HC Deb 26 July 1999 vol 336 cc35-52

Lords amendment: No. 32, in page 17, leave out lines 25 to 29 and insert— ("2A.—(1) This paragraph applies for the purposes of this Part of this Schedule. (2) The meaning of collective bargaining given by section 178(1) shall not apply. (3) References to collective bargaining are to negotiations relating to pay, hours and holidays; but this has effect subject to sub-paragraph (4). (4) If the parties agree matters as the subject of collective bargaining, references to collective bargaining are to negotiations relating to the agreed matters; and this is the case whether the agreement is made before or after the time when the CAC issues a declaration, or the parties agree, that the union is (or unions are) entitled to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of a bargaining unit. (5) Sub-paragraph (4) does not apply in construing paragraph 27(3). (6) Sub-paragraphs (2) to (5) do not apply in construing paragraph 30 or 36B.")

Mr. Ian McCartney

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 72 to 74, 109, 110 and 198.

Mr. McCartney

Every time I say, "I beg to move," someone shouts.

The purpose of amendment No. 32 is to clarify the scope of collective bargaining and how it may be altered. We wanted it to be absolutely clear that, even if the Central Arbitration Committee issues a declaration of recognition, the union and employer could agree to alter the scope of collective bargaining to include other matters than pay, hours and holidays.

Similarly, amendment No. 198 clarifies the scope of collective bargaining in part III of the schedule by introducing a paragraph 70B. New paragraph 70C allows the parties to vary a bargaining method imposed by the CAC under part III. That mirrors the existing provision in paragraph 27 for bargaining methods imposed under part I.

I turn to the issue of whether a union should be required to give up an existing collective bargaining agreement to apply for recognition under part I. The CAC is required to reject applications for recognition in a bargaining unit if any union, including the applicant union, is already recognised to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of one, or more workers in the bargaining unit. One effect of that is to require a union that has a very limited, but possibly long-standing recognition agreement covering the union's role in disciplinary matters, for example, to give up that recognition to apply for statutory recognition under part I.

We do not believe that recognition for what might be called "non-core" issues should bar the union from seeking recognition through the procedure for pay, hours and holidays, if both the employer and union are happy for recognition to continue. The union should be able to seek recognition on the "core" issues of pay, hours and holidays without being forced first to tear up an existing agreement.

Therefore, amendment No. 73 provides that a voluntary agreement that does not include bargaining about pay, hours or holidays does not bar the recognised union from applying under part I. The employer will, of course, still be able to terminate the voluntary agreement if he or she wishes. It may be that an employer, faced with an application for recognition on pay and so on, wishes to renegotiate on the matters for which he already recognises the union. The Government's amendment allows that.

Amendment No. 72 is a technical change to the wording. Amendment No. 74 ensures that changes to a bargaining unit made by the CAC under part III are taken into account in deciding whether another unit is recognised.

Amendments Nos. 109 and 110 ensure that the definition of collective bargaining in relation to changing the bargaining unit is the definition already in force—what the parties have agreed, or the CAC has imposed. Amendment No. 198 is equivalent to paragraphs 2(7) and 27, and applies to a new unit that is determined under part III. It allows both the definition of collective bargaining and the method for collective bargaining to be varied, or ended if the parties agree to do so.

Those are constructive changes. I commend them to the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 33, in page 18, line 12, leave out from ("registered") to end of line 14 and insert ("in the register maintained under section 8 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 shall be treated as ordinarily working in Great Britain unless—

  1. (a) the ship's entry in the register specifies a port outside Great Britain as the port to which the vessel is to be treated as belonging,")

Mr. Ian McCartney

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 34, 38, 41, 45, 48, 57, 62, 65, 67 to 69, 75, 78, 85, 88, 90, 100, 101, 105, 107, 108, 111, 113, 114, 128, 133, 136, 139, 145, 147 to 149, 188, 205, 208 to 210, 213, 215, 216, 219, 224, 225, 231, 234, 235, 241, 244 to 246, 251 to 253, 256, 257, 259, 261, 267, 268, 274 to 277 and 279.

Mr. McCartney

The amendments fall into several small groups, which effect minor improvements to the schedule.

Amendments Nos. 33, 100 and 209 are identical corrections to the wording of the schedule to reflect the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. The meaning of the schedule is unchanged in each case.

Amendments Nos. 34, 101 and 210 alter the power to change the 21-workers threshold for recognition. They allow the Secretary of State to make transitional arrangements and, more important, to apply the change in all three parts of the schedule in which it appears. Without the amendments, only paragraph 6 could be altered.

