HC Deb 06 February 1996 vol 271 cc197-238

[Relevant document: The Minutes of Evidence and Memoranda relating to this instrument contained in the Fifth Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (House of Commons Paper No. 34-v.]

7.14 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That the Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 1995 (S.I., 1995, No. 2587), dated 2nd October 1995, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be revoked. I cannot let this moment pass without remarking on the fact that the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs is the first Department of Trade and Industry Minister to reply on an industrial relations issue since 1915, when the Ministry for Labour and National Service, as I believe it was then called, was set up. I have no doubt that he will revel in being a historical anachronism. However, his anomalous position may turn out to be short-lived.

The origins of the regulations are the acquired rights directive of 1977, which was transposed into UK law by the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, and the 1975 directive on collective redundancies, which was transposed into UK law by the Employment Protection Act 1975 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation Act) 1992.

However, in a ruling in June 1994, the European Court found that UK law did not properly implement the two directives in three respects. It imposed a requirement to inform and consult worker representatives only when the employer chose to recognise a trade union for collective bargaining purposes. It did not require consultation with worker representatives on prospective transfers to be conducted with a view to seeking agreement. It did not provide what the European Court called an "effective, proportionate and dissuasive" penalty for employers who failed to inform and consult.

The Government, therefore, had to issue new regulations to comply with European Union law. As a result of consultations with the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry and others, leading to amendments to the draft proposals issued in April 1995, the second and third points have been largely addressed. But the issue in tonight's debate is the manner in which the Government have decided to address the first point.

The Government now propose to require the employer, at his choice, to consult either a recognised trade union or elected representatives of the affected employees before making redundancies or transferring his business. At the same time, the Government have used the necessity for the new regulations to exempt employers if there are fewer than 20 redundancies over a 90-day period. They have also weakened the previous requirement to consult at the earliest opportunity by saying, in the new regulations, that consultation must start in good time. That is the background, which is clear and straightforward.

We strongly object to the new regulations on four main grounds. First, the Government have manipulated the requirement to comply with European Union law in such a way as to promote their campaign to achieve trade union derecognition by the back door. The European Court ruling was designed to extend consultation to workplaces where there was no recognised trade union; we all accept that that is perfectly fair and right. The Department of Trade and Industry has undermined consultation with trade unions even in workplaces where there is a recognised trade union.

What was objectionable in United Kingdom law prior to the European Court judgment was that consultation excluded non-trade union organised workplaces, so that employers could avoid consultation simply by failing to recognise a trade union. The intention of the European Court judgment—I hope that the Minister will be able to disagree—was to universalise consultation. It was clearly not intended to undermine existing systems of industrial relations or to encourage employers to derecognise unions. Yet there is absolutely nothing in the regulations to stop an employer who intends to make collective redundancies consulting an ad hoc group that he had a hand in setting up precisely to circumvent a recognised trade union.

The Government have been far more concerned with hijacking the regulations to satisfy their own anti-union prejudices than ensuring that employees are properly consulted before redundancies are made. That is the central thrust of our objection. The Government have gone out of their way to undermine the concept of social partnership, which is widely accepted on the continent and provides a far more successful and productive model of industrial relations than anything in Britain during the 1980s or 1990s.

The Government never wanted to introduce the regulations and they have finally done so in a thoroughly curmudgeonly and resentful manner. As it was so aptly and nicely put in another place, it is as though the Minister were to begin his speech tonight by saying, "I move these regulations in the spirit of a wine waiter asked to serve a coke."

The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Mr. John M. Taylor)

That was Lord Tebbit.

Mr. Meacher

It was indeed Lord Tebbit. I am only too grateful to attribute the source of that remark, as it applies aptly to the Government's attitude tonight.

Our second charge against the regulations is that there is no test of the independence of elected employee representatives. They can be men and women of straw who are beholden to the will of the employer and that defeats the entire purpose of the European Court ruling. There cannot be much dispute about the criteria that should govern the choice of employee representatives. They should be chosen freely without interference from the employer or his agents. The electoral procedures should be impartial and fair and certainly not subject to influence from the employer. Many Conservative Members will agree that employee representatives should be chosen by secret ballot and should have the ability and the resources to reach an agreement with the employer and to carry it through, yet not one of those requirements is written into the regulations.

Mr. Taylor

Although it is quite true that the selection procedures are not prescribed, the onus of fairness is made perfectly clear. Any employer who did not act fairly in those circumstances would risk an adverse finding and possibly a compensation award against him at either an industrial tribunal or an employment appeal tribunal. It is made perfectly clear that the emergent elected representative should have paid time off, access to facilities, lists of names of workers and so on. Any employer who did not honour the spirit and outline of those requirements would find himself at severe risk in the appropriate tribunal.

Mr. Meacher

My answer is extremely simple. If that is what the Minister and Government intended, why did not they write it into the regulations? It is extremely simple. It is not as though the Government have failed to prescribe in great detail what the trade unions should do, but when it comes to what the employer should do, that is left to his good faith and the onus on him to behave properly.

Mr. Taylor

I am quite prepared to read Hansard tomorrow and check what I said in my last intervention. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me twice, but he will find that everything that I said in my last intervention is on the face of the regulations.

Mr. Meacher

I do not believe that it appears anywhere in the regulations. I have a copy of the regulations and regulation 3(2) covers those matters. If the Minister can show me where it states how the electoral procedure should be operated to ensure that there are proper constraints on the employer so that he cannot use his influence and put forward his own candidate, I shall withdraw my remarks, but in the absence of that, I insist that those crucial matters are not in the regulations.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Not only are the operation of electoral procedures and the ability of employees to appoint workers' representatives not in the regulations, but employees cannot take the matter to an industrial tribunal unless there is a breach of the regulations. An implied breach of the European Union directive is not admissible at the tribunal. That is the problem. The fact that those matters are not included in the regulations makes it extremely difficult for individual employees successfully to take their employer to a tribunal.

Mr. Meacher

The regulations also contain other gratuitous deregulation measures, which have nothing to do with the European Court, to restore the two-year waiting period, but that is another matter. My hon. Friend makes a critical point. Even if a dispute reaches the industrial tribunal, it is impossible for an employee to win the case unless the regulations contain a clear and detailed prescription of the duties on the employer and they do not.

According to evidence to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is such a distinguished Chairman: The Regulations do not prescribe any particular means by which this should be done, they merely state that the employer may consult at his choice either the representatives of the trade unions or the elected representatives. If he has not done either of those things there are certain sanctions". However, if an employer chooses to consult elected workers' representatives, the manner in which they are chosen is crucial. I repeat, as it is a critical point, that the regulations contain nothing that prescribes that in detail.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

The Speaker's Counsel advised the Committee to examine that in great detail because it is at the heart of the matter. If an employee goes to an industrial tribunal, on what judicial authority would the tribunal rely? According to Stephen Mason, the Speaker's Counsel, there is no judicial authority.

Mr. Meacher

My hon. Friend is forcibly repeating the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish has already made. I hope that the Minister will provide an answer. What he told me across the Dispatch Box is not validated by the regulations. We want an explicit answer on that critical point.

There are elementary requirements that even the Government should have considered necessary. Unless it was a slip, one Minister did. Lord Inglewood, as Minister of the now defunct Department of Employment, said in another place on 20 March last year that workers' representatives must clearly have appropriate guarantees of independence".— [Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 1995; Vol. 562, c. 1095.]. I ask again, as my hon. Friends have asked—it is a general demand from Opposition Ministers—where in the regulations are those guarantees?

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

There is none.

Mr. Meacher

If the Minister wishes to intervene, he can freely do so. I take the fact that he has not done so as a silent assent to my point. Let us clear it up as we go along. If the Minister wishes to refute that, perhaps he will do so. Perhaps he could quote to me the regulations which are relevant to this point.

Mr. Taylor

I am quite content with what I have said in my two previous interventions to the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am grateful to him for giving way to me again, although I am not sure that I asked him to. I will stick by what I said, and I am more than happy to return to the point when I address the House or, with the leave of the House, when I speak again towards the close of the debate. I shall select one of those two opportunities to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Meacher

I do not know why the Minister is so coy or, if he is able to tell us, why he does not tell us now. We shall certainly be looking forward to a precise quotation. I have in front of me regulation 3, which is headed "Duty to consult representatives". That is the critical point. I have read it through in detail—it is quite lengthy—and there is absolutely nothing to justify what the Minister has said. The truth is that giving preference in the elections to the employer's chosen candidate or fixing the electoral machinery in such a way as to benefit some candidates and not others will not stop an employer from discriminating.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

Let me complete this. All that the regulations say, at 3(2)(1B), is: employee representatives elected by them, or … representatives of the trade union … as the employer chooses. Those are the critical words in the regulations, and it is to those that I expect the Minister will respond.

Mr. Stephen

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that an employer might seek to fix the election. If he is suggesting that the employer might act fraudulently, surely he will accept that that is a matter that clearly will be overruled by the courts.

Mr. Meacher

When I said "fix" I was not suggesting anything illegal. I am simply saying that the employer can structure it—if the hon. Gentleman prefers a more neutral phrase—in such a way as to produce a given result. That is perfectly legal, and it is compatible with the regulations.

Mr. Stephen


Mr. Meacher

Perfectly easily: the employer can ensure that particular candidates are offered the opportunity to stand for election; he can ensure that those candidates receive the benefit of his and other people's support; and he can arrange the consultation mechanism and the electoral preparations in a manner that benefits them. It is perfectly possible to do those things. That directly contradicts what the Advocate-General in Brussels has said. The Government have been fond of repeatedly quoting what he said because it supported their case. However, in this case, he said in his report: the designation of representatives ought not to depend on the free choice of the employer". I believe that those words are directly contradicted by the letter and the spirit of these regulations.

I think that there is more than a whiff of humbug in all this. The Government have gone to great pains during the past decade, in several Acts of Parliament, to prescribe in the minutest detail exactly how a trade union should operate and precisely what it can and cannot do. On the crucial test of independence, for example, the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 states of an independent trade union: (a) is not under the domination or control of an employer or group of employers … (b) is not liable to interference by an employer … arising out of the provision of financial or material support. Why are not similar rules now applied here to employee-elected representatives? Why should trade unions be strictly independent, yet elected employee representatives—whom the employer can choose as an equal alternative—are allowed to be under his thumb? How can it be right for the employer to decide which employees will be eligible for election, whether they will be elected directly or indirectly and whether the ballot will be by a show of hands or by secret ballot? Why should the employer be able to decide who counts the votes, whether there should be an independent monitor or how any complaints should be handled? Under these regulations, those are the sole and untrammelled prerogative of the employer, and that is what we object to.

It is obviously not the first time under this Government that there has been one law for the unions and another for the employers. In the Government's eyes, trade unions are dangerous animals whose activities have to be ensnared in comprehensive bureaucratic detail, while employers are very laudable chaps who can be trusted and allowed to get on and do whatever they like. That fantasy may have been the politics of the 1980s, but I suggest to the House that it is wide of the mark today, when job insecurity is rife almost everywhere, like a plague afflicting workplaces up and down the country.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman's description of Conservative Members' views on trade unions and companies. It certainly does not represent my views. On this point, does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a major difference between a trade union that is charged with a series of responsibilities during a long period, and the much narrower responsibility of the people who are elected to represent a specific and probably small group of employees during a specific period in relation to redundancy?

Mr. Meacher

Even in relation to the specific question of electing those who will hold authority for a particular purpose—whether it is carrying through redundancies or as elected members of the executives of trade unions— how the election will be conducted is laid down and prescribed in much greater detail for the trade union side. There is not even an attempt to do so for the employer; it is simply left completely open. If the hon. Gentleman does not recognise that description, after six—or is it eight— trade unions Acts, he should examine himself and his party more closely in the mirror.

