HC Deb 23 April 1970 vol 800 cc725-32
Mr. Booth

I beg to move Amendment No. 46, in page 4, line 37, at end insert: (2) A union shall have the right to refer a collective agreement made before the operative date which could continue to apply beyond the operative date to the Industrial Court at any time and on their doing so the Court shall state any amendments which will have to be made in the collective agreement to comply with the terms of this Act and as from the operative date the agreement shall operate as if these amendments were made.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment I have suggested that we take Amendment No. 47, in Clause 8, page 9, line 1, after subsection ',insert' (2) of section 3 and subsection '.

Mr. Booth

As the Bill stands, no collective agreements can be referred by a trade union to an industrial court before 29th December, 1975. Clearly, many collective agreements will be reached between now and December, 1975, many of which will continue to operate after that date. It would, therefore, be advantageous to ascertain, before December, 1975, whether these agreements will continue to be legal from date when the Bill becomes law.

I appreciate that there will be a right to a retrospective claim to the commencement date. However, it would seem to be a far better procedure, at the time of making a collective agreement, to have the ability to determine that it will be legal throughout the period of its operation. To do that I believe that it is necessary to have a provision whereby industrial courts can examine and decide. If that provision is made, it follows that the industrial courts should be able to state what amendments would be required, if any, to a collective agreement to make it comply with the requirements of the Bill and that, from the commencement date, those amendments should be made.

The procedure which the Amendment seeks to lay down will, I believe, commend itself to my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State for two reasons. I am certain that she is as keen as any hon. Member in this House to see the provisions of the Bill operating as quickly as possible. She would be among the last to want a situation where there was considerable delay between the commencement date and the start of equal pay for men and women. The Amendment, if accepted, would enable that situation to be reached, or more nearly reached.

Another reason why I believe that the Amendment will at least be considered sympathetically by my right hon. Friend is because she recognises that, for the Bill to do the job that she wants it to do, trade unions must play a full part. his will give the trade unions something to do, between now and the commencement date, to ensure that from the commencement date equal pay is implemented Although I appreciate that this is an argument about the mechanics of the Bill rather than of principle, I believe that it is an important aspect of the mechanics of how we approach the implementation of equal pay.

The First Secretary has consulted the T.U.C. and I think she appreciates that the unions will, if given the chance, do far more as a result of this Clause than they would have done otherwise to achieve equal pay for many of their members. I hope that she will accept if not the exact words, the spirit of the Amendment and ensure that a Labour Government and the trade unions will implement equal pay as early as possible in as many cases as possible on the commencement date instead of leaving many claims to be made from after that date.

Mr. Holland

I have no strong objection to this proposal, but in spite of the careful explanation of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), I cannot see why it is necessary. The Bill will not be published in 1975 but as soon as it reaches the Statute Book, when all those concerned will know its provisions. The Bill says that, after the operative date, there shall be no discrimination on grounds of sex alone in any collective agreement. It is surely not difficult for anyone concerned in an agreement, between the Bill reaching the Statute Book, which will be very shortly, and 1975 to see what his requirements will be and to avoid any such discrimination.

The only difficulty might arise over existing collective agreements, before people understood what was in the Bill, where there may still be discrimination on grounds of sex—

Mr. Booth

Although I referred only to agreements made between now and the operative date, in fact the Amendments are designed to cover all existing agreements as well.

Mr. Holland

I was coming to this. There is nothing to stop parties to agreements made already which contain references to differentials on sex grounds; there is nothing to stop parties to those agreements knowing what is in the Bill and amending them to eliminate that discrimination at any time between now and 1975. It is only when the parties cannot agree, which would be very rare and only in marginal cases, because parties to an agreement are law-abiding, that in 1975 there may be a difference on a point of a contract on which they will go to the tribunal. But this will be a minority of cases. In most cases, all this will be ironed out without recourse to the tribunal. That is why I see no reason for this provision, although I have no rooted objection to it.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

The cases which my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) has in mind may be a minority, but some cover huge numbers of women. I began arguing this case in Standing Committee and was ruled out of order because it was not in the Amendment. An illustration is the present three-year engineering agreement, which widened the gap between men's and women's rates. I know from contacts with friends in the union that it would not have been signed had they known that this legislation was coming. We agreed in Standing Committee that 1975 is not the beginning but the end of the operation. The operation begins at once.

A couple of days ago, at the meeting of the National Committee of the A.E.U., there was a motion to apply for a substantial wage increase. This was wrong, and to his very great credit, Mr. Scanlon said "No, we have signed for a period of three years. Therefore, we will honour that period." As the process will begin at once, there will be a number of applications to employers. Indeed, in some instances, probably, employers who are willing to accept the principles of equal pay would feel bound by the three-year agreement signed not long before this legislation.

This is just one case, but it involves perhaps 100,000 or 200,000 women. My hon. Friend rightly said that such instances, which would certainly be illegal in 1975 but which can be discussed between trade unions and employers long before 1975, should not be held against them, because they were signed, for a period of three years, before this legislation. In that kind of case, whether the wording of the Amendment is acceptable or not, I am sure that my right hon Friend would want to feel that at least the principle should not be vitiated because an existing agreement still has some time to run.

Mr. Harold Walker

The argument deployed by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) anticipates my point, but does not help me to resist the blandishments of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is uncomfortable to agree with the Opposition in resisting one's own hon. Friends. We have said, and my hon. Friends have put it to us occasionally, that it is not the purpose of the Bill to do the job of the trade unions and make their rules unnecessary. There are to be five years between enactment and "E-Day". One would expect this to give plenty of time for industry to look not only at the new agreements but at the existing ones to see what revision is necessary to bring them into line with the requirements of the Bill.

