HL Deb 16 November 1976 vol 377 cc1136-45

12 Clause 2, page 5, line 14, after "with" insert "(a)".

13 Clause 2, page 5, line 15, after "unions" insert "and (b) other persons or organisations appearing to the Corporation to be representative of those of its employees or the employees of its wholly owned subsidiaries who are not members of a relevant trade union".

The Commons disagreed to these Amendments for the following Reasons:

14Because the Amendments unduly extend the duty to consult.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, to which the Commons hve disagreed for the Reason numbered 14. These Amendments cover very much the same point as℄I am sorry, is there something wrong? The noble Lord, Lord Carr, is looking concerned. May I give way.


I thought that we were dealing with Amendment No. 12 and that when it came to Amendment No. 13, it was for me to move it. It is not that I am so keen to move it, but I think I am right in interpreting your Lordships' custom in saying that whoever moves has the right of reply at the end, and nobody else. I was anxious to retain that right to move Amendment No. 13.


My Lords, I stand corrected by the noble Lord and I shall certainly confine myself to Amendment No. 12 and the Commons Reason numbered 14 to disagree with that, and wait with eager anticipation to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Carr, has to say on Amendment No. 13.

This Amendment covers grounds very similar to those which we have just discussed on Amendment No. 10 and in the Government's view the Amendment would undermine the position of independent and recognised trade unions by giving to organisations appearing for the Corporation to be representative the same right to be consulted on industrial democracy, which we believe should be confined to unions which meet the criteria for indepenence established by recent legislation and which are recognised by the two Corporations. Once again the approach followed by this Amendment runs contrary to the Government's general policy and we have made it clear repeatedly that we regard independent and recognised unions as the organisations best suited to represent the interests of all employees. For these reasons, once again I hope that noble Lords will not persist in their Amendments. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House doth not insist on the said Amendment (No. 12), to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 14.℄(Lord Melchett.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 13, but doth propose the following Amendment in lieu thereof: In page 5, line 15, after ("unions") insert ("and any other independent trade union as defined in section 30(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 which appears to the Corporation to represent a substantial proportion of its employees or of those of its wholly-owned subsidiaries"). What we are suggesting here is that, as well as the relevant trades unions, there should be consultation with any other independent trade union as defined in Section 30(1) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 which appears to the Corporation to represent a substantial proportion of its employees or of those of its wholly-owned subsidiaries. While voicing our protest about Amendment No. 10 we decided not to seek to resist that or to replace our original Amendment with another one at that point, because we felt, in view of the comments made in another place, and the decisions of the other place, that it might be more appropriate to move this Amendment where we are now doing it, in page 5, line 15, of the Bill, in the terms to which I have just referred. We believe that in moving this new Amendment we are seeking substantially to go towards the views expressed in the other place.

The Reason given for the rejection of our previous Amendments was that they unduly extended the duty to consult. That may seem rather an odd Reason, taken in the context of the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that he believes that all employees should have the right to be consulted. It is difficult to see how one could extend the right beyond everybody in the organisation. However, the other place, in its wisdom, has seen fit to say that this original Amendment of ours should be rejected, because it unduly extends the duty to consult.

In an attempt to try to reach some compromise, I think your Lordships will see that we really have sought to restrict those who ought to be consulted under the law; not, as your Lordships will know, according to our genuine belief but in order genuinely to try to seek some compromise with the Government and the wishes of the other place. Here, instead of seeking as we did before to ensure that everyone has the legal right to be consulted℄and I must keep underlining this word "consulted" and put it in contradistinction to the right to be involved in collective bargaining℄we are saying that the right to be consulted should be confined to two categories: first, to those unions which are both independent and recognised, that is, the unions which have the right both to consultation and collective bargaining; and secondly, to those unions which are independent but not recognised; in other words, to unions which have been certified under the Labour Government's own legislation as being independent and therefore in no way under the domination of their employers.

I believe that this is a reasonable request and that it goes a considerable way to try to reach a compromise with the views expressed by the Government hitherto and those expressed in the other place. I beg the Government to take this seriously and to accept it as a compromise, which is what it is; to realise that we for our part are giving up a substantial part of our beliefs in order to try to reach an amicable compromise; also, perhaps, to bear in mind that this basic concept which we passed in this House was the subject of a tied vote in another place. The basic concept was only removed from the Bill on the casting vote of the Deputy Speaker, who was in the Chair at the time. Of course it is not really necessary to say this, but I should like to do so to be quite sure that there is no misunderstanding. I recognise that the Deputy Speaker gave his vote in the proper constitutional way; in no way was he expressing a partisan view of this issue. He was, above all, keeping the matter open for further discussion.

