HL Deb 10 July 1986 vol 478 cc521-38

7.11 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Transfer of persons engaged in dockyard services]:

Lord Denning moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 32, at end insert—

(4A) Before any employee in a Royal Dockyard is transferred compulsorily without his consent from the service of the Crown to the service of any other employer the following provisions of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 shall be fulfilled.

(4B) Long enough before the transfer to enable consultations to take place between the Secretary of State and the representatives of the trade unions, the Secretary of State shall inform those representatives of—

  1. (a) the fact that the transfer is to take place, when approxi- mately it is to take place, and the reason for it;
  2. (b) the legal, economic and social implications of the transfer for the affected employees;
  3. (c) the measures which he envisages he (the Secretary of State) will, in connection with the transfer, take in relation to those employees; and
  4. (d) the measures which the transferee envisages he (the transferee) will, in connection with the transfer, take in relation to such of those employees as become employees of the transferee after the transfer.

(4C) The Secretary of State shall enter into consultations with the representatives of the trade unions and in the course of those consultations shall—

  1. (a) consider any representations made by the trade union representatives, and
  2. (b) reply to those representations, and, if he rejects am of those representations, give his reasons."

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, on the Second Reading of this Bill I complained of its obscurity. At the Committee stage I complained of its illegality. The Government recognised my complaint and made their own amendments accordingly which cured that illegality. At Report stage I put forward amendments designed to get the co-operation of the workforce and I pressed the matter to a Division, but the Government outvoted us. Now we come to the Third Reading and I have a long but simple amendment. It is designed to make the Bill clear in its most important provisions.

I remind your Lordships of the situation. The Government have decided to privatise, in part, the Royal Dockyards at Devonport and Rosyth. They have decided to privatise the services of the workforce at those two dockyards. The Government cannot do that without the consent of the workforce unless they have an Act of Parliament to authorise them to overrule the wishes of the workforce and compel them to be compulsorily transferred to a new commercial company which is to be formed by a consortium of great industrialists who will take over, against the workers' consent, the services of that workforce.

On a matter of such importance to so many thousands of workers I should have thought this was a piece of primary legislation which should appear on the face of the Bill. But what do we find? Your Lordships will find that there is nothing compelling the transfer of those men except in this obscure clause which states that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 shall apply to the transfer of the dockyard undertaking. What does that tell anyone? What does that tell anyone in this House or the other place? It is legislation, if you please, by reference.

Have any of your Lordships looked at these 1981 regulations? I fancy that I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who has. How did I get them? I went to the Printed Paper Office. They had to dig down in the vaults to get the regulations and when I got them I saw that they were to implement a directive of the European Council. So I asked for that. It took a long time to find because it is further down in the vaults. I then had to read the directive and try to make some sense of this delegated legislation.

Time after time judges and commentators have criticised this method of legislation by reference. They have also criticised even more the delegation of legislation by means of regulations made by a Minister. It is all very well for Ministers to make regulations on subsidiary matters which never come before this House for discussion, but it is another matter to make a piece of primary legislation by regulations of this kind. Therefore, I object to the legislation that is being brought forward to your Lordships' House. It is for that very reason I have put forward these amendments today. It is, in effect, only one amendment because I have taken the words of that regulation and I have spelled them out, letter by letter and word by word, throughout my amendment so as to make it clear to the Government and, may I add, to the trade unions, what steps have to be gone through before the Government can compulsorily transfer these employees from the service of the Crown into the service of a new commercial company.

I have studied the provisions and I have set them out. If I may, I shall tell your Lordships the main provisions. They show how important it is that the Government should keep the workforce fully informed. They should consult the workforce and have regard to all the objections and consider them with a view to getting the workforce to come by agreement into the new situation. In studying those provisions I can well see that the lawyers are going to have a good hand at this, if I may say so. Let me tell your Lordships what has to be done. In the first place the Government have to give full information to the trade unions on what they are going to do. At the outset (if I may read these regulations properly) they have to decide who is to be the transferee—the new commercial company to take over the men. They cannot fulfil the regulations unless they make that decision at the outset. There will be no other option open to them. At the outset they may make that very decision about who is to be the transferee; and then, having made that decision, they will have to act. I am sure that they will take the advice of lawyers and they will have to inform the trade unions of: the legal, economic and social implications of the transfer".

