HL Deb 10 May 1999 vol 600 cc1001-46

5.33 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Simon, said that this Bill was designed to improve industrial relations. But, of course, all industrial relations and employment Bills are designed to do so. It was my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew who referred to another one of the Bills to improve industrial relations; namely, the Employment Protection Act. Indeed, it was designed to improve the prospects for employment and it damaged them.

I must say that former gun owners whose weapons were expropriated and who are still awaiting payment of the compensation which Parliament decreed should be paid, must be thinking that trades unions get rather better treatment. During Labour's 18 years of opposition, the unions gave the Labour Party over £100 million at today's prices. That is apart from the money which they spent on propaganda on their own behalf.

Here is another part of the payback. Of course paying debts is not to be decried, but this £100 million debt of the Labour Party is to be paid not by the Labour Party and not even by the taxpayers, oddly enough: it is to be paid by businesses, by shareholders, by pension funds, by pensioners, by consumers and, ironically, in the end it will be paid by employees, including trades unionists whose pay and prospects of employment will be diminished by this Bill just as they were by the employment protection legislation.

Noble Lords may detect that I do not like this Bill. There are many of us in this House who remember the events of the 1960s and the 1970s—the Wilson government brought down by their inability to control trades unions; the Heath Government brought down by their inability to control trades unions—and that, despite the skilful drafting by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, of the Industrial Relations Act, which turned out to be unworkable, unenforceable and unusable, although undoubtedly well intended. Then the government of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, were also brought down by the trades unions.

It was a great relief to me, all these years later—in fact, 20 years—to hear the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, saying that something should have been done to cut the unions down to size and to stop them from doing it. But when I did do something to stop them from doing it again, the noble Lord and his friends were not with me in the Division Lobbies at that time. Perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord that 20 years is a long time to spend thinking about it before coming to the conclusion that my legislation was right. No wonder—

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the noble Lord sought some reforms of the trades unions, but he really went overboard; his prejudices dominated his thinking.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, it is a matter of opinion as to whether or not I went too far. The point is that the noble Lord did not come a single inch of the way with me; indeed, not one. He stalwartly defended the closed shop and every abuse of power. He defended Red Robbo and the lads at British Leyland. The noble Lord shakes his head now, but that is 20 years too late. It is no wonder that, by 1979, the world thought Britain was a basket case. The English disease, so the world thought, had become incurable.

I wonder whether noble Lords remember those days. They were the days of prices and incomes policy. We do not hear much about that these days. Back then it was held that no government could possibly govern without a prices and incomes policy. Of course, the fact of the matter is that a government with a prices and incomes policy could not possibly govern. Indeed, prices and incomes policies, both statutory and voluntary, were tried but neither worked. The law did not work for statutory control and there were no volunteers for voluntary control. So, in 1979, the Government, led by my noble friend Lady Thatcher, threw away income policies—to a chorus of "Oohs and Ahs" from all the wiseacres; indeed, I can see that a few of them are about now and can even remember their names—and left the resolution of wages to employers and employees and prices to suppliers and purchasers.

Of course, for such a market system to work, the market must be open and fair—not rigged—and, above all, those who fix prices or wages must take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. That is the key to the whole of my legislation. It forced people to take responsibility for what they did, whereas the legislation which had been in place gave immunity to trades unions for the damage which they did to other people's interests; and, indeed, inadvertently to their own.

The Labour market had been rigged by the trades unions. They could pass on the unpleasant consequences in the short term to taxpayers and consumers, or to other workers. That called for reform of trades union law. My noble friend Lord Prior started on what was to be a step-by-step approach. I continued that work, as did my Conservative successors.

The Bill does not begin the undoing of that work. Oh, no, that has begun already, not least through Brussels. But the Bill is a great step towards destroying what was achieved in turning a country with the worst industrial relations in the free world into one with just about the best in the free world.

Lord Simon remembers. He remembers those days when the power was switched off periodically to the business which he was responsible for. Nothing could be done about it. He remembers the days of sympathy strikes. Nothing could be done about them. Nothing would have been done, but for the change of government and change of pace. Days lost through strikes fell in consequence of that legislation by probably about 90 per cent. My noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said that he thought the number of days lost in 1979 was 27 million. I think it was 29 million; I think the figure of 27 was the 27 per cent inflation, which brought the IMF in here to take over management of the economy from the then government.

The year 1994 was a very good year: 278,000 days lost. The year 1996 was not so good, with 1.3 million, but still a long way from 29 million or even, if I am wrong and my noble and learned friend is right, 27 million. Where was the Labour Party during that transformation?

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, will the noble Lord take it from me that all over Europe working days lost per thousand workers involved in strikes were falling at much the same rate, without any legislation?

Lord Tebbit

Come, come, my Lords. If they were falling at that rate, they would be negative in most of the rest of Europe. We are not going to fall for that one from the noble Lord. Experiments into industrial relations have never brought very much, except profit for lawyers.

The Labour Party was opposing this transformation from a basket-case economy, from which overseas investors were struggling to get out, to a success story, with overseas investors struggling to get in—indeed, very often away from those continental countries that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, says were doing so well. Labour opposed every reform every inch of the way, despite the regrets now of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that he did not come with me at least part of the way.

Lord Clinton-Davis


Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I misunderstand the noble Lord; he does not have any regrets that he did not come with me even an inch of the way.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the noble Lord has never fostered any degree of accuracy in comments that he makes. He is wrong about many of the things he has attributed to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. All I would say about the legislation that the noble Lord introduced is that it certainly had some benefits, but what an over-reaction!

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, we are getting there gradually. In another 20 years perhaps the noble Lord will be a little more generous about the matter. After all, in those days the noble Lord, like his colleagues, defended the car-park strike motions, the "Hands-up; out we go again, brothers" motions. I see the noble Lord, Lord Simon smiling. He can remember them too. He was probably a victim at some time. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, opposed secret ballots for strikes. The Labour Party resisted ballots for the governing bodies of trade unions. It preferred the old cronyism for fixing top jobs, and still does. It is part of its culture, as we see today in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.

As for the Liberal Democrats, I remember them very well on the night of the Third Reading of the 1983 Act. They split four ways, and it takes a great deal of ingenuity for a party so small to split four ways. Some supported me, some opposed me, some stayed away to abstain and some abstained in person. However, I pay a personal tribute here to Mr. Smith, who was an absolute pillar of support to me on the Liberal Benches as I took that legislation through. That was very much against the wishes of most of his colleagues.

Then we went through the coal strike. Who was the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, supporting then? I think he was out of politics in this country at the time, but I do not recollect him declaiming against Scargill and supporting the working miners. But in the end, as my 1983 Act became operative during that strike it made the attempted national rail and dock strikes which were being called in support of Mr. Scargill unlawful, and it was Mr. Scargill, not the country, who was defeated.

Now we have this Bill—to improve the situation, to get back towards where we were. It is not very far at this stage, but if enacted in its present form, what a pig in a poke of a Bill it is. I look back at my own legislation. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, just about everything in it was on the face of the Bill. There were not whole pages of schedules permitting the Minister to do things by order. Too much is to be decided in that way.

If "a domestic incident" were defined in the Bill, Parliament would have a chance to discuss and amend that definition, and surely that would be right, because what a domestic incident is will be crucial to the operation of part of the Bill. The Government will not define it. What is it? The Minister will define it at some time and bring forward an order, which cannot be amended.

But some things are clear. The Bill will make striking easier. It will increase the power of the trade unions. It will place an unfair obligation upon employers to recognise unions even when they do not wish to do so. That is called "partnership". But one party to an agreement is compelled to agree to what the other wants, whether it wishes to or not.

Then employers will have to accept further burdens arising from maternity rights and rights to time off for domestic incidents. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Simon, will now have the answer to the question which I asked him during his speech, because he had an opportunity to be briefed by his officials while the House was discussing Kosovo. Therefore, I give him the opportunity to intervene, if he wishes, to explain. Do all these extended rights apply to sole employees? Do they apply to the nanny of the lady who has gone to work and left her baby in the care of the nanny? I am sure the noble Lord is not sitting there thinking that it is a smart thing to do not to answer that question.

Will it be unfair to dismiss a worker who consistently and persistently attempts to foment strikes in a business? Do we know, do the Government know? Would Michael Edwardes still be able to fire Red Robbo under this Bill, unless the strike had gone on uninterrupted for eight weeks?

There is talk of team-building, but the Bill is full of powers for outsiders to come into the employer/employee relationship. How does that help to build a team, to have outsiders coming in and throwing in their fourpennyworth?

Clause 24 proposes to abolish the office of the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members. What does that do for the trades unionist who is at odds with his union? It does precious little; there is no team-building there.

I turn to Clause 26, and I will end at this point, but there is so much to be taken up later in Committee. Clause 26 is one of the most amazing clauses I have ever seen. The exact wording of the Bill is: Money may be provided in such a way as the Secretary of State thinks fit (whether as grants or otherwise) and on such terms as he thinks fit (whether as to repayment or otherwise)". What is that wording about? Is it an attempt to "judge-proof" that part of the legislation? Is it an attempt to ensure that not even judicial review can apply to the Secretary of State's decisions? If it is, it is highly likely to fail. If that is the tone of this Bill; if that is what consensus and partnership are about in the view of this Government; if the Secretary of State can do as he thinks fit and on such terms as he thinks fit, this Bill will do little to promote good industrial relations.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him one question. His remarks today are much the same as those he made when introducing his legislation and reflect an enormous amount of vindictiveness. I must advise the noble Lord that this Bill has been framed after full consultation with both sides of industry: with representatives from the CBI and employers in this country, and with the trade unions who represent the workers. However, the noble Lord has not said one word about all that.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, just because a couple of Green Papers have been floated around the countryside under the guise of consultation does not mean that both sides of industry agree with this Bill. Indeed, I made that point earlier. I must advise the noble Lord that there is no element of vindictiveness either in what I have said today or in what I did in the past; but I do think that there is an element of vindictiveness in the abolition of the office of the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members. I consulted widely on my Bill—not only in advance of it, but again in the general elections of 1985 and of 1987, both of which the noble Lord's party lost.

5.51 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I rise to welcome the Bill and to thank my noble friend the Minister for the clarity with which he introduced it. I should like also to express my appreciation of the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster.

Before the last general election, I spent a number of years on the Opposition Front Bench, dealing with a series of employment Bills, all of them directed, so far as I could see, to undermining trade unions and making it as difficult as possible for employees to organise together to protect their interests, and to removing all protection from vulnerable people.

In those days, unions were "the enemy within", according to a previous Conservative Prime Minister. That feeling was echoed in the address of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, today. The present Bill makes it clear that that era is at an end. Unions are now "social partners". That is, of course, what they were always called in the countries of the EU. Perhaps I may advise noble Lords opposite who have referred to unemployment problems in the EU that for many years the West German economy was regarded as a model and that there has been a rise in unemployment there only since the economic problems caused by reunification. That model economy also had well organised trade unions, which were regarded as social partners within a framework which itself was largely regarded as a model. It was only in Britain that the opportunity to develop successful working partnerships with employees through their unions was decisively rejected. I am glad that those days are now over.

Employers will no longer be able to resist the democratic right of a workforce that wants union representation. As my noble friend explained, the Bill sets out the procedures whereby unions may obtain recognition from employers. If the employer refuses, the union may then apply to the Central Arbitration Committee. Incidentally, I welcome the fact that the CAC has been given that task. For a number of years I was a member of the CAC and I believe that we did extremely good work, mainly in the area of arbitration. The previous administration practically wrote the CAC out of legislation by leaving it hardly anything to do. Incidentally, the employer from whom recognition is claimed must employ more than 20 people, so the Government have attempted to come to terms with those who would otherwise have grumbled about more burdens on business, particularly small businesses.

The procedures envisaged are set out in the very long Schedule 1. It is clear that emphasis is put on conciliation and voluntary agreement. However, if those prove impossible, further steps are envisaged in regard to establishing the bargaining unit. If the union can show that more than half the workers in the bargaining unit are union members, the CAC will then grant recognition. If automatic recognition is not granted, the CAC will then order a ballot.