Our third charge against the regulations is that the Government have unilaterally decided to put such a high threshold on their application as to largely nullify their purpose. Employers are exempted from consultation under the regulations in cases in which there are fewer than 20 redundancies during a 90-day period. A very important point is that that has nothing to do with the European Court judgment of June 1994. It did not require that threshold in any respect. In revising the regulations, the Government have gratuitously added that exemption, entirely on their own account. It need not have done so because it was not in any way required by Brussels.

The effect of the new threshold will of course be dramatic, and the Government intend it to be so. The threshold seriously erodes the existing rights of consultation, and it will automatically exclude nearly 6 million workers in small firms and a great many people in larger firms. The Government have openly boasted that it will result in no less than 96 per cent of employers being free to implement redundancies without any consultation with their work forces.

Mr. Stephen

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

This will be the last time.

Mr. Stephen

Surely the hon. Gentleman will accept that what he is suggesting is over-bureaucratic and, frankly, rather silly. If there are fewer than 20 people involved, the employer could consult them directly. He could get them all together in the canteen, if there is one, or in his own office, if there is not.

Mr. Meacher

If the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that the purpose of the exemption was to enable the employer to pull employees in one by one to discuss their forthcoming redundancy with them individually, I must say that he is more ingenuous than I thought.

The significant point is that the regulations, instead of extending consultation rights—which was clearly the European Court's purpose—reduce them. There are many areas in both the private sector and public services where the impact will be damaging. In the education service, more than 8,000 teachers have been made redundant in the past three years, of which I think 1,300 were compulsory redundancies. But in a great many other cases, consultation has prevented redundancies or has reduced the numbers to be made redundant. It has certainly ensured that the procedures are properly followed.

Under the regulations, consultations may well be minimal—in the case of education, they will almost certainly be minimal because no school will make 20 or more teachers redundant. Therefore, consultation will not take place in the education service. That will also be true in many public services and throughout great swathes of the private sector.

Why have the Government inserted the huge exemption loophole? The answer is clear from a letter of 19 July last year, which was written by the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs' predecessor before they carried out a job swap.

The Government believes that it is important to alleviate any unreasonable burden on employers which would otherwise result from the extension of the consultation requirements. The meaning of that letter was made clear in the Department of Trade and Industry's press notice of 5 October, which stated: This measure will remove the statutory obligation to consult through representatives from some 96 per cent. of businesses and has been estimated to save up to £85 million per year. There we have it.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way any more. The hon. Gentleman can make a speech, but I should draw my remarks to a close.

The Government are prepared to sell off the consultation rights of millions of workers as long as they save £85 million for employers. One notes that Ministers have been up in arms over the past few weeks about being fully consulted in advance of the Scott report next week, when they think that their own jobs may be at risk. When it comes to other people, they are quite prepared to sacrifice any right to consultation for 13 shekels of silver. I do not wish to be unkind, but some people might call that the politics of hypocrisy.

Our fourth charge against the regulations follows from everything that I have said. In several respects, they breach the spirit of the European Court's ruling and they may well be ultra vires. Employee representatives will be ad hoc; there is no prescribed method for their election; only those affected by the proposal can nominate representatives; and there is no way of ensuring their independence from the employer. All those factors suggest that the regulations are wide open to a legal challenge. In addition, as I have said, in some respects they actually weaken existing protection—something that is not generally approved by European directives. I realise that the Minister may not be unduly worried by the Opposition's case, however convincing it seems, because he has in his pocket a block vote from the whipped majority of the Conservative party. But when, as I understand it will, the matter comes up for judicial review in the High Court shortly, it may be a different story.

The Labour party would extend consultation rights, as the European Court intended and would not use them to undermine or derecognise existing unions. We would require a proper test of independence for elected employee representatives and proper procedures for their election. We would not exempt 96 per cent. of all employers by a threshold that includes cases where there are fewer than 20 redundancies.

The regulations are deeply flawed; they are inconsistent with natural justice. They breach both the letter and the spirit of the European Court judgment. On those grounds, we demand that they be withdrawn.

7.43 pm
The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Mr. John M. Taylor)

There will inevitably be disagreements between myself and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who opened the debate, but I cannot fault him in one respect: his deployment of the history of the subject, which derives from the collective redundancies directive of 1975 and the acquired rights directive of 1977. All hon. Members who take an interest in such matters can trace the acquired rights directive, via the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, to the infraction proceedings, and the collective redundancies directive, via the Employment Protection Act 1975 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, to the two cases that were heard in parallel in the European Court of Justice. It is our contention that the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993 put right all but one of the deficiencies that were raised in those proceedings. On 8 June 1994, the European Court gave its judgments following those proceedings. The Government contend that the measures before the House regularise the one outstanding matter to which the Government should give their attention: the obligation to consult.

Conservative Members may like to be reassured that the measures are four times blessed. First, they are deregulatory. It is true that the infraction found against the Government by the European Court of Justice has provided the Government with an opportunity to take the gold plate off their response. Conservative Members are pleased to take the gold plate off regulations and directives.

The second virtue of the measures is that they set the law right in the case of Milligan and Bailey. I shall not dwell on that case because it is a bit of a side show. In fairness to the hon. Member for Oldham, West, I should say that he was right to concentrate on the subject of consultation—which seems to be the point of argument between us—rather than Milligan and Bailey. I think, however, that reference was made to that case in the judicial review proceedings—which the hon. Gentleman also mentioned—where matters will come before the divisional court and where the Government will be quietly confident that their arguments will be sustained.

The third virtue of the measures is that they clarify uncertainties for everyone's benefit. At present, the position is uncertain because the United Kingdom has been found against in both cases. Both matters were originally brought to the English statute book by Labour Governments. I shall not make a meal out of the fact that those Labour Governments brought them to the English statute book in the wrong form, but I shall defend the fact that we are putting them into the correct form. We reached a point of considerable uncertainty where it looked as though an employer had to consult in cases of collective redundancy only if there were a recognised trade union. If there were no recognised trade union, the employer was apparently under no obligation to consult anyone, which cannot be right. The European Court of Justice must be supported in its judgment. Tonight we are trying to ensure that, in the case of collective redundancies, everyone is consulted, either through a recognised trade union or through an election.

The hon. Gentleman challenged me twice on a certain subject and, at the risk of saying it for the third time, I repeat that I am well content with the words that I previously used from the Dispatch Box, although I shall look at the report in Hansard tomorrow. Provisions relating to the details of election procedure would not be easy to implement, but elections are necessary. One difficulty is that the regulations refer to much base legislation elsewhere.

The absence of express provisions concerning elections and the rights of organisers does not mean that access to employees and the use of facilities need not be extended to the organisers of elections. Regulations place a strict duty on the employer to consult appropriate representatives. If the employee representatives or a recognised trade union consider that the employer has not consulted them as required, or the employees affected have not been given a proper opportunity to elect representatives, they may present a complaint to an industrial tribunal. An employer will run a serious risk of an adverse finding if he fails to take such steps as allowing organisers access to the affected employees or providing a list of their names, and in appropriate cases allowing time off and access to facilities. That is almost a paraphrase of what I said earlier. It is necessary to read together paragraphs 4 and 10 and paragraph 3, sub-paragraph 5. Between them, they provide for complaints to be made by an employee, an elected representative or a recognised trade union if there has not been consultation or if the employer has not taken sufficient action to ensure that consultation with appropriate representatives could take place.

I am sorry to have dealt with that at length, but it is necessary to make it quite clear.

Mr. Bennett

The Minister read out those requirements, but they are not in the regulations. Only a general wish is contained in the regulations. The specifics that he just read out are not in the regulations, are they?

Mr. Taylor

I think that I have been faithful to the debate. I have answered the House correctly, consistently and in good faith.

I want to say one other thing in connection with a complaint made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West, who asked why the Government have introduced a loophole—the threshold of fewer than 20 employees. Perhaps I should say, the 20 threshold that introduces the collective redundancy concept. The loophole to which he refers is in the directive that was agreed by the Labour Government in 1975.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

On the previous point about clarifying the uncertainty, the Minister told the House that he is putting right an omission from previous legislation. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) about how the draft regulations do not contain what is needed. If what the Minister says is not on the face of the regulations, what opportunity will he have to put that right?

Mr. Taylor

That is a hypothetical question. So far, I have broadly dealt with interventions, and I think that I have dealt with that point. I should like now to make some progress, because there is an important Government case to be deployed in defence of the regulations.

Mr. Meacher

Before the Minister moves on, let me say that I do not think that he has satisfied either me or any of my hon. Friends. He read a carefully scripted statement, the essence of which he had memorised and repeated earlier. It is true that paragraphs 4 and 10 of the regulations, and paragraph 3, sub-paragraph 5, deal with complaints, and it is true that complaints may, if people are determined, reach an industrial tribunal. He has not answered the key point: when the case reaches the tribunal, how can one make it stick against an employer who has carried out an election that the employee considers improper in terms of its procedure when there is no prescription in the regulations on the form of that election? One may believe it to be unfair, and it may be unfair, but it is not unfair in terms of the strict rules of the regulations.

Mr. Taylor

I have faced many challenges in my life, but managing to persuade the hon. Gentleman may be a bridge too far. He demeans the ability of employers and employees to arrive at a system of election that will be fair. Nothing is more English or more culturally part of our inheritance than fairness. An industrial tribunal, which is after all a judicial body—[Interruption.] I am sorry if the hon. Member for Oldham, West thinks that this is not merely unpersuasive but amusing.

Mr. Meacher

It is not amusing.

Mr. Taylor

I agree that it is not amusing. For the Government to try to lay down in a codified way in the myriad of workplaces how an election should be held is to demean the good sense of our fellow citizens—the employer and employee between them—who are quite capable of setting up an election. If it is not a fair election, an industrial tribunal will be as good a forum as any in spotting that.

Mr. Bennett

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Taylor

I give way to the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice).

Mr. Prentice

There are employers who run sweatshop operations, perhaps recruiting Asian women, to take one example, whose knowledge of English may be rudimentary. In those circumstances, someone from the work force could emerge and act as the group's spokesperson. If the matter were challenged and it reached an industrial tribunal, the Minister told the House earlier that the employer would be at serious risk of an adverse finding". An employer being at risk of an adverse finding is very different from an employer acting unlawfully. That is why it is central to the case for matters to be on the face of the regulations. If they are not, we cannot leave it to a tribunal.

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman helps me in his own appreciation of the eclectic nature of the workplaces of this country. If a group of employees felt that the procedures that were going on around them were oppressive, there could not be a freer country than this one in which they could pursue their grievance. They can take advice if they wish. After all, there are plenty of solicitors in most of our urban centres who will give advice on legal aid green form, which is two hours of advice for free, and that could be extended if the local legal aid authority so wishes. Furthermore—this may be more congenial to the hon. Gentleman—they could, if they wanted to, take advice from the local office of one of the trade unions, perhaps the Transport and General Workers Union. Most of those great unions have offices in our big towns and cities, certainly in our cities.

Mr. Bennett


Mr. Taylor

I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman. This might be the last intervention, but I shall give him the benefit of it.

Mr. Bennett

The Minister says that it is important that the process is fair. Which is fairer to elect a works representative: a single transferable vote or first past the post?

