§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Consideration of amendments on Third Reading resumed.
§ Schedule 2 [Employment]:
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 15, line 43, leave out paragraph 1 and insert—
(" 1. The terms and conditions applicable to any person who, pursuant to a scheme made under section 1 (1)(a), becomes an employee of any company or companies should be no less
favourable than the terms and conditions which were applicable to that person immediately before the appointed day (as defined in pragraph 2(7) below) under his employment in the civil service of the State.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is the understanding that Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 will be taken together.
Amendment No. 5: Page 16, line 8, at end insert—
("( ) Where, in any redundancy arising prior to the transfer date, the field of redundancy would have been the whole of the Ministry of Defence, then after the transfer date the field of redundancy shall be taken to be the whole company as defined by section 1 (1)(a).").
§ It is right that there should be one debate. I know, however, that the Minister will understand that both deal with very vital elements in the issue of redundancy. I believe that I heard the Minister say earlier that he intended to say something during the debate on the redundancy issue. Subject to what the Minister says at the end of the discussion, it would not be our desire to press these matters to a vote. In other words, I am really signalling to the Minister that it is what he says at the Dispatch Box today that will be most important. What he had to say in this place last Wednesday was taken by the trade unionists when they met the ROF management the next day as the way in which matters should proceed. I have to inform the Minister, however, that what the Minister says here is not necessarily taken by ROF management as gospel and an indication of how matters will proceed. These are not allegations. But the situation is very serious.
§ In effect, the Minister and his advisers, the civil servants who are negotiating with the trade unions, are coming to what might be seen to be a constructive outcome over very difficult propositions. Yet, when these are taken forward so that the nitty-gritty can be agreed with ROF management, I have to tell the Minister that I am advised that a totally different view is taken by ROF management from what the Minister believes will be the position before and after vesting day.
§ For the benefit of the record, let me go through this very slowly. A meeting was held on Thursday, 18th October; that was only two days after the Minister made certain statements. I have the record here and I will quote from it. At that meeting between the unions and ROF management the unions were seeking to clarify the attitude of management to changes in the agreements which currently exist for civil servants employed in the ROFs, in the light of the statements made by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, on TUPE '81 and other related matters during the Report stage debate on 16th October.
The unions were quoting to ROF management the statements made by the Minister, for example at col. 937 of Hansard, where the Minister said:
Of course. TUPE applies to the transfer of employment. The effect of this is that there need be no new contract of employment because the old one continues without a break from the former employer to the new employer. The terms and conditions of the contract of employment with the new employer are therefore identical to those of the contract with the old employer, because it is exactly the same contract".
§ Those are the words of the Minister.41
Further on, in the same column, the Minister said:
First, there may have to be some minor differences in the terms and conditions following transfer, because the transfer is from employment under the Crown. Some aspects of such employment are simply not applicable to employment in the private sector. Subparagraph (2) of paragraph (2) of the second schedule to the Bill deals with this point, and requires, in effect, that these changes be kept to the absolute minimun"—
I stress, to the absolute minimum—
necessary to make the transfer of employment effective".
§ This seemed a very clear statement to the unions that under the terms of the eventual Act, on the transfer of civil servants to the new company any changes to the current conditions of employment proposed by ROF management would legally have to be kept to a minimum. However, the ROF management stated at the meeting on 18th October that they had taken advice and that they did not necessarily agree with what the Minster was saying. Management had taken independent advice and were not necessarily agreeing with what the Minister was saying. Managment argued that since the new company would be in such a different situation to that of MoD, then TUPE '81 did not necessarily cover them at all and they could make any changes to the terms and conditions of service for transferred staff immediately after vesting day.
This is a very serious state of affairs. The Minister, I believe in absolutely good faith, guided by his civil servants, who have always been very fair in these matters, is telling the unions, and certainly telling the House and myself and my noble friends, that there is not a great deal to worry about because there will be carried forward after vesting day as far as possible and kept to the minimum any changes in the kind of situations which existed before. What we need from the Minister is not acceptance of the amendments; the amendments in fact are pegs upon which we want restatements of what he has said already. In col. 940 of Hansard, during the same debate, the Minister said:
if changes to the contract of employment are to be made in respect of employees (whether they be industrial or non-industrial) after vesting day, then that will be a matter for agreement between the trade unions and the company. In my view, the trade unions are fully protected against the anxieties which they have expressed because if they feel aggrieved, they will have the remedy of the procedures to which I have already referred".