Furthermore, if the employer wishes to derecognise the union where recognition has come about through a statutory procedure, he must go through a formal derecognition procedure. I particularly welcome that provision. There have been so many instances in recent years where employers, without any consultation whatsoever, have simply torn up procedure and collective bargaining agreements with unions. This provision is very good news indeed.

I well remember the last time round when there was legislative provision for union recognition. I seem to recall that the procedures we had then were rather more complicated than those proposed here. I think that the Government have learned a lot from the last time round. What we have here are relatively easily understood procedures. I believe that most sensible employers will find them quite acceptable.

Certainly, it s quite untrue that trade union recognition is in any way "bad for business", as the previous administration seemed to believe. Some of our most successful companies have long had good working arrangements with their trade unions. That was certainly my experience when I was a trade union official. Where such good relationships have existed, it has often been found that technological innovation, including the retraining of staff which is often so necessary, can be more fairly and more effectively accomplished. The good employer has nothing to fear and everything to gain from measures such as these.

There are other aspects of the Bill that I particularly welcome. There is a new range of rights for individual employees. In a dispute or grievance procedure, an individual employee will be able to call on a fellow employee or trade union official to represent him or her at any hearings and will be protected against any detriment if wishing to exercise that right.

The Bill is particularly supportive of women employees. The Government are to make regulations under Clauses 17 to 19 to make discrimination against part-time workers illegal. A very large section of the part-time workforce is female and they have often been exploited in the past by unscrupulous employers because of their need to do that kind of work and their inability, through domestic circumstances, to work a normal full-time week.

Then there is the family-friendly part of the Bill. There are to be new rights to parental leave, with a minimum of 18 weeks' maternity leave for all women, in line with pay. I remember how several of us tried to obtain that by amendment when maternity rights were debated under the previous government. I particularly remember the impassioned advocacy of the formidable and much missed Lady Seear who was very vocal on that issue. This time round, such a provision is in the Bill.

Time off for domestic problems will also be available in line with EU directives. There is to be consultation about the draft regulations which will make provision for all of this. That is all very good news and surely should be welcomed by everyone.

Another aspect of individual rights which I think of as particularly important is the prohibition against discriminating because of trade union membership. I well remember having an argument in this House in opposition when the previous government sought at a late stage in the passage of the 1992 Act to introduce an amendment allowing an employer to discriminate against an employee who refused to leave his union when it was derecognised. The discrimination involved paying him less than those who left the union. The government of the time succeeded, despite our opposition, in getting that provision into the 1992 Act. As I understand this Bill, that would now be illegal.

Another argument that I remember well relates to the balloting provisions as regards industrial action. There was a requirement in the legislation proposed by the previous government that could compel unions to disclose to employers the names of their members it was balloting on industrial action. I thought this was an outrageous requirement at the time and, to their credit, so did several noble Lords on the government side. Nevertheless, the Government persisted and went ahead. That will not now be a legal requirement. This is a very good Bill. There is much more in it of very great value to employees, whether in unions or not. I hope that it will speedily pass your Lordships' House.

There is one aspect of individual employment rights which occurred to me when reading the Bill. It relates to discrimination against some employees on grounds of sexual orientation. Reference has already been made to that by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall. Your Lordships will perhaps remember that I have been very active on this issue in the past. I twice introduced a Private Member's Bill designed to prevent such discrimination in employment. It does take place. There is no law at present which protects employees against such discrimination.

I was reminded of this again in the light of the recent horrific bombing incidents affecting minorities, in particular the recent bombing in Soho when so many people were either killed or horribly injured. It is clear that bigotry does exist and these dreadful incidents are the most extreme demonstration of it.

I therefore thought of putting down a suitable amendment to the Bill since it relates to employment rights. However, more recently there seems to have been a government announcement to the effect that it is intended to strengthen existing discrimination legislation. It would appear that that is probably the best way to deal with that particular issue.

I listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I came to the conclusion that we are not speaking about the same Bill. Knowing her as I do, I cannot really believe that she wants the situation to continue in which unscrupulous employers may exploit vulnerable people. I am sure that that is not her view at all. I welcome the Bill and look forward to its speedy passage through this House.

6.1 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, I apologise for missing the first few minutes of the Minister's speech. I was trying to be polite to a visitor. I heard the greater part of it and particularly his reference to new developments in working practices and the modern economy. I shall return to that subject.

I have to declare two interests. I am chairman of ITNET, plc, which is leading out-sourcing supplier of combined IT and business process management. I recently retired as a director of Associated British Ports Holdings plc, with which company I still hold a consultancy contract. Those interests give me reason on their own for wanting to ensure the maintenance of first-class industrial relations. But that interest grows wider.

My active involvement in British politics covers almost exactly the period of transformation from the time of In Place of Strife, through the Winter of Discontent that helped to make me a Minister; through the step-by-step approach that my noble friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden referred to and all the changes of the Thatcher era to the present time, when good industrial relations have helped to transform our competitive position as an industrial nation. Therefore, it seems to me to be of the first importance that nothing should be done to prejudice the progress that is being made referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster, in his very impressive maiden speech.

The company of which I am chairman, namely, ITNET, operates in the high technology sector. Above all we depend on the skill and motivation of our workforce, training and flexibility. The workforce is growing rapidly. But not all of our employees come from the high-tech sector. About half of our business comes from local government and with it many of its former employees under TUPE arrangements. At the outset of a new contract we offer employment contracts that attract many employees to transfer to the group's terms and conditions. But if they prefer it, the balance remain on their previous terms and conditions under TUPE regulations. Good relations with the trades unions are of first rate importance to us.

When I still worked in the City—it seems a very long time ago—my boss was my noble friend Lord Aldington who was sitting in front of me earlier this afternoon. I remember waiting for a very long time outside his office in Fenchurch Street while he, in his role as chairman of the Port of London Authority, held a crucial meeting with Jack Jones. The negotiations about employment relations in the docks are part of the bad period in the history of British industrial relations.

When I joined the board of Associated British Ports in 1987, the Dock Labour Scheme was still with us. I remember very well my first visit to the port of Hull. It was a deeply depressing scene. That once great port had almost committed suicide. There were acres of emptiness and dereliction. Today the port is thriving. There has been massive investment in the most up-to-date facilities and, like its sister ports on the Humber, its future is assured. The business grows year by year. The storm clouds have lifted and it is in everyone's interest that they do not return.

In the early 1980s, as the Minister encouraging inward investment, I was accompanied on one mission to Japan by the chairman of the Wales TUC. Together we made it clear that it was up to the company considering investing in this country to choose whether it wanted to be unionised or not. But if it decided to be unionised, we pressed the case for a single union agreement. I am neutral as to whether it is right for an individual company to choose, as many American companies do, to be non-union or, as most Japanese companies prefer, to start from the outset with union agreement. That above all is a matter for individual decision by the companies, taking account of their own individual circumstances. The choice is for the management and the workforce and not for government. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Government have recognised the need for flexibility in such matters. Again, I take up the phrase used by the Minister concerning new developments in working practices and the modern economy, which have to be properly catered for.

So I particularly welcome the statement in the White Paper Fairness in Work which referred to individual contracts and stated that since the current law allows flexibility and works well, the Government see no reason to change it. I also very much welcome what the Minster said in Standing Committee E in the House of Commons on 18th March at col.477. He confirmed that the Government remained of that view. But he perfectly fairly made the point that he had received representations about the need to protect employees from any abuse and being forced to accept conditions which most of us would consider unreasonable. I welcome that.

During the same debate it was made clear that although the Government favoured regulation for dealing with many aspects of the Bill—I share my noble friend's concern about the way in which regulation is being so freely used as the way to proceed—they recognised the fact ':hat the matter was relatively simple and that there was considerable anxiety among employers if the question was left in any doubt. Therefore, there was a welcome among CBI members and others for the Government's declared intention to introduce a revised clause at Report stage which would move from a clause dependent on regulation to one which set out the position very clearly in the Bill.

Clearly the Government have had some difficulty in drafting the clause because no amended clause was introduced in the House of Commons and we now have the clause as Clause 15 in the Bill. Therefore I shall return and press the Government about their intentions in respect of this matter: whether they intend to bring forward a revised clause; and whether we can have some assurances that the matter will be dealt with in a way that removes the concerns of employers.

The redrafted clause will be very important. It is vital that it should not be drafted in such a way that perfectly reasonable offers made by individual companies to employees are excluded. As I understand it, the issue that causes most concern to employers is the possibility that offers made to employees which encourage them to enter into individual contracts might be deemed to come under the term "detriment by omission", the phrase currently used in Clause 15. If the matter was interpreted in such a way it would make nonsense of the statement made by the Government in the White Paper and the assurances given by the Minister. It is vital that we should deal adequately with that point.

The noble Lord. Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to the importance of trade union membership and the other benefits that it often provides. I entirely share his view about that. Certain] y in ABP it was our practice to offer employees benefits for entering into personal contracts—as the overwhelming majority of our workforce did—but, in offering personal contracts, we always made it clear that anyone accepting such a contract could, if he wished, remain a member of a trade union in order to obtain whatever other benefits a trade union was able to offer, apart from collective bargaining. That option still remains even when individual contracts are commonly used in a company.

There have been repeated references to "consultation by Government". No doubt there has been widespread consultation by Government—of course I welcome that—but it is curious that if the consultation has been so widespread and so prolonged, it remains so difficult to tell us what the end product will be. We still have to depend on a Bill which leaves everything to be announced in future regulations.

As to the idea that the CBI is solidly behind the outcome of this consultation, I have received a parliamentary brief" dated 10th May, from the CBI. That says, among other things, that the CBI remains concerned about the following aspects of the Bill: what appears to be the gold plating of the EU directive on parental leave; the lack of clarity in some of the Bill's key provisions, exactly the kind of point that has been made by a number of my noble friends; and the effect on businesses of adding to a regulatory burden already increased recently as a result of recent legislation. I hope that we will not be told again and again that the Bill we are considering at the moment is agreed by the CBI and the trade unions as a result of consultation.

The reality is that huge chunks of the Bill are still invisible; they cannot have been agreed. We do not know what the outcome is; the Minister, I suspect, does not know what the results of some of those consultations are likely to be. Indeed, from the question raised by my noble friend Lord Tebbit, it would appear that the Minister may not at the moment have the answers to some specific points. I do not find that surprising. This is a complicated Bill which covers a vast area. There will be plenty of opportunity to probe during the Committee stage. I am not criticising the Minister for not having an immediate response, but we are dealing with an extraordinary Bill; we are dealing with a Bill in which we have to trust the actions of future Ministers. If we are to proceed with a Bill of that kind it is right that we should probe the Government very hard indeed during the Committee stage.

6.16 p.m.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster. It is good to see him, as usual it is good to hear him, and I hope we have the opportunity to do so more often.

I of course join him in congratulating the Government on bringing forward the Bill. After 20 wearisome years we have a Bill which regards trade unions and collective bargaining in a positive light and which shows an understanding of the contribution they make to a modern society. This is not a time when noble Lords can rehearse their speeches of the 1980s with any pleasure. As the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress said only three years ago, A large majority of people are saying that the problem is no longer one of the over-mighty union but of the over-mighty boss". There have been some extraordinary remarks about the Bill. I wish to refer to Sidney and Beatrice Webb who, just over a century ago, took time off from founding the London School of Economics and Political Science to write their remarkable work on industrial democracy. They suggested that social advance would be achieved by, first, the method of legal enactment and, secondly, the method of collective bargaining. If one considers the history since then until now, one sees. first, how right they were and, secondly, how the mix fluctuates as between collective bargaining and statute. In terms not of theory but of straight, practical common sense between employers and employees, this Bill changes the mix to which we have been accustomed.

I did not understand the noble Baroness when she spoke of the Bill being an advance of socialist policies. I will draft her a Bill with socialist policies if she likes, but that would be inappropriate. Nor did I understand the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew—we have met before on these matters—when he rehearsed his attack on the Trade Disputes Act 1906. That is what I expect to find with regard to the immunities when I read Hansard.

