§ 3.4 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
Before I come to the detail of the Bill, I believe that it would be appropriate to remind your Lordships of—so to speak—the industrial relations legislative story so far. Noble Lords will remember all too vividly the situation which the country faced in the late 1970s. The incoming Conservative Government were faced with the task of tackling issues which had dogged the country for years under successive administrations. They did so by establishing a step-by-step process of reform.
The first step in our process of reform was the Employment Act of 1980 which had as its main theme 942 adjusting the balance of power between employers and trade unions. It was designed specifically to deal with the pressing problems revealed by the way in which the legislative framework created during 1974–79 had enabled unions to abuse their power. The philosophy which underlay that Act, the architect of which was my noble friend Lord Prior, was the step-by-step approach, and it was never intended that what was done would amount to the Government's full programme for changes in industrial relations or trade union law.
The next step was the Employment Act of 1982. Thus, the Act which followed consultation on the Green Paper of the previous year had as its main theme new responsibilities and rights for unions and employers. Many of its provisions built on those of the 1980 Act, for example, to make closed shops subject to regular approval and to make it unlawful for unions to pressurise companies or contractors into using union labour. Your Lordships will recall that the major change brought about by that Act was the removal of trade unions' special legal immunity for actions in tort, thus allowing them to be sued in their own name for injunctions and damages. The definition of trade dispute was also amended so as to redraw the boundaries of lawful industrial action.
That was followed by the 1984 Trade Union Act. Its provisions shared the common theme of promoting democratic practices in trade union affairs, for example, by requiring pre-strike ballots to be held if unions were to retain their legal immunity. New statutory balloting requirements were imposed on the election of voting members of trade union governing bodies, and review ballots for trade union political funds were made a condition of continuing with such funds. The pre-strike ballot provisions are now a part of the industrial relations landscape, being widely accepted by employers, employees and trade unions.
The next step in this process of reform is the current Employment Bill. I shall come to the Bill's detailed provisions in a minute, but your Lordships will wish to be aware that its overriding theme is the promotion and protection of union members' rights.
These then are the major themes of the Government's previous industrial relations and trade union legislation and of the current Bill.
So much for how we got here. But where in fact are we today? Your Lordships will, I hope, share my satisfaction that the country is now experiencing significant economic growth. Britain's economy is in better shape now than for many years past. We are in our seventh successive year of steady growth at an annual rate of 3 per cent., which is the best performance since the war. The position on unemployment is equally encouraging. It has fallen for 18 months in succession, and by 600,000 since June 1986. This is the largest sustained fall on record. Nearly 1½ million new jobs have been created since 1983. Confidence in the future remains buoyant, not least because industry can now work and plan in a stable climate of sound money and consistent government policy.
It is undeniable that one factor which has made a major contribution is the profound change we have experienced in industrial relations. I have alluded 943 already to the latter part of the 1970s, but in 1979 our national reputation for being strike ridden was one of the major obstacles to economic success. Since then there has been a remarkable improvement. The number of working days lost on account of industrial disputes has fallen dramatically. There were fewer strikes in each of the last three years than in any year since the war. This transformation has made a very substantial contribution to Britain's economic recovery.
It is against that background that this Employment Bill comes before your Lordships for consideration. The Bill takes the process of industrial relations law reform a stage further. It is not, as some have claimed, an attack on trade unions or trade unionists. It tackles a number of issues of clear public concern, and works within the existing legal framework. Enforcement is left to those who are directly affected by trade unions' actions. Many of its provisions simply build upon the examples that some unions have given us of how the rights of members can be secured. The Bill aims to spread that good practice throughout the trade union movement. A union which gives its members the fundamental rights and protections which they are entitled to expect in a free democratic society will have nothing to fear from this Bill.
The Bill is concerned with the right framework of law for trade union affairs; by that I mean the framework which is appropriate to the realities of present-day society and its needs for the future. It is necessary, above all, to protect and ensure the rights that ordinary trade union members want and need. It puts the interests of the individual trade union member first and foremost.
A fundamental point must be made—trade unions are powerful and unique institutions. They are not, as is sometimes argued, like social clubs or sports clubs, which concern themselves with the individual's leisure activities. Trade unions can influence the employment of their members and affect the viability of the workplace and thus the entire future of the individual trade union member. It is particularly important to remember this point when considering Clause 3 of the Bill, which limits a union's power to discipline its members.
Although there have been substantial improvements in industrial relations over the past few years, there have also been some remarkable abuses. For example, it is surely not right that some trade unions should be able to transfer their funds through the international banking system to avoid the jurisdiction of the British courts. As long as devices of that kind are used, the process of law reform cannot be said to be complete. The Bill then gives the trade union member a series of important new rights. Clause 1 establishes the right not to be called out by a union on strike or other industrial action without a properly held secret ballot which has produced a majority in favour of the action. Clause 2 ensures that union members will have their rights of access to the courts secured. Clauses 3, 4 and 5 provide the right to be free from the threat of disciplinary action by a union if, for example, a member chooses to honour his employment contract 944 rather than to take strike or other industrial action. Clause 6 gives the union member the right of access to his union's accounting records and the right to have professional advice when inspecting them. Clause 7 gives individuals leaving their union the right to ensure that deduction of union subscriptions by their employer will be stopped. Clauses 8 and 9 give members the right to stop their union from using its funds for unlawful purposes or from handing out indemnities to those found guilty of criminal offences or contempt of court. Finally Clauses 12, 13, 14 and 15 together ensure that members have the right to a postal vote in elections for all members of the union's governing body, for the general secretary and president and on ballots in respect of political funds, with the assurance that such elections and ballots will be subject to proper standards of independent scrutiny.
These rights will be available to all trade union members. Many trade unionists have some of these rights under their contract of membership with their union and to that extent the Bill merely confirms that. But there are examples of union rule books and union practices which do not guarantee these fundamental rights.
The Bill also contains provisions in Clauses 10 and 11 designed to add to personal freedom and to get rid of out-dated restrictive practices. In effect, these clauses ensure that all special legal protection for the closed shop is removed by providing that dismissal for non-membership of a union will always be unfair, just as dismissal for union membership has always been unfair, and by removing legal immunity for industrial action to create or maintain any form of closed shop.
In addition the Bill provides in Clauses 18, 19 and 20 for a Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members, whose task will be to help union members with legal actions against their unions for failure to observe the legal requirements on elections, on prestrike ballots and on certain other matters. I stress the point though that the commissioner can act only when there is a trade union member who is eligible to bring a legal action against the union and who seeks the commissioner's assistance in doing so. The commissioner is there to help the individual trade union members. He cannot act off his own bat.
There are also provisions in Clause 16 to prevent unions from manipulating the voting constituencies in ballots for selective industrial action in order to produce a particular result. In Clause 17, there is a power enabling the Secretary of State to issue, after the normal consultative procedures and parliamentary scrutiny, statutory codes of practice to improve the conduct of trade union balloting and elections. In Clause 21 provision is made for the certification officer to regulate his own procedures and for the Secretary of State to make a scheme enabling the certification officer to refund expenses incurred by certain persons attending hearings convened by him.
Finally, in describing the contents of Part I, I should also call your Lordships' attention to Clause 29. The object of this clause is to ensure that in appropriate cases it will be possible to take legal action against anybody—for example, a Civil Service 945 union—who induces civil servants to take unlawful industrial action. This clause does no more than confirm the legal position thought to apply before a recent judgment of the divisional court which held that civil servants do not have contracts. It puts unions with respect to the Civil Service in exactly the same position as any other union with respect to industrial relations law.
I have no doubt that your Lordships will be particularly interested in Clause 3 of the Bill. I do not wish to anticipate the debate but let me just say that the Government fully accept that an individual who joins a union contracts to abide by the rules of that union; the Government are not saying that his employment contract should automatically take precedence over his obligations to his union, nor are they attacking the legitimacy of industrial action. But industrial action is not essential to the conduct of industrial relations. The question which has to be faced therefore is this: can it be right for participation in industrial action to be an obligation enforceable by the union? The Government say it is not. Some unions are resolved not to strike, many unions do not strike and in most countries unions operate quite effectively without forcing their members to strike.
I turn now to Part II of the Bill. For the past 15 years the Employment and Training Act 1973 has been the foundation of our activities in these areas. That Act created the Manpower Services Commission and provided the powers under which it now operates. The new clauses seek to build on and adjust the existing provisions so as to reflect the changes, which have taken place in the labour market over the past 15 years. These changes include the rapid rise of new technology, the growing need for British industry to compete in international markets, the increase in new jobs being created and the fact that unemployment is now falling rapidly.
We believe that the best way to respond to these changes is through two separate bodies: one to deal exclusively with employment matters and the other to deal with training and retraining. We took the first step in this direction last October when, following consultation with the MSC, the jobcentres and related services were brought back to the Department of Employment. This has allowed us to begin the process of reintegration with the unemployment benefit service.
In future an unemployed person will be able to contact one service, the employment service, for the two sorts of help he needs most—help with finding a job and financial help to support himself and his family in the meantime. The first responsibility of the new employment service will be to ensure that the unemployed, and particularly the long-term unemployed, get their fair share of the new jobs the economy is generating.
Reintegration of the jobcentres allows the MSC to become primarily a training agency. Its task will be to act as the focus of our national training effort. It will have a budget of £3 billion from which to finance training directly; and it will act as a catalyst to encourage industry to anticipate and meet its own skill requirements. It is important to recognise that seven out of 10 of the people who will be in the labour market in the year 2000 are in the labour market 946 already. That is why the key theme of the commission's work will be training and retraining. The objective will be to provide not just training on entry to the labour market but training through life.
This then is a strategy which Part II of the Bill seeks to implement.
Turning now to the detailed provisions of Part II, Clause 23 gives effect to our manifesto commitment to increase employer representation on the MSC by permitting the appointment of up to six additional members. It also changes the name of the MSC to the Training Commission to reflect its newly defined role.
Clause 24 recasts the powers that were previously contained in the 1973 Act to take account of the creation of the new employment service and contains a new power to pay a YTS bridging allowance. Clause 25 enables the status of trainees to be laid down by order. Clause 26 brings the benefit sanctions applicable to people who are dismissed from approved training schemes for misconduct into line with those for people dismissed from a job in similar circumstances. Clause 27 allows the Secretary of State to disclose information on employers' names and addresses to outside agencies so that they can carry out research or surveys on his behalf. Clause 28 enables the Secretary of State to appoint additional members to the industrial training boards.
This is an important Bill supported by trade union members and the public alike. Their expectation is that this legislation will, like its predecessors, bring about practical and worthwhile changes necessary to tackle matters of evident concern. Its main provisions were proposed in the Green Paper and in the Government's election manifesto. When enacted they will enhance individual rights and help to lay the foundations for our country's future prosperity. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Trefgarne.)
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I am sure that it will come as no surprise to your Lordships' House that we on this side find the Bill objectionable. Many of the main issues have already been debated in the House. Last year the Green Paper, Trade Unions and Their Members, was discussed by your Lordships. That was a consultative paper. Unfortunately the Government did not listen to many of the eminent people, including some in your Lordships House, and to many organisations covering a wide spectrum of opinion advising the Government not to proceed. People said that there had been enough legislation. The Bill now before us differs in some respects, but not markedly, from the proposals in the Green Paper.
There is a wide difference in philosophy—indeed, it appears to have become a gulf—between the outlook of the Government and Members on this side of the House. The Government's philosophy is that of tough-minded individualism. I think that Ministers would accept that statement and even regard it as a compliment. We on this side of the House believe that that philosophy puts many people at a substantial disadvantage that can be effectively overcome only by joining with others similarly placed. The 947 individual rights of a large number of people, whatever they may be, can be enforced only with the help of others and improvements can be achieved also only collectively. That idea lies at the root of trade union organisation. It is the understanding that the individual employee is not on an equal footing with his employer; that the employment contract is not one between two equal parties; and that the way to redress the balance is only in combination with fellow employees. Collectively they can exert countervailing power.
The Bill significantly fails to come to terms with those ideas. Indeed, it appears to be directed towards undermining them. It is complicated and in this address I shall deal only with what appears to me to be crucial; the main thrust of the proposed legislation. I am sure that in the debate certain of my noble friends will deal in more detail with various other aspects of it.
As was stated in the Green Paper and again by the Minister this afternoon, the aim of the Bill is alleged to be to give rights to individual trade union members. Mark you, they are not rights in relation to their employment or in regard to their employer—an area where there might be thought to be room for legislative improvement—but in regard to their trade unions. They are the unions which they have joined voluntarily—and I stress the word "voluntarily". We have already had legislation making it compulsory for unions to ballot members in advance of industrial disputes.
In seeking to run disputes, unions must inform individual members on the ballot paper that they are being asked to breach their contracts of employment. If there is a properly run ballot, with a majority in favour of action, the union has immunity from action in tort taken against it. However, the individual employer has no protection. Why that should be so has always surprised me. I do not understand why a contract of employment should not be regarded as in suspense, rather than breached, during a dispute following a secret ballot. That might have been a right worth having. Instead,' strike action continues to breach employment contracts, with all that that can mean for individual employees.
The Bill now proposes that in future, even if there has been a majority in favour of dispute actions, unions should not be able to enforce their rules against those who do not accept majority decisions, even though those people have a right to vote which they have exercised. Most unions have disciplinary rules. Your Lordships will know that for many years, until my retirement last year, I was a senior official of a large white-collar union. In my experience those rules are not enforced without a great deal of care being taken to ensure that procedures are carried out in accordance with the rules of natural justice.
As has been indicated, the Bill establishes procedures by which individual union members may present complaints to industrial tribunals that they have been unfairly disciplined and compensation may be awarded if the complaint is well-founded. The Bill makes clear what will be regarded as well-founded. Disciplinary measures will be unjustified if a member fails to participate in an action, even if 948 there has been the support of a majority in the ballot. That is one of the most controversial clauses in the Bill. The TUC is not the only body which has opposed it; so has the Institute of Personnel Management and even the CBI has strong reservations which it has made known to the Government.
I often think that the Government look at trade union activity through a distorting glass. Anyone would think that those most keen on disciplinary action are union leaderships. That is not so at all. In my union I had a responsibility for the application of union rules and internal procedures. After a dispute the people most keen on disciplinary action being taken against individuals who had not participated were those who had participated in the dispute—the members who had actually undertaken the industrial action. They were frequently furious with those who had ignored the majority vote, gone to work, been paid and who, nevertheless, also participated in the benefits of union activity and negotiations. They were the people who complained to the executives and wanted action to be taken against those whom they felt had let them down.