§ By this, the Minister was referring to the right to take legal action against the company. Obviously the unions want to avoid that possibility and want to understand precisely what the Bill means at Schedule 2. Yet the company management are saying that TUPE '81 need not necessarily apply after vesting day. We need to get the Minister to confirm his statements at the Report stage on 16th October. Quite simply, I am asking the Minister if he will say, "Yes, yes", or repeat the statements. I am asking him to confirm the two extracts that I read out, from cols. 937 and 940, as the definitive interpretation by the Minister. Are they correct?
§ What the unions have been attempting to do in the negotiations with ROF management is to clarify and sort out what changes in the current terms and conditions will have to be made, accepting that certain things cannot be transferred from service in the Crown to a Companies Act company. The unions have been doing this in the light of Schedule 2, paragraph 2(2), 42 which states that the changes will be kept to a minimum. Yet ROF management seem now to be arguing that they can make any changes.
§ Initially, even though a Companies Act company, the ROF organisation will be working on really very similar lines to those under which it has been operating as a Government trading fund. It will be liable to the Government competition policy just as the ROFs are now. It will have lost the preferred source policy just as the ROFs have already lost that. It will be working to commercial accounting practices just as the ROFs have been as a trading fund. Until such time as private capital is introduced into the new company the shares will be wholly owned by the Government just as the Government are the sole owner of the ROF organisation. The unions therefore do not understand how the ROF management can argue that the new company's situation is so drastically altered from the current position of the ROFs as to make TUPE '81 not apply. We need from the Minister the categorical assurance that he gave at the Report stage that the guarantees, in so far as they are interpretable, can be given.
§ The unions have been seeking to make in a constructive way such changes as need to be made. Quite frankly, we are greatly puzzled that it is possible for the management, who of course are civil servants, to interpret or to dismiss the words of a Minister in this House as not being the words that will bind them when the discussions take place. In Amendment No. 5 we have other aspects of what we are concerned about. The Minister knows that the actual vesting day is crucial to the protection of the employees. My noble friend Lord Stoddart, in an earlier debate, sought to create a kind of cushion after vesting day and before the schemes could be brought in. One of the reasons for that is that for those who are made redundant such a cushion will provide the Civil Service with the opportunity of replacing them before the actual vesting day.
§ In regard to the possibility of redundancies being announced, the Minister knows of the intelligence that we have been given and I will not belabour the point any more. We have been given intelligence about the likelihood of announcements about impending redundancies. It is absolutely crucial that the Minister is able either to make the statements or to give those who can be affected by redundancy the assurance that, whether the redundancies are announced before or after vesting day, the people concerned will enjoy the same kind of protection. We ought not to have the views of this House or of the Minister on these matters negatived by ROF management. I hope that the Minister will say that he stands by the statement he made at Report stage. If he does that, I shall be very pleased to withdraw the amendments. But at this stage I beg to move Amendment No. 4.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, as I have explained during earlier stages of this Bill, the Government believe that TUPE '81 provides for the transfer of the existing terms and conditions of employment to the new company, save for the small changes necessary having regard to the fact that the employees will be transferring from employment under the Crown to employment under the new Companies Act company. 43 In regard to the redundancy terms the Government firmly believe that this means that the terms and conditions immediately after vesting day will include provision for company-wide, mobile, non-industrial arrangements rather than anything confined to a single works. Of course, it will be open to the new company to seek to negotiate with the workforce changes in the terms and conditions of employment which will apply after vesting day. But the workforce representatives will not be obliged to accept any such changes, and if the management persists in imposing them then the time-honoured remedies will be available to the unions, as they have always been.
I believe, therefore, that I can confirm everything that I said on Report; but, of course, I have to point out that in the end the question of whether TUPE 81 does or does not apply is a matter for the courts. But the Government's view is contained in the words that I have already uttered, which I hope will be of assistance to the noble Lord. That, I think, disposes of the question raised by the noble Lord in connection with Amendment No. 4.
I turn to Amendment No. 5. Of this particular matter the Government are aware, and, indeed, the noble Lord mentioned in his speech, that this point has been raised by the trades unions. While I would certainly not wish to tie the hands of the new management in this or in any other way, I will certainly ask the company to consider whether they can give the assurance which has been sought. However, having said that, I must emphasise that the responsibility for this matter will pass on vesting day to the new company. If the workforce are aggrieved by what the company intends, they will be able to press their views by action under the employment protection legislation, as I believe I mentioned earlier, or by more traditional methods.
