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Lord Tebbit: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I have not found how the term "employer" is defined. If a proprietor, who is colloquially what we would call the employer and who runs the whole business, goes away and the company secretary receives the notice, does that trigger the start? That is not a problem in large companies but in companies of the size dealt with by the Bill there could be a real problem.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The definition in the schedule of an employer is somewhat circular. It states:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 18, line 43, leave out ("in") and insert ("before the end of")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 18, line 47, leave out ("10") and insert ("20")

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 16, 191 and 194. They are all identical amendments and extend the time for the machinery for union recognition to operate under paragraph 9 and, as regards the employer and the union, if the derecognition machinery is to be invoked under paragraphs 80(6) and 82(3). The extension that I propose is a moderate one--from 10 working days to 20 working days. By no stretch of the imagination can this be regarded as giving either side the opportunity to play for time. On the one hand, the party invoking the machinery, either by seeking union recognition or derecognition, will have had all the time it needs before launching its request carefully to consider its position and all its implications and to prepare its case, while the other side will have to start from scratch and may need time to take expert advice or to consult with the workers. Two working weeks, because that is all we are talking about, is too short, while extending it to four working weeks will harm no one. These cases will not be ones of immediate urgency. There will be no burning fire to put out.

I have noticed that among the vast swathe of amendments to Schedule 1 which the Government are introducing at this late stage after all the hours the Bill spent in Committee in the other place they are proposing

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to alter the number of days for what is described as the second period of the same machinery and the negotiating period and the time for a ballot from 28 days to 20 working days. These very sensible amendments to exclude weekends and holiday periods now provide for 20 working days for the operation of the particular machinery involved in those clauses. There is absolutely no reason why, in the interests of consistency, the periods covered by these four amendments should not be identical. I trust that the Government will accept them. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: These are indeed modest amendments and I understand the basis on which the noble Baroness has moved them. I wish to speak, first, to Amendments Nos. 11 and 191 and then to Amendments Nos. 160 and 194; Amendments Nos. 191 and 194 being the time periods for derecognition. The aim of all four amendments is to ensure that there is enough time for negotiation. That is a laudable aim. But there is no point in prolonging negotiations if the parties have nothing to say to each other. At all stages of the process the parties may agree to extend the period of negotiation. If agreement cannot be reached, or if one party refuses to negotiate, then a requirement for additional time just drags out the process. That is what would result from the amendments.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 191 seek to amend the schedule where the parties agree. The amendments would extend the employer's initial response period from 10 working days to 20. That would add up to two weeks to the recognition process, which in the worse case could run to 18 weeks from the initial request to the holding of the ballot. That would lengthen the application process without materially improving it. If the employer is willing to negotiate, there are an additional four weeks for negotiations and the employer and the union can agree to extend this period still further. If the employer will not negotiate, there is little point in delaying the application.

When the topic was discussed in Committee in the other place much was made of the potential problem for the small business where the employer was on holiday. I think that I answered that point in what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. The 10 working day period starts the day after the request was received by the employer and in all cases the employer will have two full weeks to decide whether or not to negotiate. I cannot see any benefit to industrial relations in extending the first period for negotiation to 20 working days.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 194 apply where the negotiations fail. The amendments would, in effect, require a union to accept an employer's request to involve ACAS at any time during the negotiations about recognition under paragraph 11. There are four weeks--20 working days--for these negotiations, or possibly a little longer because of the amendments which have just been agreed to. During the first two weeks of this period, if the employer proposes the use of ACAS in conducting negotiations, and if the union refuses or ignores the request, the union may not apply to the CAC for a determination of the appropriate bargaining unit or whether the union should be recognised. The

7 Jun 1999 : Column 1183

amendments would extend the period in which the employer could, in effect, require the union to accept the services of ACAS from two weeks to four weeks, the same length as the negotiation period. There is no point in involving ACAS if it does not have any time in which to work. Of course it is possible that the union and employer will agree to extend negotiations; but then they can also agree to involve ACAS. We are discussing the question of whether it is reasonable to require one party to accept the use of ACAS.

There is also no point in allowing one party to make a request for the use of ACAS a week before the end of negotiations since the other party has 10 working days in which to accede to the request. So, for example, a union could wait for a week, until the negotiating period was over, accept the employer's proposal that ACAS be involved, and then refuse to extend the period for negotiation. The actual involvement of ACAS would be nil. So I do not think the amendments would have any effect in practice.

The amendments, however well meaning, imply that it would be unreasonable for a union or employer to reject a proposal for the use of ACAS which was made on the last day of negotiations. I do not think that that is unreasonable. What would be unreasonable is to require the union or employer to accept the proposal, which is what the amendments--I do not think wittingly--would do.

Baroness Seccombe: I thank the noble Lord for that detailed answer. We see a difference between the second stage and the 20 working days. We shall study the noble Lord's answer and consult with colleagues. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 18, line 48, at end insert ("for recognition")

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 33, 46, 48, 64, 184, 185, 187, 190, 211, 213, 214, 216, 217 and 220.

The amendments are miscellaneous drafting improvements. They have the effect of removing superfluous words, adding clarity, correcting cross-references et cetera.

Amendments Nos. 12, 48 and 220 are clarifications, which have no effect on the function of the schedule. Amendment No. 33 brings the wording of paragraph 21(3) into line with paragraph 90(5)(b), the equivalent provision dealing with derecognition ballots. Amendments Nos. 46, 187, 190, 211 and 214 remove superfluous words. Amendment No. 64 inserts a missed cross-reference, and Amendment No. 184 corrects an erroneous cross-reference.

Amendments Nos. 185 and 213 correct a logical omission, and require requests for derecognition to be received in order to be valid, as in paragraph 4.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 216 and 217 ensure that the definition of "bargaining unit" in Part VI is consistent with that in the rest of the Bill: a group or groups of workers.

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I commend the amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 13 to 15:

Page 19, line 2, leave out ("28") and insert ("20 working")
Page 19, line 21, leave out ("in") and insert ("before the end of")
Page 19, line 30, leave out ("in") and insert ("before the end of")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 17:

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