HL Deb 11 March 1975 vol 358 cc147-57

3.1 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Shepherd)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Earl of Listowel in the Chair.]

Clause 2 [Amendments of the principal Act]:

The Earl of MANSFIELD had given Notice of his intention to move Amend-ment No. 11: Page 3, line 4, at end insert (" and after the word " whatsoever " there shall be inserted the words "or the dismissal is by the publisher of a newspaper or newspaper proprietor or broadcasting organisation and is of a person employed by a newspaper, newspaper proprietor or broadcasting organisation for the purposes of writing or editing any part of the text, drawing any picture or taking or assisting in the taking of any photograph for any newspaper or periodical, or preparing the text of or broadcasting any wireless or television programme that is designed to inform the public as to the news or any comment on the news or on current or political affairs," ")

The noble Lord said: It is my intention to seek your Lordships' leave not to move this Amendment at this moment. There are other interesting Amendments down on the Marshalled List. On behalf of my noble friends on this side of the House, I reserve the right to come back to the matter if things do not turn out as I anticipate that they will. I beg leave not to move the Amendment.

Lord GOODMAN had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 11A:

Page 3, line 9, at end insert— (" ( ) After section 29(7) of the principal Act (meaning of trade dispute) there shall be inserted the following subsection— (8) Notwithstanding anything contained in this section a dispute over the publication or non-publication of an article (whether for reward or otherwise) shall not be a trade dispute." ").

The noble Lord said: I think it would be convenient if I could present these Amendments with the later Amendments. It would save repeating a number of arguments. With the leave of the House, I should like to do that.


I wonder whether the noble Lord could speak more loudly. I suspect, from the pained expression of the Lord Chairman, that nobody at this end of the Chamber has heard the remarks of the noble Lord.


A famous remark was made in the other House by some-body who, when interrupted in similar circumstances, said that he did not think anybody was listening! However, I am sure that that does not apply here.


This is an important debate, and I know that the noble Lord has an important speech to make. Unfortunately, some of the microphones are not working and I suspect that the noble Lord may be standing underneath one of them. The size and the acoustics of your Lordships' House will put a great strain upon the noble Lord. May I therefore suggest that, while still remaining on the Cross-Benches, the noble Lord should seek to move his position in order to be under a microphone.


If the noble Lord remains as helpful as that for the whole of the debate, we shall have a very short debate! I was asking the indulgence of the Committee by suggesting that it would save time if I could move these Amendments with the other Amendments which are down in my name. It has been suggested that I might deal with them all now. Would that be appropriate?


If the noble Lord is considering moving his Amendment to the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, I do not think that this would be possible. I cannot see how it is possible to move an amending Amendment to an Amendment which has not been moved. In the circum-stances, since this may turn into a general debate, I am wondering whether the noble Lord might consider not moving these Amendments. Then we should have a debate on the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. Then the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, could follow immediately and we could have a general debate. I think we are in the difficulty that if the noble Lord wishes to speak to the Amendments it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we did it in an orderly way and tied it to the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton.


I hope I may be for-given for being pedantic, but we have not had the Question, That Clause 1 stand part. We are starting off on the wrong foot until we have it.


Is the noble Lord the Leader of the House aware that copies of these Amendments are not available in the Vote Office?


I apologise if my noble friend has not got the Amendments. Efforts were made this morning to make available to the House a new Marshalled List. However, the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and the major Amendments of the noble Lord. Lord Goodman, were on the Marshalled List that was made available to the House yesterday. Therefore, I think that your Lordships' House will be aware of what both noble Lords are proposing. I think that we ought to get into order. Therefore I hope that the clause can be put and that we can then move to Clause 2.


It was put last night.


Then the noble and learned Lord is also wrong!


I apologise. I am afraid that I was misinformed.


It would probably be to the convenience of the Committee if I did not move the Amendments at this stage and attributed the remarks that I wish to make to the main Amend-ment—the Amendment to the Amend-ment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. With leave, I will not move the Amendment.

3.9 p.m.

Lord LYELL moved manuscript Amendment No. 12A:

Page 3, line 9, at end insert— (" ( ) In section 30(1) of the principal Act (interpretation) in the definition of "union membership agreement", after paragraph (c) there shall be inserted the following words— and (d) shall not include within its provisions employees of a particular class who are in membership of an independent trade union unless they consent to such inclusion by a two-thirds majority in a secret ballot."").

The noble Lord said: May I first apologise to the Committee for the lack of printing facilities. I am sure that the Committee is aware that my own Amendment is not the sole Amendment to be afflicted by this problem. The Amendment is in the nature of a probing Amendment. It seeks the same kind of protection for all kinds of employees working in an organisation who already belong to an existing association or union. Such employees may well feel that their interest and their particular skills or profession are not adequately represented by another larger union. While the employer may feel that such a minority of employees within the organisation can be, and is, represented to his or their satisfaction by a large union with whom he has an existing agreement, nevertheless this particular class of employee may not share the opinion of the employer.