I have attempted to express the thoughts that I had to utter in the plainest and most unequivocal terms. I hope that they have met the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord and that he will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 4 and not press Amendment No. 5.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the robust defence that he has put up of the words that he used. I accept completely that after vesting day we are in a new ball game. That worries us. Prior to vesting day the Minister is wholly in charge. For instance, he is wholly in charge at this moment of what ROF management is saying now. If prior to vesting day—that is, at this moment—the management of the ROFs are saying (and one hears this second and third hand) that they have heard what the Minister has said but they do not intend to operate in that way, then it is a very serious state of affairs. It does not give the trade unions much confidence. Although the Minister, in good faith, and his civil servants and advisers, have been most constructive with the unions in trying to get together a package which will get us through the next period, the unions do not have much confidence that, once they are thrown to the wolves, the words of the Minister, unless they are embodied in an Act of Parliament, will offer a great deal of protection.
44 More than once on Report the Minister, in our view, gave the type of assurances which the trade unions were satisfied to accept and which provided them with a basis for taking the matter forward. In attempting to take it forward they have had a rude shock from ROF management. However, in view of the fact that the Minister—and I would be grateful if he would nod his head in agreement—is simply confirming what he said at the Report stage on those two vital matters (and let the record show that the Minister does nod his head) that is as much as the Minister can do at this stage. I very much hope that he and his advisers will seek urgently to convey to ROF management what he considers—and I believe it is something of a minor outrage—is being perpetrated in the discussions.
There are other stages of this Bill, not least in another place. I am sure that my parliamentary colleagues will be kept fully advised of the matter until it goes down there and comes back up here. The matter is far from concluded, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 4, and I advise your Lordships that I shall not be moving Amendment No. 5.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 5 not moved.]
§ Schedule 3 [Special constables]:
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 17, line 47, at end insert—
(" . After the coming into force of any scheme made under this Act no guard force deployed at any premises falling within paragraph 1(2) shall consist of persons other than special constables appointed in accordance with section 3 of the Special Constables Act 1923.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6, which stands in my own name and that of my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton. We had long discussions on this matter at the Report stage on Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21. I can assure the noble Lord the Minister that I do not intend today to make a further 22-minute speech, although I have to say that the issue is of such vital importance that it should not be simply brushed aside.
§ Our contention is that the mere change of status of the ROFs in no way reduces the need for security of at least as high an order as before. Indeed, the very change of status itself may very well enhance the need for top-rate security as is provided by the Ministry of Defence police under Government control. I would remind the House that the Government's original intention was that the Royal Ordnance factories should, when privatised, be guarded by, and have security provided by, private contract security guards. Fortunately, through pressure in Parliament and elsewhere, at a very late stage indeed in the Commons the Government discovered the error of their ways and introduced Schedule 3, which empowers the Secretary of State to retain the Ministry of Defence police at such ROF sites as he thinks fit, complete with their full police powers, including the ability to bear arms. That, of course, was progress, and we welcomed the Government's change of mind. But it simply does not 45 go far enough for us, because we believe that the MoD police should continue to guard all ROF establishments in perpetuity, or at least until the matter has been brought before Parliament again after some years of privatisation.
The noble Lord the Minister, in replying to the debate at the Report stage on 16th October, said at column 962:
We have been at pains to point out that the degree of threat varies from site to site within the ROFs. Some factories contain materials which may be of great use to terrorists but others—for example, those making tanks—do not constitute a serious terrorist target".