The legal implications are considerable, involving the holding company, the subsidiary company, the shareholders, the control of the company and the contracts which are to be made that will affect those employed. It will be a mammoth task for the lawyers to sort out those legal implications. What about the economic implications? Will there be workers' shares? Then there are the social implications. How many of these men are to be made redundant? At the outset of the consultations they are entitled to be informed of their future position when the transfer takes place.

Indeed, the regulations state that the Government must go to the transferee, to the new company, and obtain information from them as to the measures that will be taken. Surely some of those measures will raise questions such as: "How many men will be made redundant? How many men will be turned off? Will work be obtained for them?" The Government have to tell the trade unions of the measures that this new company will take. I shall not go into the details but I see this situation as almost turning into fun and games and great fees for the lawyers.

The Government will have to have that statement of information for the trade unions. Will it be sufficient? If the trade unions are well advised they will do what the lawyers do and ask for "further and better particulars". They will say, "We want to know more about your proposals". All that will take some time. Then after the information has been fully given, there will be consultations and the trade unions can and will make their own representations. They will be able to say, "You have chosen the wrong option. This company to which you propose to transfer is not entirely British-owned. There is quite a lot of foreign influence involved. We can show you how many shareholders there are in that consortium who come from America". Or they can say, "Well, you ought to transfer to that one; that other company does not have enough financial backing". The trade unions can put their representations and no doubt they will have their lawyers advising them. It is really a pleading such as we are used to in the courts of law.

Finally, the Government have to reply, giving, as the regulations say, their reasons. There have been dozens of cases in our courts to show that when one is required to give reasons they must be adequate reasons. The trade unions will be able to challenge them. As I read the regulations, I am sure that they can be challenged in the courts of law and certainly challenged before the industrial tribunal. Under our new procedure of judicial review I think that they can be challenged in the High Court of Justice. The unions can take the Government to the High Court and say, "You have failed in your obligations under the regulations" or, as I should like to say, "You have failed in your obligations under the statute". They can take the Government to court.

That is my summary of the regulations as they already appear and as I should like them to appear on the face of the statute. So I ask: what is the forecast for the future? I can well see that the Government will be running their heads into a hornets' nest. The trade unions are the hornets. They will swarm out and, keeping within the law, they will sting hard. As I forecast, the Government will have to beat a retreat and return to the fall-back option which, from the beginning, they have admitted is their fall-back option. Let me tell your Lordships what it is. As far as I can see, it is the one option which will hold water and indeed to which the trade unions cannot reasonably object. If there is to be a transfer of these men from the service of the Crown to a new company, then that company should be a truly British company. It should not be embarrassed with outsiders at all. It should be a government-owned company and also have workers' shares. That company should run the dockyard on a commercial basis, ridding it of all the old Civil Service red tape. It should run the dockyard on a commercial basis and reinforce the efficiency that it has always had. That fall-back option was commended on Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, who is a great authority on the Royal Navy and on the dockyards. Unfortunately he cannot be here this evening, but he has authorised me to say that he would be in favour of this fall-back option; namely, a government-owned company with workers' shares.

I have been to Devonport and seen the men and the employers. I think that this last option—a government-owned company with workers' shares —is the one option which will stand up to examination. When all the consultations have been undertaken, it is the one option to which the trade unions cannot reasonably object. So in that way the Government can be rid of all the harassment, all the stings and all the embarrassment, and they can go forward with the excellent project of putting the dockyard on a sound commercial basis.

Is it not right that the Government should treat this workforce fairly and reasonably? They have served this country loyally for over 300 years and they are ready to do so still. Surely their views should be taken seriously into account. They should not be forced against their will to transfer to an outside company. Their loyalty and service should be recognised. I appeal to your Lordships to support the workforce, and the trade unions which represent them, by passing this amendment this evening, and to show that we are devoted to the workforce in the Royal Dockyards. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I rise to be of assistance to the Minister and to the Government. They have the option which the noble and learned Lord set out. Failure to accept the amendment will not only land them in trouble and embarrass them, but the situation will continue to be a running sore, which is highly likely to end up in the courts. What the noble and learned Lord is asking the Government to accept is simple. People want to see on the face of the Bill what the Minister has said is part of the deal—the arrangements under TUPE '81. That is reasonable, and a reasonable government should accept it.

