§ 7. Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
What assessment he has made of the impact on industrial relations of those provisions of the Employment Relations Act 1999 which came into force in June. 
§ The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn)
No assessment has been made to date; it was only on 6 June that the provisions went on to the statute book. We are confident that they will help to improve industrial relations by creating a fair, workable procedure for resolving disputes about recognition, while at its core encouraging the voluntary settlement of contested issues at every stage.
§ Mr. Shaw
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Sadly, Thomson Marconi Sona has announced the closure of its plant in the Medway towns. The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union has secured more than 50 per cent. membership at that place of work, and at long last the management is suggesting that it will now recognise that trade union. Does my right hon. Friend welcome that? Is it not right that those in the work force there will get some security and comfort from the fact that they will be represented by their union? Is it not also true that if we adopted the policies of the Conservative party we would return our country to a "hire today, fire tomorrow" mentality? It is right that we should have partnership in the workplace, and that where more than 50 per cent. of the work force want to join a union, it should be recognised.
§ Mr. Caborn
It is always unfortunate when redundancies are announced, but obviously in an ever changing world we must manage change in the most effective way. What my hon. Friend has said underlines the need to put the voluntary aspect at the core of the legislation. In the case that he highlighted a voluntary 1055 agreement has been arrived at. But if a voluntary agreement cannot be reached, as we hope it will be, the statute is there to fall back on.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)
Last year the number of ballots for industrial action rose from 464 to 983, and the number of stoppages increased by 23 per cent. Given that the Government have now put statutory trade union recognition on the statute book, does the Minister anticipate that those figures will increase or decrease next year?
§ Mr. Caborn
When we put all those figures together, we see that the number of days lost in British industry was the second lowest on record. That is a very good record.
§ Mrs. Browning
We now see unions flexing their muscles, and recognise that the Government are more interested in their legislation in favour of unions than in the action that is taking place, such as that involving Royal Mail in north London. In reply to a written question that I asked only last week, the Secretary of State said that that action, which is disrupting a great deal of business post, was nothing to do with him. Is not the only hope for business the fact that the next election will result in the return of a Conservative Government, who will revoke statutory trade union recognition?
§ Mr. Caborn
I have no doubt that we would then return to the confrontational politics of industrial relations that used to be quite evident. I repeat that the number of days lost was the second lowest on record. With regard to my earlier answer about voluntary trade union recognition, there were 75 such recognitions in the 10 months to the end of October 1999, compared with 34 in 1998. The genuine partnership in industry is now working. The framework of industrial relations that we have put on the statute book is creating a climate of co-operation and making sure that we can have the most productive work force in a very competitive world. I believe that we have just about got it right.