§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote rose to call attention to Her Majesty's Government's policies on industrial relations, and the reduced incidence of strike action in commerce and industry; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity of introducing this debate on an issue of prime importance to the prosperity of the country and the well-being of its people. There will be no dispute about that in any part of the House. However, I realise that much ground relevant to this debate was covered last Friday on the Second Reading of the Employment Bill. I hope that this debate will give an opportunity for a wider review of Government policies and their record in the industrial relations field. I look forward too, as I am sure will other noble Lords, to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton.
§ Industrial relations is a shorthand term for personal relationships between those working together in any occupation. Because people are always both the most valuable resource and the most sensitive one to manage, the significance of those relationships on the success of commerce and industry cannot be over-emphasised. In an ideal world it would seem sensible for all those in any comp my to work together for the common good, not least in providing value for money to the customer on which the success of any enterprise primarily depends.
§ Of course, in many companies that spirit prevails, particularly in smaller ones where personal relationships are easier. But mainly for historical reasons, that is not how the situation has developed 926 in the larger companies which are so significant to our economic strength. There, a more adversarial spirit prevails which, if not well handled, can lead to unconstructive, damaging conflict.
§ For similar historical reasons, the term "industrial relations" has become almost synonymous with relations between management and trade unions whereas it is something which permeates throughout any organisation from top to bottom; for example, constructive relations depend equally on the examples set by trade union leaders as well as by directors and managers. In that connection, it is as damaging for chairmen and directors to be awarded excessive pay rises, which have rightly been deplored by the Prime Minister, as it is for trade union leaders to encourage their members to press for pay increases unrelated to productivity.
§ Three groups are involved in the industrial relations field: employees whose work at all levels must be organised and planned; management, which carries out that function; and government, who make the rules and create the legal framework within which companies operate. In that respect, there is no shadow of doubt that over the past decade this Government have an outstandingly successful record.
§ Those of us who have worked in industry for the past 40 years will have vivid memories of the varying climate of industrial relations and the legal framework within which we have worked and the significant effect which that has had. We remember the absurdities of demarcation disputes between different trades, of limitations on piecework earnings, of go-slows and closed shop disputes all imposed or encouraged by short-sighted trade union leaders or sometimes by those "Red Robos" and Scargills who misuse their powers for political reasons to the detriment of their members' interests and the strength of British industry.
§ All those damaging practices prevailed within an outmoded legal framework and unfavourable climate endorsed by the Labour Party but progressively reformed by Conservative governments.
§ To come closer to the present day, we all remember with sadness the winter of discontent when 3 million working days were lost through industrial disputes in one month in January 1979. Over the past 10 years all that has changed. In 1989 there was the lowest number of stoppages of work in a year for over 50 years. There were 701 stoppages in 1989 compared to an average of over 2,600 per year in the 1970s.
§ In the year ending March 1990 some 5 million working days were lost compared to an average of nearly 13 million a year in the 1970s. Today the number of working days lost per 1,000 employees is about one quarter of the level in the early 1980s when we were still suffering from the effects of the policies of noble Lords opposite, egged on by obtuse trade unions excessively influenced by Left-wing extremists and those intent on destroying our democratic way of life.
§ Such a transformation of the industrial relations scene has had widespread beneficial effects. Productivity and overall efficiency in manufacturing industry has greatly improved along with its competitiveness. Perhaps even more important, British industry has regained a good reputation for prompt, reliable delivery of high quality products to our customers overseas even though not yet in sufficient quantities.
§ At the same time, Britain is now highly regarded as a place for inward investment except in those rare cases of absurdly short-sighted and damaging behaviour by trade unions such as occurred in Dundee in March 1988. An inter-union dispute there led by the Transport and General Workers' Union made Ford decide not to invest some £40 million in new plant but to go to Spain instead, with a loss of some 1,000 jobs. Mr. Bill Jordan, a very responsible president of AEU —the Amalgamated Engineering Union —was sickened by the TGWU's behaviour which was, he said, the unacceptable face of trade unionism. I agree.
§ That incident now stands out clearly as a hangover from the bad old days and serves to show, by its relative rarity, how much has been achieved and by its crass stupidity, how more needs to be done to prevent such damaging nonsense in future. The determination of this Government to do just that is not in doubt and, indeed, their record is first-class in creating a more favourable climate for better industrial relations.
§ In the bad old days the closed shop did much damage. It has been steadily reformed with the clearly expressed approval of the great majority of the electorate, including many trade union members. It would be wearisome to record in detail all the steps taken, but I must mention a few even though some were mentioned in the Second Reading debate.
§ The Employment Act 1980 provided compensation for people unreasonably excluded or expelled from a union closed shop and ensured that new closed shops must be approved by 80 per cent. of those at the workplace so as to protect the interests of people sacked for refusing to join the union.
§ The 1982 Act provided further protection against the abuse of closed shops and for compensation to those who had suffered between 1974 and 1980 under Labour Government legislation. The 1988 Act removed immunity from industrial action taken to establish or maintain any kind of closed shop practice. It made all dismissals for non-union membership unfair.
§ The current Employment Bill tackles the problem of the pre-entry closed shop, which still affects over 1.25 million jobs. On other issues Government policy has been similarly effective. The 1980 Act removed trade union immunity for most forms of secondary action. The present Bill will go further along the same road, removing immunity from all secondary action except for lawful picketing at the place of work.
§ The Trade Union Act 1984 stipulated that unions must hold a ballot before going on strike. Since then 928 there have been several examples of a union calling a strike which has subsequently been rejected in a ballot; for example, the NUR in 1986; the TGWU dockers in 1986 and 1988; the NUM and NALGO in 1988, and the TGWU members at Ford in 1990. Those sensible decisions democratically taken by those involved show clearly the benefits stemming from the improved legal framework for industrial relations created by this Government.
§ The list of successful industrial relations legislative measures is long. Noble Lords opposite and their friends have often claimed that the law has no part to play in improving industrial relations. What rubbish! Of course it has, albeit indirectly. It can create the right framework for constructive relations and so enable people who work in industry to carry through their responsibilities for its efficient operation.
§ I do not want in any way to give the impression that I believe that all trade union leaders or all trade unions are bad and disruptive.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, no. I myself belong to a trade union. I belong to a trade union through my long-standing membership of the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers. It is now a responsible and active section of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chappell, has given long, distinguished and constructive service.
I shall always remember with gratitude the constructive co-operation of a local trade union leader when, owing to continuing losses, the company of which I was chairman had to close a factory. That is never a pleasant job. I offered to open all the accounts of the company to the union leader to demonstrate the serious financial situation that existed. His reaction was that there was no need; he accepted what I said and suggested that we get on with working out how best to carry through the closure with minimum disruption and hardship. Legislation is not needed to deal with people like that, but to protect us against destructive leaders with outmoded and dangerous policies.
What is the Labour Party's reaction to the Government's proven record of success in industrial relations? Only a year ago the TUC described the Government's proposals on the closed shop as unhelpful and misguided. Already there has had to be a U-turn because the Labour Party accepts the EC social charter, in which Article 11 provides that,Every employer and every worker shall have the freedom to join or not to join such organisations" —which include trade unions —without any personal or occupational damage being thereby suffered by him".Clearly it is a reluctant U-turn, for in principle the party would still like to see 100 per cent. trade union membership at the workplace as stated in the Labour Party's publication Looking to the Future.
One of the Labour Party's most damaging proposals is to allow secondary picketing, as they say, "within limits". What limits? As The Times pointed out those limits would include secondary 929 action to force the breaking of contracts by customers and suppliers. Picketing is an emotive issue. In principle, though it may be unwise, there is nothing objectionable in those supporting a strike against a specific employer, putting their case at the workplace to those who oppose it. However the latter have an absolute right to reject or ignore the arguments put to them.
Trouble starts when violence and intimidation are used against other employees, particularly when it involves other companies not party to that dispute. It is clear therefore that picketing must be legally confined to its simple purpose of peaceful persuasion at the relevant place of work. Any woolly "within undefined limits" policy such as advocated by the Labour Party is a recipe for unrest and conflict.
On pre-strike ballots there has been another U-turn. In 1983 the Labour Party opposed them; spokesmen described the Bill which introduced them and ballots for union elections as "irrelevant effrontery"; "a shabby partisan stratagem", and "a scandalous and undemocratic measure". Looking to the Future does not mention ballots for union elections, but in the U-turn it is accepted that,to qualify for legal protection, industrial action requires the support of a properly conducted ballot".What a U-turn!
The list of U-turns is long; all are being made because, in the words of The Times on 26th May,The Labour leaders have told the unions that the party would be unelectable if it did not promise to retain most of the Conservative laws".It is clear that one law they would not retain is that which allows sequestration of union assets. Without that, the penalties against trade unions for breaking the law are virtually unenforceable. Therefore all the U-turns are at best window-dressing and could all too easily become circular turns to the pre-1979 position if by any mischance or bad luck the Labour Party hoodwinked the electorate into putting it once again in the driving seat.
That would indeed be a disaster in the field of industrial relations, for, although leopards cannot change their spots, wolves can put on sheep's clothing to catch the real sheep unawares. That is what the Labour Party is doing today as it seeks to emerge from the dark wood of 10 years in opposition into the open fields of industrial relations. If by any mischance it captured them, off would come the sheep's disguise and it would destroy all that has been painstakingly built up over the past 10 years and all that has led to today's vastly improved industrial relations situation.
Much remains to be done, but let us go forward from the sound base and proven track record of this Government and not back to the bad old days of confusion in the rules and conflict in the industrial relations field. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I feel rather as though I have been savaged by a mad sheep! It was with some surprise that I learnt that the 930 Government intended to use a debate day for a five-hour debate on industrial relations, particularly since we have recently had the Second Reading of the latest Employment Bill. On that occasion only two Members of the Government side of the House apart from the Minister decided to participate. Perhaps they were saving it all up for today.
In introducing the debate the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, made the expected claims for government policy. We heard them in the debate on the Employment Bill. Again we have been told that the continuous stream of anti-union legislation —for that is what it has been; it is not employment legislation at all —has had the effect of reducing the number of strikes and increasing productivity.
We on these Benches are not alone in challenging that view. A report published in February 1990 by the National Institute Economic Review entitled The Economic Effects of Industrial Relations Legislation Since 1979 argues that the legislation has had only a limited effect on Britain's economic performance. As for the alleged decline in the number of strikes, that is only in line with international trends and it is unclear, the report said, as to how much is due to the legislation. Britain, says the report, is still slightly more strike-prone than average.
It is our view on this side of the House that the decline in union membership that has taken place has been due largely to the effects of unemployment and the decline in manufacturing industry where unions have traditionally been strong. What the Government have done quite deliberately, by means of its step-by-step approach, is to tilt the balance substantially in favour of employers and against employees, particularly if the employees seek to become organised and to exercise collective rights through their unions. The Government claim to have increased employees rights but in fact have done so only in relation to union members within their own unions, despite the fact that there is little evidence of widespread malpractice in UK unions, which, broadly speaking, are honestly administered and without the corruption that has disfigured the labour movement in many other countries, including the United States.
Against that, employee rights in relation to their employment —the reason why most people join unions—have been seriously diminished by this Government. I give a few examples. In 1979 employees who thought that they had been dismissed unfairly had the right to complain to an industrial tribunal after six months' employment. Now the qualifying period is two years and an individual may have to pay £150 before the tribunal will hear the case.
Industrial tribunal procedures on the burden of proof have been changed, making it more difficult to win a case. Those in small firms now have no right to know what the disciplinary procedures are. New complex conditions have been placed on women's rights to maternity pay and to return to work after having a baby. In the social insurance field earnings-related unemployment pay was abolished some time ago. The industrial injuries scheme has gradually been eroded despite the high incidence of accidents at work. Entitlement conditions for 931 unemployment pay have increasingly been tightened. There is now no right to a fair wage. The Fair Wages Resolution in place since 1945 and maintained by successive governments ever since, including Conservative Governments, as part of an International Labour Office commitment has been abolished. Wages councils have had their powers eroded and may now not set minimum pay rates for young people. In regard to trade union rights, the Government have done everything they can to undermine union organisations and collective bargaining. The statutory union recognition procedures that existed under the Employment Protection Act has been scrapped.
The Government do not believe in arbitration and have gradually written off the Central Arbitration Committee —a body which did a great deal to sort out difficult industrial problems and to find acceptable solutions. It has been gradually written out of legislation and now has hardly any functions left. Of course, as we saw in the ambulance dispute, the Government do not believe in arbitration.
It is not surprising that a government with that sort of record oppose the social charter. We have debated the charter on previous occasions in this House. I and others have pointed out that it is a very modest document, with only very basic principles, which it should be possible for any advanced and reasonably civilised society to endorse. This Government will not do so. In taking the stance they have, the Government have put themselves at odds with the rest of Europe.
The British Government have blocked European Community directives in a number of important areas. They have done so on employee participation, information and consultation, on rights for part-time workers and temporary workers and on parental leave and leave for family reasons. These directives establish important new rights for working people. But this Government are not interested in rights for working people; they are interested solely in giving public money to establish an office —the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members —not to enable such members to pursue rights in employment (which are few enough anyway with this Government) but to enable dissenting individuals to sue the unions of which they themselves are voluntary members and in situations where they have voluntarily accepted the union's rules.