We do not have to look into a crystal ball to see what might happen with the dockyards; we can read the book. The Ordnance factories have been privatised. A great deal of the unease that the trade unions and their members feel about the future stems from what has happened following that privatisation. They are very uneasy indeed. I am not talking about promises, but simply about realities. Those workers rested their hopes on the provisions of TUPE '81 and the assurances of the Minister about, among other things, redundancy. Amendments at previous stages of the Bill have sought to put in writing what the Minister has said is the situation.

The noble and learned Lord has done a marvellous job in the House for the dockyards and the workers. Not only should he be listened to with the deep respect that he is always accorded, but his advice should be taken. The Government will be giving nothing if they accept the amendment. We want to see on the face of the Bill something that is already substantially enshrined in TUPE '81. The noble and learned Lord says that, even with his experience, the Bill is obscure and needs clarity. The amendment seeks to make it clear.

Leaving aside the philosophy of the Bill, we want to see the co-operation of the workforce in whatever the legislation is to be. Whatever the philosophy behind the Bill, the amendment would go some way to achieve the willing collaboration of the workforce to make it into a reality, and the Minister does not have that at the moment. He has this opportunity.

I was in Plymouth last Saturday and I spoke to the Lord Mayor, Councillor Glenville. He did no speak in any grandiose way or on behalf of his council, but he went out of his way to tell me about the deep offence in that city over the manner in which a non-party attempt by its people and by the dockyards to persuade the Government that there are better ways to do things has been ignored. Many people spoke to me at the function about the dockyards, which demonstrated that they are an integral part of the city and its environs. We want a demonstration from the Minister tonight that the Government are prepared to listen. Unless they do so, I believe they will learn the hard way.

Lord Crawshaw of Aintree

My Lords, in rising to support the amendment on behalf of my noble friends, let me first pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord for the work that he has done. I am certain that the Bill will finish up very much better for his assistance.

We have had various arguments across the Chamber during the course of the Bill about the dockyards, but I am certain that both sides have in common the wish to have a highly efficient dockyard service for our naval forces. I am not certain whether the Government realise fully that, while efficient management is one pillar of the service, an equally vital one is to take the workmen with you. For too long they have not known their future.

That is due to a half-baked idea that was put forward when the Bill first came to this House, that men can be shipped around as a commodity. The Minister has not said so in so many words, but he has indicated that that idea has gone out of the back door. The men have had all this uncertainty. The workforce is as vital, if not more vital, than the management. Without it we shall not have an efficient dockyard service.

Any good management should want to include the provisions in the amendment in its contract. 7 here is not the slightest reason why the suggestions made should not be included in the Bill, so that the dockyard servicemen know that the assurances given during the passage of the Bill will be carried out. Without that, we shall start off on the wrong foot. I urge the Minister to consider carefully whether the amendment can be accepted. It will not cost the Government anything and will be very important in determining whether the dockyard gets off on the right foot.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, as this late stage of the Bill I hope that exception will not be taken if a Scottish voice is raised. I apologise that for health reasons I was not able to be present at the earlier stages of the Bill, as I should have had plenty to say. The other dockyard is Rosyth. It does not have the traditions of Plymouth. It is probably three-quarters of a century since the Government took over the land around Rosyth from, I think it was, Lord Linlithgow.

I have just been reading what Tom Johnstone, a former Secretary of State for Scotland, wrote about how they took it over. It was owned by a well-known Scottish family. In those days, with land there went rights to provide men in time of war for the King. But when land was needed for the defence of the nation in the 20th century, a sum of money was handed over to the noble Earl.

There has been a loyal tradition in Rosyth for three-quarters of a century—an efficiency and an ability to which the Minister of recent days paid tribute when the Ministry of Defence was under attack in respect of conditions affecting nuclear safety round Rosyth. I was delighted to hear the Minister who is dealing with this Bill pay tribute to the workers for an attention to safety which could not be questioned. The Bill is important to the workers and it is also important to the nation in some of the higher aspects of national security. When we are handing over a concern to a private company, we cannot have the same guarantees about safety measures; and we may possibly be discarding the qualified, efficient and loyal workers of Rosyth. The Government are taking an awful chance. I am not surprised that people deeply concerned about the future of the navy have taken up the position that they have.