Not to be outdone, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit—in what I hope will be the last movement of the Hayek concerto—came at us with guns blazing to tell us that every Labour government, every statute on trade unions, everything that had ever been done had been disastrous. My noble friend Lord McCarthy suggested that he look at the figures for the loss of days in industrial disputes. I think one will find that he is correct.

Over the past 100 years British trade unions have emphasised, for good historical reasons, the role of collective bargaining in place of the inequalities of the individual employment relationship. But there has always been a place in Britain for legal enactment—one can think of safety at work and working hours in the mines—and Beatrice Webb urged the Government in 1919 that, The case"— for what she called— the National Minimum" (is) now fully demonstrated (and) integral to a decent society". I do not wish to launch an attack upon the Opposition about their understanding of "a decent society", but it is an issue which divides the speeches. There has been very little talk from the Opposition about what role trade unions might have in a decent society. Oddly enough, there was also little talk about minimum rights, a floor of rights. That floor was taken up in the 1960s and became more evident in the developments in Britain. It is a floor of rights for the individual employee, which one finds in the Bill, as against collective bargaining, which was the main target of the Conservative governments. One finds the right to time off for domestic and family reasons—an individual matter—trade union presence in plans for training and, perhaps the most practically important innovation in the Bill, a right to be accompanied in grievance and disciplinary procedures at work. In Committee we could consider whether more could be done to ensure that there is a procedure at work for that to bite on.

In passing, I do not disagree with noble Lords who say that they prefer to have matters on the face of the Bill rather than by regulation as a general proposition. But we see Bill after Bill where it is impossible to deal with the matter on the face of the Bill and there needs to be a regulation. It seems to me that it is a Committee point, that we should consider each requirement to be dealt with by regulation and ask whether it is the best we can do. I doubt whether anyone on these Benches would disagree with that idea.

It is important not to overlook the international dimension. The creation of the International Labour Organisation in 1919 was a measure largely undertaken by France and Britain. Today, the ILO is a uniquely tripartite agency of the United Nations. It is a powerhouse of international labour standards from child labour to freedom of association, holding fast to its central tenet that labour power is not a commodity.

The dismissal of a worker for taking lawful strike action is an affront to international human rights and ILO principles. We in this country have been criticised for our law in that respect. I wish to say clearly, first, that I welcome the provisions in the Bill to get us nearer to the domestic laws of all western European states, except Denmark and Britain; to get us to the point where a lawful strike or lawful industrial action is not a breach of the employment contract, only a suspension of the employment relationship until the end of a dispute. I am aware that some people in this country find that bizarre. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, would find it a rather outrageous notion, but he must accept from me that—although I suspect he knows it already because he remembers everything from when he was a Minister—we must say that all the others are out of step except Denmark.

That is something we could consider in Committee. That stage will be important to the Bill. A first class Bill deserves first class scrutiny. A Bill affecting the rights and duties of 26 million working people is entitled to as careful a scrutiny as other Bills, even those that affect the privileges of some 700 noble and unhappy souls in this House. There is no need to delay the Bill. The Committee stage will be important for its selection of key points. I suggest that the industrial action point is one.

Finally, in all systems of obligatory recognition in the world there is a certain duty. I interject that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, suggested that we could not stomach any system where the employer came under a legal obligation to recognise the trade union, it was thought we would collapse. There has been such a strong duty—the duty to recognise and bargain—in the United States since 1935. If the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, were right, the United States would have collapsed and fallen into the Gulf of Mexico because of the abominable provision at the centre of its labour relations law.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, the noble Lord's memory goes back to the debates of the early 1980s, as mine does. He will recollect that I resisted all efforts made by people on both sides of the House in the other place to import lumps of foreign union law into the British context. It was said always that you cannot just import one bit of a culture. The American culture may allow for legalised recognition of trade unions, but with that go many other matters which the noble Lord would not like to see imported here. I had to find a British way and I found one which has worked.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord because I, too, have often written that it is no good taking a few scraps of laws from some other jurisdiction. It is a British empirical question whether, in so far as empiricism can ever determine the future, we think that getting employers and unions together with a system such as Schedule 1 contains of putting a premium on agreements would be better for our industry than, as we had before in 1978, a system for union recognition but with the ability for just a few firms, such as Grunwick, to destroy the system altogether. We are not far apart, but we should take it further in Committee.

I now return to the two points I wish to make. First, what is the nature of the obligation that we impose upon an employer and union in Schedule 1? I say that to the Minister because we still have a problem. The Government's answer was given by my honourable friend the Minister for trade, industry and small firms, Mr. Wills, on 16th March: If the CAC has to impose a bargaining procedure…because the parties cannot agree, it will be legally binding. However it will be a procedure for holding talks only; the parties will not be required to reach agreement for the simple reason that people cannot be forced to agree". —[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 16/3/99; col.348.] Few of us would disagree with the last sentiment, but there are other levels of duty. There is a duty in the United States and France to bargain, a duty to consult or, nearer the mark, a duty in two European directives—but nothing turns on it—to consult with a view to reaching agreement. There is the duty to submit to arbitration and a whole string of ranges of duty.

I do not believe that we are trying to put on the statute book merely a duty to talk in one sense. It is not a duty which would be satisfied by Mr. Boulwar, vice president of General Electric in the United States in the 1950s. When he met the union, he used to bring his research people and their figures. He would say: "It's very nice to meet you for a talk, but on the table is an offer devised by my research people. That's the best the corporation can do and it cannot be changed, no matter how long we talk." That may sound an absurd example, but it went on happening, with revised Boulwarism and so on.

Perhaps we mean. a duty to talk with some glimmer at least of intention to agree or with a view to agreement. Similarly, where there has been an agreement or specified method, as it is called by the CAC, it can be enforced as a legally binding contract but only by the remedy of specific performance. Unhappily,"specific performance" is a concept properly understood only by the finely attuned Chancery mind of property relationships and it carries collateral legal principles such as the maxim,"He who comes to equity must come with clean hands". I am not sure what the shop floor will make of that. I am trying to be helpful because this point has not exercised the other place. We might look at the words and give an explanation of what is meant by the remedy of specific performance and its collateral problems

That may sound critical. I have deliberately touched on some critical points because we should look at all of them in Committee. As far as concerns the Bill as a whole, it is one that in a decade will be seen as a realistic and sensible development in the history of employment legislation.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, I draw attention to one particular, even singular, problem to which the Bill may give rise. Before I do so, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster. How pleasing it was to hear a maiden speech that carried not only conviction but real authority. I hope that we hear a lot more from the noble Lord.

The problem to which I refer concerns the theatre and the West End in particular. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the importance of the theatre to this country, not merely as a matter of pride and prestige— although goodness knows, that is important. Thank goodness the world still regards the British theatre with some awe and comes from a long way off to see it. I refer also to the economy. The Wyndham Report from the Society of London Theatre last year pointed out that in one year the West End contributed about £1 billion of benefit to the economy—including £225 million surplus to the balance of payments and £200 million of tax revenue. So, economically, the theatre is of huge importance.

The West End has a number of extremely long-running, popular shows."Cats" has been running 18 years; "Starlight Express", 15 years; "Les Misérables", 13 years; "Miss Saigon", nine years; and "Grease", five years. I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, were here so that he could blush at how many of those shows he is concerned with. It is tempting to think how lucky he is to have written such brilliant musicals that everyone wants to see. One thinks that once such a production is a success it stays a success—that it runs for 13 years and the income comes rolling in. In fact, it is difficult to keep such shows fresh and exciting so that people will want to come to see them as if they were new shows. If a production gets tired, old and rundown, people will not come to see it.

Sometimes it is simply a matter of age on the part of the cast. Someone who, in 1952, joined the cast of "The Mousetrap" as a bright young thing of 23 would now be a bright young thing of 70. There comes a moment when there has to be a cast change. Funnily enough, it is not really about age but about freshness.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I believe that I am right in saying that the orchestra of "Starlight Express" has remained unchanged over the 18 years since the production first opened.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, I defer to the noble Lord's knowledge. How musicians keep themselves fresh in the way that actors cannot, I would not dream of trying to explain. In fact, I am not sure that I know.

It is nice that London is regarded now as the home of great musicals, more so than Broadway. Someone appearing in such a production will appear in eight shows a week—Monday to Saturday and two matinées. In a year or 50 weeks, one will have appeared 400 times. This is nothing to do with the talent and energy of the actors. It applies as much to the chorus as to the principal performers. It is difficult to go on for more than a year and continue to be fresh. People have coped in the past by making fixed-term contracts of one year, at the end of which the contract may be renewed for a further year but most often is not. The initial contract contains a clause whereby the cast member promises not to claim unfair dismissal at the end of the contract because its termination is perfectly foreseeable. Under Clause 16 of the Bill, such a contract would no longer be legal. That will cause considerable problems. Such contracts have not been a matter of dispute in the past but have represented an amicable arrangement that has continued happily. If the waiver concerning unfair dismissal is not allowed in future, that will have a damaging effect on the West End theatre in particular.

I am sure that the Bill was not designed to do that and that the Government have no intention of damaging the West End theatre or the theatre in general. However, I foresee a technical problem. I hope that some time before Committee a way can be worked out of ensuring that the theatre is not damaged.

6.36 p.m.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I welcome and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster, on his maiden speech. He was largely the person who wrote and put through the Employment Protection Act 1975, so it is appropriate that he should be here to see the introduction of another of the Employment Relations Bills.

I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is as against the 1975 Act as he thinks. Most of the time that he was attacking that legislation, he was talking about the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974, which was the one with all the strikes in it. That does not help the noble Lord, Lord Walker, because he was responsible for that legislation as well. Anyway, we are glad to welcome someone who had so much to do with employment protection in the past.

I share with others an expression of joy. I say to you rejoice, rejoice, rejoice. We are beginning to reverse the nine weary Bills that we had between 1980 and 1993. We have not got there yet but the journey has begun. So I say rejoice, rejoice, rejoice.

As to the Opposition's case against the Bill, I took as the statement of that case the Second Reading speech in another place by the right honourable Member for Wokingham, Mr. Redwood. I did not recognise that case for a long time when the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon. began speaking because she was making all sorts of other points, more or less at random. Then towards the middle of her speech, the noble Baroness said much the same as the Opposition's case. I am talking about the Opposition's case, not the noble Baroness's personal case. If I am wrong, I hope that she will tell me.

As I understand it, the Opposition say three things. First, Mr. Redwood would say that he is not against better maternity leave or the granting of parental or family leave. He says there is nothing wrong with someone being accompanied over a grievance or a claim for compensation, or with bigger and wider coverage in respect of unfair dismissal. He says that such things—certainly on the individual side—are not wrong in themselves but are rather good, provided that they come from employers. That is the important thing. Mr. Redwood is not even saying that it is wrong for an employer to recognise a trade union if it represents the majority of the workers, but it is all a matter for the employer. He says such things are rather good and that most good employers do them already.

The second thing that the right honourable Member for Wokingham said is that it is all wrong for such provisions to be made by law; none of this stuff must be done by law. If the employer can afford it he or she will do it. The only reason the employer does not do it is because he or she cannot afford to do it.

We come to the third point. In his Second Reading speech Mr. Redwood said the real problem was that the Bill would result in employers shedding jobs and getting into grave financial difficulties". —[Official Report, Commons, 9/2/9; col.142] It would also undermine the competitive position of British industry. These are the things that are wrong. The employer knows best. Good employers do it. The only reason bad employers do not do it is that if they did so they would go bankrupt.

One can make several comments on that argument. The first comment that is particularly appropriate in this House, which has a long memory, is that there is nothing new in this argument. The argument was most persuasively advanced in this House in 1833 when Lord Shaftesbury pursued the Factories Bill. Noble Lords said at that time that it was ridiculous to have a Bill to provide that young girls could not work for more than 10 hours in the textile factories of Lancashire because all the money that they made and kept them, including everybody else in Lancashire, was earned in the last two hours of their work.

