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Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, the fatal flaw in the amendment--as, indeed, in the speech of the noble Baroness--is that she predicated her argument by stating that the Bill is about compulsory unionisation of business and imposing trade unions on small businesses. It is nothing of the sort. The Bill is not doing a favour to employees. On the contrary, it is doing a favour to employers. What the Bill says is that, as an alternative to people stopping work and walking away--to telling an employer that they will not work unless the employer recognises the union--a legal procedure will be set up. If workers say to an employer, politely and courteously, "It is a basic human right to join a trade union. Will you accept that and recognise the union that represents us?", and if he says no, this provision means that workers do not have to say, "We shall not work for you unless you do recognise that right". The Bill enables them, together, to take an alternative line.
The purpose of the Bill is to make things easier for the employer, not to make them more difficult. It seeks to sustain a situation in which ordinary working men and women can maintain their basic human freedoms. That is all.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, I did not wish to intervene on this point, but in view of the noble Baroness's remarks, perhaps I should make matters clear. The reason we have not supported her amendment and have supported the Government to date is that we take the view that Schedule 1 is the product of the very delicate negotiations that the Government have conducted with all interested parties, and that for us to attempt to interfere on numerical grounds, as she suggests, would be inappropriate. In the light of her remarks, I might have been minded, if she pushes the matter to a vote, to suggest to my colleagues that they might wish to abstain. But in the light of the outrageous suggestions that she made in her speech about the Liberal Democrats, I shall of course recommend to my colleagues that they support the Government.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, when we debated the issue of small businesses in Committee and on Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and I had one point of agreement and one point of disagreement, and both seemed clear. We both agreed on the importance of small businesses. Given our background, it would be astonishing if we had not. The point of disagreement was that we did not believe that there was any justification for increasing the definition from 21 to 50. As we argued on Report, to the satisfaction of the House, there is indeed a difference as regards businesses of 20 people and under, but for very many purposes, in a large number of industries, businesses with 21 to 50 employees are capable of the same organisational issues that affect larger businesses, and the workers in them are entitled to the right to union representation. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Murray that the phrase "compulsory unionisation" is inappropriate to this Bill.
But now the noble Baroness has come up with another amendment which is so different from what has gone before that I scarcely believe that she believes in it. If she believed in it, surely she would have brought it forward at an earlier stage. The noble Baroness is now suggesting that the formula for the ballot majority required for recognition, which has been arrived at after long consultation and reflection, and which has never been challenged before at any stage in the progress of the Bill, either in this House or in another place, should now be altered because she feels the need, under the rules of the House, for what I believe Fowler called "elegant variation". I am sorry. That really will not do.
I know that some of my noble friends and some people in the trade unions thought that a simple majority of those voting was a sufficient test, and they drew comparisons with political elections. The Government disagreed. We felt that it would be wrong for recognition to be gained without a strong, positive show of support. If recognition were won in a ballot with a
That is why we proposed the dual test of a majority of those voting and at least 40 per cent of those eligible to vote. That ensures that there will be no recognition awarded unless there is substantial positive support, demonstrated by votes in favour.
In all the discussions on the Bill, it has been widely agreed that that is a fair and reasonable measure of support. I can see no reason to modify the proposal now, at the last stage, in the case of firms with between 21 and 50 employees. The test ensures that recognition will not be granted without both majority support and active support. That is true in smaller and larger firms.
There is no logical justification for the changed test proposed by the noble Baroness. Yes, of course we have taken a power to vary the ballot threshold if, against our expectation, it does not work; but that does not have the sinister implications attributed to it by the noble Baroness. Unless and until experience proves us wrong, we stick by our proposal. We believe that it is balanced and workable. I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.