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Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I am very happy that the noble Lord chooses the word and defends it judiciously.

Chinook ZD576

3 p.m.

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): My Lords, I am not aware of there being any developments since this tragic accident was last debated in the House on 2nd June 1998.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I think that the Minister means 1994. But let us assume that he means the accident to which I am referring, which was in June 1994. Has the Minister had an opportunity to study a well-researched report by Computer Weekly which has thrown considerable doubt and uncertainty upon the possible causes of the accident? In the light of the doubts and uncertainties put forward in the report, is he willing to stand up in your Lordships' House today and reiterate, without reservation or equivocation, that the Government's view is that the accident was "without any doubt whatever"--those are the words used in the appropriate regulations--the fault of the two pilots concerned to the extent of gross negligence? If he is not prepared to do that, is he prepared to have the board of inquiry reopened in order to study the Computer Weekly report, revise its opinions and report again?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, as to the noble Lord's first point, perhaps I did not enunciate the answer clearly enough. Nineteen ninety-eight, the date in my Answer, was the last occasion when the accident was debated in the House. Secondly, I have not had time to study the document; it reached me only on Saturday. It is very thick and I have had one or two other things to do since Saturday. I am informed by those who have looked through it that there is nothing new in the report whatever. I have no difficulty in standing once again at the Dispatch Box and reaffirming that it is the view of the present Government, as it was the view of the previous government, that, tragic as it is, the accident was due to pilot negligence.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, whatever the alleged failings of the software, which are recorded at length in Computer Weekly, is it not the case that the direct course the pilots should have taken from Belfast to Inverness goes to the island of Pladda, where they turn left; that they had no reason whatever to be in line with the Mull of Kintyre; that if they hit fog and icing conditions and

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the computer software was in some way faulty, the instructions were quite clear that they should have turned 180 degrees and reversed their course?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, not for the first time I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his contribution on this subject. Even if one assumes that there had been a catastrophic failure in the FADEC software, that does not alter the fact that the plane should not have been where it was, flying at that height, in that weather and on that heading. We have seen the flight plan that was filed and I understand that something like 90 seconds before the aircraft hit the Mull of Kintyre there was a way point where it was due to make a turn of about 15 degrees to port. I regret to tell your Lordships that that turn was never executed.

Lord Whaddon: My Lords, whatever the cause of this accident, will my noble friend bear in mind that fixed wing aircraft are safer, quicker and cheaper where suitable airfields can be used at either end of a journey, as was the case on this occasion? Will he reassure your Lordships' House that we shall always avoid putting so many security assets in a single aircraft?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, as one who has had the pleasure of enjoying the privileges of both a PPLA and a PPLH, I do not necessarily agree with what the noble Lord said about fixed wing aircraft being safer than rotary wing. If an engine fails on a rotary aircraft one can go into auto-rotation and, if one is skilled enough and lucky enough, one can land in a smaller space than one can with a fixed wing aircraft. However, I certainly take his point about the number of people of high sensitivity in that plane at that time.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, irrespective of statements emanating from anonymous spokesmen in the Ministry of Defence, is the Minister aware that throughout these islands there is great unease about the blame apportioned to the two young pilots? Is he further aware that I live in Northern Ireland and that I have a direct vision to the Mull of Kintyre and the lighthouse where the tragic accident took place? For the past nine days I have noticed the frequency with which fog can drop, lift and drop again. Together with a number of people, I have been able to see how it would be possible for such a fog to be generated that the young pilots and the computers in their aircraft would not have time to deal with it. Does the Minister also accept that over a number of years there have been many miscarriages of justice in these islands? Time and time again such cases have been brought to the Court of Appeal, where it has been finally decided that those who were against the original decisions were found to be right.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I take the point that there is concern about the matter. That is why I have been on my feet so many times in your Lordships' House during the past couple of years. I, other Ministers in the Government and Ministers in the previous government have all crawled over the evidence with very great care. To a man, the conclusion we have reached is that the

7 Jun 1999 : Column 1144

Royal Air Force findings were inevitable and totally justified. I should point out to my noble friend that, whether or not there was fog, the aircraft should not have been in that place, at that height, at that speed, at that time.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, was the helicopter maintained completely by RAF groundcrew or by contractors? I think the noble Lord will agree that there was some disquiet about certain airframes at the time the Ministry decided to bring in outside contractors for maintenance. Was this helicopter entirely maintained by the RAF, the contractors or a mixture of both? Was it an RAF officer or a civilian who confirmed that ZD576 was fit to fly? Is the Minister satisfied with the overall maintenance of the helicopter fleet within the Royal Air Force?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, as to the noble Lord's specific point, I cannot be certain. My impression is that it was wholly maintained by the Royal Air Force. I shall check the point, write to the noble Viscount and have the Answer put on the record. As to his general point, I am perfectly satisfied with the maintenance requirements for Royal Air Force helicopters and that those requirements are met. It is always the pilot's responsibility whether or not he flies.