§ The example that the Minister gave—that is, factories making tanks—worries me a great deal, Is he really suggesting that a tank could not be a legitimate terrorist target? A tank in the wrong hands could cause all sorts of havoc. We have seen in recent months and weeks what damage and carnage can be caused by a lorry-load of explosives driven by a terrorist into an army base and an embassy. A tank driven by fanatics—and certainly we have them in this country—could inevitably cause greater havoc and carnage. I was surprised indeed that the Minister gave that example. In fact, it undermines the confidence that we have in the judgment of the noble Lord the Minister and of the Government in these matters. We like the noble Minister a lot——
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
On an entirely personal basis, my Lords, but the fact of the matter is that he did not reassure us on this issue at Report. Indeed, bearing in mind the attempt to assassinate Her Majesty's Government at Brighton on 12th October and the boast of the vile men of the IRA that they intended to step up their terrorist attacks on mainland Britain, I was surprised that he appeared to show such complacency—I am sure that he did not mean it, but he showed it—about security at armament factories. The fact is that far from lowering our security profile, we need to heighten it. We should not only keep up our guard; we should reinforce our guard in the face of a growing and more violent terrorist threat. Therefore, the Labour Party believes that the Ministry of Defence Police, who have proved themselves over long years to be an efficient, well-trained, responsible and dedicated force, should continue to be responsible for security at all ROF establishments after privatisation. Nothing else will really do. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, in the course of the Bill the Government have made some concessions to the pressure of the Opposition, my noble friends and my honourable friends in another place, and have come some way to meet us on this security issue. It is a little difficult now to define exactly the difference between the position of the Government and the position which some of us on this side of the House should like to see adopted.
As I understand it, the way is still open under Schedule 3 for those who are special constables to be, simply in another name, factory guards responsible to the private company concerned. I believe that that is still possible under the terms of Schedule 3. But my noble friends and I would want the policing ultimately 46 to be a matter for the Government, as it is now. As happens now, the Ministry of Defence Police are answerable to the Chief Constable of Defence Police and through the Defence Council to the Secretary of State for Defence. I think that that is better. It seems to me to be carrying privatisation a very long way if we try to privatise security against terrorism. In practice, so far as I can see this would be the effect of Schedule 3.
I shall not go over all the arguments that we have heard on many previous occasions on the Bill, but I should be grateful if the Minister would answer the precise point that I am making: whether, in fact, Schedule 3 permits the policing of these factories ultimately to be the responsibility of a private company, or whether a police force is still responsible which is ultimately answerable to the Government of the day.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I hope I made clear during our discussions on this amendment at the earlier stage that the flexibility permitted by Schedule 3 of this Bill to retain the MoD Police at some or all ROF sites was recognised as a sensible and practical policy by both sides when this was discussed in the other place. The Government will continue to monitor security arrangements at ROF locations with the same stringency as hitherto, in the light of threat assessments and changing circumstances. We firmly believe that this flexibility is necessary so that the response will suitably match the threat at each site. We have of course recognised that some Royal Ordnance factories present a more attractive target for terrorists than others, and we have not proposed to remove the MDP from those sites. But at those sites where we do not need to rely on the full police powers of the MDP, which are quite extensive, then it only makes common sense to have the ability to withdraw them. Equally, changes are not going to happen overnight. We will be reviewing most carefully the appropriate security arrangements at each site, including any necessary improvements in physical security, and only then will decisions be taken. Such a review will of course involve consultation with all the relevant parties.
If I may say so, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, got it quite right. All the special constables referred to in the schedule will be members of the Ministry of Defence Police. Anything else would mean two MoD police forces, and that is most certainly not what we propose.
At the earlier stage the noble Lord, Lord Graham, quoted to me certain parts of the report of the defence committee of the other place. I should like in turn to quote to him from that report. In paragraph 56—and I recognise that this has already been referred to—the report says:Armed MDP with constabulary powers are not the only solution in every case. Improvements in physical security could be made to offset their withdrawal from some less sensitive factories.In paragraph 87, the report says:The terms in which the Government announced its new proposals make it clear that flexibility has very sensibly been retained. No deadline has been given for the replacement of the MDP at the ROFs by an in-house security force".47 It goes on in paragraph 79:We acknowledged, therefore, that their replacement may be both acceptable and possible at those of the ROFs where the threat is deemed to be lowest … A much more pragmatic approach is called for, one in which judgements are taken on a case-by-case basis and with a high degree of caution.Then again in paragraph 80 it says:The first step the Government should take is to grade the ROFs in approximate order of sensitivity. At factories producing items of no interest to terrorists, armed MDP can reasonably be dispensed with".The Committee had recommendations to make about the formation and administration of a company guardforce, recognising that such a force could replace the MOD Police at certain locations. The Government will be making their observations on that report shortly, but I can say now that we can see no objection to our retaining the flexibility which Schedule 3 currently allows for us to re-examine security matters case by case and as circumstances dictate.
