pale into insignificance when one sees the benefits for employers and employees. Only a small minority of employers are adopting a negative approach. Responsible businesses know that they will not be required to make any substantial changes to their employment practices as a result of the Bill. Some of my colleagues say that the proposed legislation does not go as far as they would wish in some areas. But the TUC and the overwhelming majority of trade unions and their membership give the Bill a warm welcome. Why? Because it is the biggest advance in employee rights for some time. Also, it represents the start of a new era in British industrial relations--looking forward and not backwards. I, for one, welcome that.
As a former general secretary of a trade union at the heart of manufacturing, I know the difficulties that ordinary working people faced at their place of work over many years under the Conservative government: derecognition; denial of the right to be a member of a trade union; and the introduction of personal contracts where collective agreements existed. Those were but a few of the negative effects faced by ordinary working people.
This Bill sensibly addresses those and other vitally important issues such as one year rather than two for unfair dismissal--an extremely important move--and prohibiting the blacklisting of people as a consequence of trade union membership or activities. What is wrong with that? And there are the family-friendly policies about which so many noble Lords, and especially the Minister, spoke.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I rise to add my voice to most of those who have spoken today to welcome this legislation. I, too, declare an interest as a former trade union official and the former general secretary of a couple of Civil Service trade unions. But it is important that we recognise that the legislation before us today is not solely about trade unions; it is about the conditions that apply to all workers; it is about their rights and their responsibilities.
I was one of those who was around in the 1970s and saw the problems we had at that time. I had been involved in the trade union movement, like many of my colleagues, for nearly 20 years when a whole series of pieces of legislation was adopted by the Conservative governments when they were in power--nine in total. Being a reasonable-minded person, I recognised that there were problems with some of the things that were happening in the trade union movement, particularly in the 1970s. The public at large were certainly aware of them. That is one of the reasons we had a change of government, and the new government attempted to remedy some of those problems.
Some of the legislation adopted in the early 1980s was appropriate. Indeed, many of us have come to that view and do not want to turn the clock back completely. But what was particularly important was that, as the Tory Party stayed in power and introduced more legislation--we all acknowledge that abuses were taking place in the trade union movement, particularly among the more powerful unions--they not only took corrective measures against the powerful trade unions, but increasingly they started to abuse power themselves at the expense of the weaker workers.
I find it difficult to understand when I hear the noble Baroness opposite protest on behalf of women, in respect of their interests in maternity legislation and presumably also on behalf of the low paid, when those Benches, when in government, increasingly introduced legislation such as that which abolished the wages councils. That took away a very low level of support for the 2 million people in our society on low pay who are most disadvantaged.
So the Conservatives went too far, as my noble friend said. What is pleasing today, as those who come from the trade union movement have our day in the sun, is that we see the balance is swinging back a little bit in the other direction. This legislation goes some way towards redressing the imbalance which not just politicians and trade union officials, but increasingly the public at large, recognise was prevalent in our society, particularly in relation to conditions at work.
What is before us is not entirely to the full satisfaction of the trade union movement; far from it. There are many changes we would have liked to see introduced. But they are not coming, so we get on with dealing with what we have before us. Neither is this legislation perfect from the employers' point of view. Reference has already been made to the CBI briefing which was received by many of us today; it says that it goes too far in a number of respects.
So I guess the Government have just about struck the right balance after their extensive consultations with a wide range of interests which will be affected by this Bill. I feel that they produced a fair and balanced package. They broadly stuck to the principles contained in the White Paper, most suitably entitled Fairness at Work. What we had before was increasingly unfair as the Tories were in power, and this legislation now seeks to redress the balance. I trust that, having seen the deal done, the Government will now stick with it and there will not be cause for complaints from any of the parties who have been involved so far in the consultation, negotiation and discussion process.
Many of the new provisions will be introduced by regulations. I understand the unease about that, and many of us tend to share those feelings about regulatory changes. But I hope that they will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible, and also that the Government will ensure that all the appropriate consultations take place over the widest area before the regulations are presented.
I want to join with a number of my noble friends who have expressed concern to our Front Bench about possible delays with the timetabling of the later stages of this Bill. Can my noble friend, when he replies, try to give us a clearer indication of when we are likely to move into Committee stage? He shakes his head rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I hope we can get a little more from him later.
