HL Deb 16 November 1976 vol 377 cc1130-6

10 Clause 2, page 5, line 11, after "form" insert "in which all employees have the right to participate.".

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

11 Because it is undesirable further to qualify the concept of industrial democracy the Deputy Speaker having cast his vote to retain the Bill in the form in which it left the Commons.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 10, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 11. This Amendment assigns rights in industrial democracy to all employees with no effective means of exercising them. This approach is contrary to our general policy on proper employee representation. I have made it clear repeatedly in your Lordships' House that the Government regard independent and recognised unions as the organisations best suited to represent the interests of all employees. It is for this reason that we expect them to play a special part in consultations and the development of industrial democracy. We believe that we should build on their strength. Of course I have also repeatedly made clear that all employees have the right to participate in consultations and in industrial democracy, but the Government believe that the trade union movement provides a means of participation, whereas this Amendment confers rights but without any practical means of exercising them. I hope that for those reasons noble Lords will not insist on their Amendment.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on the said Amendment, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 11.℄(Lord Melchett.)


My Lords, I noted with interest that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said that he repeatedly expressed the view that all employees have a right℄and I think he used the word "right"℄to participate in consultation. But, of course, under this Bill they do not have a right to participate in consultation. That is exactly what we are complaining about. I only wonder whether the Government know what they are doing. As I said, the noble Lord specifically said just now that employees have a right to participate in consultation, not in collective bargaining℄we always draw this distinction. The fact remains that, as the Government wish to see it passed, the Bill specifically excludes a large number of employees from this right. We are told that they may enjoy it as a favour. In other words, by taking the line they have taken the Government are doing exactly what I said the other day; that is, deliberately creating within industry first-and second-class citizens.

This is a Statute quite deliberately setting up social apartheid in industry. I repeat that all of us, or at least many of us, understand the difficulty about collective bargaining. We are not in any way attempting to force rights of collective bargaining on everybody because, whatever might be the theory of it, that would result in chaos in industry. In trying to widen industrial democracy, we are limiting our approach entirely to the question of consultation. I am afraid that a lot of talk which comes from the Government of the desire to promote industrial democracy is nothing but cant. It has no meaning of any kind.

What I, and I am sure many noble Lords, find distressing is that the Labour Party and the trade unions for generations have been among those foremost in this country in the fight for universal political suffrage, for extending our political democracy. We now have a situation where every man and woman over the age of 18 has a vote, yet when the Government come to promote industrial democracy they are deliberately putting on the Statute Book a form of selective limited suffrage. The only people who are to have suffrage are those approved of by certain dukes of the trade union movement. They are no longer the rotten boroughs of the Dukes of Omnium; we are having in industry the rotten boroughs of the dukes of the TUC. I do not believe that that is what the TUC set out to achieve or what the vast majority of trade union members want, and I trust that before long there will be a Conservative Government who can introduce proper industrial democracy into this country.


My Lords, I wish briefly from these Benches to support the general principle enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, in saying that it is the extension of a statutory right in this matter to develop a trade union which we deplore and the absence of that right in the case of other employees.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I plead with the Government not to build into new legislation a further division in our industrial base. There are already too many divisions; there are too many trade unions, there is a division between management and men, between white collar and blue collar workers and between salaried staff and wage earners. One cannot help but feel that our problems, both in terms of growth and productivity, would be solved more quickly if these divisions did not exist. The Government are taking a retrograde step, particularly by incorporating aerospace, in which two-thirds of the people are not in organised unions℄recognised by the dukes of the trade unions, as my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley put it℄and in this contest I would refer the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, to the October 1974 Manifesto which clearly did not say that there should be a division. It said specifically under the heading, "Industrial Relations": … to develop joint control and action by management and workers across the whole range of industry". That is what we are seeking; that is, that all workers should have the right to be consulted and to participate.