I have already assured your Lordships that we take security matters most seriously. If we are to remove the MDP from certain ROF sites, this is not simply a cost-cutting exercise. Of course, it is the Government's aim to reduce numbers and to save costs, but only where this is consistent with maintaining an adequate level of defence and security. This Government give, and will continue to give, security of arms and explosives at the ROFs the most serious consideration. But we are also custodians of public money, and where it makes sense to reduce the involvement of publicly-funded police forces without endangering security, then steps will be taken. Your Lordships need have no fear of that.
As other noble Lords have done on earlier occasions, I have quoted at some length the report of the House of Commons Committee on this matter. As noble Lords reminded me on an earlier occasion, that report enjoyed the support of certain Conservative Members of the other place, but it also enjoyed the support of Opposition Members of the other place. Therefore, I hope that we can agree that the recommendations of that report, to which I have referred, are adequately reflected in the measures that we now bring before your Lordships, and that the noble Lord will see fit not to press his amendment.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, before my noble friend on the Opposition Front Bench replies, can we assume from the Minister's statement that the Government are now considering the licensing of the independent security organisations? A quarter of a million people are employed in private armies in various security companies throughout the country. If this is to be a flexible affair, as the Minister has suggested, at some stage security companies might be brought in to carry out certain duties. Before the noble Lord rejects this suggestion out of hand, I would remind him that at Farnborough private car firms provide the cars which carry people of high security risk, and I was somewhat shocked to discover that the drivers are often recruited through a simple advertisement about a week before the event. I should like to think that they are all vetted—I am sure they are—but we must recognise that if we are to use 48 security which is not part of the state's system, that security must be accountable to someone, and I would hope that this would be a move on the part of the Government.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, if I have leave to speak again, I have to say that I think that the observations from the noble Baroness go a little wide of the point we are now considering which is whether or not the Ministry of Defence police should remain completely and in perpetuity at the Royal Ordnance factory sites. I think that the site to which she referred was not such a site, if I heard her correctly. The question of licensing security firms for the purposes that the noble Baroness had in mind is a little different from the matters that we have under consideration here. The Government have made their views plain on how we see the future of these matters and I hope we can leave it to rest at that.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I am afraid that there remains a gulf between us. It is not a yawning gulf, but nevertheless there is a gulf. I appreciate—and indeed it was quite fair—that the Minister should quote to us the House of Commons Defence Committee, and of course to some degree they supported his view, though in many other parts of the paper the Government are severely criticised, as I said on Report stage. But things move on; times change; things happen which change people's minds.
If the defence committee were making their report now, I wonder whether their view would be exactly the same after the outrage of 12th October? It may well be that, bearing in mind these circumstances—these dreadful circumstances—which have created a new security situation, their view might have been quite different and might, on all sides of the committee, have been completely in accordance with the views that we have been putting forward from this Dispatch Box.
It is important that we have public confidence in our security forces and our security measures. I believe that the gulf which exists between us may well reduce public confidence. I would even now urge the Minister and the Government to think closely about this matter. Although I do not intend to press this amendment to a vote, it is a situation that we, too, shall keep our eye on. If we believe that it is necessary to come back to it in various ways with the Government, we shall certainly do so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I now beg to move that this Bill do now pass. A number of issues have been raised during the discussions that we have had on the Bill and I am grateful to noble Lords, in particular noble Lords opposite, for the constructive proposals that they have brought forward, even if I have not felt able to agree with them. I hope I have demonstrated during our debates that the Bill ensures that the present terms and conditions of service of the workforce—a matter which has been very much in the minds of noble Lords opposite—will broadly be preserved by the application of TUPE 81.
49 The employees of the ROFs will also continue to have, as I have said, the protection of other Acts of Parliament in respect of their contract of employment. The Government will continue to talk to the unions with the intention of reaching agreement on the terms of the pension scheme for transferring employees with appropriate benefits.
A great amount of work has been proceeding during the summer on all the issues which fall outside the scope of the Bill. In preparation for the organisation to begin trading, companies have already been formed and registered under the Companies Acts, and work is proceeding satisfactorily on finalising the scheme and the memorandum of our understanding. Our aim is to achieve a vesting date at the earliest possible opportunity. The Government wish to press ahead with their plans in a constructive and responsible manner in order to promote the best interests of the ROFs, their employees, and the country as a whole.
