§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Read a third time, with the amendments.
§ Clause 1 [Employee participation]:
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers): moved Amendment No. 1:
Leave out Clause 1 and insert the following new clause:
§ "Employee involvement
.—(1) Section 16 of the Companies Act 1967 (additional matters of general nature to be dealt with in directors' report) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), the following paragraph is added at the end—
(h) in the case of relevant companies, contain a statement describing the action that has been taken during the financial year to introduce, maintain or develop arrangements aimed at—
(3) After subsection (1) there is inserted the following subsection—
(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1)(h) above, a company is a "relevant company" if the average number of persons employed by it in each week during the financial year exceeds 250; and for the purposes of this subsection the number of persons employed shall he the quotient derived by dividing by the number of weeks in the financial year the number derived by ascertaining, in relation to each of those weeks, the number of persons who, under contracts of service, were employed in the week (whether throughout it or not) by the company and adding up the numbers ascertained.
(4) After subsection (7) there is inserted the following subsection—
(8) In subsection (1)(h) above "employee" does not include a person employed to work wholly or mainly outside the United Kingdom; and for the purposes of subsection (1A) above no regard shall be had to such a person."").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, when on 2nd August we last considered the Employment Bill, I indicated to the House the reactions of the Government to your Lordships' decision at Report Stage on 28th July to agree to the new Clause moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, which was concerned with reporting on arrangements for employee participation. I explained then that the Government were in sympathy with the objectives of the new clause and therefore accepted your Lordships' decision in principle on this matter. However, I did explain that there were difficulties, in that industry had not been consulted and that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment believed that, as industry would have to operate the provisions of the clause, it was important that they should be given opportunity to comment on the form of the provision before it became effective. I gave an undertaking to the House that consultation would be started forthwith with all interested parties. I would like to explain to your Lordships what was done and the reason for moving the amendment which stands in my name.
§ A consultative letter was issued on 4th August. It was sent to over 100 organisations covering both sides of industry and also the financial institutions. Although we had to ask for comments by mid-September in order to leave time for proper consideration before Third Reading, some 80 detailed replies were received. Considering that the consultations took place at the very height of the holiday season, I think your Lordships will agree that this was an excellent response and one which confirms the importance that industry attaches to this subject of employee involvement. Perhaps I could take this opportunity to thank all the organisations concerned for what must have been a herculean task in providing full and helpful comments by the required date.826
§ The revised clause which has now been tabled in my name is in direct response to the detailed points made in those consultations. We have discussed these matters with the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, as the mover of the original amendment, and I believe and hope that the various detailed amendments which I shall now describe are generally acceptable to him and to your Lordships, although the noble Lord will make his own comments upon them.
§ In subsection (1) we give effect to the general wish expressed by industry that requirements relating to company reports should form part of company law. In my statement on 2nd August I suggested that one way to achieve this objective would be to use existing powers which the Government have under the Companies Act 1948. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, harboured a mild suspicion about this, if only because his carefully organised parliamentary achievement (upon which I commend him) might have been scooped out of the Bill. On reflection, a more satisfactory approach for your Lordships would be to express the requirements as an amendment to the Companies Acts by means of an insertion in Section 16 of the Companies Act 1967. This section deals with the subject matter of directors' reports. The advantages are several. The new requirement is clearly part of company law and could be included when the Companies Acts are consolidated. Existing definitions under company law will be automatically applied; and a power to amend the provision by regulation is available under Section 454 of the Companies Act 1948.
§ Subsection (2) of the new clause replaces subsection (3) of the original clause, and in a similar way sets out the substantive reporting requirements for companies. A number of small but quite significant changes have been made in the detailed drafting. In the introduction to the subsection, many organisations echoed a concern which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter drew to the attention of the House in our previous debates. Companies which have long-established arrangements and who have already made progress towards developing a high standard of employee involvement would not, in the previous draft, be required to report. It would therefore be impossible to determine whether companies who reported that no action had been taken did so because of long-standing, cosy inertia or because of the success of their previous efforts. The word "maintain" has therefore been added to the requirement that the statement should describe the action taken during the year "to introduce, maintain or develop arrangements".
§ In paragraph (i), the words "through their managers or supervisors" have been omitted. It was pointed out that some companies systematically communicate with their employees by providing regular briefings with the chairman or a director of the board. It was of equal importance that managers and supervisors who were, of course, themselves employees, should be not excluded from any arrangements for providing information.
§ In paragraph (ii) the words "in making decisions" have been substituted for the phrase "before decisions are made". It was pointed out to us that in many circumstances such as acquisitions, new investments and other commercially-sensitive dealings, it would often be inappropriate to consult as a matter of course 827 immediately before decisions are made about the taking of those particular decisions. The changes require companies to report only on whether they consult on a regular basis. We would therefore expect the statement to reflect the range of common practice. Some companies have arrangements to consult regularly as and when necessary whilst in others the consultations may take place at regular periods of time. In each case the consultations must be sufficient to enable the views of employees to be taken into account when decisions are made which are likely to affect their interests.
§ In paragraph (iii), the reference is to "an employees' share scheme" rather than a "an employee share-ownership scheme". This is in order to achieve consistency with the definition contained in Section 87 of the Companies Act 1980. The words "or by some other means" have been added because a number of organisations pointed out that involvement of employers in the performance of the company was achieved through such means as bonus schemes. It was not entirely clear in the previous draft whether such schemes should be included in the statement.
§ In paragraph (iv) we have again taken account of various views expressed by industry and we have sought to clarify the detailed drafting. I hope that your Lordships would agree that our economic future depends upon to a large extent upon companies carrying out the educative role envisaged in this requirement.
§ Subsections (3) and (4) deal with the matters covered in subsections (1) and (2) of the previous clause. The only change of substance is that the threshold below Which companies are excluded from the requirement to report has been increased from 200 to 250 employees. This brings it into line with the threshold set in the Companies (Directors Report) (Employment of Disabled Persons) Regulations 1980, to which I referred earlier. Industry stressed the desirability of keeping the two reporting requirements in parallel. The definitions of "numbers employed- in subsection (3) and "employees" in subsection (4) are therefore also the same as are contained in the disabled persons regulations.
§ My Lords, I thought it right to describe in some detail the various changes which we propose. As your Lordships will see, the Government's advisers have crawled over the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and have made, apparently, a number of alterations. They may be small but they are important, and I believe that they will serve to improve what was quite clearly the sentiment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and supported by your Lordships. What is important now is whether industry takes the opportunity which the introduction of this clause presents to review their existing arrangements for achieving employee involvement and to consider what improvements may be desirable. There was a large measure of agreement in our previous debates that this new provision would provide a valuable stimulus in securing a commitment in the board room for employee involvement. If directors need guidance on the changes which might be contemplated there are excellent guides which have been produced by many bodies, such as the CBI, the Industrial Society, the 828 Institute of Personnel Management, and the Industrial Participation Association. Advice from the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service is also available.
§ My Lords, it is not, I think, insignificant to recall that the honourable Member for Kidderminster, Mr. Esmond Bulmer, introduced a Private Members Bill into another place earlier this year. That Bill sought to make provisions for annual reports by directors of certain companies to state what steps they have taken during the year to promote employee involvement. Unfortunately, that Private Member's Bill succumbed to one of the many parliamentary hazards which tend to hover over another place and it fell. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, has been more successful. Whether that is due to the parliamentary skill of the noble Lord or to the more accommodating procedure of your Lordships' House it would be for your Lordships to determine; I fancy it may be both. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, for the efforts which he made to ensure that a place be found in legislation for this modest, but I hope useful, change. I hope that both he and your Lordships will agree the improved version contained in this amendment and that industry will respond constructively and will make a success of the voluntary approach to employee involvement. I am sure that they will. I beg to move.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for the wax in which he has so clearly explained the background to this amendment. I am also most grateful for the kind remarks he has made about me personally.
The noble Earl has reminded us that when, on the last day before the Recess, he told us that the Government accepted in principle the amendment on employee participation that I had moved and the House agreed to at Report stage, the Government's first reaction was that it might prove more suitable for the matter to be dealt with by a separate statutory order under the 1948 Companies Act. He also made it plain on that occasion that the Government proposed to consult with interested parties on the precise form that the provision should take before it became effective.
In welcoming the Government's response and their proposal to consult with industry, I then said that I did not understand why they considered it might be more appropriate to incorporate the wishes of the house in a separate order rather than in the Bill itself. This was, first, because under my amendment the Government would similarly he empowered to deal with the matter by statutory instrument under the Companies Act. Secondly, and of more importance, speaking on behalf of my noble friends and allies. I had consistently made it plain, on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, that what most concerned us about the Bill in its original form was that it would do absolutely nothing positively to improve industrial relations in this country. Indeed, the main purpose of our amendment was to ensure that where so many of the Bill's provisions were necessarily negative and controversial there should be at least one that was constructive and generally acceptable.
829 On the day after the Government's statement I wrote to the noble Earl saying that if the Government were willing to consider the retention of a clause on employee participation in the Bill, modified to take account of the views expressed by interested parties, I would be happy to discuss the matter with them. I am grateful to the Government for their positive response to that offer, and even more for their willingness to retain a clause on employee involvement in the Bill.
The revised clause does not differ basically from the one inserted by the House into the Bill at Report stage. The noble Earl has explained the reasons for such changes as have been made. They are generally acceptable, to me at least, and I really have little to add to what he has said. Having myself been involved in industrial decision-making, I accept that problems do sometimes arise involving matters of considerable corn mercial sensitivity, perhaps even affecting other companies, when with the best will in the world it may not be practicable to consult employees or their representatives before a decision is taken. For that reason, at least in the present state of our development, I agree that in the paragraph on consultation inclusion of the words "in making decisions" is preferable to the phrase "before decisions are made".
Because the concept of ownership means so much to noble Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Oram, I am sorry that it is omitted from the paragraph about encouraging the involvement of employees through means such as employee share schemes. I hope, however, that, like me, they will acquiesce in this change since, as the noble Earl has told us, I understand it has been made only to achieve consistency with the phrase used elsewhere in Companies Acts.
I have one further regret about both my earlier amendment and this one, that in using the vehicle of the Companies Act it has not been possible to extend to the whole public sector the requirement to report on progress made in the development of employee involvement. I say that because in my view the need for such progress is even more urgent in the public than in the private sector of industry, and the nation would benefit greatly if that need could be met. I hope that as opportunity offers we will be prepared to remedy that defect.
The new clause represents only a first tiny statutory step towards improving this country's industrial performance by increasing the extent to which employees are involved in the activities of the company in which they work. But in my view its effectiveness will be greatly enhanced—and here I echo the words of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—if today support is given to it throughout the House. In commending this amendment to your Lordships, therefore, so that it can be transmitted to another place, I very much hope that it will be agreed to without dissent.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, I certainly have no wish to dissent from the passage of this amendment. Indeed, the House may remember that we supported the slightly stronger version of this amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, put down at an earlier stage of the Bill. I am very glad to see that the Govern- 830 ment have felt it possible to come forward, after consultation, with this version. But I am bound to say that I think that the noble Earl does not do full justice to the arguments which he placed before us against this amendment when it was first put down; nor does he really provide us with reasons why he has changed his mind on those other arguments.
It is perfectly true that he said that people had not been consulted and ought to be consulted, although what is now Clause 2 of this Bill has been introduced without any consultation; so far as this amendment was concerned it was not acceptable because there had not been consultation, and now there has been consultation. But that is not all he said. He said that with an amendment of this kind it would become a routine, anodyne procedure, similar to what happened in regard to employment and disabled persons. He said that it would be better to wait for proposals from the Council of Ministers on the Vredeling Report and EEC directives.
I am somewhat bothered about that. Does the noble Earl. Lord Ferrers, regard this clause as in any sense a substitute for those? I hope we shall not be told at a subsequent date that we do not need to do anything about the Vredeling proposals, which the House will remember were the subject of a recent report by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, because we have the Rochester proposals in the Bill. I do not want to be disrespectful to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, who has done very well with his amendment, but, if Rochester is worth 4d., Vredeling is worth at least 72s. 4d. They are a much more progressive and large-scale set of proposals. Therefore. I am not entirely certain what the noble Earl was saying about that. He also said that in the past 10 years there had been enormous progress on employee consultation and that, therefore, we did not need to accept the amendment. I should like to hear his answer to all those things. It was not merely a matter of consultation.
If the noble Earl, says that the Government have changed their minds on those matters, and are now, at this late stage, going to change their minds on a whole series of matters, I shall welcome that because we have a number of amendments on the Order Paper and we shall be asking him to be equally flexible on those.
In conclusion. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and though, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, it is a small baby, we have never been in favour of stifling babies at birth.
Oh dear, oh dear, my Lords, I thought that the Recess would have done the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, some good and put him into a good frame of mind.
Of course, my Lords, but he asks why the Government have changed their mind. I shall tell the noble Lord exactly why the Government have changed their mind. They have accommodated the views expressed by your Lordships. Just imagine the rumpus that the noble Lord would have been the first to start if the Government had not. He would have chased us up and down the corridors of Westminster, and outside as well.
831 The Government have been totally reasonable and listened to your Lordships' arguments. We did, of course, disagree, for the reasons which I explained on Report. Your Lordships said that you did not agree with the Government, so the Government in their magnanimity said that they would accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, which was supported even by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and would consult everyone and ensure that what was included in the Bill was as good as possible. That we have done.
The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, much to my sorrow, at the end of his speech congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, but not me. He never said. "Well done the Government for having taken into account all the views of the House". All he said was, "Now explain why the Government have changed their mind". I have explained that to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and I hope that he will accept it as justified.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 3.34 p.m.
Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 2:
After Clause 6. insert the following new clause:
§ ("Unlimitled compensatory award.
.—(1) At the beginning of subsection (1) of section 75 of the 1978 Act there shall be inserted "Subject to subsection (4)".
(2) After subsection (3) of section 75 of the 1978 Act there shall be inserted—
(4) If the tribunal considers that the amount of compensation specified in subsection (1) is less than it would, apart from that subsection, otherwise have awarded under section 74, the tribunal shall refer the application to the Employment Appeal Tribunal for the determination only of the amount of compensation.
For this purpose the Employment Appeal Tribunal shall exercise the same powers and apply the same rules as the High Court in England and Wales or the Court of Session in Scotland, as the case may be, for the award of damages recoverable under the common law.
This subsection shall apply only to the award of compensation for dismissal that is unfair by virtue of section 58 or 59(a) of this Act.".").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I tabled the forerunner to this amendment on the previous stage of the Bill. Your Lordships will have read carefully what the Government said in response to that amendment, which I withdrew with a warning that I might have to come back again. Indeed, here we are.
I read carefully what the Government said and my most important impression was that my noble friend Lord Gowrie, who replied to it on the Government's behalf, had not answered any of my arguments. I wrote to the nobler Earl that:
I do not doubt that employers have expressed fears that unlimited compensatory awards will encourage unscrupulous workers to engineer their own dismissals. Indeed, as you reminded me. I gave an example in Committee of the possibility that, in the shipping industry, unscrupulous workers might engineer their own dismissals, but this, in the example given, was mainly for the purpose of"—
as we call it at sea—
'swallowing the anchor' … with some sort of compensation. At no time did I suggest that a high level of compensation would be the main motivating factor in the example given.
My letter continued, referring to Hansard of 28th July:
However, as I endeavoured to explain in columns 306 and 307, the fears which you said were expressed by employers, that
unlimited compensatory awards would motivate unscrupulous behaviour, are really unfounded … The arguments I put forward show that in reality my amendment would have had no effect on the sums actually awarded in more than 99 per cent. of cases, but that, in the small minority remaining, it would prevent grave injustice. With respect, you really did not answer this part of my argument at all.
You did, however, raise one new point in your speech—the undesirability of giving two tribunals the power to award unlimited compensation which, at present, rests only with the High Court and its superiors".
If that is an important difficulty for the Government, I said in my letter that perhaps a revised amendment, which your Lordships now have before you, might make the point that the Government require.
§ My Lords, I received in due course a letter from my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. David Waddington, because my noble friend Lord Gowrie was on holiday at the time. The letter was, of course, very courteous and said, among other things, that he accepted that some people might, for perfectly sound reasons, not wish to apply for reinstatment or re-engagement and that he could also understand my belief that the very small numbers of people involved would leave little scope for exploitation by the unscrupulous. He went on to say that the risk that some people could so benefit was one that he thought was very real and also stated that, despite what I had said—which I have just repeated to your Lordships—and my suggestions about the EAT awarding compensation, which might have met what he called a minor difficulty, the Government had not changed their view. I suppose they still have not.
§ The Secretary of State also said that he thought it important that the only representations hitherto had been from myself and the Institute of Journalists. Therefore, on receipt of the letter, I took some trouble to find out whether that was the case. I am happy to tell your Lordships that we have positive support from the Institute of Directors, which states that the amendment offers one method of ensuring that individuals are not tempted into requesting reinstatement or re-engagement simply to claim a special award when, in truth, they have very good reason for not wishing to return to their previous employment. Therefore, we have that support. We also have support from the membership of the Managerial. Professional and Staff Liaison Group, which includes the BMA, the British Dental Association and many other managers' bodies, all of which fully suport the amendment as it stands.
§ Therefore, perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Ferrers that we have taken the necessary action to deal with what Mr. Waddington said was an important point—that there were only a limited number of people who were interested in this amendment. I think that there are a substantial number of people who are interested in it.
§ I hope very much that my noble friend can accept this amendment, which seems to me to be very moderate. It is not asking for more than that the employment appeal tribunal should be the high level body which makes the final decision on these points. That would seem to be a most modest request. But if—and I would hope that this would not be the case—the Government feel that they cannot go that far, notwithstanding the evidence of extra support that I have from a whole range of people who would be 833 affected by this, then at least perhaps my noble friend could give me an undertaking that the Government are aware of the problem and will do their best, in future legislation in this area that they may care to bring before your Lordships' House, to put right what is wrong. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, I should like to begin by apologising if I did not thank the noble Earl for his acceptance of the previous amendment. I give him half a cheer and I willingly congratulate him. However, I hope that he will not change his mind on this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, is right. The noble Lord says that, broadly speaking, two arguments were put up by the Government on the last occasion: that the unscrupulous might benefit and that this was not the kind of power to put with tribunals. But I would argue, and indeed we did argue at the time, that there are far more weighty arguments.
This, in fact, is yet one further discrimination in favour of the man who is dismissed on grounds of non-unionism; it is one further discrimination on the basis of Sections 58 and 59(a). It is not enough that people under these sections have a maximum compensation which is four times as much as that given to anyone else. It is not enough that they get a new form of basic award at a time when the basic award has been taken away from everyone else. It is not enough that they have this in all circumstances, whatever the period of their employment, and bearing in mind that the party opposite has taken 1 million workers out of all protection from the unfair dismissal legislation. It is not enough that in other areas of clearly declared public policy—for example, discrimination on grounds of sex and discrimination on grounds of race—we do not put these benefits forward. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, says that we must now have unlimited compensation for this small group of people.
We on this side of the House have said throughout this debate that we are not against increasing the level of compensation for everybody who is regarded as being unfairly dismissed. We think that the first priority would be to bring back into the ambit of unfair dismissal legislation some people who have been taken out of that ambit. But never mind.
The figure of £7,000 which the noble Lord wants to lift for this small group of people, has not been fully indexed since this Government came to office. It is much too low. It is too low for non-unionists, but not necessarily for non-unionists who are dismissed because they will not join a union. As I said to the House on the last occasion we discussed this matter, there are many middle managers who may be earning £ 10,000 or £ 12,000 a year who are unfairly dismissed, and the maximum compensation which they can get under the present legislation—for example, if they are unfairly dismissed on grounds of redundancy—is £7,000, which is something like six months or less of their salary. That is the maximum. That is where we ought to have change; that is where we ought to have amendments. We do not want amendments to produce still more advantages for this small group of people.