I have this to say to the Government: there is no law on earth that can compel people to be nice to each other. The fact that a union has procedures, that a national executive council can be called upon to look at complaints and make decisions about penalties, undoubtedly takes the heat out of post-strike situations. The activists at office or workshop level are normally content to pass the problem over to the union and allow it to be handled under its disciplinary procedures. If a union is put in the position of being unable to hold formal procedures of any kind, the majority of the workforce will find its own way of dealing with those whom they regard as having let them down. That is a recipe for conflict.
The new protections are not only unnecessary but they give rights to minorities which do not exist in other institutions. What is the point of having a ballot if what the majority says does not matter? Why go to the bother and expense of arranging a ballot in the first place? Why should any club retain in membership people who will not keep its rules? After all, as the Minister made clear in introducing the Bill, previous legislation has made the closed shop unenforceable. Therefore people do not have to belong to a union; they can leave or not belong in the first place. It seems outrageous that they should be assisted by the Government to retain all the benefits of union organisation while being able to divest themselves of any responsibility. We on this side of the House will pursue that matter further in Committee.
I should now like to turn to another section of the Bill which, in my view, seems to indicate a further and quite unwarranted interference with the way in which unions conduct their affairs. I am referring to the provisions of Clause 12. It is clear that the Government do not particularly care for a certain union president who has recently and successfully stood for re-election. However, in attempting to ensure that anyone with any say in union affairs at national level should stand for election at regular intervals, the Government appear to have spread the 949 net very wide indeed. The Bill covers not only those who are members of the national executive committee but all those who may attend and speak at meetings of the committee other than those who provide factual information or technical or professional advice.
I wonder whether the Government have fully understood what is involved in this area. Many unions, including most white-collar unions, employ officials on normal contracts of employment. This will often apply to all employed staff in a number of major unions—including general secretaries. I was employed by my union as Assistant General Secretary. It was my function, among others, to attend all meetings of our national executive council. I did not have a vote but I was responsible for preparing papers, for speaking to them as required and from time to time I was deputising for the General Secretary when he was absent and so on. I was expected to speak on behalf of the union from time to time, but always under the direction and instruction of the national executive council, by whom I was employed. I had a normal employment contract which could be terminated by each side giving requisite notice. I had ordinary employment protection as well, including the right to redundancy pay if made redundant, the right to go to an industrial tribunal if I had been dismissed unfairly, and of course I had superannuation rights.
As I have read the Bill, officials in that capacity are likely to have those rights expunged by Parliament. The contract of employment is to be nullified. Moreover, it is to apply to all those within two years of normal retirement date. That goes further than previous legislation when the provisions applied only to those up to five years away from retirement date. The Government have given no reason that I can see for the alteration from five to two years, and it seems to me entirely malicious. Why introduce these arrangements at all? There is no evidence of which I am aware that officials of the kind I have described have been guilty of maladministration or the kind of errors that could be dealt with by periodic elections. Very often those best qualified in the administrative field are those least likely to succeed on the hustings. The choice should be left to unions themselves—most of which are currently concerned to improve their administration and their services to members. That involves becoming more professional, not less.
There is another point which has been made by the CBI in its comments on the Bill:The tensions that could arise when the same individual was both an appointed official of the union, answerable to the executive, and an elected member of that executive, accountable to the union membership as a whole, do not need spelling out; they could well be inconsistent with the promotion of improved industrial relations".However, the main point remains. Why have the Government decided that, for a particular class of employee, it is necessary to strike down their contracts of employment and remove employment rights which cover all other employees? There is no adequate or fair explanation and we shall return to this in Committee.
While on the subject of officials, the Bill makes it unlawful, except in certain cases prescribed by order, for a union to indemnify its officers in regard to any penalty imposed by a court for an offence or for 950 contempt of court. Again, it is not clear why this should be imposed on unions as employers and not on others. It is quite common for employers to indemnify those who act on their behalf. There was a recent well-publicised case of a newspaper which openly declared on its front page that it would not only pay the fine for one of its journalists fined for contempt, but the costs of the action as well. I do not see why it should not be allowed to do so. Again, what is the case for unions being treated differently?
There is then the provision in Clause 13 that stipulates that in future all elections for union leaderships must be by individual postal ballot. I am not against balloting and neither is the trade union movement in general but this brings to an end arrangements for workplace ballots allowed by previous legislation. The Green Paper mentioned a couple of cases of alleged abuse of workplace balloting. However, what is significant about these cases is that the unions themselves instituted their own independent inquiries and put the matters right. In many unions, workplace balloting results in much greater membership participation and therefore that option should remain.
The Bill established another bureaucracy—strange for a Government that always appear so opposed to bureaucracy and to the expenditure of public funds. We are to have a Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members. In the memorandum dealing with the financial effects of the Bill, we are told that it is expected to cost some money. The figure of £3 million in a full year is expected to be the cost of Part I. I could think of many more worthy subjects on which to spend that money. My noble friends and I spent a lot of time last week on the Social Security Bill when we were trying unsuccessfully to persuade the Government not to economise on the disabled, the sick, the homeless and generally disadvantaged. However, this new official is to have public money at his disposal to assist individuals to proceed not against their employers on issues like unfair dismissal, sex or race discrimination, redundancy pay and the like but against their unions—the unions of which they are voluntary members. The courts are already available to union members who feel they have grievances against their unions. Now the Government come along with public money to encourage complaints. Again, this could have a destabilising effect on industrial relations.
Part II deals with the Manpower Services Commission and changes the name to the Training Commission. It is also proposed to increase the number of employers, but not union representatives, sitting on the Commission. The MSC was not happy about this and has said so. The unions feel that this is a further attempt by the Government to marginalise them and to decrease their ability to influence training programmes, despite the TUC's undoubted commitment to improving training.
In this part of the Bill we also have the proposal aimed at disqualifying from unemployment benefit those who unreasonably refuse or leave a training scheme. This has to be seen in conjunction with Clause 4 of the Social Security Bill. Provisions in both Bills would have the effect of introducing an element of compulsion into training schemes. No one wants 951 compulsory trainees, least of all those employers who are genuinely concerned about training. To many young people what is proposed here will seem like a step in the direction of "Workfare" and a kind of cheap labour which will do nothing for training but will have the effect of reducing artificially the number of people on the unemployment register. However, I believe that some of my noble friends will be dealing with this aspect of the Bill in the debate.
Unions have had a bad press in recent years. I must say emphatically that I do not believe we have deserved it. The media are concerned only to report disaster and drama and therefore give most of their attention to disputes and conflict. However, an enormous amount of good work is carried out for union members which is never reported at all. It should not be necessary, 150 years after Tolpuddle, to have to make a case for trade unionism. However, in the light of this Bill I think it has to be done. For the Bill, in its main elements, strikes at the root of the solidarity so essential to the trade union movement.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me for interrupting. Before she finishes, is she going to say something about the statement made by the Minister that this Bill has the support of trade unionists and public alike? I believe those were his precise words.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the Bill does not have the support of trade unionists or trade union members; on the contrary. I talk now of when I was an official of my union and at that time we had a great deal of opposition to the Bill coming from the grass roots of the trade union movement. I do not believe that it is at all correct that there is support for the Bill from employees generally or, indeed, from individual trade union members. As for the public, I believe that also is a very doubtful proposition. I do not see any evidence that the public is anxious for a further tranche of union legislation. There has already been a succession of trade union Bills which are now Acts and I believe there is widespread feeling that enough is enough and that there is no need for further legislation. That is my belief.
If I may continue, exceptional rights are to be provided at public expense to individuals who flout the rules of the unions to which they voluntarily belong and in defiance of majority views expressed by their colleagues in secret ballots. That is an unprecedented attempt by Government to interfere in the internal workings of voluntary organisations.
The Government say that they are concerned about individual rights. If they are so concerned, why do they not do something to improve individual rights in employment? Instead, the whole legislative thrust since 1979 has been to remove rights from employees and to tilt the balance heavily in favour of employers. The effect has been to allow exploitation of the most vulnerable and unprotected sector of the workforce.
The Government no doubt feel that unions interfere with the free operation of the market; of 952 course, they do. They must do so if they are to protect their members from the effects of jungle economics. The Government do not want unions to be effective or strong enough to do that. That is why they want this Bill. That is why we on this side of the House must do our utmost to ensure that the Bill does not leave your Lordships' House without substantial amendment.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, from these Benches I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for the clear way in which he introduced the Bill. Hitherto my noble friends and I have given broad support to the Government's step-by-step approach to the reform of the law relating to trade unions. Indeed, on one matter, the use of secret postal ballots for electing members of the principal executive committees of trade unions, the House will recall that in 1984 we wished to go further than the Government. However, our general view on Part I of the Bill now before us is that this is not the time for yet another round of union legislation.
It is claimed that the Government's proposals were clearly foreshadowed in last year's Green Paper and in the Conservative Party election manifesto and that they have popular support. However, speaking from long experience in this field I believe that the proposals are better judged by their likely practical effect. I fear that in introducing so much more legislation of this kind the Government are now showing themselves to be less concerned with the need gradually to improve industrial relations by encouraging more co-operation between management and employees than with a desire further to cripple the effectiveness of trade unions. However, for better or for worse, this Bill is now before us. We must therefore consider its main provisions on their individual merits.
Under Clause 1 the Government are not content with enabling union members to take legal action to restrain their union from authorising or endorsing industrial action that has not been validated by a ballot. Under Clause 3 they now propose that individual union members should be protected from being disciplined by their union if they refuse to join in industrial action even when that action has been endorsed by a prior secret ballot. The Government claim that the individual should be afforded this legal protection because in taking industrial action he breaks his employment contract. What they fail to add is that in other countries, as the noble Baronesss, Lady Turner, has already reminded us, there is a right to strike written into the constitution and the employment contract is suspended if there is a strike.
I suggest that the clause may also produce practical problems for employers such as having to provide work for those who demand it. For example, what will be the position of the employer who cannot realistically offer work to those who present themselves for it? In many contracts employers have a right to lay off their employees in the event of industrial action. There could thus be a conflict between contractual and statutory rights. Is it the Government's intention that the new right given by Clause 3 should override the contractual right? I 953 should be glad if the noble Earl would answer that question when he replies.
Almost every organisation of employers advised against the introduction of this clause largely because it will undermine the balloting process. What justification have the Government for considering that they know better than those employers who will be most affected by the clause? Is there not a great danger that another consequence of the provision will be to undermine the authority of union officials, who have the responsibility to ensure that their members comply with collective agreements, and to prevent unofficial action? To put it at its lowest, the Government are surely unwise in this respect to flout the advice of almost all those who have to handle industrial relations in the front line.
It will be plain from what I said earlier that we shall support the Government's tardy acceptance under Clauses 13 and 14 of the Bill of the need for trade unions in every case to use postal voting procedures under independent supervision for the election of members of principal executive committees, and for these procedures to extend to the distribution, receipt and counting of ballot papers.
Clause 16 is a very different matter. Even in the form in which it was amended at Report stage in another place, I find it very difficult to understand. It is significant that its content was not even mentioned in the Green Paper that we debated last year. If it had been, at least the Government might have benefited from the advice of the people who will have to put the provisions into practice. It is surely highly undesirable that we should pass legislation couched in language so obscure that it may not be comprehensible to those who will be affected by it.
The purpose of the clause appears to be to ensure that in conducting ballots prior to industrial action, trade unions cannot achieve a particular result by creating artificial electoral constituencies. However, as the Institute of Personnel Management has pointed out, from the point of view of employers, this provision seems to be a double-edged weapon. It says:There are some corporate organisations that have always in the past managed to submerge the votes of a few notoriously militant sites in the overall results of a normally acquiescent workforce. This will no longer be possible and there is the danger that the militant sites concerned will take approved industrial action of their own.….The employer, unlike the union, has no control over the choice of local or central ballots and indeed there appears to be nothing in the clause to prevent the union first balloting company-wide and then locally if the necessary majority is not achieved; or vice versa".The institute goes further and says that it would be more helpful from an employer's point of view if Clause 16 were omitted altogether from the Bill. At first sight I think that it is right.
Clauses 18 to 20 set out the conditions under which the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members can assist trade unionists taking legal action against their union. We see no need for the appointment of such a controversial figure. As the CBI has pointed out, it is on the principle of improving democratic procedures within trade unions that the Government should build. That principle may be prejudiced by the introduction of such an external agency.
954 I turn only briefly to Part II of the Bill because my noble friend Lady Seear will deal with it in more detail. In Committee we shall question the Government closely over the very extensive powers that are to be accorded to the Secretary of State in making arrangements for training and employment, specifying the status of people affected by those arrangements and making payments to them. To us these provisions appear to be yet another example of the Government's reluctance to consult, of their distaste for consensus and their excessive centralisation of decision-making.
In its recent report the Manpower Services Commission was unanimous in recommending that to assure commitment to the new training scheme for the long-term unemployed, people must want to take part in it. In his Statement last week in another place the Secretary of State insisted that the scheme would be voluntary, but we know that under the Social Security Bill YTS is being made compulsory. Therefore, we are all the more apprehensive about the use to be made of Clause 26 relating to the conditions under which people who refuse to take part in training approved by the Secretary of State can be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit.
We are concerned also that, unlike other forms of income support, payment of the bridging allowance to be made to young people waiting to take up employment and training facilities is apparently under Clause 24 to be determined by the Secretary of State alone without reference to Parliament. I ask the Minister to tell us what justification there is for such payments not being made subject to affirmative resolution by Parliament. Those are just two of the points that trouble us about this part of the Bill.
In conclusion, it will be apparent that on these Benches we have serious misgivings about many of the provisions of the Bill as a whole and we shall give further expression to those misgivings in Committee.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, this is the best trade union reform Bill so far; but it is still short of ensuring complete democracy for trade union members. Despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said, union members very much like the amount of democracy which they have, and they would like some more. The noble Baroness probably thinks that a majority of trade union members still obediently vote Labour on the instructions of their union officials, but those days have long gone. They have left the old reactionaries of the trade union movement miles apart and far adrift from their union members and I am afraid that the noble Baroness is even out of touch with her own members.
I am not a union basher. I believe in unions which are strong because they accurately represent their members' views. The recent Ford strike does not mean that the improvements in the law so far have failed. It shows that they have been a success. Previously strikes on a show of hands at massed meetings could be and were manipulated by intimidation from bully boys. Now, the pre-strike ballot reveals what the members' feelings really are. That helps management and the union negotiators. 955 Whether the final form of settlement was wise or foolish, it was arrived at on a democratic basis. Likewise, the strikes at Land Rover and Vauxhall are decisions of the members alone. They may regret their decisions—that is part of the learning process in democracy—but they are their own decisions.