One expects differences and disagreements. If we had not anticipated them, this provision would not have been necessary anyway. We do not expect them to be on any scale, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee) has something when he talks about the wide coverage of some agreements, particularly in industries like engineering. I am familiar with the number of agreements which exist and perhaps, therefore, the size of the job which will face both employers and trade unions in scrutinising their agreements and making any necessary revisions to conform to the Bill.

I can understand the anxiety that there should be a maximum implementation immediately on E-Day, 1975, and the minimum of disagreement. There may be an argument for getting some of the disagreements out of the way beforehand. I do not feel that we can or should go all the way with the Amendment, but we should be prepared to consider giving the Industrial Court the opportunity to consider some of these agreements before the date of implementation, 1975. The appropriate period might be 12 months beforehand. We ought to be prepared to give consideration to provision for access to the industrial court by the parties to agreements during the last 12 months immediately preceding implementation so that some of the disagreements which may exist can be got out of the way with a view to making implementation as smooth as possible by 1975.

I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will be prepared to withdraw the Amendment.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Booth

In asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, may I say how much I appreciate the way in which the Under-Secretary has responded? He has made a genuine attempt to meet the need in those cases where trade unions and employers cannot agree. It is by no means impossible for such cases to arise and we should have the maximum amount of implementation on E-Day.

In view of what my hon. Friend has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Harold Walker

I beg to move Amendment No. 22 in page 6, line 15, after 'generally', insert: 'known or open to be'.

Mr. Dudley Smith

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be convenient to take at the same time Amendment No. 21: In page 6, line 15, leave out 'generally known by' and insert 'published to'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

I apologise. That was Mr. Speaker's selection and that will be in order.

Mr. Walker

These Amendments are addressed to the same point. In Committee hon. Members opposite criticised the definition of a pay structure in Clause 3(6): any arrangements adopted by an employer (with or without any associated employer) which fix common terms and conditions of employment for his employees or any class of his employees, and of which the provisions are generally known by the employees concerned. It was argued that it would be difficult to establish whether or not such provisions were generally known. I undertook to look again at these words, and as a consequence we have put forward our Amendment. I hoped that this would meet the point of view of the Opposition, but hon. Members opposite have repeated the Amendment they proposed in Committee. Both Amendments seek to ensure that the provisions shall be generally known by the employees concerned, but this would be a difficult question of fact to decide.

We see some difficulties in the phrase "published to". It seems obscure in this context and may be thought to carry a suggestion of circulated documents which may not exist in all employments. The phrase we have chosen would be more effective and is preferable— open to be known by the employees concerned. This allows for all the possible ways in which employees can inform themselves or he informed of details of a pay stricture.

I hope that the Opposition will be prepared to withdraw their Amendment and support the one we have tabled in seeking to meet the point of view they expressed in Committee.

Mr. Dudley Smith

This Amendment is some improvement on the previous position, but it still does not go far enough. The more one reads the Bill the more is one amazed by the mystifying phraseology of some of its provisions. It is true that it is now being tightened up, and the Under-Secretary has been generous in reconsidering a number of suggestions which were put to him. I hope that there will opportunity for further tightening up of the provisions when the Bill reaches another place. Otherwise, I am afraid it will become a kind of lawyer's benefit Bill and will have a number of loopholes in it which we do not want.

It was in a spirit of helpfulness that we put forward our Amendment in Committee and place it before the House now. The new phraseology would make the provision read: generally known or open to be known". That is an improvement, but we think the words, "published to" are more satisfactory.

The words "generally known by" were described by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) as incredibly vague. They are open to the widest interpretation or to no interpretation at all. Who can say that the arrangements adopted by a particular employer are generally known? I favour the widest possible communication of terms and conditions for employees by employers. This is very much part of my party's industrial relations policy which in due course will be implemented. There is common ground between us that there should be the fullest information for each employee. If we spell it out in the Bill in this way the employee will be in no doubt about his rights.

In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell) asked how and by what means was this to be generally known? Would it be put on the notice board of a canteen, or distributed in some way? if we say "published to" there will be a definite advantage. I believe the Under-Secretary is not going to give way, but I ask him to look at this once more because our proposal would help the employee to know exactly where he stands.

Mr. Harold Walker

I have not been convinced either that the Opposition have used stronger arguments than they used in Committee or that they have employed new ones to persuade us from the attitude we adopted in Committee. I rather hoped that they would accept that we sought to meet their point. The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Dudly Smith) admitted that we have gone a long way to meet it. I hoped that, albeit reluctantly, they would accept our Amendment.

If we incorporated the Opposition Amendment, first, it would not oblige an employer to publish when he does not do so already. Secondly, there are difficulties because many small employers have arrangements which are of a loose character and they do not generally publish them in any form. We tend to think in terms of large employers, but the Bill is also applicable to small ones. The proposition made by the Government would meet all the cases that are likely to arise.

Mr. Helland

Would not the Under-Secretary agree that a notice put on a notice board is publication? That is what we had in mind when using the phrase "published to" Even the smallest engineering workshop has a notice board. It would be an easy matter for the employer to put a notice on the board.

Mr. Walker

I should like to think that all employers have a notice board, but I am afraid that that conflicts with my industrial experience. An employer who perhaps has a couple of lorries and a small business may have a very loose kind of arrangement.

Mr. Speed

Surely there is a statutory legal requirement that notices relating to the Factories Acts and the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act have to be displayed by employers?

Mr. Walker

The requirements in the Bill go far beyond those concerning premises covered by the Factories Acts or the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act.

Amendment agreed to.

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