HL Deb 02 November 1989 vol 512 cc346-70

3.31 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 12 [Protection of Sikhs from racial discrimination in connection with wearing of safety helmets]:

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved the following amendment: Page 11, line 35, leave out ("cannot") and insert ("may").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not want to beguile the House into thinking that because this is a simple amendment it is a simple matter. It is not. It is very complicated indeed. In Committee and Report stages we inserted into the Bill clauses which were not there when the Bill was first presented to this House. Those clauses deal with the position of Sikhs and wearing protective helmets on building sites.

The clauses grant to Sikhs complete immunity from the requirements of the law or any regulations issued under it, even though that immunity may cut right across the policy of the industry to promote safety on building sites. It is absolute and it is complete.

Certain consequences flow from that immunity. One of them concerns what happens if there is cause for proceedings against a Sikh for injury sustained either by him or by others because of his conduct in not wearing a helmet. Under the Bill the law requires that for all such purposes it shall be supposed that the Sikh was wearing a helmet even though he was not. Therefore no action can lie against him for not wearing a helmet. Whatever action may lie against him must be for something that would have occurred had he been wearing a helmet.

That stretches the immunity well into the civil law of compensation and actionable conduct. One cannot really go further; but the Bill does. That is why my amendment seeks to moderate the extremism of the provisions in Clause 12.

Apart from that circumstance, the question of racial discrimination comes into the matter. Under the racial discrimination Acts there exists what is called indirect discrimination —for example, preventing a person doing something or insisting that he shall do something, and although what one asks for may be reasonable in itself, there may be a discriminatory motive behind it. If that exists, indirect discrimination can be alleged: it was not what he was asked to do that was important but the reason why he was asked to do it.

I turn to the position of an employer who feels that in a particular case and under certain circumstances a Sikh who is not willing to wear a helmet had better not remain in a dangerous area but should go to a less dangerous place on the site. In such circumstances the worker may say, "This is all beneath me. This site is no more dangerous than the others. I am just being shifted on racial grounds". It is to that matter that this part of Clause 12 and my amendment relate.

In circumstances of an allegation of indirect racial discrimination the employer has no defence if he attempts to justify the move on grounds of health and safety. He would have to disprove the claim of racial discrimination but he could not enter a justification on his own account. That is why I propose to delete the word "cannot" —he cannot prove and is not allowed to use as a defence that his action was justified in the circumsatnces of the case —and to insert the word "may" in substitution. It will give the employer the possibility of satisfying a court in its discretion that he had a case for what he did apart from the question of racial discrimination.

This is taking the matter into a very obscure and involved position but it is very important because it is probably not understood that under our racial discrimination laws we have deprived people of the right to particular defences, which otherwise would be good in law, simply because they involve the issue of racial discrimination. That is the position now. I believe that applying that position to this situation produces circumstances which are completely indefensible.

I am not raising again the main issue of general immunity. I had some remarks to make at Committee stage and I do not propose to repeat them. I want to deal simply with the amendment. It may be alleged that introducing a discretionary justification for the action of the employer undermines the completeness of the immunity in the clause. We are not undermining it. I suggest that we are modifying it. I believe that we are justified in making such a modification.

If we are prepared to pass this measure, the time will come when such ethnic and religious issues, which are by no means confined to Sikhs, will frighten us all to the extent of letting everybody get their own way. I do not think that we should do that. This matter does not involve questions of religious education or social policy. It is not sought to make lawful marriage to two or three wives or to allow children to go to segregated schools. We shall get that in due course all right but it does not arise here.

The issue here is solely one of safety. In the interests of having no racial discrimination we have tightened the law so much that we have impaired the employers' discretion to act in the interests of safety in circumstances in which it might be alleged that such action constituted indirect discrimination. If that is alleged, an employer's case falls to the ground.

I am not a lawyer, but I hope that I have done as well as possible to explain the amendment. We must take a stand. I believe that that stand is to be taken on the extremism of what we are asked to provide. I do not think that that is unreasonable.

Finally, with great respect, in the time ahead your Lordships' House will be tested very severely on questions of human freedom, our civic rights, our culture and other issues connected with our outlook on life. There are movements afoot —I need not enlarge on them —that will be extremely tiresome to cope with. I do not suggest that there is any such bother here. However, although it has taken three years to get this far, the Government have gone too far in placating the Sikh point of view against the reasonable safeguards of the employer who is trying to maintain safety on his site and to save other people from injury as well as the Sikhs. I believe that we ought to give him the chance of pleading justification and allowing the court to decide whether or not the requirement was justified. I beg to move.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I should like to support very strongly the amendment that has been proposed and moved by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He will recall that we had a debate on the general proposition at Committee. We had a further quite long debate at Report stage. I do not wish to go into all the issues which were raised. However, I wish to reiterate one or two points that I raised then.

One cannot escape from the fact that if one discriminates in favour of one section of a workforce or a people one is bound to discriminate against another section. It is difficult enough in my experience to persuade the general body of workers to wear safety helmets and other safety clothing under normal circumstances. If they are required to work alongside a group of workers who are exempt from that provision, such persuasion will be even more difficult. For that reason it was unwise to put this provision in the Bill.

Noble Lords may not be aware of this factor. The amendments to the original Bill which now constitute Clauses 11 and 12 are amendments to regulations that have not yet been before the House or another place. We are therefore being asked to amend the provisions of the regulations which we have not seen. That is dangerous. I do not believe that this House or indeed another place should be railroaded (if I may use that term) by the Government in that respect.

As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby asked: how far shall we go along this road of discrimination? During the passage of the Bill through its Report stage I mentioned that many people were becoming concerned about different standards that are applied in our society. I instanced the case of a certain Moslem who called for the murder of one of our fellow citizens —one of his fellow citizens. To my knowledge there has been no such action taken. I suggest to noble Lords that if you, I, or anyone else outside this Chamber, other than perhaps a Moslem priest, had incited people to murder one of our fellow citizens, we should have been arrested, tried and either put in prison or a lunatic asylum. I realise that those are strong words. However, we must be very careful about what we are doing. We must ensure that the laws that we pass are seen to be sensible and fair to the whole of society. If we once start discriminating in favour of one section of society, then our laws will not be observed and they will not be respected in the way that we all wish.