Let us not question the loyalty and efficiency of the dock workers. They have been tried and tested in great wars and in smaller wars, most recently in the Falklands. Tribute has been paid to them. Can we have a guarantee from a contractor that the same effort will be made in a time of crisis and emergency? I can understand the Government taking chances on many things, but not on something like this, which is supposed to be dear to their hearts. It is ironic that the workers in Rosyth this week have had a letter asking them to donate towards a wedding present for the Prince who is to be married soon. That is the kind of relationship that exists in the Royal dockyards at present. They are part of a virtual royal family of loyal servants.

I understand what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, is doing. He is not changing the law. He is taking the mumbo-jumbo of a regulation that no one knows about, that no one understands and that lawyers will argue about, and putting it into substantial primary legislation. Is that anything to be frightened of? It is, I believe, much to be desired. I have complained time and time again that we are passing legislation that no one can understand. Certainly, noble Lords cannot understand it. I have always felt that part of my preparation for understanding Acts of Parliament was the fact that during the war I was given the task, under Lord Louis Mountbatten, at his headquarters, of looking at codes and cyphers of the Chinese and deciding how long it would take the enemy to break them down, and doing the same with ours. They were easier to break down than some of the legislation we have before us.

It has to be remembered that Rosyth dockyard, itself employing 6,000 people, extends its influence over a good part of Scotland, including Edinburgh, the Lothians and the central area, with probably about 23,000 jobs directly or indirectly affected. The legal, economic and social implications of the transfer and the effect on employees are terribly important. These are matters that should be contained in the primary legislation. They are not matters to be teased out. If the Government really mean what they have said about future conditions and how they will consult and make efforts to achieve collaboration, let them nail these matters to the mast. This is far too important to be hidden away. They should accept the amendment. In that way the House will be much more satisfied than it is with the arrangements at present proposed.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, I share the indebtedness of the House to the noble and learned Lord who moved the amendment, not only for the manner in which he moved it but also for giving the House the opportunity to express clearly and fully the debt that we owe—so elegantly put, already—to the men and women affected by this Bill. We are not talking about so many head of cattle to be bought and sold, some to be put down because they are no longer necessary. I am sure that this is not a case that I, together with my noble friends and those who support the amendment, need to argue with the Government or those on their Front Bench. I am sure that they share this view and that they share the purpose of the amendment.

I spent last weekend near Rosyth. I know how deeply the men and women there are concerned and worried about the uncertainty surrounding what is to happen to them. This amendment is the least, the very least, that we can do to give them that little reassurance to which they are entitled. They are entitled to be told what is to happen to them. They are entitled to be consulted about what is to happen to them. This will be acknowledged and respected not by some generalised form of words, but by enshrining it within the very legislation itself. As already stated, this goes so little further than what I am sure is the intention of the Government that it should be only a small matter to them—a matter of no moment—to enshrine it formally within the Bill. I urge the House to support the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord. I commend it to the House.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, noble Lords who have spoken, especially the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, worry me. I know very little about this subject. My knowledge is limited to what I have learnt from noble Lords who have spoken. I have yet to hear what the Government have to say, so I keep my options open. But providing that everything that noble Lords have said is correct—in politics, one takes everything with a grain of salt—I have to say that if the Government do not satisfy me—I shall not sit down just yet—I would be inclined very reluctantly to vote against the Government.

7.45 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, having listened to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, on a number of occasions, and again today, and having had the opportunity to talk to him, I know that his approach to this Bill has been motivated by a desire to ensure that the efficiency of the dockyards should be increased, that the workforce should be freed from Civil Service constraints—the noble and learned Lord said that again today—that the security interests of this country should be safeguarded and that, in seeking to achieve these goals, we should treat the workforce fairly.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord and other noble Lords who have spoken will accept that those are my goals too, and in seeking to achieve them we have no intention of treating other than fairly the dockyard employees who have served this country well for many years. I have taken the opportunity to say that on a number of occasions. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was good enough to acknowledge the fact. I have, however, to say to the noble and learned Lord that I do not believe that this amendment would enhance security or improve the conditions of service of the workforce.

For the most part, as the noble and learned Lord has said, his amendment is couched in the words of selected parts of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981. We have already debated in Committee and on Report the applicability of these regulations, and the amendments which were agreed by your Lordships have ensured that Clause 1(4) of the Bill removes any doubt which might otherwise have existed as to the application of the regulations in this case. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, was good enough to acknowledge that when I moved the relevant amendments at an earlier stage. That being so, it is, I submit, quite unnecessary for the Bill to be further amended to provide that individual provisions of the regulations will apply. Under Clause 1(4) the regulations will apply in full.