834 The argument that is always put forward as to why they should be selected in this way is because they suffer more than other people, because they are followed around from job to job because they do not have a union card. But again as we have explained, other people can be followed around from job to job because they have been fairly or unfairly dismissed. The assessment of how much they lose as a result of that is a matter for the tribunals to decide. If we were to raise the compensation award to £31,000 then everybody could get that if they suffered that much, including non-unionists dismissed on grounds of non-unionism.
We are told that we must have a deterrent effect. We think that there should be a deterrent effect for public policy reasons on grounds of sex and race as well as on grounds of non-unionism. Therefore, I say to the House that I hope that the Government will not change their mind. They have already gone much too far for this small group of people in the light of what they refuse to do for everybody else, and we oppose the amendment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, if I had any doubts as to the validity of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Mottistone they would have been resolved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. Lord McCarthy's patent antipathy to the person who is dismissed for refusing to join a union went right through his speech. It is really no argument against this proposal to say, as he said with some force, that there are other people dismissed for other reasons whose compensation also ought to be looked into. I think that he may well be right about that. But unless the noble Lord is adopting the old sort of equality of misery attitude, which it used to be alleged his political colleagues adopted—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, let me finish my sentence; it is rather a long one and a little ungrammatical, and so the noble Lord will forgive me. Unless the noble Lord is adopting that attitude, I cannot see why he should believe that the fact that other people have grievances is a reason for not remedying this situation. Now I shall give way to him.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, we did feel that they should be remedied. The noble Lord will remember that we put down a Motion to provide these advantages to all people who were unfairly dismissed, but I do not remember the noble Lord voting for us.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the noble Lord's memory as ever is meticulously accurate, but it does not enable him to get away from the point that (unless one is adopting the equality of misery approach) there is no reason for refusing to rectify one wrong because other wrongs are not at the same time being rectified. That is the point which the noble Lord, with all his adroitness, will not evade. There is another one?
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, a different one. Would the noble Lord not accept that it does not lie in his mouth to make the type of charge that he has made against my noble friend, because 835 when given the opportunity to advocate the case and to vote for it—which he is now doing—he patently failed to do so?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
No, my Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord at all. It lies in my mouth to point out that it has been clearly expressed by the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that he is quite prepared to deny some people the remedy for an injustice for the reason that in his view other people are not having their injustices remedied. With great respect to the other noble Lord who has intervened, the fact that on a totally different point, not closely related to this Bill at all, the Government have not seen fit—and I have not seen fit either—to advocate changes, is no argument whatever as to why this comparatively small (as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said) grievance should not be remedied. The reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, I am bound to say have strengthened my feeling on that point.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers was extremely amiable as regards the previous amendment and indicated the supple willingness of the Government to bow to the wishes of the House, even though he knows as well as I do that in that particular case the merits of the proposal were at least dubious. In this case the merits are clear. There is a limited number (my noble friend Lord Mottistone said quite a small number) of relatively highly paid people—he began with the example of journalists and there are now examples of others—who lose their jobs because they will not join a union and do not apply for restoration of their jobs. It is a little difficult to see why in a part of the Bill which makes a most generous and welcome attempt to protect people who have been wronged in this way, the Government should stick at making it completely comprehensive. Even at this stage on Third Reading I hope that my noble friend—who, post-holidays, appears to be in an amiable and flexible mood—will exercise that amiability and flexibility, and, if he has received notes from those who advise him in the background, send them back a reply that he is proposing to take the responsibility of accepting this.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I should like to oppose this amendment on its merits and not for most of the reasons advocated by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. If at this stage of the parliamentary process, this Bill were to move ahead of its base, founded upon current attitude, without previous discussion and without previous debate, it could well fail to serve the interests which it was designed to protect.
If statutory limits for compensatory awards are too low, all right, raise them. If the very existence of statutory limits offends the concept of fair compensation, all right, abolish statutory limits. But what does this do?—neither. In submission, I oppose this amendment because it is wrong in principle. It is wrong in principle to adopt unlimited compensatory awards in an area where statutory limits apply. It is wrong in principle to equate the powers of the EAT to those of a court of law. Look what happened when we tried to do this with the NIRC; we need not go back over that. It is wrong in principle to treat an appellate tribunal as a tribunal of first instance for the purpose of assessing compensation.
836 As your Lordships will appreciate. I do not oppose this amendment on the same grounds as those of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, but I do oppose it, and I do oppose it with sincerity, not only for these questions of principle but because it goes too far ahead of the base of current attitude. The central matter remains open for consideration, no doubt in your Lordships' House and no doubt some other day. It is simply this. Are there to be limits? Are the present limits too low? This amendment does not grasp that nettle. In my submission, it ought to be rejected.
§ Lord Jacques
My Lords, I was astonished at the attack which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made upon my noble friend Lord McCarthy. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is a very experienced politician and I should have thought that he was well aware of the fact that very often in politics the principal question is one of priorities. What my noble friend was pleading was not equality in misery; he was pleading that there were other cases which should receive far greater priority. That is a reasonable argument and I am surprised that that should not have been seen by the noble Lord.
§ 3.53 p.m.
My Lords, whatever the Recess might have done for the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, it has certainly made everyone else—indeed, I think the noble Lord as well—remarkably persuasive. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter described me as being amiable and flexible, but I am bound to say that I think I would have to be a gymnast if I were to be able to accommodate all the views which have been expressed this afternoon, because both he and my noble friend Lord Mottistone have said that we must accept this amendment, and the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and my noble friend Lord Campbell have said that we must not.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, most warmly for his opening remarks. He did say that he would give the Government half a cheer. His magnanimity is boundless and I greatly appreciate that. My noble friend Lord Mottistone said that this amendment is a very moderate amendment and he suggested that the Government swallow the anchor. I do not think that those two things go exactly together. To swallow an anchor is not exactly a moderate thing to do. When you lift these ceilings to make the compensation unlimited I do not think that that could be described in normal parlance as moderate. I see that my noble friend Lord Gowrie is disappearing out of the Chamber, and, in fact. I was about to compliment him: I see that he is returning to listen to my words of wisdom. My noble friend Lord Mottistone said that my noble friend Lord Gowrie did not answer any of the points which he made on Report. I read the debate and I thought that, as usual, my noble friend did astonishingly well and answered the points raised by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. However. I shall try to put the position to him.
I sympathise with the arguments which my noble friend has put forward on behalf of those few individuals—and I think we are all agreed that there are only a few of them—who can be unfairly dismissed in closed shops and Whose compensation could be 837 restricted by the ceiling on the compensatory award. I accept that some people in this position might, for perfectly sound reasons, not wish to apply for reinstatement or re-engagement, and I can also understand my noble friend's belief and that of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that the very small numbers of people involved would mean that there would be little actual scope for exploitation if the ceiling on the compensatory award was removed. I also recognise that the amendment before us meets one difficulty in relation to what my noble friend put previously and, as he has said, he has done his best to meet this difficulty. It was, of course, our reluctance to see the industrial tribunals being able to award unlimited compensation.
My noble friend could not get away from his nautical background because he referred to swallowing anchors. I would ask him to swallow this anchor as best he can. I am afraid that the amendment does not tackle the root of our objections to its predecessor; that is, that the risk that the apparent prospect of unlimited compensation might act as an incentive to unscrupulous employees to engineer their own dismissals. In our view this must be counted as a very real risk, notwithstanding the fact that the actual chances of obtaining very high compensation might be slender. Indeed, precisely this fear that the prospect of unlimited compensation would encourage the unscrupulous was put to us very forcefully during out consultations last autumn by employers and employers' associations, including the CBI and the Engineering Employer's Federation. I have no reason to believe that there has been any shift of opinion, particularly on the part of the CBI, since then. It was precisely because of these worries, as my noble friend knows, that we took the view that a ceiling on the compensatory award should remain.
I should also like to remind my noble friend that he did, as he has admitted, refer in Committee to some kind of concern when he spoke on behalf of the General Council of British Shipping. Indeed, when I look through the Hansards I see that he referred to the possibility of "clever and greedy people" being tempted by the high levels of compensation in the Bill to engineer their own dismissals. I recognise that he was speaking then in relation to shipping, but I have to say to him that precisely those same fears have been very widely expressed in all sectors of industry.
My noble friend has not been idle during the Recess, and he has canvassed and done some lobbying to find out who else could support his amendment. I congratulate him on that. I of course note that not all employers' organisations have taken the same view. Indeed, it would be pretty dull if they did. The Institute of Directors is sympathetic to the case which my noble friend has put forward, and so also he said were the British Medical Association and the British Dental Association.
What is abundantly clear is that there is at present no majority of support for what my noble friend Lord Mottistone is proposing. There is certainly no consensus on the issue. In view of this I cannot think that it would be right, particularly bearing in mind the vital necessity of retaining the confidence and the support of employers for the measures in the Bill, to take what would clearly at this stage be a highly 838 contentious step when there is no evidence whatsoever that it has the majority support of industry or elsewhere. I know that this will be a disappointment to my noble friend and to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I hope they will see—I was going to say the wisdom, but perhaps that is not quite the correct word to use—the purpose of my advice to my noble friend.
I note that when my noble friend Lord Mottistone moved a similar amendment at Report stage my noble friend Lord Gowrie detailed the very substantial sums of compensation which will be payable to anyone who is unfairly dismissed from a closed shop under the Bill's provisions as they stand. I do not wish to detain the House by repeating those figures other than to say that those who would stand to benefit under my noble friend's amendment will normally receive, even without his amendment being passed, compensation of at least £9,000 and probably £11,000 if they are unfairly dismissed from a closed shop. To put these figures in perspective, I should say that these sums are about 15 times the average of £600 awarded in other unfair dismissal cases. It will be clear that this will still be very substantial compensation in comparison with what is normally payable.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone has suggested that if we cannot accept this amendment today—and regrettably I am hound to advise your Lordships that it would be undesirable to do so—we might at least undertake to include this issue as one on which we could give some views. I would say to my noble friend that we are not persuaded yet that there is a real problem here. We should certainly need more evidence that individuals are in fact unfairly dismissed in closed shops and suffering hardships as a result of the limit on the compensatory award before we would feel justified in making the change he suggests.
However, if evidence was to emerge over the next year—and we shall keep the position under particularly close scrutiny—which clearly supports the case my noble friend has made, then if there was no other suitable legislative vehicle available at the time we should be ready to give Government support to anyone coming forward in this House or another place with a simple and short measure to amend the Bill. I hope on the basis of that assurance that my noble friend will feel, as I am sure he will, content and will not require to press his amendment.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the careful consideration he has given to this point. I am prepared to accept it all. Perhaps I might make a couple or remarks. I note what might be called the legal arguments of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. I am no lawyer, and it is a pity that we were put into the position, by the Government's arguments earlier, of finding ourselves producing this proposal as a solution to this difficult problem. I noted also that my noble friend said that there was no majority support and no consensus. This is the problem when only a small group of people are affected. You cannot have a majority support and consensus because there are not enough people to back you up. If that was always the argument—and indeed the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, gave it as a theme that he was going on; my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter picked him up so skilfully, and I thank my noble friend for his 839 help—the fact is that the big battalions will always win under Lord McCarthy's arrangements, and that is what we all have to grumble about. We are concerned about a narrow group of people who might be badly and unreasonably treated against a general background, and that is what we are talking about.
I quite see that we have gone a long way through this Bill. My noble friend Lord Ferrers, and indeed at an earlier stage my noble friend Lord Gowrie, have been patient with me and taken a great deal of trouble to look at this point. I am most grateful to my noble friend for saying that if we give him more positive evidence to show that this small group of people are in fact badly treated under the circumstances which we seek to avoid now, then the Government might consider putting forward the necessary legislation to deal with this problem. With that reassurance, and hope that for the foreseeable future there will be the sensible and sympathetic Government that we have today. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 13 [Prohibition on union recognition requirements.]
§ 4.6 p.m.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton moved amendment No. 3:
Page 17, line 24, at beginning insert—
("Subject to subsection (3A) below.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move amendment No. 3 and, with your Lordships' permission, will speak to Amendments Nos. 4 and 6, Amendment No. 6 being, of course, the substantive amendment. It is an amendment to Clause 13 which prohibits commercial and industrial action, in conjunction with the other clauses of the Bill, in respect of demands to a person to whom those actions are directed to consult with, or negotiate with, trade unions. The new subsection which would be introduced by these amendments would read:
Where a person is under an obligation to consult with, or with the representatives of, an independent trade union by virtue of any enactment or rule of law, then
§ A very important thing has happened during the last few months. Not only has the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, felt very much better over the course of the Recess, for which he can have our genuine three cheers and congratulations, but also he has managed to convey to his colleagues the point that they must listen to the arguments, because today he has said emphatically that the Government are listening to the arguments. I am therefore encouraged to go ahead in moving these amendments. I must say that when one read, as I am sure all your Lordships did in preparation for this day, the debates over the Committee and Report stages, one was not so highly encouraged as one is today in that respect.840
§ The point is a simple one. This was a clause introduced by the Government after representations by the organisation known as Aims of Industry which were set out in the Financial Times in May. It was alleged that there was a way round the clauses in the Bill which are now Clauses 12 and 14, which prevent or make unlawful as a statutory tort commercial and industrial actions which would be otherwise lawful if they have as one ground of their existence the promotion of a closed shop in another employer, and that it might be that persons would, as some local councils do, demand that contractors do not have a closed shop but negotiate or consult with trade unions. Whereupon in July the Government came very late in the day with this new clause that is now 13.
§ If I may put it in one sentence rather than reading all the evidence, it is one of my contentions that it is proper for your Lordships to pause over this clause today because in debates of 13th July noble Ministers were saying that they had to go away and look at the arguments. If one reads the debates on 2nd August, with respect to them they were not entirely convincing on the points which had been raised. This was very late in the day in a Bill on which they had a consultative document out in 1981 and had six more months to consider. Therefore, this is an ill-considered clause.
§ The effect of it is to say that acts which are otherwise lawful—and I put great stress on that, acts which are otherwise lawful—in every respect under the common law, under this Bill, under any other legislation, become unlawful by reason of this clause and Clause 14 is tied in with it; that is, if they amount to business or industrial pressure—whatever the other ground; if the ground exists in respect of those persons taking the action that they are including an employer to recognise, negotiate or consult with a trade union—and any condition put into a contract of that kind is rendered void under subsection (1).
§ The amendment does not strike at the root of the clause. As we said in Committee and on Report, we regard this, frankly, as an outrageous and retrograde clause, but we do not attack the policy of the provision today because this is not the right time to do that. The amendment says that at the very least, where someone is under an obligation—under the laws which this Government have chosen not to amend—in accordance with the law as the Government have left it on the statute book today, to consult with representatives of an independent trade union, surely I am entitled to refuse to contract with them. Surely I am entitled to take action which is otherwise lawful, other than under this clause. What possible ground can there be for saying that under this provision it shall be unlawful merely because their objective is to get someone to consult with a union when it is his legal duty to do so?
§ Your Lordships may ask how important is this. It is important in at least two areas, but I admit at once that I have not scoured the statute book, although I am sure Ministers have advice on the matter. I do not claim to have found every example, but I offer your Lordships to two areas of example. The first is the area of employment protection legislation, of which four examples are set out in Amendment No. 7, to which my noble friend will speak should it become necessary and this amendment is resisted by the Government, which I am encouraged to think so far it may not be. 841 That is, that there are obligations under the 1975 legislation that employers should consult in certain circumstances with representatives of trade unions in cases of proposed redundancy; that they should consult in respect of the transfer of undertakings under the 1981 regulations; that they should consult with safety representatives about the work of safety committees under the 1974 legislation; and similarly in regard to pensions.
§ That is one area where one would have thought one would have been entitled to say, "If an employer is not doing what he should do under the law as it stands, at least I am entitled not to make a contract with him. I cannot be sued for that, although under this clause I can be". There is another extraordinary result, one which will be seen as people find the evidence of the attitude of this Government to trade unions. The extraordinary result is produced that it is lawful to refuse to contract with an employer because he refuses to consult with Aims of Industry or any of your Lordships—that he can lawfully do, although he is under no obligation to contract with you—but it is not lawful (that is, if this provision is passed in its present form) to refuse to contract with him because he refuses to consult with trade unions, which he is under a lawful duty to do. That is the legislation of the madhouse.
There is another area where this is important, and this is a matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, touched in an earlier debate when he pointed out how important it was in the public sector for consultation on provisions not only to continue but to be developed. From their earliest times in the postwar statutes, all the nationalised industries are placed under statutory obligations, in somewhat differing words, to consult and negotiate with trade unions. Consider the position of the Post Office, and my researches have so far revealed that the Post Office is left where it was under Schedule 1(11) to the 1969 Act. I make that point because the Government amended a vast number of other parts of that Act in 1981, but not, so far as I can discover, this one, where the Post Office is under a duty,
to seek consultation with any organisation appearing to it to be appropriate with a view to the conclusion between it and that organisation of such agreements as appear to the parties to be desirable for the settlement and negotiation of terms and conditions of employment of persons employed by the Post Office".
The National Coal Board is under a similar obligation, and has been since 1946, an obligation to enter into consultation with trade unions, and so are the other nationalised industries.
§ If this clause is enacted, it will no longer be lawful, whether anyone wants to do it or not, to take what today are lawful steps—what, apart from Clause 13, are lawful steps, either industrial or commercial. Those who dislike the clause have always said that it is true that the Government have been even-handed in Clauses 12, 13 and 14, with the even-handedness of the logical bigot, as someone has described it to me—but that is for those who wish to attack it in a way that would not be appropriate to a Third Reading debate. While it is even-handed commercial or industrial pressure, one cannot say, "We are doing that on the ground that the NCB is not carrying out its statutory obligation to consult with the NUM", whereas 842 one can say, "I am not going to contract with the NCB because I do not like the face of the chairman".
§ That does not seem to be sensible. It was not the position taken by the Conservative Administration in 1971. I will not quote from it, but if one looks at the 1971 consultative document before the last Industrial Relations Act, one sees that there were many suggestions to the effect that the promotion of consultation and negotiation are crucial. Surely it must be the case that trade unionists on the one hand and businessmen on the other, who are treated pari passu under these clauses, are entitled to say, "I will not take certain action" or "I will take certain action, lawful in itself apart from this clause, on the ground that someone is not doing what he statutorily should be doing".
§ I find it difficult to see how there can be an answer to that point. It may not be one of enormous practical importance in every respect. It is certainly important in regard to what people feel about safety or redundancy where there is an obligation to consult—about the transfer of undertakings and pensions—and it is certainly important that one should not give the impression, one would have thought, that consultation in the public sector could be downgraded or that the obligations on the nationalised industries, whatever their effect in practice, could be included in this extraordinary clause in the Bill.
§ On those grounds, I am hopeful the Government will show a positive attitude to what is an amendment that does not strike, much though I should wish to, at the root of the clause. It would leave the rest of the clause exactly as it is and leave the power in the hands of the Government to do the thing properly. The proper way for the Government to do what they want to do—that is, if they reject this amendment—is to repeal the obligations on those bodies to consult. That would be the honest way to do it. Alternatively, they should limit those obligations in such a way that they are not as strong as would normally be the case on the statute book.