The Bill is a necessary first step towards our goal of increasing our ability to obtain value for money at a time of escalating defence costs. The Government will in due course announce their plans for the eventual privatisation of the company, but the important thing now is for the company to get started in business and begin to improve on the excellent record over the last 10 years of the Royal Ordnance Factories Trading Fund. I beg to move.
§ Moved, that the Bill do now pass.— (Lord Trefgame.)
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, at the end of the proceedings in this House, in fact in the dying moments of the passage of this Bill, we have the opportunity to reflect on its changed shape. Before I do so, on behalf of my colleagues I want to pay a warm tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, the Minister in charge of the Bill. He has dealt both expeditiously and courteously with all the matters that have been raised from these Benches. We are grateful.
He may have suspected at times that we took time enough to make our points so as to give him the impression that we were filibustering. He will however accept that some of the issues we raised were those vitally affecting the rights and protections of trade union members. Their livelihood is at stake. Enough at stake to warrant my noble friend Lord Stoddart and I making no apology for wearying the House time and time again with their case.
They are very worried men and women. There has been precious little said by the Minister during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House to give them any real and lasting comfort. Our debates have been improved by the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, and the noble Lords, Lord Diamond and Lord Mayhew. They have all made excellent contributions, and there were powerful contributions too from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I have been grateful for the support they have all given to the points that we have made.
We have had the benefit of receiving the Bill from another place where it had been rigorously scrutinised but hardly altered one jot voluntarily by the Government. The major change there came in adding 50 Schedule 3 on policing and security. Without the devastating condemnation by the defence Select Committee it was the intention of the Government to contemplate placing the security of Ordnance factories in the hands of private security organisations. We have moved away from that, and we are grateful. It was an unacceptable situation. But we remain wholly dissatisfied with Schedule 3 as presently drafted.
I remind noble Lords however that in your Lordships' House we have achieved two major improvements, of course against the wishes of the Government. First, the bedrock of the method of transferring both assets and power from public to private hands is the making of a scheme, or schemes, by the Secretary of State. This is an enabling Bill and the Government are asking Parliament to give them the power to make schemes first and ask questions afterwards.
Your Lordships' House supported the view that a scheme would only be made after it had been subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses. The details would be displayed, discussed, and approved first. The reality of the parliamentary arithmetic should be a comfort to the Government, yet they sought to deny either House of Parliament the chance of discussing their intentions first.
The Government have said that they will take steps to negative your Lordships' view when this Bill goes to another place. So be it. They can do it. But I tell the Minister in clear and unambiguous terms that if that happens we shall be inviting your Lordships' House to stick to their guns, to stand up for the dignity of this noble House, and to demand that parliamentary scrutiny take place before the making of a scheme.
Secondly, I would remind your Lordships' House that we carried a further improvement to the Bill against the wishes of the Government. Given that privatisation is to take place, your Lordships took the view that the transfer should be to one company, and not, as the Government proposed, to a company or different companies. Your Lordships heeded the plea of the workers at all levels that the unity of the Ordnance factories be respected and that they should not be chopped into little pieces.
Again the Government have signalled their intention to negative the decision of your Lordships' House. We do not intend to treat the views of the House with the same contempt as they have signalled they intend. We shall again be prepared to reassert your Lordships' view if need be at a later stage. It is a bad Bill. This Bill is nationally a disaster. There never was a case for it. The Ordnance factories are paying the price for success and profitability: the workers are paying the price for their commitment and their loyalty. The Minister has failed lamentably to meet the legitimate fears of the workers in relation to conditions, negotiated rights, redundancies and pensions. This legislation is a further extension of the Government's obsession with privatisation, regardless of the wider considerations of national security and industrial relations. The Bill came to this House unloved and unwanted: it leaves us for another place in exactly the same state.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends, I should like to begin by associating myself 51 with the tribute paid to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. My only regret is that so much courtesy and industry should be dedicated to such a miserable Bill.
One of the most predictable things in British politics is that a privatisation measure will be supported by the Conservative Party and opposed by the Labour Party. If one rings the right ideological bell the two parties, like Pavlov's dogs, automatically salivate. That is what we have been seeing. On these Benches our reflexes are less conditioned. We salivate less easily, and our view is that a measure of nationalisation or privatisation should be judged on its merits; on whether it offers a practical solution to a genuine problem. I assure noble Lords opposite that if this Bill was really addressed to a genuine problem and offered a practical answer to it, we would support it. But where is the genuine problem? What has gone wrong? Where are the ROFs falling down?