The CROTUM has had very little work to do with the £1.5 million of public money she has. The Government have therefore cast around in their latest Bill to find her something else. She will be able to join her name to any proceedings instituted by individuals whom she is assisting —a right not possessed either by the Commission for Racial Equality or by the Equal Opportunities Commission. The money devoted to that office could be put to a more worthy cause such as the EOC, of which I was a member for some eight years and which has important work to do.
In addition, the new Bill prohibits all forms of union membership agreements. Sympathy action is outlawed altogether. Unions are to be made liable 932 for unofficial industrial action and employers will be able to sack any individual participating in unofficial action, and that individual will not be able to have recourse to an industrial tribunal. It is quite outrageous that the right of appeal should be taken away.
I do not know why the Government should get so worked up about the closed shop. We have had more of that this afternoon from the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote. In any event, successive pieces of legislation have made it virtually unenforceable. The TUC believes that its incidence is far lower than that claimed by the Government. My party supports the social charter, with its right to belong or not to belong to a union. However, although that principle is set out in the new Employment Bill, it is quite clear that the Government are much more keen to support the right not to belong to a union than the positive right to belong to one. It is apparently not understood by the Government that employers can be exceedingly unscrupulous —but perhaps they like employers to be that way. It is by no means unusual for an employer deliberately to provoke a strike in order to get rid of people, particularly if redundancy is in the offing.
Moreover, the Government have done nothing about blacklisting, which everyone knows is a common practice. I note that representatives of the Economic League when giving evidence to the Select Committee on Employment in the other place admitted that they kept indexes based on people's presumed political proclivities and that this information is supplied to employers. Why do the Government do nothing about such a practice, which, incidentally, is contrary to ILO Conventions?
As for the International Labour Office, in May 1989 the ILO Committee of Experts condemned the British Government's legislation on no less than nine counts as having been in breach of ILO Convention 87; that is, the convention concerning the freedom of association and protection of the right to organise. The condemnations were in respect of some of the following: ordering the sacking of GCHQ employees for refusing to give up union membership; prohibiting the disciplining of members who broke union rules; prohibiting unions from paying the fines of officials; prohibiting sympathy action (the ILO said that this should be permitted as long as the primary dispute was lawful); prohibiting strikes aimed at the real employer by restricting lawful strikes to disputes with the nominal employer (this deals with the situation in which the employer creates separate companies in order to circumvent lawful industrial action); limiting strikes solely to industrial matters and prohibiting strikes with mixed industrial, social and political objectives; removing the right of dismissed strikers to challenge the fairness of their dismissals; failing to give legal protection to job applicants blacklisted on grounds of union membership or activity; abolishing by law the right of teachers to bargain collectively. That is this Government's record in the field of industrial relations.
No one, least of all the union membership, wants to see strikes. Strikes cause hardship to members, cost the union money and create an enormous amount 933 of stress for those responsible for leading them and those who are seeking to achieve a settlement. I have to say that I speak from personal experience in that respect. The right to withdraw one's labour is a fundamental right acknowledged as such throughout the democratic world. It is now acknowledged in Eastern Europe and I note that the Government appear to applaud that development.
However, the Government's legalistic approach to industrial relations can actually make things worse. The new propositions attempting to get unions to repudiate unofficial strikers by writing to every individual to that effect will make disputes harder and not easier to settle. They ignore the underlying causes of the disputes. There is no attempt by this Government to strengthen the role of the agencies concerned with conciliation and arbitration. I have already said that the Central Arbitration Committee now has practically no role.
In contrast, the propositions of my own party include the establishment of a new industrial court. We also believe that there should be a legal right to recognition which unions, when they are sufficiently representative—I emphasise "when they are sufficiently representative" —will be able to enforce through the industrial court. We shall restore the right of sympathy action in line with common practice in other EC countries. I stress the European dimension there. It is something that this Government will not be able to ignore for ever.
Where legislation has failed to prevent industrial action the Government have simply introduced further new measures. One popular myth was that trade unionists were forced by trade union leaders to take industrial action against their will. We heard echoes of that in the opening of the debate by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, this afternoon. As a result of government legislation ballots were imposed to stop that. But unions were frequently able to use a ballot result in favour of dispute action to bring further pressure on employers.
These provisions did not have the effect that the Government intended. That is not to say that we disapprove of ballots; on the contrary, we have always used them —in my union anyway —long before there was any statutory requirement to do so. But the Government's code of practice on balloting is designed to make it as difficult as possible for a union to call dispute action and still retain immunity.
One has to ask why the Government have proceeded so far down this path when even some of their own supporters, particularly those with an interest in and a knowledge of trade union and industrial relations, believe that they have gone too far. They cannot surely believe their own propaganda about over-mighty, over-powerful unions. That was never true, not even in the 1970s. In certain industries and in certain parts of the economy it is true that unions were stronger than they are now. But union strength has always been defensive rather than offensive.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, after all, it is the management and leadership of large companies that make the decisions. They decide whether to close down a factory and move it elsewhere or what to do about a takeover bid. The workers are not consulted. All they are able to do is to react, just as they react if there are price increases and rises in mortgage rates and they see the leaders of industry awarding themselves bloated salary increases.
Again, the attitude of the trade unions is a defensive one. That was true even in the NUM dispute referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote. Miners were reacting against pit closures and the destruction, as they saw it, of their communities. There might have been a number of different views as to the way in which that strike was conducted, but few people doubted that, basically, the miners had a case. What the Government's legislation and their general attitude to industrial relations indicate is that they think that workers never have a case. They do not provide the mechanism for sorting things out peacefully and they attempt to take away from unions and their members the ability to respond collectively in the only other way left to them.
Moreover, the new Bill with its attempt to outlaw and to make unions liable for unofficial strikes entirely fails to come to terms with the fact that such instances are often quick and spontaneous; for example, a reaction to something that occurs on a work site. Last year there were 697 fatal accidents at work, 147 of them in construction. Yet, as the Bill stands, there is nothing to protect individuals who walk off a site where the working is dangerous. That does happen.
So we have this step-by-step approach so lauded by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote. But the real reason for it has not been to give the unions back to their members, as has frequently been said; it has been to weaken collective response from employees. In other words, it is to try to keep wages down. The Government's White Paper entitled Employment for the 1990s makes it clear that they believe that pay is too high despite the fact that the pay of the low paid has had to be bolstered in this country by the use of family credit. That has an undoubted wage substitution effect and simply means that the public subsidises low-paying employers.
In fact, despite the assaults on the trade union movement and the out-of-date attempt by the Government to marginalise it and to pretend that unions do not exist, people still belong to unions and recruitment proceeds. There are still over 10.5 million people in unions. The Government have no cause to be so self-congratulatory. This is not primarily a debate about the economy. The indications are that there is trouble ahead and the Government will not be able to blame that on the unions.
No: this policy is not a cause for self-congratulation. It is a disgrace to a country that regards itself as advanced and civilised. It is my belief that we shall not have to endure all this for much longer. When we have a new government with a new philopsophy we shall see a much more 935 even-handed and fair system and a fair framework of law for both employers and employees.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I am glad that the Motion tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, is so framed that it enables us to debate the merits of the Government's policies on industrial relations over the past 10 years and, where we differ from them, to make our own suggestions for the future. One of the advantages of general debates of this kind is that we can approach matters in a more constructive frame of mind than when we are confronted with specific Bills of a controversial kind. That is my aim today. I am only sorry that the noble Viscount did not choose to do likewise.
At the start of the 1980s there was no doubt on these Benches that in the last few years of the Labour Government the pendulum had been allowed to swing much too far in the direction of the perceived interests of trade unions at the expense, not only of employers, but of union members and the country at large. That period culminated, as the noble Viscount said, in the so-called winter of discontent and the deserved downfall of the Government whose policies had brought it about.
Therefore, initially we were glad on these Benches to give broad support to the policies of successive Conservative Governments in the step-by-step approach initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Prior. Indeed, on at least two matters —the need for a secret postal ballot in the election of members of the principal executive committees of trade unions and the desirability of eliminating the pre-entry closed shop —we were ahead of the Government.
I am also happy to acknowedge, in the words of the Motion before us,the reduced incidence of strike actionover the period. How far that is due to Conservative Government policies on industrial relations or to harsher economic and employment conditions is less easy to determine. Latterly, speaking on behalf of my noble friends, I have felt obliged to say that if legislation in this field is to be effective it must strike a fair balance between the interests of employers and employees. In my view the last two Employment Acts and the current Employment Bill have all failed that test.
The present Secretary of State started by leading us to believe that this year's Bill would be the last. But it is now rumoured that in the next Session of Parliament there may be yet another, this time to deal with the system under which union subscriptions are deducted from wages at source by employers. Moreover, it is said that the Department of Employment is reviewing other means of curbing trade union power still further. In my view it is high time that the Government began to think less in terms of further punitive union legislation and more of positive measures to improve this country's industrial relations' problem. I should like to put forward three ways in which this might be done. First, I call in aid the view of the Institute of Personnel Management. It believes that, instead of there being more legislation, efforts should be 936 devoted to seeking alternative ways of resolving industrial disputes. In its comments on the Green Paper which preceded the current Employment Bill, the institute stated:A Government lead should be given to revising and rationalising procedures for the quicker resolution of disputes. ACAS should be asked to prepare a Code of Practice which should include the recommendation that procedures should be prepared with the active involvement of employees and their trade union representatives at their work place to ensure the essential element of personal commitment to them; many procedures at present are too remote and long-winded".That recommendation reminded me that it is now more than nine years ago that I asked the Government to consider the possibility of introducing a code of practice that would deal with negotiating procedures. Among other things such a code could draw attention to the distinction in Western Europe between disputes of right, involving the terms and interpretation of agreements already entered into, and disputes of interest.
In disputes of right, there is an obligation not to resort to industrial action before referral of the issue to a court of law or to arbitration; and almost invariably the parties to the dispute abide by that independent arbitration. Disputes of interest, on the other hand, arise out of bargaining situations; and, typically, when an existing agreement affecting pay expires and a new one must be negotiated, both parties retain their freedom until a new agreement is reached. If the parties cannot agree on the terms of a new agreement, a dispute of interest arises and both agree to use industrial action if they wish —the union side to call a strike and the employer equally to operate a lock-out.
The code of practice I have in mind would be based on the proposition that conditions should be established throughout British industry that would enable negotiating procedures to be introduced in which both management and employees would have sufficient confidence to see that they were observed. Under those procedures the aim would be to work towards a situation in which in all disputes concerning the terms or interpretation of agreements already entered into —not others —and where they affected individuals or groups, there should in the last resort be recourse to arbitration by which both management and employees would abide. Depending on the progress made towards that objective, the provisions of such a code might get a sufficient degree of consent eventually to become admissible in evidence and be taken into account in proceedings before a court or an industrial tribunal.
No doubt a good many political, legal, and, for all I know, other problems would have to be surmounted before that could be achieved. But at least the matter could be examined. I should be grateful if, when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, replies to the debate, he would say whether he sees what I am driving at and whether the Government have sympathy at least with the underlying principle. Apart from anything else, a development on these lines might be helpful in reducing the incidence of strikes in essential services, a matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, whom I am glad to see in his place, understandably expressed concern on Second Reading of the Employment Bill last Friday.
937 Next, I believe that further progress needs to be made by management in providing employees with information on matters of concern to them and in consulting with employees or their representatives over decisions that are likely to affect employees' interests. That is essential if we are to maximise our international competitiveness. Many of our leading companies give high priority to employee involvement, as is well demonstrated by the examples set out in the Department of Employment's document People and Companies. I fear that many medium-sized companies still have to follow that lead. From what the noble Viscount said, I fancy that he may share that fear.
I am a firm believer in two principles. First, if employee involvement is to flourish it must grow organically from the bottom upwards and not be implanted from the top downwards. Secondly, in seeking to extend the concept throughout industry and commerce, and for that matter the public services, we should build on best practice. How can this be facilitated? Before answering that question I should remind the House that it has a European dimension.
The Commission is anxious to harmonise arrangements in this area in the approach to 1992. The subject features prominently in both the social charter action programme and the draft directive on worker participation. That directive is at present being considered by a sub-committee of your Lordships' European Communities Committee of which I have the honour to be a member. I cannot anticipate the findings of the committee, but as in the case of the social charter the Government will soon have to take a basic decision: whether to adhere strictly to their current view that arrangements for employee involvement should be left entirely to voluntary agreement between employers and employees or whether this country should make a more positive response to both the social charter and the draft directive by seeking through negotiation to adapt them to industrial conditions in the United Kingdom. In my view the latter course should be taken.
