HC Deb 18 July 1974 vol 877 cc827-34

Lords Amendment: No. 2, in page 3, line 25, at end insert— (4A) Regulations made by the Secretary of State may provide for the election on prescribed cases by employees of safety representatives from amongst the employees, and those representatives shall represent the employees in consultations with the employers under subsection (5) below and may have such other functions as may be prescribed.

Mr. Harold Walker

I beg to move. That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment we are to discuss Lords Amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 34, after "(4)" insert "and (5)".

Mr. Harold Walker

During earlier proceedings on the Bill in this House we had, at each stage, extensive discussion of the particular provisions to which these amendments, made in another place, relate. The House will be glad to know that I do not propose to go over all of the arguments in detail yet again. But because I am moving a Government motion to reject these amendments, and because the matter at issue is important, I must recapitulate the main points briefly.

These amendments cannot, of course, be considered in isolation from subsection (4) of Clause 2. The thinking behind subsection (4) of Clause 2 is perfectly simple, and I do not think there is anyone in this House who will dissent from the objective it aims at. We want to confer rights on trade unions to appoint safety representatives, because we want to make clear to trade unions that we want them to shoulder more responsibility, we want them to play a more active part, we want them to take more initiatives, in promoting health and safety at the work place.

The proposition is so straightforward that I sometimes wonder at the heat that this subject generates on the benches opposite. We are asked: Why confine this provision to recognised trade unions only? What about workers who are not unionised? Hon. Members will not be surprised if my first answer to that is that they should join their union. All parties in this House have repeatedly affirmed the importance of a strong, responsible trade union movement. It is humbug to say this if at the same time one cannot bear to say that workers should be encouraged to join their trade union.

But, that apart, we have confined this provision to recognised trade unions only, for two very sound and practical reasons. First, the unions are the bodies best organised to take on these responsibilities. It can be positively detrimental to give rights and responsibilities to those who are not organised to make full use of them; the only effect is that such people will have less incentive to join the unions which really can help them. Secondly, if we legislate to require an employer to undertake consultations with his employees otherwise than through the normal channels, we are simply asking for industrial relation difficulties.

I appreciate that the amendments before us attempt to adopt a compromise position by providing a separate regulation-making power to confer rights on employees generally, and by making no reference to representative organisations of such employees—which would, of course, not be trade unions—being given rights to appoint safety representatives. These amendments recognise some of the difficulties.

Nonetheless, I am afraid that these amendments still do not overcome our fundamental objections. They still have the effect of giving legal rights—and thus responsibilities—to safety representatives who will not have an organisation to back them and assist them in exercising their responsibilities—unless, of course, hon. Members opposite envisage the development of employee organisations outside the recognised trade unions. Indeed, the amendment talks of the "election" of safety representatives by employees. Who is to organise the elections? Just what do the supporters of these amendments have in mind, if not organisations that will in one way or another be rivals of the established trade unions? If there is no back-up organisation, where is the effectiveness of these rights and responsibilities?

Of course I recognise the concern about the position of non-unionised employees. But it is not a concern that derives from anything we are providing in the Bill. The Bill takes nothing whatsoever away from any non-unionised employees. If they prefer to continue making their own voluntary arrangements with their employers, there is nothing to prevent that. Better still, there is nothing to prevent them from joining a trade union.

All that we are doing is giving to trade unions rights and responsibilities which they have not had before, except in the coal mining industry. This is a longstanding and publicly-declared commitment of my party, dating back to our Employed Persons (Health and Safety) Bill of 1970), which was supported by all parties at the time. These amendments are not only unnecessary. They are, for the very practical reasons I have described, positively harmful, and I invite the House to reject them.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

I shall follow the example of the Minister in being as brief as possible, because, as he has said, we have had this argument many times—on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report—and, judged from the reports from the other place, they spent a fair amount of time on it, too.

These amendments are a mild and helpful addition to the Bill. The Minister will recall that our other amendments dealt with subsections (4) and (6), but this further addition is helpful because it will cover non-union or partially unionised plants much more effectively. On many occasions in Committee and on Report the Opposition said that it would often be the case that trade unionists should be the safety representatives. We have said repeatedly that this would be a normal occurrence. In no sense do the amendments upset the Government's desire to have the trade unions as safety representatives. We are merely recognising that that desire cannot always be fulfilled, and that there will be cases in non-union or partially unionised plants where the Bill, as drafted, would not give employees full and adequate cover as laid down by the Robens Report. I should have hoped that after all our arguments the Government would have met us on these amendments.