Amendments Nos. 113, 145 and 147 slightly increase the standard of proof required for a successful application under part III to change the bargaining unit from "prima facie evidence" to being "likely" that the original unit was not appropriate.

Amendments Nos. 274 and 275 removes references to a worker's breach of contract from the provisions on detriment and dismissal connected with recognition in part VIII of the Bill. The amendments are not intended to allow workers to breach their contracts in pursuit of union recognition, but are aimed at preventing employers from circumventing the protections for workers from detriment or dismissal arising from campaigning on recognition.

The amendments solve another potential problem. In providing that actions in breach of contract are not protected, the schedule is currently different from other detriment and dismissal provisions—in section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, for example—because those provisions do not contain any mention of breach of contract. Retaining the Bill's existing text might be taken to imply that a worker is always protected under other similar provisions when he acts in breach of contract. Again, that is obviously not desirable.

Amendments Nos. 274 and 275 would continue to protect a worker from detriment or dismissal provided that the worker's action is not unreasonable. In most cases, it will be unreasonable for a worker to break his or her contract, but not, of course, when the employer has written in clauses making the actions protected by the provisions—such as campaigning for or against recognition—a breach of contract. It would not be sensible to allow such clauses to be written in.

I therefore do not believe that the change represents a substantial alteration of the provisions. The change does, however, reduce the risk of their circumvention by unscrupulous employers, and of unintended consequences on other legislation. On that basis, I hope that the House will agree that the change is desirable.

I should now like to speak to even more technical amendments. Amendment No. 75 allows for the possibility of more than one union being recognised jointly for a bargaining unit. Amendments Nos. 78, 276 and 277 insert missed or consequential cross-references, whereas amendment No. 88 is for clarity; amendments Nos. 108 and 149 are grammatical; and amendment No. 111 ensures consistent terminology. For additional clarity, amendments Nos. 128, 215, 216, 234, 235, 252, 256, 257 and 259 remove superfluous words. Amendment No. 208 corrects a cross-reference; and amendment No. 225 corrects another.

Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, amendment No. 279 requires the CAC to give notice of its declarations to the parties.

Mr. Collins

As the Minister said, this group of amendments is largely a technical one. I shall therefore confine myself to asking the Minister two questions.

First, the Minister mentioned the Government's proposal to "increase slightly" the required standard of proof in provisions on bargaining units. Will he explain to hon. Members who are not lawyers the reason behind the Government's decision to increase slightly the standard of proof?

Secondly, the Minister mentioned amendments dealing with the possibility of recognition of more than one trade union in a bargaining unit. Will he tell the House the Government's general attitude to the general desirability, or otherwise, of more than one trade union being recognised within a bargaining unit? He will know that it is often thought that one of the keys to Germany's success since the second world war has been a strong governmental imperative favouring single union recognition in specific industrial blocs. I should be very interested to know the Government's view on whether such a change is felt to be desirable, or whether it should be a matter purely for the bargaining partners themselves.

Mr. McCartney

In such matters, the burden of proof falls not only on employers, but employees. If there is a request for a change in bargaining units, it is only reasonable and fair that whoever makes the request should present to the CAC—which will have to decide—no more or less than substantial evidence. The provisions would simply send a signal that, if either or both parties wishes to change the arrangements and to legitimise that change, they should present no more or less than professional, reliable evidence to the CAC.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) also raised the issue of recognition of more than one union in a bargaining unit. As he will have noticed, various provisions in the Bill and schedule 1 address that issue.

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Where there are long-standing arrangements involving more than one union—and where an employer is happy with that—we do not want to disturb them. However, where there is the potential for disagreement, we will have in law a means by which people can come forward for recognition. The proposal provides a right, changes the culture and makes clear to the unions and others concerned that the CAC will not deal with issues where a dispute arises between unions over recognition. It is for them to resolve those disputes. Until they do, they will not be able to secure an agreement.

Where there is an agreement—and where it is fair and reasonable for more than one union to make a proposal—we will allow the process to continue. On green-field sites, for example, it would seem reasonable that, where an application for the bargaining unit comes in—and there has been no history of any arrangement—the CAC should request the employer to make known whether he agrees or otherwise with the proposed bargaining units. Where there is not an agreement, the CAC will seek advice and evidence before it makes a determination about the bargaining unit, including whether it should relate to single table bargaining or not.