I believe, in company with some eminent members of the Institute of Personnel Management, that in order to speed the progress of involvement and participation it may be necessary for some minimum statutory regulation or code of practice to be enacted on the subject. One lies ready to hand in the voluntary code and accompanying action guide which has just been brought up to date by the IPM and the Involvement and Participation Association, with support from the Department of Employment, the TUC, the CBI and ACAS. The code has the great advantage that it is concerned only with general principles and standards of practice and does not seek to lay down particular methods to which all must adhere. It states, for example:Participation is best developed in each organisation by agreement between management and employees and/or their representatives in ways they jointly find most suitable for their particular circumstances, and are jointly willing to support".In our debate last Friday on the social charter I asked the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, whether 938 the Government would consider giving the code statutory backing. He wrote to me afterwards to say that a statutory code would be inconsistent with the concept of voluntary agreement and that in the Government's view it was unnecessary and could be counterproductive. I shall not again ask him the same question because I do not want to put him in the position of telling me that the Government's position is unaltered. I hope nevertheless that the Government will keep this possibility in mind. I too believe in the voluntary principle, but if voluntarism is to work there must be volunteers. In the end the Government themselves may well come to feel that some further action is required in this field as one of the positive ways in which this country's industrial relations might be improved.
My last suggestion concerns training, particularly in the management of people. I should like to revert to the theme of a debate I was privileged to introduce in your Lordships' House last year. The Government have now set up a new structure by establishing training and enterprise councils throughout the country. But a structure is not the same as a strategy. The Government have abdicated responsibility for training by saying specifically in the White Paper Employment for the 1990s, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, referred:Developing training through life is not primarily a government responsibility".In my view it certainly is. By acting in that way the Government have given up any idea of seeking a consensus that will stand the test of time and a possible change of government. Other countries know that dialogue is essential if there is to be continuity of policy, but the Government have abandoned altogether discussions on the subject with trade unions as representatives of employees.
Under the auspices of training and enterprise councils, training is now to be delivered locally: it is to be employer-led. There are already complaints of inadequate funding. Aside from that, how should an employer be defined? The Government's view appears to be that the only people in need of training are those in industry and commerce. That view ignores the fact that the wealth-spending public services can and should contribute just as much as the business sector to our prosperity by becoming more effective. We are all part of a complex interdependent society in which the public services, including national and local government, should promote a training culture like everyone else. Yet the Government's White Paper, to which I have referred, contains hardly a mention of what still needs to be done in those services.
I note that the Motion before the House is similarly concerned with policies on industrial relations, not in the public services, but only in commerce and industry. Yet many of the most damaging strikes in recent years have occcurred in essential services like health and education, for whose employees the Government are directly or indirectly responsible.
I suggest that the Government should give a lead in promoting training in those services, especially in the management of change. If I am asked to say what kind of training that would involve, I can respond only by drawing on my own experience. It should 939 include training that allows for analysis of the qualities which are required for leadership. It means enabling those who have to manage change to identify, confront and overcome obstacles based on habit and fear which stand in the way of what they are aiming to achieve. It involves training in joint problem-solving and much else—matters on which I do not have time on this occasion to dwell.
It is high time that the Government turned their attention to positive ways in which relations between management and employees can be improved. I hope that what I have said may contribute a little to that end. In conclusion, I should like to say that I and my noble friends are very much looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, who will be the next speaker in the debate.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
My Lords, as a very new Member of your Lordships' House, I beg noble Lords' indulgence in this debate, which was so ably proposed by my noble friend Lord Caldecote. I want first to say that I feel enormously privileged to be among such very distinguished people. I have already realised the great intellect, experience and caring concern which is represented here in this House. I should explain that I am but a humble farmer from Cheshire, although I have been involved in various industrial activities connected with the food and cheese industry. Cheshire is a county which is known for the quality of its dairy products, the determination of its people and the beauty of its countryside.
As this is my maiden speech, it is my duty to be non-controversial. I must say I find that an easy task—though possibly the only easy part there is of this task —as it is my nature to prefer to identify ideas which unite rather than ideas which divide. However, industrial relations have been a very divisive matter. For a great part of our industrial history, the employer and the employee regarded each other as enemies. It seemed to have been accepted in the past that what was in the best interests of one side had to be against the interests of the other.
Legislation, prior to the industrial legislation of this Government, did much to widen that divide by entrenching each side's position. The truth is that the best interests of both employer and employee are really one. All those involved in any organisation, whether private or public, as owners, directors, managers, operators, foremen or apprentices, can succeed only if the organisation succeeds. The demand for labour is infinite and work is infinite; it is the supply of labour which is constrained by numbers, age, skills, cultures and the rewards and conditions demanded by the worker. Ultimately, the imposition of such constraints can become counter productive.
In my view, the greatest single benefit flowing from this Government's industrial relations policy has been the changed attitudes that it has brought about on both sides. That has been true as regards the trades unions. They have become more efficient within their own organisations and more positive 940 in their attitudes towards the organisations which employ their members.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, referred to a report by the National Institute Economic Review published in February of this year. I, too, intend to read your Lordships a part of that report; but, needless to say, it will not be the same part. The report states that, as a result of the Government's legislation,unions have been obliged to develop computerised membership records, to keep better accounts, to run more orderly elections, to exert greater influence over their shop stewards and communicate better with their members".The report also refers to studies of trade union activities in the 1970s. It states that,studies of union decision-making suggest that successful leasers tend to have a more long-term and less volatile view of events".I suggest that that probably applies to all good leaders. The successful unions today seem to appreciate better and better that to obtain the best deal for their members —after all, it is their job to do so —the first requirement is for the employing company or organisation to be successful. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, make the same point only last week. In doing so, he also referred to the fact that when people like us employ other people we should be aware of the fact that they have families. I can only tell noble Lords that in my personal experience I have always been deeply conscious when employing people that one also becomes responsible for their families, for their future and for the houses in which they live. I think that all good employers should do so. To be successful the company must produce high quality products, invest in the lastest technology and ensure high levels of productivity. There is no future for anyone in a company where the workers at all levels do not support its profitable growth.
My home is near Chester, in the North West and close to Merseyside. Contrary to the belief of many people in the South, we are actually a very prosperous area. We have high investment and great opportunities. Anyone who watches television will know that a much more agreeable lifestyle exists for those living in Coronation Street than appears to be the case for those East Enders living in Albert Square.
The growing success in the North West in recent years has been due, among many things, to the growth of small firms and the inward investment that we have received from Japan, Germany, the USA and elsewhere. That success has come from good industrial relations. In the small firm, owners, managers and operators work closely together, understanding each other's problems and working for the success of the company. A prime factor in the decision of the many international companies which have invested in the North West has been the good relationship that they have been able to establish with the unions and the employees. I really believe that all this has been made possible by the Government's industrial legislation policy.
With your Lordships' permission I should like to give two examples of this growing success. Ten years ago the Mersey Dock and Harbour Company was a problem company. It represented what was seen by 941 many as the decline of Liverpool, the Liverpool itself was considered to be a problem city. However, nothing could now be further from the truth. As a result of the changing attitudes of the unions, and the furl support of all the employees, the Port of Liverpool has a recent record of industrial relations as a good as, and in many instances better than, any other port in Europe.
I shall give the House a second example of this change. In the early eighties I started a company to export cheese to the United States —or, at least, the United States was our first customer —and it was the first company to export cheese by refer container from the Port of Liverpool through the Panama Canal to the West Coast of America. As I was concerned about the perishability of the cheese, I went to see the dockers at the Port of Liverpool to ensure that my product was not going to be held up unnecessarily and cause me a great deal of expense. They were delighted to see me. I was the first exporter to help them fill the refrigerators myself, and they promised me there and then that on no occasion would I have a delay, and I never did.
The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company is now one of the success stories of the North-West. It is an interesting fact that following the abolition of the dock labour scheme, the company is now the largest employer of port operatives in the United Kingdom. From 1980 to 1990 the total tonnage handled has grown from 9 million tonnes to 20.3 million tonnes. There is now a new spirit in Liverpool. Success breeds success, and the company and all its employees are now working together, confident of continuing success into the 1990s. What a comparison that is with the situation in the 1970s.
Another example of a place which has benefited from all aspects of the Government's industrial policy is the Port of Boston in Lincolnshire. At the beginning of 1989 the docks were in decline. They were losing money and had no funds for investment. The company was then bought by A.F. Budge Ltd. of Retford, Nottingham. The number of workers was reduced by 42 per cent. after its purchase —from 171 to 129 —without any reduction in the tonnage handled. There is now, within 12 months, a training programme for new employees; investment to increase the capacity from 1.5 million tonnes to 2 million tonnes; and the River Witham, upon which the port stands, is to be dredged to allow the port to handle 5,000-tonne ships. Investment is now planned which will bring employment levels back to what they were 12 months ago, but in what is now a prosperous, growing company with an assured future What is most important, the whole area benefits from that success, with more work in the area than ever before and more prosperity for everyone.
Things do work better when everyone works together for a common goal, when the prime aim is what unites and not what divides. The Government's actions have changed attitudes at all levels to bring that goal about. The proof is in this country's increasing industrial success.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord Walston
My Lords, it would in any case be a great pleasure for one humble farmer to welcome another humble farmer to your Lordships' House; but it is more particularly a pleasure after having listened to the admirable speech of the noble Lord which shows the depth of his knowledge on a wide range of subjects, and the humanity and consciousness of individuals with which he approaches industrial problems. It is an approach which it is —unfortunately I might almost say —refreshing to meet among successful industrialists. I have used those conventional words, although not in a conventional way, and we all look forward to hearing frequently from the noble Lord on this and other subjects.
Basically there are three methods of avoiding industrial unrest. One of them is the fear of unemployment. If workers are afraid of the sack and of being unable to find work anywhere else, they are less likely to take industrial action, especially of a disruptive kind.
The second method is through money. If it appears that a worker, or a group of workers, is going to leave, the chances are that by pouring out more money an employer may be able to retain the services of those people. The third method, which is not mentioned or thought of so frequently, is through personal involvement. If an employer, responsible for an industry large or small, can ensure that the workers in that industry are involved in the same way as the owner or operator of that industry is involved, then one's chances of industrial unrest are minimised and might even disappear.
In the previous century, the greatest reason for the lack of industrial unrest was undoubtedly the fear of unemployment. Tensions had to grow to unmanageable proportions before people would risk being thrown out of work or suffering other penalties. It so happens that last weekend my wife and I were driving through the peaceful Dorset countryside. We came across the village of Tolpuddle. Your Lordships will know the name well and will be aware of what led to the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It was a valuable little glimpse into the past. One realised how, in that lovely Doreset countryside, tensions grew so violently and bitterly that they led to what took place there and to the eventual deportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
After that of course organised labour grew at a considerable speed. Sadly, confrontation grew between workers and employers. The "we" and "they" increased out of all proportion in a way that was never known in the earlier part of the previous century or before.
Apart from in small industries, especially agriculture, that confrontation (the division between the bosses and the workers) grew and grew, particularly as firms became larger and more impersonal, with the result that industrial unrest over the years increased greatly, culminating in the general strike shortly after the First World War. That strike was followed by high unemployment. There again, the first fear that I mentioned (the fear of unemployment) brought an element of unhappy stability onto the labour scene.
943 The war came, and I shall not go into all the happenings then. After the war, there was a period of Labour government when efforts were made to move away from that confrontation. We had nationalisation, and, "It belongs to us all now. We are all involved it it", but that did not work. The policy published in the White Paper In Place of Strife did not work. The good intentions of those Labour Governments had no happy results. That culminated in the "winter of discontent", and so we come to the last decade and what happened then.
From listening to the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, it appears as though we entered into a golden age of industrial relations in which there was a diminishing number of strikes, and increased happiness and contentment among the workforce and the employers.
I grant the noble Viscount that strikes had been diminishing over that period, but I would not say that it was a golden age of labour relations by any means. It was achieved to some extent by legislation brought in by the Conservative Government —legislation which, in large measure, I personally support. Some of it I am not so happy about but I shall not go into details. The present situation has been brought about largely by pinning the colours to the profit motive. I do not wish to embark on a long discourse, but frankly I believe that "profit" is a dirty word. Unfortunately, it is essential: we cannot operate without profit. However let us not think that the profit motive is the be-all and end-all of existence. How much better it would be if we, individually, and other people were able to work, not with the idea simply to gain more and more wealth, but because it was a service to the community. However that is idealistic and we must live with the world as we find it.
In the past 10 years the profit motive has been exalted higher and higher. One only has to look at the salaries that middle, higher and top management receive. There may have been undue publicity, but people read about them and cannot wonder at the lower paid workers using the only means in their power —the ability to work and the right to withdraw their labour—in order to achieve higher salaries and wages. All they are doing is to put into practice the theories that are preached by the present Government of exalting the profit motive, using one's own initiative, one's own abilities, to achieve a higher standard of living for oneself and more for the Government.
Therefore a large part of the industrial peace that we have enjoyed during the past decade has been won at the expense of inflation. Ever higher prices with more paid to those who are producing the same amount as before must inevitably lead to inflation. It must inevitably lead to our tendency to price ourselves out of the international market and to a further deterioration in our balance of payments.
