|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend would give way. It is not that we do not want to hear the arguments, but some of them go over our heads. That is why I was shaking my head.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I shall try to make the arguments clearer. I deeply apologise to my noble friend that she does not understand. Perhaps I may try to explain again. Let us suppose that the Bill allows the Secretary of State to make an order imposing contractual terms of employment and that the firefighters say, "We're not going to have it". My noble friend Lady Gibson and I know how that can happen. They may say, "We're going to ask our union to back us"backing which the postal workers failed to obtain at some pointsand the union may say, "Yes, we'll have a ballot" and on that they take action. If that is inducing workers to break their contracts because of the way the order applies, that is protected as a trade dispute. But if the order applies a duty directly from the statute without going through the contract of employment, that is not protected. It is as simple as that. I do not know how to make it any simpler, but if the noble Baroness wishes me to I shall try.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, perhaps I may just complete the sentence. We want the Government to make clear that no statutory duty arising from such an order displaces the normal protections of trade union law. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I shall be very brief. I think that the noble Baroness shares the same difficulty with me. I did not quite understand what the noble Lord was saying. Surely, it depends on how one looks at the matterfrom which end of the telescope. The amendment states,
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, the noble Lord has made my next point very well. If there were no trade union legislation, inducing a breach of contract would be unlawful and thus all strikes would be unlawful. We say that that should apply here. Let us not make new illegalitiesrightly pointed out by the
The same is true under Clause 1(1)(b). It is important that noble Lords should understand this. Let us take the case where an order made under Clause 1(1)(b) gives directions for the fire stations in rural area A to be closed and all the equipment moved to another area. Perhaps I may summarise the view of my noble friend Lord Rooker in debates in Grand Committee and on Report. He accepted that, although the main thrust of the direction was the disposal or use of property in a transfer from one place to another, it would incidentally affect the working conditions of the firemen. Nothing can affect working conditions more than having the place of work moved away; anyone knows that. Therefore a statutory duty under Clause 1(9) imposed by the Bill on a fire authority to carry out the order would impose that statutory duty. If the operation of such an order were opposed by the firefighters, on a ballot in a trade dispute, who then took industrial action on the matter, that action would be illegal. At the moment, industrial action taken against the closure of a station is lawful.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, would the noble Lord be kind enough to give way? Two or three days ago, the Government Front Bench complained that my noble friend Lord Mancroft went on for 29 minutes in Committee on the Hunting Bill. It was said that that was too long. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, is nodding his head in agreement. Surely 22 minutes on an amendment at Third Reading of a Bill is, with respect, a gross abuse of the procedures of this House.
Is this a private fight or can anyone join in? However, while I do not normally come to the rescue of the present Government, on this occasion it appears that the noble Lord has been banging on for far too long.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl would like to listen and appreciate that the rights of firefighters are a matter of intense concern to some. When we reach the last stage of legislation and it is based on legal error, you have an obligation to say something. It may not be within the noble Earl's ancestral conventions, but with the greatest respect, some of us feel that a legislature is for making good law. I want the Government to save the normal industrial rights of firefighters.
I come to my last point. This marks a parallel with 1906 when, by an amendment moved by Sir Charles Dilke, the protection for inducing breach of contract in trade disputes was put into the Bill of the great Liberal government of the day. I hope that those who sit on the Benches which claim descent from that government will do the right thing in remembering that tonight.
This is a matter of human rights. It may amuse people to think that human rights include trade union rights; it may bore some people to think that human rights include trade union rights, but it does not bore most of the workers outside this House. If we want the
It is a matter of conscience and not, I think, a party matter. I genuinely put forward that view. Many parties have voted for industrial rights and the Lords of England who are now abed or in the bar will think themselves accursed that they are not here to listen to the reasoning on this matter, because this day will be remembered as the day when Parliament, at the last gasp of this Bill, deprived a group of honourable workersthe last dispute showed that; I am not concerned with the union's positionof their liberties. This group of workers does not deserve to have its liberties infringed by a Bill that does not encapsulate clearly, on its face, Ministers' subjective intentions.
Ministers' subjective intentions are not what are interpreted by the courts. The courts interpret what is on the face of an enactment. All we are asking is that the Government come up to scratch in respect of their own intention and accept an amendment of the kind we are suggesting to put the Bill into a proper state. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I have not participated in the debate during the passage of the Bill and I was certainly very critical of the dispute that provoked its introduction. But I have a real and deep-rooted concern about one element of the Bill. My experience in the field of industrial relations is not academic and it certainly is not legal, but it goes back to 1963, some 40 years ago. I know all about In Place of Strife, Ted Heath's Industrial Relations Act 1971 and the draconian legislation introduced under Margaret Thatcher.
I am not interested in the legalities, in the technicalities or in an academic argument. I am interested in safeguarding the interests of working people. That is precisely the position from which I am arguing. If workers decide to go on strike, they take industrial action which is legally permissible by way of an industrial ballot. Although they breach their contract of employment, they are protected under the legislation. However, my understanding is that if a statutory instrument, a regulation, is introduced, they will not necessarily have the same safeguards as those who breach their contracts of employment.
If my noble friend the Minister can assure me that, under the terms of the Bill as proposed by the Government, that protection is copper bottomed and there is no possibility whatever of a statutory instrument being introduced which jeopardises their employment rights and safeguards against dismissal, I will support him. But the assurance has to be copper bottomed. I do not want to be left in a situation where it is not likely to happen; it may never come; the Titanic will not sink. We do not need to put enough lifeboats on the ship because that will never happen. But the Titanic did sink, and I do not want to be in a
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, how can the proposal be copper bottomed? If there is an actual or threatened terrorist attack you have to have immediate directions, with instant effect, which cannot be challenged and which are not part of ordinary trade union law. We are talking about a statutory instrument direction. You cannot copper bottom that and say it does not exist because there is another law. That is nonsense.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, my clear understanding is that the movers of the amendment believe that the Government cannot produce a guarantee of protection for workers if a statutory instrument is introduced. That is why the amendment has been tabled. If the amendment will provide a belt and braces situation, I am bound to support it.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page