Cobbett commented on the suggestion that the industrial welfare of England depended on 30,000 little girls working for more than 12 hours a day. That idea was put forward in all seriousness by a very distinguished theoretical economist who was the first person to be a professor of economics at the University of Oxford. He was one of a long line of distinguished people to speak about the labour market who had no idea what they were talking about. He said that all the money was made in the last two hours.

But that was not the only comment. The argument that only the employer knew about these matters emerged again in 1909 with the beginning of the Trade Boards Acts when an attempt was made to introduce minimum wage legislation. The same argument was trotted out in this House and in another place. More recently, before the coming into power of the Thatcher government, the best known example of that argument was the first Bill promoted by my noble friend Lady Castle, the Equal Pay Bill of 1970. We were then told that there were 8.4 million women in the labour force and if equal pay for women was introduced that figure would inexorably fall to 7.6 million in two years, 6.3 million in four years and so on. Employers could not afford to pay equal pay and, if they were forced to do so, they would rather employ men than women. That argument has been made consistently. Most recently it has been put forward by the present Opposition. They say that 89 per cent of quoted employers in a survey believe that the Bill will cause an abuse of employment rights and difficulties for small firms.

Given that long historical account, the trouble with all these extreme statements is that none has turned out to be even remotely true. By 1860 employers in cotton, wool and other areas, not just textiles, were in favour of restrictions on working hours. They came to the House of Commons and House of Lords to ask for this legislation to be passed. Why? They said that if working hours were reduced from 12 to 10 hours, or even to nine-and-a-half hours, productivity would rise. They were better off with some restrictions on hours than they had been before. The same applied to the Trade Boards Acts. In 1945 the then Labour government extended the Trade Boards Acts and introduced the wages council system. That was supported by the Conservatives at the time. It was accepted that all the extreme arguments about the effect of minimum wage legislation had turned out to be absolute nonsense.

As to equal pay, when the Equal Pay Bill was introduced in 1970 there were 8.5 million women in the labour force. We now have 12 million women in the labour force, slightly more than men. It is men who have gone down in the labour force, not women. None of these extreme statements has ever had the slightest effect.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene when the noble Lord gives the House such an interesting historical perspective. However, he indicated that if I believed what he said was not accurate I should stand up. I take advantage of that opportunity and thank the noble Lord for his courtesy in giving way. The noble Lord said at the beginning of his speech that he thought the Opposition were against trade unions. He went on to mention maternity leave and parental leave. As to trade unions, my noble friend Lord Tebbit has clearly indicated that, following the legislation that he brought in, the present situation works well. We have no objection to that. We are concerned about what this Bill will do to the very fine relationship that has been created in many cases.

As to maternity leave, we have never been against it. My record in working for women's rights is very well known. However, this Bill will introduce the possibility of extending to 40 weeks maternity rights for women after one year's employment, which means 52 weeks. There can be many further pregnancies when the job must be given to a locum. After a certain period that locum cannot be removed. We believe that that will be a disincentive, not an incentive. As to parental leave, many noble Lords this evening have said that it is gold-plated. We know not what "domestic incidents" means. Those are the points that we shall probe in much more detail in Committee. I cannot allow the noble Lord to suggest for a moment that we are against all of those matters.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I did not suggest that. The Opposition are against the imposition of these matters by law. I believe that that will be found in the speech of the honourable Member for Wokingham. It is said that these are excellent things but at this point one should not introduce parental leave, increase maternity benefit and so on—all the matters referred to in the Bill—by fiat or legal enactment. That is the position which, generally speaking, the Conservatives have adopted over the years and now take in another place.

There are times when the Conservative Party is more far-sighted and support the idea of minimum wage legislation. It supported, pioneered and, if it had been in office, would have introduced the Redundancy Payments Bill. In 1971, at the same time as the IRA, the Conservatives introduced employment protection legislation which was one of the most important advances in worker rights ever seen. But after 1979—as I was about to go on to say—it became much more reactionary. It now appears to suggest that this modest advance in employment protection should not be introduced by law because only the employers know what they can afford and if it is introduced we shall have unemployment and disaster. That has been said many times in the past in this House and another place and it turns out to be untrue.

Of course it is not suggested that one can never have employment protection that puts people out of work. There have been examples of it. If one suddenly escalates minimum wages particularly for young people one will have a differential consequence. Employers will turn from the employment of young people to the employment of older people. There have been examples of that in France and elsewhere. In principle and practice one may have a level of minimum wage in particular legislation that has a negative employment effect. For that reason the present Government have been very careful to select the figure at which to go in. They do not want a negative employment effect. If there is a negative employment effect, I suspect that the Government will not raise the level of the minimum wage until there is no negative employment effect.

But this is different. We are not talking about minimum wages but about the way in which people are treated at places of work. I find most irritating the present attitude of the Opposition because it is so unfair to many good employers who do not find it impossible to pay decent wages, or grant maternity leave, and have had parental leave for years. It is not because they are big, prosperous employers in protected labour markets, but because they are decent employers. They know that benefits come from treating people decently. Some of my best friends are small employers; and they are good employers. They provide all the rights in the Bill. They are not in protected labour markets. They provide them because they believe that it is good for the workforce, productivity and commitment, and that is the way they want to run a business.

Many other employers do not take that attitude, but they respect the law. They do not want to fall out with the law. They got into employment protection, minimum wage legislation, and discrimination and non-discrimination legislation because it was lawful and they respect and practise the law. In the overwhelming majority of cases, having practised it, employers find that they rather like it because it helps to run the labour force in that way.

The real criticism that I have of the Opposition is that by this time they should know that. I suspect that in their own businesses where they are employers many of them know that. They pretend not to admit it because for ideological reasons or political practices they have decided to pretend that things are as they were in 1833.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, like the Minister, I come from business. I spent 30 years building up my own business, and, rather earlier than the Minister, I, too, learned that partnership, co-operation and balancing interests are the catalyst for success. What was achieved in those circumstances surprised and delighted. Divisions and self-interest sometimes brought short-term benefit, but in the end there was only trouble, disappointment and failure.

In his excellent maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Walker reminded us that there is nothing new about that. When I first started in business there was already concern to avoid strikes. We had joint consultations. Wilfred Brown urged us to have works' committees with unanimous voting. Barbara Castle produced her paper, In Place of Strife. Even the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, when she became Prime Minister, misquoted that early proponent of peaceful relations, St. Francis of Assisi. She said, Where there is discord, let me bring harmony; where there is despair, let me bring hope". However, her actions were the opposite of those fine words. We moved into an era of confrontation which many noble Lords opposite seem to relish. However, I believe that that era of confrontation cost us dear. That was confirmed when a recent OECD report found that confrontation had little beneficial impact on our economic performance and served only to trap people into low paid jobs and encourage insecurity.

It also cost us dear because that was a time when those of us in management began to realise that competitiveness was not just a matter of clever accountancy and good technology. Competitiveness also required speed, service, quick response and close attention to customers' needs. That was not achieved by confrontation and arbitrary hire and fire. It was achieved by identifying those common interests and working together to achieve them. That is as important now as it was then. The Bill recognises that, and that is why I welcome it.

The Bill seeks to establish a culture of fairness and respect for people's rights at work. Of course, that requires a balance between employer and employee rights. The Bill identifies three routes to union recognition: voluntary, automatic or by ballot. By doing so it seeks to facilitate union recognition but not necessarily to force it. I believe that my noble friend Lord Wedderburn discussed that. The Bill lays out rights and responsibilities during the process. It is right that employees should be protected against victimisation, discrimination or dismissal, and there has to be good faith on both sides.

Quite rightly, the Bill seeks to protect individual workers against overbearing or unscrupulous employers. It protects union members against blacklisting and discrimination. As my noble friend Lord Simon explained, it closes loopholes used by unscrupulous employers employing agency workers, part-time workers or workers forced to sign away their rights against unfair dismissal. What fair-minded person can object to that?

I agree that one of the most important aspects of the Bill is the family-friendly policies it seeks to encourage. As we all know, parenthood is not just having a new baby to look after in the home. It is also all about the ongoing responsibilities. The family-friendly regulations acknowledge this. The right to extended maternity absence, to the parental leave that may become necessary and to protection against unfair dismissal during that time is only reasonable. However, it is also fair that there is no obligation to pay for extended parental leave. Employers can deal with the question of pay according to the circumstances. We all have family emergencies which require time off work. How much healthier it is to bring that out into the open and systemise it rather than force people to conceal the emergency and perhaps lie about it to their employers.

Many of the family-friendly policies are tied up with European social regulations. When regulations are drafted it would be helpful if the Government clarified employers' responsibilities under the European regulations and the responsibilities under the Bill. There seems to be some confusion. Clarification is important because each European country has its own view as to where the balance between fairness and market forces lie. It is important that what works here should be incorporated into the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, drew our attention to Clause 26. I note that the Government are willing to create a fund to help train managers and employee representatives in promoting and developing partnership at work. It is important to encourage that. Perhaps the Minister can give us some details about how the scheme will work.

I believe that the objectives laid down in the Bill are beneficial to any business, large or small, because they benefit society. The regulations are not designed just to stop people doing things; they try to make people do things better by adopting best practice. That helps markets and competition work better and so speed up change and improves productivity and competitiveness. Perhaps the same objectives could be achieved by voluntary codes of practice. The Bill crystallises a probable code.

I know all about the dangers of forecasting. I believe, however, that the Bill will very soon cease to be a matter for discussion. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Razzall: it is a modest Bill. The basic, decent, minimum standards it lays down are already carried out by most reasonably run companies, large, medium or small. The Bill will hardly affect those companies. It will affect poorly run businesses and bad employers. But business is so competitive and fast moving nowadays that those people will disappear if they do not improve their performance— and improve it pretty quickly, whether or not they can afford it. It is important not to exaggerate the importance of regulations or the regulatory burdens on industry generally.

The success or failure of any business, large or small, does not depend on regulation or industrial relations. Far more important for success or failure is quality, service, technology, management, skills, initiative and investment. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, reminded us of that. All those elements must be right. That is far more important. Reliving old battles in Parliament gets us nowhere.

The world has moved on. Modern unions do not want adversarial relations with employers and modern employers want to work in partnership and co-operation with modern unions. Both realise that they have different roles to fulfil. But beyond that comes their joint interest in the success of the enterprise. Thankfully, the Bill recognises that.

7 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in than king the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Highbury, for introducing this Second Reading debate. I thank him also for staying with the debate because, in the weeks ahead, he may find it invaluable to have heard the contributions.

It does not diminish my thanks to say that I was disappointed by one aspect of his speech. He reiterated the words which appear in Fairness at Work and in various speeches; that is, those words "rights and responsibilities". The rights were enumerated but there was a strange coyness about the responsibilities.

While I have been trying to follow the passage of this Bill in another place, I have been brooding about the nature of a modern government. If I understand it and if MPs made full and proper disclosure of interest, the committee member. who debated issues of fairness at work and employment relations between them mustered a pay roll of one fall-time person. I begin to wonder whether there will ever again be a time when, in another place, there will he a Member of Parliament or a Minister who has that incredible anxiety which we have all experienced in business, of wondering whether we can pay the wages on Friday; whether we can keep our labour force intact. Those are real, heartfelt anxieties and it seems to me extremely sad that Parliament is no longer recruiting such people.

It is self-evident that that is not a partisan point but I cannot but be struck by the distance that today's political class has put between itself and the nation's wealth-creating heartland. Fewer and fewer entrepreneurs and manufacturers find their way into the political process. The noble Lord, Lord Simon, is a notable exception. My noble friend Lady Miller and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, are both involved with business. Thank goodness for the House of Lords!

Consultation is often a selective and hurried affair. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I do not believe that this was a particularly good consultation process. It is an easy cloak to hide behind. Governments, not only this Government, have done that before. I marvel at the readiness with which today's politicians rush to order people's lives on the basis of such slender collective experience.