This Bill extends democracy further in the unions by requiring a compulsory secret postal ballot for the election of union executives. This is of great importance. The workforce ballots previously allowed were too easily manipulated. They often were and still are. That is why there have been so many doubts about the validity of recent Transport and General Workers' Union elections and those in the Civil and Public Services' Association. The electricians' and plumbers' union (much disliked by other members of the TUC because it is so democratic) uses an independent body to send out ballot papers by post to its members which must be returned to that same body for counting. That is the only safe system.
However, this Bill only requires the ballot papers to be returned to an independent scrutineer. It does not require that independent scrutineer to be responsible for sending out the ballot papers. Unless the Bill does that, there will be many fiddles and the election results will not always be as the members intended. It is too easy for union officials, particularly at branch level, to issue extra ballot papers and to write bogus votes on them, or have them attributed to people who are not even members or to members who have not voted.
In the great ETU case in the High Court in 1961 it was established that bogus ballot papers were put into envelopes and posted in different parts of the country, addressed to where the votes were to be counted. It was a technique which enabled the Communists to rig the ballots and corruptly hold power in that union for 15 years.
I am surprised that there are still members who are connected with trade unions who support that kind of activity. The independent scrutineer who receives the votes for counting must also be the person who sends out those ballot papers; otherwise we will never be sure that the votes he counts are genuine. I hope to move an amendment in Committee to rectify this defect, and I hope that the Government will accept it.
The importance of the compulsory secret postal ballot was emphasised in January when the presidential election took place in the National Union of Mineworkers. It was a workplace and pithead ballot. The ballot boxes were not locked and sealed for delivery to the Electoral Reform Society to be opened only by that society. They were emptied straight out of the ballot boxes by branch officials on the spot who then shuffled them into envelopes. Your Lordships may have seen on television the numerous and many-sized envelopes which were then delivered to the place of counting. It was easy for votes for Mr. Scargill to be added and genuine votes for Mr. Walsh, the so-called defeated candidate, to be subtracted.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
My Lords, while I hold no brief for the victor in that election, is the noble Lord alleging that there was deception and 956 fraud in that ballot? If so, will he let us have the evidence?
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I am alleging that there was fraud in the recent election for the presidency of the NUM on 22nd January. Perhaps noble Lords would care to read today's Yorkshire Post. It is headlined:Scargill ballot was rigged says study".The article continues with a long analysis and survey showing that 118 per cent. voted compared with 100 per cent. available to vote.
As at an earlier election when Mr. Heathfield narrowly became general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, there were grave doubts as to whether the true votes of the members were counted by the Electoral Reform Society on 22nd January. It is likely that Mr. Walsh actually defeated Mr. Scargill. Mr. Scargill's supporters, for many hours before the count, were proclaiming Mr. Scargill the victor. How did they know if they had not already examined the voting papers delivered to the Electoral Reform Society? Mr. Scargill, doubtless unintentionally, profited by numerous irregularities in the handling of the ballot papers. I am surprised at the Electoral Reform Society conniving at this farce and pretending that the election was conducted properly. I recommend that your Lordships look at the Yorkshire Post today.
It is very interesting that the election for Mr. Scargill's presidency took place although it was quite unnecessary. Mr. Scargill is not at present a voting member of the NUM executive and he was not obliged to stand for re-election. He made those arrangements when the last trade union Act would have otherwise compelled him to stand. Mr. Scargill acted before this Bill could take effect extending compulsory secret postal ballots for the election of non-voting members of the executive.
He also employed another cunning device. At the end of five years from 22nd January 1988 he will be within five years of the NUM retirement age if that is altered to 60 years of age as it certainly will be. Accordingly, his election on 22nd January was aimed to give him a tenure of 10 years short of 11 days before he reaches his 60th birthday.
Mr. Scargill has now announced that he will take the Government to the European Court to overturn the law for compulsory secret postal ballots. His being so afraid of the results of them is the strongest possible evidence of their desirability. To put all doubt aside, this Bill should be amended to require any person holding a position which will now require his election to it by compulsory postal ballot, to stand again in such a ballot within one year of the passing of this Act. That will make Mr. Scargill, for the first time, contest a properly conducted secret ballot. Then all union members will know that there is no doubt about the validity of their elected executive officers. I propose to move an amendment to this effect at Committee stage. I hope that will be accepted otherwise poor Mr. Kinnock will be saddled with Mr. Scargill for another 10 years, and he will not like that one little bit.
Another item of great importance is that when voting papers are sent out by post each candidate 957 should send with them a personal manifesto in which he must state his policies and beliefs. Otherwise most members, who usually know nothing at all about a candidate, may be deceived into voting for somebody they would never have voted for if they had known what it was that he stood for.
In another place there was an amendment to that effect which was not carried at the time. The Minister, Mr. Cope, said that he was sympathetic to the idea being included in the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will confirm that this is the intention of the Government. If it is not, I shall have to move an amendment in Committee to that purpose.
The Bill provides for a commissioner to take up a grievance or grievances of union members provided the grievance or grievances seem well-founded. That is intended to be helpful to union members, but it ignores the reality in unions particularly those with a strong extremist element. Many union members are terrified of persecution if they step forward to bring actions against their own unions. That is one reason why a union known to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, the communist-dominated TASS, never complied with the declaration of the certification officer that it should hold secret ballots for the election of its executive in accordance with the 1984 Act.
It is too much to ask a nervous and inarticulate union member to go through such a mighty and exposed procedure by himself to obtain redress. He will have to do so if the Bill is not amended. It should be possible for union complainants to have their identities protected if the certification officer or commissioner is satisfied that the complaint is genuine. I hope that the Government will make the necessary amendments themselves otherwise I must put down amendments at Committee stage to that effect to try to give proper protection to union members.
I should also like to put down an amendment to require the certification officer to ensure that all unions are complying and will comply, with the electoral rules laid down in the 1984 Act and with any amendments which may be made to this present employment Bill. It is not sensible to suppose that timid union members have the resources, the strength of character or the time to devote or the willingness to put up with the intimidation involved to ensure that their union complies with the law on elections. In particular, this applies if the union is dominated by some very tough and nasty people—and there are nasty people in the unions, as the noble Baroness said. There are some very tough and nasty people, like some members of TASS for example. Their general secretary is so Stalinist that he was expelled even from the British Communist Party.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, would the noble Lord mind indicating to the House what relevance that has to the Bill before your Lordships' House?
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I thought from what she was saying that the noble Baroness had made some attempt to read the Bill. The relevance is clear. The union to which I have just referred has 958 recently merged with her own. I hope that she and her union will now see that the communists who have been dominating TASS will now be obliged to comply with the 1984 Act on union elections and any amendments to it in this Bill.
If this Bill is tidied up in the way I suggest, it should be the last time that Parliament has to concern itself with democracy in the unions. The process has been slow but good and educative. Despite what out-of-touch leaders like the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, say, union members like to have union officials as their servants and not as their masters. The hysterical objections of the TUC and the Labour Party to full democracy in the unions seemed to have subsided recently and I hope that is still true. I hope that the unions and the Labour Party see that the added respect which is now coming to union leaders and unions because of their democratic forms of election, is raising the regard among the public for the unions and hence for the Labour Party. I do not know why on earth members of the Labour Party are opposed to it. They should be duly grateful to the Government for making it more likely, through these reforms, that a Labour Government will one day be elected again.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he prepared to repeat outside the House the allegations that he has made about the NUM election?
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I am so sorry. I thought that perhaps the noble Baroness had read my articles in the News of the World. I have already stated them.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Basnett
My Lords, I hope to speak about the Employment Bill! Perhaps I may first of all apologise to the House and express my regret that because of a long-standing engagement I may not be able to stay for the whole of this debate.
Before I speak about the Bill in general terms, and in particular about Clause 3, I should like to raise one issue which I hope is not controversial. Part II of the Employment Bill will establish a training commission with responsibility to provide vocational training for the post-school population. There is no direct requirement in the Bill for the training commission to provide any special services to disabled people. In the past, disabled people have missed out on opportunities because special schemes such as the YTS have been introduced without wider arrangements for the particular needs of this disadvantaged group.
We must be concerned to ensure that similar omissions will not occur under the training commission and that disabled people will not continue to be inadvertently discriminated against by policy planners failing to make arrangements to meet their special needs. The Employment Bill must be amended so that disabled persons' needs are considered when new schemes are planned and when existing provisions are reviewed.
959 I speak on this unnecessary Bill with the background of having been a trade union officer for almost 40 years. I have worked for a trade union movement which, despite what the Minister said and despite its problems, is authoritative, democratic, responsible and competent. It is with these considerations in mind, which are not always easy in practice to balance, that I look at the Employment Bill. I believe it to be the most unnecessary piece of legislation before Parliament in this Session. I do not agree with much of the Government's legislative programme but at least I can recognise that there are arguments for some points in the Education Reform Bill. I can recognise some unfairness in the rating system, though not the conclusion that the poll tax is a better system. But what can be said about the Employment Bill?—only perhaps that memories of the 1979 and 1983 manifestos led to all the bits and pieces properly left out from previous Bills being swept into a Green Paper for the 1987 manifesto.
I accept that there was some public concern about the issues which were dealt with in the Bills of 1980, 1982 and 1984. I do not believe that there is the same public concern about the matters dealt with in this Bill; and I know of no evidence to support the assertion that the Bill has trade union support or substantial public support. I believe the Bill to be fostered by political opportunism, not high-minded principle. But most of all the Bill offends because its authors seem to know little, or care even less, about its effects. There is a rough carelessness in every clause in the Bill.
This is most in evidence in Clause 3, which aims to create a right for union members not to be disciplined by unions because they fail to participate in, or support, industrial action even if it had the support of a majority of fellow workers in a ballot. It has been argued by Ministers in the other place that an individual has a series of obligations; and so he has—to his employer, to his family, to his union, and perhaps to his profession. When these clash, as they can do when a union takes strike action, he should be able, according to the Government, to make a choice between conflicting obligations without fear of penalty from his union; not without fear of penalty from his employers or even his professional organisation, but only from his union.
We all have difficulty in reconciling conflicting obligations in our lives. We all adopt priorities knowing that we cannot escape the consequences of our actions. But when you join a union, you agree to abide by its rules. Central to those rules in an obligation to accept majority decisions. If you cannot accept them, the honourable course is to resign. There is no case for an individual defying a balloted union decision and not having to face up to the consequences. No club, no society, no scout troup, no football team—not even the Law Society or the BMA—can operate on the basis that unions would be compelled to operate under according to Clause 3. The clause offends any notion of responsible authoritative democracy.
It is not surprising, therefore, that objections to Clause 3 come from a range of objectors wider than just the trade union movement. The employers 960 through the CBI and personnel management through the IPM have been joined by a number of organisations, some of them not previously known for supporting trade unions, in supporting opposition to Clause 3. But these objections, weighty in principle as they are, are not all. The practical objections are just as weighty.
Before, during and after an industrial dispute trade union executives and their officers need all the authority and control that they can command. Unions' disciplinary rules are used to support that necessary authority. If removed or made inoperable, it is weakened, which is exactly what an enacted Clause 3 would do over a wider area than that for which it is designed. For how could a trade union executive discipline members who failed to return to work after a strike when it had not—indeed, could not—discipline members who failed to join that strike? How could a union executive, when it has failed to discipline members for not joining an authorised strike, discipline members who joined an unauthorised strike?
Of course it is possible to exaggerate the consequences of undermining union authority and responsibility in this way, but it is not possible to deny the danger of inflamed, disputes and of less responsible elements assuming the authority lost by officially elected union bodies.
To take one example, if a minority worker did not join in a large strike this would cause great tension between him and the majority. Currently unions have disciplinary processes for handling such matters which often provide a cooling-off period and opportunities for the divisions to be healed. That is much more common than expulsion from the union.
Under Clause 3 it will not be possible to have a disciplinary process, and regrettably the temptation will be for workers to take the initiative and deal with matters in all sorts of informal, possibly intimidatory, ways. So not only is Clause 3 an offence to responsible democracy but it could open the door to the type of militant action none of us wishes to see. I hope that we shall concentrate in particular in the House on this iniquitous clause and secure its removal from the Bill. Its proposal threatens democratic control with legalised anarchy. It endangers responsible trade union leadership. It hazards the calm which shows signs of settling over the previous trade union legislation. It is the most foolish part of a foolish Bill.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am happy to be able to begin by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, on the point with which he began. I hope and believe that the training commission will have provision for the training of disabled persons. If there is any omission in that respect I very much hope that my noble friend will deal with it. I wholly agree with the noble Lord that it is of grreat importance that disabled people should get the fullest possible training.
I regret that there my agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, terminates. Understandably 961 from his point of view, he devoted most of his speech to a criticism of Clause 3. I should like to examine a little the arguments that he adduced against it.
In the first place he did not face up to the fact that any individual, trade unionists or otherwise, has a series of duties. A man who takes part in a strike makes himself vulnerable to being dismissed, which is a very serious matter indeed for any man. Therefore, he has to consider not only his loyalty to his union but also his loyalty to his family and sometimes also his loyalty to an employer on whose prosperity he very much depends for his future. It is therefore quite wrong to enable the union to punish him if he decides that the other loyalties, to his family or to his employer, take precedence to his loyalty to the union.
It is no use saying there is no point in having a ballot if at the end of the day individuals need not strike. They may well vote in the minority. Is there any reason why a trade union member should be compelled to sacrifice his future and perhaps his job because a union has taken action of which he happens to disapprove? It is not as easy as the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, suggests to provide that union discipline shall take precedence over everything.
To take a recent example—I do not know whether the noble Lord defends it—during the recent Wapping dispute, the National Union of Journalists fined 95 journalists £1,000 each for crossing picket lines. Is that really justifiable? They were responsible, professional men who saw their duty to their newspaper as more important than their duty to the union. They attended, and so were to be fined by that unofficial body the quite substantial sum of £1,000.
When the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, says that there is no public concern about the present state of the law with which this Bill is designed to deal, I think he is wrong in that respect. The public as a whole were very disturbed by all the goings-on of the Wapping dispute, of which the persecution of those journalists who stuck to their job is just one example.