Local Government Bill

3.7 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 29, Schedule 1, Clauses 30 to 33, Schedule 2, Clauses 34 and 35.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Employment Relations Bill

3.8 p.m.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Simon of Highbury.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

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Schedule 1 [Collective bargaining: recognition]:

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 17, line 26, after ("holidays;") insert ("and
(b) any of the other matters mentioned in section 178(2), which the CAC specifies as within, or as relevant to, the method by which the parties are to conduct collective bargaining;")

The noble Lord said: The objective of the amendment is to widen the scope for recognition, particularly in terms of what the declarations of the CAC can contain. At present the Bill provides that a declaration of the CAC can cover pay. Would the Committee like me to wait?

Lord Clinton-Davis: Yes.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Noble Lords leaving the Chamber should do so without conversation in order that business may proceed.

Lord McCarthy: The object of the amendment is to widen the scope for recognition of declarations from the Central Arbitration Committee. As the Bill now stands, a declaration of the CAC in effect recommending recognition to a union can only cover three subjects--pay, hours and holidays; nothing more, nothing less.

The object of the amendment is to widen it so that the CAC is able at its discretion, not automatically and not in every case, to add to the subjects recognised, or take away, if it wishes, everything which is contained in the list of subjects in Section 178(2) of the consolidation Act of 1992; namely the definition of collective bargaining.

If that is collective bargaining and that is also very roughly the scope of a trade dispute, we are asking why all these subjects which can be negotiated voluntarily or which can form the basis of industrial action within the normal scope of what we regard as collective bargaining cannot be extended and included, at the discretion of the CAC, within the ambit of a CAC declaration. That is the object.

In Section 178(2) of the consolidation Act, "collective bargaining" is defined in such a way that it includes terms and conditions of employment, physical conditions, the engagement and dismissal of workers, the allocation of work, discipline, facilities for shop stewards or full-time officials, the machinery of negotiation and consultation. We are asking why, since that is all part of collective bargaining, it has been excluded from the ambit of the CAC when awarding a positive declaration in favour of collective bargaining.

One can put forward a range of arguments in favour of this proposition. The first thing that one might do is to go back to previous legislation of this kind. When the Conservative government in 1971 introduced the Industrial Relations Act, the body charged with the duty of making recommendations could include all these matters. Alternatively, if we look, for example, at the 1975 Employment Protection Act, when ACAS had the job, it could include all these kinds of subject. It was not necessary for it to do it every time and it did not do it every time. It chose the subjects which it thought were

7 Jun 1999 : Column 1146

relevant to the workers concerned in the bargaining unit concerned and said "You will recognise all these subjects on this occasion".

Indeed, when this Bill was debated in the other place, these matters were included. This definition of Section 178(2) of the Consolidation Act 1992 was, in effect, the area and ambit of the discretionary work of the CAC. It was not until an amendment was moved in the Commons by the Government that this restrictive definition involving pay, hours and holidays was introduced. Even this Government and previous governments that have been involved in this kind of activity have seen the point of trying to make the widest possible discretion available to an organisation like the CAC.

Another argument might be that to give discretion of this kind very considerably helps the CAC in deciding what it can do for the union concerned. Sometimes the union has advanced a potential bargaining unit in respect of which it is not appropriate for the union to be recognised for the purposes of pay. This is because pay may be determined on a plant basis, a company basis or a national basis, and what the union is asking for is recognition for pay purposes within a particular group of workers. Similarly, with hours and holidays the employer may be able to go along to the CAC and say "We cannot be forced to recognise a union for these purposes with this small bargaining unit. It is not appropriate for pay, hours and holidays to be collectively bargained for at this level". However, it might be appropriate for engagement and dismissal to be negotiated at this level and it might be appropriate for grievance procedures and discipline to be recognised at this level. Therefore, I would argue that to introduce a firm, precise, limited link of this kind will make it much more difficult for a union to gain recognition.

Indeed, one of the questions that I would like to ask the Minister, because it is not clear from the face of the Bill, is whether it is seriously intended that if you gain recognition from the CAC you are entitled to negotiate all aspects of pay, even those which the employer can legitimately argue are not settled at this level. Surely not, and surely not all aspects of working hours. These are three rather odd subjects to be inserted in this restrictive way. They have never been inserted previously; they have not been inserted in parallel jurisdictions. What we are saying is that it would be much better if the Government were prepared to take a much more flexible approach in order to help the CAC. I ask them to accept the amendment.