By contrast, if my research is correct, 100 per cent of this Bill's Labour supporters are trade union members. Speaking as they do for only one-third of the labour force, I have no doubt that as this Bill goes through the

House, they will adopt a position of appropriate restraint. But it is nice to see the trade union enthusiasts once more having their time in the sun.

I have been in trouble in your Lordships' House, with a certain amount of mischief, for not declaring adequately a personal interest. In consequence, my declaration today is rather long-winded. First, to the best of my knowledge, my entries in the Register of Peers' Interests is up to date. Specifically, I declare the following interests: I am a government-nominated director of United Kingdom Nirex Limited; in the voluntary sector, I serve on a charitable trust to help children of horticultural employees who have encountered misfortune; in addition, I hold positions in a foundation concerned with medical research and a hospice for the terminally ill.

While the Bill could impact on all those concerns, a more significant personal interest lies with the family companies of which I am chairman and in which I hold a beneficial interest. That is the Holker Estate group of companies and its activities include property, agriculture, forestry, construction, aggregate extraction, leisure, horse-racing and slate quarries. That latter industry, which exports about 50 per cent of its product, employs about 130 people and for the purposes of wage negotiations and other matters, the workforce is represented by a trade union.

If I had a choice simply to continue with a trade union or not, the balance of advantage lies with continuing with a trade union. During great crises in a cyclical market, the trade union representative has been of immense help in communicating with the labour force.

There are a number of provisions in the Bill with which it is difficult to quarrel. For example, I support the principle of outlawing blacklisting. Likewise, I sympathise with the clauses which seek to prevent discrimination by employers against workers because they are members of a trade union.

There are some sensible measures, some nuggets, in the Bill which is otherwise, I am afraid, rather flawed. They are nuggets which reflect the changing pattern of the British labour market. That needs to be continually reviewed. So far, so good.

It is where the Government seek to make compulsory what most of us do anyway that I start to part company with them. It is as though they believe that they can legislate to eliminate bad employers. I am sad to say that that is to enter the world of make-believe. There will always be bad employers as there will always he sin. It gets worse because as we study the Bill, it emerges that it is not the measure that it pretends to be.

Since its inception, there has been no shortage of simpering ministerial pronouncements ahead of the Bill's publication. We are told that as much as anything, it is about partnership and competitiveness. We were reassured that there would be no burdensome regulation. In the foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister writes: It matches rights and responsibilities". That was echoed by the Minister. I find nothing in the Bill to encourage partnership and nothing which will make my business more competitive. I find the reverse. I find no responsibilities to match the privileges on offer. I find a pile of burdensome regulation.

The Prime Minister's promises about workers' rights are, in his words, a matter of course elsewhere". However, the Prime Minister did not say that unemployment, which is "a matter of course elsewhere" is double that in Britain.

There is nothing in this Bill for employers or the British economy. It is pay-day for the unions and pay-up day for the employers. I hope that when he winds up, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, with his innate sense of honesty, will acknowledge as much.

The truth is that we are being sent a clutch of Bills which have come quickly after legislation dealing with the Working Time Directive, the Social Chapter and the family tax credit scheme, to mention just a few. In a spirit of non-partisanship, I should say that it is not only this Government who have a monopoly of sending Bills to business. If Ministers seriously believe that they can continue to precept the wealth-creating sector without impacting on investment and employment, then I do not know where they have been living.

Employers do not need lecturing on the merits of having good industrial relations; they know it. When this Bill had its Second Reading on 9th February in another place, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Mr Stephen Byers, said: It will replace policies supported by the Conservative Party, which were based on the notion of conflict between employers and employees, with measures for partnership based on rights matched by responsibilities". —[Official Report. Commons, 9/2/99; col.130.] Having already disposed of the myth of that particular match, it is time to examine the Secretary of State's premise and compare it with the known facts.

Your Lordships have heard again about the 29 million lost days through strikes in 1979 and I shall not repeat those statistics. But, to some extent, we have moved on to the sunny uplands of industrial relations. That was a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster, in an optimistic and notable maiden speech.

This state of affairs did not happen by chance. Over the past 15 years greatly reduced regulations have accompanied a huge surge in living standards and a national performance which has been the envy of our European partners. I believe this to be an unnecessary Bill. Industrial relations is a continuous and seamless process, or so it should be. Legislation cannot foster trust, as the Government claim.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy—who is no longer in his place—spoke, with his huge experience of these matters, of compulsion. My feeling as regards industrial relations, certainly in the size of enterprise with which I am involved, is that one has to develop trust. If I am a good, fair, generous-minded, generous-spirited employer because I choose to be, there is trust. If I am a good employer because I should be by law, there is a nil relationship between the two. I should be interested to talk to the noble Lord about that. If one does not have a choice between being virtuous and evil, it is hardly virtuous when one does the right thing because one is compelled to do so. It is the old argument about freedom.

I was once faced with a strike in my works. That came about because I neglected industrial relations in my business through spending too much time in your Lordships' House. The strike resulted not just in lost revenues but in great misery and distrust. I recount the incident for two reasons: first, I am firmly of the view that this kind of legislation would not have alleviated matters or prevented me from making the mistakes I did at that time; secondly, I made one sensible decision, which was to call in ACAS. Although it was over the Christmas period, ACAS responded immediately and with huge energy. Through their good offices the process of rebuilding trust began, which continues several years later.

It was a humbling episode but one that I feel had to be experienced. There is a pulse in human affairs which teaches that even the best relationships need more investment of time, dialogue and understanding and—this is my point—less in the way of regulations, rules and law.

I cannot speak too highly of the skill, wisdom, sympathy and commitment with which the ACAS team helped our small enterprise through the problems of that winter. I raise that because they receive a mention in the Bill. I shall listen with great care to see that the Government, with their passion for meddling with things that are working—as have all governments—will not upset that extremely special organisation.

As regards some of the individual provisions, I see a plain objection in principle to the notion of compulsion in the matter of recognising trades unions. I do not share the Government's obsession with introducing democracy into every human activity. Because democracy is rightly regarded as a bastion against tyranny, I do not see that more democracy necessarily makes life better. If one thinks of the sheer ineptitude of government actions, the anomalies, unfairness, and time consuming expense of government, surely a lesson might be learnt that we do not want to democratise everything. Also, the trades unions experts must have known that the bogus democratisation of the trades unions did not serve them well in the long term. More accountability is needed, not more democracy.

The Government's own dislike of accountability is seen by their habit of bypassing Parliament. As has been said again and again, huge tracts of the Bill are subject to secondary legislation. That point will obviously arise again. Perhaps I may say to the Minister that if he looks carefully at this and listens to the anxieties we have expressed about secondary legislation, the Bill will have a much easier ride through Parliament.

The hostility to compulsory trades union recognition goes beyond the principle. I very much fear that there will a souring of industrial relations on the road to it. Already there are reports of trades unions drawing up hit lists of companies to target. That is hardly conducive to fostering a spirit of partnership.

The famous Clause 26 has been mentioned. I believe that it is a dreadful, really iniquitous clause. It would send a wonderful signal to your Lordships' House if the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said in his winding-up speech that that clause should be looked at again. I sometimes tell my children that one of the most frightening phrases in the English language is,"A Minister may from time to time decide". That is a sort of prelude to a total loss of freedom. I hope that will be challenged, and challenged successfully.

Like other noble Lords, I am concerned at the provisions in the Bill which are alleged to be no more than complying with EC directives. Where the Government are trying to gold plate directives, that should be discussed. I am not against gold plating in principle. I do not see why one should not sometimes improve on what has been done by the European Community on such matters. I should like to see a little more originality in the way in which we deal with our labour forces. However, I believe such matters need challenging and explanation. We shall certainly need a definition of "the domestic incident".

I conclude by saying that as there are good and bad employers, so there are good and bad employees. Every workforce with a score or more people will have somebody who will seek to exploit their company for their own gain. That is human nature. We cannot change it or legislate against it. The Bill offers no protection against such abuse. It is not only the employer who needs protection. Ai often as not it is the fellow worker who needs protection from the unscrupulous worker. This is especially so when we introduce, as many of us do, profit sharing schemes. It occurred to me during the debate that I should compile a list so that, in this new spirit of openness, I can tell my workforce of the Bills the Government are sending them. They can then write to the Government and ask for explanations when their profits are reduced and their shares of the profits go down.

An ancestor of mine in the last century was a Minister in numerous administrations in this country, three times declining the office of Prime Minister. He was well known in the Cabinet for the expression,"Far better not". He understood what little good governments had in their gift and what great harm they were capable of through gratuitous intervention. Of this ill-drafted, disingenuous, snivelling little Bill, designed to puff up trades unions and debilitate the wealth-creating sector, I echo my ancestor,"Far better not".

7.17 p.m.

Lord Brookman

My Lords, I shall try to be brief. Much has been said, and, I am sure, will be said in Committee. I only hope that talk is of the future and not of the past.

First, I wish to declare an interest, maybe a vested interest. I currently sit as a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, so criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who is riot in his place. I work, I believe, on behalf of working people up and down the country. Therefore, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, I am extremely pleased that this legislation, promised in the Labour Party's manifesto, is before the House. The Government said that it would be a priority and they are honouring that commitment. At first hand and at close quarters, so to speak, I observed John Monks's team and senior officials of the TUC skilfully applying themselves in a constructive and practical manner to what I believe will prove an extremely important and historic piece of legislation, if not for Members opposite, most certainly for working people. I can do no more than praise their efforts, as I do those of the Government in honouring their commitment.

The legislation is about fairness at work. It is designed for employers who listen as against those who deny a voice at work. It encourages a genuine partnership between employers and employees, and I am all for that. It is my belief that no one—employee or employer—has anything to fear from the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden so rightly said, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Of course, there are minor areas of concern to both the trade union movement and employers' organisations. But they pale into insignificance when one sees the benefits for employers and employees. Only a small minority of employers are adopting a negative approach. Responsible businesses know that they will not be required to make any substantial changes to their employment practices as a result of the Bill. Some of my colleagues say that the proposed legislation does not go as far as they would wish in some areas. But the TUC and the overwhelming majority of trade unions and their membership give the Bill a warm welcome. Why? Because it is the biggest advance in employee rights for some time. Also, it represents the start of a new era in British industrial relations—looking forward and not backwards. I, for one, welcome that.

As a former general secretary of a trade union at the heart of manufacturing, I know the difficulties that ordinary working people faced at their place of work over many years under the Conservative government: derecognition; denial of the right to be a member of a trade union; and the introduction of personal contracts where collective agreements existed. Those were but a few of the negative effects faced by ordinary working people.

This Bill sensibly addresses those and other vitally important issues such as one year rather than two for unfair dismissal—an extremely important move—and prohibiting the blacklisting of people as a consequence of trade union membership or activities. What is wrong with that? And there are the family-friendly policies about which so many noble Lords, and especially the Minister, spoke.

As I said, I have a declared interest. But from what we have heard today I am sure we all have a vested interest in making sure that the legislation is passed as quickly as possible.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, I rise to add my voice to most of those who have spoken today to welcome this legislation. I, too, declare an interest as a former trade union official and the former general secretary of a couple of Civil Service trade unions. But it is important that we recognise that the legislation before us today is not solely about trade unions; it is about the conditions that apply to all workers; it is about their rights and their responsibilities.

I was one of those who was around in the 1970s and saw the problems we had at that time. I had been involved in the trade union movement, like many of my colleagues, for nearly 20 years when a whole series of pieces of legislation was adopted by the Conservative governments when they were in power—nine in total. Being a reasonable-minded person, I recognised that there were problems with some of the things that were happening in the trade union movement, particularly in the 1970s. The public at large were certainly aware of them. That is one of the reasons we had a change of government, and the new government attempted to remedy some of those problems.

Some of the legislation adopted in the early 1980s was appropriate. Indeed, many of us have come to that view and do not want to turn the clock back completely. But what was particularly important was that, as the Tory Party stayed in power and introduced more legislation—we all acknowledge that abuses were taking place in the trade union movement, particularly among the more powerful unions—they not only took corrective measures against the powerful trade unions, but increasingly they started to abuse power themselves at the expense of the weaker workers.