Finally, I can envisage a position where an employer requires all employees in a certain situation to wear safety helmets. Among his employees there may well be a Sikh who says, "I will not do so". Under the present provisions without the amendment, if the employer does not sack him but moves him to another situation, the Sikh may then claim detriment against the employer: that he has been injured in some way, financially or otherwise, by being moved to another position. He has not been sacked but moved to another part of the building site, plant, or whatever the case may be. It is an intolerable position in which to put employers.

I have heard the Government's answer. I have heard what the noble Lord opposite has said in Committee and Report stages. However, I hope that he will accept at least this very simple and essential amendment to protect employers who are trying to safeguard the health and welfare of their employees.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I should like to ask for clarification from the lawyers on the interpretation by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, of indirect discrimination. I believe that it is extremely important in this context. As I understand it, it is not a question of intent, but that if a requirement is laid down which cannot be fulfilled by a substantial proportion of one ethnic minority, an employer is guilty of discrimination. However, he is not guilty of discrimination if he can show that that requirement is justifiable.

If that understanding is correct —and I believe that it is —in the case postulated by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, if an employer said that for a certain job everyone had to wear a helmet, and he moved the Sikh to another job, and he could show that it was justifiable to require that helmets should be worn on the job from which the Sikh had been moved, he would not be guilty of indirect discrimination. It is a matter for the lawyers; but it is a very important point when we are discussing this issue. I do not argue that point, but I am asking the House to decide whether it is possible that the employer could do precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has said and not be guilty of indirect discrimination. Will the lawyers comment?

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, at times was seeking to go back on the decision of the House taken at earlier stages that in deference to the Sikhs' religion they should be exempted from the obligation to wear helmets in circumstances in which all other workers were bound to wear them. We had a considerable discussion at earlier stages on that point. I do not propose to weary your Lordships by going over it again. The net result is the Bill as it stands. At least it has the merits of being clear.

If the noble Lord's amendment was inserted the Bill would lose a great deal of its clarity and in many circumstances employers would be placed in a position of considerable doubt. If they have to take account of the particular circumstances, which would include the degree of danger to the Sikh and to his fellow workers, they will be left without any guidance about the degree of danger which will exempt them from being prosecuted for discrimination. They will also be left in an area of uncertainty where certainty is required.

Although I do not accept it, I understand the view of those who say that if people's religion demands such a thing they should receive no exemption. However, once it has been decided, as your Lordships' House has decided, that there shall be an exemption in deference to these people's religion —and my view is that one should pay great respect to people's regard for their religion —it is necessary that the situation should be clear. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will leave employers puzzled and uncertain about whether in different circumstances they are entitled to move a Sikh worker from one job to another. In those circumstances, I hope that your Lordships will not accept an amendment which will undo a good deal of the value of the clause on which the House has spent a great deal of time.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, the building trade employers' organisation has strongly urged me to move the amendment and is fully behind my actions. Therefore I suggest to the noble Lord that he need not concern himself with the uncertainty of the employers because they want this measure of possible relief from the rigidity of the Bill as it stands.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the noble Lord has it all wrong. The fact that for whatever reason the building trade employers' organisation —which, incidentally, does not always represent the trade—wishes to put itself in a position of difficulty is no reason why your Lordships should agree to this. In fact, we ought to save them from themselves.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, your Lordships will be aware that we on these Benches have been most worried by government amendments proposed in earlier stages. At Report stage we did not press our amendments to a Division but my noble friend Lord McCarthy made clear that we had a number of concerns. We were worried principally on health and safety grounds. Indeed, when speaking about the exemptions the Minister said: We are not talking solely about health and safety provisions. The Sikh will be less safe to a certain extent wearing a turban than a helmet".—[Official Report, 30/10/89; cal. 80.] The Minister has never suggested otherwise.

We were concerned about safety not only as regards the Sikhs but also other people working on the site. We are also concerned about what would happen to site discipline in situations where some Sikh workers were exempt from wearing protective head gear and others were not. We have always regarded it, as a health and safety question. We believe emphatically in religious and racial toleration. However, because we are so worried about safety, we believe that the noble Lord's amendment tabled even at this late stage has merit. It would give some flexibility to employers who employ Sikhs on a construction site.

I am sure that noble Lords know that construction sites are dangerous places. I regret to say that the construction industry has a lamentable accident record with a number of fatalities each year. I have been told by people working in the industry that in recent years fatalities have increased rather than diminished. Health and safety are important factors. For all those reasons the proposed amendment is worthy of consideration and support. It is a small amendment but it gives employers a degree of flexibility. It would enable them to assess whether it is safe to employ a Sikh wearing a helmet in a particularly dangerous situation.

Lord Strathclyde

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, introduced his amendment in a most elegant and clear manner. I suspect that he did so better than many lawyers could have done.

During the course of the Bill we have debated this subject for more than two and a half hours and covered more than 30 columns of Hansard. But it did not come as a great surprise to learn that the noble Lord was bringing back this important subject for discussion on Third Reading. Perhaps it will not come to him as a great surprise to learn that the Government are unable to accept the amendment because it reverses the intended effect of subsection (1) of Clause 12.

As I explained when we discussed this matter on Report, the decision to exempt turban-wearing Sikhs from the regulations concerning the wearing of safety helmets on construction sites was not an easy one to make. There are strong arguments for and against treating Sikhs in the construction industry as a special case. Indeed, many of those arguments have been expressed during the course of our debates. However, having considered the matter fully, the Government decided that the arguments in favour of an exemption, particularly those relating to the hardship that the requirement would impose on the Sikh community, relations with that community and the issue of religious freedom, outweighed those against.

Once the decision had been made to exempt turban-wearing Sikhs from the regulations it was only right that the Government took the necessary steps to ensure that the exemption would work in practice. It was for that reason that we introduced Clause 12 in order to make clear the effect of the exemption on the application of the Race Relations Act 1976.

We are certain that the majority of employers will recognise the deeply-held religious beliefs of those turban-wearing Sikhs who wish to take advantage of the exception and will apply it without difficulty. However there may be a small minority who would, despite the exemption, insist that all their employees wear safety helmets and the refusal by turban-wearing Sikhs to comply with such a requirement would in their view be sufficient reason to dismiss or not to employ Sikhs.

Although the employer might apply the requirement equally to all his employees, the proportion of Sikhs who could comply with it would be smaller than the proportion of non-Sikhs. Therefore the requirement could amount to indirect racial discrimination and the employer could be subject to a claim under the 1976 Act. The employer would no doubt justify his action on grounds such as health and safety and the necessity to maintain good relations between employees.