The accusation —and it is an accusation —falls as much against the private sector as the public sector. The latter comprises very large employers and it involves having to give way to the demands for higher and ever higher wages. Perhaps in years to come fear of unemployment will rescue the
944 Government from this vicious spiral in which they find themselves, but that would be a sad solution.
Therefore we are left with another method of avoiding industrial action: involvement of all those concerned. It is relatively easy for small businesses, including agriculture, to involve all workers. The boss comes into daily contact with the workers and can explain matters to them. With the bigger businesses it is much harder. Some have been able to achieve it and great credit is due to them. However many have not achieved it and there is still this distinction not just between "us" and "them" but unfortunately between what are called "white-collar" and "blue-collar" workers. Until we can abolish all such distinctions and simply say, "Here is a group of people working in one industry, one company, for the common benefit", we shall never achieve true industrial harmony. We must abolish the executive car park, different canteens, different dining rooms depending on one's grade in the business. We will not divide people depending on what colour shirt they wear, or whether or not they wear overalls. They must all be part of the same group, the same team. The Japanese are pioneers in this; we are learning from them, but not fast enough.
A further matter which I draw to your Lordships' attention is the role of the personnel manager in business today. I fully accept that large businesses must have a group of people who, with their computers, keep records of the tens of thousands of people employed by the company. There must be a record of their families, salaries, wages, sickness and so on. However that is the limit to which personnel management should go. Everyone should be a personnel manager other than those engaged in manual or skilled work on the shop floor.
The ideal concern, large or small, should be one where every worker has direct access to someone with the authority and responsibility for dealing with all but the biggest complaints received. Workers can come to this person and say, "Hey, I don't like what is happening, I have a grievance". On the spot, that man has the authority to put matters right. Otherwise, if the problem is too big for him he can go upstairs to the person one grade higher, put it to him and within 24 hours at the most the answer is given. It may not be the answer that the complainant wants, but at least there is not time for his disagreements, his feeling of injustice to fester and grow out of all proportion.
Too many of our large businesses now have to refer everything through the personnel management up to the various levels of boards. It takes weeks or months before even modest complaints can be resolved. We cannot have good industrial relations if that form of stratification, bureaucracy and delay isolates the man or woman doing the job, producing the goods, from the policy makers and people who put their car in the other car park, eat better meals in more attractive surroundings and make the decisions that affect the lives of everyone in the concern.
If we are to have peaceful industrial relations which are not based on fear of unemployment or solely on higher wages or higher salaries, but are based on complete involvement in the success of the concern —be it large or small —if we are to have 945 that peaceful harmony in industry, we must pay ever-increasing and rapid attention to the best methods of involving all levels of the workforce in the running of the business.
§ 4.19 p.m.
The Viscount of Oxfuird
My Lords, I wish to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Wade on his maiden speech. Your Lordships' House will, I am sure, be determined to hear from him again, I hope after not too long a period of time. I rise with a little diffidence but I wanted to make a personal contribution to this debate as I have worked within the engineering sector of British manufacturing industry for the past 30 years or so. During that time I have been very much on the receiving end of the changes in industrial relations policy and the legislation which are the subjects of the debate today.
Your Lordships' debate spans a wide canvas and covers a plethora of relevant areas. A range of the industrial relations legislation spanning the past two decades has been covered. Some of it has increased and some of it has reduced the powers of the trade union movement. I know that legislation is vital in setting the backdrop to our industrial relations scene but it is only part of a much broader picture.
I shall focus on what happens in the workplace and on the shop floor where additional factors are also at play. For a company to succeed it must have a Properly motivated workforce. Here British management has a role in fostering collaboration and consultation as an endemic part of the day-to-day management process. We have already heard about the British disease of the 1970s, but looking back to our industrial roots in the 19th century —here I hope I shall have the support of noble Lords on all sides of the House —it is clear that the divisive class system, the creation of them and us within a company, was also a significant contributor to the British disease.
One of my aims and ambitions during my working life within British industry has been to foster the belief in a proper dignity for all levels within an industrial organisation. An ideal company is a place where everyone is encouraged to feel like a working member of the same team. We can see some examples of successful and world beating companies here in the United Kingdom where just this objective has beer achieved. I think of JCB, the earth-moving equipment company, or AWD Bedford, the truck manufacturing company, where years of consultation and attention to detail in the field of industrial relations have sown the seeds of corporate success.
From what I have said already, I should like noble Lords to remember but one word. That word is "dignity". Dignity at the workplace for all levels within a company, is I believe, a most important factor in the setting of a united and harmonious industrial environment. Over the past two or three years I have devoted much of my energy to fostering the concept of total quality management. I have been delighted to see that the Department of Trade and Industry has taken up a similar theme. Total quality management is not just about product quality; it is 946 about the quality of relationships between different departments, different individuals and different levels within an organisation. When one gets it right —I am pleased to say that more and more British companies are getting it right —a proper sense of dignity for all parties is established.
Legislation has its role in helping to establish the right environment. However, even with the finest legislative framework one will achieve very little unless harmony and mutual respect are established between senior management, middle management, first line supervision and organised labour. That is where Her Majesty's Government can claim credit over the past 11 years. There are few who would disagree with the logic of much of our recent industrial relations legislation. However, some noble Lords on the Benches opposite have tried to portray it as unfeeling and uncaring in the way that it has been presented and implemented. I do not agree with that position, but that is as may be. What it has done is to free managers to manage. In this new environment good, dedicated, hardworking managers who are prepared to explain and take their workforce along with them have prospered. Those who have not done so have largely failed.
I feel that perhaps we still have something to learn from the great Quaker traditions of the 19th century. In the 1960s and 1970s many of our manufacturing industries —I think particularly of the one with which I was associated at the time, the motor industry —were operating on the very limit of their capacity. Many plant managers succeeded and were promoted because it became the tradition to cave in to almost any demand, no matter how unreasonable. Certainly output was maintained, but what a terrible price we had to pay later in terms of rampant inflation, overpriced goods and overmanned and unproductive factories.
We have learnt that managers must be free to manage, but that is only the first step. It is then down to them to create a harmonious environment within which their enterprise can prosper. Management freedom is not without its penalties. I confess to a twinge of concern when I read last week of the settlement by Iveco-Ford at Langley of 10.5 to 11.5 per cent. Whatever the merits of that settlement, it is always worrying to see a wage settlement leaping ahead of inflation at a time when inflation is widely acknowledged to be our single greatest enemy.
But is it not far better to give our industrial managers the freedom to decide their own destiny and to live or die on that basis? When one reads the small print of that settlement and learns that the 39-hour week at that plant remains intact and that other significant grading concessions have been negotiated, one realises that sometimes it is better to leave that kind of decision to the people on both sides of the negotiating table who really understand in great detail the industry in which they are working.
What else have we learnt? I believe we have also learnt that in almost any environment it is wise to study and to respect the strength of the other chap's point of view. I hope that as we move into the fourth term of Her Majesty's present Government we shall be able to move forward in the industrial relations 947 field in a way that preserves the face of all parties on whatever side of the negotiating table they may be.
I shall move on to comment a little on one of the most recent pieces of the Government's industrial relations legislation; the abolition of the dock labour scheme. That has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Wade. What has been achieved in less than a year is truly remarkable. We must remind ourselves that abolition has created a new and exciting world for our British ports in a much changed environment. Our British ports are experiencing high improvements in productivity, in quality of performance, in commitment, in flexibility, in realism and confidence. The former two nation labour structure has disappeared boosting the morale of our port workers as a whole and redirecting their efforts where it matters, to improving the service offered to their customers.
It is relevant to note that under the former dock labour scheme nowhere did one find any reference to efficiency, viability, quality, customers or indeed to any of the normal business disciplines. I am glad to say that all that has now changed. Our port managers now have the ability to manage, to invest free of inhibition and to build for the future with confidence for the first time in their professional lives. Who will be the ultimate beneficiary? It will be United Kingdom Limited.
I have one final point to make. There was a fear that abolition of the scheme would see a return to the kind of management malpractices that gave birth to the original dock labour legislation. That has not happened. A firm commitment was given by the port managers not to return to the casual labour system. That has been honoured. In addition, trade unions have not been derecognised and men are free to choose who they wish to represent them. If they opt for union representation they are free to be represented in that way. In short, the dignity of all parties working in our ports industry has been preserved.
Perhaps your Lordships will permit me one final word on one other industrial relations event in the recent past, the ambulance drivers' dispute. Here I know that many noble Lords on all sides of the House were deeply torn by a very real concern not just for the major issues involved but for the victims of that terrible set of circumstances. Despite the anguish that we all felt, I believe that we must offer a word of congratulation to the Government. When I saw last week's inflation figures approaching 10 per cent. I shuddered to think what awesome consequences would have arisen if the floodgates of public sector pay demands had been blasted open. Painful as it was, I believe that the right balance was struck.
Most of my time over the past 30 years has been spent travelling abroad promoting the export sales of British manufactured goods. I think back to my experiences of the 1960s and 1970s in smoke-filled rooms in Bombay, Prague, Gothenburg or Kuala Lumpur when I experienced a deep sense of shame as I tried to explain away late deliveries, broken promises and shoddy workmanship. Our nation was 948 perceived to be governed by Red Robbo and his associates. Our industrial relations record made us the laughing-stock of the world.
How different it is today. Today, with our international competitiveness largely restored, with our industry represented by a new generation of professional, hard-working, dedicated and caring business team members, we can go abroad and hold our heads up high. That is a practical manifestation of what has been achieved by the industrial relations policies of Her Majesty's Government over the past 11 years. I, for one, am proud of it.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, your Lordships have heard three speeches from noble Lords on this side of the House who have great industrial experience and have given us the benefit of it. We are grateful to my noble friend Lord Caldecote for having chosen this subject and for the way in which he opened the debate.
I am sure that all of your Lordships would wish me, too, to express our gratitude as well as our congratulations to my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton on his maiden speech. It was a splendid speech. Its content, moderation and clarity could not have been excelled. We look forward to hearing many more speeches from him, and before long.
I am the first of three lawyers to speak in this debate. As the debate has been so much about legislation I hope that I may be forgiven if I not only refer to some extent to the legislation but also amplify some of the evidence already given of its results. In doing so I am afraid that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, will be rather surprised to find that what she told the House is not altogether capable of being established.
I have to take your Lordships back some way, if only to remind noble Lords on the Benches opposite who belong to the Labour Party of events in the late 1960s. The then Labour Government were so desperately worried about the excessive power exercised by a minority, I grant, of trade union officials, which had already done a great deal of harm to the economy and threatened to do more harm, that they produced a White Paper entitled In Place of Strife. The White Paper was found to be acceptable to moderate opinion throughout the country. What happened to it? It was intended to be followed by legislation. I understand that a Bill was drafted. However the trade unions objected strongly. All trade union leaders, not merely a minority but both those who were responsible and those who were not responsible objected strongly. The Labour Party had to give in because such a high proportion of its funds came from the trade unions. The funds which came from the trade unions were paid by trade union members, whether or not they wanted to pay, because that was the system at the time.
Then we come to the late 1970s, to which reference has already been made. Again we had a Labour Government which were desperately worried. We had not only the winter of discontent, because I must amplify what my noble friend Lord Caldecote said about "Red Robbo". In a few months he cost the nationalised part of the motor industry —British 949 Leyland —no less than £100 million in unofficial strikes. When in 1979 we had a general election in which we undertook in our manifesto to change the law, the voters of this country —such a high proportion of whom, as the noble Baroness pointed out, being members of trade unions —returned the first of the Governments led by the present Prime Minister.
We then embarked on the step-by-step approach. We had the Acts of 1980 and 1982, which led to our more than doubling our majority in 1983. Then we came to the very important Act of 1984. I remember especially a midnight Division here in which some of us voted against our own party. There were other supporters of an amendment, which had quite an effect, requiring unions to hold secret postal ballots before a strike could become lawful. I am glad to say that our amendment was accepted, as such amendments so often are, in another place.
I must draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, to the fact that since the 1984 Act came into effect there have been 1,100 ballots notified to ACAS. Fewer than 15 per cent. of those ballots have resulted in a call for strike action. In the following cases the union leaders called for a strike but the workforce rejected it in a ballot: the Civil and Public Services Association in 1985; the National Union of Railwaymen in 1986; the Transport and General Workers' Union dockers in 1986 and 1988; the National Union of Mineworkers in 1983 (strange as that may seem to noble Lords opposite); NALGO in 1988 and the Ford workers this year. If ballots had not been held and the workers had not been given the opportunity of rejecting the call for a strike, those damaging and important strikes affecting the public service and the national economy could have taken place, because the union leaders wanted them.
We now have the present Employment Bill, which is also very important. There is no point in discussing it at any length, but I think that I should point out, because it is so relevant to this discussion, that it is important for three main reasons. It removes all remaining legal protection of the closed shop. I shall say a bit more about that in a moment. It removes statutory immunity from all forms of secondary action. As has been mentioned, it resolves the problem of unofficial strikes by requiring union officials either to repudiate them or to support them by making them official and legal by holding ballots. I should have thought that it is true union democracy to give the members the chance of the last word. That is what our legislation does, and it would be a tragedy for trade union members if the Labour Party were to repudiate it.
We have already been told of the remarkably beneficial results of our legislation: fewer strikes, increase of production, better understanding between workers and management, and the living standards of the workers have undoubtedly improved. Although, as the noble Baroness said, and I do not challenge it, there are still 10.5 million trade union members in this country, there used to be many more. Many left the unions and many left the Labour Party. We cannot win general elections 950 without the support of several million trade union members. That was why we won the general elections of 1983 and 1987.