I find it difficult to understand when I hear the noble Baroness opposite protest on behalf of women, in respect of their interests in maternity legislation and presumably also on behalf of the low paid, when those Benches, when in government, increasingly introduced legislation such as that which abolished the wages councils. That took away a very low level of support for the 2 million people in our society on low pay who are most disadvantaged.

So the Conservatives went too far, as my noble friend said. What is pleasing today, as those who come from the trade union movement have our day in the sun, is that we see the balance is swinging back a little bit in the other direction. This legislation goes some way towards redressing the imbalance which not just politicians and trade union officials, but increasingly the public at large, recognise was prevalent in our society, particularly in relation to conditions at work.

What is before us is not entirely to the full satisfaction of the trade union movement; far from it. There are many changes we would have liked to see introduced. But they are not coming, so we get on with dealing with what we have before us. Neither is this legislation perfect from the employers' point of view. Reference has already been made to the CBI briefing which was received by many of us today; it says that it goes too far in a number of respects.

So I guess the Government have just about struck the right balance after their extensive consultations with a wide range of interests which will be affected by this Bill. I feel that they produced a fair and balanced package. They broadly stuck to the principles contained in the White Paper, most suitably entitled Fairness at Work. What we had before was increasingly unfair as the Tories were in power, and this legislation now seeks to redress the balance. I trust that, having seen the deal done, the Government will now stick with it and there will not be cause for complaints from any of the parties who have been involved so far in the consultation, negotiation and discussion process.

Many of the new provisions will be introduced by regulations. I understand the unease about that, and many of us tend to share those feelings about regulatory changes. But I hope that they will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible, and also that the Government will ensure that all the appropriate consultations take place over the widest area before the regulations are presented.

I want to join with a number of my noble friends who have expressed concern to our Front Bench about possible delays with the timetabling of the later stages of this Bill. Can my noble friend, when he replies, try to give us a clearer indication of when we are likely to move into Committee stage? He shakes his head rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I hope we can get a little more from him later.

I remind my noble friend that some of us will want to explore other ways in which time can be found to accommodate this legislation. After all, we have waited an extremely long time for it. As we said, it does not satisfy all that we would have liked to see in it. We must seek to find time to deal with this important piece of legislation which affects so many people throughout the country. After all, we find within this House that there is plenty of time available to discuss a whole range of issues, many of which are not quite so productive for the people outside the House as those inside might think. We must find the time in whatever way we can.

There are thousands of people out there, waiting for the benefits that will come from the three main sections of the Bill. These are people who do not have good or reasonably fair employers and, having waited so long, they should not be denied any longer. They need protection from over-mighty bosses. There is undoubtedly exploitation and abuse at a minority of workplaces in the UK today, and the Bill seeks to eradicate that. We need, for their sakes, to move forward quickly.

There is plenty of evidence to show that people are being treated badly. Innumerable references are made to industrial tribunals and to ACAS, and these are likely to increase when the legislation is in place and the period in which appeals against unfair dismissal can be accepted is reduced from two years to 12 months. Can the Minister assure me that there will be adequate staffing to deal with those issues at tribunal and CAC level, and that there will not be a long list of people waiting to get justice from such appeal mechanisms?

I can understand why the Government have acted on representations to limit the industrial tribunal awards to £50,000, and I welcome their decision to index-link any revision of that figure. I hope they will reflect on whether it is appropriate to link with the RPI because I think it should be linked with movements in average wages and salaries.

For many people at work, their experience is quite different: many people have good employers and very reasonable employers. Those employers will not have to make any substantial changes in their employment practices as a result of the measures proposed in the Bill.

Most of Britain's top companies already recognise unions. Forty-six out of the top fifty FTSE companies recognise unions, and 42 out of the 45 companies in this country which employ more than 25,000 employees recognise and work with unions.

Britain's biggest private sector employer, Tesco, is the most heavily unionised of all the large supermarket chains. The presence of unions has in no way stopped that company making progress because we now see that it has overtaken Sainsbury to take the top spot in the retailing arena.

Most unions these days are not solely seeking to protect and promote their members' interests in the old-fashioned way of twenty or thirty years ago that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, spoke of. Modern unions are looking to add value to an employer's enterprise, whether it be in the private or public sector. Even in the public sector they know that if their activity is not as effective or efficient as it could be, it will either come to an end or be replaced or transferred into the private sector. Workers everywhere nowadays recognise that they have a mutual interest with their employers in ensuring that they maximise the efficiency of operations, both public and private.

We all work to raise competitiveness. One of my regrets today is that there has been little discussion about the core purpose of the Bill, which is to bring people together to promote competitiveness, something that is still lacking in many areas of our operations even when compared with some of our much-maligned competitors elsewhere in Europe.

Partnership and co-operation are the key; they are at the heart of the Bill. I hope that it will soon be on the statute book so that workers, whether or not they are members of unions, can move forward quickly.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I should like to emphasise that I am speaking for myself, and it may well be that my noble friend Lady Seccombe will disapprove of what I have to say.

I caused some confusion in the Printed Paper Office last week by asking for a copy of the Industrial Relations Bill. When we eventually worked out what I wanted I realised that I believed there to be some minor difference between industrial relations and employment relations. I believe the Bill to be more about industrial relations than employment relations, much of which is concerned with the other things that trade unions do for their members apart from engaging in negotiation.

I am a little concerned, having listened to some of the speeches, particularly from very distinguished former Ministers on these Benches and current union leaders on the other Benches, that we have not, with the exception of my noble friend Lord Cavendish, heard much from people who have been engaged in dealings with employers and trade unions round the table. My noble friend Lord Cavendish has been involved in different parts of industrial relations, as I have.

I was very disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, did not speak in the debate because she and I, over a period of about 10 years, had many confrontations in which we both realised that some fairly tough trade union legislation was necessary for satisfactory working relationships. I remember on one occasion at the Waldorf Hotel that the noble Baroness was accompanied, to her horror and distress, by 30 of her members, chihiking behind her and preventing any satisfactory negotiations over a big deal. We broke up fairly shortly thereafter and did much better together over a drink a bit later.

The noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster, in his maiden speech (I looked at the list of speakers and thought for one incredible moment that the sky had fallen in and that my noble friend Lord Walker of Worcester was making his maiden speech—but that was very unlikely) emphasised the improvement in industrial relations in recent years. That is absolutely right. When the last Conservative Government came into power in 1979, that was the nadir of industrial relations. I remember shortly before that time—and 1 have absolutely no pride in saying this—going to the offices in the Haymarket of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, and working out how we and the unions together could bust the wage restraint legislation. I say I have no pride in saying that, but if we had not done that, we would not have had a newspaper at all.

The union problems with which we had to deal in those days were really terrifying. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, used the word "old-fashioned" in that respect, but at least I am not reluctantly leaving 1833 like the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. Indeed, things have improved but it is not true, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, that there has been an over-reaction to what was happening in those days. I do not believe that my noble friend Lady Thatcher was unbalanced in her approach to trades union legislation.

There were so many things which were wrong at that time and which have been cured. Indeed, whistle-blowing has been mentioned and the use of health and safety legislation as an industrial relations weapon; in other words, the frequent practice of using the most spurious health and safety argument to stop work. Again, it has been said that this legislation would prevent discrimination against trades union members, but it is necessary to ensure that trades union members do not discriminate against non-trades union members. In my time it was virtually impossible to give anyone a rise in salary because the dread word "differential" came out immediately. You could not give anyone a rise because that would spoil the differential. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, who talked about "hire or fire". In those days you could not possibly hire or fire anyone without the permission of the unions, which was very seldom given.

It has also been said that this legislation will protect against black listing. Of course, the latter is not something of which one could even remotely approve. Nevertheless, employers must have some right to find out from previous employers not the nature of the trades union activities of potential employees but who those people are and how they worked. At that time in the newspaper industry, I seem to remember a few members of the union of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean; namely, a father and five brothers who worked in the machine rooms of a number of different publications. For obvious reasons I shall not name them, save to say that the father was known for good and sufficient reason as,"Burglar Bill". Up to a very late stage of negotiations they successfully did everything to prevent newspapers being produced, except under the most expensive conditions, which were totally in the interests of the trades unions and not of the readers or the newspaper concerned.

The situation has changed as a result of the legislation that we have seen introduced over the past 20 years. However, it is now being suggested that we should go back at least some way. Perhaps I may mention the subject of time off—that is to say, time off for parenting. No one argues against the fact that mothers must have a considerable time off in that respect. But in the words frequently used during the course of my short military career, I ask: "Who's to pay?" You have to pay to employ someone, especially in smaller businesses. You cannot absorb the loss of a worker who, because the wife is having a baby, gets a very long time off work in order to look after her. As has been said, you have to employ a locum and when you reach the end of the period and the person returns to work, you cannot get rid of the locum because he has every right to be retained as a worker.

Another reason for time off is domestic incidents. Anyone who has had any dealings with a workforce, although they vary enormously, would know only too well of the dangers which can arise in that respect. We had enough trouble under legislation introduced by the Conservative government with self-certification for sickness. The ability of people to certify themselves as sick for as long as eight days was very expensive and extremely difficult to deal with. There are many such attitudes which exist within many, though not all, workforces. If we did not have the trades union workforce legislation in place today, we would find ourselves in as much trouble as we were 20 years ago, with as many unemployed and as many days lost through industrial action.

We have the introduction of the CAC in this Bill. However, I do not believe that a full explanation has been given as to what it is. For example, is it a hotted-up ACAS? Reference has already been made to the excellence of ACAS and I would agree with that as regards its role as an advisory body. However, I never found that ACAS was able to solve anything. Goodness me, it tried. The one thing it did buy was time, but it could never actually make an agreement. Indeed, most agreements that I made involved sitting for long hours until about 3 or 4 in the morning in the TUC offices—and the TUC sandwiches were not really very good. Nevertheless, we did get some sort of a deal.

As a result of the latter, I am profoundly unhappy about the Bill. It seems to have far too many holes in it. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked whether we would repeal this legislation when we have the next Conservative government. I do not know the answer; but I doubt it. When the Bill returns to your Lordships' House, I hope that it will be a far better piece of legislation than the Bill we now have before us. I sincerely hope that it will not be so full of holes and clauses like "Clause 26", which I really think should go into a museum. I suppose that we have the skeleton of a Bill at present, some of which is undesirable all the way through and some of which merely needs improvement. Of course we shall give the Bill a Second Reading tonight; but, by God! we shall be at it both in Committee and on Report.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, as tail-end Charlie in this debate, I want to raise two minor specific issues. However, before I do so, it is probably worth while putting in a few general remarks. I have not held any illustrious position in the trades union movement. I was a branch chairman for 15 years and a shop steward for a few years. My impression of the Bill is that, yes, there is a deal being done. However, the concern expressed to me by trade unionists in my own branch is that it will not go far enough. It will not resolve all the problems with which we are faced and there will be need for further legislation in future years. Of course, we shall obviously learn from experience.

Noble Lords on the other side of the House talk about the vast improvement in industrial relations which has occurred over the past 20 years. I believe that reference has been made to 27 million or 29 million working days lost in a year. When the Conservative government came to office, I believe that unemployment was running at about a million. In every year since 1979 the average figure has been around 2 million. Therefore, as a country we have had to pay a price for the apparent glorious revolution of improvement in industrial relations. On a quick calculation I estimate 5,000 million working days lost a year. That is a hefty price to pay.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, the noble Lord rightly talks about the unemployment figures in this country. Can he give the unemployment figures at the same time in the rest of Europe?

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, my noble friend Lord McCarthy pointed out earlier, in an exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that the unemployment rate in the rest of Europe over the last few years has been about the same as in this country. So there is not that great a distinction. But that was not Europe's experience over the last 20 years. Our record is absolutely horrific, not just for men and women who have suffered the result of mass unemployment, but for every one of us, citizens of this country, in lost economic performance and lower living standards. That is a heavy price to pay for the apparent improvement.