All of the circumstances that we can think of are covered by the proposals. The point made by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale was well made. The Government have been at pains to try to ensure that the proposals are about facilitating good employment relations and preventing disputes from arising. Where disputes arise, we will have a mechanism to deal with them. We want to try to ensure that good, modern employment relations do not lead to a situation where disputes arise. Where disputes do arise between unions, they will not be able to use the procedure.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 34 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 35, in page 18, line 40, leave out ("in the second period")

Mr. Ian McCartney

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 36, 37, 39, 40, 42 to 44, 46, 47, 49 to 52, 64, 66, 70, 71, 76, 77, 80 to 84, 86, 87, 91 to 99, 102 to 104, 106, 112, 120, 155, 173, 175, 184, 187, 192, 199 and 200, 201 and amendment (a) thereto, 202, 203, 204 and amendment (a) in lieu, 206, 207, 211, 212, 214, 217, 218, 220, to 223, 226, to 230, 232, 233, 236 to 240, 242,243, 249, 250, 254, 255, 258, 260, 262, to 266, 269 to 273, and 278.

Mr. McCartney

The Government's amendments deal with the procedures for derecognition. Amendments. Nos. 201 to 204, 206, 207, 211, 212, 214, 217, 218 and 220 to 223 deal with applications for derecognition by an employer on the grounds of having fewer than 21 workers. Most of them are simple clarifications of the procedure. Amendment No. 201, for example, clarifies the way in which an employer must apply, in keeping with changes to part III.

Amendment No. 203 clarifies the time in which the application must be made. If an employer believes that he or she has fewer than 21 workers over a 13-week period, an application for derecognition must be made within five working days of the 13 weeks ending. Amendment No. 211 requires the CAC to decide whether an application from an employer is valid before the union is allowed to challenge it. Obviously, if the application is invalid, there is no need to involve the union. Most of the other amendments are equally technical.

Amendment No. 217 is a substantive change, which requires the CAC to reject an application for derecognition if it is made within three years of another application for derecognition of the bargaining unit which the CAC rejected. This reflects the statement in the "Fairness at Work" White Paper that the CAC will not entertain an application for derecognition within three years of … an unsuccessful request for derecognition". This is a logical complement to the three-year bar on applications for recognition after an unsuccessful application, and will promote stability in industrial relations.

Turning to an employer's request for derecognition, amendments Nos. 226 to 230, 232, 233 and 236 to 240 are simplifications and modest improvements to the procedure.

Amendments Nos. 228, 229, 232 and 233 are equivalent to amendments Nos. 35 to 37, 39 and 40, to which I have already spoken. Together, they consolidate the two negotiation periods in paragraphs 80 and 81. At present, the union has a first period of 10 working days to respond to a request for derecognition, and if it agrees to negotiate there is a second period of 20 working days for negotiation.

Amendment No. 233 ensures, for consistency with part I, that failure to respond to an application within 10 working days is treated as rejection of the application. Amendments Nos. 237, 239 and 240 require the response and negotiation process to have taken place.

Amendment No. 236 bars repeat applications for derecognition for three years, as I described on amendment No. 217, and amendment No. 238 is consequential. Amendment No. 242 does the same for applications by workers for derecognition, and amendment No. 243 is a consequential change.

As a result of the changes to the ballot procedures, the CAC is required to hold a derecognition ballot rather than being able to choose to do so, and amendments Nos. 249 and 250 are technical changes to reflect that. The changes are largely technical, and all are improvements. I commend them to the House.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

I want to speak to amendment (a) to amendment No. 201 and amendment (a) to amendment No. 204. They represent a last-ditch attempt to write something helpful to small businesses into the Bill.

Many small and medium-sized firms will not be spared from the Government's determination to force businesses to recognise trade unions for bargaining purposes, and the new law will apply to those with as few as 20 employees. It is difficult to see how a business with so few staff needs union representation and collective bargaining arrangements. Most small firms simply do not have the capacity to administer such arrangements, and Labour's failure to recognise that illustrates its near total lack of understanding of how businesses work.

The amendments would raise the threshold for a small business from 21 to 50.

Mr. Chidgey

What is the Conservative party's view on the rights or otherwise of individual employees to join or not to join a trade union?

Mrs. Browning

I made it clear last Wednesday that we believe that, notwithstanding the right of union recognition in the workplace, if that is the wish of the work force, individuals should be free to contract individually with the employer. That is the right flexibility.

The Government opposed the increase from 21 to 50 in the Lords, but so did the Liberal Democrats, who constantly say that they are the champions of small business. They, too, wanted to limit the definition of a small firm to one with only 21 employees. Representations have been received from almost every business organisation: the CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors all support increasing the threshold for exemption. The Government have ignored those calls, and the result will be a tough time for small business.

My noble Friend Baroness Miller of Hendon made a compelling case in the other place and drew to the Government's attention the fact that there is a precedent for the figure of 50. It is the defining number for a small firm in the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998—which was introduced by the Government—and is compatible with European legislation.