I quite agree that at present we have some teething troubles over the community charge, and we have the current most unfortunate problem of inflation. But let us not lose sight of the fact that, if people judge the Government's performance merely on those two issues and let the Labour Party do what they think they should do on industrial relations legislation, there will indeed be a return of the frustration and sense of grievance that the people felt before we came to power.
Let us just see what the Labour Party intends to do. We have not been told very specifically, but in general terms. On the closed shop, I must say that feel that its policy is somewhat inconsistent. It quite rightly recognises the right of people not to join a trade union, but the Labour party says that it fully supports and advocates a 100 per cent. trade union membership at the workplace. Those two propositions cannot live together. It would mean that people who do not join a trade union will often not be able to get the job for which they are qualified and which they would like to have.
Another important part of the legislation that we have passed concerns secondary action. We have made secondary action largely illegal, and the Bill before us takes that a stage further. As regards secondary action Mr. Blair, the Labour Party spokesman, has made it clear that if the party opposite is elected and has power it would again legalise secondary strikes. The consequences would be disastrous for the economy.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? Just to make Labour Party policy absolutely clear, Labour will also restore the right to take sympathy action in line with common practice in other EC countries. In other words, as I said in my opening speech, what we propose is simply to move into line with Europe. This Government may have to do so, if they retain office, sooner or later as a result of directives from Europe.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, the noble Baroness has made a very general statement about the laws of all the other European countries. Quite frankly it is a mistake to generalise in that way because they vary considerably. In any event, we know that the fact that Parliament made it unlawful for much secondary action to take place, (especially in major strikes affecting the output of the economy, as well as some strikes affecting the public service) has been of great effect in helping the economy.
I say that it has been of great effect in improving industrial relations as well, because often men were taken out on strike against their will and had little chance of resisting the secondary action unless they were prepared to be accused of disloyalty to the rest of the union. It might only have been a minority of members of the union, and indeed not all the union officials, who wanted the secondary action. Sometimes the secondary action was embarked on for purely party political reasons.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, just as serious in the proposals of the Party opposite—and I must confess that I am now attempting in a brief way to deal with the legal implications of its policy —are its proposals which would prevent or weaken law enforcement, I mention only two points. It says that it will forbid ex parte injunctions; applications to the court, as soon as the risk of a strike has appeared, asking the court to make a brief interim order before the case can be heard. By preventing that procedure we would be delaying court orders until strikes are well under way and have already caused great damage. In this way trade unions would be given a status in law and indeed above the law that nobody else has. I do not think that would make them popular.
The second way in which I think we should worry a bit about what the Party opposite proposes to do is this: it intends by preventing the sequestration of union funds, also to give them a privileged position that nobody else enjoys. It says that all that is needed are fines, and that fines are a more savage penalty than sequestration. But if Fines are not paid, their payment must be enforced either by sequestration or, if it is individuals who are responsible, by imprisonment. If there is no sequestration there is no way other than imprisonment of ensuring that the law is observed. Quite frankly, it would seem as though the Party opposite wants to make a nonsense of the law. I have exceeded my time. I hope that I have said enough —perhaps more than enough —and so I shall sit down.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question? I think he said that the Government's proposed legislation on unofficial action would have the effect of solving disputes in which such action occurred. Does the noble Lord accept that it remains to be seen whether the legislation will have that effect?
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, there first remains to be seen exactly the terms in which the legislation emerges in the present Bill. Nobody can predict precisely what the effect will be. All that we can do when legislating in Parliament is to use our judgment to the best of our ability and experience.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I should first like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wade. Unfortunately I could not listen to all his maiden speech but I was present for the last few minutes of it and heard enough to realise that a very powerful speaker with wide knowledge of his subject has joined us. Naturally we hope to hear further from him in the future. However, he will understand when I say that I found his closing remarks to be a little contentious.
The noble Lord talked about the success story that could be if everybody decided to pull together. Those may not have been his actual words but that clearly was implied. I go along with that view 100 per cent. But the speech made by the mover of the Motion did not contain any notion of such a concept —not one iota. If one speaks of impartiality and objectivity, then the opening speaker was about as 952 impartial as Mike Tyson on Sunday night when he nearly killed a fellow in one round. That just about reflects the impartiality of the noble Lord's speech.
There is no question at all but that this Government are bent on smashing the trade unions. They talk about giving trade unions back to their members. That is nonsense. It is absolute rubbish. And well the Government know it. In fact every time one sees on television the present Secretary of State for Employment, Mr. Howard, it comes across quite clearly that he hates trade unionism in any form. He does not miss an opportunity to express that feeling, although he may have a smile on his face.
I find it rather significant that the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, spoke of demarcation disputes. The biggest demarcation dispute that I have seen in the past 10 years occurred in your Lordships' Chamber on the issue between the barristers and solicitors. They showed us demarcation lines that would have made any in the manual industries look foolish indeed. What behaviour! I recall that a lttle time ago your Lordships set aside for discussion a special day —a Friday —because certain people thought that the citadels of the law in which they practised were being threatened. It got to the point where the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice in his speech made an appalling attack on the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for daring to say that changes might be required in that area of activity. I do not think that people who come across with that sort of argument should start to lecture trade unions on impartiality. There was no impartiality shown in your Lordships' House on that day. I remind your Lordships that it was necessary on that occasion for an apology to be issued to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for some of the words that were uttered about him by leading members of his own profession. I give way to the noble Lord —
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to remind him that the barrister and judicial Members of your Lordships' House made no objection to solicitors being given rights of audience in the High Court and indeed other people as well and no objection was made to their being appointed High Court judges.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that if he reads the record in Hansard of that Friday, he will see that there was about as much togetherness between the two professions as may be found between two antagonists in the final stages of a divorce case. The noble Lord must come off it. If he reads Hansard again I do not think that he will dispute my remarks. I believe that some Members on his own Benches tacitly approve of what I say. It was a disgraceful episode. If that is an example of the impartiality of the most prestigious professions in this country, then bring me back some basic trade unionism, brother!
The noble Viscount referred to the fact that legislation was necessary. I recall that some years ago, when a previous Conservative Government brought in the Industrial Relations Act, they made judge of that particular court the noble and learned 953 Lord who is now our present Master of the Rolls; namely, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. It was mentioned in another place and in this Chamber that during some of the proceedings of that court the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, was heard to remark that the balance of fairness had moved away from the trade union movement and was becoming more and more loaded on the side of the employer.
But such remarks were not sufficient. Bill after Bill has been brought forward. It may well be —I do not dispute it —that some of the legislation may have been objective, forward-looking and necessary. I have said before in your Lordships' House that all my life I have been a member of a union which balloted on every issue. I have never believed that there was any other way of coming to a conclusion which would have the full support of the members. I speak of the AEU, of which union I have now been a member for 53 years. In fact I was a wildcat when I was 15 years old and went on strike in 1937. It was my first strike —unofficial, by the way.
But we are talking about industry and getting together. I do not want to lambaste the managerial side but it has been clearly stated by those concerned —even on occasion by the BIM and the CBI —that poor management in this country has played a major part in our industrial decline. The mover of the Motion did not pay any regard to that. Oh no. It seems that management cannot do anything wrong; management will never provoke a strike; it has never been because of bad management that men have had to come out.
As one who has been nearly 40 years in industry, I have had recourse to strike action three times: once when I was 15, once when I was 18 and once as an adult at the call of my union because of what was happening in the industry. I do not believe that the strike weapon is very effective. It is rare that when people have been on strike they return to work having won what they went on strike for. I have never believed that it is good trade unionism to start discussions with management by first bringing the men out of work. That is nonsense; it never works. It is sad that people such as the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, have painted that scene as the general principle of trade unionism. It was not and never has been the case. If one looks at the strike record in this country, it is clear that where there was a high strike profile it was in the very highly paid sectors where powerful muscle was used. It was in areas such as the newspaper industry. The unions always won because bad managers gave them what they wanted until a lot of the members priced themselves out of jobs. However, one cannot say that about engineers in this country nor about the textile workers. Those people —those of them who are left —are still earning considerably less than their counterparts in Europe. They work just as hard but very often use equipment that is not quite so good. So there are swings and roundabouts in the question of who is to blame.
The noble Viscount welcomed our better industrial performance. I have always believed that one of the criteria for earning a good pay packet is the 954 capacity to produce the goods that one is employed to produce. As an individual, I always believed in piecework because I could always earn good money. When that type of activity is fairly rewarded, it is better than all forms of discipline and anti-trade unions laws.
The noble Viscount referred to the example that ought to be set to the nation. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me for having digressed for the past few minutes and will note some of the examples set by members of the noble Viscount's own party, some of whom up until recently were in positions of power in your Lordships' House and were responsible for bringing before this Chamber measures to privatise huge publicly owned utilities. Some of us can recall the scandal when about 300 Peers were drummed in to force through the poll tax Bill even though some of the Government's own Members were opposed to it. It is not a good example of democracy to drum such a measure through the House by about 300 Peers who are not elected members, and some of whom have never faced an election. Fortunately some Peers who voted for the Government on that Bill have recanted and have realised that they made a mess of things. However, I refer to standards of conduct in public.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Can the noble Lord tell us what this has to do with industrial relations?
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, the noble Viscount made such an outrageously partisan speech that a reply is needed. When he refers to behaviour, the noble Viscount appears satisfied that employers should be the people with the thumbscrews and the rack so that they can literally dictate to the trade unions. Such behaviour results not in negotiation but in imposition. The noble Viscount may not like what I say. However, I shall recount some other examples.
Measures have been passed in this House and in another place by Ministers who within the shortest possible time have left public office and have become highly remunerated chairman of the bodies that they have privatised. If that had happened in local government, the councillors responsible would have been facing the courts because under local government statutes they would have been acting outside the law. I have referred to the policies that one noble Lord supported and who, quite by accident, was offered and accepted an appointment on Wednesday last at a salary of £½ million. What society supports such action? The people who support it lecture those who are, at most, a month away from dismissal. When I was in industry the period for notice of dismissal used to be a week but employees now have a month's grace. However, under the existing law the cards are in the hands of the employers; they are not in the hands of the employees.
The noble Viscount referred to a situation in Dundee. He said that jobs were lost in Scotland because of an inter-union dispute. I agree that if that were so it would be deplorable. But I have heard from very responsible sources that the position was 955 not so simple and that Fords did not wish to go to Scotland anyway.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, the noble Viscount says, "Oh!". He quoted the president of my union, who naturally wanted that job situation for my trade union but he did not achieve it. It is very strange that a person who does not win the issue is deemed to have behaved badly.
The noble Viscount has referred to a much superior industrial performance, but it has started to peter out. If the phoenix is rising from the ashes, by any standards it is a very small phoenix indeed. I quoted some figures which indicate that in the past 12 months 45,000 more jobs have been lost in the manufacturing industry. It may be said that we shall need a smaller force which produces more. But 45,000 is a large number. It does not indicate to me that industry is doing as well as the Government say or as well as I should like it to do.
We are not at present debating the Employment Bill, but there will be time to do so on the Floor of the House. However, that measure is unnecessary and is another indication that the Government have no time for trade unionism and trade union members. They would love to see them disappear from the face of the earth. I do not accept the point that the Government under the present Prime Minister are giving trade unions back to the members. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hope that the noble Viscount who opened the debate will be frank and tell us what he really means.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Caldecote for introducing this very important debate at this time, enhanced by the magnificent maiden speech that my noble friend Lord Wade made.
Since I follow the noble Lord, Lord Dean, I should like to do justice to his analysis and to meet the points of his argument. I was not able to follow exactly what relevance his arguments or his process of presentation had to the subject matter of the debate. However, I shall read Hansard with care. I hope that he will acquit me of any conscious discourtesy if I do not seek to reply in any detail. I should like to tell him this straight. I for one am not a person who has no time for trade unions. I am not a person who would love to see the trade union movement disappear; and the whole House knows that, as does the noble Lord.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I referred to certain members of the party opposite who are well known for such opposition. I cast no personal slur on the noble Lord. I know his views too well. I never for one moment thought that he would understand that I was accusing him of such beliefs.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, that may well be true, but the noble Lord stated that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State had no time for trade 956 unions. That is simply not true. What is true is that he has no time for trade union abuses.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
The Minister will know that it is out of order to intervene on an intervention.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
I stand by what I said about the Secretary of State. I do not withdraw one word of it.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I hope that it is in order for me to intervene in my own intervention. Perhaps we may continue with the job in hand.
I am the second lawyer in to bat on this side. I defer to the patient, objective and authoritative analysis of my noble friend Lord Renton. He took us back to In Place of Strife. He knew what was going on; he was in the other place. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dean, remembers what went on. He may well have been in the other place at that time. But it was interesting to set the perspective which some of us saw only from reading the papers. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, took us forward, and rightly so, to the next election, because that is what the subject is all about.
There are three facets to the problem. As I see it —your Lordships may see it quite differently —and having listened to the most interesting speeches, it seems to me to divide into three categories. The first is the perspective in which we ought to consider these government policies. The second is the change in attitude that the government policies are claimed to have brought about. The third is the probable effect of the proposed labour policies.