This Amendment seeks to allow such employees to exercise their choice as to which union will represent them in any negotiations with the employer or, in-deed, with other unions in the organisation. I am advised that the particular class of employee would be a group of employees who carry out an easily identifiable and recognisable function within any organisation. For example, we find specialist professional engineers; we find lawyers; we find accountants belonging to six or seven professional bodies which cover that profession. Also we find surgeons who, I am told, are already being solicited by the Technical Division of the Hospital Employees' Union. I submit that in the case of these latter employees the situation is verging upon lunacy, because here we have a body of professional and highly qualified men or women who perform one or more specialised, skilled functions. This group of professional employees may be a small minority, but they merit the same consideration as any other employees within an organisation.

I hope the Government will consider that they have a right—or, at least, should be allowed a right, if it is decided that they do not already have it— to decide who shall represent them in any dealings with their employer. I believe that the most satisfactory method of discovering the wishes of such employees would be by a secret ballot. This is in the nature of a probing Amendment and seeks to ask the Government to protect this or any other class of employee from involuntary incorporation into a union which they consider does not give them adequate protection, or does not adequately represent their interests. I beg to move.


I think the Commit-tee will appreciate that we have had very short notice of this Amendment. Further-more, we have had considerable difficulty in determining what it means. However, after hearing the noble Lord I feel that its intended effect is that employees, who at the time when a closed shop agreement is made are members of a union which is not specified for the purposes of the closed shop agreement, should not be covered by the agreement and hence should not be compelled to change unions or to join another union, unless two-thirds of the employees agree that they should do so. Is that the position?


Yes, that is so.

Several Noble Lords



I heard what was said, but I must resist this Amendment. I do so because I think it is unnecessary and may even lessen the chances of adequate safeguards being agreed for members of minority unions; not because I do not think that transitional arrangements should be made for employees who are not members of closed shop unions when a closed shop is established. The Amendment relates to the union membership agreement which the Government have defined in Clause 2(3) and (4) of the Bill. It is provided that those negotiating closed shop agreements shall do so with all the flexibility needed to make special transitional arrangements. One of the reasons which encouraged us to make these amendments was a legal doubt as to whether current members of a non-closed shop union could be excluded from the identifiable class by reason of their union membership, without invalidating the agreement. We know that, in practice, those in industry frequently make arrangements of that kind. We do not want the law to prevent their doing so and we are confident that it is not now doing so.

The parties to a closed shop agreement can therefore make transitional arrangements for members of a minority union, even if such unions are not recognised as specified unions for the purpose of the areement as Clause 2(3) makes plain that they may be. I have no doubt that the parties will in practice do so. It is not in an employer's interest to run the risk of having to dismiss some of his employees, particularly scarce professional and managerial staff, because he has agreed to a closed shop which requires them to join a different union. No sane employer would agree to that kind of closed shop arrangement.

I do not think that we need to spell out in a Statute the measures designed to achieve an effect which all sane employers and unions would, in any case, want to achieve. Moreover, there are risks in our doing so. If members of minority unions think they are protected by this kind of statutory provision, which could result in their being eligible for compensation if dismissed for not forming a closed shop union, are they not less likely to seek to negotiate with their employer and to seek more lasting safe-guards for themselves and their union? They all have to negotiate for recognition of their union, for the purposes of a closed shop agreement, as the right union to represent some employees who accept that people in their grades should not, irrespective of their present union mem-bership, come within a closed shop agreement. We do not think that it is realistic or desirable to impose restrictions or dis-incentives in regard to negotiations about closed shop agreements. We are con-vinced that the end results of doing so would be less satisfactory for all con-cerned, including the individuals or minorities which this House is rightly anxious to protect.

I should add that there are certain drafting difficulties about this Amendment. For example, the words "of a particular class" do not appear to add to the meaning, and may cause confusion when compared with the idea of the employees of an identifiable class being covered by a closed shop. Nor is it clear why employees who are members of a specified union for the purposes of a closed shop need to be balloted about the establishment of a closed shop. I suspect that we might also need to say a little more about balloting arrangements and about who is to be balloted. But such drafting difficulties are not the reason why I must resist this Amendment.


I should like to thank the noble Lord for his reply, but I must say that it is not totally satisfactory. I admit that there have been difficulties in drafting, and I would seek to apologise to the noble Lord and to the Committee for the short notice which I have given. With regard to the last remarks of the noble Lord, it seems quite clear to me that the balloting procedure to which I was referring should take place within a minority union or association which feels endangered by a larger union, or by both unions within the closed shop. Given that slight point of drafting. I would seek leave to withdraw the Amendment, but I might like to raise it again on Report.


This matter is very important and I must confess that the elucidation given by my noble friend is not as clear as it might have been. I wonder whether it is possible for the Government to think again about this Amendment. I should like, in particular, to ask how it is possible to protect, for example, members of an engineering union. The professional engineers may not be required to join the ordinary union which covers the rest of the factory. This matter has been raised earlier and I cannot recall how it was settled. It is a matter of great importance which needs further study and I do not think, with the short notice we have had, that we can comment on it in detail at this stage. It is far more important and complicated than the reply which the Government have given would seem to indicate.