§ I see the Lord Advocate paying particular attention to that point. The normal case in our law—north and south of the Border, I apprehend—is that where someone is under a legal duty to do an act, I have a liberty of action not to deal with him on the ground that he fails to fulfil that legal duty. This clause, unless amended, infringes that fundamental principle. Unless the Government are prepared to alter this provision in some way—either by amending the obligations (and that is not the only way, of course) or by putting in some general limitation on the obligations—or to make some move themselves to come out into the open and say what is the relationship between the new clause and the statutory duties to consult, I submit that they should accept the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I oppose the amendment, my Lords. I find it difficult to follow the reasoning of the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, and if I err in my appreciation of his approach, I hope he will forgive me. I have tried to take it in stages in an effort to understand what lies behind the amendment. First, though of course I am open to correction, it seems that the amendment assumes a legal obligation to consult representatives and trade unions. So far, so good. It 843 assumes, rightly, that Clause 13(1)(b) of the Bill prohibits the requirement in any contract to consult such representatives; that is, any contract for the supply of goods and services. In the main the legal obligation to consult is set out in what, without disrespect, I should like to call the second part of the amendment. It is plain and clear that without the proposed formulation in the second part of the amendment the obligation is in no way affected by Clause 3(1)(b) of the Bill, which is limited to terms and conditions of contract. I hope that the rather painful analysis that I have sought to make is so far at least as intelligible as the way in which the anmendment was put forward. If that he so, is it not reasonable to inquire what constructive purpose will the amendment serve? Having ferreted one's way as best one can through the legal technicalities of the drafting, one asks, what purpose will the amendment serve? It certainly casts a shroud of obscurity on what I would submit is already fairly plain: that there are areas where there is a duty to consult, and that there is a prohibition of a requirement to consult in a contract, and that the two are not in conflict.
I should like to refer to the test that is proposed, and I wonder whether your Lordships have this in mind. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, referred to it. It is right at the end, in the tailpiece of the amendment, where it is stated:where, in any such case, the person taking the action has reasonable grounds for believing that that employer is failing or is likely"—Is this part of the amendment?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I am very much obliged to noble Lords. If I may leave my observations on that point, which at this stage are out of order, with the utmost respect, and for the reasons that I have so far given, I must say that I am not able to understand what constructive purpose the amendment serves.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, I shall be brief. I do not think that the Government know what they are doing. Do they realise that we have some obligations to international law? Since we are subject to the Treaty of Rome, a firm in any part of Europe can contract to any local authority in Britain to take on building jobs, road construction, or whatever it might he asked to do. Under the contracts one of the great protections of international law is to be found in the International Labour Office at Geneva. After many days, we suddenly discovered, hidden away in Hansard—and I was contradicted by a noble Lord opposite—that the fair wages clause of the International Labour Office is to be withdrawn. Under the International Labour Office fair wages clause the object was to see that fair conditions of labour were available to any workpeople who might be given a contract anywhere in Europe, or indeed anywhere in the world. The object was to protect the workman from exploited labour.
When they put down this unthought-out clause, did the Government think of the implications in regard to the Internatiional Labour Office and the fair wages board, which has been one of the stars of international labour organisation for many years? At the party 844 conference the leader of the party opposite was proud of the fact that the trade union movement was being disintegrated. They will rue the day; they will rue the day. Whatever Government are in power after the next election, be they Liberal or whatever, or if there is a hung Parliament, this problem will have to be faced—
§ Lord Davies of Leek
It is very likely that there could be a hung Parliament, and we would thank God for it if otherwise we were to have the likes of noble Lords opposite.
I should like the Minister in reply to give us a little information on this point, because I consider it important for the public in Britain to understand what the abolition of the fair wages clause means, This is part of the attempt of the party opposite to destroy the trade union movement, which was the pride of the world labour organisation.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I find myself in a difficult position, in the almost paradoxical situation of trying to improve what I consider to be a highly distasteful parliamentary proposal that is aimed at so many millions of what might be described as working class people. I certainly appreciate that there are not many Members of this House who come into that particular category, but I am very proud that I do. I believe that a proper form of Parliament will not let such ridiculous class bias affect its mind.
That is one point, and I come now to the other that I should like to explain to your Lordships. Here we have a Bill that I find totally anti-working class and obnoxious. It is aimed at a movement, a British movement, that has done more than any other world organisation to raise the standards of ordinary folk and which—and this is the point that I would ask your Lordships to consider—has made the most formidable attack ever on world communism. I ask your Lordships to consider the possible danger of the Bill, when an Act, ultimately becoming the best recruiting sergeant ever for world communism, which would be much to the detriment of ordinary people. It is no good noble Lords opposite shaking their heads and saying that that is not possible, because it is happening now. The Bill is being quoted all over the world, in, for instance, America and in Poland. At this time the only person who would give any credit to this measure would be General Jaruzelski, the Polish leader—
§ Lord Molloy
In a moment. Despite all that I have said, I do not want Parliament, our legislative Chambers, to be made to look foolish, even in regard to a Bill such as this. It might provide a field day for the lawyers, and it is quite possible that after the Bill is passed parts of it will be wholly contradictory. Therefore I believe that we in this House should now concentrate on the submissions made by my noble friend Lord Wedderburn of Charlton. Those of us who are involved in trade union and employer negotiations 845 know that one cannot have a few thousand people every week outside the manager's door, negotiating their terms of employment and engagement. Both sides of industry—CBI and TUC—are at one on this.
I would have thought, too, that both sides of industry, the TUC and the CBI, would say that if we are going to have a new Act of Parliament then for heaven's sake let it be clear. Even if it were detrimental to my submissions I would prefer that it were clear and not something which even lawyers cannot construe. Therefore, in my judgment, unless the amendment moved by my noble friend is accepted this clause will indeed make an absurdity even of what the Government are trying to do.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the exact relevance to this particular amendment of a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, has just said I am bound to say escaped my attention, and I must therefore apologise to him if I do not follow him in his powerful and obviously sincere general defence of the trade union movement. We are, however, on a comparatively narrow amendment, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, would agree; and I myself find a little difficulty in understanding why the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, should feel so strongly about this particular clause.
As I understand the clause—and the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, or my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate will correct me if I am wrong, as I well may be—it deals with the conditions which may be enforceable if included in a contract for the supply of goods or services. It does not, as I understand it, relieve anybody—for example, the other party to the contract—of any obligations that they may have under the existing law to consult with trade unions, to consult with their workers or, indeed, to recognise trade unions. It does not, as I see it, affect that obligation at all. Nor does it take away from the appropriate authorities the right and duty that they may have in such circumstances to enforce the existing law. It is confined solely to what another party to a commercial contract for the supply of goods or services may desire to include in it.
It is therefore surely to confuse counsel to suggest that this clause as it stands does anything either to undermine the position in the nationalised industries, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, devoted a good deal of time, or, indeed, to affect the general principle of consultation with trade unions, or indeed the general obligation so to do. It is concerned solely with the narrow point of what may be included in a contract for the supply of goods or services. The House knows perfectly well from our earlier discussions that the facts which moved the Government, in my view rightly, to include this clause were that politically-motivated bodies, often local authorities, insisted on including such clauses in contracts when they were buying things or services on their ratepayers' behalf.
Therefore, it seems to me that this is really a very simple issue. Are such provisions with respect to consultation or recognition of trade unions, whatever their merits, whatever their validity, appropriate things to put in an ordinary commercial contract when you are buying something from the employer? It is really a very straightforward point, and I would hope 846 that the House would not feel that it was necessary to prolong discussion on it very much further.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, my concern about this amendment is that I think it is quite unworkable. What I object to is the reliance on a definition of motivation here. We have come up against this same kind of thing in connection with taxation, for example, where the law has sought on occasion to rule out from allowance or exemption action taken mainly or wholly for the purpose of avoidance of tax. In the past these provisions have proved quite unworkable, because courts have had great difficulty in deciding what the motivation really was: whether a particular action taken was for the purpose set out in the Act or whether it was for some other purpose.
If your Lordships look at line 9 here your Lordships see that this does not apply to any action,of which the purpose or principal purpose is to induce an employer,to do something. How are we going to decide whether the purpose or principal purpose of a particular action is to induce an employer to fulfil his duty in some particular respect or other? This is what troubles me. I really do not think this can be made effective. It seems to me that if Parliament has decided to put Clause 13 into the Bill then there is little or nothing one can do to modify or to thwart the purpose of taking that condition out of the contractual arrangements between one firm and another. Clause 13 is to stop people from including in the terms of a commercial contract a requirement that the supplier shall recognise a trade union or certain trade unions in the course of his commercial or industrial activities. It prohibits that.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? I hope I may be able to help him. I think he is on the next amendment, is he not?
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I was taking the page as a whole. It seemed to me that what I was saying was relevant to the whole package of these amendments to Clause 13. I hope I am not wrong in thinking that we are dealing with a group of amendments to Clause 13 which is set out on page 3 of the Marshalled List of amendments.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to say so, as I understand it—I speak subject to correction, but the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, will no doubt confirm it—we are dealing with several amendments, terminating with No. 6.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, in case I suffered from any slip of the tongue, may I repeat that I thought that I was moving Amendment No. 3 and speaking to Amendments Nos. 4 and 6, the latter of which is the substantive amendment which goes with Nos. 3 and 4.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
Then, my Lords, I will reserve what I have to say until we come on to the next one. It is in fact more relevant to the next one than to this one. I think that these particular amendments, 847 including Amendment No. 6, are probably a little clearer from my point of view than Amendment No. 7.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, I understand that the substantive amendment that we are discussing at the present moment is Amendment No. 6. Amendment No. 3 is the one which has been formally moved, with Nos. 4 and 6 being connected with it, No. 6 being the substantive amendment. These amendments are designed, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, explained in moving them, to reopen issues which have already been debated to some extent at Committee stage and at some length on Report. Before I turn to the detail of the amendments and of the arguments which have been used in connection with them, I think that, particularly in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, has said, and perhaps also to some extent in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has said, it would be useful to say just a word or two about why Clause 13 is part of the Bill at all.
The clause was added to the Bill at Committee stage in response to an explicit, if premature, attempt to frustrate the purpose of what is now Clause 12. That clause is designed to combat the insidious practice of extending the closed shop by means of commercial contracts which insist that work can be done only by union labour. That practice is not only unfair to non-union firms and their employees; it is also inherently anti-competitive, and its effect must therefore be to raise costs and, ultimately, to destroy jobs. Furthermore, in the Government's view, it is entirely unreasonable to expect ratepayers to continue to pay the price of the prejudice of certain authorities against firms which are less than 100 per cent. unionised. We have taken steps, both in this Bill and in the 1980 Act, to ensure that the acceptability of the closed shop is tested by ballot and that proper protection is available to existing employees and to conscientious objectors. It would have been absurd and indefensible if at the same time we had not taken steps to protect employees from the backdoor extension of the closed shop by industrial or commercial blackmail.
That is the problem that we are concerned with in these clauses, and it is right that we should keep it fully in mind in considering these amendments. Before the Bill reached your Lordships' House, it became clear that a number of local authorities who had been in the habit of enforcing union-labour-only requirements in contracts, were seeking ways round the provisions of Clause 12. In particular, I think it was the East Kilbride District Council which intimated that from 1st October this year all contracts involving work from the council would include a provision requiring contractors to have signed a procedural agreement for recognition of the appropriate trade unions.
Your Lordships may be interested to know that this same local authority have attended so closely to your Lorships' debates that over the Summer Recess they have decided to withdraw this requirment because it was clearly destined to become unlawful once this Bill became operative. Seldom can a new clause introduced at Committee stage in your Lordships' 848 House have done its work so quickly and so effectively; and, what is more, it is absolutely clear from the behaviour of this local authority that their recognition requirement was an attempt to get round Clause 12 of the Bill and no more than that. Thanks to Clause 13, that attempt has failed and I think that they have acknowledged as much.
This little episode shows clearly how remote the reality of this clause is from the worries and fears that the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, has expressed. More than once in the course of his address, he referred to the posssibility that what he was talking of was a matter which would not be likely to arise in practice, for example, in relation to the public authorities, the nationalised industries and their duties to consult. This clause is, however, entirely dealing with what does happen in the real world. The fact of the matter is that the clause as it stands is quite specific in its purpose and effect. I cannot really improve on the formulation or its purpose and effect which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter gave in the course of his speech.
It does nothing to prevent employers from recongising or negotiating with trade unions if it is their own decision to do so. It does not affect in any way any statutory obligation on particular employers to consult and negotiate with trade unions. Nor does it interfere with any statutory obligations imposed by any statute at all and, in particular, those listed in the later amendments. All that it is concerned with is the use of commercial pressure to compel employers to recognise, negotiate or consult with trade unions when they are under no statutory obligation to do so and have no desire to do so themselves.
So far as this group of amemdments is concerned, it seeks to provide that nothing in Clause 13(1) shall override a contractual requirement to observe a statutory requirement to consult with an independent trade union; and that nothing in Clause 13(2) shall affect the awarding of contracts where the principal ground is that the contractor does not consult trade unions. As the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, so clearly pointed out in the course of his address, this Government have made no attempt whatever to repeal these obligations. The fact is that the obligations referred to stand absolutely unimpaired by the provisons of this clause and, in my submission, what the noble Lord is seeking to suggest is that, by some method, we have tried to repeal these obligations without saying so. That is just not so. Indeed, I think that at one part of his speech to your Lordships he acknowledged that in terms. These obligations are not repealed and there is nothing in the clause which in any way impairs or reduces the obligation on employers to deal properly with health and safety, with pensions, with redundancy and all the rest of it.
So far as the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, is concerned, this clause in no way affects the operation of international law in the way he has referred to. There is, as has been said, a proposal to do something in that connection, but it is not a matter which is in any way affected one way or the other by this particular clause. I think I tried to explain that before and I do not know that I can make it any clearer now than I did then.
In my submission, nothing in the clause interferes in any way with an employer's obligations to consult with 849 a recognised independent trade union in the circumstances described in the amendment. Accordingly, the fears expressed by the noble Lord in moving the amendments are, in my submission, groundless and I ask your Lorships not to accept the amendments.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, perhaps it is suitable after a debate of this kind to draw a few threads out of it in response to the noble and learned Lord. If I may do so briefly, to my noble friends who have spoken on the matter, I respond with two points. The first is that motivation is an essential part of Clause 12(4) and Clause 13(3). The grounds on which one is acting are the essence of these clauses, so that naturally an amendment would be couched in similar terms. Secondly, so far as my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek is concerned, I should have thought it should be noted more thoroughly than the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate noted it that it may well be that there are more legal obligations coming from EEC law by which, pro tanto, this clause will be rendered invalid.
If I may make one remark to your Lordships in respect of what the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Thorneycroft, said, it would be these. First, I am sorry that I failed to make it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell that no legal obligation is imposed by these amendments. These amendments take a case where there is a legal obligation already in existence—and all ones I quoted are in statutes—to consult with the union. We say that where that legal obligation exists, then this clause should not apply because it is normal that one can take otherwise lawful action in respect of a person for his failure to fulfil his legal obligations. That is what it is about.
Clause 12, if I may put it this way, says; "Thou shalt not in thy commercial dealings give as a ground for failing to contact with someone, or for dealing with someone in any way, the fact that he ought to have a closed shop". Clause 14 says that industrial action will be similarly limited in its legality. And Clause 13 now says that there shall be no commercial dealing where one of the grounds for the action you are taking, or for failing to deal with him, is that the other person is not consulting with the union or negotiating or recognising it. May I point out to my noble friend Lord Houghton that, so far as consultation is concerned, if one looks at the clause, it is way beyond recognition and it is that that the amendment is about? Similarly, Clause 13 is tied with Clause 14, which affects industrial action. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who, by a slip of the tongue a moment ago, I think I misnamed—and I apologise.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
The noble Lord is always quick to take advantage of our mistakes, my Lords. With respect to the two points he made, first, he said that it was only about clauses in contracts. That is not so; because although Clause 1 is so, subsection (2) relates back to the previous clause, and that deals with all sorts of commercial dealings—with failing to put people on the lists, failing to contract with them, terminating contracts with them, and so on. It is not 850 just about a clause in a contract. More importantly, he said that this was a narrow amendment—which is true—and he asked why I felt strongly about a narrow point.
My Lords, a narrow point can be a very important matter. I feel strongly about this because I do not think it right that anyone should be a law breaker when he says, "I won't contract with that man because he doesn't consult with his workers' representatives on safety at the place of work". I think that it is quite immoral to have a statutory provision which makes that man a law breaker, just as I think it is wrong that on that ground alone—and I stress that—industrial action should be made unlawful. That goes to the points of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, which in the main were two. Those points really will not do. In the words of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, "Oh dear, oh dear!" First, he said, "Look at East Kilbride Council". That is the Aims of Industry brief. East Kilbride Council was the one that Aims of Industry served up, and here it comes out again. What an overcooked old meal it is!
Will the noble and learned Lord accept from me that there are examples of other local authorities—and indeed other private bodies—which, long before this Bill was ever dreamt up, said: "We will not contract with you unless you recognise trade unions"? In some cases they said "negotiate" and in others they said "consult" with trade unions. East Kilbride did not think up this marvellous new formula of saying, "We will not contract with you if you do not consult with trade unions". Then the noble and learned Lord said, "Of course since we put this new clause in they have withdrawn this formula and that proves they were out to avoid another clause in the Bill". What it shows is that the local authority is getting itself into a lawful posture in the face of this preposterous law. No doubt they will try and conduct their affairs in some other way.
The second point of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate was that the statutory obligations stand unimpaired. Of course, that is right. If I said anything other than that then I wish to retract it. But of course such a proposition suffers from excessive formalism. If one leaves a law on the statute book and then takes away a lot of the things that people can do lawfully around it, one may very well affect its operation. I ask whether the Government can give me a precedent for a law that says you must not take any step which is fully lawful other than under this clause—commercial, industrial or anything else—whereby you will refuse to contract, deal or talk with someone on the ground that he is failing to consult with someone else which he is under a lawful duty to do. One needs all those constituents because this is what it comes to.
You are saying, Thou shalt not take a step which is otherwise lawful because it will be unlawful if you do it on the ground that you want someone else to fulfil his duties under the law in consultation. I do not believe there is a clear precedent for that kind of situation. If there is one, I shall be interested in it. I am certain that no manager would solidly back this curious clause—and it is interesting that the Government have not given chapter and verse for the backing of British management. I do not think that many managers would want the law to refer to someone who 851 refused to contract with their firm on the ground that they were not carrying out their consultation duties under the law on redundancies or safety. I do not think they would want such a law. I have not heard any evidence to suggest anything different.
My Lords, we are not withdrawing this amendment. We regard it as very important. The next amendment is more specific, but it seems to my noble friends and myself that this is such an important principle that we should divide the House on this amendment.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 54; Not-Contents, 140.852
|DIVISION NO 1|
|Ardwick, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Bishopston, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]|
|Blyton, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Bowden L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||McCluskey, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Milford, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Stone, L.|
|Gormley, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hale, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Kaldor, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||De L'lsle, V.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Denham, L. [Teller]|
|Amherst, E.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Avon, E.||Eccles, V.|
|Aylestone, L.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Bagot, L.||Elliot of harwood, B.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Elton, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Faithfull, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Ferrier, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Foot, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Fortescue, E.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Cairns, E.||Gainsborough, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Garner, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Glanusk, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Gowrie, E.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Gridley, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Halsbury, E.|
|Hampton, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Hatherton, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Polwarth, L.|
|Henley, L.||Portland, D.|
|Hives, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Hornsby-Smith, B.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Renton, L.|
|Inchyra, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Inglewood, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Ironside, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||St. David's., V.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Seear, B.|
|Long, V.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Loudoun, C.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Spens, L.|
|Luke, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Lyell, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Mackintosh of Halifax, V.||Swinfen, L.|
|MacLehose of Beoch, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Terrington, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L|
|Mair, C.||Thurso, V.|
|Margadale, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Marley, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mayhew, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Melville, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Mersey, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Mills, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Monson, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Mottistone, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Monwbray and Stourton, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Norfolk, D.||Windlesham, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Young, B.|
|O'Brien of Lothbury, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ 5.3 p.m.
Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 17, line 33, at beginning insert—
("Subject to subsection (5) below").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to take Amendment No. 5 with Amendment No. 7, which is in fact the substantive amendment. We are here making our last and final stand to amend Clause 13. The House will know—because it has been told very recently by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate—that Clause 13 is an attempt to catch people who might find a way round Clause 12. When it came before the House during the Committee and Report stages we tried to amend it in a number of ways. Most notably we sought to amend it so that we could allow through benefits for members only, which we regarded as a rather civilised way of avoiding the coercion of the closed shop. But that did not find acceptance in the House and so the noble lord, Lord Wedderburn, has just put forward a general amendment.
§ The purpose, as he said, was to seek to make it lawful to continue to make the recognition of trade unions part of a contract where the obligations you are seeking to enforce are themselves legal obligations. 853 We are doing it one more time, one might say, in two different ways. First, when the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, spoke on his amendment he was concerned with a set of general provisions, and when he suggested to the House the ways in which they would make lawful something which would otherwise be unlawful, he mentioned, if your Lordships remember, not only, for example, things such as statutory requirements to consult trade unions in the field of labour law, but also, for example, the necessary consultations that occur under statutes concerned with nationalised industries.
§ We are taking those out: this is not a general field day. We have in fact got five specific circumstances involving redundancies, involving transfer of undertakings, involving health and safety at work, involving social security on contracting-out certificates, and involving circumstances in which an employer may want a trade union to inquire from a supplier how far they are observing fair wages resolutions. It is a slightly different way, but essentially we would say it is the same kind of thing. So that is one way in which it is different. It is narrower, and I think that was the point that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, wanted to raise. It is narrower because at the end of this particular version of what we are trying to do we are saying that the individual who has this right must show that he has reasonable grounds for believing that an employer is failing or is likely to fail to carry out these statutory obligations. Those are the ways in which it is different.
§ All I want to do at this hour, now that we have debated this issue many times in the House, is to stress that it has nothing to do with the closed shop. It really has nothing to do with the closed shop. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it has very little to do with East Kilbride. This is a very, very old practice. It is the kind of thing which is done in Labour clubs; it is the kind of thing which is done in trade unions; and it is the kind of thing which is done when people who call themselves trade unionists actually want a little bit of work done in their own house. They would rather like to find someone who is a trade union firm and who recognises trade unions, because they believe that this is a kind of shorthand way of avoiding exploitation. Very often it has very little to do with wages.
§ It was said to us by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I think, on the previous formulation of this, that of course what we were seeking to do with our amendment then was to uphold minimum wages and many people might be kept out of employment because of the minimum wage legislation; in any case trade union wages were frequently too high, they might keep people out of employment, and this was one kind of argument in favour of this sort of clause. But we are not arguing from that basis. We were also told that we were not presenting much of a case by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, because there were some employers who were not trade union employers who paid far more than the trade union wage; so that was a case against what we were trying to do. But most people that we are concerned with—not East Kilbride but most people—would have the liberty to carry on in a way that they have done in the past in the more limited sense—because at this point we are just concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, said, with the circumstances where they are trying to 854 enforce legal obligations—and most people who take this view need not necessarily be thinking of wages at all. They would take the view, which I myself take, that if you have a trade union firm it is more likely that there will be a procedure whereby people can raise grievances, where there is someone to whom they can go and put a case and someone who will argue on their behalf. A firm which recognises trade unions is more likely, other things being equal, to observe a whole range of statutory terms and conditions which avoid its being a bucket shop, a scab employer and all those phrases which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, did not like my using last time.
§ It has nothing to do with the closed shop. At least so far as the great majority of people, whose liberty and rights we are championing here are concerned, it has nothing to do with the closed shop. They are simply trying to carry out something which they believe is their right, and which they believe is the right thing to do—to support trade union firms, to support people who will consult trade union firms, in the limited circumstance when the Government and the law have said that they ought to do this anyway. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I oppose this amendment. It is basically related to the tailpiece. Your Lordships see the form in which it lies,the person taking the action has reasonable grounds for believing that that employer is failing or is likely to fail so to consult.Let us put on one side for one moment this assumption that this has nothing to do with the closed shop. Some of your Lordships may think it is a pretty large assumption, but let us put it aside. What matters is that a law should be effective and this test, which is proposed in this tailpiece, is wholly subjective to operate as an ouster from the contravention provisions; secondly, it is wholly unworkable in practice—here I know that I anticipate the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby; and, lastly, it plainly tends to defeat and delay due enforcement. I oppose this amendment.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I would add one short point. It seems to me an indirect way of providing a new statutory sanction for the enforcement of a variety of provisions which are set out in this new subsection (5), and this seems to me to be a misuse of the Bill for that purpose. Presumably, each of those statutory provisions has its own method of enforcement, and for us to try to enforce it in this rather extraordinary indirect way is not in keeping with the purpose of this Bill.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I know that one is in danger of covering some of the ground which was covered in the previous debate, but when one is talking about something being unworkable or a misuse of the Bill, the Government's own clause is a misuse of what they want to do. If they want to attack trade unionism, let them say so. Do not try to cover it with the arguments which we have had repeated this afternoon.
Subsection (1) of the clause makes it clear that a contract is void if it requires recognition of a trade 855 union or requires negotiation or consultation with a trade union. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate has said that nothing in the clause will interfere with statutory obligations to consult; yet we are told to oppose this amendment, all the points of' which are saying that to endeavour to induce an employer to carry out the statutory obligations shall not come within the terms of this provision. Therefore, why are we opposing the clause? Why is anybody opposing the clause? If a possible contractor is neglecting to play a part in the most simple of industrial relations—that is, consultation—there must surely be a right to induce him to do so. That is what is behind this amendment which my noble friend has proposed.
I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate introduced an argument, which was brought in during the debate at a previous stage of the Bill, that the question of trade union membership might affect costs and that, therefore, we must have non-trade unionism. That is what he really said. If I have misquoted him, I hope that he will correct me, because it must not be said that one of the reasons against trade unionism is that it could affect costs; if so, this country is on a very slippery slope. I would remind noble Lords that it is not much good our cheering and sympathising with the workers of Poland, who want to establish their Solidarity organisation, if we are not prepared to do something to encourage the most simple of things, which is consultation with representatives of employees and which this amendment is seeking to do.
At the Report stage, I moved a somewhat similar amendment which dealt with only two of the points here and that was rejected. But I hope that those noble Lords who supported us on that occasion will come into the Lobby on this occasion, when not only those two points are included but also wider points, and will not repeat what they did on a previous amendment, when they went into the Division Lobby opposing us.
If an employer rejects the idea that this elementary consultation should not be carried out, then I ask the Government: what is wrong with that? It is no good bringing in the red herring of one or two local authorities. What is wrong with anyone saying: "No one is going to do work for me who does not carry out the most elementary consultation with his workpeople"? Leave out the question of trade unions. I was so pleased that my noble friend Lord Wedderburn became a bit worked up on the moral aspect of this matter, because we hear so much about the moral aspect from the Government's side. There is a moral aspect from the workpeople's side, in that work should not be contracted-out to an employer who will not consult with his workers.
In conclusion, may I say that we so often hear talk of the essential need for consultation, the essential need for proper industrial relations and the essential need for employee involvement. In fact, we passed Amendment No. 1 today, which stresses these points. How, then, can anyone oppose an amendment which states that any effort to induce a contractor to carry out the most elementary obligations, which he has a statutory duty to do, is wrong? That is what this amendment is asking for and I think that the whole House ought to support it.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, may I just briefly say that I may have got it wrong, but when the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, introduced Amendment No. 3, and the ones that went with it, I think he said, in passing, that the list of Acts of Parliament which is now in Amendment No. 7 is not comprehensive: he had not had time to cover all the ground. It seems to me that, if there is any validity in the argument of the noble Lords opposite—and I am fairly convinced by my noble friends on these Benches, not to mention the argument of my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate, which he produced on the last amendment, that they have a point—it is, surely, very sloppy legislation if it is incomplete. I should have thought that the amendment ought to be rejected, on the grounds that it is not proper, if that is the case. Therefore, we are wasting our time in arguing about it.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, since it seems to me that this amendment may be pressed to a Division, I think that I owe it to the House to say just a word or two. I find myself with those who feel that this clause is not an appropriate vehicle in which to seek to introduce points of this nature; and I hope I have made it plain in this House before now that I am all in favour of trade unions and of consultation with them. With those few words, however, I must make it plain that if there is a Division I shall advise my noble friends not to support this amendment.
§ Lord Mackay of Clashfern
My Lords, it may be important at the outset to make it clear that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is tilting at a windmill when he suggests that Clause 13, not the amendment, makes it unlawful for someone to insist that someone else should consult his workpeople. What it is dealing with is recognition of a trade union and consultation with a trade union as a stipulated way of consulting his workpeople and thus, by a sidewind, making it indispensable that that person has a recognised trade union of his employees before he can participate in tendering for the contract. Therefore, a good deal of the moral argument which the noble Lord put forward with his usual eloquence and obvious sincerity is, with great respect, somewhat misplaced as being directed against this clause.
It is not unusual for legislation to place upon an employer a requirement to consult with a recognised independent trade union about some matter or other, and (a) to (d) in this list are obligations of that character. But I must emphasise the nature and extent of the statutory requirements. They provide that, if an employer recognises an independent trade union for collective bargaining purposes, then that trade union shall have the right to be consulted about certain matters affecting that employer's workers. These obligations listed here do not require an employer to recognise a trade union. They only have effect if and when the employer has agreed to recognise the union. Clause 13, on the other hand, is concerned with clauses in contracts, tendering arrangements and so on which oblige a contractor to recognise a trade union. So the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, is surely perfectly right that one can be entirely in favour of the best possible consultative arrangements between an employer and his employees and support Clause 13 857 yet see no good purpose whatever in this particular amendment.
The only other point I want to make—I am obliged to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for putting the point which he has on the close of the clause and for the argument which he put on the earlier amendment which applies equally to this amendment (this is perhaps a more particular application of the principles of the earlier amendment)—is that the last provision here, (e), does not deal with a statutory obligation but creates a new obligation, or envisages a new obligation.
When we compare this new obligation with what is in the fair wages resolution perhaps we see the purpose behind the amendment. The provision in (e) goes further than the requirements of the fair wages resolution, which provides that an employer engaged on a Government contract should observe terms and conditions not less favourable than those negotiated in the district by representatives of employers and trade unions—that is, objectively looking at the standard of what is negotiated.
This paragraph goes on to provide that the employer on the Government contract should consult with those trade unions to establish those terms and conditions, so (e) is a method indirectly of imposing a contractual obligation to recognise a union in this way. We say that if workers for an employer wish to have a trade union and to join a trade union, that is a matter which should be for them and for their voluntary decision. I would invite your Lordships not to accept the amendment.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, we have had a ragbag of objections. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, says that he does not like the words in the last part of the amendment. If we were not at this present stage of the Bill, of course we could say to the Government, "Go away and give us some other words". We have never said in any of these amendments that we stick upon particular words. But we cannot do that today. They are the best words we have.
Although I respect the expertise in this area of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I have to say that he did not actually tell us why those words were of no use to us. Therefore, imperfect as they are we have to keep them in. In view of the importance of the amendment, I do not see that that is a reason for not voting for us.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said that there was something extraordinary about us listing this set of statutory provisions in (a) to (e): that it was an extraordinary and indirect way of seeking to add, if I understand him, some kind of additional mechanism of enforcement. I am not a lawyer, but I am told that one is always entitled to take lawful action on the ground that someone is not doing something. One is specifically and specially entitled, I should have thought, to take lawful action on the ground that someone is not doing something if the something which they are not doing is to accept their legal obligation. I do not see how this adds to the legal obligations themselves. It is merely a way in which those who wish to do so can use their own influence to get people to accept the law. So again I do not see that that is a reason against us.
858 The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said that it is not a comprehensive list. If we were at the Committee stage or at the Report stage we could of course have taken it away and brought back a comprehensive list. I do not think he would have liked it if we had. If the noble Lord wants the effect of a comprehensive list, he should have voted for the previous amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, put down, because that did away with the need for a comprehensive list. It was a comprehensive formula.
This is the best list we have. I believe that it is reasonably comprehensive in the area which it specifies. As the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, said, it clearly says nothing whatever about the kind of legal obligations which exist in relation to the nationalised industries, but in so far as it is concerned with recent labour legislation I would guess that it contains all the important examples. There may be some others in the future. Then the Act could be amended. It is not a good argument to say that there may be one or two others which we have not put in, because I do not believe that the noble Lord would vote for us if we could place our hand upon the Bible and say that we had got every single one in.
So we come back to what the Minister says. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate did not add—and I do not particularly see why he should at this time of the day—to the points which he made in reply to the previous amendment, except that he said there is no good purpose in this. Of course the purpose is to give freedom of action to people who have, if you want to use this phrase, a conscientious objection to placing their business among employers who do not recognise trade unions. That is what the good purpose is. If the Government say they cannot accept this—okay. But how do they square this with certain other things which they have said to us in the course of this debate? On 7th July, at col. 884 of Hansard, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said:The Government are not anti-union. They are not even anti-closed shop …".On 12th July, at col. 57 of Hansard, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said:We very passionately believe that individuals can, and indeed should, join trade unions".5.29 p.m.
Here is a reasonably small, narrow amendment. If you are not anti-trade union, if you passionately believe (even not passionately; it may be intellectually) that individuals should join trade unions, then, in the unanswerable words of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, what is wrong with this amendment?
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I am sorry to prolong this discussion, but may I for a moment continue the point I raised inappropriately earlier on. It seems to me that however complex an amendment, however obscure its real purpose, there must somewhere along the line be a capacity to explain it in simple terms. I am sorry that we have not had this amendment before us for a little longer so that we can really dig into it and see exactly what it intends to do.
As I see Amendment No. 7—I hope that is what we are concerned with—it is dealing with the conditions under which a contract can be broken. It is breach of 859 'contract that we are really dealing with. Amendment No. 7 says that Clause 13, which prohibits entering into a contract for union only labour, shall not apply where an action is taken for the purpose or principal purpose of inducing an employer to fulfil his statutory obligations as to consultation. If we are to have the right of breach of contract any action (not terms and conditions of the contract), which presumably means unilateral breach of contract, will be on the ground that the supplier of goods and services has failed to fulfil his statutory obligations to consult with his work people or his work people's union. As I understand it, that is the condition under which he will be entitled to break his commercial contract. But in order to be free from action for damages for breach of contract, presumably he must prove that the action he has taken is for the purpose or principal purpose of inducing the other party of fulfil the statutory obligations which are set out in the succeeding paragraphs of this amendment. Am I clear about that?
If so, I repeat the question I asked earlier: how will a court decide whether the conditions under which the contract was broken were for the purpose or principal purpose of inducing an employer to fulfil his statutory obligations as to consultation? That is the issue. Now, what may the purpose be? Or what may the principal purpose be? It may be that the breach of contract on the ground of the failure of the other party to consult is really a cover for wanting to end the contract anyway, for commercial reasons. The person may feel that the contract into which he has entered is proving irksome or has ceased to become profitable, and he wants to find a ground for ending it. He therefore forages around to find out whether the other party has fulfilled his duty to consult under paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) or (e). If he can find a ground for terminating the contract for the purpose or mainly for the purpose of inducing the employer to fulfil his statutory obligations, then he is in the clear. That is how I read the purpose of this amendment.
This is not good law. It is bad law. We have many bad laws knocking around, but I do not believe that we should add to them if we can avoid it. This is really an indirect way of trying to undermine the purpose of Clause 13. No doubt there are many objections to Clause 13, but it seems to me that this is not the way in which one should try to modify the conditions of Clause 13. I have seen so much of this in connection with tax evasion and avoidance, when the main or principal purpose is to avoid paying tax, and where there is some artificial device which is not of a true commercial nature, which has as its motive dodging taxes and which is not really for any legitimate commercial purpose.
No court has really dealt with that formula satisfactorily and at the time of the First World War, when a provision of this kind was put in the Excess Profits Act, it was never utilised because it was unworkable. The courts would not come to a conclusion easily, or even at all, that the main or principal purpose or motive behind it was this or that. They could not be sure, and they had to be sure in order to rule on the case. Elsewhere, in other countries where a similar provision has been made in the taxation law, it is nugatory, and it would be so here. That is why I think it would be a mistake to introduce it into an 860 amendment of this kind. I do beseech my friends to reconsider this matter very carefully.
I know there has been the idea in politics that some things can be too clever by half. I am not saying that this amendment is, but I really do not think that it is clear enough or that it is direct enough in its purpose to secure what is obviously behind the amendment. If employers are failing in their statutory duty to consult with their employees, surely there is a way of requiring them to comply with their statutory duty and not use another commercial instrument—a company, firm or employer—as an indirect weapon to compel another party to fulfil his statutory obligation? That is a union job. It is a worker's job. It is not the job of another commercial entrepreneur who has a commercial contract with the employer. Do not let us use one firm to exercise influence over another firm in order to get it to fulfil its statutory duties for consultation and recognition of trade unions. Surely trade unions can do something about that themselves without using probably the weak and dubious means of another employer coming on to the scene in order to exercise influence over another party by breach of contract or by threat of breach of contract. I was not able to support Amendment No. 6 and I much regret that I cannot support Amendment No. 7.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, my noble friend Lord McCarthy tells me that he is not able to speak again in this debate as we are on Third Reading. So, with your Lordships's permission, I should like to address two remarks to your Lordships concerning the arguments we have just heard from my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby.
First, the purpose test is an integral part of the Government's own clause; that is to say, it speaks of someone acting on a ground. Therefore, naturally, an amendment goes into the ground or purposes on which he is acting. Secondly (and perhaps this is the most important point) my noble friend spoke about the clause as if it were entirely about ending, breaking or terminating a contract. The problem can relate to the terminating of a contract, but that is not the normal case. He asked for a simple example and, since his argument does not address this example, I say to him and your Lordships that a typical case is whether I can say: "I will not contract with you and I will not put you on my list of contracts: and I will not enter into relationships which could lead to contracts, because you do not consult with your recognised trade union on safety or redundancy et cetera, as the statute requires.".
If I am able to show that I am reasonable in that belief, we would say that the ability lawfully to take that posture should be retained. When my noble friend says that this is a job for the workers and for the trade unions, certainly he and I are at one. But just as Clause 13 does not allow one to take otherwise lawful commercial acts to stop employers from breaking their obligations to consult under the law, so Clause 14, because of the way—especially in Clause 14(1) and (2)—it is tied into Clause 13, does not allow trade unions to take otherwise lawful industrial action. When my noble friend says that it is their job, he should, with great respect, support the amendment, 861 because that argument is one which we fully accept and which this amendment would address by extending the range of both commercial and industrial action in this very limited way.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 50: Not-Contents, 124.862
|DIVISION NO. 2|
|Ardwick, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Beswick, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. (Teller)|
|Blease, L||Longford, E.|
|Blyton, L.||Lovell-Davies, L.|
|Bowden, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||McCluskey, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Peart, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.(Teller)|
|David, B.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Gormley, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Hale, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Irving of Darford, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L|
|Jacques, L.||Wells Pestell, L.|
|Jeger, B.||White, B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Ferrier, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Fortescue, E.|
|Amherst, E.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Avon, E.||Gardner of Parkes, B.|
|Aylestone, L.||George-Brown, L.|
|Bagot, L.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Glanusk, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gridley, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Halsbury, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Hatherton, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Hayter, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Henley, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Hertford, M.|
|Cockfield, L.||Hives, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.|
|Craigavon, V.||Hunter of Newington, L.|
|Cross, V.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Inchyra, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Killearn, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Kilmany, L.|
|Denham, L. (Teller)||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Eccles, V.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Long, V.|
|Faithfull, B.||Loudoun, C.|
|Ferrers, E.||Luke, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Sandys, L. (Teller)|
|McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Seear, B.|
|McFadzean, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Spens, L.|
|Mackintosh of Halifax, V.||Stedman, B.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Mar, C.||Strathspey, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Marley, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Marshall of Leeds, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Masham of Ilton, B.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L|
|Mills, V.||Thurso, V.|
|Mottistone, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Torphichen, L.|
|Norfolk, D.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|O'Brien of Lothbury, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Orkney, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Polwarth, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Portland, D.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Rawlinson of Ewell, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Renton, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Rochdale, V.||Windlesham, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Young, B.|
|St. Davids, V.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.]