I am very glad that the Government are going ahead to deal with this issue, which goes to the root of the Bill. As I understand it, the object of the Bill is to give back power to the union members from the leadership. It is not to bash trade unions, but it is inside the unions to restore the rights of the members as against the excessive powers which the leadership has exercised. That is of the essence of the Bill, and that is why it is necessary to provide a commissioner for trade unions, for it is useless to give a man a legal right to sue a large, rich union unless you give him some assistance in the sueing of it. One remembers the old remark that courts of law, like the Ritz Hotel, are open to all. It is obvious that an ordinary indivdual cannot possibly take his union to court. It is extremely important that a citizen whose rights under this Bill when it becomes an Act are violated by a union will have proper assistance from the commissioner in taking the matter to court. This is the theme of the Bill.
I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, that it is the best of the four Bills we have had so far which have been part of a methodical process of bringing the trade unions and their leadership in particular into a proper relationship with our society as a whole.
962 One has only to cast one's mind back to the 1970s, to the confusion, the strikes, the midnight gatherings at No. 10 Downing Street, and all the drama and disturbance which was then caused, and then to contrast that with the much more orderly state of affairs which exists today. The importance of the change from the 1970s situation can hardly be overestimated because it accounts in large measure for the great improvement in our general national position. In the 1970s the wealth-creation power of this country was undermined and weakened by the disputes and by the arrogant, aggressive action which some unions and their leaders took. Wealth creation is essential. It is no use talking about the woes of the National Health Service unless one is prepared to support measures which will help the creation of the wealth to pay for it. Wealth creation is of great importance, as also is foreign investment. That too was very much discouraged by the action of the unions in the 1970s, but it is now becoming stronger and immensely valuable and is creating increased employment.
All the problems about which your Lordships are concerned, about which we all care a great deal, such as unemployment, are related to this. If one can stimulate the national economy, encourage foreign investment and increase the competitiveness of British industry, not only can one have the funds which are necessary for our various social security needs but one can also raise the individual's standard of life. It is also possible, as we are doing, steadily to diminish the levels of unemployment. As we have seen, this steady improvement of the position is having its effect.
It is not a case of asking your Lordships to accept a theory. It is only a case of asking you to look at the reality of what is happening before your eyes. This is why I particularly welcome this Bill and the very clear way in which it moves excessive power from the union leadership mainly to the members of the unions themselves. As your Lordships know if you have studied history, where power is excessive, where it is excessively used, then sooner or later it is taken away. Our kings found it. Your Lordships' House found it. The big industrialists of the 19th century found it. Power moves away from where it has been excessively concentrated and aggressively used and this is simply another example of that.
There are many other parts of the Bill—but I shall not weary your Lordships by referring to them—which are of the very greatest importance. I particularly welcome the provisions in respect of the closed shop. I have never regarded the closed shop as justified. Your Lordships may be interested if in support of that I quote a personal experience. When I was chairman of Rugby Portland Cement some years ago we did not recognise trade unions. I thought that was a mistake and that we should have recognition of trade unions. I had helpful conversations with that very considerable trade union leader, Mr. Jack Jones. We agreed to trade union representation in Rugby's works, even though at least one of those works on the ballot did not want to have it. We agreed to it on the clear understanding that the closed shop would not be expected or imposed and Mr. Jack Jones, your Lordships will not 963 be surprised to know, being the honourable man he is, agreed entirely to this and abided by that provision which continues, as I understand it, to this day.
That surely is the right approach to the unions. Excessive power over their members, excessive power over the community, is harmful. but they have a real and important role to play and I do not, as one who has been concerned with a good many industries, under-rate that in the slightest. I believe that this Bill, by getting the power structure more tidily aligned, will enable that good role to be fulfilled. I have only one other point that I want to make before I sit down ——
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Before he leaves that point, would he not agree that the closed shop has been known for centuries far better to the professionals—the lawyers, the accountants, the medical profession—than it was ever known to the workers and it seems to work very successfully to their advantage?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the noble Baroness is, I think, indulging in a half truth. To take the example of the lawyers, that is not a closed shop in the sense in which we discuss it in the trade union world, because no one can be a member of those professions who has not passed the necessary examinations. There is no necessary examination before the closed shop is applied in the trade union movement. So she will see the difference between a profession which rightly sees that it should have proper qualifications among its members and the closed shop where the sole condition of employment is membership of a particular body regardless of your qualifications. I hope that the noble Baroness will see the difference.
I was about to refer to one other matter and that is the question of postal ballots. I was very interested, as I think were your Lordships generally, in the example quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford. But it is certainly well known that workplace ballots can be fiddled—it is certainly known that in a number of cases they have been—and it undermines the whole concept of ballots if you have them and then they are not honestly conducted.
I think we need to move, as the Bill proposes in respect of elections of officers and also as I understand it the institution of a political levy, to postal ballots for this purpose. Whether the supervision of those postal ballots themselves, as proposed by the Bill, is fully adequate is a point that your Lordships may well wish to discuss. I was interested in the possible weaknesses of the proposals to which the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, referred, but that the move should be to the postal ballot for these very important provisions is, I am sure, a considerable improvement in the Bill.
I welcome the Bill. I welcome it as the fourth in a line of measures which have contributed considerably to the national welfare. I am a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, seemed to be going back on the line which his party took in 1984. His enthusiasm seemed to be perhaps a little fading and 964 I hope that as he listens, and as members of his party or his alliance, if that be the organisation, listen to the debate their enthusiasm may revive, for the Government are courageously going forward with a measure of first-class national importance and I wish them the best of luck with it.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I want to see that I have understood him correctly. He said, I think, that he would support the closed shop if there was, first, a qualification, but, secondly, membership of an association. That is why it is all right with the law. Would he therefore support an amendment, which we might put down at Committee, which says that the closed shop is all right for skilled craftsmen if the unions run an examination?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the noble Lord began by misquoting me. I did not say that I would support the closed shop if it depended upon qualifications. What I did was to point out to the noble Baroness that what she called the closed shop in the case of the professions, including the profession of which the noble Lord opposite is a distinguished member——
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
—depended upon examination, whereas the closed shop in the unions depended simply upon joining a union. I did not say that I would support it. Therefore the noble Lord's ingenious attempt—and I am very flattered that he should think it worth while—to secure my support for his amendment fails.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he agree that the closed shop is now only possible after a ballot and a very high measure of support in a ballot as well?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
No, my Lords, I would not. I think that the closed shop in principle is wrong, and that if you wish to work for a particular company in a particular industry you should not be compelled to join a union. You may well have good reasons for doing so voluntarily, but I am against conscription.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, until the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, I thought that we were going to have a somewhat undramatic Second Reading debate on this Bill. But quite clearly his revelations and his posture as the great reformer of evil doings in trade unions are going to emerge at a later stage. One must at any rate congratulate the noble Lord on, I think, achieving almost single-handed the unveiling of the delinquencies and the evils of the communist regime in the Electrical Trade Union of the 1950s and 1960s.
As a member of the General Council of the TUC at the time, I realise the great handicap that the trade union movement was under, and certainly the TUC was under, in itself participating in these investigations because of the very strong convention that the Trades Union Congress did not interfere 965 with the affairs of individual unions. That was a significant inhibition against the inquiries and the delving and probing that should have been done at that time.
I shall try to approach this Bill from as unprejudiced a point of view as I can. First, I should like to ask the Minister: is this the end of the step-by-step approach to trade union reform? The noble Lord who opened the debate said that this Bill carried the reforms a stage further. I was hoping he would have said that, so far as the Government could see, this was the end of the legislation on trade unions at least for the remainder of this Parliament. I do not think it is a good thing to have trade union relations or industrial relations the subject of legislation every two years. I had hoped that we were coming to the end of it and could at least rest a while and see how things which are already in the law or may be in the law after this Bill passes through your Lordships' House turn out in practice.
So I hope we shall have some assurance that the Government do not have another Bill to take matters further in this field of controversial legislation. There have been 13 major Bills on trade union law in the past 50 or 60 years. Two of them, in 1946 and 1974, were to repeal major laws which had previously been enacted. In 1946 the Labour Government repealed, lock, stock and barrel, the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927. I have always felt that it was a great mistake to think that the problem was solved merely by returning to the status quo ante and going on with trade union law as it had been left before the war.
There was an extraordinary period of tranquility between 1946 and the late 1970s. After all, we had 13 years of Conservative government after 1951, during which no changes of any substance were made in trade union law. In fact, the relations with the then Conservative Government and Ministers of Labour who were revered and almost loved by the Trades Union Congress were such that it seemed as though we had a balanced ticket for relations between the Government, Parliament and the trade union movement. But that was cruelly disturbed a little later on when the Labour Government came in in 1964. We remember Ray Gunter, the first Minister of Labour in the Wilson Government, saying that he had got a bed of nails. He certainly had. Indeed, the rash of unofficial strikes at that time led to the appointment of the Royal Commission on trade unions under the chairmanship of Lord Donovan. It took far too long to report. It had to cover far too much ground, and when the Labour Government tried to deal with the problems which arose during their own term of office, they ran into difficulties.
I am afraid that one of the most intractable problems for a Labour Government is dealing with the law relating to trade unions. I am bound to admit that we left office in 1979 not having accomplished any substantial solution of trade union problems. It was inevitable that we were faced with changes in the law which the Conservative Government in 1971 failed to achieve, which the Labour Government that followed failed to improve upon. Then in 1979, in a period of chaos, confusion and disillusionment, the Labour Government went out.
966 The sad part about our proceedings today is that we are dealing in this legislation with what I hope is substantially the past. We are not legislating with enough vision for the future. This may not be our fault, but I regret that we have not yet evolved some kind of outlook on trade union affairs which will see us into the next century. We have only 12 years to go before the next century begins—only one full Parliament after this before we are into the next century. How are we going to face that? I know one year is the same as another, but the year 2000 will surely be a most remarkable anniversary in the history of this country, in the history of all our institutions. I sincerely hope that we shall all have some better idea of where we are going by the year 2000 than we appear to have at present. That applies to the trade union movement as well.
The delinquencies of the trade unions in the period when I was directly concerned with them were extremely worrying. In the last three Acts of Parliament which have been brought in by the Conservative Government, a number of them have been adequately dealt with. I hope that a future Labour Government will be highly cautious about undoing a good deal that this series of Bills and Acts of Parliament has brought in. In many respects they are confirming the principles of trade union liberty, of individual members and the conduct of union affairs which many members wanted and which a number were engaged in bringing about voluntarily when legislation was under preparation. I think it would be very undesirable and dangerous politically to begin to reverse this on the ground that we must restore something to the members of trade unions or the trade unions themselves.
This will be a very delicate political matter for a future Labour Government to deal with and I hope that no Labour Government will come in with wholesale pledges of repeal round their neck on matters relating to trade union law. There may be some things in what we are doing now—probably there are—which need to be corrected. I think experience will be a very important test of the validity, and wisdom and practicality of much of the legislation which we have already.
One other point which I have to make is that if this is virtually the last Bill we shall have in this Parliament on the subject, as I hope it is, we want as far as possible to redress any excesses which have occurred in the previous three Acts of Parliament. We also want to get the best and widest possible support for the provisions of the Bill itself. I think this Bill is carrying some matters to excess, and it is desirable that we should curb the pressure in another place to push some of the safeguards too far. We find this in Clause 3 especially.
The point there is that, having safeguarded the member from being called out on strike without giving him an opportunity of voting yea or nay for going out on strike, we now say in Clause 3 that notwithstanding the right we have now put in the law that he shall vote on whether he strikes or not, we shall give him the right to withdraw from strike action even though the membership in general have approved it. We shall go further. We shall say that he may not be disturbed in his employment. He may not 967 be victimised or disciplined by his union. That is carrying matters very far indeed, and some modification is called for.
As regards ballots, if we are to have them they should be as free of irregularities as possible. The safeguards should be as complete as can practically be made. I favour postal ballots. If there are any weaknesses in the postal ballot system we should do our best to correct them. I have always felt workplace ballots had their dangers. We should eliminate those dangers in the ballot system. If ballots are to be imposed by law on any section of the community, it is our duty to ensure that they are conducted properly.
As regards Clause 12, noble Lords who still have very good eyesight will see, if they study the watermark, that underneath the clause the name of Scargill can be discerned. The clause is becoming known as the Scargill clause due to the evasive action taken by Mr. Scargill, as was described by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford. That action was taken to circumvent what otherwise would have been required of Mr. Scargill with regard to standing for re-election.
Again, however, I think that we have carried this too far. We have gone too deeply into the internal affairs of unions and their contracts and arrangements with officials than is justified in present circumstances. It seems that this provision goes down even to the level of trustees. It can certainly cover full-time officials who may have a voice at executive council meetings but who have no responsibility or no vote in the final decisions reached by that body. The explanations given by the Minister as to whether individual types of official would be exempt or required to undergo re-election under Clause 12 have been very unsatisfactory.
It is not enough to say that the matter may have to be tested in the courts. It will be quite monstrous if individual members and officials of trade unions who have contracts of service are forced to go into the courts to determine whether they have to stand for re-election. I should be very surprised indeed if your Lordships do not take a conventional view of the sanctity of contract. The people involved with this issue have contracts. I was one of those people myself. I came out of the Civil Service to become a full-time secretary of a union. In doing so, I naturally desired to have the same, or approximately the same, security of tenure as I had had in the Civil Service. I had a contract which took me to retirement age subject only to the overriding power of the annual delegate's conference to dismiss me or terminate the contract.
However, under Clause 12 it would have been necessary for me to stand for re-election every five years, although not as the law stands at present because I had no vote at any time on the executive committee. These are very important points if we are going to drive people to the hazards of political contests in unions where elections might otherwise involve quite non-political and unprejudiced officers. Nominal officers may be the subject of bitter political controversy in unions. This provision will have to be thoroughly examined in Committee. Those are the 968 two respects in which, in Clauses 3 and 12, the zeal of the reformers has gone further than it should.
There are other matters which will require attention in Committee but I cannot, as an overriding judgment on the Bill, condemn it wholly and outright. It probably would have been wiser to have left it a while before we went into this fourth stage. Nevertheless, the judgment of the Government is to complete it. We shall have to do that to the best of our ability. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I hope that we are improving relations and the management of trade unions and not stirring up fresh trouble and fresh difficulties. Much of the Bill is delving into past practices which, I think, in present conditions, may well be the end of an unpleasant era in trade union affairs.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
My Lords, I intend to address myself to Part I of the Bill and indeed to quite limited aspects of it. But before I come to that, I wish to comment on the claims often put forward (and repeated here this afternoon) by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, about the alleged achievements of the legislation that we have seen so far in this field.