Labour Members may be surprised that I should pray in aid European legislation, but the Government must be consistent. It is not acceptable for them to say that we have to harmonise with Europe and do everything that it tells us on employment legislation while refusing to acknowledge that 50 is the definition used in many parts of European employment legislation. For some reason, the Government want to draw into the scope of the Bill all companies with 21 or more employees.

I am pleased that the Minister is in his place this afternoon, as he was unable to be with us for last Thursday's proceedings. I wish that he had been, as he would then have witnessed the chaos of the debate. There was good will among Conservative Members to make progress—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The hon. Lady cannot go into the history of matters. She must concentrate on what is before the House.

Mrs. Browning

I stand chided, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I look forward to the Government accepting the amendments, given that I understand that they have had a change of heart and accepted an amendment to clause 15 that they voted against last Thursday. This may be the Minister's final opportunity to represent the Department of Trade and Industry at the Dispatch Box, as it is possible that he will move on to greater things tomorrow. We all wish him well, but acceptance of the amendment would be a mark of his recognition of the importance of the small business sector in this country.

Mr. Chidgey

I draw the Minister's attention to amendment No. 93, which deals with the adjudication by the Central Arbitration Committee of a claim for recognition. I refer him to proposed new paragraph 36C(b), which states that an application would be invalid unless the CAC decided that a majority of the workers constituting the relevant bargaining unit would be likely to favour recognition of the union. The Minister will recall that in our Committee proceedings, we debated at some length the process by which the true feelings of the work force could be determined when establishing the right to trade union recognition. We debated whether total reliance on a ballot would be the right way forward. In earlier speeches in the House, I spoke with some force about how the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service had worked on that problem, and noted that on some occasions, it would reject a ballot of employees that appeared to favour recognition of a union.

The amendments seem to acknowledge that other ways exist to establish a work force's true intent with regard to recognition of a union that will act on members' behalf. Those alternative ways would recognise the needs of particular workplaces and units, and I hope that the Minister will elaborate on that when he responds to the debate.

Mr. Ian McCartney

I thank the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) for her helpful remarks.

Mrs. Browning

I hope that the Minister is well.

Mr. McCartney

I think that the Conservative party has mounted a campaign to keep me here so that I will change my mind about some matters. However, I will not do that this afternoon.

I must take issue with the hon. Lady about small and medium-sized enterprises. The previous Conservative Government closed such businesses at the rate of one every three minutes in every working day. Between 1992 and 1997, there was a net loss of 70,000 small businesses each year, and a total of 350,000 such losses in the whole period. In 1998, the first year of this Government, there has been a net gain of 38,000 in the sector. The number of small businesses is growing under this Government, whereas hundreds of thousands were forced to the wall by the previous Government's economic policies.

This Government have dealt sensitively with small and medium-sized enterprises. The "Fairness at Work" White Paper and what happened thereafter was a major consultation exercise on the balancing of rights and obligations in the workplace. No one except the Conservative party would argue that there are not circumstances in which it is legitimate in a disagreement for the CAC to test, by a ballot or by other means, whether recognition should proceed in a company with more than 21 employees.

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Many small companies already recognise unions on a voluntary basis. The Government want to encourage voluntary arrangements for recognition in companies of any size. The procedure comes into play only when there is a disagreement. There is no requirement on companies with fewer than 21 employees to go through statutory recognition procedures.

The Government are sensitive to the needs of small business. Indeed, as a Government, we advocate small business in a very big way, if I may put it like that. The introduction of the Small Business Service shortly by my hon. Friend the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry is indicative of this Government's strategy of involvement and advocacy throughout Whitehall and the economy on behalf of small businesses. There are no grounds for the Conservatives to argue that the Government are anti-small business.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton wants to hide behind small businesses to promote her anti-trade union feelings. That is the real issue.

Mrs. Browning

Given that the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the chambers of commerce and the Institute of Directors have all said in terms that the definition of a small business in the Bill should allow more than 21 employees—the threshold that the Government insist on setting—that is clearly not a political agenda. Those businesses are sending a message to a Government who say that they are concerned about and interested in small businesses, but who are refusing even to listen to the voice of small business. That does not stack up with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying.

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Lady has got it wrong again. The Government listened to the voice of business, both in the preparation for the White Paper and in consultation so far. That is why we have the threshold. The proposal is in the Bill because we listened. Let us remember that at the start of the process there was opposition to the recognition arrangements. We accept that there is a difference of opinion about the principle of recognition, but the Government have bent over backwards to secure agreement among social partners on a range of measures within the recognition process. Where there has not been agreement, the Government have produced balanced proposals.