It is an intensely political debate; and it is very good that it should be. One simply has to look forward, and, with the courtesies of this House, to examine the policies proposed by the Labour Party and to discuss the probable effect. As a result of their policies on industrial relations, this Administration have during the past decade brought order out of turmoil and chaos. That is the true perspective in which to look at the achievement. The view was so well put by my noble friend Lord Caldecote that no more need be said. Noble Lords may well believe that he put the view not only forcefully but fairly. The noble Lord laughs and he is entitled to do SO—
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I do not mind —by all means laugh at me. However, it is no laughing matter when one comes to the objective analysis which the Labour Party and the electorate must face but not the party to which I adhere. It is that the forces of turmoil and chaos are not dead; they still exist, as do their methods and aspirations to govern. That is not a problem for the party to which I adhere; it is a problem for noble Lords on the opposite side of the House.
957 No government, Conservative, Labour or whatever, should ever drop their guard. But the policies of the Labour Party would achieve precisely that. It would occur because of the package of trade union immunities to be introduced as part of the Labour Party's policies. The process which brought the trade unions within the rule of law and which has afforded relative peace would come to an end. By the rule of another law we should move again towards industrial anarchy, with secondary action and secondary picketing. There it either is or in all probability would be, and why? As my noble friend Lord Renton made totally plain in his analysis—and with respect he is correct —the courts would be inhibited from dealing with unlawful acts and granting ex parte injunctions. Their powers of enforcement would be emasculated by the removal of the sanction of sequestration for contempt of court.
On the other hand, if the Government's policies as proposed in the Employment Bill are pursued, the unions will remain within the law without such immunities and subject to the law. One has only to look at Clause 4 of the Bill. It proscribes secondary action and the so-called "sympathetic" industrial action. Clause 6 clarifies and establishes the responsibility of trade unions for the acts of their officials, groups and members. What on earth is wrong with that? Clause 8 proposes the removal of an outrageous anomaly under extant law by enabling an employer to dismiss any employee taking unofficial industrial action in breach of his contract of employment. That is the law of the land.
I now defer to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, because so often we agree across this Chamber. I should like to see a mandatory code of practice and conciliation procedure built in to Clause 8. However, such an amendment could be made in Committee. I may not be popular for saying that there was something in what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said and I should be interested to see an amendment tabled along those lines.
The proposed extension of government policies along those lines—and they have worked well —affords a fair, progressive regime relevant to today and to the future. However, the proposed Labour Party policies are retrogressive. The conflict of approach is fundamental. It is far too fundamental to afford any resolution in this debate. Clearly, one day the electorate must decide.
I wish to comment briefly on the closed shop provisions which to some extent reflect the principle of Section 5 of the Industrial Relations Act 1971. I had a quiet word with the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, who made a speech on Friday about the closed shop. I told him of what I intended to say about his interesting contribution. He is fully content that I should make my comments in his absence. I told him that Frank Cousins and Ray Gunter opposed the closed shop. They were responsible trade unionists and therefore there were two views on the matter. Frankly, the noble Lord went a little over the hill on Friday in describing in a certain way those people who did not join unions. I pointed out that Article 20(2) of the Declaration of Human 958 Rights condemned the closed shop and that it has been condemned judicially by the Court of Justice. The fact that it happens to suit a number of employers makes the matter only worse because there is an infringement of a basic right of freedom of the individual worker. The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, is not in his place but that is the substance of what I told him I would say about the contribution that he made on Friday.
I shall conclude by referring to the most interesting and important contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He spoke with a wealth of experience and considerable moderation, restraint and foresight. Although he did not use the exact words, he was saying, in effect, "For heaven's sake let us give up a stylistic Balinese dance with ritual gestures and postures. Let us try to achieve a new partnership and a new spirit". In that spirit he said that we should be prepared to look at some of the proposals in the Bill from a dispassionate point of view. We should not approach the Bill with any fundamental bias. We should look at what is proposed, why it is proposed and the justification.
There is no Bill that your Lordships cannot improve in your revisal role. Assuredly, the Employment Bill is no exception. I intend to follow the example set by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and approach the duty in that way and in that spirit. In that spirit I should welcome amendments tabled from noble Lords opposite with the backing of the TUC.
The first proposal relates to an interest of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. The basic problem of the Ford fiasco at Dundee was the absence of effective recognition machinery —and the noble Baroness accepts that. Also, the Bridlington agreement had broken down and was dead as a dodo. In the interests of the country and the trade union movement, I should like to see an amendment tabled with the support of the TUC in order to devise a machinery to deal with recognition disputes. The Government and this House would then have an opportunity to consider that. That would lie within the ambit of this Bill.
My time is up. I should welcome the tabling of one or two amendments for the consideration of this House, one of them on the matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. That is the basic spirit in which I propose to approach that task.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway will forgive me if I do not follow him along the path which he has taken. I am quite sure too that the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his very robust speech which I enjoyed. I did not take quite the same view of it as perhaps did other noble Lords. His speech was rather more fierce than that of my noble friend Lord Caldecote, though, in introducing the debate this afternoon, my noble friend was justifiably robust. He put on record what had happened over the past few years and events have proved his point. That was underlined by my noble friend Lord Oxfuird in his own contribution from his personal experience of management, both in 959 this country and abroad, in the engineering industry. Again, that proves a point.
I rather liked the more gentle approach of my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton. At least, it was gentle this afternoon. Time will tell. He made a singularly sympathetic maiden speech. We shall see whether he continues to be as sympathetic and non-controversial as time goes on. However, I am quite sure that we shall enjoy his contributions.
My noble friend drew my attention to some remarks made by Sir Hector Laing, who retired recently from the chairmanship of United Biscuits. In a booklet entitled A Parting Shot he writes:In a free market system, the nation functions through the interaction of interdependent, yet distinctly separate institutions. Society prospers if each sector, be it government, industry, finance, labour …performs its function reasonably well and with understanding of and tolerance for the roles required of the other sectors. Each is one vital part of society".I believe that, in the exchanges which have taken place this afternoon, that has been put aside. Sir Hector continues:In the 20's and 30's, managements had substantial economic power over working people, and sometimes abused it".There is no denying that:In the 50's and 60's, organised labour gained increasing power so that by 1979 trade unions leaders had very considerable power …and similarly sometimes abused it".There is no denying that. Sir Hector concludes that paragraph by stating:The balance between organised labour and industrial management has now been restored, partly by statutory curbs on trade union power and partly by the changed economic climate".I do not believe that one can deny that.
I do not believe that there is much point in looking back at what this or that government have or have not done or what party did this or that, or even in talking about strikes of a few years ago. We must look forward. I was singularly disappointed on the Second Reading of the Employment Bill that in more than 50 minutes of contributions by the noble Lords, Lord Wedderburn and McCarthy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, we heard nothing of what her party, were it ever to get into government, would do in this sphere.
Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, spent some time in talking about tilting the balances and about the accident rate. She is right about that. The accident rate has increased in our factories, which is very depressing. I note that we shall shortly be having a debate on the work of the Health and Safety Executive and perhaps its role and what can be done to improve that situation may be explored. The noble Baroness talked about the abandonment of wages councils. She did not mention that Marks and Spencer, W.H. Smith and Sainsbury's have increased wages for young peoply by —I believe I am right —something over 20 per cent. to bring them into balance. Does the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, wish to make a comment?
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, we were with the noble Lord, however, we were discussing the opposition of other low paid workers who were protected by wage council orders and are no longer effectively protected.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I was selecting certain points, which is my entitlement.
The noble Baroness ended by saying that when her party came to power, there would be a new philosophy. It is no good philosophising. We want some action. When my noble friend Lord Renton challenged her, she was not able to say very much more. That is rather disappointing. Conversely, the present Government's programme on labour and industrial relations is clearly set out and has been demonstrated.
I do not often relate anecdotal experiences. However, in his opening remarks my noble friend Lord Caldecote spoke of the importance of inward investment and how the United Kingdon had attracted so so much inward movement. At about the time at which the change came around, I was doing a similar job to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in the Department of Trade and Industry. I was travelling abroad frequently selling "UK Ltd." as a good place in which to invest. I was surprised that the question most raised related not to what incentives were being given in a particular region or area by government or the regional authority. It was, can we rely upon the stability of labour? In the late 1970s all one had read about in the newspapers was strikes and disturbances. I was able to state, truthfully, that one could now rely upon stability. That is still largely true today. However, the Dundee experience set back by years all the work which had been done. Whether the understanding is right or wrong, the perception is important, not the detail of the argument. Therefore, I believe that, whatever laws are made, the important thing is the perception of the people and the perception which employers have of employees and vice versa.
My noble friend Lord Oxfuird spent some time speaking about dignity. He is absolutely right. I should like to see a firming up of the relationship between employer and employee —I do not like that term but that is how it is recognised —to our greater economic and social well-being. I should like to see a number of factors changed and advanced. I should like to see wider employee participation in their business, though I confess not on the lines we considered when I sat on a committee with the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, examining the fifth directive on European company law and employee participation. I prefer the way we do it in the United Kingdom. It can be done in a variety of ways. Employee share participation is very important. Everybody belongs to the same family; everybody has an interest in its furtherance. That is a good thing and should be encouraged.
I should like employers to give more information to employees, whether through a works paper or works council, on where the company is heading, its objectives and how it hopes to achieve them. If closure is to come it will come; business will demand it, but the company should explain it and explain it properly.
Like noble friends on either side of me, I like responsible trade unions; I like to know with whom I am dealing and that when a deal is struck it is struck and stuck.
961 My noble friend Lord Wade spoke of employer's social and family responsibility. I recall as a young manager firing an employee. My managing director said to me, "You realise that this afternoon you brought about the social and economic collapse of four people: the family". An employer who takes on the awesome responsibility of employing others should not take that responsibility lightly. It should be undertaken with understanding and, as my noble friend Lord Oxfuird said, with dignity and respect for the other person.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, let me first thank the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, for raising this important and notable debate. It is especially notable by the number of noble Lords who chose to speak today rather than to speak in support of the Bill last week. At points I was not sure which debate this was.
Let me immediately join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, for his contribution in a notable maiden speech. We look forward to more good news from Cheshire. The noble Lord said that everything works better when everyone works together, and no one on these Benches would disagree with that.
There is an initial problem in responding to the debate from these Benches. It has ranged far and wide. I wish I could follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, into the area of interlocutory injunctions of which he apparently so firmly approves, or the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in his somewhat idiosyncratic account of the history of the 1960s and 1970s. However, his speech was important in another way. At the beginning he addressed —as I should like to do —the noble Viscount's important Motion, and he said that he would show us how the Government's legislation had caused the effects which are claimed for it.
I find that an interesting problem. There are clearly two contrasting policies put before the country in regard to industrial relations. We now have experience of the Government's policy in action through their legislation. They plainly believe that industrial relations are best based upon individual relationships between employers and employees. They often say so. Workers and trade unions therefore do not need more than a low level of rights and liberties in terms of legislation; employment protection rights tend to be a burden on business, and as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, reminded us last Friday, (at col. 574 of Hansard)) inhibit competitiveness.
As my noble friend Lady Turner said, the Government therefore —logically from their point of view —deregulated protection rights to the lowest point in Community member states. One only has to look at the legislation on the statute books concerning unfair dismissal, young workers' night shifts and a variety of areas on women's rights to see that the picture is fairly clear. They have cut the area of trade union rights which workers expect to find if they join together in a democratic country
962 whereby they can give collective expression to their views.
We on this side believe that employees are a valuable resource, if one wants to put it in the words of the noble Viscount. We believe that they are entitled individually to a guarantee of higher protection and opportunity. How rarely training and skill have been mentioned in the debate! One may have thought that the Government would take great pride in hearing Members opposite speak of the training record. We have not heard much in that regard.
We believe employees are entitled collectively to rights for trade unions through which representatives may protect employees' interests, jointly participate in constructive industrial relations and exercise the civil liberties of freedom of association. Those are three areas in which I join with other noble Lords. There is a clear difference in understanding of what the statute book should look like in that regard. I should be happy to debate the Labour Party's programmes, but I am not prepared to do so in footnotes on somebody else's Motion on another subject. The noble Lord indicates that he will give us time, and we would welcome a debate for the Labour Party programme to be discussed. No doubt that will be noted in the usual channels.
The Minister who is to reply from the Government Bench has difficulty, looking at his previous speeches —along with his colleagues, because he is not alone on this point; it is a collective difficulty —with what is a central methodological issue in the debate. Perhaps I may depart from what I intended to say and put it another way. Suppose we said that the worrying inflation position —the Government must be worried —the awful training position —they know it is awful —and the balance of payments situation which is worse than it has ever been, was brought about because of the Government's industrial relations legislation. I am sure that the Minister would not accept that statement. He would ask us to show some cause and effect. I shall read Hansard with great care, but I hazard a guess that so far there has been only a miniscule relationship between the speeches on the other side of the House and the issue of how the effects which are claimed have been caused by the legislation.
That is the reason I say that it is an interesting problem. In one sense it does not matter to us whether or not that cause is there. Our first objective is to the standard of civil liberties on the statute book. When I hear the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, claim the rule of law and basic freedoms as his base, I know that he is sincere, but perhaps he will look with me at all the ways touched on by my noble friend in which the British law at the moment falls below the level of what is internationally acceptable.