§ Clause 14 [Pressure 10 impose union membership or recognition requirements]:
§ 5.48 p.m.
Lord Jenkins of Putney moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 19, line 8, at end insert—
("(5) A requirement to fulfil contractual obligations made by one person or organisation upon any other person or organisation is not actionable under this section.
(6) A requirement upon any person or organisation upon any other person or organisation to join or remain a member of a trade union or employers' association is not actionable under this section where the persons or organisations are parties to a contract which requires such membership as a condition of the contract.
(7) A refusal to work with or for a person or organisation who declines to enter into a contractual obligation to join or to remain a member of an employers' association or trade union is not actionable under this section.
(8) A refusal to join or to remain a member of a trade union or employers' association where such an obligation is required under a contract between two parties is a fundamental breach of contract rendering the contract void.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to add a number of subsections to the existing Clause 14. It has something in common with an amendment which was tabled but not moved at an earlier stage in the Bill. What it seeks to do is to do something to repair the damage which Clause 14 will do to the trade union movement. It is not a fundamental repair because that damage quite seriously is done throughout the Bill, but it is an endeavour to prevent the worst from happening. Whether or not it will succeed I am not sure because, as I have said, the other parts of the Bill will seriously undermine the ability of the trade union movement to 863 do its job. These amendments seek to prevent Clause 14 from being quite as bad as it is unamended.
§ The clause, at the moment, seeks to make an offence a number of things which are carried out day-to-day in the ordinary course of trade union work. I think I can best illustrate that fact if I tell your Lordships a story within my personal experience, which had the Bill been in force at the time would have had quite disastrous results. There was an occasion back in the 1950s when reports came to the Equity office, where I was assistant secretary—I had just joined the trade union in that role—that a distinguished actor in the Old Vic was showing a marked reluctance to pay his union subscription. He had been seen by the deputy—the shop steward—who had endeavoured to point out to him the error of his ways, without effect. The London organiser had also seen the actor, equally without effect. It was thought that perhaps the assistant secretary should see what he could do. I was, received most courteously by Mr. Kenneth Griffiths in his dressing room.
§ Those of your Lordships who have any knowledge of Mr. Kenneth Griffiths, if only at home on television, will know that I knocked at his door with some trepidation. None the less we had a most interesting discussion. We talked about the rights of the individual to do what he wanted to do and not anything imposed on him by anyone else. We talked about the rights of the group and the necessity in a cohesive society for groups to have their rights and responsibilities, too. We talked of how, in our society, complex as it is, all these groups exist within the Government and how wrong it is for the Government to seek to control their activities. That becomes immediately apparent to the noble Lords opposite if they look abroad. For example, the Government of Poland in trying to suppress the activities of a group are going beyond what is reasonable for a Government to do. But the Government are entirely unable to see that in this Bill they are themselves going beyond what it is proper for a Government to do. They are impingeing upon the right of the group to represent the people to which it is responsible.
In the discussion that took place with Mr. Griffiths—he acquitted himself in a manner which left me gasping on occasions, as no doubt your Lordships have been left gasping when watching him on television—we spoke about the formation of Equity. The undertaking which was the basis upon which the organisation was formed was a number of actors who got together and said,
We, the undersigned, pledge ourselves that we will not enter into any contract which will deny our right to refuse to work with non-members of Equity".
Your Lordships will know what is being asserted there. It is a right, a right to work only with those who accept the same obligations. It is that right that your Lordships opposite and the Government are seeking to break down in the Bill. The Government are utterly wrong and completely mistaken. They are blind in their opposition to the whole idea of collective organisation to which they pay only lip-service.
§ I hope that as a result of considering this amendment the Liberals and Social Democrats will do something that will possibly rehabilitate their performance so far on this Bill and that they will 864 decide on this occasion to give positive effect to their declared sympathy and understanding for the trade union movement. Let us at least see some walking action into the appropriate Lobby when the time comes
§ I must now finish my story. At the end of our discussion Mr. Griffiths remained unconvinced. I had to tell him that unhappily there was nothing else for it and that I should have to call a company meeting to point out to the actors that they have an obligation in their contracts to work only with members of Equity. He would by that time no longer be a member of Equity and we should have the unprecedented situation of the Old Vic Company refusing to work. Alternatively, he, a distinguished actor, would have to be replaced as a result of trade union action, and that was something I did not want to see. However, I had no alternative and so a company meeting was arranged.
§ As I was about to leave I thought I would have one more attempt and so I saw Mr. Griffiths again. I said that there was one thing I had failed to mention. If he did not want to pay his subscription there was an arrangement whereby anyone with a conscientious objection could pay it to the benevolent fund instead. "Ah!", he said, "that is different". That resolves my philosophical doubts and difficulties. You have shown me that I am not being compelled to do just one thing. I have a choice and I can now, if I so wish, choose to pay it to the Equity benevolent fund". I said that was so and he would be accepted as if it was full membership in every way. He then said, "Now I know that I have that right. I shall pay my Equity subscription". I am glad to say that Mr. Griffiths remains a distinguished member of Equity to this day.
§ The object of the story is that if the Bill had been in force at that time what I was seeking to do would have placed me subject to action in tort. I was seeking to bring pressure to bear on a person to join a trade union. I was going to ask the company on the following day to refuse to work with a non-member and that would have put me in tort and open to action. Of course, it would have been entirely out of order under earlier parts of the Bill. I am not quite sure about that, but I think it would have been actionable not only in tort but in other respects, and certainly would have been in breach of the law as regards earlier parts of the Bill.
§ We must also consider the consequences that would follow. If that distinguished actor had refused to pay, what would other members of the company have done? Would they have said "Why should we pay?" Other companies less distinguished that the Old Vic Company might have said that, if the Old Vic Company are not members of Equity, why should they join? Before long the entire structure of the theatre councils would have broken down. It therefore seems to me that had this law been in force then. Equity in its present form would not exist. The consequence of that on the British theatre would, I assure your Lordships, be disastrous. We would not have the world-wide theatrical fame we now enjoy.
§ The question has been asked, what have the employers to do with this? Why should the employers come into this? Why should it be a matter of a contract between employers and employees? The reason that the employers are included is that they want to be 865 included. They do not want to leave it entirely to the trade union to decide the circumstances when the situation must be enforced. It is the employers who say, "If you are to have this, let us be a party to it and have some say". That is why the theatre councils were set up, so that the employer could, if the trade union acts in an unreasonable way and before any action is taken, say, "No, not in this case". That is the reason the employer is included, not for the sinful reason adduced by the Government that the employer and the trade union get together to victimise the individual. That is the picture that the Government and noble Lords opposite appear to have in mind. It is a false picture. In the vast majority of cases it does not operate. In 99 per cent. of cases a situation arises as I have described. Order and reason operate for most of the time. The situation as regards the number of cases in which an individual is victimised—and human nature being what it is I do not say that they do not exist—will be gravely worsened rather than bettered if the Bill is passed.
§ Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will agree that in this small respect these clauses seek to remove action in tort for doing the type of things that I have described which take place every day, and must take place every day in the endeavour to organise 100 per cent. trade unionism, which noble Lords opposite profess not to be against. If action in tort is to become possible when any trade union official or trade union shop steward seeks to do his ordinary job, it will be almost impossible to get people to act in that capacity. Why should they put their necks out? It is difficult enough already to get people to do the job of a trade union shop steward or a trade union deputy. If we make it such that the consequences of taking on that job are that you may render yourself liable to be hauled before the courts, then the whole possibility of the trade union movement operating in the way in which it has done in this country, which by and large, albeit with some exceptions, has been a good and reasonable way, will be destroyed. The end consequence of what your Lordships are seeking to do will be to worsen the situation and to create a chaotic position rather than one which, as your Lordships believe, would be better.
§ For those reasons it is my hope that the Government, even if they want to stick to their guns in every other respect, will say: "In this respect at any rate, so far as inhibiting the day-to-day operations of the trade union movement are concerned, we shall accept the amendments and at least allow them to continue to operate without being personally liable to be sued for damages", which at present could occur. Therefore, I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackay of Clashfern
My Lords, so far as the noble Lord has explained the amendment which he is putting forward, if I have understood it correctly, the purpose of the amendment is virtually to say that it will be perfectly lawful to do what the earlier part of the clause, to which it has been added, says will be actionable in tort. And that, it seems to me, is saying that Clause 14 should, in effect, be deleted from the Bill. We had opportunities for that argument much earlier. I would suggest that this amendment is virtually destructive of the clause itself and, therefore, I cannot advise your Lordships to accept it.
866 So far as the noble Lord's account of his early work is concerned, all that I would wish to say is that it would appear to suggest, if the inference he drew from it is right—that the breakdown of Equity would have followed the enactment of this Bill had it been enacted at the time to which his story relates—that the members of Equity do not see the benefit of being members of Equity and are only kept as members of Equity by the threat of dismissal. Surely that is a gross insult to the trade union.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, I do not know whether to speak in support of my noble friend's amendment, although I support it. However, I believe it must be said that the noble and learned Lord has done less than justice to it. It is not entirely fair to say that this amendment would destroy the clause. It goes to contracts, and it goes to contracts especially to which employers would be party, under most parts of the subsections proposed. Therefore, the position would be that the employer would have another reason for saying, "I am not going to make that contract and the law does not allow you to pressurise me when I do not make it". So that is not quite a reply.
As for the idea that members of a trade union are never under pressures, of course it has been a theme of the Government throughout the Bill, and now on this amendment, that they are relieving people of pressures. The reality of the world is that people are always under pressures of one kind or another. There must be limits set by the law to those pressures. But all we hear is the illegality and undesirability of the pressures of the majority who want people to join in collective organisation in a trade union. We hear nothing of the pressures of the minority of workpeople and of the employer and, indeed, of those who create situations where people do not have jobs at all, or where they have to take jobs in substandard conditions against which trade union organisation would support them.
There is a point which has not been answered. It is a point which my noble friend has pursued through the debates and I think it is worthy of record that he has received less than fair response. It relates to the theatre. I would change hats to some extent, because I declare an interest in being chairman of the London Theatre Council and the Provincial Theatre Council. It has never been denied by the Government, as my noble friend has said today, that employers here do want joint council arrangements which involve pressure. They involve pressure on workpeople, who, of course, are employed under contracts for services for a large part and, therefore, fall under these clauses—another point that the Government have never even tried to address, as they did in 1971 in their Industrial Relations Act for these groups of people. These are special groups of people to that extent. But the employers certainly see advantages in employers being part of the collective organisation in the joint theatre councils for London and the provinces, and the union sees advantages in people joining and so do its members, and vice versa.
Each side sees the great advantage in both sides of the industry being organised. It was so from the time of Lord Esher when he drew up the standard contracts which the Government are putting in grave peril of being illegal today, and it has been so throughout the 867 time of the industry. I am not surprised that my noble friend illustrated it by a homely story of someone who saw a way of being part of the organisation. It was pressure—Yes, of course it was. But we are all under pressures to try to find accommodations for other groups of people who believe that their rights are threatened if we do not do certain things. It is up to them to make the alternatives as wide as they possibly can. But the idea that the noble and learned Lord Advocate can stand up and give those two reasons for rejecting a clause of this kind at this stage seems to me quite wrong.
Although it is true that this is a wide matter to be debating on Third Reading, your Lordships will draw the conclusion, I hope, from the debate that we have heard, that my noble friend was quite right to come back to it at this stage particularly in regard to the group of workers about whom he was speaking.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I hope the House noted, as I did with very great interest, the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, which was a little glossed over if I may say so subsequently by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, to the effect that if he had not been free to apply coercion, Equity would have collapsed. That is a profoundly revealing statement. It cuts right across those who defend the rights of trade unions, the trade unions and their members, on the grounds that they are free associations of workers combining for their mutual interest. Here we have someone who knows more about one particular union than anybody else in the House—indeed, probably anybody else in the country—telling your Lordships that Equity would have collapsed if coercion had not been able to be applied, and, indeed, that if the present Bill had then been law with its inhibitions on coercion, that would have happened. I think that that is a point that your Lordships will wish to note.
There is only one other comment that I would wish to make and that concerns the extraordinary arrogance of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, when he went on to say that if Equity had collapsed it would have been the end of the English theatre. The long and splendid history of the English theatre and of the London theatre, dating back long before Equity was born and certainly going on long after Equity will be dead, is not dependent upon the existence of that association or of any other; it is dependent upon our capacity to draw on a very considerable number of people of the highest qualities as actors, of the highest qualifications in that delicate art. I really cannot let it go by that the London stage—probably the one with the highest reputation in the world—is dependent for its standing and for its quality upon any trade union, or in particular the one which the noble Lord represents.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I happen to agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in what he has just said. Indeed, I would go one stage further and say that even with a perfectly free trade union, and without the pressures placed upon the members of the acting profession. Equity would still have been a great trade union of benefit to the members of that profession, but without the coercion which the noble Lord, Lord 868 Jenkins, seems to think is indispensable to its existence.
But be that as it may, so far as the merits are concerned, surely we have to agree with what my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate said when he pointed out to us that the terms of this amendment are inconsistent with Clause 14 as it stands and to which it is intended that the amendment should be added. If this amendment were to be added, we would get the most extraordinary conflicts of interpretation within Clause 14, and indeed I really do not see how the courts could make sense of the clause at all.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, one man's coercion is another man's loyalty. The proposition which noble Lords see is that coercion exists where there are rules, and every group has rules. Noble Lords are coerced to be here by a Whip and the words used vary with the degree of coercion which is applied to noble Lords. On occasions they are "requested" to be here—a rather light phrase; on certain occasions they are "required" to be here. If noble Lords were to proceed to the other place, they would find that the words used are even stronger than that.
Any voluntary group must have orders so that the best interests of the group can be served. Noble Lords are asking us to believe that trade unionists are such an exception to the rules that every single man Jack and woman Jill of them without any kind of rule at all will automatically behave as one. There must be rules. Any group or organisation must have rules. To the extent that the rules are required to be abided by is, of course, coercion. If an organisation requires to have a membership of 100 per cent., and if on occasion the possibility of the collapse of that 100 per cent., membership arises, then the question must be argued out.
The necessities of the trade union movement have constantly to be restated and have constantly to be renewed. This is absolutely essential to the organisation. I think that noble Lords must recognise that we do not live in a garden in which everybody is a reasonable and rational person. People are odd and peculiar. The organisation of life consists—whether it be a business organisation or any other—in having certain rules by which firms are required to abide. The London Theatre Council has rules and every other employers' association has rules, and members are required to abide by those rules. If they will not abide by those rules, they can be ejected from these organisations; they can cease to be members of the organisation. The consequence upon an employing firm, which can be ejected from its employers' association, can be very grave indeed. But it is right that that organisation should have that power so that society can be protected from the rogue employer. Equally, on occasion society also needs protection from the rogue employee. It is not the case that everybody who bucks against paying a trade union subscription is some sort of hero. It is often the case that he is a very peculiar chap indeed. It has to be explained to him that he enters into certain obligations when going into a certain sphere of operation of employment, and that those obligations are equally applicable to all people who undertake that particular role.
As to the degree to which the English theatre is or is not dependent upon the operation of the London 869 Theatre Council—and I would not put it all upon Equity—I would say that the Society of West End Theatre Managers, the Theatrical Managers' Association—who have come together with Equity to create the London Theatre Council and the Provincial Theatre Council—and the fact that this pattern has been followed throughout the entertainment industry, so that you can find a similar pattern operating in television, and a similar pattern operating in the cinema, taken together have created the sole element of certainty—of surety—in a very uncertain world.
As regards the actor, life is very uncertain; he has very few things to hold on to. He has very little certainty. His employment is often short, and how long it will last is dependent upon public taste. There are certain things in life that he can hang on to. One is his membership of Equity. Miss Koo Stark is a member of Equity. I hope that the interest that the Royal Family is taking in the trade union movement on this occasion may be taken as a good thing. There is a possibility here that this may be seen as a development, and I hope that noble Lords opposite will learn from this.
The universality of the trade union movement in this area, taking no account of whether the person concerned is a top star or a new entrant, demands a degree of discipline and control which this clause will seek to destroy, and the object of this amendment is to prevent that from happening to the same degree.
I would agree that perhaps nothing that I can do at this stage will prevent the iniquity which will befall us as a result of this Bill when it becomes an Act. Here all I seek to do is to modify it just a little, and I hope that the House will decide that to this extent that modification should be carried.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)
My Lords, the Question is, that this amendment be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"? To the contrary "Not-Content"? The Not-Contents have it.
§ The Deputy Speaker
My Lords, I will put the Question again. As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"? To the contrary "Not-Content"? The Not-Contents have it.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ Schedule 2 [Change of basis of computation of period of continuous employment]:
Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 9 and 10:
Page 31, line 30, at end insert ("(a)").
Page 31,line 32, at end insert—
(b) paragraph 7 shall he omitted.").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 9 perhaps I could speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 as well. These amendments are all connected. They are virtually drafting and they tie up one small loose end in the revision of the rules for calculating the length of an employee's continuous service. I should be happy to 870 expand on this if your Lordships wish, but it might be sufficient if I explain that the present rules have caused problems, because instead of using calendar months and years they deal only in weeks and multiples of weeks. Clause 20 and Schedule 2 aim to simplify things considerably and, therefore, to save an employer's time, effort and frustration. These amendments tidy up the drafting. I beg to move Amendments Nos. 9 and 10.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Schedule 4 [Repeals]:
Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 44, line 7, column 3, at end insert ("and paragraph 7.").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 6.18 p.m.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I think that few Bills can have been more thoroughly debated than this Employment Bill. By my calculations we have spent about 60 hours on the Bill since it arrived from another place at the beginning of June. We have sat several times until midnight and once, on a memorable occasion, a session of 12 hours until five o'clock in the morning. We sat into August, when those who sit in another place had packed their suitcases and had left with their buckets and spades. We have now returned early in order to complete, if your Lordships agree, the Bill's passage through this House. So nobody can say that your Lordships' House does not work, or that it does not have a valuable part to play in the parliamentary democracy of the country. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have contributed to our debates from all quarters of the House. I should like to congratulate them not just on their stamina in lasting the course but on the knowledge and the expertise by which they have informed and enlightened our discussions throughout the passage of the Bill.
The one thing which to me has characterised the passage of this Bill is that the speeches, from whatever quarter they have come, have been almost without exception individualistic and they have reflected the character and the experiences of each noble Lord. Even the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn, who seem to find it difficult to discover anything good to say about the Bill, have made speeches which on the whole have reflected their own experiences and their legal knowledge. They tried to lead an army of opposition against the Bill, but I am hound to say that they were mostly ghost soldiers whom they led.
This was exemplified by the memorable and penetrating plea of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, at Second Reading, when he asked to be invited only to attack the Bill when it was wrong and not when it was right.
I enjoyed the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn. They were critical; they were penetrating. That was their job and, if I may say so, they did it well. It is good for the Government to be assailed—provided of course that the Government win in the end. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, clung with delightful attachment—although I am bound to say that he seemed to have dropped him during the Recess—to Professor Gennard, and to 871 hugger-mugger. I assure the noble Lord—de nouveau —that I have still not seen Professor Gennard's report because it has not been completed and, despite his total conviction to the contrary, there is nothing hugger-mugger about the Government's attitude to it!