I have listened to the arguments of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton and of her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), before he moved on to pastures new. We sometimes miss the right hon. Gentleman. That is not the hon. Lady's fault, but occasionally he brought a spark to our debates, given his rather extreme views on employment relations in the workplace. The hon. Lady may have similar views and, from her point of view, may put them over more convincingly than her right hon. Friend.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Opposition amendments are really inspired by hostility to trade unions, which the Conservatives see as an incubus on business? In fact, well-regulated businesses of any size receive great support and help from trade unions. They flag up employee discontent at an early stage and allow conduits for problems to be resolved satisfactorily. They flag up health and safety issues.

There are a variety of matters on which anyone who runs a business should set out to have a good relationship with the trade unions, so that the business can be run efficiently and well.

Mr. McCartney

My hon. Friend is right. Employers have increasingly moved away from the agenda of the 1980s and early 1990s, when confrontation was the name of the game and managers of companies and their owners were isolated from the work force. The Conservatives encouraged confrontation. We have now moved to an era of more partnership, where employers see equal value in ensuring that the work force have got representation that enables them to communicate effectively with them, to see them as their most important asset and to see the trade unions who represent the work force as part of the process of securing a long-term future for the company concerned.

Mrs. Browning


Mr. McCartney

The minute that I mention trade unions, the hon. Lady is up on her hind legs.

Mrs. Browning

Indeed I am, because it was the Conservative legislation of the 1980s that set union members free to have a say. That legislation, which was opposed by the Minister and the Labour party, ensured that the people—he will be familiar with that term—got the power in the workplace. We took it away from union bosses who had abused it for decades. I am accused by Labour of not being in favour of trade unions, but the point the Minister raised about merchant seamen related to an amendment to employment legislation that I made the previous Government accept in the previous Parliament. I pioneered it on behalf of merchant seamen. I need no lectures from Labour.

Mr. McCartney

Having been sacked under a Conservative Government for seeking to recruit people to trade unions, I think that the hon. Lady's comments have a hollow ring. The Conservative party and its Front-Bench team have made their views clear. They oppose trade unions and effective trade unionism. They undermine at each stage the concept of partnership in the workplace, and continue with the old language of us and them and the old concept of employee representation. We have moved on decades, but the hon. Lady is still back in the 1970s, 1980s or early 1990s. As we go into the next century, we are trying to provide through this Bill a new basis of partnership in the workplace, with rights and responsibilities. That is what we have set out our stall with, and it increasingly has the support of the business community.

I have not found the hon. Lady's arguments so far convincing. The amendments would allow a union to be recognised on the basis of 21 workers, but derecognised on the basis of 50. That is hardly logical or sensible. I shall address the underlying point of the 21-worker threshold for recognition and derecognition.

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

My right hon. Friend might be interested to know that I held a two-hour consultation with small and medium-sized businesses in the Dearne valley through the Dearne valley business club on Friday. They welcomed the Small Business Service and when we discussed taxation and regulation, not one employer raised a concern about our recognition proposals. Does he agree that despite the protestation of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) that she is making a last-ditch attempt to protect small business, there is in fact a large last-ditch attempt to extend the licence of some employers unilaterally to deny the right of workers to representation through a trade union, even if there is a strong majority in support in the firm?

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton cannot in 18 minutes of this debate wash away the 18 years of incompetence towards small business of the previous Government. She is trying to curry favour with small businesses.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Small Ministers.

Mr. McCartney

As well as being anti-union, Conservative Members are sizeist. I can see the hon. Gentleman eye to eye from here and if he wants to contribute, he is welcome.

No small businesses in Britain will be impressed by the Conservative party's deathbed conversion to looking after their interests in this place. Most small businesses see the Conservative party as irrelevant to the needs of the next decade, to the development of their businesses and the economy, and to the stable macro-economic policy that goes with it. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton is trying to do a disservice to the tens of thousands of small businesses that recognise trade unions and want to continue that. Increasingly, since the introduction of this Bill, employers are asking trade unions to talk to them about recognition. The culture is changing out there. The hon. Lady may want to stand on the beach and stop the tide coming in, but she will not—she cannot. Employers want effective, good working relationships with trade unions.

I understand the hon. Lady's stated desire to protect small firms from onerous demands; I shall return to that point in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey) was right to point out that in all the discussions held by Labour Members, whether Ministers or not, there is continuing dialogue with small businesses—in our constituencies, regionally and nationally. They come to us with practical problems and issues; they are not fundamentally opposed to their employees having a say, or being represented in the workplace by a union of the employees' choice. Nor are they opposed to effective information and consultation processes in the workplace.