If upheld, such a defence would render the exemption worthless. The Government are therefore of the view that an employer should not be able to argue a claim of indirect racial discrimination by arguing that such a requirement is justifiable. And that is why subsection (1) of Clause 12 makes it clear that a requirement on a turban-wearing Sikh to wear a safety helmet on a construction site cannot be shown to be justifiable when defending such cases.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who has a great interest in the subject, said that in making a decision to look after one particular part of society one directly discriminates against others. To a certain extent that may well be true, but in this case we are talking about religious tolerance.

The noble Lord also complained that we were amending regulations which had not yet been through the House. The point is that regulations dealing with health and safety which are passed through both Houses on the negative resolution procedure cannot contain exemptions on grounds other than health and safety. As I made clear during previous discussions, we are not talking about health and safety; we are talking about discrimination against turban-wearing Sikhs.

I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, made an extraordinary speech. I felt that she wanted it both ways. On the one hand, she said how important ethnic minorities were to the Labour Party and to the future of the country and how there is tremendous solidarity between her party and ethnic minorities. On the other hand, the noble Baroness wishes to support an amendment which would possibly increase discrimination against Sikhs. Let us be quite clear about it. The clause removes any prospect of discrimination. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that he wanted employers to have a choice.

4 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but the whole burden of my argument is that in our opinion this is not a question of discrimination but a health and safety issue. We are concerned about health and safety here and not discrimination. That is the difference between us and the noble Lord.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am afraid it is not. The noble Baroness read out what I said in Committee. I said that turban-wearing Sikhs would be less safe than if wearing a helmet. That is plain common sense. However, the implication is that we are putting turban-wearing Sikhs in a worse situation than they are at present; and that is not true. We are raising the general level of safety on construction sites by making the wearing of hard hats compulsory.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, except for some people.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, of course except for some people. We are not increasing the risk of accidents. At present, accidents happen at a certain level without the wearing of hard hats. If we make the wearing of hard hats compulsory then presumably the number of accidents will decrease.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, it seems almost by definition that we must be increasing the possibility of accidents. If that is not the case, why are we urging people to wear hard hats and in the law making it compulsory for them to do so? The noble Lord said what seemed to him plain common sense. It seems to me plain common sense that people wear hard hats to avoid accidents. If someone, for whatever reason —and we are not particularly concerned at the moment about that reason although I share my noble friend's reservations about it —will not wear a hard hat, ipso facto there will be a greater danger that that person will have an accident.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I suspect that I have not made myself sufficiently clear. At present there is no requirement to wear hard hats on construction sites, so accidents occur. We are bringing in regulations to make the wearing of hard hats compulsory. Therefore, we are raising and not reducing the level of safety.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I am on the Minister's side on this matter but we must have better arguments than that. If the hard hats regulation is introduced to reduce accidents and then certain people are exempted from wearing them, as a matter of plain logic, the number of accidents as compared with now will be reduced but there will still be more accidents than if everybody had to wear a hard hat.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Baroness has put that very clearly and I agree with her. I never said that the accident rate will increase as a result of this exemption. There is no evidence to support that and I have never implied that in any way.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, is the noble Lord correct? As I understand it, Clause 12(1)(b) only applies where the employer has reasonable grounds for believing that the individual worker —that is, the Sikh —would not object to wearing a helmet. Therefore, the amendment says that if he takes that view, he may be justified but he may not. Whether or not he is justified will turn partly, as we have said, on health and safety but it will also turn on whether or not the individual worker would have worn a helmet. That will come into it. This can only apply if there is the compliance of the worker himself. Therefore, we must have a situation where the worker agrees to wear a helmet and where there is a question of health and safety involved. What is wrong with that?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, would open up a loophole and allow employers to choose to decide themselves whether or not there could possibly be discrimination. That is not the Government's intention. Their intention is to remove doubt altogether. Thus, in the example used by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, where the Sikh was moved to another job, if he claimed he had suffered a detriment, it would be open to the employer to argue that no detriment had been suffered. That is the position under the clause as it stands.

On a more general level, tolerance and respect for religion and freedom of expression are an important part of our heritage. I believe that these discussions on health and safety are ultimately a digression from the main principle. This amendment would lead to confusion and doubt as to the effect of the exemption contained in Clause 11. Therefore, that would undermine its application. I hope that in the light of what I have said, the noble Lord may feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am very grateful to those who have taken part in the debate on this amendment. I am sure that noble Lords will have concluded, in listening to the debate, that the extremities and rigidities of our law regarding racial discrimination are quite extraordinary. It is pursued to the nth degree. That is why in this particular matter if indirect racial discrimination is alleged, no other defence of justification is possible. That must be determined by the court on the ground of indirect racial discrimination. I suggest that that answers the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. If racial discrimination is brought into it, there is no other justification. The matter has to be decided by reference to the allegation of racial discrimination.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, it states quite clearly that one can bring in a defence of it being justifiable. There is no question about that. It can be argued that it is justifiable. Your Lordships will remember cases concerning women and the requirement of height. If an employer said that a woman had to be six foot tall and could show that she could not do the job unless she was, then the discrimination was justifiable.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I must repeat that the amendment proposes to introduce the opportunity to an employer of advancing justification for what he did in answer to the charge made against him. At present he would not be able to advance any justification for what he did. He would have to advance the case against the allegation of racial discrimination. That is the basis on which, as I understand it, the matter would have to be decided.

Otherwise, what are we talking about? The employers say that they want this degree of easement as regards the rigidity of the proposal in this clause to enable them to advance grounds of justification for what they did as the merit of their case for action. As the Bill stands the law would not permit them to do so. This is an extraordinary situation. It seems to me that we are seeking to justify the disciplines of religious conviction to the exclusion of all other considerations either of justice or even of common sense. This is a situation that your Lordships should not accept. I urge that, having regard to the fact that this Bill has yet to go to another place, your Lordships should express prima facie some doubt about the clause as it stands. Let us have further consideration and thoughts given to it in another place.

It would be, if I may say so with great respect, an ill service to the cause we are here to serve if we were to reject this amendment and allow another place to think that this is our judgment on the merits and the justice of the situation. We are asked to stretch everything that we stand for in justice and in the flexibility of the law against the injustices of rigidity in order to place beyond any doubt whatsoever the case of the Sikh to complete immunity from the regulations which would otherwise be imposed.

This is a matter upon which your Lordships ought to feel very strongly and I must ask the House to pass judgment on the amendment.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, before the noble Lord finally takes his decision, if I may intervene, would it not be better, rather than pressing his amendment at this stage after such full discussion in Committee and Report, if—the argument having been advanced on both sides —it were left for another place to reconsider the position?