Mr. Taylor

I did not know that we would get down that road. I have always preferred an exhaustive eliminator, but that is very much a personal preference, and it is not Government policy, I hasten to add. In that sense, I speak only on behalf of myself, the hon. Member for Solihull.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my hon. Friend not think it strange this evening that the Labour party is criticising small firms for not wishing to comply voluntarily with the regulations—if small firms wished to comply with them they could, but the Labour party wants to force them— whereas the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who I think is the Labour Front-Bench spokesman for small business, has a letter in The Times today praising small businesses as the backbone of the country? I wonder what we are listening to tonight—new Labour, old Labour or a mix. Labour Members obviously do not know what they really mean.

Mr. Taylor

That intervention has completely wrong-footed me: I simply cannot handle it. I think that, as a matter of courtesy, my hon. Friend—for, after all, he is my hon. Friend—should have given me notice of it. If he had, I might have been able to cope with it in a satisfactory way, rather than being left floundering at the Dispatch Box. Perhaps, given my flummox and fluster, I should press on.

We are debating the Government's response, in the form of the regulations, to two judgments of the European Court of Justice made on 8 June 1994. Much has been said about what the regulations do or do not require, and a good deal of that has been based on a misrepresentation of their provision or a failure to understand how they are intended to work. I hope to set the record straight on some of those matters, but on some of them our approach is, and will always be, fundamentally different from that of Opposition Members. We believe in encouraging enterprise and job growth through flexibility, whereas Opposition Members would destroy it with excessive regulation.

The regulations were laid before the House on 5 October, and came into effect on 26 October. They have two purposes. First, they give effect to judgments of the European Court of Justice concerning the implementation in the United Kingdom of the 1975 collective redundancies directive and the 1977 acquired rights directive. Secondly, they deal with the separate matter of the judgment of the employment appeals tribunal in the case of Milligan and Bailey v. Securicor Cleaning Ltd. In that case, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981—generally referred to as the TUPE regulations—were interpreted in a way that Parliament had not intended. Regulation 8 of these regulations reverses the effect of that judgment.

The regulations were made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, as they deal with matters that are for the purpose of implementing—or are related to our implementation of—our Community obligations. Let me deal first with the main purpose of the regulations, which concerns information and consultation about collective redundancies and business transfers. Both directives require an employer to consult workers' representatives in relevant circumstances, who are defined as the workers' representatives provided for by the laws or practices of the Member States". In implementing the collective redundancies directive in 1975, the then Labour Government required an employer to consult only where there was a recognised trade union. In 1981, in implementing the acquired rights directive, the present Government adopted the same approach. It is interesting to note that Opposition Members did not question that approach at the time.

In 1994, the European Court ruled that, by failing to designate workers' representatives to be consulted when an employer did not recognise a trade union, the United Kingdom had not met its obligations under the directives. The regulations now provide for consultation by an employer, whether or not the employer voluntarily recognises a trade union. They bring UK law into line with the directives as interpreted by the European Court of Justice.

When we framed the regulations, uppermost in our mind was the need to give proper effect to the directives in a way that gave employers flexibility in deciding how to meet their obligations. That has always been our intention: it was spelt out in our consultation paper last year, and we have acted accordingly. As the Government have said before and will continue to say, we believe in flexibility—in setting a framework, but leaving the details to the good sense of employers and employees. That is what gives our businesses the edge that enables them to compete in global markets.

The regulations require an employer to inform and consult either a recognised trade union, or representatives elected by the employees themselves. To those who argue that the regulations do not provide a sufficient guarantee of independence for such represenuatives, let me repeat that they must be elected by the employees.

Ms Walley

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Taylor

I will give way in a moment, although I have already given way to more hon. Members than I intended. I believe that others wish to speak.

As I was saying, the representatives must be elected by the employees. They must not be placemen, nor must they be nominated by the employer. If, in practice, the arrangements made for particular elections are such that the employer has not properly consulted those who are representative of the affected employees, the matter may be considered by an industrial tribunal, which may make an award of compensation.

An employer may choose whether to consult a union or elected representatives, but he cannot choose not to consult anyone at all. There are, of course, those who argue—as the TUC has argued—that an employer who recognises a union should not be free to consult anyone other than that union. Why should that be so? The extent and nature of union recognition has changed substantially over the past decade, and we are likely to see further changes as employers and unions must adapt to ever more competitive markets and changing employment patterns. Why should an employer who recognises a union for one purpose necessarily be bound to do so for all purposes? We do not believe that that should be the case, and we have therefore removed the existing statutory monopoly that recognised unions have enjoyed in such matters.

Most employers who recognise a trade union may well wish to continue to consult that union about redundancies and business transfers, but that is properly a matter for them to judge. The regulations provide no obstacle. Unions that are confident that they speak for the majority of the work force and act responsibly in the best interests of both their members and the business should normally have nothing to fear from the measure; but they must also recognise that some employers have developed other channels for consultation with their employees, whether or not they recognise a union or unions. It must surely be right for employers to be able to use such machinery where it exists.

Ms Walley

What does the Minister think the European Court of Justice intended? Does he think that it intended to undermine trade union representation?

Mr. Taylor

I do not wish to place any interpretation on the judgment of the European Court of Justice, other than its reported judgment, which I have in my hand. I shall not try to paraphrase or interpret that now, but I am sure that there are copies in the Library.

Mr. Meacher

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Taylor

Yes, but this will be the last time.

Mr. Meacher

Before the Minister leaves that important point, will he tell us whether he believes that the European Court intended consultation rights to be extended rather than reduced, and that the Court never intended the regulations to be used to undermine or "derecognise" existing trade unions?

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is treating the Court as though it were some kind of political body. I do not need to look behind the judgment to find out what the intention was, because I accept the judgment.

As I was saying, it must be right for employers to be able to use such machinery where it exists. Not only must that be right in principle; there may be sound practical reasons why an employer would wish to consult elected representatives. For example, an employer who recognises a union for some groups of employees but not others may well feel that it would be simpler and more appropriate to consult elected representatives for all the employees affected by a proposal, rather than a mixture of union and elected representatives. Employers will need to judge carefully the longer-term consequences of such a decision in terms of their relations with the union or unions, and given the prospect of subsequent reference to an industrial tribunal. Again, however, that is properly a decision for employers to take rather than for Governments to prescribe.

Some commentators have criticised the regulations because they do not set out detailed rules for the conduct of elections or require standing machinery to be established. Their criticisms have been echoed by the hon. Members for Oldham, West and for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). We chose not to set detailed rules for good reason. The circumstances in which the obligation to consult arises will vary considerably. Complex statutory rules, designed to cover all possible circumstances, cannot possibly benefit either employers or employees. Employers with acceptable existing machinery should not have to adapt it simply to meet rigid bureaucratic requirements.

Nor could it possibly be right for an employer to have to establish machinery that he may never have to use. Many employers will never, or will rarely, be faced with having to make collective redundancies or be involved in a business transfer. It would be absurd for us to require those employers to establish and maintain some machinery that might never be used. That may be what Opposition Members want, but it is not the sort of bureaucracy in which we wish to indulge.

Mr. Meacher

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Taylor

No. I have given way generously, within the spirit of the House's affairs. Other hon. Members wish to speak and I will not delay the House much longer.

Although ad hoc arrangements are acceptable under the directives, an employer cannot leave it to the last moment to begin consultation. It must begin in good time and, in the case of redundancies, in a specified minimum time before the first dismissal takes effect. Regulation 3(8) provides that, where there is no standing machinery and the employer invites employees to elect representatives, sufficient time must be allowed for them to do so and for the consultations to take place. A similar provision is made in respect of business transfers by regulation 9(10). It is clear that, if an employer does not take seriously his obligation to consult appropriate representatives, he will be at risk of an adverse finding by an industrial tribunal.

The regulations provide protection for elected representatives against dismissal or detriment short of dismissal because of their status or activities as a representative—that will be regarded as a discrimination. Those protections have been drafted to provide protection not only to people who are currently representatives, but to people who have ceased to operate in that capacity and to candidates for election.

The regulations provide a right to time off with pay to undertake representative duties and a right to appropriate access to the affected employees and to facilities such as telephones. They amend the provisions on who may bring a complaint to an industrial tribunal so that they are extended to include not only elected representatives, but, in appropriate cases, individual employees who have been affected by the proposal. Those are substantial rights and protections and I am sure that hon. Members will recognise their importance.

Although we have provided additional obligations, rights and protections, following these changes it would have been wrong of us not to consider whether it was appropriate for the new arrangements to apply in all the circumstances covered previously. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between the rights of people in work and the need to ensure that our businesses are not fettered by regulations that divert them from competing, growing and providing jobs for this country's people. It is only by our ability to compete that we are able to create jobs.

In drawing up this package of measures, we believed that it was right to look for ways of balancing the additional obligations and costs that would be imposed on employers. We have therefore limited the statutory obligation to consult through representatives to collective redundancies. That is where the employer proposes 20 or more redundancies at one establishment within a 90-day period. That is one of the options provided for in the relevant directive, which, I remind the House, is called the collective redundancies directive.

The directive imposes specific and detailed requirements on an employer and, in setting a threshold below which those requirements do not apply, the Council of Ministers implicitly recognised that those requirements would not necessarily be appropriate to small firms or to small redundancy exercises.

We make no apology for removing the gold plating that previously existed. As the hon. Member for Oldham, West rightly said, this measure will remove more than 90 per cent. of businesses from the obligation to consult through representatives about redundancies. We have estimated the value of this deregulatory measure at some £85 million per annum, more than offsetting the additional cost to employers of the other measures contained in the regulations. It will provide substantial relief for small and medium employers in particular.

I make it clear, however, that the measure does not absolve employers from the obligation to act fairly and reasonably in handling individual redundancies. That includes informing and consulting employees individually, as appropriate. There is ample case law showing the importance that industrial tribunals attach to such matters in considering whether a dismissal is fair. It is simply not true, as some people have suggested, that the regulations give employers a free hand to dismiss without any consultation or any fear of sanction.

The change made by regulation 8 concerns the right to bring a claim of unfair dismissal in connection with a business transfer. When the draft TUPE regulations were debated in the House in 1981, the then Under-Secretary of State for Employment said: The normal provisions governing unfair dismissal, qualifying periods, and so forth, continue to apply in cases where employees are dismissed because of the transfer."—[Official Report, 7 December 1981; Vol. 14, c. 680.] That is how the regulations were understood to operate until last year, when the employment appeals tribunal held in the case of Milligan and Bailey v. Securicor Cleaning Ltd. that the 1981 regulations did not prevent an employee with less than the normal qualifying service from bringing such a claim. The tribunal noted that member states were entitled, under the acquired rights directive, to exclude categories of employees who do not qualify for dismissal protection, but it held that, as drafted, the regulations did not exclude such employees from bringing a claim.

The effect of that judgment will be to give employees greater rights against their new employer than they enjoyed against their previous employer. That is not consistent with the purpose of the directive, which is to transfer employees' rights, as they stand at the time of the transfer, to their new employment. It is not to improve rights on employees' way to their new employment. Nor, following what was said in the 1981 debate in the House, would the effect of the judgment have been consistent with Parliament's wishes. No appeal, however, was lodged by the employer in the Milligan and Bailey case. Although a higher court may in a different case effectively reverse the judgment's effect, that will take time. In the interim, there will inevitably be uncertainty about the correct position. Such uncertainty can be damaging and we therefore believe it right to make the position clear beyond doubt. Regulation 8 therefore clarifies that the normal qualifying conditions for unfair dismissal apply in these circumstances.