By any objective standards, I question whether those achievements are real. Clearly, we have seen more ballots on industrial disputes. I do not complain about that, but it may be that those who were hot for ballots may have had second thoughts about the desirability of them. The Ford dispute is not by any stretch of the imagination the first occasion in which recommendations for reasonable settlements by trade union officials have been turned over by the members. Now there is the ability to go to a ballot with the result that we have seen in Fords as distinct from accepting some kind of cool period and getting on with the job.
Incidentally, there were plenty of examples of that during the so-called winter of discontent which has been mentioned this afternoon in which reasonable and sensible recommendations made by responsible officials for settlements were turned down by the members. The characteristic of that winter of discontent (as it has come to be called) was not of officials themselves spurring members to action, it was members taking the law into their own hands and turning down agreements that had already been reached.
The picture painted by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, of trade union officials whipping up timid, nervous and inarticulate members frankly exists solely in his fevered imagination. Again the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, told us about the reduction in days lost in recent years. There has been a reduction and an even greater reduction than in the years 1975 to 1979, during the social contract, when the days lost were halved compared with the previous period.
Frankly, I have never regarded days lost in industrial disputes as being either the main or a particularly useful indicator of the state of industrial relations in a particular company or union. A much more important one is how effectively manpower is being used. That is why I have always had so high a regard for the Manpower Services Commission. That 969 is why I am a little bit worried about Part II of the Bill, although I cannot develop that point at this stage this afternoon.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that the essence of this matter is the creation of wealth. The wealth that is created by 3 million people who are unemployed is highly debateable. By that test, the provision is not particularly useful. But the point is that it is not the law but the state of the labour market, and the level of unemployment which has led to the reduction in the days lost in industrial disputes. Now we are beginning to see people putting their heads up over the parapet and taking a look round. I do not particularly welcome the signs of increasing discontent. However, it is understandable. Indeed, in the public sector we are in serious danger of repeating the errors made in the months leading up to the winter of discontent—which was lead by the public sector unions—in the way that we are treating public sector employees, particularly in the hospital service. The only effect in the Ford case was an increase in the cost of settlement.
Again we are seeing a fall in trade union membership. That may be welcomed by the Government and those who support them. It has been a substantial fall. I think that we should examine the reasons for that. The fall in the number of trade unionists and unions affiliated with the TUC can be accounted for almost wholly by two factors. The first is the rise in unemployment which means that people leave their unions. The second factor is the decline in manufacturing industry over recent years.
That still leaves unions with a job to do, and I am glad to see the TUC addressing the minds of unions to that job. But the fact is that in spite of all the legislation and pinpricks, members have not walked away from their unions. They have not deserted in droves—no doubt to the disappointment of the Government, but not I think to the disappointment of sensible employers.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
My Lords, as regards the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, the members have not walked away from the union. They have succeeded into a particular sector which is still very highly organised and which I hope will soon be realigned and reunited with the National Union of Mineworkers. It is in the interests of no one to multiply the number of unions we have in this country. I should not have thought that the noble Lord. Lord Wyatt, would advocate that. We already have too many.
The Government are entitled perhaps to be disappointed with the effects of the legislation so far. Presumably that is the reason why they are bringing the Bill forward. I understand the Government rather petulantly stamping their feet, at for example, the failure of trade unionists to take legal action against their unions. I can understand that. Let them, so long as they do not seek to stamp on the basic right (which has been referred to several times this afternoon) of members of unions to expect that minorities who 970 have had the opportunity to vote and been defeated in the vote shall not then disclaim any responsibility towards their organisation.
As to most of the rest of Part I, with deep respect I believe that most of the provisions illustrate a lamentable degree of ignorance of industrial relations and trade unions. Whom are the provisions meant to help? The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, claims that they put the interests of trade union members first. So far as I can see on an objective analysis of Part I, it will not help trade union members very much.
Where is the evidence that union members have been denied access to the courts? On the contrary, the principles of natural justice concentrate the minds of union executives, as of the TUC General Council, whenever they are considering disciplinary matters. Where is the evidence of unions denying information to members? The problem I have always seen is that of members refusing to come to information meetings and refusing to read union journals and other communications telling them what is happening. The need is quite the obverse of the one set out in the Bill.
Again, I doubt very much whether Part I will be of much help to employers, who are already being very careful about using the law and have become even more cautious as the labour market reduces. The one small group which I believe will welcome many of the provisions with open arms and which shares with the Government a deep animosity towards trade union leaders is the Trotskyites, which is prepared to use anything—compulsory ballots, election of officers—in order to try and stir up things within the trade unions.
I am not opposed to ballots or to elections. But I deplore the rather spiteful attitude towards trade unions displayed by what I can only describe as a silly Bill. Perhaps I may give the House a few illustrations of how the obsessions of the Government have led them astray. First, Clause 12 refers to the election of certain people with non-voting powers. Reference has already been made to that in the debate. The aim, it is said, is to make officials more accountable and to make the organisations more democratic. The likelihood, on any objective assessment, is that more often than not the reverse will happen.
Take the question of an appointed general secretary, for exmple. His election will greatly strengthen his position against the executive council. That may be good or bad; it depends on the circumstances. But it certainly diminishes the responsibility of the council towards their members. That responsibility ought to be the main source of authority within the union. That should lie with the elected executive. There is a real danger that the provision will reduce the quality of leadership, and by that I mean the capacity and the will to stand up to the members and tell them when they are wrong. I believe that many good people will be hesitant to take on a job which carries the risk of being chucked out in five years' time.
The provision will also deprive the executives of smaller unions of the appointment of competent and capable people from outside. I take as an example Mr. John Lyons of the EMA who presumably would not be in office today. It would, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has said, introduce a two-party 971 system and cause a waste of time and energy in electioneering. It would also cause elected general secretaries—people upon whom election has been thrust—to think twice before taking unpopular actions vis-à-vis their memberships.
Then there is the nonsense of extending the provision to other people who attend executive council meetings. Let me give your Lordships an example drawn from my own experience in the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers, which I serve as an appointed trustee. There are four trustees: the chairman is a lawyer; there is an industrial relations academic; there is a former International Labour Organisation official (the union has a great interest in international affairs); and there is myself. We attend the executive council and we speak. We have no vote and our usefulness lies in the advice which we give to the EC. The advice can be accepted or rejected by the executive of that organisation. Our strength lies in our independence of the general secretary, the executive and groups of membership. We give advice which we believe is in the interests of the union. Who in his right mind would require an election in those circumstances with perhaps competing slates of trustees appealing to the membership?
Perhaps more to the point are the officers who attend as a result of previous mergers which have taken place within this diminishing area of industrial activity. They are officers who have been, by the terms of the transfer of engagements, put in to ensure that the views of important groups of members are fully explained and fully represented.
I turn briefly to Clause 13 which concerns postal ballots. I am not opposed to the use of postal ballots in elections. Some unions already use that method. The union of construction workers, for example, where membership is dissipated into small groups over a wide area, finds it very helpful. It suits that union. Whether it suits the members of a particular union should be the test of whether or not the provision is introduced, rather than whether a particular political party holds the method as an ideological truth which ought to be thrust upon all unions.
How do we foster democracy within a union? There is no doubt that in the vast majority of cases workplace voting is preferable by far. Perhaps I may quote from evidence which has recently been given by the union APEX, which to my knowledge has never been involved in any allegation of ballot-rigging and is a very honourable and, if one likes the phrase, moderate trade union. The evidence from APEX emphasises the need to:ensure that the ballot paper is delivered at work in an envelope specifically addressed to each individual member and that the member has the right to place the completed ballot paper either in a ballot box at appropriate places at work or posted hack to the Head Office of the union concerned. We followed that system and it works very adequately indeed. If we change over to a system of postal balloting this will certainly mean that fewer people will participate because there is no way in which we can persuade our members to regularly update us with their home addresses and certainly, at any one time, between 15% and 20% of such ballot papers would be returned, 'gone away'. Thus the proposal would reduce the participation of Trade Unionists in ballots instead of strengthening it".972 That is a union speaking from its own experiences and its concern to ensure that the members themselves are involved fully in the determination of the union's policies and leadership.
In conclusion, perhaps I may advert to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in the course of his stimulating speech—with not all of which I entirely agree. However, I agree with the emphasis that he laid on the need to look ahead and to see where we are going. The way forward towards the improvement of industrial relations, the effective use of manpower and the improvement of wealth creation does not lie in legislation. On the contrary, legislation is more likely to impede than to advance it.
I believe that the way forward lies in the working out of an agreement between the TUC and the CBI—one hopes with the involvement of the IPM and the BIM—on the framework for good industrial relations of the kind that were very nearly achieved just after the Donovan Commission, to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred, and within which there could be an agreed approach to the use and role of law in industrial relations.
The achievement of such an agreement would not be easy, but the alternative of ping-pong—the passage and repeal of legislation by successive governments of different parties—does not bear consideration. I hope that during the course of the subsequent stages of the Bill noble Lords all round the House who have some experience of industry and concern about industrial relations will join us in trying to bring some common sense into this silly Bill.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Vinson
My Lords, it is a happy coincidence that I should follow the noble Lord, Lord Murray, as we came to this House more or less simultaneously. I welcome the general provisions of this Bill, not least because it will help to overcome some of the remaining labour market rigidities that are preventing the creation of jobs. That is something which I am sure we all want to see. The Bill also enhances personal freedom and philosophically I believe that that is always desirable.
However, it is not on Part I that I wish to speak. I should like to speak briefly on Part II, which highlights the Government's commitment to training by giving a more positive identity to the work of the MSC by re-christening it the Training Commission. I was particularly pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, say that the Government were anxious to see that in its new state the commission would give a very positive commitment to finding ways of employing the long-term unemployed.
It leads one to ponder whether the division of responsibility between the MSC (now the Training Commission), the Department of Employment, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Treasury for looking in depth and finding new initiatives that would get the long-term unemployed hack to work is even now quite right, and whether the existing mechanisms are not in a bit of a muddle. I must say that recent events lead me (and I think others) to believe that a split in the Department of Health and Social Security is long overdue and that 973 the two areas of responsibility would be far more effective by being divided up the middle. I hope that the example under Part II of giving a greater indentity to the MSC will lead the way in other directions.
However, that is not really the nub of my point today, which is that, because of the split of responsibilities, very important opportunities for employing the long-term unemployed are lost. The real growth in the labour market today is the growth in part-time jobs; yet effectively re-entry into the employment market through part-time jobs is denied to the unemployed. In practice, of course they can register for part-time jobs, but the hassle of registering and deregistering, declaring their earnings and watching the level of their disregard makes the whole thing simply not worth while.
As a consequence, the paradox is that the growth area of the market—part-time work—is filled by those who often, perfectly reasonably and properly, have other jobs such as part-time firemen, part-time policemen, or by wives who want to pop out and do a few hours' work. It is filled in particular by old-age pensioners. There is nothing wrong in that, one might say, except that already the state provides for them to a degree. It is a paradox that they—because they pay no stamp and have no disregard limit on their earnings—pick up part-time jobs, whereas the long-term unemployed effectively are denied re-entry into employment in this way.
I hope that the new Training Commission, with its new title, will not be taken up wholly with the question of training but will look at other ways and other initiatives to achieve the jobs that we all want to see. In particular, I recommend to it the work of the trade unionist, Peter Ashby, at St. George's, Windsor, who I think has come up with a solution which would enable, particularly those over 50—often people who are very willing and anxious to get another rung on the ladder—to get back to work.
Before one sneers at the thought of part-time jobs, surely it should be recognsied that a part-time job is better than no job because it brings self-respect to the person who has been out of work. Not least, to get a foot on the ladder—by moving stores in the grocery on Saturday mornings and to be recognised as a good worker, somebody who does a good job. Thereafter, one is much more likely to be the person who is offered a permanent job and find oneself working not only Saturday but Fridays, Thursdays, Wednesdays, Tuesdays and Mondays. I believe that part-time reentry into the labour market is a very important area and I hope that the new, rechristened commission will have a thorough look at it.
So this brief speech is merely to say that I hope that the MSC will build on its excellent work in the past and go on to even greater strength under its new, much more positive and easily identified title. I welcome the provision in this Bill which sets it up and I am sure that it will do nothing but good and help to create the jobs that we all want to see.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, there will be few who will be misled by the title of the Bill—the Employment Bill—into thinking that it is primarily concerned with employment. Indeed, the future for employment is 974 far from its purpose. Despite eight years of continuous chronic high unemployment, this Bill is not a pro-employment measure. I say that with due respect for the improved employment situation mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his opening statement. The noble Lord, Lord Vinson, who has just spoken, mentioned the long-term unemployed. One may well ask whether this Bill will do anything but add to the misery of the 1,300,000 long-term unemployed men and women who have been without jobs for more than five years, the rise in the number of unemployed being from 22 per cent. in 1981 to 42 per cent. in 1987.
In the main this Bill is designed to impede the purpose, role and functions of trade unions, which are to maintain and improve the wages and working conditions of working people. The Bill is a further part of the step-by-step strategy of the Government since 1979 to weaken the activities of unions and thereby weaken their ability to serve and protect their members.
How can there be any other reasonable explanation? This is the fourth major anti-trade union Bill introduced by this Government within the past eight years. From these Benches we strongly oppose the Bill and especially the shocking nature of Part I of this three-part piece of multi-purpose complicated legislation. We oppose the Bill because it is blatantly anti-union in its unreasoned and punitive legal measures and because of spurious claims that the measures will extend democracy in trade unions and enhance the right of trade union members. We oppose it because it completely ignores the present need for a framework of industrial legislation in which can be promoted a sense of responsible social partnership between trade unions, management and the Government.
We do not claim that trade unions are perfect models of democracy. However, we believe that they are as democratic as any other human institutions and in many ways more so. They are more democratic than the City, many private and public companies, elitist clubs, councils of universities and most political parties. We do not seek to justify breaking democractic procedures and rules, nor do we seek to turn a blind eye to intolerance and illegality, but we refuse to endorse measures that are rash, negative, unnecessarily punitive and argued on politically motivated ideological grounds.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Murray that we ought to be considering measures to meet our present need for dynamic industrial relations. There is need for an understanding of the essential qualities of leadership and a genuine commitment among the representatives of government, management and trade unions to policies designed to cope with the dramatic challenge of world competition and economic change.