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am afraid that, at 91, I am suffering from certain deficiencies of hearing and I have not heard what the noble Lord said.

4.12 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 57; Not-Contents, 147.

Ampthill, L. John-Mackie, L.
Ardwick, L. Lauderdale, E.
Birk, B. Leatherland, L.
Blease, L. Lockwood, B.
Boston of Faversham, L. McCarthy, L.
Bottomley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Brightman, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Molloy, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L Northfield, L.
O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Reilly, L.
Cornwallis, L. Rugby, L.
David, B. Scanlon, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Serota, B.
Dormand of Easington, L. Shannon, E.
Ennals, L. Slim, V.
Gallacher, L. Stallard, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Stoddart of Swindon, L. [Teller.]
Greenway, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hacking, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Halsbury, E. Tryon, L.
Hayter, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Underhill, L.
Hirshfield, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. White, B.
Hughes, L. Wilberforce, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jeger. B. Willis, L.
Airedale, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Kearton, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Kimball, L.
Arran, E. Kinnaird, L.
Aylestone, L. Knollys, V.
Banks, L. Liverpool, Bp.
Barber, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Beloff, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Belstead, L. Long, V.
Bessborough, E. Lyell, L.
Birdwood, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Blatch, B. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Blyth, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Borthwick, L. Malmesbury, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Margadale, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Marley, L.
Brookes, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Butterworth, L. Mayhew, L.
Caithness, E. Merrivale, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mersey, V.
Campbell of Croy, L. Milverton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Mottistone, L.
Carnock, L. Mountevans, L.
Colnbrook, L. Mountgarret, V.
Cottesloe, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cox, B. Nelson, E.
Craigavon, V. Norfolk, D.
Crathorne, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Ogmore, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Onslow, E.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Orkney, E.
De Freyne, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Oxfuird, V.
Dilhorne, V. Pender, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Perry of Walton, L.
Dormer, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Eccles, V. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Eden of Winton, L.
Effingham, E. Quinton, L.
Elles, B. Rathcreedan, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Reay, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Renton, L.
Elton, L. Renwick, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Ripon, Bp.
Ezra, L. Rochester, L.
Faithfull, B. Rodney, L.
Falkland, V. Sainsbury, L.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. St. Davids, V.
Ferrers, E. Seear, B.
Fortescue, E. Somers, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Strathcarron, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Strathclyde, L.
Gainford, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Gladwyn, L.
Gridley, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Grimond, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L Sudeley, L.
Terrington, L.
Hampton, L. Teviot, L.
Hanworth, V. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Thurlow, L.
Harvington, L. Tordoff, L.
Havers, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hemphill, L. Trumpington, B.
Henley, L. Ullswater, V.
Hertford, M. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hesketh, L. Walpole, L.
Hives, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Holderness, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Winstanley, L.
Hooper, B. Wise, L.
Hunt, L. Wolfson, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Wyatt of Weeford, L.
Ilchester, E. Young, B.
Jenkin of Roding, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.21 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

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

This is not by any means the longest or most complex Bill we have had to deal with in the present Session but it has raised many important and sometimes difficult issues. I would mention in particular the provisions on the employment of young people, the new framework for industrial training and the matter we have discussed again today at some length; namely, the question of the Sikh community and the construction industry. Your Lordships' House has understandably been concerned to explore the implications of these measures very carefully.

It will be no surprise if I say that once again the House has risen to the challenge and proved its worth. The level of debate has been consistently high. Contributions on all sides have been serious, penetrating and to the point. On the government side we might sometimes wish that your Lordships' scrutiny was not quite so penetrating, but taking a broader view we welcome the opportunity to explain and justify the measures we have put forward for your consideration. I hope that we have been able to reassure your Lordships that the Government have considered the arguments carefully and that if at the end of the day we agree to differ it is because we take a different judgment of the issues and not because we take the objections to our proposals lightly.

At this late stage, when we have discussed the issues very carefully and fully, I shall not detain your Lordships further with a detailed exposition of the Bill. I shall conclude by thanking all who have been involved with the Bill for their many and varied contributions. In particular I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in our debates for the serious and courteous way in which they have approached the matter. That is indeed no more than we have come to expect in this House but it is always a pleasure to acknowledge it. I should like to thank my noble friends on this side of the House for their helpful contributions, often based on long and deep experience of industry and commerce. In particular, I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Campbell of Alloway for their many wise and perceptive comments.

I should also like to thank noble Lords opposite for their vigorous but always fair and reasoned contributions. In the best traditions of your Lordships' House they have brought their formidable expertise and powers of analysis to bear on the often complex issues we have been discussing. I single out the balanced and constructive approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who have led their teams so ably. The noble Lords, Lord McCarthy, Lord Wedderburn and Lord Rochester, have also made contributions of the greatest weight and substance. Where else but in this House would we find such a concentration of expertise and knowledge of the issues before us?

I wish not to overlook the assistance we have received from the officers and staff of the House—without whom we would quickly grind to a halt —the officials in my department and all those in the world outside who have been involved in consultations or who have otherwise contributed to consideration of the issues. I thank them all, and I now commend the Bill to the House.

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

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for many of the things that he has said about us and for saying that we provided him with a formidable analysis. He acknowledged the weight and substance of our arguments. He said that he did not take what we said lightly. Unfortunately he did not take it seriously or heavily enough to agree with us on a single amendment that we put forward.

At Second Reading I said that this Bill was the fifth son of Frankenstein. In fact that is wrong because it is the sixth son. There were others in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1988. This is the sixth time that we have sought in this House to narrow and restrict the collective rights of workers, or more particularly as regards this Bill to abolish or circumscribe the individual rights of workers against employers.

We know that this Bill is only the sixth son. The noble Lord told us earlier today that there is a seventh son in the wings dealing with the abolition of the pre-entry closed shop and unofficial strikes. We know that there is an eighth son in the womb, to be concerned with the abolition of the remainder of the wages councils. The ninth son is as yet unconceived —the previous ones were stillborn. However, the Government tell us that sooner or later they will be bringing before us legislation as regards essential services.

So we march on and on —in the words of the Prime Minister in 1983 —"until we get it right". So it is not unreasonable for us to look back now at some of these Bills and to look in more detail at this Bill in order to see the similarities and dissimilarities. The first point to make concerning collective provisions is that the Bill is not as bad as most. There is nothing in this Bill like the withdrawal of immunity in tort in 1982 or the removal of all rights to discipline in trade unions in 1988.