Your Lordships will have listened carefully to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, had to say about the difficulties of "legislation by reference". I do not need to remind your Lordships that there are very few, if any, Bills which do not require reference to other statutes. The noble and learned Lord has suggested that particular provisions of the 1981 regulations should be reproduced. Those provisions refer to collective rights, but the regulations refer to much else, and even under this amendment reference would still have to be made to the regulations themselves to discover the effect of the transfer on the rights of the individual. The noble and learned Lord's wish to avoid legislation by reference would not be achieved by his amendment even as regards the 1981 regulations, let alone the other statutes to which this Bill necessarily refers.

Since the amendment concerns in part the question of consultation, I should make it plain that from the very outset we have gone out of our way to make as much information available to the unions and the workforce as possible. We have issued a considerable number of informative leaflets and brochures; we have sent to the unions a number of detailed consultative documents on many aspects concerning the workforce; we have even set up—in addition to the formal Whitley machinery—a consultation group in which all manner of matters related to the Government's plans could be discussed with the representatives of the workforce.

The trade unions have commented on very few of the papers we have sent to them, and the number of meetings we have had has been disappointingly small. We have done all that could reasonably be expected of us in consulting the trade unions, and we shall continue to try, but it takes two sides to have a meaningful dialogue, and the unions have been generally unwilling to discuss commercial management with us.

My noble friend Lady Vickers will know from her recent valiant attempts to persuade the trade unions locally to attend discussions how intransigent they can be.

The 1981 regulations are designed to protect the rights of employees by putting their new employer into the shoes of the previous one. I accept, of course, that the dockyards are important, but the rights of the employees are no less important to those who work in a small business than they are to those working in a Royal Dockyard. The protection afforded by the 1981 regulations does not distinguish—rightly in my view—between important and less important businesses. As regards complaints, the regulations provide that in certain circumstances a trade union may have access to an industrial tribunal. I see no reason why the dockyard employees alone should have recourse to the High Court.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has also referred to the possibility of substantial detrimental change in the conditions of service of the workforce. This will not arise. The Government intend to comply with the 1981 regulations and, under them, as my noble friend Lord Glenarthur explained at length in Committee, the terms and conditions of service, with the exception of some activities which are specific to Crown service, will transfer with the workforce.

In short, since the Bill makes it clear that the 1981 regulations will apply to the transfer of the dockyard employees out of the Civil Service it is in my view quite unnecessary to select bits of those regulations and refer to them in this Bill. I cannot support the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell me whether it would be possible under this Bill for a foreign company to take over all these services?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that my noble friend may be referring to the propositions contained in the next amendment. I am not yet certain whether the noble and learned Lord intends to move that amendment.

Lord Jacques

My Lords, is the noble Lord's objection to this amendment simply that it is unnecessary?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if I have your Lordships' permission to speak again, as I think I made clear during my earlier remarks, the effect of the regulations is very clearly embodied into the legislation.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with what the noble Lord the Minister has said. He has indicated that in the 1981 regulations there are other provisions which may modify, or may have to be read in relation to, those which I have set out. I do not like modifications read into those provisions which I have clearly stated. Those provisions should be made clear on the face of the statute.

With regard to the 1981 regulations, on the face of them, if one reads them, they do not apply to a transfer of servants of the Crown at the dockyards to another company. As they stand, those regulations apply only to transfers of commercial undertakings from one to the other. That is on the very wording of the regulations. My noble friend has had to put in a special amendment in order to make them apply to servants of the Crown not in a commercial venture but in the service of the Royal Navy. He has done that and I see no possible reason why he should not accept this amendment.

It would make the position clear, not only for those who can find those regulations buried away somewhere but for the Houses of Parliament themselves, for your Lordships, for the Government and for the trade unions. It ought to be made clear on the face of the statute. I therefore propose to test the opinion of the House and I hope that noble Lords will agree with me in support of our loyal workforce at Devonport.

Noble Lords

And Rosyth.

Lord Denning

And Rosyth, my Lords.


On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents, 53.

