HL Deb 30 October 1975 vol 365 cc636-47

Schedule 5, page 44, line 7, leave out from ("by") to ("that") and insert ("employee representatives").

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment but proposed the following Amendment in lieu:

Page 44, line 7, after ("by") insert ("the authorised representative of").


My Lords, I wonder whether I might suggest for the convenience of the House that I take Amendments Nos. 17 to 23 and Amendments Nos. 24, 25, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, 52 and 54 together for the Commons' Reason numbered 24. It might be noted that the Commons have moved Amendments in lieu of Amendments Nos. 26, 27, 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55. All these Amendments cover the one area of discussion.

The simple point which is at issue in all these Amendments we have debated on several occasions. I think we debated it more extensively than any other issue in the Bill. As it is two or three months since we went over it, may I just say what is involved. It reflects the existing reality of industrial relations in almost every large company. The very large proportion of workers in such companies are, by their choice, represented by trade unions. This idea is strongly based and it is an idea which I hope we shall not seek to suppress. I am certain this is a matter which will continue to be discussed both inside and outside Parliament, and I shall follow the discussions myself with great interest.

It ought to be realised that the consequence of the Amendment which we are seeking to change would be the exclusion of trade union representatives. It is unfortunate that noble Lords opposite wish to define the persons to whom consultation should be afforded simply as employee representatives. I pointed out on Third Reading that that would rule out the possibility of a professional union representative. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said today, and on a previous occasion, that we do not want to have rigidity in our approach to industrial relations. Throughout these Amendments, noble Lords were enforcing a rigidity which I do not think is intended. On occasions, it will be the case that the representative to whom the employer will extend consultation will be an employee, but on occasions it will be a professional trade union representative. I am sure it is right that this should be so. I am sure that we should have this degree of flexibility. It is a simple issue that is involved and I hope that on reflection noble Lords will accept the Motion I am moving.

May I say briefly that the Commons Amendments in lieu of our Amendments 25 onwards, which we are also discussing, restore to the Bill with very few minor drafting changes the clariticatory Amendments which we made to the Bill at Committee stage, and which this House subsequently deleted as part of the sweeping changes made at Report stage when it decided in favour of "all employees". With trivial exceptions, therefore, the words "in lieu" are words already approved by this House. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendments Nos. 17 to 54 en bloc to which the Commons have disagreed, and that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 24 to 55 in lieu thereof en bloc.—(Lord Beswiick.)

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be very convenient for your Lordships' House to consider this large number of items together. We on this Bench regret that the Government should have found it necessary to revert to what we believe is a more restrictive version. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, spoke about rigidity and I think there is an argument between us as to which is the more rigid version which would be in the Bill. The version which the Government are again commending to us is that there should be representatives taking part in the disclosure of information system who would be trade unionists, and that the representatives would be restricted to trade unionists. They would be the only people who could receive information to be disclosed for the purposes of this Bill, in a system where compulsion is being introduced to disclose certain information.

The Government's version takes no account of the large number of people working in industry who are not members of trade unions. The Amendment which your Lordships' House proposed—that is to say, that there should be employee representatives rather than trade union representatives—did not exclude trade unionists. It provided for representatives of employees, whether or not they were trade unionists. As the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, indicated, our Amendment excluded people who were not employees of the manufacturing company concerned. The noble Lord objected to the fact that a full-time trade union official who was not employed by the company could not be a representative for the purposes of this Bill, but I must explain that there is a very good reason for that where this Bill is concerned.

I would remind your Lordships that disclosure of information in this Bill is for special purposes set out in Clause 22, to form or to further national economic policies, or needed for consultations …on the outlook for a particular sector of manufacturing industry …". There are other provisions elsewhere, not in this Bill, on the general flow of information within companies for collective bargaining and other purposes, notably in the Employment Protection Bill which is still under consideration in Parliament.