On the other hand, we can say that collectively probably more workers will lose more rights as a result of the Wages Act 1986 than anything proposed in this Bill. In terms of individual rights, probably the undermining of rights to unfair dismissal by the two-year rule and the exemption for small firms are much worse for most people than anything in this Bill. This Bill begins where the others leave off so that the Government are going further and further. If the steps in this Bill are somewhat smaller than those taken in 1980, 1982 and 1988, they are further steps down the road.

It is still the case that we are the only European country, certainly in the EC, which feels that it has to advance economically on the backs of the workers by lowering their standards, by lowering their rights and by taking away their collective privileges and immunities. Naturally we in this House and in the Opposition could not be expected to take this lying down. We have sought to move a considerable number of amendments during the passage of the Bill through the House.

It has been a matter of considerable pleasure and gratification to me that we have found ourselves this time—and also in relation to recent annual Bills that this Government have brought forward on the subject—in conformity and in the same Lobbies more frequently with the other Opposition parties. There is a wider appreciation on this side of the House and outside that this Government have got industrial relations and trades union legislation on the brain. They go on and on. However they may change their economic and political objectives, when it comes to industrial relations they say the same thing year after year after year.

As regards the amendments we have tabled, it is not only this year that we have not received any concessions from the Government. We have had a series of government spokesmen speaking for a series of Bills. We got little from the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie; we got less from the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers; nothing from the noble Lord, Lord Young; tea and sympathy from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne; while the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, remains, in the current phrase, as unassailable as ever.

Yet the provisions that we have asked for have been modest in the extreme. We have asked for modest changes in the area of narrowing workers' rights against the employers; we asked for a modest reduction in the proposed two-year period of probation. We asked for some modification of the abolition of dismissal procedures for firms with below 20 employees. We asked for a slightly less objective definition of trade union time off. We asked for reasons for dismissal where an employee has worked for less than two years. We asked for some modification of what we regard as the unfair, unjustified and unworkable system of pre-hearing reviews. But the Government stood firm. They conceded nothing whatever throughout the debates.

We had no more success when we sought to advance standards of protection in a modest way —for example, to prevent discrimination at engagement point on grounds of age or disability. Nothing was done. It may be said that that was consistent with the line laid down by previous Ministers in previous Bills. But we received nothing more when we moved into the more novel area of the Bill where the Government are seeking to dismantle protections for women and young persons. One might have thought that in this new area of de-regulation there were particular reasons why the Government might listen to modest amendments. After all, as we said over and over again to the Minister, much of what he was proposing to do was not supported by those who are frequently regarded as the Government's friends. I refer to the CBI, the EEF, the IPM, the BIB and even the Institute of Directors. We read out to the noble Lord over and over again what those parties have said, but to no avail.

Much of what the Government wish to do in this area is against international standards and their proposals would undoubtedly sin against EC regulations. We cited those points over and over again but we had no help from the noble Lord. We even cited the words of remaining quangos such as the Health and Safety Commission and the EOC. The changes for which they asked were the basis of many of our amendments. Once again the noble Lord remained as unassailable as ever.

We tried to amend the Bill so that women could refuse to work underground and retain their social security benefit. That was a small, modest and almost pitiful amendment. The noble Lord would have none of it. We tried to allow for a detailed assessment of the proposals to dismantle the regulations on dangerous machinery. The noble Lord would have none of it. Similar proposals were put forward on heavy work and on young people being sent home at night. We mentioned again and again in Committee and on Report that those provisions are undoubtedly against international conventions. The answers were as unsatisfactory, as contradictory and as depressing as ever.

One must mention briefly the general arguments which the noble Lord put forward. I do not have to apologise for concentrating only on the noble Lord's arguments, because the arguments of those few members of his own party who supported him in the debate were identical. They could have read his brief. Perhaps they did —perhaps they wrote it. Everything they said was identical to what the noble Lord said, either before he said it or afterwards.

The argument he used most frequently was, as one might expect, a market argument. There were two contentions; each was mutually contradictory of the other. We were told that there could be no concession to anything we were asking because even our most modest amendments would add to the employer's costs. If they added to the employer's costs, so sensitive and delicately balanced was the labour market that any addition to employers' costs would mean an immediate loss of jobs. So it could not be done. We were also told that no concession was possible because no concession was necessary.

As regards women and young people, we were told that there was now a black hole and that the labour market was moving back in their direction. We were told that there was no need to protect them because their position was so strong. They did not require it because they could demand it, even if they were not unionised or organised.

Economists call the first contention market elasticity, where the elasticity of demand is substantially above unity. They call the second contention market inelasticity. In this case the elasticity of demand is much less than unity. Only this Government can have an elasticity of demand for labour which is both sensitive and insensitive and above unity and below unity.

If the Government did not like that argument they had some others. On HIV protection, the noble Lord actually told us that the people involved did not want it. We were told that they would not want it to be made clear that they could not be unfairly dismissed. However, a little later he told us that they had protection anyway because the tribunals would never agree that such dismissals were fair.

The noble Lord said the same thing about women working in the mines. On the question of consultation and further investigation before the abolition of all protection for young people and women, he said that he had already consulted those who mattered but that unfortunately the Government could not tell us what they had all said. We were never told what the EOC said on these matters. We were told that although the Government believe in consultation they do not believe in telling us the results of consultation.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the noble Lord could not remember what they had said.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. The noble Lord could not remember what they had said.

There were many other arguments. The one which I found most annoying was that our amendments, or some of our amendments, were discriminatory themselves, and that in this Bill the Government wanted to eliminate discrimination. There are several points to be made about that. There are provisions in the Bill which the Government say are clearly and openly discriminatory. We discriminate in this Bill in favour of the Oxford and Cambridge women's colleges. I am not against that; but it is discriminatory. We refused to repeal the whole of Section 51. The Equal Opportunities Commission says that that is discriminatory. The very proposal that Sikhs should not be compelled to wear helmets is discriminatory. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, discrimination is all right if one can justify it. That is what the law says, that is what the EC says and that is what the fair treatment directive says. The Government say that their discrimination is all right but that our discrimination is all wrong.

We were given a number of other excuses. We were told that we were trying to delay the Government and that our points were covered by our old friend the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. We were told that the Government will issue a consultative document and that the EC will come up on the outside with a consultative document. We were told to wait for those.

