|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Clinton-Davis: I hope that my noble friend will accept the amendment. It is extremely important to ensure that there is as large a turnout at the workplace as is practicably possible. These are extremely important issues. I found my noble friend's remarks in moving the amendment extremely persuasive. The Government would be wise to accept the need to be rather more specific than their amendments. The amendments represent important and complementary provisions as far as concerns the Bill. Because of their importance there should be no room for ambiguity. I hope that my noble friend will view this amendment with approbation. Subject to anything that he may say, it seems to me that there is nothing in the amendment that is in any sense incompatible with what the Bill seeks to achieve. I hope that my noble friend will accept the amendment.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I very much hope that the noble Lord the Minister will not accept the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. We believe that the amendment is thoroughly objectionable; it would allow ballots to be conducted by post and proxy voting. The noble Lord has tabled an amendment which would allow ballots to be conducted by post. We have no objection to that whatever. It is a very good thing to enable as many trade union members as possible to respond, and we have no objection to that. Our objection is to the provisions of sub-paragraph (4)(c). To hand over a proxy vote to a union activist is hardly an indication of a commitment. I believe that it also lends itself to direct moral pressure, if not personal intimidation.
Without wanting to open up old wounds, the history of unions pressurising workers at factory gate mass meetings is hardly reassuring as to how campaigns to secure proxy votes would he conducted. It is absolutely not necessary. If postal votes are permitted, as is allowed for in the amendment tabled by the Minister, there is no problem. People who cannot attend can vote by post, but proxy voting is another matter and we very much object to it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My noble friend Lord McCarthy always seeks to anticipate my response to his amendments. He suggests that I shall try to persuade him that the Government have given him most of what he wants. My speaking note says that I can meet him half-way. I intended to say that I could meet him one-third of the way, so we are not really within striking distance.
There are essentially three elements to the amendment: the employment of proxies; the possibility of a mixture of voting methods; and the encouragement of a high turnout. I begin with the last element. I believe that we have done everything we can to encourage a high turnout. We require a substantial positive vote in
The amendment would make it the task of the CAC to encourage a high turnout. I suggest to the Committee that in this matter the CAC must be strictly neutral. If some people do not care either way about the decision and therefore do not choose to vote, that is their prerogative. It is for the supporters and opponents of recognition to try to persuade them to vote, not the CAC. The amendment would place the CAC in the invidious position of having to balance the need to encourage a high turnout against other factors, such as the risk of unfairness or malpractice.
The amendment appears to require the CAC to give higher priority to encouraging a high turnout than to avoiding unfairness or malpractice. Therefore the Government have encouraged voting by means of the structure of the Bill. That is a better way than placing the duty on the CAC as this amendment seeks to do.
As to the mixture of voting methods, there is a measure of agreement between us. We recognise that there may be circumstances where a mixture of workplace and postal voting may be appropriate. I do not go back, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, seeks to do, to the days of mass meetings and "I'm alright Jack" with Peter Sellers as the sinister union activist. I had not heard the word "activist" for years until this afternoon's debate.
The best example of where workplace and postal voting together may be appropriate could be an oil rig where one crew is on duty and the other is ashore on leave. It would be sensible to ballot the on-board crew at their workplace--probably the only way one could do so. The crew on shore would have to be balloted by post. We had a representation from a union representing seafarers on precisely that point. Amendments Nos. 35, 36, 205 and 206 are proposed to deal with it.
My noble friend's third point is the employment of proxies. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, attached highly emotive language to that aspect, but the Government are less sympathetic to proxies. We do not wish to complicate the procedure unduly. For any individual, a recognition ballot will be a rare event--unlike company general meetings, to several of which even a modest shareholder is likely to be invited each year. People who are off sick or on leave can mostly be accommodated by postal voting. We do not believe that proxy voting involving an essentially personal decision on a single issue is right--but not for the noble Baroness's reasons.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That is a hypothetical question. We have the possibility of workplace and postal ballots. I would need a lot of convincing that proxies add anything to those alternatives. As we have always provided for them to be permissible separately and we are now proposing that they be allowed together, we cover the waterfront. If my noble friend seeks to persuade me and produces an example, I would be glad to listen--as always.
One third of the way is all that I can say in respect of Amendments Nos. 35, 36, 205 and 206. The present situation is that the CAC has two choices, each with its own advantages and disadvantages--a workplace ballot and a postal ballot. The amendments would add a combined workplace and postal ballot where neither a workplace nor a postal ballot alone would represent a fair test of support.
I acknowledge that my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis is saying that it tends to be better to err on the side of providing more options than fewer in statutes. It is likely that most situations would be best suited to a simple postal or workplace ballot but it would be foolish to deprive the CAC of the power to choose a combination of the two if that were more appropriate. There may be particular situations where a combined ballot is appropriate. I gave the examples of a merchant ship or oil rig. We want the CAC to have discretion to conduct a mixed workplace and postal ballot if only because, for particularly good reasons, it believes that to be appropriate. The key tests of appropriateness are the views of the employer and unions, location of the workers, and the nature of their employment.
Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 would allow such mixed ballots for recognition, and Amendments Nos. 205 and 206 relate to derecognition ballots. We set a requirement that 40 per cent of workers must vote in favour of recognition for an application to succeed. It is only fair that we allow the CAC to run ballots that do not artificially restrict the ability of workers to vote.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: The Minister referred to my use of the phrase, "trade union activist". I am not surprised that he has not heard that phrase for a long time. I claim that is because of the trade union legislation that we brought in. It is because we are concerned not to go back to those days that we have tabled amendments to the Bill.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I did not actually say that. I said that the Minister had not heard that phrase because of the trade union legislation that we brought in. I hasten to add that the new Labour Government, it
Lord Cavendish of Furness: We have heard much today about old days gone. The idea from the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that there is no such thing as activism or mass meetings at the workplace is absurd. I do not know where academics or Ministers go these days but evidently not to the north of England. Furthermore, I think that that is extremely healthy. I was pleased, by and large, by what the Minister said about the amendment. There is a great deal in the management of business and in the creation of wealth that involves a rather robust expression of feeling on the shop floor. I welcome that.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page