HC Deb 13 March 1985 vol 75 cc314-8 4.10 pm
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the statutory terms of reference of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) by repealing its statutory duty to encourage the extension of collective bargaining and to impose instead a duty to encourage co-operation and consultation between employers and employees at the place of work. ACAS currently has a statutory duty to encourage the extension of collective bargaining. I believe that it should more appropriately be charged with the duty to promote better co-operation and consultation between employers and employees at the place of work.

The Government have rightly pursued a programme that has modernised British employment law. In a series of Acts of Parliament the objectives have been, first, to make trade unions more accountable to their membership and, secondly, to restore the balance of trade union immunities where they were clearly excessive. This modernisation of the employment law is an essential step towards making British labour relations more co-operative and less divisive. The aim of us all must be to help all those who work in an enterprise, not to undermine the health of the business by fighting one another but instead to work together in a spirit of co-operation for the success of the enterprise so that it can more readily create new prosperity and new opportunities for employment. If we as a country are to enjoy greater economic success, we clearly need to move away from the entrenched "them and us" attitudes which have their origin in an outdated doctrine of class warfare which our country can no longer afford.

ACAS was established under the Employment Protection Act 1975. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) introduced it with terms of reference that had been provided by the Trades Union Congress and its advisers. Not surprisingly, the trade unions were anxious to raise their membership to the highest possible level and chose to do so not by offering their members and potential members an attractive service but by the compulsion of statute.

Although the Act provided that ACAS should be independent of the Government of the day, its original terms of reference were unfortunately partisan. Sections 11 to 16 of the Act established a procedure whereby trade unions could use the services of ACAS and the central arbitration committee to seek to obtain recognition from employers. This was a partisan procedure. It cast doubt on the impartiality of ACAS and led many employers to regard ACAS with suspicion. The result was that in 1979 the chairman of ACAS wrote to the Secretary of State for Employment that the council of ACAS cannot satisfactorily operate the statutory recognition procedures as they stand. My right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) therefore repealed sections 11 to 16 of the Employment Protection Act 1975 in his own Employment Act 1980.

Unfortunately, however, the job was not completed. Section 1(2) of the Employment Protection Act 1975, which still applies, charges ACAS with the general duty of promoting the improvement of industrial relations, and in particular of encouraging the extension of collective bargaining and the development and, where necessary, reform of collective bargaining machinery. It is the particular duty of ACAS to encourage the extension of collective bargaining which now gives rise to difficulty. ACAS is still obliged to work within the framework of this duty, which is of added significance because it incorporates an official Government view of what is involved in the improvement of industrial relations. Until this section is repealed or amended, the extension of collective bargaining is therefore effectively seen as being the Government's main way of improving industrial relations in this country.

This does not sit happily with the Government's own conviction that the best way for new jobs and new prosperity to be created is to allow enterprise to operate in a climate of opportunity, with employers and employees working together in a spirit of partnership and full cooperation. As the director of social affairs of the Confederation of British Industry commented recently: The CBI welcomed the establishment of ACAS but objected most strongly to its terms of reference because of their one-sided emphasis on the extension of collective bargaining. The CBI objected to them then and has continued to do so since, he concluded.

The statutory duty of ACAS to promote the extension of collective bargaining is unique. None of the labour law legislation since 1970 contains a comparable provision. It is in marked contrast to the Government's own recent Employment Act which seeks to maintain a careful balance between the right to join a trade union and the right not to join. I therefore commend the suggestion made by the Institute of Directors that the statutory terms of reference of ACAS should be modified to remove this partisan and anachronistic statutory duty of ACAS and to take into account a number of trends which are becoming more and more established in this country.

Increasingly, British managers and directors realise that they have a direct responsibility for the management of relations with their employees. Increasingly, they recognise that they should try to communicate directly with each and every employee. At the same time, many employees now understand that their interests are best served by real increases in pay as a result of higher productivity and by the acquisition of new skills. In other words, the two sides of industry which have traditionally been pitted against each other as adversaries are increasingly recognising that the common interest is best served by co-operation.

I therefore propose that ACAS should be charged with a new statutory duty so that it is made responsible for promoting the improvement of employee relations and encouraging mutual respect between employers and employees by means of consultation and co-operation at the place of work. This would be an entirely constructive objective. It would help to give momentum to the entirely welcome voluntary growth in employee consultation schemes which has sprung up during the last five years. It would strengthen the growth in positive employee relations practices which have led, for example, to no-strike agreements, with independent arbitration as a last resort.

It would help both employers and employees to bring the standard of labour relations in their own businesses up to that of the current excellent best standard in this country and would greatly facilitate ACAS to establish itself as a genuinely impartial service available both to employers and to employees. ACAS would gain a new credibility, particularly among employers, with whom its neutrality has been in doubt, and would therefore be strengthened in its mandate to help to undertake the long overdue task of putting British employee relations on the sensible footing that has already been established in the best British companies.

4.18 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

I rise to oppose the motion moved by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry). If there were to be any proposal for altering the constitution and functions of ACAS, it would be advisable not to attempt to do it by means of a private Member's Bill. I shall deal in a moment with the merits or demerits of the hon. Member's proposals, but I should have thought that the whole country was aware of the contribution that ACAS has made to good industrial relations ever since it was established in 1975. Many tributes have been paid to it by all sides of industry, and it is not surprising that that should be so. When ACAS was established—and I was responsible for its establishment—efforts were made to ensure that it had the support of trade unions and employers and of all the different organisations in the country so that it could work successfully.