We have been faced with a series of excuses in different forms. They were directed at the same objective, which was to refuse to accept all our amendments. I have left until last the defence which I liked least of all. It was a defence put forward by the Minister on 17th October. My noble friend Lord Wedderburn was referring to the terms of the international standards that Britain now does not observe and was making the point that we are generally regarded as the worst country in the European Community. What really annoyed the noble Lord and the Government was that we were thought generally to be below Greece. The noble Lord rose not to refute what my noble friend had said but to say (referring to my noble friend): Does he not agree that if that is so, one of the reasons for it might well be that in the past we have had the most powerful, the most dangerous, the most ugly unions of any European country over the past 20 years. That has led us into the severest economic decline … It is only since that has been overcome that this country has begun to perform efficiently economically". —[Official Report, 17/10/89; col. 865.] Naturally enough, my noble friend asked the noble Lord for a single piece of evidence to show that before 1979 the British trade union movement was regarded as, "the most powerful, the most dangerous, the most ugly". Naturally enough, noble Lords would not expect the Minister to have given any evidence. Indeed, I think he may have thought better of it because the next day (at col. 898 of Hansard) he said: I do not hate trade unions. I think that there is a time and a place for everything and that trade unions provide a valuable service at the right time in the right place. However, this is not it". I ask the Minister to think again if he feels that he must come to the House and make such statements in support of Bills of this kind. I ask him to think seriously whether this is the view taken of the British trade union movement in the ILO in Geneva and in the ICFTU in Brussels.

I suggest to the Minister that there are many trade union movements which are much more powerful than the British trade union movement and which have fought in their countries to bring benefit to their economies. I refer to those in Sweden, Norway, Austria and Australia. I further suggest to him that in the international trade union movement most trade unionists know many more trade unions in many other countries which are more corrupt, more highly paid and less dedicated than the British trade union movement.

I think that the Minister's statement —and I use my words carefully —is a disgrace and an insult to the British trade union movement, coming as it does from a Minister of the Crown. I thought that the Minister looked curiously isolated when he said it. In fact I think that he has been curiously isolated throughout our discussions. He has taken on this burden alone. The boy stood alone on the burning deck in this debate. I do not think that that is accidental. The noble Lord must be careful. The tide is going out for the haters and despiser of the British trade union movement and for those who can think of nothing to do to try to develop the economic power of this country other than to introduce such Bills.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, your Lordships may agree that it is quite a novel idea that a Third Reading speech should be half as long again as a Second Reading speech. I can assure noble Lords that I have no intention of competing in the stakes for the longest speech in the winding up of a Bill. However, I should like to say that I found this Bill extremely disappointing. It is doctrinaire and rigid; it is a Bill of lost opportunities.

My first objection is, as I think is widely accepted, to the amount of new material introduced at a very late stage. We have complained about this on every possible occasion and we must continue to do so. It is quite unreasonable that your Lordships should be expected to accept new material which is presented at a very late stage of the Bill's proceedings. We very much hope that this practice, which has been growing in recent months, will now diminish.

I turn now to the lost opportunities and the dogmatism. They are really the marks of this Bill which are so unacceptable. We tried to get a little common sense applied to the Bill. It contains the removal of such sensible protection as that in regard to hours of work of youngsters of 16 to 18 years of age. The arguments put forward of market protection, or the market doing the job and therefore no other protection being necessary, are so hollow, so unbelievable and so doctrinaire that I cannot believe for one moment that the noble Lord gives them any real credence.

It is hard to believe that a 16 year-old will bargain with the employer to be sent on a training course. This is the last thing a great many 16 year-olds would wish to do. Indeed, most youngsters would be well pleased if they could earn a little more money and not go on a course. This is a very short-term view of the situation. Further, it is completely incompatible with the Government's declared intention to improve the situation at long last —and I give them credit for having done a fair amount to improve the standard of training in this country. But it seems completely contradictory and against all common sense that such an idea should have been introduced into the Bill.

Alongside that factor there is the doctrinaire approach and again the application of market ideas to the minimal protection for people on night work and especially women going home late at night. We ask that there should be some requirement in this respect and that there should be decent arrangements for transport. Can the Government not get off their dogmatic high horse, look at the realities in a case of this sort and introduce sensible adjustments in a reasonable way to match the changes which they are making?

As regards lost opportunities, this is an employment Bill. The whole employment position is changing, as the Government have repeatedly and rightly said. In many parts of the country, although not all, we have moved away from high unemployment to staff shortages. Therefore, it is most important that our legislation should give encouragement to groups of people who can be useful in the labour market but who need assistance to that end. I refer to women on the one hand and old people on the other, and of course disabled people are the third category. We attempted to introduce into an employment Bill encouragement for all those categories of people so that better use could be made of them, quite apart from the humanitarian opportunities which this may give them, in terms of getting a better labour force which would be properly trained.

At this stage, with the recovery in the labour market and faced as we will be with the competition which 1992 will bring, this is the Bill into which such changes ought to have been introduced. However, they have not been. All our attempts to bring them in by way of amendments have been turned down flat, with no concessions whatever. It is extremely disappointing.

I have one final point to make, although I shall not do so in quite the same terms as did the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. I was a little surprised at his flowery remarks about how co-operative we have all been on this side of this House. Of course there are times when we must agree in opposing the more ridiculous suggestions of Her Majesty's Government. However, that does not suggest any great intimacy on our part.

The attitude towards trade unions reflected in the Bill is lamentable. The Government claim that they have had a very limited strike record during recent years. Of course they have. It is well known, and well supported statistically, that the number of days lost through strikes when there is high unemployment always fall. It happens without fail. But you cannot rely upon that as an asset towards the development of proper industrial relations of the kind needed when there is a booming economy. The Government have done nothing to prepare the way for sane, progressive industrial relations under conditions of full employment. This will have most serious consequences as soon as we achieve real full employment; indeed, that factor is already showing at present. It was shown by the anxiety of both Chancellors of the Exchequer, as I understand it, as regards the increase in wage claims and wage settlements.

This has been a lost opportunity. Provisions could have been introduced into this Employment Bill which would have helped towards obtaining the kind of industrial relations that we shall need if we are to be a successful economy. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it is an extremely disappointing Bill.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I respectfully differ from the noble Baroness in what she has just said. It seems to me that, on the contrary, this Bill helps to clear the way, not least by the removal of outdated restrictions, for a new era in which we all hope and believe that there will be a very high level of employment. Therefore it is especially important that there should not be outdated restrictions on the work that people may do or on the way in which they may do it.