Let us be quite clear on this issue. The insular approach to this matter of most people in this country is extraordinary. Anyone who goes abroad and discusses industrial relations legislation knows that everybody regards the position of this country as having fallen below the floor of minimum standards. I shall run through the different ways in 963 which the ILO bodies—the Committee of Experts and Freedom of Association Committee —condemned the Government over the span of 1980 to 1988. There was the dismissal of strikers, which they now intend to make worse; the violation of trade union rights at GCHQ; the abolition of collective bargaining rights for teachers. That is a scandalous and flagrant breach of the convention of freedom of association. They have invaded trade union freedom by prohibiting discipline of strike breakers among members. They failed to protect workers from the blacklists of which we have heard, especially those circulated by the Economic League. Of course, we now also have the banning of all sympathy action, but even when the ban was not 100 per cent. it was condemned by the ILO. There are other items, but those are the main ones.
Let us be clear about this. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, carries on a curious relationship with that particular debate. Last Friday he summed up the matter particularly well, and I am happy to accept his summary. First, he pleaded not guilty. That one would expect, in a general way. Secondly, he said that the Government had responded to the Committee of Experts' points at the ILO but that, as usual, those comments were offered in confidence. Therefore, we do not know what the Government said. We are not told what their reasoning is; we are told just that they said something. Thirdly, he alleges that in any case there were breaches by other countries and he named Germany, Greece and the Netherlands; though I believe the third is not wholly well put.
The Government's posture is rather like that of a burglar caught red-handed who pleads not guilty, refuses to disclose what he has whispered in confidence to the judge, and in mitigation pleads that there have been other less extensive larcenies committed by his competitors. That is not a very honourable attitude to take without revealing more and without stating very clearly and precisely which parts of the convention the Government do and do not accept.
The Government's real defence in this matter does not rest on human rights. They are in a bad shape if it does. The Government's real defence is, as the Secretary of State said on Second Reading of the Bill in another place (Col. 39 of Hansard for 29th January) that,improvement in our productivity" —in manufacturing, of course; there is no claim of anything parallel in the tertiary sector —elimination of inefficient …working practicesand the transformation in the economy has been caused, in the main (the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, put it "in the main") by this legislation.
The first point to make is that on productivity all the research suggests that there is at least no proven cause and effect of that kind. Reference has been made to the article by Professor Brown and Dr. Wadhwani in the National Institute Economic Review which makes that suggestion. My noble friend Lord McCarthy gave figures last Friday to which the Minister did not reply except to say that surrounding the debate on research: 964there is a great deal of uncertainty and confusion". —[Official Report, 15/6/90; col. 580.]There is not a great deal of confusion. Mr. John McInnes has recently summarised the work of very different researchers —Professor Metcalf, Dr. Nicholls, Dr. Wadhwani and Mr. Daniel—and all of them agree that there is no evidence that,Thatcherism has changed productivity trends in the long term by changing industrial relations".That case could be better made by reading more and in greater detail, but that is the dominant axis of all the conclusions of that research in this area.
It is, of course, the strike record which is given pride of place. The noble Viscount said that to quote comparative figures is specious. I have to tell the noble Viscount, in all frankness, that he reminds me of academic colleagues who always begin with that word when they are faced with figures that they find highly inconvenient. It is not specious unless it can be shown to be methodologically inaccurate to look elsewhere as well as at Britain. If one takes the five years 1983 to 1987 and the five years prior to those, 1978 to 1982 —which is a fair break because the Government's legislation effectively begins to bite later on in 1982 —we find that in the first period Britain ranked seventh among the 19 major nations in the statistics. In the second period 1983 to 1987 it once again ranked seventh in number of days lost.
If one looks at countries where trade union rights were relatively unchanged in this period between 1978 and 1987, one finds that working days lost per 1,000 workers also fell, but by much more. In Sweden they fell by 80 per cent., in Ireland by 50 per cent., in Italy by 56 per cent. Where trade union rights were significantly increased —in the private sector to which the statistics alone refer, and I am taking the Government's statistics —in France the decrease was 48 per cent. and in Spain it was 50 per cent.
It is not surprising that most research in this area also concludes that the British decline in working days lost through strikes is, as it obviously is, rather less than in very comparable societies, but very comparable societies with very different industrial relations systems. Of course, if we were comparing only with, say, Germany and Sweden's organic bargaining systems one might say it was because of that, but if one looks at the range of societies with only a few of them reducing their strike rates less than ours it begins to be a little odd. Indeed, the dispassionate conclusion might well be that if the Government's legislation has helped to reduce the strike index then the other factors must have increased it if the international economic circumstances are relatively similar.
I hope the Minister does not say that all the other countries in the list have different international circumstances. He claims that the legislation has reduced the strike rate in Britain. Whether or not that is so, it is apparent that the labour market factors, which all the research suggests is the basis of this movement, have brought it down far more in a wide variety of other countries. I am afraid the lawyers have to accept that sometimes the law is not the most important thing around; and with the Government's legislation, thank heaven for that! 965 However, there are a few other features that I will mention briefly. One feature is that stoppages have increased in length during the 1970s and 1980s. The number of stoppages has declined but the number of long stoppages has increased. That partly reflects, but only partly, not so much the legislation as the failure of the Government to promote conciliation and their preference for confrontation. That has been partly in order to enforce their incomes policy in the public sector, scrapping the valuable arbitration machinery for the Civil Service that dated from 1925; turning industrial disputes into battles with enemies within, with the ambulance workers and the miners; crushing by legislation the collective bargaining rights of school teachers as a punishment for daring to fight for decent conditions in the state sector of education; doing away with the fair wages resolution and with unilateral arbitration. It is in the public sector that the Government have kept tile length of stoppages rising.
To conclude, therefore, the Government have failed to give a lead in those areas of industrial relations, such as participation of work people and employee involvement, which we see as having a place in legislation as well as in the voluntary mechanism. The idealogy is extraordinary which says that the law should have no place in that area when the Government are so fond of restrictive laws elsewhere. There must be a positive impact in employees participation, and a positive role for trade unions and employees based upon a secure and fair base of employment rights. We do not share the Government's view that industrial rights are a luxury suitable in Gdansk but not in Grimsby. There is, in fact, a place in this country for a decent and proper employment and industrial relations policy. There is an alternative to present government policies and the time for that alternative is about to come.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I say right at the outset how much I have enjoyed this afternoon's debate. I commend particularly the words of my noble friend Lord Caldecote and underline how much I share his views on trade unions. There is no question of any kind of ideological attack on trade unionism; only opposition to the irresponsible abuse of trade union power. That is why I did not fully understand the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, but since he is not in the Chamber perhaps we shall return to that issue later.
I listened with great interest and pleasure to the excellent maiden speech given by my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton. It was a remarkable speech and I was pleased to listen to it. That did not come as any great surprise because he lists among his recreations shooting, food and travel. Surely we have in our midst a man after my own heart.
Today we are debating industrial relations and strike action. Surely, that goes very much to the heart of what the Labour Party is all about, yet I am surprised to see that it has managed to produce only two Front Bench spokesmen and one Back-Bencher, the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, who we all 966 know is not a Back-Bencher; he is a most effective Front Bench speaker. Where is the Labour Party this afternoon?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter suggests that it is indulging in a pastime somewhere in the Royal County of Berkshire. He may well be correct.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. There might have been more Members of the Labour Party here if the Prime Minister had been a little more generous in her allocation of peerages.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, the noble Lord should take that up with the leader of his own party rather than with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
I now turn to the point of this debate. Let us look first at the undisputed facts. The evidence provided by the strike statistics is impressive. The annual average number of days lost each year to industrial action in the 1970s was 12.9 million. In the 1980s it fell by almost a half to an average 7–2 million; and over the five years to March 1990 it has halved again, averaging 3.3 million.
I know that during the course of today's debate noble lords have mentioned some of the statistics. However, they are so impressive that they are worth repeating. I shall come to the direct criticisms which the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, made about international comparisons. Notwithstanding Opposition claims that last year we experienced a summer of discontent, the number of stoppages in 1989 was in fact the lowest since 1935. During the Labour Government's winter of discontent, 3 million days were lost in the single month of January 1979, which compares with just 4.1 million days in the whole of 1989.
In the 1980s the number of days lost per thousand employees fell by 75 per cent. —proportionately more than with almost any of our major competitors. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, that it is very difficult to make comparisons between different countries because different definitions are used. Some countries will always come out ahead of the United Kingdom in any international league table. I know that the noble Lord knows that in France, for example, the figures exclude strikes in the public sector. Noble Lords can imagine how our figures would appear if we were to do that.
The number of stoppages fell by 9.5 per cent. over the life of the present government compared with just 1 per cent. per annum over the life of the previous Labour Government. When this Government came into office strikes were one of the major barriers to improving Britain's economic performance. Days lost through industrial disputes had risen to new high levels during the late 1970s. A series of major strikes and continual minor disputes posed great difficulties for all types of commerce and industry. Poor industrial relations affected both 967 productivity and profitability, which in turn led to a reduction in employment.
It is surely no coincidence that the improved industrial record of the 1980s has been achieved at the same time as the Government's reform of industrial relations and trade union law. These reforms have, by enhancing democratic practices in the conduct of union affairs and by protecting members against abuses of union power, helped to correct the imbalances of power between trade unions and employers and between trade unions and their members.
We have also brought in a number of measures to deregulate and promote greater flexibility in the labour market. The abolition of the dock labour scheme was one of the more prominent of these deregulatory measures. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Wade mentioned that in his maiden speech. His account of improvements at Merseyside and at the docks in Lincolnshire is confirmed on a far wider scale. We shall see that as we come up to the first anniversary of the abolition of the scheme. It has led to the release of new energy and enterprise in the former scheme ports. Surplus labour has been shed and efficient working practices have been introduced. Productivity has increased markedly; the ending of restrictive labour practices has reduced significantly the time taken to unload ships. A high priority has been given to training and there has been increased investment both in and around ports. All this has been achieved with no relaxation in health and safety standards.
All these steps have helped to change the 1970s' atmosphere of industrial conflict to one of negotiation and industrial co-operation. British employers and employees now waste less energy on disputes and devote more to producing quality goods and services on time and at the right price.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, if I understood him correctly, that it is not industrial relations policy alone that has been the sole reason for that change. There have been powerful economic pressures which have undoubtedly had an effect on the attitudes and behaviour of both unions and employees. I take up the words of my noble friends Lord Oxfuird and Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Today companies have adjusted to these pressures. They are leaner and fitter, having slimmed away surplus labour and introduced significant changes to working practices. Management initiatives, often with employees' co-operation, have swept away many inefficient restrictive labour practices and replaced them with new flexibilities such as multi-skilling, teamworking and so forth, often associated with the introduction of new technology.
The effects of government industrial relations policy cannot easily be separated from the impact of our policies more generally in helping to bring about these desirable and essential changes. For example, in other areas we have given tax incentives to encourage investment in industry, in particular in order to encourage employees to demonstrate their commitment to the welfare of their company by investing in it. Eleven out of the past 12 budgets have included tax incentives in this area.
968 We have done much to stimulate enterprise and the creation of small firms through the small firms service, the loan guarantee scheme, the business expansion scheme and various other programmes and initiatives. The number of self-employed has risen from 1.9 million to 3.2 million, which is an increase of 70 per cent. since the Government came to office 11 years ago. During the past year new small firms have been registered at the rate of 1,500 a week. The importance of these achievements in economic regeneration and growth has been fully recognised by the ILO. It is clear evidence of the rebirth of enterprise within the United Kingdom.
We are totally committed to improving the quality of our workforce by improving vocational training from schooldays onwards. I have no fears about coming to this House and standing by our excellent record on training. It is the Labour Party which has something to fear when it comes to training. Its record was appalling. Now it suggests a tax on jobs to pay for training.
In March of this year there were nearly 360,000 YTS trainees. Eighty-two per cent. of YTS leavers now go into jobs, further training or education. There are 210,000 people on employment training. Our new training and enterprise councils will have the flexibility to make ET even more responsive to the needs of individuals and local labour markets.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He referred to training. A few moments ago the Minister claimed that the Government had a marvellous record for training and denigrated the last Labour Government's record on that subject. The Minister must be aware that engineering is the biggest manufacturing sector of this country. Is he aware that, under this Government's proposals, we are training only 30 per cent. of the number of engineers that we trained under the previous Labour Government? Does he not agree that it is peculiar to call that a success when there is a reduction to two-thirds in the number of engineers being trained?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, that is precisely why we are reforming the training system. We are involved in a host of education initiatives such as TVEI, Compacts, high technology national training, work-related further education, open learning and career development loans. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, will approve of many of these initiatives.
The National Council for Vocational Qualifications is spearheading a fundamental reform of vocational qualifications, and by the end of 1992 we aim to have a United Kingdom-wide system of qualifications relevant to the needs of the modern workplace and individuals in all industries, for all occupations at all levels. The Training Standards Advisory Service was established in 1986 to provide an independent assessment of the quality of training in training agency programmes, and its findings helped to improve the quality of government-sponsored training programmes.