Whatever the views of the people who would want a return to the disastrous days of compulsory trade union recognition or to impose some still more burdensome provision on business in this country, the Government have no doubt that the regulations provide a proper and coherent response to the European Court judgments on 8 June 1994. It may be one that Opposition Members do not like, but it provides for the maximum flexibility of approach consistent with an employer's overriding obligation to consult. It is a response that demonstrates our continuing commitment to removing unnecessary regulation and to providing our businesses with the right environment in which they can compete with others in the European Union and elsewhere. As I have said, the measures are four times blessed: they are deregulatory, they put the law right, they clarify uncertainties for everyone's benefit and they allow industrial relations to evolve and develop in a flexible way. I commend the regulations to the House.

8.19 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I start by declaring an interest, as a sponsored member of the Graphical, Paper and Media Union, and later in my speech I hope to explain how the regulations will affect employees in the printing industry. Before doing so, however, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) on the objective and lucid way in which he outlined our objections to the regulations.

I wish that the Minister who responded had spoken in a similar fashion—and perhaps also more succinctly than he did. I have a fond regard for the Minister, but I am afraid that his previous job has followed him here in two respects. Professionally he is a lawyer, and in this place he also dealt with the law. He responded to my hon. Friend's arguments much in the manner of a lawyer—a lawyer who simply wanted to understand what the judgment was, rather than finding out what its consequences might be.

I timed the Minister's speech: it took 36 minutes. That is not bad for a lawyer, I suppose, especially one who is not being paid the going rate. [Interruption.] Another lawyer, in the person of the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), speaks. I had thought that the Minister would respond to my hon. Friend point by point, but he spent the first 17 minutes talking about nothing. Then, probably as a result of looking at the civil servants' Box, he decided that he had a speech to read. For the next 19 minutes he sounded like a lawyer not summing up the case but giving the introduction to it—head down, bolting along and allowing no interruptions.

I remain unconvinced by the Government's case. The Minister used the phrase "four times blessed", both in his preamble and in his set speech. Yet every time he used it, he gave examples that made the same case as my hon. Friend made on our behalf. He reinforced the deregulation question, but described that as "removing gold plating".

I forget the exact figure, but more than £80 million was to be saved per year. What will that cost in stress to the workers, and in increased fears and uncertainty in the workplace as a result of the deregulation? I guess that in the long term it will cost more than £83 million per year. To refer to that as gold plating constitutes a sneer at ordinary working people who, because of the nature of their employment, happen to work for an employer with fewer than 20 employees.

The Minister failed to understand our objections to the election process and method. If the regulations extend consultation to include workers' representatives, I accept that, but we must ensure that the method of election is fair, and is seen to be fair. There is no guarantee of that in the regulations or in what the Minister said. We want neutrality on the part of the employer, who should not seek to influence the election. Despite what we heard about references to the courts, there is no guarantee that that will be so.

Now that I have got that off my chest, I shall make a few points on behalf of my union and myself. The Minister failed to acknowledge that some concessions have been made on the details of the regulations—as a consequence, I presume, of representations from the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress. I especially welcome the stronger protection against discrimination against employee representatives, which also extends to candidates in elections.

If the Minister for Science and Technology, who has replaced the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs on the Government Front Bench, is listening to me—I see that he is making notes, for which I am grateful—I urge him if possible to extend that protection to former representatives, too. A rogue employer may still seek to exact retribution from someone who is no longer a representative, simply because he or she used to serve in that capacity.

That change, among others, is to be welcomed. But it does not remove my fundamental opposition to the regulations as they stand. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West cited three criteria on which they fail. I will summarise under two main headings the reasons for my opposition.

The first reason is that the regulations undoubtedly strengthen the position of employers in comparison with that of trade unions. Despite the bluster from the Minister who spoke, that represents a continuation of the knock, knock, knock policy that the Government have pursued against trade unions over the past 16 to 17 years. The regulations have been used to make a further attempt to undermine the unions' position.

Secondly, as a consequence of removing the gold plating, deregulation removed from millions of workers the right to consultation prior to redundancy or the transfer of their undertakings. I find it unbelievable—or rather, as it comes from this Government, unacceptable rather than unbelievable—that an employer should have the unilateral choice whether to consult representatives of a recognised trade union or representatives simply elected by the employees. If there is to be such a choice, I should have thought that the employees should be consulted, rather than the employer making a unilateral decision.

Whether that is deliberate or unintentional—I agree with my hon. Friend's opinion that it is probably deliberate—one result of it would be to undermine established industrial relations machinery throughout British industry. That must be bad, irrespective of one's views on the function and role of trade unions in our society.

Moreover, the employer's ability to set the date for the elections and to specify the arrangements for them, could—I am tempted to say "will"—undermine the position of employees in the consultation process. The ad hoc arrangements for the election of employee representatives will mean that there is no guarantee that the person elected will have had any training or preparation for the role. How can such an arrangement ensure any degree of equity in negotiations between such a person—on behalf of his fellow workers—and his employers? Clearly the relationship is inequitable.

On the other hand, the vagueness of the obligation on employers to call elections—I believe that the phrase used is "long enough" before the time that the consultation should start—may be used to thwart the consultative process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West speaks for all of us when he says that he opposes the deregulation measures in the regulations. There is no argument from the Government; they applaud the fact that it could well mean that millions of workers have no rights to be consulted about their continued employment or the transfer of their undertaking to an alternative place.

I should like to adumbrate what the regulations mean to the printing industry. The effect on the printing industry will be quite dramatic. As hon. Members probably know, the industry has a large number of small companies—approximately 19,500—of which about 17,000 employ fewer than 20 people. In a nutshell, the regulations mean that almost 90 per cent. of companies in the printing industry will not have to consult their work forces in any way on redundancies and business transfers. Almost 90 per cent. of firms will be able to shut down or move, and their employees will have no right to know about it whatever. That is unfair, inequitable and needs to be opposed.

8.30 pm
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). However, it struck me that he said that he spoke on behalf of the trade union that he represents, not on behalf of his constituents. He actually said so. That should not surprise us, I suppose, because the trade unions created the Labour party and the Labour party is still the creature of the trade unions.

The regulations stem from the European collective redundancies directive of 1975, which was agreed to by the then Labour Government. I fear that the directive is a very good example of the kind of pettifogging European interference in the affairs of this country that so annoys so many of our constituents. We do not need Europeans to tell us how to regulate relations between employers and employees; we are perfectly well able to do that ourselves. It is about time that the Council of Ministers reviewed the matter and removed the directive altogether under the principle of subsidiarity.

We have to compete in a global market and, to put it simply, the more the regulation, the fewer the jobs. I am interested in securing jobs for the people of this country. I am glad that, as a result of our relatively relaxed and deregulatory approach compared with that of our continental friends, our unemployment rate is far below the European average—about 8 per cent. at the moment, compared with 13 per cent. or more in France.

Opposition Members suggest that employers should be obliged to consult only trade union representatives, but why should the employees not elect representatives of their own? It is suggested that employees might elect unsuitable representatives. Coming from the workers' friends on the Opposition Benches, that is a pretty poor view of the British worker's intelligence. British workers have more common sense than their representatives on the Opposition Benches give them credit for.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was saying that where there is not a recognised trade union, there should be an obligation for the elected representatives to be elected fairly. The hon. Gentleman has skated over that point.

Mr. Stephen

As I understand it, Opposition Members were saying that where there is a recognised trade union, there should be no option but that the representatives of that trade union should be the persons consulted, and that there should be no option for the employees to elect representatives of their own.

It is suggested that the employer could fix the elections. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) accepted that he was not suggesting fraud on the part of the employer—clearly that would be justiciable in itself. He was suggesting that by measures short of fraud, the employer might somehow procure an election result that was to his liking; the employer might put forward candidates and support them, with the intention that they should be elected. However, I suspect that that would be counter-productive in most workplaces. I should have thought that in a redundancy situation the last person for whom the employees would wish to vote would be someone who was seen to have the approval of the employer.

If the employer were to succeed by measures short of fraud in rigging the election result, Opposition Members have asked for the juridical basis on which a complaint to an industrial tribunal might be made about that procedure. They will find the juridical basis in regulation 3(1B)(a) on page 3 of the regulations, coupled with regulation 3(2)(1) on page 2 of the regulations.

Clearly, if the employer had rigged the election, it is perfectly arguable—and would be argued—that the persons elected were not representatives elected by the work force. In those circumstances, an industrial tribunal would have no hesitation in saying that the employer had not complied with the regulations.

Mr. Bennett

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could answer the question that the Minister failed to answer. How does the employer decide between first-past-the-post elections, a single transferable vote system or some sort of exhaustive ballot? How would the employer demonstrate to a tribunal that elections had been conducted fairly?

Mr. Stephen

We can all disagree about what types of election produce a better result, but almost any system of election that might be put forward—first past the post, single transferable vote or whatever—might be said to be fair. If in the circumstances the election could be shown to be manifestly unfair, as I have said, the employer would be in danger of being found by an industrial tribunal to have breached the regulations to which I referred.

Let us be quite clear what we are talking about since it has not yet been defined. We are not talking about the election of persons whose agreement to the redundancy has to be obtained. We are talking about the election of persons to put forward the views of the employees about the prospective redundancy. We are talking about the election of persons to whose views the employer must listen.

Why should the employer want to fix the election of those persons? Why should he not be interested in listening to any constructive or reasonable point of view that his work force may wish to put forward? The work force may not dissuade him from the unenviable task before him of dispensing with the services of some of his employees—some might be very valued employees—but why should he not be prepared to listen? Why, as has been suggested, might he even go so far as to intimidate those representatives? I have not heard so much nonsense in this place since this morning.

It has been suggested that the person elected will be less likely to be representative of the views of the employees concerned than a trade union representative might be. It has also been suggested that a trade union representative will always be a faithful representative of the interests of the particular workers concerned, while the elected person may not. I would suggest that both categories could conceivably not be true and faithful representatives of the workers concerned. As the workers concerned are those facing redundancy, it could well be that the trade union representative will attach greater weight to the interests of the rest of the employees in the company than to those few who have been selected for potential redundancy.

It has been suggested that Conservative Members are anti-trade unions, but very few of us are today. Most of us used to be, because the trade unions used to behave in a thoroughly reprehensible and irresponsible manner and did enormous damage to labour relations and the competitiveness of this country. By and large, the unions do not do that any more. I have no confidence, however, that if Labour ever formed a Government and gave the unions back the powers of intimidation that they once enjoyed, we would not see the old trade union movement resurrecting itself like a phoenix from the ashes to do the kind of damage in the future that we are all well aware that it did in the past. For the time being, however, the trade unions are acting responsibly, and no Conservative Member has any objection to them performing the role for which they were formed and which their members expect them to perform.

The regulations exempt companies where 20 or fewer redundancies in a 90-day period are envisaged. The first point to make about that is that the exemption is provided for in the regulations themselves. If—like the hon. Member for Leicester, South—Opposition Members object to that, why did the Labour Government in 1975 sign up to the directive that contained the exemption? These regulations will merely give effect to that directive.

As I pointed out in an intervention on the hon. Member for Oldham, West, it is rather bureaucratic—and, frankly, rather silly—to say that an elaborate system of collective representation is needed in situations where there are fewer than 20 people involved. The employer could get all the workers concerned together in a small room. Even the printing industry has such rooms where 20 people could gather together to be collectively consulted by their employers. It is fatuous to suggest that fewer than 20 people need such an elaborate system of representation.

Where employees elect a representative for the purpose of giving their employer their views about potential redundancies, there is no prohibition upon the employees or the employees' representatives consulting trade union officials. Indeed, employees could actually elect a trade union official to be their representative if he worked in the same company. If trade union representation is as desirable as Opposition Members seem to think it is, I would expect employees to elect trade union representatives.