Having said that, I have some sympathy with one point made by the noble Baroness. I agree with her that in regard to this Bill there has been to some extent —although, in other Bills to a greater entent —far too much material introduced at a fairly late stage. Moreover, apart from suggesting a lack of adequate forethought before the Bill was introduced, this imposes considerable extra burdens on your Lordships as regards the duty of reviewing, considering and, if necessary, criticising and amending legislation. I hope that my noble friend will pay some attention to that perfectly reasonable observation of the noble Baroness, with which I happen to agree.

I am always fascinated to see the amount of physical exercise that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, takes in the course of a speech. It must account for his obvious high degree of physical fitness. His speech was, on the whole, one with which I am afraid I do not find very much to agree. He said, however, that he thought the Government had trade unions and trade union law on the brain. Broadly speaking, I believe that he has that right, because the Government have been applying their brains, which are the right things to apply, to the tangle of trade union law and practices which they inherited when they came into office in 1979. By successive measures, they have been clearing up a great deal of the mess they found. That undoubtedly involved a great deal of brainwork.

I do not want to weary your Lordships by going fully into the general terms of the Bill, but I welcome the removal of out-of-date restrictions on work by women and young persons. Those restrictions are in many cases irrelevant to modern conditions of work and to the much higher standard of physical fitness of today's young generation compared with that of previous generations. I have only one trifling regret in that context. There is a real problem that once we free young people to be employed at night, once we free women to work underground —once we remove those restrictions —there must be some apprehension as to how those freedoms will begin to operate in practice.

It is important for the Government —I hope that my noble friend will pay attention to this point —to give fair and emphatic guidance to industry as to how the interests of those people, now freed from restriction, are looked after and how care arrangements for them are made as the new freedom begins to operate.

I was sorry that in the case of young people working at night my noble friend at an earlier stage rejected the idea, which had been put forward from the other side of the House as well as this side, that there should be instituted a code of practice produced by the Government to regulate arrangements for night transport and similar practical considerations, when working late hours, when those young people use their new freedoms to work. I hope that the Government will give further thought to that point. My noble friend said that they were contemplating producing a pamphlet, but those of us who have been in government know that governments produce a great many pamphlets and not all of them are given serious attention by everyone; whereas an official code of practice, backed by the Government and notice of which can be taken by the courts, is a much more serious matter.

Although my noble friend no doubt —I understand his problems with the department —felt bound to reject the suggestion of a code of practice, I hope that those responsible in the department and his right honourable friend will give further thought to that point. It would make for an easier transition from the restricted area into the new freedom and prevent it from becoming discredited by a number of silly and unnecessary incidents which could be avoided if proper and sensible arrangements were made to care for young people, in particular, who exercise the new liberty to work at exceptional and late night hours. I hope that my noble friend will pay some attention to that issue.

I welcome the Bill as a whole. It is an important measure. Mercifully, it is a great deal shorter than most of the Bills with which your Lordships have been troubled in recent months; and no one complains about that. Nonetheless, it is an important Bill in the whole series of measures on the subject. It carries forward the Government's policy of increased freedom from restriction in the industrial sphere which has already contributed a great deal to this country's economic recovery. I therefore welcome and fully support the Bill.

I should like to say one thing more about my noble friend. All your Lordships will agree that he has conducted the Bill with enormous skill. My noble friend has not been in ministerial office for long, but he seems to have got the hang of it with remarkable celerity and skill. I hope that he will allow me to say, as a friend of them both, how proud and delighted his father and grandfather would be if they could see him today.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Seear explained, in her characteristically forthright way, the view that we take of the Bill as it leaves the House. I wish to add only a few words on the subject of industrial training, not so much concerning the substance of the measures that the Government are introducing as the manner of their introduction.

In a debate that I was privileged to initiate in your Lordships' House last April I said that it was plain from the White Paper Employment for the 1990s that the Government were seeking to effect a cultural change in this country's attitude to training. The Government were not to be reproached for having that aim, but they were to be criticised because they were going about it in a way which showed that they had an impoverished understanding of how to manage change. In my experience of these matters, for what that is worth, there is no credibility in a command strategy that fails to give those having a stake in the problem an adequate say in its solution.

To judge from the Government's treatment of Parliament and of others having an interest in the vital matter of industrial training, they still do not seem to have a grasp of that concept. They may think that their policies can be implemented successfully by better presentation, but in my book if one wants to gain effective acceptance of change one has first to identify, confront and overcome obstacles standing in the way of the minds of those affected by the change, whether, as in this case, they are trainers and employee representatives or, for that matter, teachers, doctors, lawyers or anyone else.

The Government will obtain their Bill, but unless they learn to show more concern for the views of others involved they will not succeed in their objective. Having delivered myself of those strictures, as one who has sat through practically every moment of the Bill's various stages I should like to join in complimenting the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, not merely for the stamina that he has shown when piloting the Bill through the House on his own but for the courtesy and good humour he has shown throughout our proceedings.

5 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I said on Second Reading that this was a rag-bag of a Bill with a number of disparate issues jumbled together. As it has progressed through your Lordships' House, it has become even more of a rag-bag than before. As several of your Lordships have said, we had several lengthy amendments dealing with other subjects added during the Bill's passage. We had amendments dealing with industrial training added to the Bill, when, as we said, there should have been a Bill on the subject. The amendments indicated just how unsatisfactory is the Government's approach to training. The Government, as we know, are absolutely committed to the notion that industrial training must be employer-led, despite the fact that this has not led to good training in the past. Bodies with a good record in this field, like the EITB and the CITB, are apparently to be replaced with successor bodies which will not have a statutory role. If my information is correct —and this has not been denied by the Government —the ending of the statutory role for the EITB and the switch to entirely voluntary training will mean the loss of money from the European Social Fund since it is only available to a country which itself spends some public money on training.

There has been no assurance that good projects embarked upon —like the project for women —will be continued by the successor bodies, nor that necessary projects for ethnic minorities and the disabled will be embarked upon. The whole thing is most unsatisfactory, as is the Government's insistence that tripartitism must go and that unions have no role to play in training. Training looks like becoming a victim of the Government's ideological approach to everything.

So far as concerns the rest of the Bill, we have explained to the Government—but unfortunately they have not listened —that they could have used this Bill as a vehicle for improving the law on discrimination in ways that have been recommended by the Equal Opportunities Commission. We have sought to try to give assurance to unfortunate fellow citizens suffering from HIV or AIDS that they will not be discriminated against in employment as well as having to bear the appalling knowledge that they are suffering from a dreaded disease.