Finally, I would also like to ask precisely where this limited list of subjects comes from. I have been told that it was in the election literature. It is true that it was in the election literature, but that is not necessarily a justification. It was not in the election manifesto. It was in the pre-election literature. It has never really been defended and it has never really been explained. Therefore, if the Government decide that they cannot accept our amendment for the first time this afternoon, perhaps they will explain to us why they have what appears on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

7 Jun 1999 : Column 1147

3.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My noble friend ended his remarks by asking where the phrase "pay, hours and holidays" came from. He went back in time a little, prior to the election. However, I should remind him that the Fairness at Work White Paper said (in Annex 1, paragraph (viii) on page 42) that collective bargaining would,


    "cover pay, hours and holidays as a minimum". That is exactly what the Bill does. When my noble friend describes this as restrictive, I believe he underestimates the opportunities which exist for other matters to be covered in collective bargaining as a result of agreement between employers and employees.

My noble friend also made a point relating to the CAC declaration. He said that he wants Amendment No. 1 to reflect the emphasis which he places on the CAC declaration. Our point is that once recognition has been gained, either through a CAC declaration or because the employer has agreed to a statutory request, the employer and the union or unions try to reach agreement on how to give effect to recognition. In other words, they try to reach a procedure agreement which covers the scope of their bargaining, as well as how they will conduct it. If they agree between themselves, they are free to choose whatever subject matter they like. It is not at all restrictive. That is the effect of paragraph 2(7) of the schedule.

However, if in the last resort the CAC has to impose a bargaining procedure under paragraph 2(7) of Schedule 1 because the employer and the union are unable to agree how they will bargain, that procedure will, by virtue of paragraph 2(6), apply only to pay, hours and holidays. The imposition of the procedure will also trigger the requirement to consult on training under Clause 5, to which we will come later in the Bill.

The logic of this structure is that it is preferable for both sides to reach a voluntary agreement. Such an agreement can cover matters such as facilities for union officials, disciplinary procedures, steps to avoid industrial action and other detailed arrangements which are in the interests of unions and employers. My noble friend quoted the previous government's legislation and used the phrase "could include". That is exactly what can happen in the terms of Schedule 1. Once the statutory procedure has been imposed--the Government will be disappointed if that is not a rare occurrence--the parties can by consent vary it. Therefore, they have every opportunity and incentive to reach an agreement which suits them better than the rigid, fall-back model. If were to go back to the full wording of the paragraph in the Consolidation Act referred to in Amendment No. 1, we would have a rigid, fully detailed fall-back rather than the limited fall-back which we have here.

These amendments are intended to give the CAC discretion to include in an imposed bargaining procedure any matters which it thought appropriate. I have been talking, as did my noble friend, about Amendment No. 1. I think that Amendment No. 72 is intended to achieve much the same in respect of voluntary recognition. However, as I think noble Lords who took part in the Second Reading debate will know,

7 Jun 1999 : Column 1148

the Government intend to table significant amendments to Part II which will not be compatible with Amendment No. 72.

I think it is apparent from the way I have described the structure of this aspect of the schedule that the Government cannot agree to these amendments: first, because we believe that the imposed procedure should be a simple, basic formula, a bare minimum which most employers and unions will find inadequate and which they will replace with something more suited to their wishes and circumstances; and, secondly, because it would be wrong to give the CAC such a wide-ranging discretion with no indication as to how it is to be used. I was a little surprised to hear my noble friend say that this would help the CAC. I think that it would be contrary to the kind of brief that we have been seeking to give the CAC. We have tried throughout the schedule to give the CAC clear guidance, even on such difficult issues as determining the appropriate bargaining unit, so that it does not find itself having to make up policy as ACAS did in the 1970s. That led to endless judicial review, something we have sought to avoid by including in the schedule clear criteria for decisions even at the expense of the schedule being incredibly long and complicated.

With the Government's proposed structure, employers and unions know exactly what the alternative is to a negotiated agreement on the scope of collective bargaining. But if the amendments were accepted, that would not be the case. It could undermine the incentive to reach an agreement if, for example, a union thought it might be able to persuade the CAC to include additional matters in the imposed procedure. That would not be a good idea. I hope the Committee will agree that we are seeking to do everything we can to encourage negotiated agreements.

I turn to Amendment No. 73 in the same group. As I said on Amendment No. 72, the Government will be bringing forward substantial amendments to Part II of Schedule 1, as Michael Wills said during Committee in another place. We intend to narrow the scope of Part II by excluding entirely voluntary recognition reached before the entry into force of the Bill or without a formal request, citing the schedule, from the union to the employer. So Part II will apply only to what might be called "semi voluntary" recognition, where the union has made a formal request and, if necessary, the CAC has determined the appropriate bargaining unit, but the employer has agreed to recognise the union without a ballot and without a CAC declaration of recognition. So Part II will be concerned with what happens if the parties are unable to reach agreement on a method for collective bargaining.


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