In this Bill we are not dealing with the general provision of information to trade unions for collective bargaining; we are dealing with the limited purposes which I have just quoted from the Bill. There is a good reason why it is not appropriate in this Bill for a full-time trade union representative, who is not an employee of the company, to be one of the special representatives. Where the Industry Bill is concerned, if a full-time trade union representative who is not an employee of the company were engaged, the following situation could arise.

Under the compulsory disclosure system, that official would learn the plans of one company which was in competition with another in which he also had union members. He could conclude that the plans of one company were going to damage the interests of the other—perhaps cause redundancies. Will the noble Lord the Minister take this opportunity of telling us where the union official's first allegiance should lie? He has had access to the plans of two or more companies in the same field. He is a man of great personal integrity. If that information is to be used by him in furthering what he sees to be the best interests of all the trade unionists concerned, should he be supporting the plans of the company employing the largest number of members of the union? If so, it would mean that the first company, which might be a small one, would suffer. Will the Government tell us the answer to this question?

There is no reflection on the official of a trade union who is placed in this difficult position. The plans of a company to be disclosed compulsorily under this Bill are a matter for the employees of that company. Indeed, their interests could be endangered if the company was in competition with a much larger company. The interests of the greater number of union members in the larger company may be thought by a full-time union official to be his legitimate top priority. We have had no reply from the Government on this point. There was a reason as it was put very fully in another place, but the guillotine fell at midnight before the Minister even had time to start his reply. There is this last opportunity for the Minister to explain, if he can, how this union official is to operate in those circumstances, and whether the employees of the first small company will find their interests suffer, because, legitimately, the full-time official trade union representative feels that the interests which he has to defend are those of the larger number of members of his union. I am not suggesting to my noble friends that we should insist upon our own Amendment, but I think that the debate on this whole series of Amendments gives the Minister an opportunity to explain that point, which is his main objection to the original version and which raises difficulties under this Bill.


My Lords, I do not think it is fair of the Opposition to ask a question which they know is incapable of being answered. Every case will depend on its merits. You will have to take into consideration whether a small firm supplies goods to a large firm where thousands might be thrown out of work if the small firm closed down. You will have to consider whether or not one firm is getting grants for certain purposes; and a host of other matters will have to be considered. When I was in the trade union movement we had Neddies working from the top. The top body had to solve many problems of this kind, and it got its little Neddies to do that.

They are all composed of trade unionists because there could not possibly be an organisation throughout the country with an apex but with no communications going down to the bottom. The very men the Opposition are talking about at the present time have to convey the opinions of Neddy—and that is not only trade union opinions, but those of the employers and Government as well as the trade unions—and the only line of communication from the top to the bottom is the trade union movement. If that is the situation when dealing with matters of that particular character, how can that situation be avoided when you are dealing with information? It is only on the information one gets from the companies that decisions are made anywhere—the bottom, the middle or the top.

I do not want to spend a long time on this and make a Second Reading speech, but the argument is clear: the only means of communication to the bottom from the top, so far as Government machinery is concerned, is through the trade union movement. The full-time trade union officials have been a tower of strength in dealing with the difficulties which have confronted the country in the past decade in respect of getting productivity where problems have arisen because of modern conditions. I think that is a full and sufficient answer to the Opposition as to the duties and responsibilities of the full-time officials of the trade unions.