What does the Bill propose? Instead of using and improving the existing machinery for resolving industrial grievances at the workplace level or, if necessary, through the agreed national industrial machinery, the Bill proposes the imposition of a new legal framework with crudely designed penalties as well as a certification officer whose role and functions could be drastically changed by the appointment of a 975 new officer—the Comissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members. The rights of trade union members—what a misnomer of a title! I doubt whether the commissioner, if he is appointed, will fully explore all the practical rights which workers ought to have and which their trade union organisations have sought to obtain.
Then there is introduced the wide panoply of the law. Tribunals will give way to the High Court, the Court of Session, judicial review and perhaps further judicial measures. For what purpose? Allegedly it is to protect workers against the activities of their own unions.
It is not only trade unions which are concerned about the politically designed paraphernalia of legal requirements. The major employers, professional management organisations and representative bodies have publicly expressed deep concern and doubt about these developments and their untoward effect on industry and commerce. The issues, the muddled proposals and the overall assessment of the Bill's implications for industry and the economy will be debated in a series of amendments that are to be tabled from this side of the House at Committee stage.
In the early part of this debate, mention was made of the present standing of trade unions. Research undertaken by the Trades Union Congress and recently published results from regular Gallup and MORI polls firmly indicate that trade unions are now more popular with their members and the general public than at any time during the past 30 years. That is in spite of the bad press that they generally receive. One reason for that support for trade union membership and trade union organised activities is the fresh awakening of workers and their reliance on trade unions for effective representation to ensure their real rights at work rather than any imaginary transitory rights.
Those points are clearly set out in an excellent House of Commons document, Background Paper No. 208, entitled Wage Flexibility and Employment Creation. I quote from the conclusions of that 17-page paper:In the actual labour market there has been some pressure towards lower and more flexible wages by a variety of changes in industrial relations law that have weakened trade unions. This may have an effect in employment creation but it will be at the price of worsening conditions particularly for those workers in the secondary industrial sector, and such workers are often sufferers from sexual or racial discrimination".I believe that this Bill will build up an attitude and an approach that even the trade unions will not be able to contain. The Bill will further exacerbate the frustrations, disillusion and tensions aroused by the Government's thwarting of accepted procedures for negotiations. I must point out to the House that trade unions will not be driven to becoming mere ciphers in the workplace. One has recently seen white-collar workers and professional personnel joining the rank and file workers in street parades and organised protests against conditions of employment and for their rights as employees. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider the need for reasoned amendments to the Bill.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Lord Mason of Barnsley
My Lords, just like the Employment Acts of 1980, 1982 and 1984, this Bill is an additional onslaught on trade unionism and the trade unions. It is similar to the attack on local government which caused such turmoil and turbulence throughout the country in all local authorities. It is a massive retaliation against them all because a few have abused their powers. So it is with the trade unions. Therefore we have witnessed a constant, non-stop rolling programme of legislative interference with the role, responsibilities and activities of the trade unions.
Let me say quite frankly that the legislation has not been all bad and the reaction of rank and file trade unionists has proved it. However, as in past trade union reform legislation, the bad gets through with the good. Clause 3 of this Bill is a classic example, to which I shall return later.
I preface my remarks on the Bill with a few general observations on the background to this type of legislation. There is no doubt that major changes have been taking place within the industrial world and the activities of unions, their leaders and especially their membership, the trade unionists. Starting with the winter of discontent (and undoubtedly that was the springboard of the Tory assault on trade unionism) I remember the Labour Government being riddled with worry and acutely aware of the damage that the waves of strikes throughout that winter of 1978–79 were doing to their general election prospects. We were plunged into despair. We had no answer to it. The tabloid newspapers made a meal out of every teardrop story that fell on their desks. This series of major industrial disputes certainly paved the way for a Tory victory. Since then the Tories have gone out of their way to punish and in particular to weaken the power of trade union leaders and the trade unions.
The Tories therefore have promised trade union reform—and have we not had it, my Lords! It was a major plank in their 1979 manifesto, which pledged government funds for postal ballots to determine strike action and union elections and to curb the closed shop pressure on individual trade unionists. Mass picketing was no longer to be immune from civil liability; and coercive trade union recruitment was to lose its legal immunity. These were in a package of trade union reforms which had mass appeal in the wake of the winter of discontent.
In 1979, 64 per cent. of trade unionists voted anti-Labour. In 1980 therefore we had the first anti-trade union Bill, followed by another in 1982 removing further legal immunities from the trade unions. All this happened between 1979 and 1983, stripping trade unions of legal immunities and laying them bare before the courts. Yet in the 1983 general election the Tories lost only 1 per cent. of the electorate compared with 1979, and we lost 10 per cent. With this fresh mandate, obviously with no rancour from the rank and file trade unionists, and with still approximately 64 per cent. voting anti-Labour, the Tories pressed on.
In 1984 there was another anti-trade union Bill with provisions for secret ballots for the trade union governing bodies. Trade unions could remain 977 immune from legal action on strikes only if they held secret and properly constructed ballots. The membership were td vote at regular intervals on whether their trade unions should spend money on party political matters. The Government then began attacking Labour Party finances through trade union legislation.
By 1987 many changes had taken place. There is now an entrenched right not to belong to a trade union. Picketing restrictions and secondary action have further limited trade union power, as has the requirement for secret ballots before industrial action is taken.
The projected legislation of the 1980 and 1982 Employment Acts was in the Tory's 1979 manifesto; and the projected legislation for the 1984 Trade Union Act was in the 1983 manifesto. Yet so many trade unionists were indifferent to those Tory manifesto commitments; or alternatively they supported them. There is no doubt that there has been a great change in the attitude of trade unionists. They no longer heed their trade union leaders' views on political matters; and they believe in the widening of democracy within the trade union movement.
Tied to the trade unions, as we obviously are, we have always been open to this attack by the Tories, and they have exploited it to the full. There is a lesson to learn from this. If the trade unions want the Labour Party returned to government, the leaders should ensure that small pressure groups of unionists should not be determining our policy, egged on by some trade union leaders' extremists views, because their views are not shared by the majority of the membership. We cannot win unless they return to our fold. The percentage of trade unionists voting anti-Labour at each of the last three elections is the point.
It could be spite by Her Majesty's Government; it could be pique; or it could be a purposeful attempt to tame the unions. But not much of this legislation could so easily have been put on the statute book if the rank and file trade unionists had been seething with disgust and outrage. Therefore one has to recognise that, as they see it, the trade unionists, the widening of democracy within the trade union movement—and that has been part of the Government's presentation—has been generally welcomed.
If democratisation of trade unionism is the goal then this Bill is likely to undermine much of what the Government have achieved. They have to admit that this fourth piece of trade union legislation has aroused anger right across industry as well as among the trade unions. Most of it is irrelevant and unnecessary after the battering that the unions and employers' organisations have received. Industrial relations are not to be improved with this piece of legislation.
Above all, apart from the Bill being hastily conceived and bad legislation, Clause 3 will be ruinous to all that the Government have achieved. It is designed to create industrial anarchy, to impose on a union a secret ballot for a strike and then encourage those who were in the minority of a properly conducted democratic and legal ballot to ignore the result, flout the mass membership's wishes and go to work. This is industrial nonsense. Employers will be 978 fraught with anxiety. Should they or should they not receive the strike breakers and encourage the scabs, as they would be branded? What of the animosity, the hatred, the sending to Coventry of those who went to work?
Where is the democratisation of the trade unions—the main plank of the Government's trade union reforms—if they smash the main plank and destroy the key principle of our democratic society? Will they not also destroy the legitimacy of the secret ballot? This Bill has few friends in industry. Clause 3 has no friends at all, and especially no Conservative friends within industry.
I draw the attention of noble Lords to the point of view of the Institute of Personnel Management. After all, it has to manage this legislation. On the right to go to work despite a strike call it says:This is a far cry from action to ensure that trade unions are democratically run.The CBI, a strong supporter of Her Majesty's Government—at least its views should be heeded—said this:The principal argument against the proposal is that it could undermine the balloting process itself, so productively encouraged by the 1984 Trade Union Act …CBI believes it would be right, for the time being at least, to take this proposal no further … In reaching this conclusion we have had in mind the fact that if individuals dislike the activities of their trade union it is open to them—and will be more so than hitherto, following the ending of legal protection for the closed shop—to withdraw their membership.".One therefore has no friends in the CBI.
The Freedom Association looks at it from an entirely different angle. It said:We believe that to extend individuals' rights in this area along the lines suggested by the Government would be to diminish their rights as union members".What about the British Institute of Management? It too will be very much involved. These are the people at the workplace who will determine whether there is industrial anarchy or not, as I mentioned earlier. It said:BIM therefore views Government plans to ban trade unions from disciplining members who refuse to abide by the majority vote as undemocratic and possibly obstructive to good industrial relations".What about the Industrial Society, representing so many members within industry as a whole? It made an objective assessment, as it very often does, on trade union legislation. It said:We are very concerned that if the individual union member has a legal right to circumvent a properly taken majority decision and thus may be held to have no responsibility towards his/her union, there will be no reason why anyone should take the balloting process seriously".Above all, what about the Conservative Trade Unionists National Committee and the way in which it has informed Her Majesty's Government what it thinks about Clause 3 of the Bill? After all, it should be the closest adviser to this Government. It says:The CTU does not support the proposals. … Where fair and proper ballots have been conducted amongst those concerned it is considered that the majority view should be accepted by all concerned and breach of this principle is inconsistent with continued membership of the union".Those are the views of those in management and industry and of friends, followers and supporters of Her Majesty's Government.
Finally, in fairness to them, trade unions should not be denied the right to discipline their own members who refuse to take part in industrial action 979 which has been endorsed by a majority of the members in a secret ballot. Unity is the only strength that a trade union possesses and it has become more precious than ever in the wake of all the trade union legislation. They have the right to insist on a degree of solidarity from those who are outvoted.
Trade unions are already punch-drunk and reeling from all the legislation. The Bill, particularly Clause 3, is now kicking them when they are down. It will make trade unionism unworkable and create anarchy in the workplace. Employers are already aghast at the repercussions they visualise in their establishments if Clause 3 becomes operative. If that clause at least is not withdrawn all the support that the Government have received for their trade union reforming zeal will evaporate and the national consensus will be shattered. It is patently unfair, it is obviously undemocratic and, above all, it is a dangerous principle to establish. It is an encouragement to everyone to opt out of all democratic decisions, whether in trade unions or other national organisations, including the state. Clause 3 is far too dangerous for democrats to contemplate. For that reason above all I shall oppose the Bill.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mason, was a splendid one to hear and to follow. I must apologise, particularly to the noble Lords who are to wind up, because I may have to leave before the debate concludes due to a longstanding engagement.
For once, the views of the CBI, the BIM and the IPM, quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Mason, are not the same as mine. As your Lordships know, I am often guided by the CBI. I am a member of the British Institute of Management and a fellow of the Institute of Personnel Managers. I disagree with their attitude and assessment of the Bill. They take a purely industrial relations point of view. The basis on which I judge Part I of the Bill is the degree to which it ensures and improves the effectiveness of British industry in worldwide competition.
As indicated by the Minister when introducing the Bill, great strides have been made in improving competitiveness and productivity and in reducing unit costs during the last eight years. Much of that has been achieved thanks to the step-by-step rationalisation of industrial relations law. I look to the Bill to be one more step in that process, albeit a slower step—1980, 1982, 1984 and a four year gap to 1988—but I think that that is right. Although we have had improvements in industrial efficiency, we started from a very low base in 1979. It will be in nobody's interest, least of all those in industrial employ, to rest in any way on our incipient laurels. There are no grounds for complacency about our position in the competitive world market; there are unlikely to be any such grounds for many years to come.
It is perhaps appropriate to mention that the more the industrial relations legislation of this country is rationalised, the more important it is that management exercises increasing care in persuading all its workpeople of the need for any and every proposed work practice improvement. Recent 980 examples of the apparent lack of such care in certain sections of the motor industry are a sad setback to the previously steady progress of all British industrial efficiency. I pray that there will be renewed—not relaxed—restraint of wage settlements in the future. There is no substitute for courageous, thoughtful management.
With those underlying thoughts I should now like to deal with the Bill. I believe that the clauses which may arouse doubts in your Lordships' minds—and which may have done so already—are Clause 3 (the right of individuals not to be unjustifiably disciplined) and Clause 12 (the Scargill curtailment clause). As we have already heard, noble Lords opposite wish to challenge several other clauses but I propose to concentrate on those two.
With regard to Clause 3, about which the CBI, the IPM, the BIM, and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, have doubts—as stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, whose speech I thought splendid though I did not agree with every word—I can understand the argument that subsection (3) covers such a wide field that any majority decision by union members will never be as free and as effective as before. However, I cannot understand the argument that a strike would necessarily be ineffective. That would depend on the size of the majority and the nature of the work. Sometimes companies may find themselves paying full wages to people for whom they cannot find work because the factories have had to be shut down as so many people are on strike. At the same time, trade unions may find themselves being spared the payment of strike pay to some members who are fulfilling their contracts of employment while, at the same time, an effective strike is being fully maintained. Altogether, it is not quite so destructive as noble Lords have sought to suggest.
On the other hand, Clause 3 has the benefit of further reducing the opportunities for trade unions legally to bully their members. If noble Lords had the time to study and read through the debates on earlier industrial relations legislation, they would discover that it is the bullying of members, and sometimes of employers—especially medium and small employers—by caucuses of trade unions in the 1960s and 1970s (of which I had first-hand knowledge) that aroused my fury and has ever since ensured my continuing support for this kind of legislation.
As one of my noble friends suggested to me outside the Chamber, it seems that, with the final demise of the closed shop under Clause 10, the purposes of Clause 3 would be achieved by a union member, who wished to fulfil his contract of employment during a strike, resigning from the union as soon as the strike was called. With Clause 3 enacted, the union would stand a chance of at least retaining numbers and the subscriptions of the members——
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to intervene. By not resigning, the member concerned would keep the various other rights which the union may have granted. For example, he may have been a subscribing member to an injury fund.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, that is right. But he has that option. I am less than enamoured with 981 Clause 12. For reasons which I shall explain, I find myself in much agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, notwithstanding the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford. While I appreciate the possibility of other trade union leaders in similar positions trying to follow the example of Scargill and retaining authority within a union without periodical reaffirmation of their right to do so, I wonder whether it is perpetually worth trying to pursue Scargill with legislation. I suspect that it merely gives him extra credibility which is otherwise constantly reducing; possibly even on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Although there may be cases to which the intentions of Clause 12 are relevant, there are, as the noble Baroness and other noble Lords have said, a great number of trade unions with officials of importance to whom subsection (6A)(b) would not apply and who will never be bombastic, bullying or devious, let alone the darlings of Cuba or the Soviets. Indeed, the noble Baroness. Lady Turner, described such people very well and I know many others personally. I hope the Government will find some way of amending Clause 12 to ensure that such officials are not caught by it. After all, most of your Lordships would not like to be required suddenly to undergo the rigours of election to this House every five years. Some of our most useful Members have never been elected to anything; they would hate the experience. The same applies to some important trade union officials. I might add, with the greatest respect to noble Lords who have sat in another place, that elections do not always produce the best people for everything.