Small businesses have an entirely different agenda, which is more practical and down to earth. They want the Government to be alongside them; that is why the Small Business Service will be an outstanding success as an advocate for small businesses in their relationship with the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth introduced the Bill that became the Employment Rights (Dispute Resolution) Act 1998—another ground-breaking piece of legislation which assists in the prevention of disputes or in their resolution so that they do not go before employment tribunals. That was another attempt by the Government to provide new services, especially so that small businesses and employees could resolve their differences without having to go to a tribunal. The Government are putting in place a range of measures to help to improve employment relations but, if disputes arise, those measures will help to resolve them effectively and quickly.

Mrs. Browning

If everything is so wonderful, why does the right hon. Gentleman think that in the Institute of Directors "Fairness at Work" research paper, a company states: We employ less than 20 people at present and with the Government's current attitude we're likely to stay that way."? Is the agenda to keep small businesses small?

Mr. McCartney

The hon. Lady knows that the previous Conservative Government were not even interested in keeping them small. They buried them—for every three minutes of every working day, one small business went bust under the Tories. Under the Labour Government, small businesses are flourishing—a 38,000 net gain in 1998 during our first year in government. We are determined to see a growth in the small and medium-sized business sector; that is why we reduced corporation tax from 23 to 20p in the pound—the lowest rate ever, and it will be kept there, or below, for this Parliament. We introduced a 10p starting rate of tax to help new companies to get established, and to be effective in maintaining and achieving growth. That is why we have put huge sums into investment in small businesses and given them access to venture capital. The Government are serious about the promotion of small businesses in the economy.

I could list a range of measures. However, I advise the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton to read my speech in Hansard of 25 June, when we debated innovation and enterprise. That whole debate was on the Government's strategy for small and medium-sized enterprises. The hon. Lady is just plain wrong. It goes back to the point I made earlier. She cannot get off the hook; she is anti-trade union. She does not want unions to be effective in the workplace.

As for the point about the Institute of Directors, I have a good working relationship with the institute. I cannot call its members "comrades", as I call my colleagues in the Confederation of British Industry—I am not quite sure that I can use that word of my colleagues in the Institute of Directors. There are some matters on which we disagree and the matter raised by the hon. Lady is one of them. The Institute of Directors has been opposed to the whole concept of recognition. I accept that its members hold that view. However, that does not prevent me from having a fair and effective working relationship with the institute on a range of other issues. I want a good relationship with the institute and I have one. This is just one of the issues on which we disagree.

However, it is interesting to note that many of the companies that are members of the institute recognise trade unions. For all the huffing and puffing, when it comes to the practicalities and the day-to-day arrangements for effective consultation processes and working relationships, they are more than happy to engage with trade unions—increasingly so.

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as well as being hostile to trade unions, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) misunderstands the point? It is quite possible in a firm of 19 or 20 employees, under the rights of individual representation—rather than the recognition given by the Bill—for a trade union to have access to an employer 19 times over. In every business, there comes a point when an employer would sooner deal with one collective representative than try to deal with a series of individual problems. Given that the balance has to be struck somewhere between those two points—collective recognition and individual representation—do not many companies, especially those in the clothing and textile sector—

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Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not make such long interventions.

Mr. McCartney

That intervention took longer than 21 seconds, so it is not allowed under the statutory procedures of the House. However, my hon. Friend's point is fair and valid, and would be echoed by all Labour Members. Employers want to have effective relationships in the workplace, and we as a Government are trying to get the balance right between individual and collective rights. At disciplinary and grievance proceedings, all employees will, for the first time, have the statutory right to be represented, or to have someone with them, whether that is a full-time, part-time or voluntary trade union official or a fellow employee.

The basis of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton is a stated desire to protect small firms from onerous demands, but I believe that that is only a shield to cover her anti-trade union views. However, the Government share her stated views: we do not and will not place onerous demands on small businesses. That is why, at the end of the consultation process, we were able to confirm the White Paper's statement about arrangements for businesses employing fewer than 21 workers.

Unlike the hon. Lady, we thought that that limit would not place a terrible burden on small businesses. After taking evidence and discussing the matter with various firms, we could have chosen a larger or smaller figure if we had thought it appropriate; however, we decided that, on balance, 21 reflected our judgment of the best figure. I am happy to repeat the assurances that we have given previously. We believe that 21 is a sensible and workable figure, but we have taken powers to amend it if, in practice, it turns out to be too low or too high.