I beg the Government to take account of these two things, first that the other place has a tied vote on this issue and secondly that, faced with that, in this Amendment we are deliberately moving a long way from our original proposition to try to reach a compromise with the views of the Government and this very narrowly and rather formally expressed view of the other place on which, so far as the ordinary Back-Bencher and private Members were concerned, there was actually a tie. I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at this Amendment. I cannot believe that any of the independent and recognised trades unions, which, I understand, would feel very jealous℄rightly jealous℄of intrusion into their rights to collective bargaining, would find any cause for taking offence at the fact that other genuinely independent trades unions should have the right at least to consultation, but not℄I repeat not℄to collective bargaining. I hope that the Government will take into account the concession that we have made in an attempt to reach a common ground, and the fact that in another place there was a tied vote on this issue. If Parliamentary democracy is to have some meaning, then we must show some capacity in Parliament to reach compromises wherever we can. I beg to move.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will not be oblivious of the fact that, on this issue, he has so far had the support of only the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton. The noble Lord, Lord Lee, made his position perfectly clear and I saw the soundness of it. He said that he could see that, in theory, there ought to be 100 per cent. consultation but that, from his experience of having been the leader of some 30,000 trade unionists, he wanted decisions to be effective so that if he were consulted and gave an undertaking he wanted to be in a position to see that it was carried out. He rather suggested that if independent people were not members of any trade union they could not have that certainty of being able to carry out what they had promised to do.

The Amendment moved by my noble friend meets that point absolutely. My noble friend is saying that the consultations shall not now be 100 per cent. with the individual but shall be with an independent trade union as properly defined in the Labour Government's own Act. I should have thought that meeting the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lee, whose practical experience of this is much greater than that of many of us in your Lordships' House, would be a very good reason indeed why the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, should look at this with great sympathy. The only point that has supported him so far is the point that has now been dispensed with as a result of the wording of the present Amendment.


My Lords, I should like first of all to make a small, possibly "nit-picking", point to the noble Lord, Lord Carr, about the voting. As I understand it, the tied vote occurred on an earlier Amendment and not on the Amendment which we are at present discussing.


My Lords, I accept that, but I thought I had explained to the noble Lord℄and if I did not I am sorry I did not make it clear℄that the only reason why we did not move the Amendment on the earlier point was that we thought that we could more easily introduce our compromise idea at this point of the Bill. That is why it was not introduced in relation to Amendment No. 10. It was procedural and meant to be helpful, nothing more.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his help, and I accept it. I thought that it was worth making the point just to make sure that nobody in your Lordships' House was misled into thinking that the Amendment which we are at present discussing is that where the majority was of one vote only.

In the course of debates on the Bill the Government have explained many times why the duty imposed on the Corporation to consult under Clauses 2, 5 and 7 should not extend beyond relevant trade unions, as defined in Clause 56. As the noble Lord, Lord Carr, said, this Amendment accepts half of the Government's definition and I am glad to see that we are making some progress. However, I regret that the Government cannot accept the Amendment because, while acknowledging the very genuine desire for a compromise of the noble Lord, Lord Carr, the Government believe that the Amendment would undermine those in both industries as regards the very benefits which our legislation aims to provide.

The Amendment acknowledges that unions to be consulted must meet the definition of independence under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974. But where more than one union meets this definition and claims to represent substantial proportions of the Corporations employees, the Amendment would deprive all those concerned of clear criteria for deciding the issue. Our provisions in the Bill leave no room for doubt; consultation would depend on recognition and disputes about recognition could be resolved under the Employment Protection Act 1975 by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. We believe that those procedures which are in line with the Government's general policy on proper employee representation are in the best interests of all those in the industries. We have proposed some arrangements which we hope will prevent damaging recognition disputes arising. I suggest that the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carr, offers no practical alternative and I therefore hope that noble Lords opposite will not insist upon it.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that, where this is dealing with those people who are to be consulted as to the forms that industrial democracy will take℄and I emphasise that it is not over industrial democracy itself but over the forms that it will take℄under the Bill as at present drafted some 30 per cent. of the people will not be consulted or, alternatively, those who are at present not members of trade unions will, if they wish to be consulted, be forced to become members of trade unions which at the moment they do not wish to do?


No, my Lords, I do not agree. As the noble Earl knows, we have had lengthy discussions on this point at various stages of the Bill, and, as I have said, having discussed this issue with both Organising Committees, it is quite clear to me℄and both the chairmen of the Organising Committees have made it clear℄that they are willing to talk to any group of employees. The Bill does not say that particular groups shall not be consulted. It gives a legal right to some groups, but it leaves it open for the other people in the industry to talk as they wish, having made arrangements that are suitable to everyone involved and which do not cause long and damaging disputes of one sort or another which cannot possibly be in the interests of people in trade unions, people outside trade unions and, most important of all, the industries themselves.