At one stage after another in the course of this Bill relays of Ministers have given their views on the ROFs. What have they said? They have praised them, invariably. They have praised the high standard of their products. They have praised their export record—40 per cent. of their output. They have praised their increased productivity. They have praised the skill and dedication of their staffs; the close and friendly relations the ROFs have built up with the armed services. Ministers have even praised their profitability—£140 million profit in the last 10 years. So why privatise?
I have searched through every Ministerial speech and every Ministerial intervention at every stage in this Bill in both Houses. So help me, I have done it, searching for the reason why these ROFs should be privatised. I have found a few cursory references to something called "removal of restraint". It is never spelled out, and no practical examples are given. No research, committee or authority is quoted. That is all I have found; and any noble Lord who doubts me can go through the same procedure as I have, and he will reach the same conclusion.
Since the war there have been many debates on nationalisation or denationalisation. I have attended many of them myself. But since the war, never has there been a debate in which the case for change has been made so sketchily and weakly, with so little documentation and supportive research. I doubt whether a Bill has ever been put forward which is so exclusively motivated by ideological prejudice. What makes it so deplorable is that it is in the field of national defence, and it is in this field above all that big changes should not be made for purely party political reasons. Particular care should be given not to override the longstanding loyalties of the armed services and the ROF staffs, or to overlook their 500-year record of joint service to the nation in its wars.
Finally, who stands to gain from this Bill? Certain people will welcome it. It will be welcome to the Government stockbrokers; it will be welcome to their legal advisers, to their financial advisers and to the underwriters. It will be welcome to asset strippers and to take-over bidders. I say in all seriousness, in view of the feeble security measures in the Bill, that I think it will be welcome to the IRA as well. It is a bad Bill. My 52 party utterly rejects it. We think that it should never have been placed before Parliament.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, I rise to support what has been said, to apologise to the House for not being in my place at an earlier stage last week and to say how grateful I am to the Minister and to others who made courteous references to me in my absence. Your Lordships already know that we on this side of the House, whatever party we belong to, deplore this Bill for all the reasons that have been given. However objective one is in trying to see benefits from the Bill from the Government point of view, one is totally unable to do so. Speeches have been made other than from these Benches echoing what I am now saying. It is regrettable in the extreme that the Government are carrying what is clearly a deep but nevertheless dogmatic conviction to these extremes, and are allowing themselves to do so in an area where anxieties must be caused by their action.
When this discussion started all of us on this side of the Chamber were wholly opposed to the principle of the Bill but had a fairly open mind, given that we could not affect that principle as to how it would be put into effect. Now, instead of having an open mind, we are left with having deep suspicion. The Minister should know that the net result of all his speeches has been that I and I am sure others are deeply suspicious as to why the Government are rushing this in such an unseemly way. No good reason, business or otherwise, has been given, whatever reason could be persuasive from the Government's point of view. Certainly no reason has been given which impressed itself on my mind or on the minds of any on these Benches. I am sure I can associate the Labour Benches with that statement.
We are left, therefore, wondering why it is that the Government are rushing; are unwilling to consult Parliament and are unwilling to delay a step which affects a 400 to 500-year tradition by a total of six weeks. It is so ridiculous. The Minister must not expect to persuade anybody of that without giving the most telling and persuasive reasons. Therefore, all that can be left is our previous conviction that this is an irresponsible move on the part of the Government. It is dictated only by ideological views, however sincere the Government feel; and it can only be that and they have added mischief to unwisdom by the way they have dealt with the detail of the Bill.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I do not believe that I need to lengthen this discussion further. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, thinks that we have been unduly rushing matters. The noble Lord will recall that, as I said earlier, we originally hoped that vesting day would be some time in October. It is now clear that we shall not achieve that, largely because we have not been rushing this measure through your Lordships' House. If we had rushed we would have sought to get the measure through Parliament before the Summer Recess and would no doubt then have achieved vesting day as originally intended. But we did not seek to do that.
We have taken into account the views that have been expressed, and that is why we are now dealing with this Bill towards the end of October. It still has 53 not passed into law, and vesting day will certainly not be during this month. Having said that, I am grateful for the contributions that noble Lords have made and I beg to move.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with the amendments.