I dealt earlier with the suggestion that the elected representative may be intimidated. In addition, the regulations state clearly that those representatives are protected against discrimination. They are also entitled to time off and to the necessary facilities to discharge their duties to those who elected them.

Regulation 8 rightly reverses the decision of the Milligan and Bailey case, which resulted in employees whose firms were being transferred being put in a different position from those whose firms were not being transferred. The effect of these regulations is to provide the same qualifying period whether there is a transfer of the undertaking or not.

Finally, the hon. Member for Oldham, West said that the regulations might be subject to proceedings for judicial review and, for all I know, they may be already. This is a very worrying trend. Some people think that if central or local government do something that they do not like, all they have to do is get a judge to overrule it. That is a very dangerous trend and could lead to constitutional implications that Opposition Members may not have considered.

Our constitution—although it is unwritten—has, over many centuries, developed a fairly clear division between the responsibilities of the judiciary on the one hand and the elected representatives of the people in this House and Members of the other place on the other. I fear that, of late, judges have trespassed too much into areas that the people have entrusted to their elected representatives. No one has elected the judges, and most of them accept that fact and conduct themselves accordingly: they do not get involved in politics. Indeed, Lord Denning always made a point of not getting involved in political issues in the other place while he was still sitting as a judge.

I am afraid that today many judges do not have so much regard for those self-imposed constraints as they should. Clearly, judges are there to make sure that the Executive do not stray outside the legal powers that Parliament has given to them, but we have had a number of cases of late where there has been no clear breach of the law by a Minister. Cases have arisen where a Minister might be considered, by one interpretation, to have trespassed outside an Act or regulation, while another perfectly reasonable interpretation of that legislation might produce a different result.

A good example was the criminal injuries compensation scheme where, from memory, about half of the judges who considered the case thought that the Secretary of State was right, while the other half thought that he was wrong. The decision went against the Secretary of State because the majority in the supreme court of the land—the House of Lords in its judicial capacity—thought that he was wrong. That does not negate the fact that about half of the judges who directed their minds to the case thought that the Act could perfectly reasonably be interpreted in another way.

In my respectful submission, where regulations or an Act of Parliament can be interpreted either way, it is the duty of the judges to give Ministers the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, they are interfering in the political process, taking sides on political issues and bringing the judiciary into disrepute. [Interruption.] I notice that the hon. Member for Oldham, West is laughing, but I do not consider this a laughing matter.

8.48 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) down the path of praising or castigating judges, but I do want to say who I am speaking for. The hon. Gentleman criticised my hon. Friend the Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) for speaking on behalf of his trade union. I wish to make it quite clear that I am speaking for the employers in my constituency, who are—to run two cliches together—at the cutting edge of the global market.

Those employers require two things—good trade unions in the works they run, and certainty in the law. In the years that I have been representing Stockport and Tameside, I have been amazed at the number of times that employers have praised the trade unions and shop stewards within their workplaces. They understand the vast advantages to running a business of good negotiations within it. They go further, and point out the number of occasions when companies have announced redundancies, but some other solution, such as short-time working, has been found after negotiations with the trade union, which has avoided that necessity. Some months later, the management will say how thankful they are that they did not put people through the door because they will need their skilled work force once orders pick up.

I must make it clear that there is no advantage in wearing away or reducing this sort of regulation. There is every advantage in having them in place.

Mr. Stephen

Of course, when a company is blessed with good trade union officials, in which the employer has the sort of confidence to which the hon. Gentleman referred, there is nothing in the regulations to prevent the employer from consulting such trade unionists. One would expect the employer to do so.

Mr. Bennett

I am sure that he would do so. I am pointing out that it is in everyone's interests to set up good situations, in which trade unions are respected by the employer and an effective negotiating process is in place, in as many companies as possible.

On the question of certainty, employers do not want to have to face the prospect of being castigated by an industrial tribunal. They do not want to have to go to the courts. They want to be able to look at the regulations and be confident that they are carrying them out correctly, and that they will not be challenged through an industrial tribunal or the courts in some other way. I came here to point out that I fear that the regulations fail on that question of certainty.

Hon. Members will notice on the Order Paper a note to the effect that an extract from the fifth report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments is relevant. I chair that Committee, and in November we were advised by Speaker's Counsel that it appeared from the regulations that the Government had failed properly to implement the European directive. Speaker's Counsel suggested that it would be reasonable to ask the Department for a memorandum, which is published in the extract mentioned.

As a result, Speaker's Counsel made it clear to the Committee—made up of Members of this House and of the Lords—that the directive had not been fully implemented. At our meeting just before Christmas, it was clear that the Committee would not be able to produce a unanimous report, as we normally attempt to do. We therefore decided that we would take oral evidence in the first week after the Christmas recess.

Following that oral evidence, which is printed in extract from the report, it was clearly the view of the Speaker's Counsel that the Government had failed to implement the European directive fully. That is a pretty serious warning to the Government. Obviously, Speaker's Counsel is most experienced when it comes to considering such regulations, and does not lightly suggest to a Committee that the Government have failed to implement a directive.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there is a danger that the regulations will be referred back to Europe at some stage, and that our Government will be found to have been negligent?

Mr. Bennett

Speaker's Counsel certainly suggested that that was a possibility. Since the Government have already been found wanting by the court, this time round they could face a substantial fine. Clearly, the system does not work if Governments keep failing to implement directives.

The Joint Committee was given a clear indication that everything was not right with the regulations. Most of the time, the Committee manages to pass reports unanimously, and there is no party political pressure. On that occasion, regrettably, it was obvious from the way in which the Committee voted that Conservative Members were determined to defend the Government, and were not prepared to accept the criticism. That is why hon. Members have the memorandum, but not a recommendation, from the Joint Committee that the regulations demonstrate that there has been a failure to implement the European directive.

Uusually, the Government majority can carry them through, both in Committee and in the House. I must warn the Minister, however, that, once someone as respected as Speaker's Counsel suggests that the Government are failing to implement a directive properly, there is a great possibility that someone outside this place will decide to challenge them and take the matter back to the European Court. Even at this late stage, I suggest that the Government should have second thoughts and look carefully into fully implementing the directive.

I am particularly concerned about the lack of facilities for people who want to organise an election to put representatives in place. There is the question of a room being made available. It does not happen often, but one does get companies that do not recognise a trade union and are irresponsible. They might feel that they want to negotiate with a particular worker, perhaps to come up with an alternative scheme to make one group of people redundant as opposed to another. The company will offer that individual a room within the factory or the workplace in which to negotiate with his or her fellow employees, while someone else whom the management do not view so sympathetically will be told that they can negotiate outside the factory gate or in the yard.

We want the regulations to spell out clearly the right of individuals to have the time to negotiate and to get a list of the people involved so that there can be a proper ballot. Without an electoral register, it is difficult to guarantee a fair vote. From the point of view of the employer, I should have thought that it was important to have a check list to enable him to say, "These are the things I have done. I am safe. I cannot lose in an industrial tribunal."

The Minister says that he wants it all in regulations, but he wants finally to leave matters to the good sense of the people involved. It is that good sense that it is almost impossible to challenge in an industrial tribunal. I think that the Government will be in difficulty.

On behalf of the Joint Committee, I must also point out that we are in a mess with statutory instruments resulting from European directives. In many ways, the directives do little more than the long title of a Bill—perhaps, one could say that they go a little further and that one gets the first explanatory clause as well. A great deal of the material that would normally form legislation now goes into statutory instruments, which cannot be amended. We must consider carefully whether new procedures are necessary to deal with regulations that come from European directives. I suggest that the Government could study regulations such as these to try to find some new procedure.

I must point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who is to reply on behalf of the Opposition, that I am concerned, when we get a Labour Government, which is not far away, that the House will have a limited amount of time for primary legislation. There is a premium, therefore, on ensuring that, in the first 100 days of a Labour Government, we get on with doing things by regulation.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say that he has examined the regulations—he now has a long list of all their defects—and will quickly be able to come forward with a replacement regulation that would put back the things that are missing from the present regulations. I hope that he can give me that assurance, and say that we are doing the work to make sure that we have regulations ready to remedy the mistakes about which we have criticised the Government over the past few years.

8.58 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I am mainly concerned about the law on redundancy, of which these regulations are part, because, sadly, there are going to be a number of redundancies—perhaps a large number— at the biggest employer in Beckenham. The House will remember how, last year, the large pharmaceutical company Glaxo took over Wellcome. The biggest employer in Beckenham is the Wellcome research laboratories at Langley Park. As part of the rationalisation that followed the takeover, Glaxo decided to close the laboratory, with the loss of some 1,600—or perhaps slightly more—jobs.

My first concern was for what would happen to the work force—whether those people would be made redundant or offered other jobs, and, if made redundant, what help they would be given. Like any hon. Member in the circumstances, I talked to the company and to trade union representatives. I also talked to other people in the work force who were not members of a trade union, so that I could get the view from all angles.

I am pleased to be able to report that, at the moment, in so far as anything good can come from such a situation, the matter has been well handled by all those involved. Glaxo is a large, responsible company, which abides by its social obligations, and is doing the best it can to look after the workers who will no longer have jobs in Beckenham.

A large number of workers have been transferred elsewhere. There has been thorough consultation over that—not only through official union and other channels, but individually, with every member of the work force— to try to find out what is best for them: whether it is best for them to be transferred, made redundant or to take early retirement, and, if they are to be made redundant, whether some help can be given to them in, for example, setting up in business or retraining and moving to a different sort of job.

That happens in the majority of cases where there are redundancies. Companies, perhaps sadly, are used to handling them, and go out of their way to ensure that there is thorough consultation. They accept their responsibilities to their former employees. They try to keep the number of redundancies to a minimum, and find alternatives for those who are made redundant.

The truth, perhaps also sadly, is that there is a limited amount that can be done during consultation once redundancies are inevitable. Obviously, as much consultation as possible should occur; I thoroughly support that. However, we would be fooling ourselves if we imagined that that would cure the fundamental problem that resulted in the redundancies in the first place. Often, all the discussions can do is try to ease the passage and explain to those involved, if they did not already realise it, why the situation has come about.

I speak as someone who has been a trade union convenor, and twice been in such a situation. I have also been on the other side of the fence, and realise what it is like to manage and the difficulties involved when the work force must be rationalised. I also speak as someone who has been made redundant twice—once in industry and once in 1987, when I was made redundant from this place. I might add that the people who made me redundant, my then constituents, did not consult me until election day.

Sir Michael Grylls (North-West Surrey)

I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. Is it not the case that, the more Parliament or Europe imposes complicated social regulations—the intentions of which are good—on companies, the more redundancies may result? Firms find it difficult to compete when there is so much paperwork and bureaucracy. Their main competitors on the other side of the world do not have such difficulties. We are making a major own goal.

Mr. Merchant

My hon. Friend is correct, except that I would say that it is not that such regulations "may" make more redundancies, but that they will. They would certainly prevent jobs from being created in the first place. Perhaps the most important thing when redundancy occurs is that there should be alternative jobs available to try to soak up those made redundant.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) stereotyped Conservative Members' opinions by suggesting that we all supported companies, which we believed never did any wrong, and that we regarded trade unions as beasts, which were entirely evil. That was the impact of what he tried to say.

I reject that, as I said in my intervention. I believe, and have always believed, that trade unions have played, and play, a very important role in industry. I felt wholeheartedly that the law needed reform, but even before that reform, I recognised that trade unions played an important role, which is why I was an active member of a trade union.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West is stuck in the groove of the 1970s. That may make him feel nostalgic, and I hope he is happy in the groove, but it does not reflect today's world. He portrays an era when there was perpetual confrontation in industrial relations. The main thrust of his speech related to a confrontation between a wicked employer who was trying to do down the work force that he was about to make redundant.