My Lords, what disturbs my noble friends on these Benches about the Government's proposal is that the information to be disclosed is necessarily of a highly confidential nature. The unauthorised disclosure of that information may do untold harm to the company concerned, and therefore it is likely to be less dangerous that such information should be disclosed to someone who is an employee of the company and has a primary loyalty to the company, rather than to somebody who may not be employed by the company at all. There is no intention whatever of cutting out the disclosure of information to trade unionists. It is anticipated under the definition clause, which was included, that employee representatives would, in almost every case, be trade unionists. I would not want to take the matter any further, other than to ask the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, whether he would agree that there is a potential danger here and, therefore, the development of the system of disclosure of confidential information outlined in the Government's proposals ought to be scrutinised with the greatest care when they begin to take effect.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, seemed on the surface to make out a logical and eloquent case on the interpretation he wants to put on this legislation. I am wondering whether he has overlooked another factor; that is, whether his proposal would do more harm than good. He wishes the employer to disclose this information—which may be of a very confidential nature—to a member of his own staff and not to an outside full-time trade union official. Let us see how that will operate. Imagine that I am an employee of the noble Lord. He regards me as one of the employees' representatives and discloses some information to me. I, being a man of honour —and let us say I am a man of honour for the purposes of the argument—regard that information as given to me in confidence. But perhaps I am not a man of honour. What do I do? I run away to the full-time district trade union official (who is not bound by that pledge of confidence which is more or less being forced upon me) and that full time trade union official has every right to use the open information which has been given to him by his members when he is arguing with a rival firm. The theory of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, as to how this might work out may do more harm than good and cause considerable mischief.


My Lords, may I ask one question? I am not sure whether we are discussing Amendment No. 27 at the same time as these other Amendments, because this is a new clause and defines what "authorised representative" means and what "representative" means. On two occasions the word "representative" is used unqualified by the word "authorised representative". The Amendment says: representative' means an official or other person who is authorised by a relevant trade union to carry on negotiations about one or more of the matters specified in section 29(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974. I wonder whether this is too general. Am I not right in thinking that there is obviously not only one person who would fall within that category regarding each trade union? I hope I am right in thinking that. There may easily be a local trade union representative and a person, or one or more persons within the company, who are authorised to negotiate. I may be wrong; there may be only one person authorised. In that case, the word "a" ought to be "the" if this is the general rule. It is an important question in its effect, because as the Bill stands the employer is given a choice as to whom he passes this information. It says "a", which means he has a choice; it does not say "the". Obviously, this choice will he exercised in consultation with the trade union, but at what level I know not.

My information is that different employers take different views on this matter. I came into this issue because I thought it desirable to make certain that there was representation in every firm concerned; yet it seems that in some cases there maybe no representation at all and everyone employed should be covered by some representative. This is obviously not going to be so now except in a totally closed shop with no conscience at all—I beg your pardon, no religious beliefs at all. I hope I may be forgiven for that levity; I put it in an extreme form.

This matter is important, because I foresee the possibility of difficulty in the employee nominating the particular trade union. It may be there are rivalries within the trade union. There will be difficulties involved. If the wrong person is nominated, there will be trouble. I do not know whether the noble Lord can answer that point; it is one which has been worrrying me all along.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I will endeavour to answer some of the questions which have been put to me. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that we are dealing with Amendment No. 27. Regarding highly confidential information which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, thinks it would be a mistake to give to a trade union representative or official, we are in danger of creating divisions between us which are not really there. There is a good deal of unnecessary apprehension here. If the information is highly confidential, the Minister will not require it to be given to a trade union official or anyone else. There are ample safeguards in the Bill to cover that point. I suggest that, the noble Lord having conjured up that "bogey", he wipes it out straight away because we cover that in the safeguards in the Bill. Supposing the information was not as highly confidential as that but could, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, probably be damaging to one company if it was given by the trade union official to another company. He asked me what were the safeguards against that happening.

Let us be sensible about this. Men in a works who employ—and that is, in effect, what happens—a representative to act for them will expect him to act for them only if he is reliable. I would go so far as to say that all trade union officials of this kind are reliable people. They would certainly not tolerate for one moment having a man speak on their behalf if they thought he was going to go down the road and disclose sensitive information to a competitor and thereby damage their job prospects. Of course, they would watch their own interests in this case.


My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I am grateful to him, but that was not the point. It was not that the full-time trade union official who was not an employee would disclose the information. It was that if he had this information about one small company's plans, and he also knew the plans of a much larger company and thought that the plans of the first company would damage the second, then in his further work as a trade unionist—it is not a question of disclosure—where does his allegiance lie? Does it lie with the large number of members of his own union? It is not a matter of his disclosing. Of course he would not. I said that he was a man of integrity and would not disclose the information. But, having the information, which is for the purposes of furthering the interests of the people working in the companies, to which one does he give priority?


