HL Deb 16 July 1990 vol 521 cc713-4

7.2 p.m.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this somewhat unusually entitled order is intended to achieve a very simple purpose. It repeals with effect from 30th September 1990 a small piece of legislation, which is no longer necessary, relating to redundancy arrangements in the Merchant Navy. As your Lordships will know, our statutory provisions for redundancy payments date from 1965 and give employees a right to compensation according to a fixed formula if they are made redundant after working for an employer for at least two years.

The legislation relates to the workforce as a whole, but it was recognised at the outset that there might be a few cases where working arrangements within an industry made the statutory scheme inappropriate and where it would make good industrial relations sense to allow that industry to continue with its own arrangements.

There is therefore a power in the redundancy legislation for Parliament to make an order excluding particular groups of workers from the statutory scheme on the basis that they are covered by redundancy arrangements at least as favourable in their own industry. Such an exclusion order was made in respect of merchant seamen in 1968 and renewed in 1973. It affected seamen whose terms of employment were covered by National Maritime Board agreements and a few special categories such as radio operators. Under those agreements, redundancy entitlement is based on continuous employment under the established service scheme, not necessarily with a single employer or a single vessel, so that employees may qualify who might not have satisfied the two years' service requirement of the general state scheme.

That is the historical position. However, conditions have changed greatly in merchant shipping in recent years and the industry has decided that its collective arrangements are no longer relevant or useful. The workforce in the merchant marine has contracted for a variety of reasons and the vast majority are now employed on company contracts which typically run for more than two years. In those circumstances, the employers' side of the industry has given notice that it proposes to end its established service scheme and proceed on the basis of contracts negotiated within companies. I understand that that effectively acknowledges a state of affairs that already exist in practice.

Those changes are not matters for government. They are for the industry, although it seems to me sensible that individual shipping firms should negotiate terms with their own employees in the light of their own commercial circumstances. It is, however, a logical consequence of the ending of the established service scheme that the exclusion from the statutory redundancy provisions is no longer required. When the industry-wide scheme ceases, the seamen concerned will once again be entitled to the benefits of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, like all other employees, supplemented of course by such contractual severance payments as apply in particular companies.

As I have made clear to your Lordships, the revocation order is a necessary consequence of the ending of the shipping industry's special arrangements. It is not for me to justify the course that the industry has adopted, though I believe it to be sensible. It falls to me merely to invite your Lordships to agree to the making of the order, so returning our merchant seamen to the protection of the statutory redundancy scheme on the same footing as the rest of the workforce. I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].—(The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne).

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear explanation of the order. There is little that we on this side of the House can add to what he has said. Obviously, if the special arrangements governing redundancy provisions in the shipping industry no longer apply, the employees concerned should have the cover of the state redundancy scheme. I therefore welcome the fact that the order is being introduced to make sure that they have that protection.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, for her kind remarks.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.8 to 8 p.m.]