I am particularly interested in the professional engineers, and I very much regret that I have not had an oppor-tunity of talking to the noble Lord who moved the manuscript Amendment. I do not think it would be very useful if I were to go into all the problems faced by the professional engineers some time ago in my part of the world, but I have heard from them because, rightly or wrongly, they considered that I once did them a service and felt that it would be in their interests if some real advocacy to protect their interests as a small association of professional engineers were included in the Bill. I am sure your Lordships will realise that I am not technically equipped to speak on industrial matters of this kind, except that I represented a highly industrial area in another place for very many years and have acquired a great many friends, irrespective of whether they voted for my Party or for the Opposition Parties. At any rate, I received a very happily worded request from the professional engineers, who feel that they want a specific undertaking.

When I raised the matter briefly last night, I did not then go into detail because there are so many aspects which I am not qualified to deal with. But I know from my past contacts with the professional engineers—and I am sure that there are other small bodies of people who are equally concerned, but about whom I could not speak—that this Amendment is absolutely essential for the protection of small trade unions. The professional engineers have a proper trade union of their own and they wish to support trade unionism in its fullest sense. But it must be obvious to noble Lords that in indus-trial life today, as indeed it was in the past, there are always sections which do not fit into the overall plan. I think that must be accepted. Last night the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, kindly suggested that I ought to listen—as indeed I have done —to what is said today, but I am not at all happy about the position and I was very pleased when the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, suggested that the Amendment ought to be looked at again.

I shall be grateful if that can be done, because I do not quite see what I can do to protect the interests of the professional engineers if my noble friend with-draws the Amendment. As noble Lords know, I am not experienced in this House—indeed, I have been in it for only a week—so I do not know what I personally can do, but as there are other noble Lords who think that these people, who are genuine and professional members of trade unions, are not satisfactorily covered, are we to understand from the answer given by the noble Lord that there will be adequate and proper protection, and that what these people want will not depend on the decisions of the larger unions? I do not believe in large numbers of people overruling small bodies of people whose interests though not separate in the trade union sense, include a special interest of their own.

If the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, cannot produce an Amendment to cover the professional engineers, I shall be grateful if he will agree to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, that we should have another occasion—perhaps at Report stage, if we have one —when we can ensure that the professional engineers and others in similar circumstances are adequately and properly protected. I am sorry not to be able to go into more technical details, but I am doing the best I can for people for whose operations in the industrial world I have a great regard. I know that those operations are very necessary to industry and we want the maximum co-operation in all parts of the world, between industrialists of all kinds. There-fore, I want to know that we shall be able to protect their interests at a later stage, if that is the way in which the matter must be dealt with.

Baroness SEEAR

We on these Benches are also extremely interested in this issue, and are most anxious that the small independent unions should receive adequate protection. In the reply given by the Minister, I thought I detected that the Government had in mind some way in which this protection could be adequately ensured. As we have seen the manuscript Amendment only in the last few minutes, may we ask that there should be some consultation on this matter before Report stage so that we may be assured that this extremely important matter is being adequately taken care of?


I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, will resist this Amendment. It was indicated that it would be with-drawn, but this discussion illustrates the difficulty into which this House gets when it strays from the legislative arrangements and gets down to particular cases. This is special pleading for a small organisa- tion. In practice, the matter is settled either by the trade union side with the joint body concerned, or jointly between the trade union side and the employers. The noble Baroness, Lady Ward of North Tyneside, said that she wants to protect the small unions against the big unions, but is this Committee going as far as that? Will it impose upon the trade union movement certain exceptions to their own voluntary arrangements? This leads into all sorts of difficulties, particularly fragmentation and the encouragement of breakaway unions. Therefore, I hope that the Amendment will be resisted.


May I ask noble Lords to hold their horses for just a minute? There are serious drafting difficulties in connection with the Amendment which is before the Committee, and the mover has said that he is willing at this stage to withdraw it. This subject will be fully ventilated when we deal with Amendment No. 13, which is next on the Marshalled List. After noble Lords have heard the debate on that Amendment, they will be free to fire questions at me or to table Amendments for the Report stage, and I suggest that that is the better procedure.


With the leave of the Committee, may I correct the noble Lord? As I understand the position, my manuscript Amendment is not covered by Amendment No. 13, and that is the reason why I did not seek to amalgamate my Amendment with Amendment No. 13. I am grateful for the support that this Amendment has generated from the various Benches of the Committee, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw it and I shall seek to have further discussions and to raise the matter at Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (The Earl of Listowel)

Before I call Amendment No. 13,I will read paragraph 3 at the top of page 3 on the Marshalled List, as one whole line is missing from the Xeroxed copy.

Paragraph 3 reads : '" The Secretary of State may make regulations governing the procedure to be followed on a reference to him under this Schedule and such regulations may contain such supplementary and consequential provisions as appear to him to be necessary or expedient.

3.30 p.m.

The Earl of MANSFIELD moved Amendment No. 13 :

Page 3, line 9, at end insert— ( ) After Schedule 4 to the principal Act there shall be inserted the following Schedule—

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