Let me remind the House why we introduced the recognition procedure: it is to promote voluntary agreements between unions and employers, and to allow workers who want the protection and representation of a union in bargaining their pay, hours and holidays to have a right to that protection and representation, if that is what the majority of workers want. That is a common sense approach. The issue has been discussed both here and in the other place, and every time the Conservatives have expressed the assumption that trade unions are necessarily bad for business. That is not true.

An increasing number of members of the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and similar organisations accept and involve trade unions in their activities and in the workplace. Industrial relations are not a zero sum game: that one side gains does not mean that another loses. Our proposals are balanced. Workers, whether or not they are union members, will benefit from working in partnership with their employer, and the employer will benefit as well. It is a question of mutual trust and mutual involvement, instilling a sense of belonging and involvement and so helping the business to grow.

I cannot agree with the hon. Lady's amendments, either in the letter or in the spirit. Therefore, forlornly, I ask her not to press them to a vote.

Question put, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 350, Noes 121.

Division No. 273] [5.4 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Borrow, David
Ainger, Nick Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Alexander, Douglas Bradshaw, Ben
Allan, Richard Brake, Tom
Allen, Graham Brand, Dr Peter
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Breed, Colin
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Brinton, Mrs Helen
Ashton, Joe Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Austin, John Browne, Desmond
Ballard, Jackie Buck, Ms Karen
Barnes, Harry Burden, Richard
Barren, Kevin Butler, Mrs Christine
Battle, John Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Bayley, Hugh Cable, Dr Vincent
Beard, Nigel Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Begg, Miss Anne Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Beggs, Roy Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Berth, Rt Hon A J
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Campbell-Savours, Dale
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cann, Jamie
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Caplin, Ivor
Bennett, Andrew F Casale, Roger
Benton, Joe Caton, Martin
Berry, Roger Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Betts, Clive Chaytor, David
Blackman, Liz Chidgey, David
Blears, Ms Hazel Chisholm, Malcolm
Boateng, Paul Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hancock, Mike
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Healey, John
Clwyd, Ann Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Coaker, Vernon Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Coffey, Ms Ann Hepburn, Stephen
Cohen, Harry Heppell, John
Coleman, Iain Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Connarty, Michael Hill, Keith
Cooper, Yvette Hinchliffe, David
Corbett, Robin Hoey, Kate
Cotter, Brian Home Robertson, John
Cousins, Jim Hood, Jimmy
Cox, Tom Hope, Phil
Cranston, Ross Hopkins, Kelvin
Crausby, David Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Howells, Dr Kim
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hoyle, Lindsay
Cummings, John Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Humble, Mrs Joan
Dafis, Cynog Hurst, Alan
Dalyell, Tam Hutton, John
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Iddon, Dr Brian
Darvill, Keith Illsley, Eric
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dawson, Hilton Jamieson, David
Dean, Mrs Janet Jenkins, Brian
Denham, John Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Doran, Frank Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Keeble, Ms Sally
Efford, Clive Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Ennis, Jeff Keetch, Paul
Etherington, Bill Kelly, Ms Ruth
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Kemp, Fraser
Fearn, Ronnie Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Khabra, Piara S
Fisher, Mark Kidney, David
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kilfoyle, Peter
Flint, Caroline Kirkwood, Archy
Flynn, Paul Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Foster, Don (Bath) Lepper, David
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Leslie, Christopher
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Levitt, Tom
Foulkes, George Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fyfe, Maria Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Galloway, George Linton, Martin
Gerrard, Neil Livingstone, Ken
Gibson, Dr Ian Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Love, Andrew
Godman, Dr Norman A McAllion, John
Golding, Mrs Llin McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Gorrie, Donald
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McDonagh, Siobhain
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Macdonald, Calum
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McDonnell, John
Grocott, Bruce McFall, John
Grogan, John McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gunnell, John McIsaac, Shona
Hain, Peter McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew Sanders, Adrian
McNamara, Kevin Savidge, Malcolm
McNulty, Tony Sawford, Phil
Mactaggart, Fiona Sedgemore, Brian
McWalter, Tony Sheerman, Barry
McWilliam, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Mrs Alice Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mallaber, Judy Singh, Marsha
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Skinner, Dennis
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Maxton, John Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Meale, Alan Snape, Peter
Merron, Gillian Soley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Southworth, Ms Helen
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Squire, Ms Rachel
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Miller, Andrew Steinberg, Gerry
Mitchell, Austin Stevenson, George
Moffatt, Laura Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Moran, Ms Margaret Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Stoate, Dr Howard
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Morley, Elliot Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stringer, Graham
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mullin, Chris Stunell, Andrew
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill Temple-Morris, Peter