I remind my noble friend that some of us will want to explore other ways in which time can be found to accommodate this legislation. After all, we have waited an extremely long time for it. As we said, it does not satisfy all that we would have liked to see in it. We must seek to find time to deal with this important piece of legislation which affects so many people throughout the country. After all, we find within this House that there is plenty of time available to discuss a whole range of issues, many of which are not quite so productive for the people outside the House as those inside might think. We must find the time in whatever way we can.
There are thousands of people out there, waiting for the benefits that will come from the three main sections of the Bill. These are people who do not have good or reasonably fair employers and, having waited so long, they should not be denied any longer. They need protection from over-mighty bosses. There is undoubtedly exploitation and abuse at a minority of workplaces in the UK today, and the Bill seeks to eradicate that. We need, for their sakes, to move forward quickly.
There is plenty of evidence to show that people are being treated badly. Innumerable references are made to industrial tribunals and to ACAS, and these are likely to increase when the legislation is in place and the period in which appeals against unfair dismissal can be accepted is reduced from two years to 12 months. Can the Minister assure me that there will be adequate staffing to deal with those issues at tribunal and CAC level, and that there will not be a long list of people waiting to get justice from such appeal mechanisms?
I can understand why the Government have acted on representations to limit the industrial tribunal awards to £50,000, and I welcome their decision to index-link any revision of that figure. I hope they will reflect on whether it is appropriate to link with the RPI because I think it should be linked with movements in average wages and salaries.
For many people at work, their experience is quite different: many people have good employers and very reasonable employers. Those employers will not have to make any substantial changes in their employment practices as a result of the measures proposed in the Bill.
Most of Britain's top companies already recognise unions. Forty-six out of the top fifty FTSE companies recognise unions, and 42 out of the 45 companies in this country which employ more than 25,000 employees recognise and work with unions.
Britain's biggest private sector employer, Tesco, is the most heavily unionised of all the large supermarket chains. The presence of unions has in no way stopped that company making progress because we now see that it has overtaken Sainsbury to take the top spot in the retailing arena.
Most unions these days are not solely seeking to protect and promote their members' interests in the old-fashioned way of twenty or thirty years ago that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, spoke of. Modern unions are looking to add value to an employer's enterprise, whether it be in the private or public sector. Even in the public sector they know that if their activity is not as effective or efficient as it could be, it will either come to an end or be replaced or transferred into the private sector. Workers everywhere nowadays recognise that they have a mutual interest with their employers in ensuring that they maximise the efficiency of operations, both public and private.
We all work to raise competitiveness. One of my regrets today is that there has been little discussion about the core purpose of the Bill, which is to bring people together to promote competitiveness, something that is still lacking in many areas of our operations even when compared with some of our much-maligned competitors elsewhere in Europe.
Partnership and co-operation are the key; they are at the heart of the Bill. I hope that it will soon be on the statute book so that workers, whether or not they are members of unions, can move forward quickly.
I caused some confusion in the Printed Paper Office last week by asking for a copy of the Industrial Relations Bill. When we eventually worked out what I wanted I realised that I believed there to be some minor difference between industrial relations and employment relations. I believe the Bill to be more about industrial relations than employment relations,
I am a little concerned, having listened to some of the speeches, particularly from very distinguished former Ministers on these Benches and current union leaders on the other Benches, that we have not, with the exception of my noble friend Lord Cavendish, heard much from people who have been engaged in dealings with employers and trade unions round the table. My noble friend Lord Cavendish has been involved in different parts of industrial relations, as I have.
I was very disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, did not speak in the debate because she and I, over a period of about 10 years, had many confrontations in which we both realised that some fairly tough trade union legislation was necessary for satisfactory working relationships. I remember on one occasion at the Waldorf Hotel that the noble Baroness was accompanied, to her horror and distress, by 30 of her members, chihiking behind her and preventing any satisfactory negotiations over a big deal. We broke up fairly shortly thereafter and did much better together over a drink a bit later.
The noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster, in his maiden speech (I looked at the list of speakers and thought for one incredible moment that the sky had fallen in and that my noble friend Lord Walker of Worcester was making his maiden speech--but that was very unlikely) emphasised the improvement in industrial relations in recent years. That is absolutely right. When the last Conservative Government came into power in 1979, that was the nadir of industrial relations. I remember shortly before that time--and I have absolutely no pride in saying this--going to the offices in the Haymarket of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, and working out how we and the unions together could bust the wage restraint legislation. I say I have no pride in saying that, but if we had not done that, we would not have had a newspaper at all.