In the vast majority of cases, that is not the position; employers desire full and proper consultation. In the worst case, they do so because it is in their interests to do so, to make the process easier, but in the best cases they do so because they recognise their responsibilities.

The hon. Gentleman implies that company bosses would conspire to fix the consultation process by fixing the election of representatives of the work force. Why should they go to the trouble of doing so? In a sensitive redundancy position, the last thing any sensible employer wants is to stir up the animosity of the work force. I can imagine no better way of annoying the work force and making the redundancy more difficult than blatantly trying to fix the representatives' voice.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of derecognition. Why should an employer who had recognised a trade union suddenly derecognise it during a difficult period in industrial relations, with impending redundancies? The suggestion is absurd. An employer who did not want to recognise trade unions would have derecognised the union long before that critical point was reached. The hon. Gentleman sinks into paranoia when he suggests that that is not so.

The hon. Gentleman spoke as though, under the regulations, the company had the power to appoint the representative of the work force. As he well knows, that is not so—there must be elections. I do not understand how the employer could control the result of the free election that the regulations require.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman wrongly interprets the impact of the regulations. I accept that, in unusual cases, an employer may choose to bypass trade union representation. Those cases are as follows.

First, the employer may choose to bypass trade union representation when the trade union—or representatives of the trade union—obviously does not represent the employees. That happens occasionally, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In those circumstances, the regulations will help employees, by ensuring an alternative means of consultation.

Secondly, the recognised trade union may represent only part of the work force. The employer may, on receiving representations from employees who are not members, decide that it is better to have an elected representative of the entire work force, instead of a representative of the trade union portion of it.

Finally, there may have been severe confrontation between the employer and the trade union. The hon. Member for Oldham, West appeared to believe that severe confrontation was universal. In my opinion, it is rare. In such circumstances, the only way to achieve meaningful and positive consultation may be to bypass the trade union apparatus completely and hold an election of representatives from the part of the work force affected, purely for the purpose of consulting on redundancies. In those circumstances, the regulations would effectively protect employees' interests should that prove necessary.

Finally, I refer to the question of independence, which the hon. Member for Oldham, West made great play of. I believe that the regulations contain sufficient requirements to ensure that independent elections take place. My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen)—who has left the Chamber temporarily— quoted the regulations chapter and verse, but he did not refer to three very important aspects—the right not to suffer detriment, which is extended to all those who are elected to represent the work force; the time-off provisions; and the granting of provisions, such as telephones and office space, to elected representatives.

Those measures will ensure that elected representatives are independent and that they cannot be intimidated or denied the means with which to represent the work force. That proves that the hon. Gentleman did not represent the situation fairly.

The regulations are constructed in a flexible way, in accordance with the real industrial relations situation in Britain today. They represent a light touch in regulation terms, but why should we have more regulation than is necessary? That is not in anyone's interests. I think that the regulations generally strike the right balance, and I am therefore very happy to give them my full support.


Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

I have asked myself why we are having this debate this evening, and I have concluded that it is the product of an almost unprecedented vote in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said, the Committee usually operates on a consensual basis, trying to find common ground wherever possible. However, it divided on this issue—which is not a trivial matter. It was not maliciously invented by the Opposition, but flows from the considered advice provided by Speaker's Counsel.

I shall begin by addressing the point that Conservative Members make incessantly. They recite the deregulation mantra: the Government have cut the red tape and freed small businesses from oppressive burdens. We hear that week in week out, month in month out, and year in year out.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

It is true.

Mr. Prentice

I have considered the number of statutory instruments—like the one that we are considering this evening—that have passed through this place and I discovered that, in 1987, there were about 2,300 statutory instruments and in 1995 there were 3,300. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish for providing those figures. There has been an explosion in the number of statutory instruments, yet Conservative Members claim that they want to cut red tape. The much-trumpeted deregulation initiative is a damp squib; it is a mouse.

I am serving on the Committee that is considering the Finance Bill, including the provisions relating to landfill tax. Much of that tax will be implemented by regulations and the Committee has received submissions from the Institute of Chartered Accountants—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I am sure that the Committee has received submissions from all sorts of people, but that is not terribly relevant to the debate this evening.

Mr. Prentice

I shall move on, but I just wanted to make that point about the difference between reality and the rhetoric from the Conservative party.

We are here because of the advice that we received in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments from Speaker's Counsel. That advice was unequivocal. Mr. Mason told us that, in respect of the two judgments of the European Court, United Kingdom law—in a non-recognition situation—allowed an employer to frustrate the protection offered by the directives. That is not my understanding; it is from Speaker's Counsel.

Speaker's Counsel had reservations on a whole raft of matters, and he was very critical. He was concerned about the duties on employers to organise the elections and he was also concerned about the absence of any duties on employers to those organising the elections. The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs talked eloquently about the rights that are conferred by the statutory instrument on elected representatives. However, the elected representatives do not materialise out of the ether. They must be elected. Who organises the elections? There is no duty imposed on employers to make time or rooms available or to give facilities to the people who organise the elections that produce the elected representatives. That may seem a very arcane point, but it is right at the heart of the debate.

Another point that I wish to make was picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish. As he said, there is no certainty with the regulations. There is no judicial authority to which a tribunal can turn. The Minister was pressed on that point by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), but he was incapable of citing the judicial authority to which tribunal members could turn. When we quizzed the civil servants at that extraordinary meeting of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, they could not point to a judicial authority either. Speaker's Counsel could not point to any judicial authority. It will be left to the members of the industrial tribunal to lick their fingers and stick them in the air to determine whether an employer in a given situation may have acted unreasonably. There is no authority to guide the tribunal, and that is a very serious matter.

The statutory instrument is another example of the deep antipathy that the Government have towards organised labour. It is frankly astonishing that the regulations should build in an either/or provision that, where there is a recognised trade union on site, the employer is allowed to set aside all the previous relationships that he has had with that recognised trade union and may consult a representative of the work force. That is absolutely bizarre.

There is a massive chasm between the Government and the Opposition. The Government trumpet the virtues of non-recognition, but we would give everyone the right to be represented at the workplace by a recognised trade union.

The consultation period is very short. For undertakings that employ fewer than 100 employees, it is only 30 days. That is no time at all, as anyone who has had experience of organising an election knows. That is a serious matter which has not been properly addressed.

I address my next remarks to the hon. Members for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), who is not in his place at the moment, and for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), who touched on this point as well. Both hon. Members relied on the virtues of sensible employers and could not imagine employers acting in a way that would get them hauled up before an industrial tribunal. In the magical, fantasy world they painted, employers would always behave reasonably. Real life is not like that and life outside the Bar of England is not like that.

There are rogue employers; some in my constituency pay people derisory sums, such as £1 to £1.50 an hour. They employ, as I said earlier, people who are illiterate, people who are not at home with the English language and people who have hitherto lived a cosseted existence, such as Asian women. There are rogue employers and people need to be protected from them. Who must do the protecting? It must be Parliament. If we pass that responsibility to an industrial tribunal, which will have no guidance, we are not doing our job.

9.20 pm
Sir Michael Grylls (North-West Surrey)

This debate has been valuable, and I hope that it will be widely reported because it lifts the veil—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where were you?"] I have heard a good deal of the debate which, once again, lifts the veil and reveals that we are dealing not with a reconstructed Labour party but with a Labour party that has the same old boring, irrelevant prejudices.

Although the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is an agreeable parliamentarian, I have to take him to task: he is not in the real world and he does not appear to represent the new Labour party; he is going back over the old stuff again. The debate also lifts the veil on what we could expect in the unlikely event of a Labour Government being elected. My hon. Friends may well roar with laughter; the prospect is such an absurdity that it is not worth spending 30 seconds discussing it. However, the country is entitled to know Labour's views, because people will have to make judgments.

Horrors would come from the social chapter. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) rightly talked about the fact that there was far too much legislation; I am with him on that. However, this Government are at least trying to deregulate. They may not be as successful as they should be, and I would like to them to do even more, but at least they are trying. A Labour Government would flood us with legislation and we would be up to here in paper and red tape. That may not matter too much in the House of Commons, because we are up to here anyway in paper and bumph, but it does matter in business. Hard-working firms throughout the country battle to win export orders and to compete against firms in countries outside the European Union that are not shackled by the social chapter, which shackles so many companies on the continent and from which our Government have, happily, saved Great Britain.

The debate has lifted the veil. The statutory instrument is, of course, important, but the debate is even more important in showing what could happen. The statutory instrument is a sensible reaction to the two European Court of Justice decisions, and I am glad that there are exemptions for cases in which a small number of employees are made redundant. That will help smaller firms which, if they are to survive and to maintain work for the remaining employees, need to be quick on their feet—

Mr. Meacher

In getting rid of their employees.

Sir Michael Grylls

The hon. Gentleman has lifted a bit more of the veil—this is fascinating—by saying that firms would get rid of people.

In the real world, if a firm suffers a setback and loses an order, it may have to reduce its work force. If it does not, it goes bust and all the employees lose their jobs. That is something that Labour has never understood and that is why the reforms carried out at the beginning of the 1980s by Lord Prior, when he was Secretary of State for Employment, were so important. They freed businesses— particularly small and medium-sized firms that need to be able to take people on and lay them off according to prevailing circumstances. It has been proved that, ultimately, flexibility leads to more, not fewer, jobs. Sometimes one has to take some medicine in order to get better.

The House has had many debates about British Leyland. I remember when it had to get rid of people, but when it became Rover and was more efficient, it started taking people on. That is the real world of business, so we must not shackle people as Labour would do.

We have had a valuable debate, because it has lifted the veil and showed British people what would happen if a Labour Government were elected. I end on an optimistic note, as nobody in the House or outside really believes that that will happen, but it is as well that we are warned.

9.25 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

I must place it on record that the hon. Member for North-West Surrey (Sir M. Grylls) made a speech based on the debate in the House, but he was not in the Chamber throughout the debate. He criticised the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), yet he was not present to hear it. He said that Labour would flood the country with regulations on companies. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have done the House the courtesy of reading out a list of his own remunerations. He is flooded with directorships and other little earners outside the House, representing, I assume, some of the people who will benefit from the proposed regulations.

The Minister's speech was more reminiscent of the Old Bailey than of the House. He ploughed on regardless of evidence and continued representing his client in the certain knowledge that his client was as guilty as hell.

Mr. John M. Taylor

I am enjoying the spirit that the hon. Gentleman brings to the debate, but I must tell him that I have no right of audience at the Old Bailey.

Mr. McCartney

Perhaps a Labour Government will deregulate and make sure that the hon. Gentleman has that right. It would give him something to do after the next election.

The Minister said that his deregulation formula was four times blessed. One could take that seriously if one had not seen the Government's record on burdens on business. They have produced record levels of bankruptcy among small businesses. The Deputy Prime Minister practised late payment of bills, as he boasted recently, and that can lead to companies going bust. The Government refused to take action on bank charges, although the banks have ripped hundreds of millions of pounds out of the system at the expense of businesses. The Government have done nothing about the crippling record increases in unified business rates and have lumbered small businesses with the costs of implementing statutory sick pay legislation. The Government are no friend of small business and nor are the regulations, as I shall explain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) made some telling points about the printing industry and the necessity for the regulations to set out a fair method of electing workers' representatives—an issue that has been avoided. He made another fair point, on which the Minister failed to give any assurance, concerning the employer's neutrality during the process of a ballot. The Minister failed to respond to points raised by the Speaker's Counsel and other serious complaints about the flaws in the regulations.