Ever since its establishment there has been a board, which makes ACAS an absolutely independent body. If it were not an independent body it would not be able to perform its functions of ensuring consultation, of ensuring arbitration and of attempting to establish collective bargaining. None of the functions of ACAS could properly be conducted if its independence were not fully recognised. The Government have understood that point right up to this moment, and I trust that they will vote against the motion when I have made these few remarks on the subject.

It would be a shocking way to deal with an institution which has made, still makes and will make a considerable contribution to good industrial relations to introduce a motion of this character to change its conduct. I hope that all those who want to encourage ACAS to do its job properly and to encourage the independent body that is in charge of ACAS will vote against this proposition.

The hon. Gentleman seeks to remove the emphasis on collective bargaining which ACAS is at present instructed to obey. That does not mean that ACAS is required to consider only collective bargaining. From the beginning we considered that before there was any resort to arbitration, or even to encouraging people to join trade unions, advisory and consultative processes should be available in particular cases. That is why it is called an advisory and consultative body. All those processes are now undertaken by ACAS at every opportunity that it has to do so.

When the parties are eager to have ACAS intervene, it tries to intervene in a dispute before it really begins, as that is the best time to stop it. ACAS is required to uphold the proper principles of collective bargaining and to try to extend them when that can be successfully done, and it would upset the whole balance if that were not so. Except in the one quotation which the hon. Gentleman used from the CBI, no one has suggested that ACAS has not been doing its job properly.

If the Government and hon. Members were to support this Bill, they would do considerable injury to the independent status of ACAS and to the work that ACAS is constantly doing. The balance would be readjusted in the most derisory way of all. I hope that the House of Commons, partly because of a recognition of the work that ACAS has done over the 10 years since it was established, partly because of understanding the part that it plays in many disputes, and partly because of the miserable and squalid way in which this proposal has been made, will throw it out. I hope that nobody will think of changing the status of ACAS except by a direct proposition that can properly be examined in advance.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 96, Noes 118.

Division No. 157] [4.25 pm
Adley, Robert Key, Robert
Baldry, Tony Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Lawler, Geoffrey
Bellingham, Henry Lawrence, Ivan
Best, Keith Lester, Jim
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Maclean, David John
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Malone, Gerald
Bright, Graham Maples, John
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Bruinvels, Peter Miscampbell, Norman
Bryan, Sir Paul Monro, Sir Hector
Budgen, Nick Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Chope, Christopher Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Cockeram, Eric Murphy, Christopher
Coombs, Simon Neale, Gerrard
Corrie, John Ottaway, Richard
Dover, Den Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Evennett, David Parris, Matthew
Eyre, Sir Reginald Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Fookes, Miss Janet Portillo, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Powley, John
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Proctor, K, Harvey
Grant, Sir Anthony Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Greenway, Harry Rossi, Sir Hugh
Grist, Ian Rost, Peter
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Rowe, Andrew
Hanley, Jeremy Sims, Roger
Hargreaves, Kenneth Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Harris, David Spence, John
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) Spencer, Derek
Hayward, Robert Stanbrook, Ivor
Hill, James Stern, Michael
Hirst, Michael Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Terlezki, Stefan
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Irving, Charles Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Jessel, Toby Thornton, Malcolm
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Thurnham, Peter
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Warren, Kenneth Yeo, Tim
Whitfield, John
Wiggin, Jerry Tellers for the Ayes:
Winterton, Mrs Ann Mr. Roger Gale and
Wood, Timothy Mr. Christopher Hawkins.
Anderson, Donald Loyden, Edward
Archer, Rt Hon Peter McCartney, Hugh
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Barron, Kevin McGuire, Michael
Benn, Tony McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) McKelvey, William
Bermingham, Gerald Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Boothroyd, Miss Betty McNamara, Kevin
Boyes, Roland McWilliam, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Madden, Max
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Marek, Dr John
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Maxton, John
Canavan, Dennis Maynard, Miss Joan
Clarke, Thomas Michie, William
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Mikardo, Ian
Coleman, Donald Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Conlan, Bernard Nellist, David
Corbett, Robin Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Cowans, Harry O'Brien, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence O'Neill, Martin
Cunningham, Dr John Park, George
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Parry, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Patchett, Terry
Deakins, Eric Pendry, Tom
Dewar, Donald Pike, Peter
Dixon, Donald Radice, Giles
Dobson, Frank Redmond, M.
Dormand, Jack Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Douglas, Dick Richardson, Ms Jo
Dubs, Alfred Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Duffy, A. E. P. Robertson, George
Eastham, Ken Rogers, Allan
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Rooker, J. W.
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Rowlands, Ted
Ewing, Harry Sedgemore, Brian
Flannery, Martin Sheerman, Barry
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Forrester, John Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Skinner, Dennis
Godman, Dr Norman Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Gourlay, Harry Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Harman, Ms Harriet Strang, Gavin
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Straw, Jack
Haynes, Frank Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Heffer, Eric S. Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Torney, Tom
Home Robertson, John Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hoyle, Douglas Weetch, Ken
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Welsh, Michael
Janner, Hon Greville White, James
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Woodall, Alec
Lambie, David Young, David (Bolton SE)
Leadbitter, Ted
Leighton, Ronald Tellers for the Noes:
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Mr. David Winnick and
Lightbown, David Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.

Question accordingly negatived.