I admired the intellectual capacity and rapidity of thought of the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn. So swift was it that I have been perpetually three paragraphs behind in my comprehension of what he was saying. I felt sometimes that it was like being hosed with machine gun fire, and on those occasions the most courageous stance is to duck one's head and watch the bullets go over the top. My only sadness is that we have failed to convince them of the virtues of this Bill or of the misguided nature of their opposition to it. I nevertheless pay tribute to the industry, skill and stamina with which they have stuck to their chosen task. And, if we have not always agreed with them, we are indeed grateful for the unfailing courtesy and good humour with which they have argued their case, and for their generosity which has noticeably increased during this afternoon. Lord McCarthy's half cheer was graciously upped by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, to three cheers. I anticipate their continued generosity when they come to speak at this last stage of the Bill, when I hope that they will continue their three cheers for the passage of the Bill and for its improvement to the rights of the individual.
We appreciated the intervention of the Liberals and of the Social Democrats earlier on who, on the whole, have recognised the value of the Bill and who have generally supported us. I am grateful too to my colleagues on the Front Bench who have had the double burden of piloting a difficult Bill through the House whilst attending to their own departmental responsibilities; and to my noble friends on the Benches behind whose speeches were always constructive and which added breadth and depth to the debates. I was particularly grateful to them when their interventions were of a helpful nature!—which they usually were—and for all the support which they have given the Government throughout the passage of-the Bill.
My Lords, I think that the time we have spent on the Bill has been well spent. We have considered over 200 amendments and, in doing so, have examined the Bill in detail. We have discussed parts of the Bill which were only briefly touched on in another place; and we have debated a number of issues which are of great concern to the country. We send the Bill back to another place with a number of important changes which strengthen and extend its provisions. We have, for example, ensured that the protection of the closed shop provisions in the Bill covers people whose professional code of conduct conflicts with their union's instructions to strike; and who as a result may face the threat of being expelled from their union and of losing their jobs.
This matter was drawn to our attention by a number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. We listened to what they said. We thought about it, and we decided that they were right, and I think that the Bill is the better for the amendment which they pressed us to accept. Again the Government have been 872 open-minded. They have considered what has been said by your Lordships, and the Bill is the better for it. I believe that anyone who in the future has to face the agonising decision of whether to strike at his trade union's behest or to obey his professional code of conduct will be grateful to your Lordships.
We have also included in the Bill a new clause which will make it unlawful for a client to impose upon his contractors conditions which require them to recognise, to negotiate, or to consult with trade unions and trade union officials. This became necessary because a number of local authorities have tried to adopt this practice as a means of getting round the Bill's restrictions on union-labour-only requirements. I know that noble Lords on the Opposition Benches were unhappy about this addition to the Bill. But I have to say to them, and to other noble Lords, that the inclusion of what is now Clause 13 in the Bill has already borne fruit. East Kilbride District Council—dare I mention it again and send shivers up the spines of the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn—which took the lead in requiring contractors to recognise trade unions, has now decided, as a direct result of Clause 13, not to do so. This shows clearly how legislation can be a deterrent to the spread of bad practices. I hope very much that other local authorities will follow East Kilbride's lead.
Another addition to the Bill is Clause 19, which repeals the immunities for interference with trade and business contained in Section 13(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974. As my noble friend, Lord Campbell reminded us at Second Reading, Section 13(2) of the 1974 Act has been found by the Scottish courts to provide a wholly unexpected protection for workers who sit-in and occupy their factories. Its repeal will be widely welcomed by employers throughout Scotland.
Then, my Lords, I need hardly remind you that the Bill has a new Clause 1, which requires companies to state in their annual reports what they have done in the preceding year in order to develop arrangements for employee involvement. The clause was originally introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and was supported in all parts of the House. Whatever reservations we as a Government may originally have had about it, I am sure that this new clause—what one might call the hepped-up version of Lord Rochester's amendment—will serve as a reminder that success in industrial relations depends in large part on managers taking the initiative in involving employees in decisions which affect their lives—and in fact their working lives. On that, we can all agree. My Lords, I believe that the changes we have made will mean that the Bill will leave your Lordships' House an even better Bill than when it arrived. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, we on these Benches have welcomed today the bronzed, translucent tan from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and we gave cheers for that, but he cannot expect us to give cheers for a Bill about which we can feel at the very best only a great deal of sadness. In reading the debates during the Recess I must admit to your Lordships that 873 I felt a little that hard though we had striven to understand the Government's attitude, we should have induced them to make harder efforts to understand our attitude.
From these Benches what does the Bill do? It increases quite widely the employers' lawful powers to sack workers who go on strike. It protects the employer, who will not even consult the trade unions of his workforce, from all sorts of industrial and commercial pressure which range over a vast area, as we have seen today, if the purpose is to get him to change his mind, and even, as we have seen today, if it is his legal duty to do so.
It introduces, as the Secretary of State said in another place on Second Reading, a charter of non-unionism. I paraphrase his words, but we have quoted them so often that it is better today to have a paraphrase. The Government's own restraints of 1980 are burst open by what appears to us to be a prejudiced approach to industrial relations to the extent that the non-unionist who is unfairly dismissed can burst open the seams of industrial relations by dragging the union officials, at his own behest, into the tribunal, whatever the employer might want to do about it, which the Government in 1980 thought was a very bad idea. He is then provided with special prizes, and indeed today we have heard that that is not necessarily the end of it.
The trade anion movement will notice what was said by the Government today in response to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone; that there might come a day when evidence might be forthcoming. Evidence might be forthcoming? I have to say bluntly—I know this feeling is shared by my noble friends—that some of the debates we have had (perhaps we have been at fault in joining in) have been a hit of a silly game. We have heard stories about East Kilbride, Miss Joanna Hams and four dinner ladies. They are, of course, important matters: personal stories always are.
I must comment that one thing that some of my noble friends and I are fed up with is the way in which, when we advance an argument, it is always suggested that we are really advancing another one. We heard that again today; that behind our amendments must lurk some other purpose. It may be we have missed the point. We have not understood some of the points. That I will contend with. But that I am reduced to people who plead fraud—that I cannot deal with because it seems impossible to have a debate on that basis. Of course, we pay attention to individuals in our thinking, but we say that the majority is made up of individuals too, and that is the basic difference between the two sides of the House today. Indeed, the two sides of the House now, by their voting record, include on the other side noble Lords who are members of the two other parties who sit on Benches nearest to us.
The game would have been better, I say with great respect to the noble Earl, if we had had published—at least let us try of find some common ground on it—the basic evidence which is in the interim Gennard Report. If the Government had wished to do so—I assert this as my belief only—they could have induced even the reluctant Professor Gennard, as they put him forward, to produce the basic figures, and then we would have been debating the general industrial relations situation. They know it is there and I know it is there, and it would have been possible to do 874 something, whatever the difficulty over the page proofs about which they have been so laboriously concerned for some months.
The Bill intends to make the closed shop inoperable. As a matter of fact, I can understand that as one of the more arguable propositions in the Bill. I do not share that objective, but I understand some of the arguments at least which are put forward, though not all of them. But when the Bill includes such propositions in pursuit of that objective that the Government should take public money and put it into the hands of a Secretary of State who can give it away to those whom he chooses who have been dismissed in six previous years before 1980 on grounds that only he will know, with details that he will never disclose and will never put forward to the public, except most reluctantly and then not in individual terms, what are we to make of that? We are to make of that that the Government and their advisers have such an attitude to the trade union movement—indeed, even to employers, as we have seen in the Clause 13 debates today, who favour cooperation with the trade union movement—that they will go to extravagant lengths in pursuit of what turn out to be populist prejudices in terms of industrial relations, rather than facts and research. Not one clause of the Bill is based on an area of research. Of course, research does not dictate policy, but at least it can support it. It can be used by different people for different purposes, of course, and facts can be differently interpreted, but no research has even been put forward with this measure, except a few individual cases which may or may not, according to the general context, be indicative of anything.
The funds of trade unions are, for the first time for 75 years, to be exposed to actions for damages in courts, as they were in the Taft Vale judgment, with such defences as they can find, with a common law position which, even in the Green Paper of 1981, if one re-reads it now, makes it quite clear that the kind of solution the Government have come up with will not necessarily answer even the questions that were there put, in the Government's own terms in 1981, to induce more responsible behaviour by trade unions, as they saw it, and to make employers in practice make better use of their ability to sue trade unions. What it will do—because of the doctrine of vicarious liability which we debated at length—is to make sure that the union structure is put under maximum pressure by the structure of the law and divide members from their officials and leadership.
What is particularly important—and this relates to the last point—is that the very bedrock of industrial liberty in this country, a bedrock which came to us, Professor Kahn-Freund informed us, in 1875, the concept of a trade dispute, has not been fundamentally altered for many years, except for the period 1971 to 1974 when the Government put forward a totally different legal structure, to be debated in its own context. Now it is to be amended so that many trade disputes are to become political disputes under the law. Now it is to forbid sympathetic action, and when you forbid sympathetic action you allow the employer to draw the boundaries of lawful industrial action. If you say people must not support one another across the lines of employment, the employer's side in the collective arrangement can arrange the employment lines if he wishes so to arrange the legality of industrial 875 action. Indeed, in a more general manner—Poland has been mentioned today and one must be careful in making any connection—I say that when workers are forbidden to act in Solidarity with one another—when the strong may not aid the weak to the degree to which this Bill has taken it—then an area of liberty has been invaded.
Then we had the extraordinary clause, introduced at a very late stage, when a Scottish court suggested that Section 13 of the 1974 Act—not, as the noble Earl said, that it did protect a sit-in—might protect a sit-in in an interim judgment. The Government immediately jumped in with an amendment, as soon as it could be understood what they were saying, and said, "We must not have that. We must repeal that section of the 1974 Act because it represents an interference with trade". Yet, by a curious historical chance, that is the key to it, because the fundamental philosophy of the Bill is a new one, unless it was there in 1980, which is more difficult to discover. It is clear that the Bill does not like combinations of workpeople. Indeed, we heard today Ministers glorying in the idea that you can say to someone, "I will not contract with you unless you consult with your workers", but you must not say to him, "I will not contract with you unless you consult with your trade union". Of course—because the trade union is workers in combination. Take them separately, and that is all right.
That is the philosophy of the market force, where trade unions are an obstruction, which is the philosophy of Professor Hayek and those associated with his philosophy, with which the Prime Minister associated herself in 1981. Noble Lords opposite who are fans, as the Prime Minister is, of Professor Hayek, will of course like the Bill. What amazes me is that the rest of them (and those who voted for the party opposite) can go through the Lobby as a pack of Professor Hayek's poodles to support a Bill which is founded solely on the basis of weakening the trade union movement and on the basis, if it has any philosophy at all, that the market is better off when trade unions are weak.
It was not the trade union movement which caused £10,000 million of capital to be exported last year from this country. It was not the trade union movement and not the closed shop or any other of the myths that are advanced that caused 3½ million people to be unemployed, with a vast increase in the number of long-term unemployed in the last year, which is the specific factor for which this Government are responsible. It is not the trade union movement which has taken no initiative towards the recovery of the economy. The trade union movement has tried to take its part in a recovery that the Government are in fact rejecting. The Government know very well that this is a Bill which cannot live with a society that rejects the crude philosophy of market forces. Because that belief will not be widespread for very much longer, this is a Bill which will go, as the Government will go, and although we shall raise some cheers at that, we shall hope that the noble Earl retains his suntan even on that occasion.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has already remarked, from these Benches we have given the Government broad support on many of the more contentious provisions of the Bill. I have in mind those concerning the closed shop, trade union immunities, unfair dismissal, complainants being enabled to joint unions in dismissal proceedings, commercial contracts being made void in so far as they require employment of union labour only, and so on. We have done that despite the difficulties which in my view some of these proposals might well produce in practice because we have felt that they are reasonable responses to identified abuses of the 1980 Employment Act.
One such practical difficulty may prove to be the percentage of support required under what is now Clause 3 of the Bill in ballots affecting existing closed shops. We continue to feel that this is set at figures which are too high. It also remains to be seen whether the proposed legislation has taken sufficient account of trade union structures as they actually exist, and how far union officials in reality possess, and are capable of exercising, the powers that in the Bill they are assumed to have. All we can now do is to urge the general body of trade unionists to respect what will soon become the law of the land.
I should add that the Government's acceptance of the principle underlying the amendment on employee participation, which I moved and to which the House agreed at Report stage, and your Lordships' acceptance this afternoon of the clause that has just been inserted into the Bill, have made it very much easier for us on these Benches to agree, as we do, that the Bill should now pass.
I should again like to thank the noble Earl for his generous remarks about the contribution that my noble friends and allies have together been able to make to the Bill in this respect. I should like to remedy a small omission by now associating myself with what the noble Earl earlier had to say about the attempt on the part of the honourable Member for Kidderminster in another place to introduce legislation of much the same kind, designed to encourage the development of employee involvement.
It only remains for me, first, to associate myself and my noble friends with the compliments paid to the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, in undertaking for what for them cannot always have been an easy task. I hope that for his part the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, will accept that in so far as we have differed from him we have done so sincerely and, I hope, on rational grounds. Secondly, I would thank the noble Earl. Lord Ferrers, and his colleagues on the Government Front Bench for the courteous and good humoured way in which they have conducted our discussions. We are grateful to the noble Earl for having earlier made available to us notes on the various clauses of the Bill, and we are indebted to him also for the kindness that he has shown us outside as well as in the Chamber.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, this is a bad Bill. I believe that it might be appropriate if I were to speak 877 at this stage because the speech that has just been made was not on the side of those who are opposed to the Bill, and it may be that at this point the House should hear a voice against the Bill.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
I thank the noble Lord. I think it is a thoroughly bad Bill, and I so think for a number of reasons. It seems to me that we would genuinely be agreed that it is an anti-trade union Bill. It is a Bill that seeks to weaken the trade union movement, and it is I believe noteworthy that the only party which has consistently opposed the Bill is the one to which I belong. It seems to me rather sad that, with some qualifications, both the Liberals and the SDP have found themselves ready to go along with what in the Trades Union Congress is seen as such a had Bill that it did not even want us to try to improve it. I think it is generally known that the view in Congress House is that the Bill is so objectionable, and will bring on to the statute hook laws which are so totally to be opposed, that the only thing to do will be to refuse to obey them.
Therefore, the argument follows, any attempt to improve this monstrosity is misguided and should not be pursued. I disagree with that view. It seems to me that the function that we have in Parliament, even if we think that legislation is totally iniquitous, is try to make it less iniquitous. I think that that would generally be agreed. I do not agree with the view about not trying to improve the Bill, yet I understand it, because the trade unions see their whole basis as being eroded, first, by legislation that is already on the statute book, secondly, by the legislation now before us, and, thirdly, by pronouncements from various members of the Government that they propose to go even further. So the trade union movement sees its position in society being totally eroded.
I feel that a very grave error is being made here. Myself, I take the view that fundamentally, and in the end, Parliament is governed by consent. That means not only that one should carry one's own people with one, but that there should be legislation which will at least to some extent be accepted by one's opponents as being a presentation of a point of view, which is one's own point of view. But this legislation does not do that. This is legislation which seeks to impose the Conservative point of view upon the trade union movement. In other words, it is they imposing it upon us. So this is not legislation that is seen to be impartial, applying to society as a whole, and therefore acceptable to society as a whole. It is seen as being fundamentally class legislation, imposed by the "haves" upon the "have nots" to make sure that they get even less than they already have.
That is how it is seen. Noble Lords may not like this picture of it, but that is how it is. I believe that this type of legislation, which is legislation where the consent is not forthcoming from those who are legislated for, is fundamentally mistaken, I think that noble Lords will live to rue the day that they pursued the Bill through to the statute book.
Therefore, I do not find myself in a position to join in any congratulations. It would be insincere and hypocritical for me to do so, other than to pay tribute to the manner in which the deed was done, but that 878 does not make the deed much better. However, I think that from this side of the House it would be appopriate for me to pay a tribute to the noble work of my two friends on the Front Bench. I think that the job that they have done on the Bill is a great credit to them, the party, and this House, and to that extent I go along with the tributes that have been paid. But my final word must be that this is a bad day's work.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, the Bill is much to be welcomed not only for the opportunity that it has given for constructive and good-natured debate, but also for affording an important contribution to the declared policy of the Government, which was, and is, the gradual reintroduction of the rule of law in substitution for the misrule of so-called self-regulation. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, speaks of consensus; I speak to him of consensus. That was the will of the electorate. The Bill is a constructive step in a gradual process, to be seen one day in context with the first step, taken in 1980, and with the next step, which lies ahead of us. It is not irrelevant to speculate that if the Bill were a boundary stone setting the limit of legislation, instead of a stepping stone, our commitment to the electorate could never be honoured.
It is inevitable that at this stage of the evolutionary process certain matters should remain open, to become the subject-matter of consultation with a view to the introduction of further legislation. Hence the justification, now, for a measure of speculation. The establishment of more democratic procedures for the election of trade union officials and secret ballots in such elections affords but one example of the possible shape of things to come, but there are other areas of specific concern. One is the reintroduction of machinery to resolve recognition disputes. Why should that be necessary? It is because, as your Lordships know, the recognition machinery was dismantled with the Act of 1971, and now, with the introduction of these provisions, inter-union disputes are immune from the area of trade disputes. So there is a gap. Will the Government fill it?
Secondly, there is the question of contracting in, which Sir Hartley Shawcross, as he was when Attorney-General, stigmatised as "collecting political funds by human inertia". Will the Government do something about that—or nothing? Thirdly—I am only giving examples, and this is the last; I shall not detain your Lordships for long—there are measures of protection for those who seek medical attention, affording a direct cause of action for the patient against those who prevent him or her from receiving such attention. Will the Government do anything? One does not know.
Why should I raise these matters? It is because Bridlington is inadequate; reliance on human intertia to collect political funds is unacceptable; and the use of patients as a pawn is not only inhuman but abhorrent. In this context the rendering unlawful of what is now lawful cannot be fairly described, as it was by my own Front Bench, as legislation by gesture. It is right to ensure that laws that we pass can be applied in practice, but we should never refrain from passing sane, humane laws in deference to those who hold that the rule of law has no place in industrial relations.
This, I agree, is not the time to dwell upon past 879 misconceptions, for those can be set aright in the future. It is not the time to dwell on the questions which have divided those of us on these Benches during the passage of the Bill; another opportunity will—and I hope it shall—present itself. But it is important that specific areas of concern, some of which I have mentioned, should not be submerged in general questions and then left to drown in their own watery grave. May I explain how easy it is for this to happen?—for a general approach, unless implemented, tends to obscure any due consideration of the merits of a specific problem. For example, you can lose contracting in in the labyrinth of constitutional law at the drop of a hat if you want to do it. Or, on questions of measures for the protection of those in need of medical attention, you can lose that at the drop of a hat in the general problem of arbitral procedures with no-strike clauses in certain employments within the public sector. Are the Government going to lose them at the drop of a hat?
My Lords, this is why it is relevant to speculate, and the reason why it is relevant to speculate is that to see this Bill in true perspective one must see it in context with what went before and what will be the next step. It is, as I have said, a relevant and requisite process in the reintroduction of the rule of law. I submit it reflects the true purpose of law, which is to secure a measure of order, not only by reflecting but by influencing attitudes—and some of your Lordships may feel that at the heart of this matter lies the question of attitudes. And it acknowledges, as we have acknowledged throughout this debate, whatever the differences may have been, that the true status of law is such as I have stated, always to remain the servant of society, never the weapon of first resort.