The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) is not in his place. I am not surprised that he took part in the debate, as he may be made redundant at the next election. I am surprised, however, that he did not remain to hear the end of the debate, as he made allegations about employment and trade union rights. He missed the point that we are debating not trade union rights but employees' rights that can be facilitated, if they wish, through a trade union of their choice. The regulations try to prevent that from happening.

The hon. Gentleman made another amazing contribution—perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the Conservative party has been in power for 17 years. He argued that the Government had the right to be above the law. He argued—cogently in his terms—that the legal profession and the courts had no right to determine whether the Government were acting within the law in respect of the legislation before the House. That was an incredible attack—after 17 years of Conservative Government, it is not the first one from a Conservative Member. Conservative Members are so arrogant about power that they believe in dismantling our constitution, under which the judiciary is independent. That independence should be jealously guarded and attacks on it, whether from wild Back Benchers or from Ministers, should be rejected. We utterly reject the notion that this Government or any other Government can be above the law.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) made telling points on behalf of his constituents, particularly employers. He put the employers' case for social partnership and made an important point about the deficiencies in the regulations. He spoke of the uncertainty for employers, even those who want to act reasonably and to co-operate. The regulations fail to give them the appropriate guidance.

My hon. Friend made the most damning attack on the Government in relation to the Speaker's Counsel's opinion and he made a sensible suggestion which I hope the Minister will take up with his colleagues. My hon. Friend suggested that we should look at regulations and how we introduce them in the House. Many hon. Members are frustrated by the system which sometimes undermines Members' rights to scrutinise legislation.

My hon. Friend also asked about what we, as an Opposition, would do. I can assure him that we are working seven days—and seven nights—a week preparing for government. We are considering all types of legislation, including primary legislation, to ensure that an incoming Labour Government are not only prepared to govern but understand the priorities for government in terms of social partnership, and the sort of legislation to

introduce to ensure minimum standards at work and the co-operation needed between employers and employees in developing the economy, both here and in Europe.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) made an interesting contribution about the effects in his constituency of the merger mania which has become a plague in substantial parts of the United Kingdom economy. As a consequence of that merger mania, thousands of well-paid, well-established jobs have been stripped out as part of short-term measures to pay for the acquisition costs in different sectors of the economy.

One of the most telling points that the hon. Gentleman made involved the consultation programme introduced by a company in his constituency. In consultation with trade union representatives, it set up a retraining programme, a relocation programme, a self-employment programme and an early retirement programme that ensured that anyone retiring early would not find himself or herself in abject poverty. That is precisely what the court ruling in Europe was supposed to be about—it was supposed to facilitate such a process, not as a one-off but as a matter of course to deal with all aspects of redundancy negotiations. Although he did not intend to do so, the hon. Gentleman's contribution supported the arguments so eloquently set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West.

The Minister failed to give a detailed response to the opinion of the Speaker's Counsel and others about flaws in the regulations; instead, he ploughed on, on the basis that the Government are likely to have to return to the court on this subject. They are prepared to defend themselves in court—that is not an unusual practice for a Government who regularly find themselves before the European Court or courts in this country owing to their failure to act within the law. The hon. Member for Shoreham, although a radical, right-wing Back Bencher, made comments on that subject with which Ministers agree and in which they believe. They believe that they are above the law, so they are not prepared to take the advice of those who advise the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, those who advise the European Commissioner, or, indeed, European Court judgments.

The Minister is arrogant in another way: he decided that the consultation process on the introduction of the regulations would be private. He decided that it was not to be reported to the House or to individual Members of Parliament. Indeed, he wrote to me and refused me access to the consultation process. One thing that he could not refuse me was access to the organisations that participated. I contacted them by letter and telephone, and the overwhelming majority were astonished to learn that the consultation was not public. They thought that the reason for giving a view—whether it was pro-Government, anti-Government or a mixture—was to give Members of Parliament an understanding of what the situation should be in the workplace regarding the European ruling. They were amazed and astonished that the Minister had refused me access. No one refused me a copy of the submissions, and when I received them it became clear why the consultation was not made public.

Mr. John M. Taylor

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

Mr. McCartney

Of course the Minister does not, because he does not understand his job. That was clear from his speech earlier.

The Minister signed the letter. Perhaps he was ill advised in not providing information. It was a personal letter. He took time out from his busy day to ensure that neither the House nor I could have access to the consultation process. I shall give two examples to give hon. Members the flavour of the independent advice that the Minister and his Department failed to put before the House, and which they did not want the House to see.

The first letter is from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, which is an independent body, a tripartite organisation, protected by law, and which represents employers and employees. It was set up by statute of the House to advise the Government and industry on procedures to improve industrial relations and to resolve industrial relations problems. It wrote to the Minister on 2 May 1995, and said: The Council views with some concern the requirement ߪ of the proposal for employers to consult, at their choice ߪ 'either a recognised independent trade union or elected representative of the affected employees.' The Council felt that allowing employers such freedom of choice might well result in established and accepted procedures being overturned. In ACAS's experience such a consequence would not be conducive to good industrial relations. That was the independent advice that the Government had sought and received. They not only decided to ignore it. as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said, but tried to suppress the information by not giving it to the House.

Secondly, I received a letter—a very nice letter—from the Engineering Employers Federation, the voice of engineering, which responded to me immediately. This is what it said of the Government's position: It is our view that proposed changes to the law do pose a number of new practical problems for many employers. So much for deregulation. The letter continued: The Regulations will need to be clear and sufficient time will need to be given after the details of the Regulations are known but before they are brought into force to enable companies to understand the changes and to plan how they intend to comply with the new requirements. The Government did not do that, either. The letter stated: Unless the Regulations are carefully drafted, they may result not only in increased litigation but also may adversely complicate and undermine existing employee relations practices. We cannot get any clearer than that.

The EEF went on to say that the regulations should include a process to ensure that the balloting procedure is independent and can take place, to ensure that effective voting arrangements are available to employers and employees, to ensure that it is clear who can vote and to ensure the rights and duties of elected representatives in ballots.

That is the suggestion of an employers' organisation, but it has not been included in the regulations. It has been ignored. Ministers, however, still parrot the fallacy that the regulations are, in fact, about deregulation—about removing burdens from industry. They are nothing of the sort; they are simply an ideological attack on organised labour and the right of individuals to be represented by that organised labour.

The regulations have not secured the wholehearted support of industry, and on that basis I ask the Minister to withdraw them. Why did he reject the advice of ACAS and the Engineering Employers Federation? Are not the regulations concerned with the deregulation of the United Kingdom's labour market, with a sweatshop Europe, with dragging down standards—imposing minimum standards as regards rights at work—with increased working hours, with low pay and with insecurity? Is all that not part and parcel of proposals that, over the past 10 years, have led us into three recessions?

The Minister refused to appear before the Joint Committee considering the statutory instrument, choosing instead to hide behind his officials and let them face the music. They could not respond, either in principle or in detail, to the allegations and complaints made by the Committee; they simply said that, in all circumstances, an industrial tribunal would be available to individuals wishing to seek redress.

We know that the tribunal system is experiencing a crisis. Tens of thousands of cases are awaiting consideration; in some areas, people may wait for six months. Equal access to tribunals does not exist, because there is no right to legal aid. Is the Minister suggesting that industrial tribunals should be the sole recourse for employees who wish to resolve a grievance? Will he return to the matter later, and announce financial provision to make that possible? If people are not represented by trade unions, they will have to meet the cost of tribunals from their own pockets—and they may already be in receipt of benefit, because their redundancies may already have taken effect.

Is the Minister going to tell us, clearly and specifically, that the Government will change their policy and provide legal aid? I do not think that he will. If I am right, the issue of access to tribunals was no more than a smokescreen to get the legislation past the Joint Committee. The Government, however, could not get past either the members of the Committee or the cogent legal argument that their proposals were flawed.

It is interesting to note that nearly 8.5 million people have been unemployed at least once since the last general election. Since the election of the present Prime Minister in November 1990, 11 million people in England alone have been unemployed at least once. The Government see unemployment and redundancy as a key element of their economic strategy. The regulations are intended to do no more than facilitate the continuation of that strategy, and their proposals for deregulation.

The Government will not get away with this. Either they will be forced to go back to court and defend their position, and lose—as they are likely to—or it will be up to an incoming Labour Government to resolve the issue, as we shall. No intellectual, moral, economic or social case can be made to exempt 96 per cent. of employers in Britain from allowing employees access to consultation— allowing them their minimum rights—in the event of redundancy. It flies in the face of the European Court ruling and puts up two fingers to that court.

The threshold in the Government's proposal negates the court's proposals, which contained the simple proposition that, when a redundancy situation exists, employees are entitled to a minimum standard of representation, and that that representation and consultation are about an amelioration of the redundancies to take place. They also aimed to put in place an agreement with employees to facilitate a reduction in redundancies, retraining or relocation—all the things that the hon. Member for Beckenham set out in his speech on behalf of the Government.

The Government's proposal negates that responsibility. As a consequence, they will again face being a lawbreaker instead of a lawmaker. Whether it be the Secretary of State for the Home Department, for Trade and Industry, for Social Security or for Scotland, Cabinet members end up before the courts as lawbreakers. They have brought the House into contempt.

An incoming Labour Government will rectify that position at the next general election. If the Government will not give people appropriate opportunities to have discussions on redundancies, at the next general election, it will be Conservative Members who will be made redundant. We will have a Government in place who not only give people basic rights but have an economic policy that gets rid of redundancies and starts producing jobs.

9.45 pm
Mr. John M. Taylor

With the leave of the House, in a breathless and breathtaking winding-up speech, the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) asked me why I had not slavishly followed some selected employer representative. He then hopelessly exaggerated the improving process times of industrial tribunals. He gave us a clear glance of old Labour in all its bitter fulmination and then asked me about the consultation process. A copy of the Department's consultation paper was placed in the Library of the House. Perhaps he cannot find the Library. The replies informed the Government in drafting the regulations—that was the purpose of the consultation. As a matter of courtesy to the people consulted, I did not send him copies of their responses, but of course he could have approached them and asked them for a copy. I am entirely happy that he should have done so.

Hon. Members have referred to the advice of the Speaker's Counsel. Whatever advice the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments may have received, it has not drawn that advice to the House's attention. The courts will decide whether the regulations implement the judgments. We are confident that they will decide in our favour.

The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) asked about judicial authority. If by judicial authority he means case law, there can be no case law—certainly not yet— because this is new law on employee representatives. If he means legal authority, the text of the regulations is sufficient, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) ably explained. They clearly provide that the employer must consult representatives and include sanctions if he does not.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Surrey (Sir M. Grylls) wanted more deregulation and, separately, more glimpses of old Labour so that the electorate would not be beguiled. In short, he wanted to save small firms and save England too. Even so, he concluded optimistically and reassuringly, at least in my opinion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) spoke cogently—as he always does—and vividly about his qualifications to speak on these matters. He lent to the debate special authority, sympathy and insight in his sharply focused approval of the Government's proposals.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) implied that he thought that former representatives do not have protection. I must tell him that former representatives are protected under the regulations. I am sure that if he looks carefully at the wording of regulations 12 and 14, he will see that protection against dismissal and detriment short of dismissal applies not only to candidates and representatives, but to former candidates and representatives, if their dismissal or the detriment suffered relates to their status or activities while acting as representatives.