Addington, L. Crawshaw of Aintree, L.
Airedale, L. [Teller.]
Allenby of Megiddo, V. David, B.
Amherst, E. Davies, L.
Auckland, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Birk, B. Denning, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Dormer, L.
Bottomley, L. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Briginshaw, L. Ennals, L.
Brockway, L. Feversham, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Foot, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Craigavon, V. [Teller.]
Grey, E. Mulley, L.
Hanworth, V. Munster, E.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Nicol, B.
Hayter, L. O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Oram, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Jacques, L. Rochester, L.
Jeger, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
John-Mackie, L. Seear, B.
Kaldor, L. Shannon, E.
Kilmarnock, L. Shepherd, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Simon, V.
McNair, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Strabolgi, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Tordoff, L.
Mayhew, L. Underhill, L.
Meston, L. Vickers, B.
Monson, L. Whaddon, L.
Morris of Kenwood, L. White, B.
Morton of Shuna, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Mountevans, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Belstead, L. Lyell, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Brabazon of Tara, L. Avon, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Merrivale, L.
Broxbourne, L. Mersey, V.
Caithness, E. Morris, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Coleraine, L. Pender, L.
Craigmyle, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone,
Davidson, V. L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Renton, L.
Dilhorne, V. Rodney, L.
Drumalbyn, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Elton, L. Swinfen, L.
Enniskillen, E. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Glenarthur, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Gray, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Hailsham of Saint Trefgarne, L.
Marylebone, L. Trumpington, B.
Harvington, L. Ullswater, V.
Hives, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hooper, B. Whitelaw, V.
Kimball, L. Windlesham, L.
Layton, L. Wynford, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Young, B.
Long, V. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, it is a sad day in the history of this country that the Royal Dockyards, which have served the nation so well, should have the Bill go through the House after consideration on two Fridays and a dinner hour only. It is unfortunate that we have had so little discussion of the Bill. I am not blaming the Secretary of State or the Minister, as neither of them have held their posts for long. Unfortunately, the right honourable Michael Heseltine, when he was Secretary of State, and a number of officials who visited the dockyards aroused many unsettling rumours about the future.

The Mallabar Report of 1970, paragraph 143, stated: We appreciate that it will be a major task to implement all our recommendations within the reasonable period. In our view the programme for implementation should be drawn up by MoD. This is our final recommendation, it is designed to draw together the different subjects we have covered so that they can be tackled as a whole. If this is done we are convinced that the management of the Royal Dockyards will prove itself to be as competent as we believe it could be.". Can the Minister comment on any action that has been taken with regard to those recommendations or those of later reviews?

I regret that so few noble Lords took any interest in the Bill, especially as many of them gave excellent service in the Royal Navy and in the ships serviced in the dockyards. I was also astonished to receive brochures from A and P Appledore with the compliments of the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, when Appledore has now joined Foster Wheeler in making an application, having previously made an application with Trafalgar House and subsequently pulled out. As we all know, the work it did in Gibraltar was unsuccessful.

Will the Minister state when he will let us know how many applications have been made for Rosyth and Devonport?

The trade unions have stated in a letter to me from the secretary of the Shipbuilding Trades Joint Council: We have repeatedly stressed the need for change in particular in the management and financial structures of the Yards. But we remain convinced that those changes can be made without the Civil Service status of the Yards being altered. We would not therefore support the Yards being taken out of the Civil Service and run as a Government-owned PLC, but the major difficulty for us is that we simply do not know what the Government is talking about when it refers to a Government-owned PLC. Such a PLC could be run in a number of ways ranging from what happened in Gibraltar which proved to be a disaster, to the kind of Government-owned PLC that we find in British Nuclear Fuels and Rolls-Royce. If the Government wants to discuss this matter with us we are prepared to respond at any time. It is now for Government to get its act together and invite us to a meeting.". I hope that the Minister will do that.

The Government's calculations of the savings to be made by the introduction of the agency management scheme have varied throughout the passage of the Bill. Will the Minister, although perhaps not tonight, tell us what the savings will be? How many further job losses will be necessary over the next two years? We have heard that there will be 2,000 in Devonport which have already been agreed. Are any more likely in the future? As the dockyards now seem to be completing most of their refits ahead of schedule, can the Minister explain why the Government's plans are necessary?

Finally, the economic and commercial viability of the City of Plymouth and the surrounding area can be assessed by the activity through the naval base gates. The dockyard is the major employer in the base, with 13,000 employees. However, including naval base and service personnel, some 22,000 people enter and leave the naval base daily. Within the Plymouth area, it is assessed that one household in every five has within it at least one individual directly connected with the naval base.