However, enough of that. Time is getting on, and I said that I did not want to speak for too long. I wish to concentrate on some specific issues. Before doing so, I must declare an interest as the chair of the Campaign against Bullying at Work. It is worth looking at why we have had a vast increase in the number of complaints of bullying at work. I shall not go into some of the horrific cases that we are all aware of through media reports, but it is instructive to examine what has happened over the last 20 years.

We need to recognise that there have been changes in employment practice. Twenty-odd years ago we had virtually full employment. We had very large firms, in the main, with dedicated, specialist, trained and experienced personnel in industrial relations departments. Now we have, unfortunately, continuing mass unemployment, although we hope that the figure will go down over the next few years, and we have many more small firms. That is partly due to new firms rising, partially due to downsizing of the larger firms, partly due to outsourcing by the larger firms. We cannot expect small firms to have at their disposal the skilled, experienced, highly trained personnel in industrial relations departments that used to exist in the large firms.

How do we tackle that? The Government are setting off in the right direction. We are trying to change that relationship from conflict in industry, commerce and employment to one of co-operation, to get people working together, workers and management.

We must also try to ensure that professional expertise is available. It is worth pointing out that there is a vast reservoir of professional expertise in the shape of trade union officials, whether local branch officers, full-time officials, officers at local level or national officers. There is a tremendous body of professional experience available. Small firms would do well to recognise that that expertise, if properly utilised and harnessed, could he beneficial to them.

The parts of the Bill that will bite most effectively, I believe, are Clauses 10, 11, 12 and 13, which confer the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or an official of a trade union at disciplinary or grievance hearings. The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides in Section 3(1)(b)(ii) for an employee to be advised of, a person to whom the employee can apply for the purpose of seeking redress of any grievance relating to his employment". It appears that that section applies to all firms, and not just those with over 20 in employment. Clause 10(1) of the Bill says that, where a worker— (a) is required or invited by his employer to attend a disciplinary or grievance hearing he may be accompanied. I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench: does the combination of those two provisions confer on the employee the right to have a grievance hearing. and then, if he or she has a right to that hearing, does the Bill confer the right to have a fellow employee or trade union official present? My understanding from reading the Act and the Bill is that all firms would be covered by that provision, not just firms of 20 and above. If so, we have a very positive, worthwhile provision and I am sure that we all welcome it. If not, we shall need to look at the situation in Committee and see whether we can ensure that that sort of provision is included.

Clause 26 was not quoted in full by Members opposite. Subsection (1) states: The Secretary of State may spend money … for the purpose of encouraging and helping employers …. and employees … to improve the way they work together". Would it be possible to use that provision to provide funds for joint work between employers' organisations and trade unions to develop policies and practices to deal with the scourge of bullying at work? That would be very beneficial and useful.

The Bill will, I hope, provide support and assistance in dealing with the problems of bullying at work. I am not sure, however, that it provides all the facilities we shall need. I am sure that we shall be in discussion with the Government, examining specialist legislation to ensure the right of dignity at work for all employees in this United Kingdom.

7.58 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, the Bill claims good intentions. It claims to promote better relations between employers and employees. It claims to promote more family-friendly employment practices. How could anyone disagree with such admirable intentions?

As my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon stated with great clarity, the Conservative Party promotes measures that are fair and promote industrial harmony. We support higher standards for workers and we support more flexible working relations to allow people to balance family and work responsibilities better.

However, we oppose the Bill, because we do not believe that it can live up to its claims. In fact, it is likely to send us backwards. Many of the Bill's provisions take us back to the 1970s when things were worse, not better. In fact, they were much worse, as was so graphically described by my noble friend Lord Tebbit.

I support the points made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew about the shop-floor wishes at that time. I serve on a magistrate's Bench with employees of what was British Leyland and I can assure noble Lords that their life was pure hell. They had no idea whether they should be working, striking, staying at home or attending a carpark meeting. We should never forget that situation. Our reputation around the world in 1979 was that we were considered ungovernable and the "sick man" of Europe.

The first time in this debate that we heard mention of the 29 million working days lost to industrial disputes in 1979 was in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster. I congratulate him on his maiden speech and am glad that he highlighted that figure. By the Conservative government's last full year in power, in 1996, that figure was down to 1.3 million. That was not brought about by confrontation and it made life much more harmonious for my magistrate friends at British Leyland. It reflected sensible Conservative policies which curbed excessive trade union power.

This Bill seeks to claw back that power. The first part of the Bill relates to statutory union recognition. The Government claim that it is about creating partnership in the workplace, but it is a strange kind of partnership where one side could be unwilling. Compulsory trade union recognition is inherently based on coercion, not co-operation. When one side is not willing, surely it is a recipe for conflict. Adair Turner of the CBI put the point most clearly when he said: Good employee relations should be built on trust and this is not fostered if collective bargaining has been imposed on an employer by a trade union. Collective bargaining can only work where it has two willing partners, but not where there is only one. No real improvements in industrial relations occurred last time we had compulsion in the 1970s and indeed the legislation proved to be unworkable". As an aside, quoting the CBI prompts me to ask whether noble Lords opposite have received the CBI briefing. In the briefing that I received, the CBI expresses concerns and reservations. I am glad to note that the Minister has a copy. He will therefore be aware of the CBI's concerns, which were outlined by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell.

The result is that industrial disputes are likely to rise as a result of statutory trade union recognition. In addition, it will prove very costly for businesses to administer. Although that may not be a problem for some large enterprises which already have personnel departments, it will prove a significant burden for small businesses.

Many noble Lords hold or have held very senior positions in large international businesses, but let us not forget that those large companies were once small and growing. The proposed regulations must not be allowed to stunt the growth of small firms.

The new law will apply to firms with as few as 20 employees. It is difficult to see how a small business with that number of staff requires union representation and collective bargaining arrangements. Most small firms simply do not have the capacity to administer such arrangements. Labour's failure to recognise that illustrates its near total lack of understanding of how businesses work. Virtually every business organisation, including the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Institute of Directors, supported raising the exemption for small firms. They said that it should be greater than 20 yet the Government have ignored those calls and the result will be a tough time ahead for small businesses.

The latest bankruptcy survey from Dunn & Bradstreet shows that liquidations are rising far more quickly among small businesses than larger companies. The Bill simply adds another burden at a time of difficulty. In the words of the British Chambers of Commerce in a January press release: Firms with fewer than 50 staff rarely have the resource to deal regularly with trade unions and this legislation will serve only as a further constraint on business growth and competitiveness". The Bill also ignores the fact that small businesses already enjoy close contact with employees. In the words of Brian Prime of the Federation of Small Businesses: There may be a need for union representation in large businesses where employees have no face to face contact with management, but in a small firm each employee has direct access to the owner-manager. We are concerned that the presence of union representatives during grievance procedures could result in workplace disputes being taken further than is necessary rather than being resolved internally". I turn now to individual rights in the Bill. Unfortunately, we cannot debate this part of the Bill in detail because specific measures are yet to be published. In an apparent attempt to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, many of the individual rights are to be passed by regulation—a favourite ploy of this Government. We are extremely concerned that the Government are falling into the same trap as they did with the working time directive. The lack of scrutiny helped to create extremely unclear and complicated working time regulations which the DTI has now been forced to redraft. What guarantee is there that the working time debocle is not repeated with the parental leave issue? The parental leave measures in the Bill allow three months' unpaid parental leave. Beyond that, we have little knowledge of how they will be implemented. How old will the child be when parental leave is available? Will evidential proof be required? Will notice to employers be required, and, if so, how much? I hope that the Minister can enlighten us.

In the words of the Chemical Industries Association: Every employer in the chemical industry will be hit by the proposals on parental leave. It is worrying that with Parental Leave due to be implemented by the end of the year, we have seen no detailed proposals from the Government indicating to employers just what they will have to do … a consultation period of at least three months would be needed to assess the likely impact of the regulations and respond accordingly". Although all businesses, big and small, are hit by ever-increasing taxes and onerous social burdens, it is small businesses that are the least prepared for the cumulative effect of the Government's burdens. They do not have the bureaucratic back-up required to cope with record-keeping, or the access to lawyers that is necessary to interpret complicated and unclear regulations. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that such advice would be very costly. It is all very well if a company has a vast human resources department to cope with complicated and costly regulations, but whether such regulations come from Brussels or Westminster, small businesses tend to survive on much tighter margins. A small businessman or woman is much more likely to be forced to let workers go when faced with extra burdens. Is that a family-friendly practice?

Labour's burdens provide virtually no exemptions for small businesses. Their concerns have gone unheeded. That is why in another place we proposed an exemption for all measures in this Bill for companies with fewer than 50 employees. As the Bill proceeds through its stages, we urge the Government to consider those and other important amendments carefully. As my noble friend Lord Burnham said, it is our intention to do all that we can to ensure that this Bill leaves this House with much improved and more realistic measures than when it left another place.

8.8 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this interesting debate and in particular to my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster who brought his ministerial and other experience to bear on the subject. We are fortunate to have a number of Members of your Lordships' House who bring with them varied experience of industrial relations. Some are former Ministers who dealt with industrial relations matters. Inevitably. they are entirely on the Conservative side of the House. A number of distinguished trade unionists and experts in trade union law are represented on the Government Benches. There are some who have met the cost of a payroll. I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Cavendish and Lord Burnham. But our Front Bench contains a number of people who have also met the costs of a payroll. We know very well what it is like on the other side of the fence.

Before I go into further detail about the Bill, perhaps I may say a word about the use of delegated powers, which was a constant theme throughout the debate. It was spoken to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, began with that subject and eventually spoke about the Bill when he reached the 13th minute of his speech. I enjoyed his diatribe on the history of industrial relations—which had nothing to do with the Bill in front of us. He spoke about the Bill close to the end of his speech. The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Cavendish, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, also referred to it. It is true that the Bill will enable various provisions to be enacted by secondary legislation. particularly the family-friendly provisions. There is still a great deal of work to be done to get the detail right. It is right that the draft regulations should be, as they have been until now, subject to full consultation with the interested parties, the employer and worker organisations, before parliamentary approval is sought.

The report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee is available to your Lordships. In a fairly thorough report, the points where it considered that things were not being done correctly are quite limited. Its comments are in heavy type, which is the distinction that one has to draw. They are confined to Clause 3 on black lists; Clause 5 on training; Clause 15 as regards dismissal; Clause 17 dealing with part-time workers and penalties; and Schedule 7 dealing with employment agencies.

My noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury, in accordance with the procedures recommended by the Liaison Committee, has written today to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, the Chairman of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. If it has not already been done, a copy of the response will be placed in the Library of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, was right to say that the regulations need to be read and understood especially by those concerned with small businesses. We shall certainly pay attention to that.

Before I leave the regulations, I refer to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. He asked about their consolidation. We shall not be combining regulations on trade union recognition with those on family-friendly practices. There will be a single set of regulations on those practices. We will try to rationalise the regulations as we go along.

I return to the principles behind the Bill—

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that our concern is not merely about the first wave of regulations, but that under this Bill, if it becomes an Act, Ministers will subsequently be able to issue new regulations? Therefore, this Bill is a pig in a poke. We do not know what the first, second, third or fourth waves of regulations will be.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we know a great deal about the first wave of regulations. A number of them are already available. As regards subsequent regulations, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee will consider the extent to which it is proper to have delegated legislation and the extent to which it should be subject to the negative or affirmative procedures. We have responded to its recommendations on these issues.

I return to the principle behind the Bill. With the wealth of his experience at BP, my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury put it best. The issue here is, above all, that of partnership. That is the difference between us and the previous government. They abolished almost every institution which brought employers and unions together. They abolished the Manpower Services Commission, the national NEDC and all the little Neddies and tried to keep trade unions out of the TECs. They were banished along with the famous beer and sandwiches at No.10. I was never involved in that. However, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said about the quality of the sandwiches at the TUC, I hope that they were better at No.10 with Mr. Harold Wilson.