The union problems with which we had to deal in those days were really terrifying. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, used the word "old-fashioned" in that respect, but at least I am not reluctantly leaving 1833 like the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. Indeed, things have improved but it is not true, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, that there has been an over-reaction to what was happening in those days. I do not believe that my noble friend Lady Thatcher was unbalanced in her approach to trades union legislation.
There were so many things which were wrong at that time and which have been cured. Indeed, whistle-blowing has been mentioned and the use of health and safety legislation as an industrial relations weapon; in other words, the frequent practice of using the most spurious health and safety argument to stop work. Again, it has been said that this legislation would prevent discrimination against trades union members, but it is necessary to ensure that trades union members do not discriminate against non-trades union members. In my time it was virtually impossible to give anyone a rise in salary because the dread word "differential" came
It has also been said that this legislation will protect against black listing. Of course, the latter is not something of which one could even remotely approve. Nevertheless, employers must have some right to find out from previous employers not the nature of the trades union activities of potential employees but who those people are and how they worked. At that time in the newspaper industry, I seem to remember a few members of the union of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean; namely, a father and five brothers who worked in the machine rooms of a number of different publications. For obvious reasons I shall not name them, save to say that the father was known for good and sufficient reason as, "Burglar Bill". Up to a very late stage of negotiations they successfully did everything to prevent newspapers being produced, except under the most expensive conditions, which were totally in the interests of the trades unions and not of the readers or the newspaper concerned.
The situation has changed as a result of the legislation that we have seen introduced over the past 20 years. However, it is now being suggested that we should go back at least some way. Perhaps I may mention the subject of time off--that is to say, time off for parenting. No one argues against the fact that mothers must have a considerable time off in that respect. But in the words frequently used during the course of my short military career, I ask: "Who's to pay?" You have to pay to employ someone, especially in smaller businesses. You cannot absorb the loss of a worker who, because the wife is having a baby, gets a very long time off work in order to look after her. As has been said, you have to employ a locum and when you reach the end of the period and the person returns to work, you cannot get rid of the locum because he has every right to be retained as a worker.
Another reason for time off is domestic incidents. Anyone who has had any dealings with a workforce, although they vary enormously, would know only too well of the dangers which can arise in that respect. We had enough trouble under legislation introduced by the Conservative government with self-certification for sickness. The ability of people to certify themselves as sick for as long as eight days was very expensive and extremely difficult to deal with. There are many such attitudes which exist within many, though not all, workforces. If we did not have the trades union workforce legislation in place today, we would find ourselves in as much trouble as we were 20 years ago, with as many unemployed and as many days lost through industrial action.
We have the introduction of the CAC in this Bill. However, I do not believe that a full explanation has been given as to what it is. For example, is it a hotted-up ACAS? Reference has already been made to the excellence of ACAS and I would agree with that as
As a result of the latter, I am profoundly unhappy about the Bill. It seems to have far too many holes in it. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked whether we would repeal this legislation when we have the next Conservative government. I do not know the answer; but I doubt it. When the Bill returns to your Lordships' House, I hope that it will be a far better piece of legislation than the Bill we now have before us. I sincerely hope that it will not be so full of holes and clauses like "Clause 26", which I really think should go into a museum. I suppose that we have the skeleton of a Bill at present, some of which is undesirable all the way through and some of which merely needs improvement. Of course we shall give the Bill a Second Reading tonight; but, by God! we shall be at it both in Committee and on Report.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, as tail-end Charlie in this debate, I want to raise two minor specific issues. However, before I do so, it is probably worth while putting in a few general remarks. I have not held any illustrious position in the trades union movement. I was a branch chairman for 15 years and a shop steward for a few years. My impression of the Bill is that, yes, there is a deal being done. However, the concern expressed to me by trade unionists in my own branch is that it will not go far enough. It will not resolve all the problems with which we are faced and there will be need for further legislation in future years. Of course, we shall obviously learn from experience.
Noble Lords on the other side of the House talk about the vast improvement in industrial relations which has occurred over the past 20 years. I believe that reference has been made to 27 million or 29 million working days lost in a year. When the Conservative government came to office, I believe that unemployment was running at about a million. In every year since 1979 the average figure has been around 2 million. Therefore, as a country we have had to pay a price for the apparent glorious revolution of improvement in industrial relations. On a quick calculation I estimate 5,000 million working days lost a year. That is a hefty price to pay.
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