Plymouth has one of the best natural harbours in the world, with port facilities which, had they been developed along industry lines, would have had immense potential. But history decreed that Plymouth's role was to be cast by Government and armed forces diktat as Great Britain's premier naval base, with any potential industrial development second to that requirement. Development which would compete with either harbour utilisation or the monopoly use of available qualified labour was resisted or indeed obstructed. Entry and egress of naval vessels have first priority and must predominate at all times.

As I mentioned on Second Reading, the naval base's related identity has brought upon Plymouth ravages of death and destruction almost beyond comprehension in these modern times. All have been borne loyally and with fortitude. There is a debt of obligation owed to this city, which I hope the noble Minister will remember when he makes his final selection.

There is one other point I should like to ask about. This Bill is called the Dockyard Services Bill. There is never a mention of "Royal". Are they going to lose the title "Royal", or are they going to retain it? If so, surely that should be put into this Bill. I hope that the Minister can give me some answers, if not tonight then in the near future.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, the interventions of the noble Baroness throughout the long proceedings on the Bill will have won widespread admiration in all quarters. She has shown throughout the depth of her loyalty and affection for her old constituency. I imagine that she must be particularly pleased that the Bill was amended at this last moment in the way that it was. She will hope, as we all hope, that this amendment will reach the statute book in due course, and that it will help to ensure the right spirit in the dockyards, which is essential to the success of any scheme for the dockyards and essential for the interests and the welfare of the navy itself, which is, or ought to be, the prime consideration behind this Bill.

As has often been said, the Bill was extremely obscure. On the Opposition Benches, I think that the only noble Lord who understood it, at least at the beginning, was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. He has confessed that he only understood it after making a protracted and special study of the Bill with the help of the cellars of the Printed Paper Office. For ourselves, we have struggled as best we could to understand the Bill, to understand the Government's intentions, and we all agree—certainly noble Lords on these Benches—that it gives the Government statutory powers without sufficient statutory strings.

We have heard a lot from the Minister about the intentions of the Government. Again tonight the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said, "My goals are the same goals". But over and over again we have asked him: in that case, why not spell out in the Bill the intentions of the Government? As it is, it is purely an enabling Act. It leaves the Government options in every possible direction. Whether or not to have a Government-owned company is a matter of profound importance on which Parliament should have a view, but the Government have maintained the option and rejected the concept of an affirmative resolution, which would at least bring it before Parliament again.

Who are the contractors? We do not know. Are they foreign controlled? We do not know. What proportion of foreign control are the Government going to allow? Again, we do not know. What are the costs to the Exchequer, or the supposed gain to the Exchequer? We have heard no estimates from the Minister throughout the proceedings on the Bill. He has spoken with his normal courtesy and normal persistence and charm, but he has told us nothing at all that we could not guess before.

Therefore, although the Bill was improved by two amendments—both amendments due to the persistence and brilliant legal experience of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning—and although we hope it succeeds in the interests of the navy, the workforce, and of Plymouth, we on these Benches have serious doubts about it.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, I would say only one word more. I would thank the Minister, Lord Trefgarne, for meeting many of my complaints and objections so far as he could. He was quite right in saying that the objectives are common objectives. We really want to do away with the Civil Service red tape at the dockyards, but equally we want an efficient dockyard.

Above all, we want a contented workforce, or at least an acquiescing workforce; otherwise, this project will never succeed. I would hope, perhaps as a result of the amendment this evening, that there will be consultations, that the views of the workforce will be taken into account, and, if all goes well, that there might be agreement in the end.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I wish to say a few words before the Bill passes. Without the pleasure of the vote ten minutes ago I would have been extremely angry. I would certainly not have said that I wished the Bill well. But in the context of the task in which we are engaged and the role of this House as a revising Chamber, I believe that on the margin, and late in the day, we have modestly improved the Bill.

If there is no difference between the Minister and those of us who have shown an interest in this matter, then we would say that what we have sought to do is to ensure that those, outside the House accept what this House is doing by putting words on the face of the Bill that the Minister does not feel are necessary. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that we would hope that the amendment is accepted in the spirit in which it was moved and supported, which was for greater clarity, equity and justice to those outside. The Minister has sought to have, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, flexibility in an enabling Bill. We hope that he will go forward in that spirit.