One has to be fair. There were times during the 1980s when the CBI was not welcome at No.10. The Government did not appear to like either of the social partners at that time. We want to work with both business and the unions. We do not want to impose our ideology on them. That is why we set up the Low Pay Commission to advise us on the level of the national minimum wage, which is an example of a successful partnership at national level.

We followed the same procedure with Fairness at Work. Soon after the election the Prime Minister asked the CBI and the TUC to try to narrow their differences on trade union recognition. Several months of talks were held, with a constructive joint statement being made in December 1997. That formed the basis of the proposals in the Fairness at Work White Paper in May last year. In turn that was the consultative document to which we received nearly 480 responses

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the press reports were entirely wrong in saying that the negotiations between the CBI and the TUC broke up in acrimony?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not believe that they did. I believe that the differences between them were considerably reduced by the amount of negotiation that took place. We listened to the responses and held talks with the TUC and CBI. So when the final decisions were taken they were based on open consultation.

There is a certain symbolism in this. We are trying to build a culture of partnership at national level and we are doing so in order to build a partnership at the individual workplace. As regards the work being done on regulations, we are still involving employers and trade union organisations in the legal framework.

We recognise, as a number of noble Lords on this side of the House have said, that the world has changed. Managers have to earn respect. The people who do the job, meet the customers and shift the products want to make their views heard. The best employers already do that. They involve and consult their employees through their unions, works committees and staff councils. They offer good conditions and training and reap the rewards. They get the best staff, who stay with the business and give it their commitment. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked me to pay tribute to Asda and Archie Norman. I certainly do that. That company is among the outstanding employers for the reason that it does what is provided for in this Bill. When a company such as Nissan creates new jobs there are dozens of applicants for each new post. Many of them wish to move from other employers. I believe that my noble friend Lord Haskel is right. Those companies which do not act as good employers will disappear. We want every business to be of a similar nature. The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, said that we cannot legislate to eliminate bad employers. Can we not? Let us see. That is our objective. The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, called this Bill a modest measure. He is entitled to his opinion. I believe that the mission of turning bad employers into good employers by persuasion, as far as possible, is worth pursuing.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, my comment about this Bill being a modest measure was a reaction to the vitriol coming from the Conservative Opposition.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful for that clarification. I did not doubt it. I was only teasing. I do not need to say much more about costs. In his opening speech, my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury made it clear that we are speaking about 0.01 per cent of the total wage bill, which is about 5p per week per employee. That is relevant to the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.

My noble friend Lord McCarthy has had to leave us because his wife is ill. He gave us a very interesting exposition of the "last two hours" theory. We heard a number of modern variants on that in the course of this afternoon and evening.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will allow a member of the party which changed the conspiracy laws so as to legalise trade unions to ask a question. Does he believe that the contributions we have made—diffidently as always from this side when in Opposition, as we are—to this debate are really motivated by a desire to do down trade unionism and to foster bad employers, or does he credit us with something a little better? Can he tell me why, for example, it is the mark of a bad employer to resist a demand for recognition of a trade union when 60 per cent of his workforce are against it but 40 per cent—which is the threshold in the Bill—are for it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not accuse all noble Lords opposite of trying to bring down trade unions. I do not think they know how best to foster the partnership which trade unions can bring. I speak as one who, with a workforce of about 35, had the only trade unionised market research company in the country. That caused me some grief because people from the United States who tried to take over the company turned away in horror. But it gave me enormous advantages—free advice on the formulation of my pension fund, quite apart from others. Of course I am not attacking the motives of noble Lords; I am attacking their recollection of history and the way in which they appear to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.

As to trade union recognition, the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, said that voluntary agreement was the ideal. Of course he is right. I hope that the 42 pages of Schedule 1 to the Bill will be used as little as possible. That is the Government's position; we want voluntary agreements. This comes back to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. We want voluntary agreements wherever possible. We learned from the legislation of the 1970s that if one does not cover the waterfront and close off the loopholes there are employers who will seek to overturn the regulations. From that point of view it is essential to go into the horrifying detail in Schedule 1. I do not claim to have read all of it; when I asked around I found that not many other people have read it either. But the regulations are necessary and I apologise only for their length.

Beyond that, even if we achieve recognition, it must be recognition with a requirement to negotiate in good faith. If we simply had an obligation, we would simply have legal wrangles. The Bill sets out methods—very complicated methods, I admit—for resolving disputes, with incentives at every stage for a voluntary agreement. When noble Lords opposite talk about small firms they should recognise that nearly all of the smallish firms that are brought within the scope of the Bill will achieve agreements by voluntary means, or by recognition, or by recognition without necessarily having collective bargaining. There are many other virtues of trade union agreements.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked me about the detriment and dismissal provisions in Clause 15. I can best answer him by reading out the relevant part of the letter which my noble friend Lord Simon has sent to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee: The Government continues to consider whether it would he possible notwithstanding the detailed nature of the proposed legislation to make substantive provision on the face of the Bill. However, informed consultation has revealed complications which the Government is still examining. If these can be resolved within the time scale of the Bill the Government will seek to amend the Bill to replace its present power with a substantive provision".

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, the Minister has made an important statement. As the matter may be left uncertain, can he at least give an assurance that every effort will be made to clarify the Government's intentions and the nature of their solution before we get out of Committee?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, yes. I will give the assurance that we will do everything we can. It is in our interests to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked about individual contracts. I welcome his acknowledgement that employers and employees will remain free, as they are now, to conclude individual contracts if they wish to, even where collective bargaining arrangements exist. We have no intention of changing that and the Bill does not do so. We recognise that some employers might put pressure on employees to accept individual contracts; that is why the Bill includes protection for employees from being forced to sign contracts with terms that differ from applicable collective agreements.

Perhaps I may now turn to the issue of family friendly policies. Reference has properly been made to maternity leave and parental leave. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, made the point that employers cannot dismiss replacement staff taken on to cover for maternity or parental leave, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. In most cases staff taken on to cover for staff on maternity or parental leave will not have been employed long enough to claim unfair dismissal, even when the qualifying period has been reduced to the reasonable period of one year. In any event, Section 106 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 specifically provides that when an employee is taken on to cover for maternity leave, the return of the woman concerned is a fair reason for dismissal provided the employee was informed of the situation when he or she was taken on. I hope that the noble Baronesses will agree that that is a complete answer to that point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, raised the question of the potential cost to employers of workers on parental leave. We will be consulting fully on the regulations to ensure that we give full protection for workers with families while minimising the costs and burdens on employers, including small firms. There are benefits that flow from an improved loyalty commitment and there is evidence that family-friendly policies such as parental leave can pay dividends in terms of reduced sickness and staff turnover.

I must express amazement at what the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said about taxes on business and particularly on small business. If she looks at the record on corporation tax, small business rates. lower profit rates and advanced corporation tax she will find that taxes, particularly on small businesses, are lower in this country than they have ever been.

I was asked by my noble friend Lord Haskel about European legislation and I was asked by a number of noble Lords about gold plating. We are keenly aware of the importance of ensuring that regulation is kept to a minimum. We take the view that the Bill represents minimum standards. The increase from 14 to 18 weeks goes beyond the strict requirements of Europe, but it has been almost universally welcomed by all sides as a means of reducing enormous confusion.

There was very little criticism in respect of employment agencies. Indeed, I have passed over many aspects of the Bill where I expected criticism and there was not any. That was rather nice. I wish to recognise the contribution of my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster in giving effect to Kenneth Lewis's Employment Agencies Act 1973. I am grateful for his recognition that after 25 years more legislation is required.

As to the issue of employment status, some of the most vulnerable members of the workforce are unsure whether they qualify for most employment rights because employment rights are available only to those who work under a contract of employment. The existence of such a contract can often be unclear and in the last resort only determined by a court or tribunal. In the Bill we are taking the power to act on that and to rationalise and update the coverage. However, we cannot do it without further detailed analysis and consultation.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, about nannies. If they are employees on a contract, in other words with the same rights as other employees, they will be entitled to maternity leave like any other employee. There is no discrimination against nannies in the Bill.

As regards waiver clauses against unfair dismissal, my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis pointed out that we have chosen not to outlaw waivers of redundancy rights. Employees on fixed-term contracts know that they will be employed only for a limited period. They do not expect the job security for which redundancy payments are intended to compensate. If they carry on after the agreed date of the contract, they will be entitled to the same rights as any others.

The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, has loyally stayed around for an answer to the question he asked a number of hours ago. He asked me about actors, particularly in the West End, but it applies also to film employees. The abolition of unfair dismissal waivers will restore a fundamental right to fixed-term employees. It is a right to which all such employees are entitled, regardless of the sector of the labour market in which they work. In my view there is no case for creating exemptions. However, I do not believe the noble Lord's interpretation of Clause 16 is right. Abolition will not prevent employers from offering fixed-term contracts to employees. If they have genuine reasons such as those which the noble Lord described for fixing the term of the contract and not renewing it when the term expires, dismissal at the end of it will not be unfair. If the noble Lord wishes to discuss the matter between now and Committee stage, we shall be happy to do so.

On grievance and disciplinary procedures, I was grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Wedderburn on what is proposed. I was interested in the point made by my noble friend Lord Monkswell about whether accompaniment in grievance procedures could be used to tackle the problem of bullying at work. We can certainly consider that because we strongly condemn workplace bullying. The Health and Safety Executive has issued guidance on help on work-related stress and will launch a campaign to promote better management of workplace stress.

I was taken aback by the criticisms of Clause 26 on partnership at work. We did not need legislation for that; it could well have been done as an administrative act. But we wanted to make it clear on the face of the Bill that we were prepared to support projects at the workplace based on employers and employee representatives working together to support innovative projects to develop the partnership approach in the workplace. We are not asking for extra money; it comes from the DTI's existing provision. How that can be described, as the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, described it, as "iniquitous" is beyond me. We are working on the detailed proposals for the fund. We need to because we want the first call for proposals to be launched as soon as the Bill has received Royal Assent. I hope we shall be able to make our position clear before the Committee stage.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Despite what he said, does he not believe that Clause 26(2) is drawn just a little widely?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is drawn with the intention of giving more detail while the House is considering the Bill. If the noble Lord does not like the further details which we give, then he is perfectly at liberty to oppose them. We did not need legislation for this in the first place. If any criticism could be made, it is that we are over-egging the pudding rather than the other way round.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, argued against the abolition of the commissioners. The Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action, whom he lauded, has only supported one single application since 1993. So we are not abolishing an active body. Similarly, the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members is not being abolished, except in a formal sense, because some of the powers are being given to the Certification Officer.

If more details are required about the role of the central arbitration committee, I summarise by drawing noble Lords' attention, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, to paragraphs 216 to 221 of the Explanatory Notes which make the position clear. I assure my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe that we shall devote all the necessary effort and resources to finding suitable candidates for the work of the CAC and supporting its work.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. I raised the issue of the draft directive on fixed-term work. Will he write to me, if he does not have time to deal with the point now?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Yes, my Lords. I am trying the patience of the House, but I am being interrupted quite a lot. Of course I am sympathetic to the point made by my noble friend Lady Turner and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, regarding sexual orientation. It is right that we said in our manifesto that we would seek to end unjustifiable discrimination where it exists. I hope that noble Lords will agree that it is not a cop-out if I say that the Equal Opportunities Commission has reported on those issues, but it reported to the Department for Education and Employment. It is better that we should leave it with the department at present.

The House will understand that if I have missed any points I shall try to write to noble Lords.

In summary, employers and society will benefit enormously from greater participation in the labour market, reduced staff turnover and a climate of greater commitment and trust in the workplace which the Bill can and will bring. The Government are putting into place the last major piece in our framework of reforms to create a fairer modern labour market in Britain. The Bill honours our manifesto commitments on trade union recognition and protection from dismissal for taking part in a properly balloted strike. It honours our commitment to strengthen family life; it is a contribution to a more inclusive society; it will benefit millions of people in their everyday lives. The Bill encourages responsible behaviour and will encourage employers and employees to resolve their differences by discussion rather than by conflict. It is a privilege to be able to commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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