in the second session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
FOURTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1998--99
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware of the situation in which employees have been affected by a merger as a result of share transfer and the superior rights which exist under the regulations referred to in my Question have not applied? As a result, their union is pursuing the matter in the courts. It appears that a loophole exists
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I am aware of situations in which share transfer has led to redundancies. However, I would make it clear that there are two separate circumstances. In the first, the legal ownership changes; in the second, it does not. In the latter case of share transfer, there is the collective redundancies directive under which recourse could be taken for unsatisfactory dismissal. That remains the most effective recourse to justice.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that when two companies merge in this way the redundancy provisions favour the employees to the extent that considerable consultation must take place and the larger the firm the more extensive the degree of consultation? Will he also confirm that the Government do not support the view currently expressed by London Underground, as opposed to every other employer, that employees should be guaranteed their jobs for 15 years?
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I confirm the noble Baroness's contention that under normal circumstances there is extensive consultation by companies, as is required under merger conditions. That is well protected by the existing law and frequently takes place. However, there are circumstances in which it does not, which is why a sound and effective law must stay in place. I make no statement about London Underground because I am not aware of the circumstances.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is it the case that such regulations and laws do not exist in the United States? Is not that part of the reason why, as the Prime Minister explained, the United States is far more effective in creating jobs and expanding the economy than our sclerotic economies in Europe? If there is a loophole,
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I point out again that there is no loophole. There are two different legal circumstances; change of ownership, which is a takeover circumstance, and share transfer, which is a merger circumstance. They are differently treated in law and that is successful. Although we are consulting, at this time we see no reason to change the basic legal principle which applies. As regards differences between Europe and the United States, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is fully aware of the different circumstances which apply in the markets.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the 1980s was a most unfortunate period for working people in the United Kingdom, being unregulated and unfair? Are not the Government trying to be fair to employers and employees?
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. It is exactly the spirit which lies behind our new Bill which will soon come to this House. I hope that it is received in exactly the spirit which I then detected in the air.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, without going into the hyperbole of the previous question, does the Minister agree that there is no evidence whatever that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations have had the remotest influence on unemployment, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the situation under the last government, as under this Government, is dealt with through their operation of the Highways Agency in England and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales in relation to their roads. There is a fairly firm code of practice as to what is required in terms of salt application in that it should be undertaken before the ice forms or snow settles on the roads. We give similar advice to local authorities. However, it is not part of our interpretation of the law or that advice that it is the responsibility of the highways authorities to keep open all roads at all times.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, if the Government were to ignore the back-slidings of such local authorities, would they not find themselves on a slippery slope? Moreover, in trying to defend them, would not the noble Lord find himself on very thin ice?
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the House will sympathise with anyone who must try to predict the vagaries of the wonderful climate which we enjoy in the United Kingdom. Is the Minister satisfied that the arrangements for distributing funds to local authorities in the United Kingdom are satisfactory to meet the needs of that particular variable in their responsibilities?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for intervening before I had to conjure up a meterological riposte to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. In normal circumstances, the allocations which we give to local authorities to cover maintenance of the highway and the removal of obstructions to the highway, which include snow and ice, are adequate. Clearly, there are other means whereby the national government may assist in emergency situations.
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