I have to say to the Minister, however, that some bridges need to be built. As the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, pointed out, the trade union side in this argument is not on all fours with the Minister as to the endeavours that have been made to secure the maximum understanding. The trade unions are right to say that they do not wish to have anything to do with the Bill. They do not believe in the philosophy of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, has allowed me to see a copy of a letter that she has received from the trade unions and which she herself quoted. The Minister ought to understand that the trade unions have said as recently as this week: First, we remain surprised that Lord Trefgarne should have suggested that we have refused to meet with him.". That was a point the noble Lord made earlier tonight. At no stage in recent weeks have either Lord Trefgarne or the Secretary of State made any approach to us for a meeting on the future of the Royal Naval Dockyards.". There is room there for at least some clarification, as to what either the Minister said or what this letter has said, because that is a direct quote from the letter.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord is aware that my noble friend Lady Vickers asked me whether she could bring a delegation of trade unionists to see me. I readily agreed to that. The trade unions then said that they would not come.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, may I give an explanation for that? They said that they would go with me, but only if they had an invitation from the Minister, which is the way they put it.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I understand that, too. In the same letter the trade unions point out, of course: if the Government wants to discuss this matter with us, we are prepared to respond at any time. It is now for the Government, therefore, to get its act together and to invite us to a meeting. We would suggest that such a meeting would more appropriately be in the first instance with the Secretary of State for Defence and he would no doubt wish Lord Trefgarne to be present. I believe that there is a bit of fencing going on. But at the end of the day, when this Bill passes from here and in some form—I hope unamended—it then becomes the law of the land, I hope that the Minister will treat seriously with the trade unions on the next steps. The idea of consultation in this matter by the Government hitherto has earned the censure of the House of Commons Defence Committee on this Bill. That committee said that the consultation was inept and insensitive, and took place in too short a period. The Minister referred to the briefing papers. What the report said was that those papers had been hastily prepared and that they raised more questions than answers.

The Bill will leave this House with some success for those who have sought to achieve change. I do not want to leave this Bill without echoing the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and say how indebted we in this House and all concerned in the city of Plymouth and in the environs of Rosyth are to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. On many occasions he will irritate those of us on the other side of the argument. On this occasion—I say this sincerely—he has not only been a tower of strength to our argument, but I believe has acted in the finest traditions of those who are not prepared at face value to believe what the Government say are their intentions. He has earned the undying respect and gratitude of many outside the House.

I look across the House to the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, whom I first met on committees more than 30 years ago. The people of Plymouth are indeed proud of and grateful for the service that she has rendered to them. When I was in Plymouth last Saturday her name was mentioned a number of times. What she has tried to do for the people of Plymouth is well understood and deeply appreciated. I have been grateful indeed for the realism which she has been able to inject into this debate from her intimate knowledge of not merely the dockyards (which is unsurpassed in this place) but also the feelings of the people of Plymouth. In that context I wish the Bill well, having been amended.

The Minister has always been courteous and kind and has immediately wanted to put in writing anything that needed to be clarified. That has had to happen more than once not because of his fault but because of my persistence in wanting to be precise. I certainly have appreciated the spirit in which he has sought to do his job for the government tonight.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, with his customary tolerance and kindness has referred to many noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. He referred very kindly to my noble friend Lord Mayhew. He referred to and praised the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and he praised the great contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers. Of course he referred to the charm and tolerance of the Minister. But I do not think I shall disclose any secret if say that I was a member of a small group who used to meet occasionally to discuss these matters on dockyards with helpful members of trade unions and other experts, but the initiative in this matter lay almost wholly with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Therefore I make this brief intervention to disclose—I am sure I am embarrassing him—that the initiative on so much of the work on this dockyards Bill emanated from the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I am sure many of us are grateful to him.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful for the observations that your Lordships have made on this matter. In reply to the number of points made by noble friend Lady Vickers I hope she will not mind my saying that almost all the points she raised were covered at one point or another during the discussions we have had on this Bill. If I am wrong about that and there is something she has raised that I have overlooked, I shall happily write to my noble friend. I am afraid that with more firmness I must say the same thing to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. I answered those points more than once during the passage of this Bill. If he wishes to refresh his memory, I am sure he will want to confirm that. In the meantime I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

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