In no sense will our proposals wreck the existing arrangement; neither can they be described as anti-trade union, because we have accepted many times that the normal thing will be for the trade unions to be safety representatives. Our amendments recognise the realities of many sections of British industry where plants are partially unionised or nonunion. There is no need for the Government, who have a pretty clean slate over the Bill, to spill doctrinaire ink now. They have the chance to make amends and to make the Bill much more effective by accepting the amendments.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

It will come as no surprise to the Government to hear that my colleagues and I will be voting against them on this issue, especially since the amendment was moved in another place by a Liberal peer. The amendment raises an issue about which we shall hear a great deal in the coming months, whether trade unionists alone should be allowed to participate or whether any worker should be allowed to take part. Clearly, in a trade union organised establishment we would expect the persons appointed by the workers to represent them to be trade unionists. We argue that they need not necessarily be trade unionists. I cannot support a monopoly in this, even a monopoly for the trade union movement.

The Minister said in opening that the question will be asked what happens in an area of employment where workers are not in the trade union movement? I agree entirely with him that they ought to be in the trade union movement, but that does not alter the fact that in many important sections of the British economy and industry workers are not trade union members.

If I may mention a modern situation which may appeal to many hon. Members, it is the situation of those working on the oil rigs. There is great need there for safety, and I personally know of oil rigs where there is not even a qualified radio operator aboard.

People should be organised into the trade union movement, but the fact is that they are not and in those situations they might well be able to be covered by the Bill.

The Secretary of State asks: what happens if they are not trade unionists, what organisations can back them? I can give him some news and tell him names of firms with works councils where the men are not members of trade unions. It may be a shock to him but it is a fact. In those cases where councils represent workers who are not members of unions, they have the works council to back them.

About half the workers of this country do not belong to a trade union. It is one thing for them to have the urging and encouragement to join a trade union, and another to deny them, even by implication, the right to have safety representatives.

I am disappointed that the Government have not found it possible to accept this simple amendment proposed in the other place. We are concerned about the safety and health of people, not just of trade unionists, and it seems to us that anyone employed in an industry, whether in a union or not, is entitled by law to be able to appoint safety representatives, and unless employees are given that obligation within the Bill, it may well be that the people who most need safety committees and representatives will be the very people to whom that right will not be afforded, as a consequence of

the Bill, because they are not members of a trade union.

I hope that, even at this late hour, the Government will change their stance, but if not, I hope the House will give them the same treatment on this proposition as on the last.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Patrick Mayhew.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)

It is nice not to be referred to always as the other Mr. Mayhew.

I heard the Minister say "We want to encourage trade unions to take safety seriously, and this is our reason for the amendment to what the Lords have proposed. We all wish trade unions to take safety seriously but it is a fact of industrial life that they do not always do so. It is to put the cart before the horse to resist the Lords amendment solely to encourage trade unions to take seriously probelms of industrial safety. The consequence will be—this the Minister implicitly recognises—that there are occasions when trade unions do not take industrial safety seriously. This will prevent industrial safety being taken seriously in the relevant factories and workshops. We object to the prohibition of safety committees being comprised of non-trade union members because the Government stand is to put the health of trade unionists first, rather than the health of workers. That is why we support the amendment.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 147.