My Lords, it is not a question of giving priority. It is not a question of conflict, any more than there is a conflict of interest, necessarily, if a lawyer acts on behalf of more than one client. I am asked where allegiance lies. It will lie with the people whom he represents for that particular purpose. If there is a clear conflict of interests, then this will be known to the men whom he represents and they will obviously make their own dispositions. Although I can see that theoretically the situation might arise, I feel the noble Lord is imagining a problem which in practice would not arise.

Here again, one criticism made is not that information would be given where the employer does not wish to give it; but I was also criticised because the provisions of the Bill require information to be given to particular types of people, or to the trade union representative. There is nothing in the Bill which would prevent other sections of persons employed in a company from being given information as well. I hope that this answers what the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, says. There is absolutely no inhibition upon a firm to give information to two or three different individuals if they think it will assist the good working of their companies. There is no restriction here. We are only saying that a person who represents a body of people shall have such information as is deemed not to be highly sensitive. That does not mean to say that it is exclusively given to him; it may be given to others. I thought I made it quite clear in other debates that we shall have cases where there are works councils, maybe. I personally know examples where not all the members of works councils are members of trade unions. If the employer wishes to give them the knowledge and plans ahead, he is perfectly entitled so to do and there is nothing in this Bill which even tries to stop him.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might interrupt. I do not think I can have explained the point quite clearly enough. The point is: is there more than one person who answers the description of "a representative of each relevant trade union", on page 20, line 26? That is the person to whom the employer, the manufacturer, is obliged to give notice within 14 days of the date on which the notice is served. Is there more than one, or has the employer a choice? This is the point I was asking. Has the employer a choice between several people all of whom are authorised by a relevant trade union to carry on negotiations about one of the matters specified?


My Lords, I should not like to be dogmatic about this, but how it would work in practice is that the employees in a company, being members of a trade union, appoint, elect or select a shop steward or whoever it may be; or there may be an outside official who speaks for them. He is their authorised representative and is so nominated, and he will be the person who in a particular case would receive the information. The noble Lord may have in mind the fact that in any company there will beneed to give information to more than one person: there will be more than one relevant trade union in many situations and there will therefore be more than one individual to whom information is given. But to any one trade union there must be one authorised representative. That is what the Bill says. We are not going to have a list of authorised representatives from which the employer will say: "I should like so and so, but I do not like B and C." This would be quite wrong. The person to whom he gives information is the person appointed, selected or in some way nominated by the men themselves as the authorised representative.

I wished to comment to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, about the point he made dealing with very limited matters as against wages and conditions of employment. I beg of him again—and I remember I raised this point with him during earlier stages of the Bill—not to minimise the area of consultation we envisage here. These are very wide and very important matters—national policy, sectorial policy. These are matters on which the men will wish to have the very best possible advice from their side and are precisely the matters on which they will wish to turn to their professional trade union advisers.


My Lords, with leave of the House, may I put a question on this point which seems to me extremely valid? We are dealing here with negotiations in which this information is needed. They are carried on in every industry and in every trade union by the branch official working inside the particular works in the first instance. When the negotiations break down the next step is to bring in the full-time official. Is the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, suggesting that when the negotiations are held with the local officials and the management certain information shall be available, but when the negotiations have broken down and the full-time official is brought in to solve the problem, which was not solu-able by the local branch officials, information which was available in the elementary stages of negotiation shall be withheld in the secondary stage of negotiation?


My Lords, I think I had better advise the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that he is being asked to breach the Standing Orders of the House. I was able to speak by—


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Douglass, himself was breaching the Orders of the House.


My Lords, I thought I would deal with the matter more effectively this way rather than directly. As the mover of the Motion I am, by leave of the House, able to speak a second time but it is not possible under the Standing Orders for other noble Lords to speak twice. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend, whose attention I did not call to the Standing Orders, will not insist on noble Lords opposite breaking the Rule.

On Question, Motion agreed to.