In conclusion, I look briefly at Part II of the Bill. It has been my sad experience that except for the brave experiment of the Industrial Training Act 1964, successive Conservative Governments have made an increasing mess of their contribution to industrial training. That was especially so in the 1973 Act when they introduced the Manpower Services Commission. Of itself, and limited to jobcentres and the training of people not in employment or not covered by industrial training boards, the commission had an important role. What was disastrous was giving the commission oversight of the, by then, experienced training boards and worse still, giving it the responsibility for paying ITB running costs.
Up to that point, industrial training boards were learning, with varying degrees of awareness, that their allegiance in encouraging good training lay entirely with the customers who paid them. Once they were paid by the MSC, the allegiance had to be shared. The single mindedness of the ITBs was lost and their value seriously diminished. It was no wonder that over half of them were later wound up. Sadly, under this Bill, I understand that the overseeing and paying functions of the new training commission with regard to the few remaining ITBs still exist. It is probably too late to restore the independence of ITBs from central government but I wish we could.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, at the start of his speech, as I understood him, he said that in contrast to the CBI, the BIM and 982 the IPM, who were judging this Bill on the basis of its effect on industrial relations, he supported it because of its likely effect on our international competitiveness. Does he not agree that improved industrial relations are the best possible spur to that competitiveness?
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, yes. I see the point that the noble Lord makes. The fact is that you must have industrial relations which work. As I see it, the balance of power as between management and trade unions has had to be adjusted so as to ensure that the managers can manage. They were not able to manage in 1979 as the noble Lord must know because he was involved at that time. I was a manager in those days and before, and it was quite impossible to manage properly. People can manage properly now and there are all sorts of examples. The Bill takes us a step further in making sure that we can do that.
The noble Lord may also have noted that I made the important point that as the industrial relations legislation is rationalized—I believe we arc coming to the end of it myself, but I do not know—it can only work if the managers really manage. I suspect that they have forgotten that in order to do that they must take their workforce into their confidence and work closely with them. They must not make abrupt changes of any sort; they have to bring people along together. When that happens, we have the improved prosperity and productivity and all the matters which make us competitive in world markets.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I should like to begin by saying a few words about the current economic context. The Minister who introduced the debate tried to do that to a limited extent. My difficulty is that it was impossible to recognise anything corresponding to economic reality in what he said, especially when he referred to our recent experience as the best economic performance since the war. My perusal of the facts, and that of other commentators, certainly leads to a different view. In particular, so far as concerns this Bill one must never forget that unemployment is still at a very high level by any post-war standards. It may well be that the Minister will say, "Well, unemployment is falling". However, the extent to which it is falling is much more a measure of the extent to which the Government forced it up in the first place. Indeed, one is reminded of the alleged benefits of self-flagellation or beating one's head against a brick wall: it feels so much better when one leaves off. That is certainly what we are observing with the current decline in the rates of unemployment.
However, the broader economic environment is not that good. We have achieved something that most of us thought was impossible: we have a balance of payments deficit on current account despite North Sea oil and the fact that the economy is nowhere near full employment. I say nothing of the enormous deficit on manufacturing trade. We have also achieved something which one finds quite amazing: that despite the circumstances, there are actually renewed fears of inflation. Perhaps I may also mention in the context of this Bill that if there has been this remarkable and permanent productivity 983 breakthrough that we are told about, I should like to know why Ministers are making speeches warning us against wage increases. There would be no danger of large wage increases if this productivity breakthough had occurred.
Although it is not my main theme, I should also like to say a few words about the infamous Clause 3. I agree with noble Lords who have spoken earlier that the difficulty is to make up one's mind whether it is ludicrous or pernicious; perhaps it is both. However, it seems to me that if decisions taken by trade union members are taken by ballot, it is surely right that all members agree to abide by the outcome. One can of course make the obvious exception, which would be rare, of conscience; but this clause is not about conscience but about not abiding by majority rule in the first place. Apart from anything else, it is a logical point. If the rule is a decision rule of majority decision, then that is what it means. It means that the decision has been taken and you agree to abide by it. If you do not accept that, you are making a logical error. Apart from that, of course, there would be no coherence in the activities of a trade union. To all intents and purposes, to pass this clause would be severely damaging to the trade union operating as a coherent whole.
I wonder whether noble Lords who support this clause appreciate, and whether the Government appreciate, that they are creating a precedent and how damaging a clause of this kind may turn out to be in due course for democratic processes of all kinds. I should be interested, when we come to the Education Bill and possibly discuss matters like civics lessons, to have an explanation from noble Lords on the Government Benches as to why majority rule is such a good thing in democracies but somehow does not seem to have quite that compelling quality when it comes to trade unions.
However, that is not the main subject that I want to discuss. I wish to speak on the later part of the Bill referring to training and also on the social security benefits aspect of that. It has been apparent for a very long time (and many of us have said so and have written on this point) that our labour force is seriously undertrained. There is no room for disagreement on that. It is also true that those with less training get the worst jobs and are much more likely to experience unemployment. The simple rule of thumb for example, even at the present time, is that 80 per cent. of the unemployed are unskilled—and needlessly so—while 80 per cent. of the vacancies on offer have a significant skill requirement. That represents a large part of what is wrong with our country at present.
During the great and successful era of full employment which I still believe is the greatest achievement of our country on the domestic side in this century (and I am always amazed when people denigrate it) many of us argued that it was idiotic that the normal path for workers who lost their jobs was into unemployment; though it was to be hoped that they would go back into work in similar employment. We argued then that it would be much better that those who lost their jobs should undertake some training, as long as they did not need all the time that 984 was then made available to look for new jobs, which generally they did not. Let me add that the proposition that it would be much better to come from work into training rather than work into unemployment applied just as much to those with skills because the occasion might be taken of updating and improving their skills, which is just as important for them as for the unskilled.
Those of us who looked into this many years ago and made proposals in this area differed in key respects to what the Government have to offer now, both in the Minister's Statement on training this week and in what seems to be implied in the Bill. Of course—and one cannot emphasise this too much—we presupposed an era of full employment. Consideration of reforms of all types was given when full employment was taken for granted. Certainly the scale of unemployment we have experienced under this Government, as I have argued before, is simply impossible. I was unable to predict that it would happen and I still do not understand fully why it has been allowed to continue for so long.
We assumed full employment, and in conditions of full employment a great many rational things can be undertaken which cannot otherwise be done. Secondly, we took it for granted—and I should be interested to hear further argument on this—that while training and retraining was to be encouraged it would be of little use either to employer or to employee if it were made obligatory. It then followed that if we were to improve the quality of our labour force and take the training side seriously there should be incentives to train rather than threats to take away benefits if one did not train.
In that connection, let me say in terms of the tone in which we will discuss this aspect of the Bill that it should never be forgotten, taking the example of a well-known survey of unemployed school-leavers, that overwhelmingly (I am speaking about 90 per cent. plus) they all said that they would much rather be in work than on benefit. They are not malingerers, though they may be made into malingerers by a system which does not find them work; but that is a different matter.
All that relates to something which I regard as much more fundamental, and again it is a question that underlies this Bill. My view of unemployment was, and still is, that it is attributable to the failure of the system of free markets in which, largely, we operate; and a failure which intelligent government intervention can rectify. However, this Government, or some of their supporters, appear to have a different view of the nature of unemployment. They seem to see it as being due to the deficiencies of the unemployed themselves who must somehow learn to mend their ways and in particular must be willing to work for less than a living wage.
Given that, let us consider, as other recent developments suggest we ought to consider, the emerging role of the YTS. The YTS is intrinsically, in my view, a good thing; but the training must be worthwhile. That means that it cannot be satisfactorily undertaken on the cheap. The training places must be first class. It is well worth remarking that a country like Sweden—which is very much more successful economically than we are in terms of 985 the standard of living it provides for its people, particularly young people, and has much lower unemployment rates than anything we seem to be aiming at—invests two-and-a-half times the amount of resources per trainee that we do in this country. In other words, Sweden does not do it on the cheap.
The other aspect of training is that it must be perceived to be worthwhile by young persons. Therefore, in no circumstances must it be forced upon them. If that is not a view which noble Lords will take from me, certainly they ought to take it from any employer who has any experience whatever of training. Encouragement and freedom of choice is what matters, not threats. Above all, in all work in this field of training it must be made clear that at the end a job is available. What is lacking in this legislation, and in so much else that is happening at present, is that it is not seen that the way to view this is as a form of contract. It seems to me that the young person, the teenager, should agree voluntarily and should have the incentive to go on such a scheme and should do as well as possible. That is his or her side of the contract. On the other side, what is required from the Government is a job guarantee scheme for young people. In other words, the Government are speaking about the guarantee of training places and what is really required is a guarantee of training plus a job.
I am not suggesting that, given such a system, matters would always work out as planned. Obviously there must be procedures for putting things right and perhaps even for assigning blame. However, I am suggesting that a constructive scheme of the kind I have in mind would be a considerable improvement on what appears to be on offer.
Before coming to my final remarks I should like to mention one other aspect which worries me about the Bill. Training is surely a good thing, but I hope your Lordships will forgive the trivial remark that so is education. Again, to those of us who have been involved and have thought a lot about it, it has always seemed to be silly that social security grants and benefits are available to unemployed young people and that means-tested grants are available to students in higher education, but virtually nothing is on offer to those in sixth forms and in further education colleges. Happily, within the context of this Bill there is the so-called 21-hour rule which enables some young people to pursue courses in, say, further education colleges so long as it is still believed that they meet the availability for work rule.
That 21-hour rule seems to be extremely sensible. It is particularly sensible, with few jobs around, if the availability to work criterion is not pressed too hard because it is clearly better for young people receiving the benefit to be pursuing some course rather than sitting around doing nothing. What worries me about the present set of proposals, on which I should like to have some reassurance from the Minister, is that they do not in any way destroy all that. Indeed, my own view in terms of the way this is developing is that it would be infinitely more sensible if a whole range of further education courses were listed as alternatives to the YTS and regarded as meeting whatever criteria have to be met for that purpose.
986 In conclusion, this Second Reading debate which we are having this evening is taking place a few weeks before the Budget. We are told that the economy is in good shape and we are also told that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has vast sums at his disposal. Nothing is more amusing to those of us who read the financial pages than to see that sums in terms of billions of pounds appear to be available today compared with yesterday, and that one is not to assume there will be quite so much tomorrow, and so on. I really cannot keep up with it all so I prefer to be rather more primitive and say that it looks as though a lot is available.
From reading the newspapers we are led to believe that the Chancellor wishes to return these vast sums to taxpayers, and notably to better-off taxpayers. If he does that what he really will be doing is adding to the spending power of taxpayers. That spending power certainly will be devoted to adding to the consumer boom and much of the consumer boom is itself added to imports. Therefore what the Chancellor will be doing, as I have pointed out before, is creating an extremely expensive job creation scheme for foreign workers. I emphasise my internationalism by saying I am not against foreign workers, but equally I have a certain nationalism and I believe that the Chancellor should occasionally think of our own people, particularly our youngsters.
The Chancellor has the opportunity to finance a massive and sophisticated programme of training, re-training and job creation from which we will all benefit. He will never have a better chance to help the whole nation.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the speech of my noble friend Lord Peston, who said very wise things about what has been described previously as a silly Bill, an unnecessary Bill and a dangerous Bill. As far as I am concerned I subscribe to that general condemnation.
We look at what the Minister and his friends have said, that this is part of an ongoing process and that it is a step-by-step attempt to return the balance of power within trade unions from their executives to their members, and we are asked to believe that those who use those words have the genuine best interests of the trade unions at heart. That is hypocrisy. When I hear people telling us that they are concerned about the impact of the bad name of trade unions on, for instance, the future electoral prospects of the Labour Party, I believe that to be hypocrisy. I believe that much of what has been said and what is contained in the Bill is motivated by malice and spite. I am not for one moment going to accept that this is the end of any process that the Government have in mind.
It is the fourth major attempt. When we look at what the Government have achieved in previous attempts, we find that in a previous Bill it was felt necessary to say to the members of a trade union, "You must now go through the process of a ballot in order to have a political fund". A great many people rested on the premise that when the ballot took place the political nature of the manner in which trade unions were being led or misled would be revealed. We know that given the opportunity the 987 overwhelming majority if not the totality of trade union ballots resulted in confirmation of that desire. Not only that but the creation of a number of political funds occurred in unions that previously did not have them.
Then for a period the Government rested on the view that what one needed to do was to make sure that no industrial action took place unless it was validated and authorised in a way laid down by a ballot prior to the event. All industrial action—I must be careful—the vast majority of industrial action which takes place is validated by the Government's legislation. Now we have this latest attempt to deal with what the friends of the trade union movement on the other side of the Chamber are saying is required. It is not asked for by the trade unions or their leadership and neither is it asked for at their annual meetings. But by some divine providence the members of the Government and those behind them say "We know best".
We have heard from this side of the Chamber what I believe to be a series of very impressive speeches by men and women who claim as their prime credential the fact that they are trade unionists. It is not that they have been members of a professional body but they have been members of a trade union for years and years and years. They have been members not only on the shopfloor but also in an executive capacity. My credentials are that I have not only been a member of a trade union for 46 years but I am still a member and I pay my dues every year. I will continue to do that as long as I have breath left in my body because a trade union is more than a club. A trade union is the birthright of every worker in this country.
The Government have legislated to such an extent that now that the raison d' etre has been removed one does not need to be a member of a trade union in order to get employment. The closed shop has been radically altered. The Government are not content with that because they have produced a Bill the title of which is the greatest misnomer of this Session. It is called an Employment Bill. They are now going to make sure that those who share the view that a strike ought not to take place, even though there has been democratic election, will have a reserve position. They win if the ballot goes in their favour; they win if the ballot goes against them. It is nonsense and hypocrisy.