Division No. 94.] AYES [11.15 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Cox, Thomas Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Archer, Peter Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Ashton, Joe Cryer, G. R. Foot, Rt. Hn. Michael
Atkinson, Norman Cunningham, G.(Isl' ngt'n, & F'sb'ry) Forrester, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Cunningham, Dr. John A. (Whiteh'v'n) Fowler, Gerry (The Wrekin)
Barnett, Joel (Heywood & Royton) Dalyell, Tam Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)
Bates, Alf Davidson, Arthur Freeson, Reginald
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Davies, Bryan (Enfield, N.) Garrett, John (Norwich, S.)
Bishop, E. S. Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) George, Bruce
Blenkinsop, Arthur Deakins, Eric Ginsburg, David
Booth, Albert Dean, Joseph (Leeds, W.) Graham, Ted
Brown, Bob (Newcastle upon Tyne, W.) Dormand, J. D. Grant, George (Morpeth)
Brown, Ronald (H'kney, S. & Sh'ditch) Douglas-Mann, Bruce Grant, John (Islington, C.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (H'gey, WoodGreen) Dunn, James A. Hamling, William
Carmichael, Neil Dunnett, Jack Hardy, Peter
Carter, Ray Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth Harper, Joseph
Carter-Jones, Lewis Eadie, Alex Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Edge, Geoff Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith
Cocks, Michael Ellis, John (Brigg & Scunthorpe) Huckfield, Leslie
Coleman, Donald Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Colquhoun, Mrs. M. N. Ennals, David Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Concannon, J. D. Faulds, Andrew Irving, Rt. Hn. Sydney (Dartford)
Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, C.) Flannery, Martin Janner, Greville
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (L'sham, D'ford)
John, Brynmor Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Silverman, Julius
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Mikardo, Ian Skinner, Dennis
Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Millan, Bruce Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Molloy, William Snape, Peter
Judd, Frank Moonman, Eric Spearing, Nigel
Kaufman, Gerald Newens, Stanley (Harlow) Spriggs, Leslie
Kelley, Richard O'Halloran, Michael Stallard, A. W.
Kerr, Russell Ovenden, John Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth, Ful'm)
Kinnock, Neil Palmer, Arthur Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Lamborn, Harry Parry, Robert Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Lamond, James Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Tomlinson, John
Latham, Arthur (City of W'minster P'ton) Perry, Ernest G. Urwin, T. W.
Leadbitter, Ted Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lee, John Prescott, John Watkins, David
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Price, Christopher (Lewisham, W.) Weitzman, David
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, W.) Price, William (Rugby) Wellbeloved, James
McElhone, Frank Richardson, Miss Jo Whitehead, Phillip
MacFarquhar, Roderick Roderick, Caerwyn E. Whitlock, William
McGuire, Michael Rodgers, George (Chorley) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Mackenzie, Gregor Rooker, J. W. Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Maclennan, Robert Rose, Paul B. Wise, Mrs. Audrey
McNamara, Kevin Sandelson, Neville
Madden, M. O. F. Sedgemore, Bryan TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Magee, Bryan Selby, Harry Mr. John Golding and
Marks, Kenneth Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (S'pney & P'plar) Mr. Laurie Pavitt.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Atkins, Rt. Hn. Humphrey (Spelthorne) Hurd, Douglas Prior, Rt. Hn. James
Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord Iremonger, T. L. Raison, Timothy
Banks, Robert Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Rathbone, Tim
Beith, A. J. Jenkin, Rt. Hn. P. (R'dge W'std & W'fd) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Benyon, W. Jessel, Toby Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David (H 't' gd' ns' re)
Biffen, John Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Biggs-Davison, John Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon. Robert Kilfedder, James A. Ridsdale, Julian
Bradford, Rev. R. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.W.)
Brocklebank Fowler, Christopher Kitson, Sir Timothy Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Budgen, Nick Knight, Mrs. Jill Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Knox, David Sainsbury, Tim
Carson, John Lamont, Norman Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Lane, David Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Latham, Michael (Melton) Shelton, William (L'mb'th, Streatham)
Churchill, W. S. Lawrence, Ivan Silvester, Fred
Clark, A. K. M. (Plymouh, Sutton) Le Marchant, Spencer Sims, Roger
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Clegg, Walter Loveridge, John Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'm'ngton)
Cockcroft, John Luce, Richard Spicer, Jim (Dorset, W.)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol, W.) MacArthur, Ian Stanbrook, Ivor
Cope, John McCusker, H. Stanley, John
Craig, Rt. Hn. William (Belfast, E.) Macfarlane, Neil Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Crouch, David MacGregor, John Stokes, John
Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas Macmillan, Rt. Hn. M. (Farnham) Stradling Thomas, John
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Madel, David Tebbit, Norman
Durant, Tony Mather, Carol Temple-Morris, Peter
Dykes, Hugh Mayhew, Patrick (Royal T' bridge Wells) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Meyer, Sir Anthony Thomas, Rt. Hn. P. (B'net, H'den S.)
Emery, Peter Miller, Hal (B'grove & R'ditch) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Eyre, Reginald Mills, Peter Townsend, C. D.
Fairgrieve, Russell Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Trotter, Neville
Farr, John Moate, Roger Tugendhat, Christopher
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Molyneaux, James Tyler, Paul
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'field) Money, Ernie Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Morgan, Geraint Viggers, Peter
Freud, Clement Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Waddington, David
Gardiner, George (Reigate & Banstead) Mudd, David Wainwright, Richard (Come Valley)
Gibson-Watt, Rt. Hn. David Neave, Airey Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Neubert, Michael Weatherill, Bernard
Glyn, Dr. Alan Newton, Tony (Braintree) West, Rt. Hn. Harry
Goodlad, A. Normanton, Tom Wiggin, Jerry
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Winstanley, Dr. Michael
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Winterton, Nicholas
Gurden, Harold Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Worsley, Sir Marcus
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Pardoe, John
Holland, Philip Parkinson, Cecil (Hertfordshire, S.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hooson, Emlyn Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. David Steel and
Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Surrey, E.) Percival, Ian Mr. Adam Butler.
Howell, David (Guildford)

Question accordingly negatived.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

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