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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, my noble friend Lord McCarthy pointed out earlier, in an exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that the unemployment rate in the rest of Europe over the last few years has been about the same as in this country. So there is not that great a distinction. But that was not Europe's experience
However, enough of that. Time is getting on, and I said that I did not want to speak for too long. I wish to concentrate on some specific issues. Before doing so, I must declare an interest as the chair of the Campaign against Bullying at Work. It is worth looking at why we have had a vast increase in the number of complaints of bullying at work. I shall not go into some of the horrific cases that we are all aware of through media reports, but it is instructive to examine what has happened over the last 20 years.
We need to recognise that there have been changes in employment practice. Twenty-odd years ago we had virtually full employment. We had very large firms, in the main, with dedicated, specialist, trained and experienced personnel in industrial relations departments. Now we have, unfortunately, continuing mass unemployment, although we hope that the figure will go down over the next few years, and we have many more small firms. That is partly due to new firms rising, partially due to downsizing of the larger firms, partly due to outsourcing by the larger firms. We cannot expect small firms to have at their disposal the skilled, experienced, highly trained personnel in industrial relations departments that used to exist in the large firms.
How do we tackle that? The Government are setting off in the right direction. We are trying to change that relationship from conflict in industry, commerce and employment to one of co-operation, to get people working together, workers and management.
We must also try to ensure that professional expertise is available. It is worth pointing out that there is a vast reservoir of professional expertise in the shape of trade union officials, whether local branch officers, full-time officials, officers at local level or national officers. There is a tremendous body of professional experience available. Small firms would do well to recognise that that expertise, if properly utilised and harnessed, could be beneficial to them.
The parts of the Bill that will bite most effectively, I believe, are Clauses 10, 11, 12 and 13, which confer the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or an official of a trade union at disciplinary or grievance hearings. The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides in Section 3(1)(b)(ii) for an employee to be advised of,
"where a worker-- (a) is required or invited by his employer to attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing" he may be accompanied. I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench: does the combination of those two provisions confer on the employee the right to have a grievance hearing, and then, if he or she has a right to
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, the Bill claims good intentions. It claims to promote better relations between employers and employees. It claims to promote more family-friendly employment practices. How could anyone disagree with such admirable intentions?
As my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon stated with great clarity, the Conservative Party promotes measures that are fair and promote industrial harmony. We support higher standards for workers and we support more flexible working relations to allow people to balance family and work responsibilities better.
However, we oppose the Bill, because we do not believe that it can live up to its claims. In fact, it is likely to send us backwards. Many of the Bill's provisions take us back to the 1970s when things were worse, not better. In fact, they were much worse, as was so graphically described by my noble friend Lord Tebbit.
I support the points made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew about the shop-floor wishes at that time. I serve on a magistrate's Bench with employees of what was British Leyland and I can assure noble Lords that their life was pure hell. They had no idea whether they should be working, striking, staying at home or attending a carpark meeting. We should never forget that situation. Our reputation around the world in 1979 was that we were considered ungovernable and the "sick man" of Europe.
The first time in this debate that we heard mention of the 29 million working days lost to industrial disputes in 1979 was in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster. I congratulate him on his maiden speech and am glad that he highlighted that figure. By the Conservative government's last full year in power, in 1996, that figure was down to 1.3 million. That was
This Bill seeks to claw back that power. The first part of the Bill relates to statutory union recognition. The Government claim that it is about creating partnership in the workplace, but it is a strange kind of partnership where one side could be unwilling. Compulsory trade union recognition is inherently based on coercion, not co-operation. When one side is not willing, surely it is a recipe for conflict. Adair Turner of the CBI put the point most clearly when he said:
Many noble Lords hold or have held very senior positions in large international businesses, but let us not forget that those large companies were once small and growing. The proposed regulations must not be allowed to stunt the growth of small firms.
The new law will apply to firms with as few as 20 employees. It is difficult to see how a small business with that number of staff requires union representation and collective bargaining arrangements. Most small firms simply do not have the capacity to administer such arrangements. Labour's failure to recognise that illustrates its near total lack of understanding of how businesses work. Virtually every business organisation, including the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Institute of Directors, supported raising the exemption for small firms. They said that it should be greater than 20 yet the Government have ignored those calls and the result will be a tough time ahead for small businesses.
The latest bankruptcy survey from Dunn & Bradstreet shows that liquidations are rising far more quickly among small businesses than larger companies. The Bill simply adds another burden at a time of difficulty. In the words of the British Chambers of Commerce in a January press release:
Labour's burdens provide virtually no exemptions for small businesses. Their concerns have gone unheeded. That is why in another place we proposed an exemption for all measures in this Bill for companies with fewer than 50 employees. As the Bill proceeds through its stages, we urge the Government to consider those and other important amendments carefully. As my noble friend Lord Burnham said, it is our intention to do all
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this interesting debate and in particular to my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster who brought his ministerial and other experience to bear on the subject. We are fortunate to have a number of Members of your Lordships' House who bring with them varied experience of industrial relations. Some are former Ministers who dealt with industrial relations matters. Inevitably, they are entirely on the Conservative side of the House. A number of distinguished trade unionists and experts in trade union law are represented on the Government Benches. There are some who have met the cost of a payroll. I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Cavendish and Lord Burnham. But our Front Bench contains a number of people who have also met the costs of a payroll. We know very well what it is like on the other side of the fence.
Before I go into further detail about the Bill, perhaps I may say a word about the use of delegated powers, which was a constant theme throughout the debate. It was spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, began with that subject and eventually spoke about the Bill when he reached the 13th minute of his speech. I enjoyed his diatribe on the history of industrial relations--which had nothing to do with the Bill in front of us. He spoke about the Bill close to the end of his speech. The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Cavendish, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, also referred to it. It is true that the Bill will enable various provisions to be enacted by secondary legislation, particularly the family-friendly provisions. There is still a great deal of work to be done to get the detail right. It is right that the draft regulations should be, as they have been until now, subject to full consultation with the interested parties, the employer and worker organisations, before parliamentary approval is sought.
The report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee is available to your Lordships. In a fairly thorough report, the points where it considered that things were not being done correctly are quite limited. Its comments are in heavy type, which is the distinction that one has to draw. They are confined to Clause 3 on black lists; Clause 5 on training; Clause 15 as regards dismissal; Clause 17 dealing with part-time workers and penalties; and Schedule 7 dealing with employment agencies.
My noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury, in accordance with the procedures recommended by the Liaison Committee, has written today to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, the Chairman of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. If it has not already been done, a copy of the response will be placed in the Library of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, was right to say that the regulations need
Before I leave the regulations, I refer to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. He asked about their consolidation. We shall not be combining regulations on trade union recognition with those on family-friendly practices. There will be a single set of regulations on those practices. We will try to rationalise the regulations as we go along.