My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that the whole excuse for this Bill, which is opposed by this side of the House and by Liberals and Cross-Benchers alike, was because it was in the Manifesto? Would he also bear in mind that the Manifesto specifically said: In the interests of a wider, more just and effective democracy, we shall seek to strengthen legislation protecting minorities. Far from seeking to do that, they are seeking to bring in legislation which will dismiss minority rights. Is not this directly in contradiction with the manner in which the Labour Party put its Manifesto before the country?


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, asked me the same question about a minute ago and I did my best to answer it. I am not sure that there is a great deal more that is useful that I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, that I have not already said on numerous occasions when the noble Lord and others have asked me exactly the same question. I repeat that the Bill does not remove the right to be consulted from the people about whom the noble Lord is concerned. It gives certain rights to recognised and independent trade unions but it does not remove rights from other groups.


My Lords, I have not the 1974 Act before me and I am not certain what is the definition of an "independent trade union". I do not know whether it is independent of the TUC or what it is, but I have very vivid recollections about the way we worked this kind of thing in practical life. Many of your Lordships will remember the productivity agreements that were arrived at during the war. In my factory we had one before the war, but we were generally in advance of others and I shall not press that. But in those agreements there was no stipulation that one had to be a member of certain recognised trade unions in order to negotiate about productivity. We had a dozen productivity committees of which people elected within their own departments and irrespective of trade unions were members. They were not empowered to indulge in collective bargaining about wages and conidtions. The noble Lord, Lord Carr, knows that as well as I do. Within this arrangement, it was not the case that certain types were treated as being untouchables. Of course we discussed with them important matters, whether of productivity or of conditions in the factory.

The only thing that one could never agree to, for the reasons that I gave earlier and which I shall not repeat, was that they should have the powers of collective bargaining on matters that affected the lives of the majority of trade unionists. I should have thought that in this respect in relation to the present Amendment there was no problem of these people being treated as untouchables. I believe that they would certainly have rights to discuss. They would not have the right℄and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, would agree with me in this case℄to arrange with employers agreements which would affect the lives of the vast majority of members of trade unions. Of course there will be discussions with people in what he has called independent trade unions.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, has just said what he has said, because he has just described the very system which we are wanting to see established in the Bill and which the Government are refusing to allow to be established in the Bill. All along, at Committee stage, at Report stage, and again now I have made this sharp, clear differentiation between the right to collective bargaining and the right to consultation. I know from my experience, and the noble Lord, Lord Lee, knows from experience which is far greater than mine, that in industry it has worked perfectly satisfactorily to have various shop committees to deal with productivity and other matters of general interest to employees, without any permission to get into the field of collective bargaining; and the value of those committees has been that they have been genuinely representative of all employees, most of whom (at any rate in most engineering shops) were trade unionists, but there was no setting apart of one against another; no one was an untouchable. But this is what we are creating in the Bill; we are creating untouchables.

I say this because we are giving the legal right of consultation to some and specifically denying it to others. Although those others are told that they may be consulted, many of them have already sought to be consulted and have met with nothing but blank refusal from the Organising Committees to see them and discuss things with them. So it is no wonder that they are very nervous indeed and very worried indeed, and look to Parliament to look after their rights—


My Lords, would the noble Lord define the types of people to whom he is referring?


My Lords, this is the other point which I was glad the noble Lord made, when he said that he was not sure what was meant here by the word "independent". It is not in any sense meant to be independent of the TUC; it is meant in the sense, to use the colloquial phrase which has now come back into my mind, that they are not "sweetheart unions". They are certified as independent by the certification officer, set up by the Labour Government in the 1974 Act to which I have referred. I want to be quite clear, as I think I have already been with the House, that we believe that all should be entitled originally to consultation. In an attempt to compromise and to reach some agreement, I have been prepared in the Amendment to limit it only to certified independent unions. That is what we mean in the Amendment.

I find the Government's attitude most illiberal and anti-democratic. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, keeps on talking about the Government's conviction: that what the Government are insisting on is in the best interests of all the employees. Well, who is to decide what are their best interests? The fact remains that tens of thousands of the employees in this industry do not believe that what it is proposed to enact is in their best interests. In the aircraft industry certainly at least 30 per cent. of all the employees do not accept that what is being enacted and forced upon them is in their best interests. When this Government claim to exercise democratic authority with the support of only 29 per cent. of the electorate of this country, I must say that I find it odd that they can, in the name of democracy, reject the views and feelings of 30 per cent. of the employees of the aircraft industry. But that is what they are doing and that is why I believe that the Government are taking a most illiberal and anti-democratic line.

When we come to this stage in Parliamentary proceedings we in your Lordships' House are always in a difficult situation. We have made our views very clear. We believe that very large numbers of the employees in these industries are being denied by the Government genuine rights which they ought to have. Nevertheless, I will not seek to press the matter to a Division. I can only repeat what I said earlier: the sooner that we get a Conservative Government in power, the sooner all employees of industry will have the rights to which they should be entitled.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

4.6 p.m.