The hon. Members for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and for Leicester, South both asked me to summarise for them the gist of the European Court judgments. The main point arising from those judgments is that there should be consultation of employees' representatives regardless of whether there is a recognised trade union. Most hon. Members who take an interest know that at present the only consultation required is consultation with a recognised trade union, if there is one. If there is none, there is no current obligation to consult at all. That is the deficiency in our law—laws that were put on the statute book by the Labour party. The Government are now putting that right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham developed his arguments lucidly, as always, not least on the subject of judicial review. His remarks will merit rereading tomorrow, and what he said about the right of employees to challenge the way in which an election was conducted, was exactly correct.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has played a particular part in the deliberations outside the Chamber, not least in the Joint Committee. Tonight he spoke about employers in his constituency, and described how careful and well-conducted industrial relations had often resulted in short-term working rather than lay-offs, and how both employers and employees had benefited from that mature form of industrial relations. He took me with him there, and I understand and respect what he said.

The hon. Gentleman spoke in favour of certainty. So do I, but there our convergence falters. We agree that there was uncertainty, but on behalf of the Government I say that the regulations before us properly remove that uncertainty.

It has been said both in the debate and outside the Chamber that the Government oppose trade unions. That is not the case. We are neither for nor against unions. Just as we believe that every individual employee must have the right to choose freely whether to be a union member, so we believe that every employer should be free to decide whether to deal with trade unions. That was not so under the Labour Government's legislation, which both permitted and encouraged the closed shop, and enabled unions to compel employers to recognise them. That remains an area in which there are clear differences between the policies of the Government and those of the Opposition.

Since 1980 we have implemented a series of reforms to industrial relations and trade union law to correct the previous imbalance of power between unions and employers, and between unions and their own members.

I remind hon. Members that it is as a result of the Government's reforms that workers are free to choose whether to join a union; that secondary industrial action and flying pickets are unlawful; that trade union members have the right to vote in postal ballots on industrial action, the election of leaders and the establishment or maintenance of political funds; that trade unions rather than their officers are legally accountable for their actions and can be sued if they act unlawfully; and that employers can no longer be forced to recognise trade unions if they do not believe that it is in the interests of their business to do so. At every stage those reforms were bitterly opposed by the Labour party and the union movement.

I am happy to say that strikes, whether official or unofficial, no longer dog our economy as they did in the 1960s and 1970s. The Government's trade union reforms have transformed industrial relations, and I make no apology for quoting some more statistics. The average number of working days lost for every 1,000 employees between 1975 and 1979 was 512. Between 1990 and 1994, it was 37—a reduction of 93 per cent. There were only 205 recorded strikes in 1994—the lowest annual total since records began more than 100 years ago.

That transformation in our industrial relations has generated greater confidence in the economy. That has attracted inward investment, which has of course brought jobs and opportunities. During last year alone, almost 37,000 new jobs were created through inward investment, while more than 51,000 jobs were safeguarded. Better industrial relations and the positive climate for growth and enterprise that we have created have brought more work and better opportunities for the people of this country— whether they are trade union members or not—and strengthened the economy.

I should not need to add that the Labour party has voted against every reform that we have introduced, just as it will vote to revoke the regulations. It was no more right about the other issues than it is about this one.

We have had an interesting and instructive debate— for some of the time. It has been interesting not only because of what has been said, but for what was not said by the hon. Member for Makerfield and other Opposition Members. We have heard no more than might have been predicted in a Trades Union Congress brief on the issue.

As I said, I would not expect any meeting of minds on some points for we approach such matters from fundamentally different standpoints. I would not expect Opposition Members to welcome a provision that allows an employer freedom of choice on whether to consult through a trade union or through representatives elected by employees themselves. I did not expect Opposition Members to approve measures designed to minimise the statutory burdens on UK businesses to enable them to remain competitive and create jobs.

Nor did I expect to hear—although I challenge him to tell us now—how the hon. Member for Makerfield would give effect to the judgments. Would the hon. Gentleman return to the practices of the past? Is he a representative of old Labour? Looking down the bench below the Gangway, I see that there are rather a lot of old Labour members in the Chamber. Where the others? Where is new Labour? Where are the stakeholders? We have the old stakeposts here tonight, and I think that they will win the battle for the heart and soul of the Labour party.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 258, Noes 295.

Division No. 44] [10.00 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Eagle, Ms Angela
Ainger, Nick Eastham, Ken
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Etherington, Bill
Allen, Graham Evans, John (St Helens N)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Fatchett, Derek
Armstrong, Hilary Faulds, Andrew
Ashton, Joe Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Austin-Walker, John Fisher, Mark
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Flynn, Paul
Barron, Kevin Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Battle, John Foster, Don (Bath)
Bayley, Hugh Foulkes, George
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Fyfe, Maria
Beith, Rt Hon A J Galbraith, Sam
Bell, Stuart Galloway, George
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Gapes, Mike
Bennett, Andrew F George, Bruce
Bermingham, Gerald Gerrard, Neil
Berry, Roger Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Blunkett, David Godman, Dr Norman A
Boateng, Paul Godsiff, Roger
Bradley, Keith Golding, Mrs Llin
Bray, Dr Jeremy Grant Bernie (Tottenham)
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Grocott, Bruce
Burden, Richard Gunnell, John
Byers, Stephen Hall, Mike
Caborn, Richard Hanson, David
Callaghan, Jim Hardy, Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Harvey, Nick
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, D N Henderson, Doug
Canavan, Dennis Heppell, John
Cann, Jamie Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery) Hinchliffe, David
Chidgey, David Hodge, Margaret
Church, Judith Hoey, Kate
Clapham, Michael Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hoon, Geoffrey
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Clelland, David Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Coffey, Ann Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)
Cohen, Harry Hoyle, Doug
Connarty, Michael Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hutton, John
Corston, Jean Illsley, Eric
Cousins, Jim Ingram, Adam
Cox, Tom Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cummings, John Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Janner, Greville
Cunningham, Roseanna Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Darling, Alistair Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jowell, Tessa
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Keen, Alan
Denham, John Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Dewar, Donald Khabra, Piara S
Dixon, Don Kilfoyle, Peter
Dobson, Frank Kirkwood, Archy
Donohoe, Brian H Liddell, Mrs Helen
Dowd, Jim Litherland, Robert
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Livingstone, Ken
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Radice, Giles
Llwyd, Elfyn Randall, Stuart
Loyden, Eddie Raynsford, Nick
Lynne, Ms Liz Reid, Dr John
McAllion, John Rendel, David
McAvoy, Thomas Robertson, George (Hamilton)
McCartney, Ian Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Macdonald, Calum Roche, Mrs Barbara
McFall, John Rogers, Allan
McKelvey, William Rooker, Jeff
Mackinlay, Andrew Rooney, Terry
McLeish, Henry Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McMaster, Gordon Rowlands, Ted
MacShane, Denis Ruddock, Joan
McWilliam, John Sedgemore, Brian
Madden, Max Sheerman, Barry
Maddock, Diana Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Alice Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mandelson, Peter Short, Clare
Marek, Dr John Simpson, Alan
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Skinner, Dennis
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Maxton, John Soley, Clive
Meacher, Michael Spellar, John
Meale, Alan Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Michael, Alun Steinberg, Gerry
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Stott, Roger
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Strang, Dr. Gavin
Milburn, Alan Straw, Jack
Miller, Andrew Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morgan, Rhodri Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Morley, Elliot Touhig, Don
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Trickett, Jon
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Turner, Dennis
Mudie, George Wallace, James
Mullin, Chris Walley, Joan
Murphy, Paul Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wareing, Robert N
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Watson, Mike
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Wicks, Malcolm
O'Hara, Edward Wigley, Dafydd
Olner, Bill Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
O'Neill, Martin Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wilson, Brian
Parry, Robert Winnick, David
Pearson, Ian Wise, Audrey
Pickthall, Colin Worthington, Tony
Pike, Peter L Wray, Jimmy
Pope, Greg Wright Dr Tony
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, Dawn Tellers for the Ayes:
Purchase, Ken Mr. Malcolm Chisholm and Mr. Joe Benton.
Quin, Ms Joyce
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bates, Michael
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Batiste, Spencer
Alexander, Richard Beggs, Roy
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Bellingham, Henry
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Bendall, Vivian
Ancram, Michael Beresford, Sir Paul
Arbuthnot, James Biffen, Rt Hon John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Body, Sir Richard
Ashby, David Booth, Hartley
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Boswell, Tim
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Bowden, Sir Andrew
Baldry, Tony Bowis, John
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Brandreth, Gyles
Brazier, Julian Gardiner, Sir George
Bright, Sir Graham Garnier, Edward
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gill, Christopher
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Gillan, Cheryl
Browning, Mrs Angela Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Budgen, Nicholas Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Burt, Alistair Gorst, Sir John
Butcher, John Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Butler, Peter Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butterfill, John Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Grylls, Sir Michael
Carrington, Matthew Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Carttiss, Michael Hague, Rt Hon William
Cash, William Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Chapman, Sir Sydney Hampson, Dr Keith
Churchill, Mr Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Clappison, James Hannam, Sir John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hargreaves, Andrew
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Harris, David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hawkins, Nick
Coe, Sebastian Hawksley, Warren
Colvin, Michael Hayes, Jerry
Congdon, David Heald, Oliver
Conway, Derek Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hendry, Charles
Cormack, Sir Patrick Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Couchman, James Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Cran, James Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Horam, John
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Day, Stephen Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Devlin, Tim Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Dicks, Terry Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hunter, Andrew
Dover, Den Jack, Michael
Duncan, Alan Jenkin, Bemard
Duncan-Smith, lain Jessel, Toby
Dunn, Bob Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Durant, Sir Anthony Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Eggar, Rt Hon Tim Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Elletson, Harold Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Key, Robert
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) King, Rt Hon Tom
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Kirkhope, Timothy
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Knapman, Roger
Evennett, David Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Faber, David Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Fabricant, Michael Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Knox, Sir David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Fishburn, Dudley Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Forman, Nigel Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stilling) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Forth, Eric Leigh, Edward
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe)
French, Douglas Lidington, David
Fry, Sir Peter Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Gale, Roger Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Gallie, Phil Lord, Michael
Luff, Peter Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Soames, Nicholas
MacKay, Andrew Spencer, Sir Derek
Maclean, Rt Hon David Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
McLoughlin, Patrick Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Spink, Dr Robert
Maitland, Lady Olga Spring, Richard
Malone, Gerald Sproat, Iain
Mans, Keith Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Marland, Paul Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Steen, Anthony
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Stephen, Michael
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stern, Michael
Mates, Michael Stewart, Allan
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Streeter, Gary
Merchant, Piers Sumberg, David
Mills, Iain Sweeney, Walter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Sykes, John
Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James Tapsell, Sir Peter
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Neubert, Sir Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Thomason, Roy
Nicholls, Patrick Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Norris, Steve Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Thurnharn, Peter
Oppenheim, Phillip Townend, John (Bridlington)
Ottaway, Richard Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Page, Richard Tracey, Richard
Paice, James Tredinnick, David
Patnick, Sir Irvine Trend, Michael
Patten, Rt Hon John Trotter, Neville
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Twinn, Dr Ian
Pawsey, James Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Viggers, Peter
Pickles, Eric Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Walden, George
Porter, David (Waveney) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Waller, Gary
Powell, William (Corby)
Rathbone, Tim Ward, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Waterson, Nigel
Richards, Rod Watts, John
Riddick, Graham Wells, Bowen
Robathan, Andrew Whitney, Ray
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Whittingdale, John
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Widdecombe, Ann
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Wilkinson, John
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Willetts, David
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Wilshire, David
Sackville, Tom Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'Id)
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Wolfson, Mark
Shaw, David (Dover) Wood, Timothy
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Yeo, Tim
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Tellers for the Noes:
Sims, Roger Mr. Simon Burns and Dr. Liam Fox.
Skeet, Sir Trevor

Question accordingly negatived.