In due course, when the true perspective is achieved, when the 1980 Act, this Bill and the next development are all on the statute book, it is absolutely plain that there will be an overwhelming case for the codification of the three steps and all industrial relations law, because no one can pretend that the present situation is satisfactory, or is as satisfactory as it should be. That is a matter near and dear to the heart of my noble friend Lord Renton, who I understand may have something to say on that subject. The only issue which can remain is not whether we are to consolidate the industrial relations law one day, but when.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, when, in June of this year, this Bill first came to us from another place, it had experienced an extremely rough passage there: weeks of argument in Committee and at Report stage; a great deal of noise, accompanied by the usual shouting; and, finally, the guillotine, which of course meant that quite a large portion of the Bill had never been discussed at all in that place. But here we have given it a thorough examination in what we are now told were some 60 hours of deliberation. I would have thought it more, thinking back, but I accept that it was 60 hours. During that time the debate has been vigorous and it has been tough on occasions, but it has been peaceful, and there has not been the commotion experienced in another place. Having served in both Houses, I sometimes wonder whether they have 880 selected the right House for abolition. It is a debatable point, but it is one which perhaps ought to be thought about.
On the Second Reading of this Bill I made it clear, on behalf of my colleagues of the SDP, that in the main we supported the Bill; we did not regard it as a major Bill; and we wondered really what some of the opposition outside was all about. We regarded much of it as absolutely ersatz indignation. We have, of course, ourselves sought to amend this Bill in one or two ways; for example, by giving the right to trade union members democratically to elect their own leaders and executives by secret ballot, and this was given sympathetic consideration by the Government.
It was not we alone who tabled this amendment. It was tabled also by Members on the Government side. We sought also to give a right to trade union members to pay a political levy or not, as they wished, and, having paid it, to decide to which political party that contribution should be made. Equally, it is our view that if that became law the shareholders of companies ought to have a similar right before their company management decide to make contributions to any political party. Thirdly, we sought to give the right to trade unionists through a group of their members advocating such a step to take a secret ballot before proceeding on industrial action or on a strike. As has already been done, we would wish to congratulate our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, who is also our ally with the Liberal Party, for persuading the Government and the House to accept his amendment. It is an excellent amendment and I think that perhaps the Government too should be thanked and their part acknowledged for accepting it at once and for putting it down at this stage. It would have been possible for them to present arguments for delaying it.
Following the points that have just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, we, as a party, uphold the law in its entirety, but we would not, given the power at some point, shrink from altering it if it were thought to be wrong and if it were thought to be necessary. Nevertheless, we believe that the law as it exists, whether it is considered to be good law or bad law should be obeyed; and this should apply equally to trade unions, employers' associations and everyone else; because we could not possibly function without adhering to the law.
Having said that, we believe that there is an indisputable right for people, as individuals or trade unions, to campaign against a law which they particularly do not like, but never to engage in industrial action or in strikes for purely political ends. That is a very slippery slope and we think that most trade unionists themselves realise it. Our main objective, as the SDP, will be (if we can) to introduce greater democracy in the procedures of the trade unions and finally, to coin a phrase, to restore the trade unions to their own members.
§ Lord Hankey
My Lords, I hope that we may have one speech from the Cross-Benches. I do not want to add to the length of this debate and I shall be extremely brief. I want to congratulate the Government, first of all, on the way they have handled this Bill. I think that the Front Bench have shown extraordinary powers of resistence and continuity and, in particular, I have admired the way they have leapt all the obstacles in 881 this marathon race so ably and unexpectedly put in their way by the noble Lords, Lord Wedderburn and Lord McCarthy.
On the whole, one has been surprised by the tremendous conservatism on the Labour Benches. By "conservativism" in this sense I mean steady resistance to change. I think that the time has come when we have to recognise that, without the reform of our trade union system which is now in process, we are not going to cure the English disease and we are not going to get the industrial expansion without which we cannot cure the appalling amount of unemployment or the shocking waste of resources which is now going on. I think that this Bill goes some way to doing what is necessary, and I think that the Government have shown courage in getting on with it. I wish they had done it two years earlier. One has to recognise that they are proceeding with a process of reform which is quite essential to the survival of this country, because had it not been for the oil we should have sunk into the North Sea some time ago.
I entirely agree with the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that this is a process of reform, and I hope the Government will continue their efforts in the right direction. I am one of those on these Benches who really believe in trade unions. I think that without strong trade unions the workers cannot be sure that their interests are properly protected; but we must have a system of law in these matters which protects the country against lighthearted disruption of industry and a state of affairs which is going to cause this country to founder if it is not corrected. I congratulate the Government on this Bill; I think it is a very good one. I hope that it will be approved fully in another place.
§ 7.5. p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, if I may comment immediately on what the noble Lord who has just sat down has said about the role of the trade unions, I should like to point out that, contrary to Government propaganda and the propaganda of the mass media of this country, we all know that the overwhelming majority of' newspapers are anti-Labour, anti-trade union and, in consequence, that much of the rubbish that they print is often believed by people who ought to know better. Let us take the point of the noble Lord who has just sat down, who said that he believes that there should be strong trade unions. I agree with that. Then there are those, from the Prime Minister onwards—or upwards or downwards; you take your choice—who say that half the nation's troubles arise because—and I beg your Lordships to listen to this—working people have been having too high wages.
Let us in this connection look at an independent source. I can well understand that noble Lords would be aghast and annoyed if I were to pick as my independent source the Soviet Union. I will not do so. With your Lordship's approval, (particulary that of the Benches opposite and the Cross-Benches) I will pick the United States of America. I think that is fair enough. Let us look at an independent survey by an American organisation, The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Office of Productivity and Technology of the United States Department of Labor. The 882 statistics that they reveal with regard to manufacturing workers' wages in ten countries are these. I have taken them from an article by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington.
Taking the American average as 100, these are the figures: Canada, below the United States' worker, 91; Japan, way below the United States' worker, 59; Belgium 133, France 95, Germany 120, Italy 91, Netherlands 123, Sweden 127 and the United Kingdom 71. Out of all those ten countries, there is only one nation where the average wage is lower than in the United Kingdom.
Frankly, one could argue with some reason that the trade union leaders are not doing well. Equally, some of the things that have been uttered by people who ought to know better are, according to these statistics, nothing but downright and blatant untruths. This is the thing that irks the research workers in the many trade union offices where these things are researched. They provide information in the way the civil servants provide it to Ministers. Then, when people press as hard as they can for their just desserts, they find themselves in a position where the members to whom they have given statistics like those I have just read out say, "Then do something about it!".
These are the things we have to realise: that when—and I think all parties have been guilty of this—we make pronouncements which are either gross exaggerations or, as in this case, blatent lies, for political propaganda, we are not endangering any political party but we are endangering the stability of this island. It is because of my belief in the stability of this nation that I am most anxious about this Bill. I believe that it was spawned out of hatred and greed. I watched Mr. Norman Tebbitt in another place and his attitude to the very mention of the words "trade unionism". We have not heard such things from the Benches opposite in this place; that was not like the remark that we heard from the noble Lord who has just sat down, who believes that there have to be trade unions—for doctors, lawyers and teachers as well as for coalminers, steelworkers and transport workers. I agree with that too.
I find it distasteful that a Bill like this is not to reform but, in my judgment, is horn out of a pathological hatred of the ability of the ordinary working man and woman in this country to organise, to improve their standards of living and then to defend those standards of living. I want to say immediately that the winter of discontent was a shameful part of the trade union record—it really was. There were activities indulged in in that winter which I do not recognise as legitimate activities of decent British trade unions. Those words were said, almost as I have said them tonight, in the other place by Mr. Michael Foot and by many other trade unionists.
However, they were not reported in the free press of Great Britain, and when you ask the reporters and editors of the free press of Great Britain they say, "Well, that is the kind of situation that we have. We have to look to the people to whom we are answerable and it might not have done us any good to have this type of situation whipped up". When it is in favour of working people, the national press is working things up; when it is against them, and attacking them, it is doing a good job for the country. I believe this, too, is one of the reasons why we have this Bill.
883 Can your Lordships remember in that winter of discontent that appalling front page of the Evening Standard? I listened to people who were going home on the Underground, looking at that front page aghast because the British trade unionists had introduced rats into London. There were these appalling references. We all know the story. Later we were told that those rats which appeared in pictures on the front page were stuffed ones ready for the camera. Is this the way that we have to attack one another? Does anyone in this Chamber approve of that kind of behaviour? I am pleased with the reaction of your Lordships because there are a couple of people in the other Chamber who say, "Anything will do to beat that lot". Thank goodness that that attitude of mind does not apply in this particular House!
Before I go any further, I should like to compliment my two noble friends in the Front Bench, the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn, for their stalwart endeavours on behalf of what I might describe as our people in the country here in this Chamber. I am not sure whether I want to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, because he worries me tremendously. When he opened the debate on the Question, that this Bill do now pass, he spoke with such charm and niceness that he has the ability to move the introduction of a child labour Bill and get away with it this evening. At the same time, I have to say that there seems to be a totally different attitude in this Chamber compared with the other place. We can say harsh things: I have never heard so many speeches against a Conservative Government as I have heard in this place. I have never heard speeches—not necessarily regarding their criticism—making recommendations or approving amendments that have been passed from this side of the House and taken seriously by the Government. If they had been dealt with in the other place they would have been totally ignored. Therefore this is something that I find very rewarding.
But I am not going as far as the leader of the SDP, the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone. This will be on the record tomorrow and it must be stated loud and clear to the British people. The representative of the SDP the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone—and nobody contradicted him—said that the democratic, elected Chamber should be abolished and this is the Chamber that should be retained. This is a very, very serious statement indeed to have made.
Before the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, gets up, with his Liberal views, I have a few things to say about him as well. When we look back at the history of the trade union movement, I am prepared to give credit on many things. Many of the people who founded this movement that I am defending tonight had their lives taken from them or were deported. The Bill was passed by this very Chamber against trade unionists, and it said that if there were four working men gathered together under one roof, they were liable to be deported. People with five sons had to be very careful that they did not sit round the same table to say their prayers.
This movement of ours was not given to us, it had to be fought for. Like every other human organisation it has made its errors. One of the terrible errors was 884 what happened in that winter of discontent which involved only one out of every 100 British trade unionists. These are the matters that we have to take into consideration. Look at the statistics of confrontation in Australia, the United States of America, Canada—there are no statistics in the Soviet Union, as we all know—and in many European countries. On the incidence of strikes, Britain is at the bottom. We used to say that we deserved to be at the bottom as we had the least number of strikes because we had the strongest trade unions in the world and we were holding the rest up. We used to say that when I was a young man, and it is still true. These things might be acknowledged from time to time by people who do not necessarily believe in the trade union movement.
I heard the noble Lord opposite talking about law and order. Of course I believe in law and order, but may I remind your Lordships that there is a far, far greater crime being committed on this island than anything the whole trade union movement have done over the past 10 years, whatever those crimes are. This is where the law and order wants to apply. There are those who filch, steal, rob and cheat, whether it is in their taxes, their false profits, their tax hideouts, who make the contribution to the "black economy" which is now running at £9 million a year. That is where we want to apply the law and order. This where we want to start to be really concerned.
I am frightened of this. This information is available in the research departments of trade unions. There will be anger when people realise when this Bill becomes an Act that they have been selected for special attention, not the cheats and not the crooks. It will annoy people when they realise this situation, for instance, we read that a television announcer is going to get rather more than £1000 a week, yet a nurse cannot get £64. An announcer works about an hour a day: a nurse works 24 hours a day in three shifts. These are the things that ordinary people, like nurses, junior doctors, miners and steelworkers, talk about.
Speaking parenthetically, I have never had much time for the closed shop. I am one of those who believe that the standard of behaviour in the trade union movement—what can be done for people and what has been done—ought to be enough to attract people. But to force people is wrong. We have to aim our sights higher. This Bill will prevent that activity on behalf of trade unions. Those of us who deplore the closed shop will find ourselves in a difficult situation.
This Bill is an unnecessary shackling of a great British traditional working class movement, and it is wrong. Perhaps paradoxically it is shown in the cartoon in today's issue of the Daily Telegraph. There is a grave and the body in that grave is the Polish Solidarity movement. Part of the cartoon shows General Jaruzelski walking away. When I first glanced at it I thought "My word, Mr. Tebbit!" but it was General Jaruzelski walking away. But there were flowers growing on that grave and I would just conclude with this: that whatever the Conservative Party do, with their Liberal and SDP allies, whether gradually or by means of death by a thousand cuts, they will not in the end break the spirit of the British trade union movement.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, may I say that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, filled me with nostalgia—not unpleasant nostalgia, either—because I always enjoyed his fluent oratory in another place and I have never doubted his sincerity. But may I remind him that this Bill is not about wages? It is about freedom and justice for working people and the protection of the interests of the community against, for example, such things as happened in the Winter of Discontent, which he so properly condemned. I was rather surprised that he did not share the view of his former Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, now the Leader of the SDP, who said he wondered what all the fuss was about in the opposition to this Bill.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn—and this is relevant to what the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, said—when Lord Wedderburn said that men should be able to act in solidarity and strength together, may I say that I agree. And they will be able to continue to do so, so long as they act together voluntarily and with the proper motive of advancing their own interests in a dispute with their own employers, and not those ulterior motives which the Bill tries to limit.
I, too, would like to congratulate and thank my noble friends on the Front Bench for the way in which they have presented the case for this Bill. Although they all deserve our praise, I feel we should pay special tribute to my noble friend Lord Ferrers because, on top of his very considerable responsibilities as Minister of state for Agriculture and as Deputy Leader of your Lordships' House, he has had to master this very difficult subject—and I know that it is a very difficult subject, even for a professional lawyer. It is a subject with which I believe he was not altogether familiar until he had to get down to it. But he has, if I may say so, served us with zeal, understanding and great distinction.
Mr. Tebbit and the Government surely deserve great credit for this Bill, which is but another step in the step-by-step approach. It goes far towards keeping faith with those millions of people, including many members of trade unions, whom we promised in 1979 that we would reform the law governing industrial relations and who voted for us on the strength of that undertaking.
I certainly join with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in saying that I hope this is not the last step in the step-by-step approach. I hope that at some future time we shall have another and bigger instalment. But surely the Bill's provisions which deal with compensation for unfair dismissal and those dealing with union membership agreements are likely to be welcomed by millions of working people for they are in their interests and will secure for them freedom and justice. It is fundamental in our free society that people should be able to join a trade union of their choice and not be compelled to join any particular trade union if they prefer not to do so.
The clauses relating to the definition of "trade disputes" are surely long overdue and are a welcome step towards ending the long-standing absurdity of exempting trade unions from civil liability for their actions—a liability which other people and bodies in 886 our society have to accept. This immunity of trade unions from being sued in our civil courts has given them a strange immunity. I am not being frivolous when I say that it is rather like the "benefit of clergy" in the Middle Ages, when any man who could read would be free from conviction for felony and therefore could commit felony with impunity. It did not apply to women, incidentally, until there was an attempt made in the reign of Charles I to make it do so. It took a long time—several centuries—to get rid of "benefit of clergy" but at last good sense prevailed, as it generally does, and good sense prevails, I suggest, in those clauses of this Bill which reduce the immunities of trade unions. They do not abolish immunity altogether, but they limit it to a more reasonable extent.
However, one must remind those trade union leaders, who last month talked about being "fined or sent to prison" if they defied the law relating to secondary action, that their liability is not a criminal liability under our law relating to secondary action. It is a civil liability to pay compensation or what lawyers call damages; and when this Bill becomes law, they should be reminded, the funds of trade unions and not merely of individuals will be available to pay damages to those who suffer if unlawful industrial action had been authorised or endorsed by a responsible person on behalf of a trade union. That is something very different from fines, imprisonment and criminal liability, and we cannot stress that enough.
My only criticism of the Bill is that the law relating to secondary action which attempts to define what secondary action is legal and what is not, is now still, in spite of the Bill and partly because of it, in such a confused state. It has got to be gleaned from Section 17 of the 1980 Act, which we must remember is a difficult enough provision in itself, as read with Section 13 of the 1974 Act, as amended by Section 3(2) of the 1976 Act, and not forgetting that Section 13(2) of the 1974 Act is repealed by this Act and that there are other provisions of this Act which have a bearing on those other provisions which I have mentioned. Therefore, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway was quite right in saying that this branch of the law, and particularly that part of it relating to secondary action, must be codified; and it is a question of "when".
I realise that, if another Bill dealing with the next step is to be introduced during the next Session, it would not be wise to do a general codification and we should wait until that further Bill is on the statute book. But whether we are to have another Bill in the next Session or not, or nothing further until the next Parliament, I would say that those few provisions relating to secondary action should be redrafted as soon as possible, and I implore the Government to consider that.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway referred to the hardship and sometimes to the chaos caused by action taken by and on behalf of the hospital workers. I hope that my noble friend who is to reply for the Government will tell us what can be done, first, under the present law, and, secondly, under the law as it will be amended by this Bill with regard to such action. That is what people want to know, because hopes have been raised that we would do something to deal with that. I remember well the very proper comments which the Prime Minister made during the winter of 887 discontent, when she indicated that Ministers in an Administration which she headed would do something about it.
In conclusion, I say this. I wish well to all who are going to obey this Bill when it comes into force. Those who do not should be told that they will not only be defying the laws of our Parliament, but defying the will of our democracy as expressed in a general election. Today happens to be the Prime Minister's birthday. The passing of this Bill by your Lordships is a present from us which she will be expecting with her usual blend of modesty and confidence.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, very briefly, may I say that I am sure my noble friend Lord Aylestone will withdraw his somewhat jocular proposal for the abolition of another place, if the Labour Party will withdraw its proposal for the abolition of this place. I was encouraged by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, who praised the procedures of this House and the way in which this Bill had been handled in it. I have no doubt that he will lend his weight in his own party's councils to a revision of his party's view on this matter.
I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on the way in which he has handled this Bill. He said that we had given broad support to the Bill, and that is true. But I should like to remind him, and to put it on record, that there were two areas in which our support stopped short of 100 per cent. One was in the area of the punitive damages which can be awarded against trade unions under the Bill, with which we are not in agreement, and the other was on the very high thresholds for the agreement of a UMA—a point which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester.
I do not want to duplicate what my noble friend Lord Aylestone has already said from this Bench. I mainly wish to add my personal congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. I am glad that his clause—albeit slightly modified—has been included in the Bill. This is psychologically important. It also goes hand in hand with the importance which we, as a party, attach to industrial democracy; not the rigid formulae of Bullock, but the flexible and pluralistic arrangements advocated in our own Green Paper No. 6, which is currently under discussion at our conference.
Of course, we want to go a little further than the clause of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. We advocate an industrial democracy agency as a watchdog. This is not a debate on industrial democracy, and I do not want to steer it in that direction at this hour of night. I simply want to recommend to noble Lords, and indeed to the general public, the very sensible reading matter contained in our policy documents, both on trade union reform and on industrial democracy. I recommend them to your Lordships and I shall be happy to provide you with copies if you would like them.