Organ, Mrs Diana Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Palmer, Dr Nick Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pearson, Ian Timms, Stephen
Pendry, Tom Tipping, Paddy
Perham, Ms Linda Todd, Mark
Pickthall, Colin Tonge, Dr Jenny
Plaskitt, James Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pond, Chris Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pope, Greg Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Pound, Stephen Tyler, Paul
Powell, Sir Raymond Vis, Dr Rudi
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Ward, Ms Claire
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wareing, Robert N
Primarolo, Dawn Watts, David
Prosser, Gwyn Webb, Steve
Purchase, Ken White, Brian
Quinn, Lawrie Whitehead, Dr Alan
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Wicks, Malcolm
Rammell, Bill Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Wills, Michael
Rendel, David Wilson, Brian
Roche, Mrs Barbara Winnick, David
Rooker, Jeff Wise, Audrey
Rooney, Terry Woolas, Phil
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Worthington, Tony
Rowlands, Ted Wray, James
Roy, Frank Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Ruane, Chris Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Ruddock, Joan Wyatt, Derek
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Tellers for the Ayes:
Ryan, Ms Joan Mr. David Hanson and
Salter, Martin Mr. David Clelland.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Loughton, Tim
Bercow, John Luff, Peter
Beresford, Sir Paul Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Blunt, Crispin MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Body, Sir Richard MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Boswell, Tim Maclean, Rt Hon David
Brady, Graham McLoughlin, Patrick
Brazier, Julian Malins, Humfrey
Browning, Mrs Angela Maples, John
Burns, Simon Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Butterfill, John Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Clappison, James Nicholls, Patrick
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Page, Richard
Collins, Tim Paice, James
Cormack, Sir Patrick Pickles, Eric
Cran, James Prior, David
Curry, Rt Hon David Randall, John
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Robathan, Andrew
Day, Stephen Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Duncan, Alan Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Duncan Smith, Iain St Aubyn, Nick
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Sayeed, Jonathan
Evans, Nigel Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Faber, David Shepherd, Richard
Fabricant, Michael Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Fallon, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Flight, Howard Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Forsythe, Clifford Spring, Richard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Fox, Dr Liam Steen, Anthony
Fraser, Christopher Streeter, Gary
Gale, Roger Swayne, Desmond
Garnier, Edward Syms, Robert
Gibb, Nick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Gill, Christopher Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Taylor, Sir Teddy
Gray, James Townend, John
Green, Damian Trend, Michael
Greenway, John Tyrie, Andrew
Grieve, Dominic Viggers, Peter
Hague, Rt Hon William Walter, Robert
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Wardle, Charles
Hammond, Philip Waterson, Nigel
Hawkins, Nick Wells, Bowen
Hayes, John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Whittingdale, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Wilkinson, John
Hunter, Andrew Willetts, David
Jenkin, Bernard Wilshire, David
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun
Key, Robert Yeo, Tim
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward Tellers for the Noes:
Letwin, Oliver Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) and
Lidington, David Mrs. Jacqui Lait.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have before made a point of order about the hurdles facing hon. Members who are working in their offices in Norman Shaw North. If the traffic lights are against them when they are crossing the top end of Bridge street to enter the parliamentary estate to try to vote in a Division, they are held up probably by a minute and a half, which is critical during a Division. I have just missed a Division for that reason. I hope that, as this is the second time that I have raised this issue, the authorities will take it into consideration for the convenience of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I reply to the hon. Lady? The hon. Gentleman cannot make a further point of order until I have done so. This business is time limited, so points of order are taking up time that is allotted to hon. Members who may want to debate the business. However, to answer the hon. Lady, I recall her raising this matter before, and I hope that the House authorities will take note of her remarks because this is not a matter for the Chair.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for taking up any of the time that is allotted for the business, but postponing points of order until after the Division means that the Chair has no way of correcting problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who was locked out of the Lobby at the last moment, as everyone saw, might have been allowed to enter the Lobby to vote. The Chair has, on occasion, allowed late-comers to enter the Lobby, but that facility is useless if one cannot make a point of order until the vote is over. I do not ask you to make a ruling now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I should hate a hasty decision to stand for ever, but will you discuss the matter with Madam Speaker and bear it in mind?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I note the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may raise a point of order if it relates to this matter. I made the point that we are taking up time allotted for this business, and I have given an adequate reply.

Mr. Winterton

I have an agreeable and close relationship with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who raised the original point of order. It is a matter about which I, too, am concerned. During Divisions, could the traffic lights be manned by a member of the Metropolitan police, particularly when there are so many tourists in London, to ensure that Members of Parliament can gain ready and speedy access to the precincts of the House of Commons?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Lords amendments Nos. 36 to 279 agreed to.

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