All these measures have helped to produce the well informed, committed and motivated workforce 969 that we have in Britain today. But legislative reform has contributed significantly to the important changes of attitude which have made this improvement possible.
In 1979 Britain was widely seen as a strike-ridden society and a graveyard for investment from overseas. Ten years later our reputation has been transformed at home and abroad. An independent survey of foreign-owned firms in 1989 showed that 96 pet cent. believed British industrial relations have improved significantly and 70 per cent. planned to increase their investment here. Employers have paid tribute to the Government's achievement in terms of helping them to modernise and increase profitability in industries such as vehicle manufacture, printing and newspapers.
These improvements have strongly influenced overseas investors, and the United Kingdom's inward investment record in the 1980s is impressive by any standard. In that respect I agree with my noble friends Lord Wade of Chorlton and Lord Oxfuird and with my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who as a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry had such personal experience of trying to sell Britain.
A survey by the Japan External Trade Organisation shows a large increase in the number of Japanese companies manufacturing in Britain. Available evidence suggests that the United Kingdom share of Japanese investment in the Community —at 38 per cent. already far ahead of the share of Japanese investment in any other Community country —is growing. Our share of United States investment in the Community stands at more than 40 per cent. —way ahead of the share of any of our other EC partners. The importance of good industrial relations is something that Japanese, American and other investors rate highly, along with the flexibility of the British labour force which has been praised by so many commentators, including Dr. Atenstaedt of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. I should perhaps add here, since we hear a good deal in debates such as this about international bodies and their views, that a very recent OECD report entitled Progress in Structural Reforms: Labour Markets has endorsed deregulatory labour market policies, and welcomed:more flexibility in employment contracts and lower costs of dismissal protection in order to reduce disincentives for expanding the workforce".The very same report also endorsed legal and institutional frameworks for wage negotiations to help wages adjust to structural changes of demand and supply in industries, regions and skills. That is very much in line with government policy in these areas.
What has been the Government's strategy? Learning from the experience of noble Lords opposite in the 1970s, we did not attempt to change too much too quickly. We have proceeded by a measured, step-by-step approach, never too far ahead of public opinion, always aimed at clearly identified problems, which is why we have had the support of trade union members themselves. Also learning from the 1970s, we have scrupulously 970 avoided any interventionist role in the conduct of industrial or employee relations. The proper role of government is to set the overall legislative framework but leave it to the parties directly involved to decide whether, and how, to use the new freedoms and protections created. That principle also applies to pay. We have not sought to impose any set pay policy; pay levels should be determined by the pressures of the labour market and internal business needs. Pay rates must be free to respond to labour market conditions and must be free from unnecessary institutional restraints.
An equally important element in our approach has been our commitment to keep industrial relations and trade union law under review, and a readiness to come forward with proposals to modernise that law whenever and wherever necessary. There is no question of closing the book on the step-by-step process of reforming the law to take account of developments and future needs. Our approach has proved itself the right prescription for a healthy and efficient labour market. Unemployment has fallen dramatically from a peak of more than 3 million in 1986 to the present 1.6 million. Jobs have increased substantially, with more than 27 million people in work, the highest ever. The United Kingdom rate of employment growth between 1983 and 1987 was more than three times as great as the European Community average.
As concerns the detail of our industrial relations and trade union law, I shall merely remind noble Lords of some of the more significant legislative changes that the Government have introduced during the past 10 years. They include the requirement for a secret ballot to be held before a union calls for industrial action; the removal of immunity from indiscriminate secondary action, industrial action to enforce closed shop practices, and from picketing away from the picket's own place of work. At the same time complementary legislative steps have been taken to increase union democracy, to help make unions more responsive to their members and to protect members and non-members from union coercion.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, was the Minister not surprised to find that when the Government enforced legislation which demanded that unions balloted on political funds, every single union that balloted actually balloted for a political fund?
§ Lord Strathclyde
Not really, my Lords, it was entirely up to the unions and their members to do so through the secret ballot. What is perhaps surprising is that when those measures came before the House the party of the noble Baroness voted against them.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, we have taken many other steps to introduce greater democracy within unions.
971 What then has been the Opposition's response? We have seen some of it this afternoon although not as much as perhaps we should have liked. They have of course fought all of our legislative reforms tooth and nail. My noble friend Lord Renton said precisely the same thing in his excellent speech. My noble friend Lord Caldecote mentioned John Smith, who said in another place (at col. 164 of the Official Report of 8th November 1983) that the Trade Union Act of 1984 was "an irrelevant effrontery".
Last year the Labour Party Policy Review said that:The present industrial relation laws are clearly now in many respects partisan, unfair and unbalanced. The Tories in five separate Acts since 1979, have gone to unprecedented extremes in altering the balance in industrial relations law …Our legislative priority will be to remove such measures".No member of the Shadow Cabinet has contradicted John Prescott's remarks at the end of last year which committed the next Labour Government to repeal all of the Government's trade union reforms. He said:It's going to repeal all of it, there's no little bits you can keep of it. There's nothing you can keep of this legislation. [Mr. Kinnock] hasn't denied that it is going to be done …It has to go".That is the reality of the Labour Party's stance today.
And what of their latest proposals? Can we believe Mr. Blair's reassurances that some of the existing legislation will be kept and some only modified? To which of the multitude of Opposition spokesmen should we listen? Even Mr. Blair's more moderate line contains proposals that would be highly damaging. Much of the document is muddled and vague, perhaps intentionally, but it is clear enough that the Labour Party is still dedicated to giving trade unions special rights and special privileges. It would allow strikers to hold their employer to ransom and force him to concede the most outrageous demands by preventing the employer from being able to dismiss them. It would licence once again the flying picket and calls for secondary strikes; and it would prevent the courts from imposing the normal penalties that apply if anyone flouts a court order to stop acting unlawfully.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, the Minister will cover many points in his long speech. Perhaps I may pick one before he continues. He notices in particular the demand that we have made —it is true —that those who are dismissed by reason only of taking legitimate industrial action shall not be open to dismissal. Is he aware that that basic rule applies—with varieties of legal culture of course —in almost all of the major industrial democracies not just in Europe but in the world? Does he feel comfortable being a Minister in the country which most blatantly breaks that ILO standard?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I do not understand the noble Lord's stand on this matter. I do not understand how he can pick and choose which laws from other countries he wishes to welcome. Indeed, there are plenty of others which he would not choose.
The Labour Party's policy document entitled Looking to the Future is, through the Opposition's 972 eyes, to look into the murky depths of a fortune teller's crystal ball and its predictions are likely to be about as accurate. The Government's strategy is a tried and tested formula, its success borne out by the remarkable transformation of our industrial relations in the 1980s. The Opposition's nostrums would rapidly undermine all that has been achieved and return us to the industrial relations chaos of the 1970s.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, said that the Labour Party has totally accepted the social charter. We have not done so. We have three main concerns. First, there is the effect that the Commission's proposals would have on jobs. The practical effect of the charter would undoubtedly have been to increase employers' costs, reduce competitiveness and damage employment prospects. Secondly, there is the question of subsidiarity and the sovereign role of the United Kingdom Parliament. Thirdly, there is the respect for national traditions and practice. Harmonisation in the social and labour market field should only be pursued where there is a clear need for European standards; for example, in health and safety. The Labour Party has consistently ignored each of those aspects.
As regards the ILO and the remarks made by the noble lord, Lord Wedderburn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in 1989 the ILO Committee of Experts—an advisory committee—made a number of comments about United Kingdom law in connection with the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise. There was nothing unusual in that process, and I do not understand why the noble Lord is so surprised. As I said on Friday, the committee in part of the same report made a number of similar comments about the law in other Community countries. The Government responded to the points made by the ILO committee. As usual, they were made in confidence. However, what noble Lords opposite conspicuously fail to mention is the fact that the TUC consequently withdrew the complaint it had made about aspects of UK employment law and, accordingly, there was no need for the matter to be considered further by the ILO.
I turn now to deal with GCHQ—
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, before the Minister continues to deal with GCHQ, I think that I should intervene at this point because his speech has really become quite a saga. Indeed, he has made a personal point against my noble friend and myself. Of course, it is true that for procedural reasons this case went no further. Therefore, it was obviously taken from the recond. I put the following to him. I quote from the Committee of Experts' report of April 1989 which reads:The Committee asks the Government to introduce amendments to the law".This concerns the protection of workers under the various headings which were then set out, which included sympathy action but, more particularly, dismissal. I press the dismissal point. That request to the Government to introduce amendments to the law has not been withdrawn. Will the Government therefore respond to it?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, this has nothing to do with procedural actions. The United Kingdom has not been condemned by the ILO. As I said, the TUC withdrew the complaint that it had made. Clearly the TUC had no confidence that the ILO would uphold its views.
I turn again to deal with GCHQ. The ILO Conference Committee expressed concern about the Government's position but rejected calls for a special paragraph of censure. The Government's view is that Convention 87 cannot be considered in isolation from Convention 151. The latter convention enables a government to exclude public servants in highly confidential positions from the right of association which is guaranteed under Convention 87.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, I really must protest. That proposition has been rejected by the Freedom of Association Committee. That committee is by no means the Committee of Experts and it was not involved in the case which was withdrawn. That is the proposition upon which the Government pleaded their case and lost. That surely cannot be the answer.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I reaffirm what I have already said: the United Kingdom has not been condemned by the ILO. Therefore, let us leave this subject at least for the time being. I fear that we must simply beg to differ on this particular view of the ILO. I repeat: we have not been condemned by the ILO.
Several noble Lords commented upon the research showing that post-1979 legislation has not reduced strikes and therefore it has obviously failed. Our reforms are not simply aimed at producing industrial peace; they also promote individual liberty and democratic practice in union affairs. There is no known research work which denies those effects of our post-1979 reforms.
The noble Lords, Lord Rochester and Lord Walston, spoke about employee involvement. I am sorry that I missed a few words of the latter noble Lord's speech. However, I promise to look at the report of the debate in Hansard in due course. The Government are firmly committed to employees being involved in the organisations in which they work. Employee involvement contributes to the prosperity of the firm and to the quality of the working life of employees. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth who said that that element was so very important. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway made a variety of points, some of which were pertinent to the Employment Bill and I look forward to dealing with them when we reach the Committee stage.
In conclusion, perhaps I may say that the statistics of our position are eloquent, they include: a rapid fall in unemployment since 1986; a sustained growth in employment since 1983; the lowest number of industrial stoppages for 50 years in 1989; and, the days lost to industrial action in 1989 were less than a third of the annual average for the 1970s.
If there are new problems to be faced in the 1990s, our policies will deal with them as they have dealt with those of the past. They will be met with the 974 same measured step-by-step approach which we use to tackle identified problems, the same avoidance of government intervention in the conduct of industrial and employee relations and the same objectives of deregulation and flexibility to ensure that our legal framework reflects the developing needs of our economy and our society.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I have two points to make. I appreciate that he may not be able to deal with them today and, if that is the case, perhaps he will write to me. However, I asked, first, whether the Government would consider the introduction of a code of practice relating to negotiating procedure agreements. Secondly, I made the point that the Government needed to do more to fulfil their responsibility for training, especially in the management of people in the public services which would include national and local government.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I shall of course write to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, on these matters if it proves to be necessary. However, perhaps I may briefly say that the Government commend the IPM and the IPA for their excellent voluntary code of practice on employee involvement. We believe that it will contribute significantly to voluntary developments in this important area. As I said, I shall write to the noble Lord if there is a point that I have missed.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate and I shall not detain the House for more than a few moments. I should like to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for his excellent maiden speech. I particularly liked his emphasis on the principle "unite for success", and his belief that the Government's legislation has helped in that direction. I think that it was my noble friend Lord Oxfuird who mentioned that this was all a question of balance. I agree with that view. I also agree with the CBI's view that we have just about got the right balance, or that we will have done so by the time the present Employment Bill is enacted. I also support my noble friend's emphasis on dignity which I think is enormously important in industrial relations.
Noble Lords opposite showed the weakness of their case by the number of red herrings which they drew across the trail, especially the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, who drifted into the subject of privatisation Bills, the poll tax, small phoenixes and even peerages which really seemed to go rather far from the subject under debate. However, I am very sorry that I made him so cross.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, clearly wanted to avoid challenging the Government's excellent industrial relations record. She diverted attention to a great deal of what seemed to me to be largely irrelevant detail. I should like to emphasise that no one, least of all me, wants to see the demise of responsible trade unions; they have a very constructive part to play in the industrial relations 975 scene. However, what we want to do is to eliminate the power of the destructive elements within them.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, both supported the concept of looking carefully at the question of a code of practice. As I said, much remains to be done and that may be one of the matters at which we should look most carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, questioned whether the improved industrial relations record was caused by the Government's legislation. I submit that all the evidence points to the fact that it has influenced it. On overseas comparisons, perhaps we have not yet achieved enough improvement in comparison with our competitors; but it cannot be denied that there has been a major improvement which has occurred since the Government came to power. I cannot believe that that is pure coincidence.
I repeat that we have made good progress in the industrial relations field. Let us build on that progress, and not go back. Let us go forward and make greater improvements. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I thank especially my noble friend the Minister for his full reply. It has been a useful and important debate on this vital subject. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.