There is just one other point that I want to make. I found in our industrial democracy green paper the following sentence:In its annual report the IDA"—888 that is, the industrial democracy agency—should be required to comment specifically on all cases where participation agreements had been concluded which departed substantially from the code of practice, so that successful forms of participation could be publicised.I repeat that phrase,so that successful forms of participation could be publicised.I hope that that will be precisely the outcome of the clause of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. I very much hope that, within a year or so, when these company reports—I have said this on previous occasions during the course of the Bill and I shall say it again—come out, they will provide a rich mine of information for future industrial democracy legislation along pluralistic lines, under an Alliance Government.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I feel that I owe it to my fellow Back-Benchers on this Side of the House to make three points. First, I want to protest at the implications which have come from the other side of the House that we are not in favour of trade unions. That is not so. Secondly, I want to refute the remark which has been made on the other side of the House to the effect that this Bill has been "spawned by hatred and greed". I do not mind saying that I take offence at that. That just is not so. Thirdly, I want to support what my noble friend Lord Renton has said, that it is not wise to use words such as "live to rue the day" when we are dealing with the law of the land. To go back to the attitude of this side of the House in dealing with this Bill, I know that I am right in saying that a number of Back-Benchers have not hesitated to vote against the Government in Divisions.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, this is the time in the evening when we congratulate everybody and I have no wish to stand out against that strain. I congratulate the House on the way in which, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has said, we have conducted this debate, which, on the whole, has been in a good humoured and good natured way. I congratulate the Ministers, and there were a remarkable number of them this time—the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, and even the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, came with us, all reading their briefs and making their arguments so well. I congratulate those who wrote the briefs. Never were there such good briefs for such a bad case. It is remarkable that we have had this great array of talent. It is a considerably larger and longer array of talent than the one we had on the 1980 Act, when we had to make do—if I may so put it—with the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate and the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who, for some reason, has been taken off the batting this time. We congratulate them all on the way in which they have defended their case as they have seen it.
I should like, at the end of my congratulatory address, to thank all those on our side of the House who have spoken so well in support of the amendments which they have put down, and which my noble friend Lord Wedderburn and myself have 889 put down. I think that they have acquitted our party very well and we are very grateful to them.
What I want to do, quite quickly, at this time of night, is to go back to the central thrust of the speech which was made on the other side of the House by the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, at Second Reading. What he did then was to summarise the speech which was made on Second Reading in another place by no less a person than the Secretary of State for Employment himself. He was right to do so, because the thrust of this Bill was never more clearly put than when the Secretary of State for Employment in another place said at column 741 of Hansard of 8th February that the Bill has two objectives:first, to safeguard the liberty of the individual from the abuse of industrial power … secondly, to improve the operation of the labour market".We are not saying that the individual does not need to be safeguarded from the abuse of industrial power. We have never argued that. We have not said that the closed shop is without problems and difficulties, from the point of view of the individual and the abuse of industrial power. We have never suggested that the law in relation to the closed shop, with the experience that we had from 1974–76 to 1979, is in a correct state, or an adequate state, or that it would need to be put back into precisely the same state that it was in between 1974 and 1976. Indeed, in the course of these debates I have suggested a number of ways in which that legislation might need to be changed—for example, in the case of existing employees in new closed shops.
So we are not saying, and we have not said, that there is not a problem of freedom for the individual in the closed shop situation. What we have said and what we are saying is that the proposals, the Motions, the amendments which the Government have put down will not deal with that problem, will not solve that problem and in many ways will make that problem worse. More important still, we have said that the way in which the Government have sought to concentrate on the problems of the individual and the abuse of industrial power in the closed shop, and only in the closed shop, goes to show how narrow their true interest is.
We have sought to put down amendment after amendment to give to other groups outside the closed shop some of the benefits and advantages and the special position which they have wanted to give to workers in closed shop situations. We have been voted down every time. We have tried in a very modest way simply to increase the maximum of compensation which, as we have said, would be a very small thing to do—by simply indexing it to the increase in prices since the Government took office. These things have not found acceptance on the other side of the House. So do not let the other side of the House say that we are the conservative people, that we are the narrow people. We would argue that what we have tried to do in this field in this Bill is to show a concern for unfair dismissal on grounds of race, on grounds of sex, on grounds of unfair selection for redundancy and to show a concern for those people—over 1 million—who were excluded from all provision for unfair dismissal by this Government.
Although, therefore, we say that there are problems over the individual and the abuse of power in the closed shop, we also say that those problems exist 890 outside. We say that a dismissal is a dismissal and that in broad terms the compensation and the remedies for unfair dismissal should be the same for all categories of dismissal.
If the Government had come along and said that they would do all these things for all these people about whom we are concerned because of unfair dismissal, I still would not have liked the way they had done it. I do not like the exemplary nature of their award. Nevertheless, the same levels of compensation could have been introduced, and I for one would have found them acceptable.
Indeed, I would go further. When we had our famous debate about the position of the professional man I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers (or it may have been the noble Viscount. Lord Trenchard; I cannot remember who it was), who said, as we were saying, that the position of the professional man was fully covered by the Bill. Some people on the Cross-Benches seemed to be confused. It was late at night. They seemed to believe that the effect of the amendment was to give a right of reinstatement, or at least a right of re-engagement. The Government Minister pointed out quite clearly that that was not the case. Very well. I am prepared to say that for my part I would be quite happy to see a right of re-engagement or a right of reinstatement if it was for all categories of unfair dismissal, but I must warn noble Lords opposite that they would get much more resistance from employers than they would get from trade unionists. And the trade unionists are not all that keen. In fact, they are not in favour. I am in favour.
Therefore, let nobody come along and say that we have come to this Dispatch Box and taken a narrow position on these questions of individual liberty. We are taking a broad position. We are saying, "Let the rights be the same for all groups and let the rights be extended". But do not let us come along and do these narrow things for this narrow group, and do not let us do it in a way, as we have sought to argue, which upsets stable industrial relations. That is what we say on the first hall of the Bill, safeguarding the liberty of the individual.
On the second half of the Bill, to improve the organisation of the labour market, we are not coming here to say that the effect of trade union organisation on the labour market is entirely in accordance with the principles of neo-classical economics. Of course not. Of course trade unions are a difficult organisation for classical economists to fit into their theories, but that does not make them had things. We have not come along here to say that trade unions sometimes do not support restrictive practices or do not support wage levels which cannot be justified. What we are saying is that we are not going to deal with problems of that kind and with the effect of trade union organisation on economic activity and economic growth by seeking to legislate trade unions out of existence in the way that has been done in the Bill. We are not coming here as apologists for everything which trade unions do and we are not coming here simply to argue for an extension of trade union privileges and trade union rights. We are coming here to say that in our considered opinion this Bill faces in the wrong direction because it poses the wrong questions. Therefore, it gets the wrong answers.
891 The only other thing I want to do at this time of the evening is to speculate about what may happen when the Bill is passed. We all know what advice the Government will give to the trade union movement: "Observe the provisions of the Bill", in precisely the same way as they would say, "Observe the provisions of the 1980 Act". There are a number of objections and problems which can be raised in relation to that simple answer. The first problem is, what are the limits of the law? We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Renton, how complex are the provisions of section 17 of the 1980 Act. The noble Lord is absolutely right. But, as he says, this is now to be modified by many sections of the Bill. We were arguing at the time of the 1980 Bill that the closed shop was left in a very doubtful position. It has now been made more complex by the provisions of the 1982 Bill. And, most important of all if we are talking about industrial action, there are the clauses in this Bill which deal with the meaning of a trade dispute and with the responsibilities of trade unions if they cannot show that they have repudiated those who find themselves on the other side of this new definition.
I say to this House: if any lawyer will come along to any trade union, take their money and say that he knows what they have to do to remain within the limits of the law, given both of these measures, he is taking their money under false pretences. Therefore, there will be occasions when trade unions, with the best advice which they can obtain, will find themselves outside the limits of the law. There may be other occasions when the evidence and advice which they receive is quite clear: "That which your members have decided to do, or which your annual conference has decided to do, is outside the limits of the law".
We must face the fact that these things will happen. Indeed, if we are honest, they have been happening for the past two years. Many things must have gone on which were outside the provisions of the Employment Act 1980. We do not know about it. At least, we do not know about it officially because there have been no cases. No employers and no third parties have felt it worth-while to sue. Of course, that may happen again. It may be that trade unions will be outside the limits of the law and that nobody will sue. But somebody may.
What will happen then? And what are the options available to the trade union movement if that happens? We know what the Government will say. At least, we think we know what they will say. They will say, "If liability is proved, pay your way out". In many ways that appears to be a reasonable answer. It certainly is an answer which is operated in many other areas of the law. Nobody thinks it particularly reprehensible, for example—as I have tried to point out at several stages in this debate, and I beleive I made this point to the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie—and nothing could be more normal (put East Kilbride out of your minds) than for a lawyer to say to an employer, "If you want to dismiss that man now, you may be hauled before an industrial tribunal, but you can always pay your way out of it". That is done rather in the way that you or I might think about a parking fine—pay your way out. That is a perfectly normal thing to say to someone in the field of commercial or contract law. You might ask why trade unions cannot do that. It may be that that is what they will have to do, 892 but there are certain weaknesses from their point of view in this simple solution—that they should pay their way out.
In the first place, as a result of the provisions of this Bill the cost of paying their way out because of the consequences of Section 5 and Section 16 could be suicidal. One may say that is all to the better but you cannot expect the trade unions to take that point of view. Nevertheless, the cost under those provisions of the Act could be suicidal. Even if the trade unions decided to pay, they might be in certain difficulties if certain members, activists or constitutional authorities in the union took the decision that the union shall not pay. If that happens we may move from that nice area about which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was talking, where we were in the field of civil liability. If' the unions will not pay then they will find themselves in front of the courts and will find themselves, possibly, in contempt. Indeed, it may not take that long because there may be interim injunctions, and the union may have to carry out those interim injunctions. If they do not carry out those interim injunctions, even if the original liability is a civil liability, they may find themselves in the position where they cannot pay their way out.
We say—and this may be the basic difference between us—that to us this is a horrifying and fearful prospect to place before the trade union movement. Perhaps the last and final reason why it is a horrifying and fearsome prospect concerns something which I am certain the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said. The fact is that this is a game which continues. The Government talk about their step-by-step approach. The Government have got their seven league boots on. We have already had the son of the Employment Bill; we are promised the son of the son of the Employment Bill, and the son of the son of the son of the Employment Bill. It goes marching on as far as we can see, like the final solution. If one shot will not work, you will have another one. The final solution may be, of course, a return to the Combination Acts. Perhaps it was the repeal of the Combination Acts that caused all the trouble. If we could go back to the Combination Acts, to the Statute of Labourers, maybe at last we would be able to stop the trade unions from making it impossible for this Government to run this country with its present economic policies. We find that a horrifying prospect. It is the fact that the trade unions know that this is a game which continues, and know that the Government are waiting in the wings to produce further legislation, further legislation and further legislation if this legislation fails, that is the most horrifying thing I find about this Bill. We on this side say that it is a deplorable situation. It is a dangerous and fundamentally counter-productive Bill, and we cannot support it.
§ 7.56 p.m.
My Lords, the conclusion of this debate has brought the usual variety of views. Many noble Lords have been kind enough to congratulate other noble Lords for the parts they have played. So far as those congratulations have been extended to the Government Front Bench, I would like to thank those who have extended them very much. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, in his peculiarly generous way, 893 congratulated us on reading our briefs so well and congratulated those who wrote them. I must say that there was a certain obfuscacity about his congratulations. I would accept them for what they are worth and all I would tell the noble Lord is that when I next shake hands with him, I shall be careful for fear that he inadvertently snaps off my fingers!
The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, said that this Bill was produced without any research being done on it. Academics always love research being done; they will research things for ever—but the proposals in the Bill are based on more than six months' consultation; first, on the Green Paper on Trade Union Immunities which was published in January 1981, and then on the consultative proposals for legislation which were published in November 1981. It may not have had the research which the noble Lord's academic mind would require, but it has been the result of consultation, and it has been the result also of experience; and that is no mean thing to be the precursor of a Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, said that the whole purpose of this Bill was to make the closed shop inoperable. That is a terrible misconception of what the Bill is. It is not a question of making the closed shop inoperable. What it seeks to do is merely to make the closed shop operable where people want it, and that is a very different thing. One or two curious remarks were made, if I may so suggest. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, referred to this as an anti-trade union Bill. He said it was class legislation, where the haves are against the have-nots. The noble Lord, Lord Molloy, said that it was spawned out of hatred and greed. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrier behind me, that that was an unfortunate expression. He also said that we would not break the trade union movement. These are curious sentiments and I will deal first, if I may, with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney.
This is not an anti-trade unions Bill. It is anti the abuses or excesses which trade unions can inflict either on the public or upon their members. This Government is just as determined as other Governments in wishing to see a good and proper trades union movement, but I can never understand why the trade unions are always so sensitive about anything which may be done to them. They have their rights—of course they do. They have their place in society; and they have their responsibilities in society as well.
This is not class legislation. This is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, says, the haves against the have-nots. It is, if I may say so—and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, has a thick political skin and so he will not mind my saying this—a pathetic decscription of what this Bill is about. It is an utter misconception. How on earth can it be class legislation when it protects the individual worker against the power of the union with whom he may wish not to be associated? The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, is, I know, for coercion. He said so earlier on his amendment this afternoon. The difference is that we on this side are not for coercion.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, may I suggest just two things to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers? First, in presenting his case he should try to do so without descending to personal insults. Secondly, in presenting 894 that case he should not seek to misrepresent the case which was presented to this House.
My Lords, I am not quite sure what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, means by that. I have not been personally insulting, as far as I know. If I have, I apologise. What I said was that I thought it was a pathetic description of the Bill because it simply did not add up to what the Bill is. If that can be described as being personally insulting, then of course I apologise, but I did not mean it as a personal insult.
The noble Lord, Lord Molloy (who is now here), referred to a whole lot of statistics in the United States. I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton that they really have nothing to do with the Bill. All I would say is that if some of the restrictive practices which are occasionally operated by trade unions were not so operated, we could have more productivity and more demand—and that would enable businesses in their turn to pay higher wages.
My noble friend Lord Renton was kind enough to make some generous remarks. He said that this was a difficult subject, one which even he as a lawyer found difficult. I am hound to say I agree with him wholeheartedly, though I am not a lawyer; it is an appallingly complicated subject. He was quite correct when he said it was one with which I was not familiar. I do not know whether I am wholly familiar now, but I did have a lot of help, rather like the conductor of an orchestra who depends on the musicians playing the instruments at the correct time in the correct manner. My noble friends have helped in that way.
My noble friend Lord Renton asked me to say something about the hospital workers' dispute and where the position stands. This point was raised by both Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. We, all of us, I think, utterly condemn strikes such as the present National Health Service strike which puts lives at risk and which can only increase the suffering of the sick. I have no hesitation in saying that it is disgraceful that emergency cases should have to be taken to hospital in police cars and without proper medical attention; it is disgraceful that people who are in pain should be kept waiting for operations; it is disgraceful that trade union officials and not trained medical staff should be the ones who decide what is and what is not an emergency. It is disgraceful, indeed shocking, that children should be refused treatment in any circumstances, but least of all when they have already been given an anaesthetic and been prepared for operation. These are not imaginary examples, as anyone who has followed the events of the last few weeks will know; they are facts of life which have occurred in this country recently and which evoke no pride, but shame.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, is it not equally disgraceful that all the things the noble Earl has just described would never have occurred were it not for the disgraceful attitude of this Government in doing away with an ancient British tradition in industrial matters, allowing an arbitrator or arbitrary hoard to decide the issue?
No, my Lords, I believe that the decline in support for the strikers, which is evident from the most recent so-called days of action, is a 895 direct result of the feelings of outrage which these incidents have caused. It is natural that this sort of behaviour, which is abhorrent to virtually everyone, should lead to demands for the law to do more to protect the innocent and the suffering, and we have heard those demands during these debates. I would like to take a few minutes to explain the legal position as fully and clearly as I can, as I have been asked to do.
Section 5 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 makes it a criminal offence for any person wilfully and maliciously to break a contract of service or of hire—in other words, a contract of employment—knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the probable consequences of his so doing either alone or in combination with others will be to endanger human life or to cause serious bodily injury".This provision has been in force continuously since 1875 but very few, if any, prosecutions have been brought as a result. Certainly there have been none in recent times. I am bound to say that this fact alone is an indication of just how difficult it is to legislate specifically in this area, not least because it is very difficult to prove that any industrial action itself sets out to endanger life.
Let me refer to the civil law as it at present stands. There is no law which gives a right to strike. The organising of industrial action by National Health Service workers is lawful provided that they are involved in a primary dispute with their employers over the terms and conditions of employment. But we should be clear just exactly what this immunity means. It is an immunity which protects only the individual organisers of industrial action, and then only against civil actions which could otherwise be brought against them for inducing breaches of contract of employment or breaches of commercial contracts. There is absolutely no protection for organisers or for individual strikers if they commit other unlawful acts such as trespass, negligence or nuisance. The position of trade unions themselves is different.
I shall come now to secondary action. The Government have already taken steps to restrict indiscriminate secondary action by workers who are outside the National Health Service in support of National Health Service workers. Under the 1980 Act secondary action is now unlawful unless it is taken by those who work for employers who have commercial contracts with the National Health Service, and then only if their action is directly targeted on those commercial contracts. In addition, the Employment Act 1980 removed immunity from secondary picketing, such as flying pickets, or others who picket away from their own place of work. If the pickets try to persuade people to break their employment or commercial contracts they can be sued by those who suffer loss as a result.
My Lords, I think we should also remind ourselves exactly what it means if industrial action is unlawful under cvivil law. It means that those who are parties to contracts can go to court if the unlawful action interferes with or threatens to interfere with performance of these contracts. There are two remedies at the court's disposal. The first is that the court can issue an injunction ordering the organisers to call off their action. The second is that it can award 896 damages to compensate the injured party for the loss suffered as the result of interference with contracts. This means that even if all the present immunities were taken away it would still not be possible for National Health Service patients themselves to go to court over unlawful industrial action because they are not party to any contract. The employers of the health workers who are the health authorities, could take action against those inducing their employees to break their contracts; and certain suppliers, such as those providing food or fuel, might also be able to take action against secondary pickets. But the position of patients whose health is at risk would in those circumstances be no different from their position now.
What is the effect of this Bill? Clause 15 removes the almost complete immunity from actions in tort presently given to trade unions themselves. This will have several important effects. First, it will be possible to sue the unions themselves and not just the officials if they are responsible for any unlawful acts other than interference with contracts, such as libel, negligence, nuisance or trespass. Secondly, the unions themselves will become liable if they organise unlawful industrial action. This means that unions organising unlawful secondary action, including for example much of what has taken place on the so-called days of action, can, when the Bill becomes law, be taken to court and damages awarded, if necessary and if appropriate, from their funds. We have, therefore, changed the law in a number of important ways. We shall continue to watch the situation carefully, and of course our minds are not closed to the future.
The Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said, is a modest Bill. Its aims are modest. We are not seeking to remove the right of workers to go on strike or to prevent trade unions representing their members in a dispute. We are not seeking to re-write the whole of industrial relations law or to cure all the industrial ills which face us in the country. Our purpose in this Bill is simply to tackle some of the worst abuses which have arisen and to provide better protection for the workers and the employers who suffer from them. We believe that the Bill will help to improve industrial relations, and that in so doing it will help to contribute to the economic recovery of the country. As my right honourable friend the Prime minister reminded us a few weeks ago, the only people who benefit from poor industrial relations and strikes and disruption are our competitors abroad. Let us never forget that.
Industrial relations is not just about the economy or about the organisations which operate within it; it is about people. Not the free riders, the bounty hunters, the blacklegs, the scabs and all those other colourful, if somewhat mythical figures about whom some noble Lords opposite have told us; it is about ordinary working people who simply want to get on with their jobs, free from interference and intimidation. It is those people, the ordinary working men and women of the country, who will benefit most from the protection that the Bill will provide—protection against the closed shop, against pressures to join a trade union and against damaging industrial action. It is they who will benefit from their greater contentment at work. It will be their families who will benefit from their greater contentment at work. It will be their firms which will benefit from their greater contentment at work. It will 897 be the country which will benefit from their greater contentment at work.
That is the purpose of the Bill. It is with that in mind that I again thank noble Lords on all sides of the House, however disparate their views may be, for the substantial contributions that have been made towards making this Bill that much better.
On Question, Bill passed and returned to the Commons.