My Lords, before we leave this point I appeal for a commonsense approach to this problem. It is impossible for the industrial leaders of the shipbuilding industry, whether nationalised or private, to have the sort of relations of confidence with the workers which are essential for successful industry nowadays if there are something like 46 trade unions engaged in the industry. I hope that when the shipbuilding industry is nationalised the Government will make it their business to do what the Germans, Swedes and other successful shipbuilders have done and form a single trade union for the shipbuilding industry. It would then be possible for management to co-operate in a really productive way. I am absolutely convinced that that must be done and while this may not be relevant to our discussion, I want to leave that thought in your Lordships' minds.


My Lords, I should have thought that this was one Amendment which your Lordships would have insisted on retaining in the Bill. If we want industrial democracy℄I am not quite certain what is meant by that; all sorts of definitions are given of what it is supposed to mean but I define it in the most generous way℄we must have co-operation with all the workers. If somebody has to be consulted on what we call the workers' side, then all workers should be eligible to be consulted. We know that in practical terms there are many workers who would have a contribution to make but who cannot be consulted and who will not be consulted if the Amendment which we sent to the other place is removed.

This is just another way of whipping everybody into trade unions. As a general proposition, trade unions are good and play a great part and should be supported, but if we get to the stage when people are conscripted into unions then we shall have reached the point when the effectiveness of trade unions will have been weakened, and it is to avoid that weakening that in my view the Amendment should be retained. However, it does not look as though it will be, although the arguments for it are strong. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is having to contradict what he truly believes because he said that everybody should have a right, yet he is here sponsoring part of a Bill which removes that right from many people who should have it.


My Lords, I agree that we should like to see a smaller number of trade unions in most industries and indeed the TUC is doing a great job of work now in trying to concentrate the number. However, as noble Lords opposite know as well as I do, we suffer from the fact that we pioneered the whole basis of trade unionism; others can take advantage of the fact that we failed in some respects. But there are now far and away less trade unions in existence than there were a few years ago. In the days when I negotiated in engineering we had 38 unions in that industry. That number has been concertinaed to a great degree.

As for the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, raised, the House cannot have it both ways. A great number of employers who negotiate with their trade unions do so in the hope and belief that those negotiations will result in agreements which will be honoured. I used to negotiate for 30,000 people and never asked for a closed shop, although I had a 90 per cent. membership; but had there been a large number of non-unionists, I should have failed to honour the agreements which I made. If one says that people who are not organised within our trade union movement shall have some right to negotiate, one must face what that means in terms of the agreements which we make with employers and which we desire ardently to honour. No man negotiating for a trade union can hope to get agreement with people over whom he has no control in accepting the agreement he has made. While it may sound theoretically very nice to say that we must have 100 per cent. of employees able to discuss℄for my part I do not refute that℄when it comes to the "nitty-gritty" of agreements being made and ardently wanting to be honoured by my side, I cannot guarantee that unless they are members of my trade union.


My Lords, we have been over this ground at considerable length during many days and nights and I do not want to prolong the debate at this stage. I particularly do not want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, in using rather harsh words and thereby disrupt the calm waters through which the Bill has always sailed in this House. However, I will reiterate a point I have made on many occasions; that is, that the Government are committed to industrial democracy. We are committed to effective industrial democracy and I have drawn attention repeatedly to the experience of other countries where, if industrial democracy and consultation of this sort has not been organised through recognised and independent trade unions, it has simply not been effective in practice. We are dealing with very highly organised and powerful groups and we are talking about the management and structures of companies. I have repeatedly said that if we want industrial democracy and consultation of this sort to be effective, we believe that it must be based on the existing strength of the trade union movement, and that is what the provisions in the Bill seek to achieve.


My Lords, as the noble Lord referred to other countries, may I ask if he is saying that it is not effective in, for example, West Germany or Holland where, as he knows, consultation is through the medium of works councils on which all have a vote; universal suffrage as opposed to partial suffrage and as distinct from collective bargaining, which is of course done through the unions?


My Lords, I think if the noble Lord will study℄as I have had the time to do during my summer holiday℄some of the research published by the Buller Committee, he will find that, as I have said, where consultation and representation is not organised through independent trade unions it is not as effective. The people who, with very good intentions, which we share on both sides of the House, originally set up procedures and wished to see these things, have not seen them occur in practice.

On Question, Motion agreed to