At least in that area, while refusing to accept our amendments, the Minister has indicated that the Government are sympathetic, that more education is needed, that they will update and reissue their guidance and advice, and that no risk should mean no discrimination. We are grateful for those assurances, but as I said at Report we will have to return to the possibility of legislation if the education programme does not appear to be working. We cannot have discrimination in employment added to the burdens that sufferers from AIDS have to bear.

On the matter of women working underground, we tried to ensure that when the Government said it would be a matter of choice for women —genuine choice —that was indeed the case. We endeavoured to provide, as my noble friend Lord McCarthy has just said, through our amendments that a woman would not be forced to work underground by a threat of the loss of benefit if she did not. Unfortunately we did not succeed. Despite what the Minister said about our approach discriminating against men, we believe that with such a new departure it would have been justified to allow at least a time when there would be no element of compulsion via the social security system.

We regret also that the Government did not take the opportunity to look at conditions existing underground —for men as well as women —if not via a Royal Commission, which is one of the suggestions we made in Committee, at least possibly by a Health and Safety Executive investigation. This is still a very dangerous industry. Many are killed and injured, even in National Coal Board pits, and the situation is much worse in privately owned pits. We think we are justified in pointing to those facts when the Bill is before your Lordships' House.

In regard to young people, again we have endeavoured in the course of the Bill to write in some limited protections. The Government, unfortunately, are prepared to wipe out all protection for young people formerly covered by various pieces of legislation. If it is felt that those pieces of legislation are out of date or archaic, the opportunity existed for introducing a proper framework or, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, a code of practice for the employment of young people in consultation possibly with the Health and Safety Executive. That is an approach which would have been favoured by a number of organisations but the Government refused to have anything of it.

However, the Government took the opportunity provided by this Bill to remove a few more employee and trade union rights. Restrictions on time off with pay for trade union duties have been tightened, and employees in small firms have lost the right to be told of the disciplinary procedures in existence in writing, while employees with less than two years' employment will lose the right to be told the reasons for their dismissal, if they are dismissed; though of course the clerk at the social security office will be told.

The Government seem to be obsessed by the notion that there are lots of vexatious litigants out there wasting the time of industrial tribunals. There is no evidence at all that that happens on any substantial scale, but we shall now have legislation, when this Bill is passed, requiring deposits of up to £150 prior to IT hearings if a pre-hearing review, which incidentally can be conducted by the chairman sitting alone, takes the view that it is a case of a vexatious or frivolous nature or is unlikely to succeed.

As we have maintained throughout, the people who will be put off by this are not obsessed individuals determined to have their day in court. Somehow or other they will find their £150 deposit. Those who will be put off are the poorer person to whom appearance before a tribunal is an ordeal anyway. Again, we endeavoured to amend this in ways less likely to bear heavily upon such individuals, but we failed to achieve our purpose.

So we have had another piece of legislation about employment. I said at Second Reading that I thought it was a nasty little Bill. It is a now a slightly bigger nasty Bill. It is not one that we on these Benches can commend to your Lordships' House, and I join with other noble Lords on this side of the House in saying to the Government, "Don't you think you have done enough as far as trade union legislation is concerned? Don't you think that the time has come to leave unions alone?" As my noble friend Lord McCarthy said so eloquently, British unions are not ugly unions, as the noble Lord the Minister said, I hope inadvertently. I trust that next time round his further comments were meant to withdraw that implication. We have unions that generally speaking have played a major role in improving employee condtions in this country, that are respected internationally and that do not deserve the kind of treatment that has been constantly meted out by this Government.

The unions in this country endeavour to comply with legislation even though that is becoming more and more difficult. Indeed, successive tranches of legislation have made the legal situation more and more difficult to understand and harder and harder to cope with, and there really is now no basis for introducing further legislation. However, this is probably a forlorn hope and all that we can do in this House is to trust that it will not be very long before this and similar legislation is replaced by laws which are more equitable and fairer to the 26 millon who constitute the workforce in the UK.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, if I may, I shall briefly respond to some of the points made by noble Lords. I was quite surprised when the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, started off in such a mild way, but my patience was rewarded later because he then gave us an exposition of his favourite hobby-horse for nearly 20 minutes. But I wonder. Even the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, cannot deny the economic success, the huge and continuous reduction in unemployment and the steady rise in wages and living standards that we have seen over the past 10 years. The noble Lord chose to quote me— have to say he did so slightly selectively —without taking into account the situation of the general debate. I do not deny what I said. It reflected fully what I have felt about trade unions in the past, and both the quotes that he used are exactly what I feel now.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that this is a disappointing and doctrinaire Bill. I am sorry that the noble Baroness felt that. I hope, though, that she found that some aspects of the Bill were encouraging, particularly those on sex discrimination, and that we were generally heading in the right direction.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, mentioned the fact that we have brought in a considerable amount of new material. That may be so. It is something that we regretted when it was introduced at Committee stage. It was, however, very important material. We have had the chance fully to discuss it and I think that it will benefit the statute book. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, also gave credit to initiatives to improve training. I sincerely hope that the initiatives we have introduced will continue to attract her support and be extremely successful in the long term.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter offered me some very kind words. I am extremely grateful to him for that. I should say to my noble friend that the Government never particularly like introducing new material. However, as I said, it was important to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, mentioned training. He has an enormous amount of experience in that sphere. We shall have to see how the important changes that the Government are bringing in will work. I am committed to those changes and I am sure that they will vastly improve the situation. I should also tell the noble Lord that the Government listen and consult very carefully with a very wide range of views right across the spectrum of society in this country.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, called this a ragbag of a Bill. I am sorry that she called it that. I am aware that we have covered an enormous amount of subjects. In a way that is what has made the Bill so interesting. The noble Baroness mentioned the changing statutory role of the ITBs. As I have said before, the situation is still being looked at closely. If it is any comfort to the noble Baroness, an announcement will be made very shortly.

The noble Baroness also mentioned the case of industrial tribunals. On the point of vexatious claims, if the noble Baroness is correct in saying that few people bring vexatious claims to industrial tribunals, there will be no need for deposits. There is no compulsion in this Bill for there to be deposits, only when claims are vexatious. We shall have to see over time whether the noble Baroness or the Government are correct, but this has been a good spirited debate.

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