I believe that ordinary people outside the House realise that they have a Government who are determined to weigh the odds against ordinary people and in that sense trade unionists are ordinary people. They have been singled out by this Government and they have had visited upon them rules and regulations which are not visited upon any other comparable group. My noble friend Lord Mason said that trade unions are battered and punch-drunk. In my view that is too strong. They are frustrated and they are angry. If those on the other side of the Chamber believe that which they have done and seek to do will weaken and bring down trade unions from their present strong position, I simply say to them, "Watch out". The impact and the effect of what the Government are doing to trade 988 unions and trade unionists is that they are becoming even more angry. They will treat with contempt the words of the Minister and his friends who say that they are making these changes in the best interests of trade unions and trade unionists.
More than once Members opposite have said, "We are now in the strongest economic position yet in the last seven years". Tell that to the extra 2 million people who are now unemployed by comparison with the day when this Government came into office. Tell that to the workers in the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers with whom I have a connection and to the wages councils, which at one time provided them with protection but which have now been weakened and frustrated by this Government. Tell those people whose minimum basic wage is £83 to £84 per week in London for a 40-hour week. Tell those who have been clobbered by this Government in the realm of housing and the Social Security Bill. Tell that to the women who prior to April 1st of this year would have had free milk for their children and now they will be denied it. Tell that to the totality of those I call the working people of this country, and then stand up somewhere other than in your Lordships' House and tell them that we are enjoying the finest economic renaissance that this country has ever seen. It is a sham and an hypocrisy.
Let us look at the advice that the Government have given. I happen to be a fellow of the British Institute of Management. It is said that the Government will not take the advice of trade unions or trade unionists. But will they take it from people who profess at times to support the generality of the Government's advice? I refer to the CBI, the BIM and the Institute of Personnel Management. They are attempting to save the Government from making industrial relations in this country worse. We are not talking about putting words on the statute book. We are talking about making legislation meaningful and sensible.
In my view what the Government are seeking to do is tantamount to undoing a great deal of good in the general relationships which have built up over the past few years. I speak in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who in 1977, 1978 and 1979 did a great deal to seek to persuade the trade unions that it was time that certain of their practices were altered. Sadly, the voice was not listened to then. The Government have driven through this House and another place legislation which has forced trade unions to be much more realistic. Trade unions in 1988 are realistic and recognise their responsibilities. The calumnies which have been visited upon them by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, in his call for such legislation were a smear of the worst possible kind.
Most trade unions—I would say all trade Unions—are conscious of the dangers not least because of the work that the noble Lord did in the 1950s and 1960s in respect of the ETU. They recognise the dangers and deal with them quickly but they deal with them within their own organisations. The trade union movement does not want this Bill. It is a contemptible Bill and we shall attempt to improve it as it goes through the House.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I have so often heard the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, speak in a constructive vein on various subjects, and I hope he will not mind my saying that I found his speech just now rather a disappointment.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, knowing his great experience of trade unions, I was hoping that we would have some more relevant criticism of the contents of the Bill. Perhaps he will forgive me if I do not follow him much in what he has said except to remind him that the Bill is mainly a manifesto commitment on which the Government were elected and it was preceded by the well-known and very constructive Green Paper.
When the 1980, 1982 and 1984 Acts were before the House, I was among those—and my noble friend Lord Whitelaw will remember—who complained that they did not go quite far enough towards saving the nation from the damage done to the economy and to the public service by strikes, whether official or unofficial, legal or illegal, and certainly did not go far enough towards restoring the powers which Conservatives in the last century intended that trade union members should have. Important improvements which the Government were wise enough to accept were made by your Lordships to the 1984 Act. I am happy to say, nostalgically, that Cross-Bench and especially Members of the Alliance were glad to join some of us on the Back Benches in making one or two important changes against the advice of the Government. Not even the support of the Front Bench opposite for the Government on one occasion was enough to save them. It therefore saddened and surprised me very much to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, today when he revealed that he seems to have lost his zeal for reform in this matter.
The combined effect of those three Acts has been to reduce the number of strikes. We had fewer strikes in 1985–86 than at any time since the last war. Strengthening the law relating to trade unions must have played some part in the economic revival which has undoubtedly taken place. I have listened to every speech from the other side of the House except one, and I must apologise for missing that one. There were speeches from those who are experienced as officials of trade unions and with great knowledge of what they are talking about, and no doubt great feeling, but it was rather a reassurance to me to hear at least two noble Lords opposite, former Cabinet Ministers, saying in effect that we must accept the situation reached by the 1980, 1982 and 1984 Acts. Indeed, I am happy to say that there has been no real assault on them on this occasion. However, we on this side of the House feel—and it was clear from our manifesto—that much remains to be done to safeguard the interests and rights of members of trade unions. Those are my principal reasons for welcoming the Bill.
Much has been said about Clause 3, and I should like to refer to it. In what I thought was an admirable 990 reply to the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter stressed the fact that trade union members are entitled to their own loyalties in addition to loyalty to the union. My noble friend referred to loyalty to one's family and loyalty even to one's employer. I would say that there is a broader loyalty still which would entitle members of trade unions not to strike even when they find themselves in a minority after a well-conducted secret ballot. For example, there is the loyalty of teachers to children, the loyalty of nurses to patients and the loyalty of railway workers to passengers. One could multiply the situations that can arise when, making due allowance for the majority opinion in the trade union, nevertheless members could feel strongly enough that they would prefer to go on working rather than let other people down. That should be remembered in the context of Clause 3.
Ballots already play an important part under the present law, especially since the passing of Sections 10 and 11 of the 1984 Act. I refer to ballots with regard to the election of executive committees of unions and with regard to strikes. In Clause 1 and Clauses 12 to 17 the Bill extends the requirements for the holding of ballots and strengthens the law with regard to the manner of holding them. We should surely remember that no ballot and no election can be said to be fair or effective unless it is held on the basis of a register of trade union members which is both complete and accurate.
Although this is primarily an administrative exercise, the compiling of proper registers is fundamental to the operation of this part of the law relating to ballots and elections. I should therefore be glad if, when my noble friend replies to the debate, he could let us know what progress has been made in recent years towards the compiling of complete and accurate registers. Of course each member must be clearly identified by name, which may not be a very easy matter. In South Wales there are about half a dozen surnames which are frequently repeated. In the part of Scotland which I frequent, where I have an interest, so many people are called either Thomson or McKee, and McKee can be spelt in two different ways. There must be accuracy and proper identification. I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, looking at me somewhat quizzically. I do not think that on this occasion he could disagree with what I am saying.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, I was venturing to think that while there is a multiplicity of Joneses there is a paucity of patronymics in the Principality.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I will not challenge that.
Besides clearly identifying the name, there is the problem of the disclosure of the address. The last and most unfortunate miners' strike a few years ago was accompanied by the victimisation of people who did not strike. This brings us back to Clause 3. The way to get round this question of not disclosing to all and sundry the addresses of members of trade unions is for the union, no doubt with the help of an outside agency like the Electoral Reform Society, to have a private register on which addresses are written, but both on that private register and on the public register there should be a number for each union 991 member. I understand this is already being done by some unions, and I should be grateful if my noble friend could tell us how much is known by the department about this matter.
The draftsmen did not have an easy task in preparing this Bill. Some of the clauses are complex and detailed and not totally easy to follow. I am generally opposed to too much detail, as some noble and learned Lords know, but on this Bill a large amount of detail is unavoidable; otherwise there would be too much left to the courts to decide. No doubt in Committee we shall be trying to improve the clarity of several clauses. Therefore, I shall refrain from making particular comments at this stage. However, I should very much like to welcome especially Clauses 18 to 20 dealing with the appointment of the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members.
I was astonished to hear a noble Lord opposite criticising that new development. It can only be beneficial to members of trade unions if we are anxious about the protection of their rights. It is really giving to the trade unions not only an ombudsman but one who is able to help them with regard to asserting their legal rights in the courts. Surely that is a development which should be welcomed by everybody.
With this Bill the Conservative Government are carrying on their good work for trade union members. It started when trade unions were legalised in the last century. It is a brave Bill and a sound one. I wish it success. I do not see why it should be considered as the last word in some future Parliament. I do not say necessarily in this one; we may need a Bill to deal further with the really fantastic position, entirely an anachronism in my view, of immunity in tort, especially as it is applied, and to make it unlawful for those in the public service to go on strike too easily.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord Irvine of Lairg
My Lords, I find this a deeply unattractive Bill. It is partisan; it is punitive; it is disproportionate. By disproportionate I mean that it is an excessive reaction to what it addresses. So I ask whether its real purpose is not to improve industrial relations but to settle old scores with the unions. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, has said that he wants relevant criticisms of the contents of the Bill. In this short speech I propose to try to meet his requirements.
There are three themes in the Bill. They run through it as a tarnished thread. First, there is the further emasculation of the capacity of trade unions to protect and defend the interests of their members. No longer is there to be a single ballot of all those whom it is reasonable to believe will be called on to take industrial action where an employer has more than one place of work. Instead, separate ballots are to be held at each place of work and a majority must be obtained at each, unless those to be called out are in the same grade or have the same occupational description. Not only are unions to be subject to minute and detailed requirements, any breach of 992 which can make a ballot invalid, but they must now obtain a majority at each plant or factory. The object is to divide the workforce so as to make it more difficult for it to take effective and cohesive industrial action.
There is a crowning irony in all this. Other noble Lords have called attention to it. The very same Bill which adds to the already stringent requirements for a ballot on industrial action licenses a dissident minority to disregard the result of that ballot when the majority is in favour of industrial action. Is it not the ultimate cynicism to regulate minutely the conduct of a ballot in the strictest terms and then to allow a minority to cock a snook at the outcome of the ballot, even though it is in complete compliance with the whole gamut of statutory restrictions? As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, not only does that stand logic and reason on its head but, as my noble friend Lord Mason of Barnsley emphasised, it subverts the basic principle of democracy. This Bill lays down a new notion of democracy. It is that the will of the majority prevails unless the majority is in favour of industrial action. If it is, then the minority can ignore it with complete impunity. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, spoke of loyalty. For democrats the loyalty that overrides all other loyalties is loyalty to the will of the majority.
I cite two further examples of the cynicism that underlies the treatment of industrial action in this Bill. Crown servants who hold office or employment on terms that do not constitute a contract of employment are to be deemed to have a contract of employment for certain purposes. That is Clause 29. Your Lordships may be forgiven for thinking that those purposes might include the legal protection or security of employment of Crown servants, but that is not so. Crown employees are not to be deemed to have contracts so that they can enjoy the same contractual rights and statutory protections as any other group of employees. On the contrary, they are to be deemed to have contracts of employment solely for the purposes of allowing damages claims to be brought against their trade union. They are not deemed to have contracts of employment for the purpose of exercising the same rights as any other group of employees in this country have against their employer.
Another example of the democratic principle stood on its head is the provisions in Clauses 10 and 11 about the closed shop. Even if a closed shop is voluntarily agreed between an employer who regards it as in his commercial interest and a trade union and even if it is overwhelmingly supported in a ballot by as many as 80 per cent. of the workforce affected or by over 85 per cent. of those voting, it cannot be enforced and any dismissal of an employee is to be deemed to be automatically unfair. So the wishes of both the employer and the overwhelming majority of the workforce in a properly conducted ballot cannot be enforced. Closed shop agreements can be made by huge democratic majorities but they cannot be enforced.
The second theme that underlies this Bill is its unprecedented degree of regulation of the internal affairs of trade unions. Contrast this with the regime of self-regulation advocated so fervently for the City 993 and its financial institutions. Unions are now to be required to open their accounting records to inspection, without any safeguards against abuse of confidentiality by the member, as distinct from his accountant, or other misuse of any sensitive information. So unions are placed in a uniquely disadvantageous position compared with companies or any other associations.
It does not stop there. Unions alone among all other employers are denied the right to decide in the circumstances of particular cases whether they should pay the fine of an official for an offence committed in the course of his employment. That is Clause 8. If a union decides in accordance with its own rules and democratic provisions to pay the fine and not to bring proceedings to recover the sum from its official, a member can seek an order authorising him to bring proceedings on the union's behalf and at the union's expense against the official on the basis that the union was unreasonable. The Secretary of State is to have power to decide what offences are to be within the ambit of this provision.
The interference does not stop there. Not only does this Bill now prescribe which officers of the union are to be elected. That is Clause 12. It prescribes the methods of election to be used both for union elections and for political fund ballots, although there is no evidence whatever that postal ballots are in practice any more democratic than workplace ballots.
The ultimate insult is that trade unions alone of all other organisations can no longer be trusted to conduct their own political fund ballots or their own elections. They alone must appoint an outside scrutineer to supervise these ballots. They are to be singled out in this way from every body corporate and voluntary association in this country. Codes of practice are to be drafted setting out what are considered to he desirable practices for trade unions in the conduct of ballots and elections, and these codes may be taken into account in any proceedings against trade unions. That is Clause 17. The internal rules and procedures of the union, democratically determined by its members and open to democratic change by its members, are now to be subordinated to this new regime of interference in the internal affairs of trade unions.
The third theme running through this Bill is that it lays down a charter for every maverick and malcontent who wants to harass a union and disrupt its proper functioning. Let me cite three positive examples. First, a member of the union is not to be disciplined for asserting that the union or any official or member has contravened or is proposing to contravene a union rule or any other agreement or any statute or rule of law. It matters not that the assertion is utterly without foundation; that it is made negligently or recklessly without any proper investigation or inquiry. It matters not how damaging so groundless a charge is to the reputation or the interests of the union or the official concerned. If the union has the temerity in such a case to take action against the member, then any discipline is an unjustifiable infringement of the member's rights and leads to an award of compensation.
Secondly, the courts are to be given powers to order temporary injunctions against trade unions in 994 a whole range of cases brought by members, without any requirement that reasonable advance notice be given to the trade union before ex parte relief, without the union being represented, is granted, so that the union has a proper opportunity to defend itself. Thirdly, and most significantly, is the creation of a special commissioner or ombudsman to give assistance and to provide finance to members who want to bring a whole battery of legal proceedings against their trade union. The member even has a choice about the financial arrangement to be made in the provision of assistance.
So what we have is a Government who in our debates on the Legal Aid Bill refuse to extend legal aid for proceedings in industrial tribunals to allow employees to make good their statutory rights—for example, not to be unfairly dismissed—against their employers, yet a Government who are creating a special officer and giving finance out of the public purse to promote claims by dissident members against their own trade unions. That is yet another reason why I describe this Bill as disproportionate.
For all its pretensions, the note struck by the Bill is one of strident truimphalism. It exacts reparation but disproportionately to any wrongs that have conceivable been done to the body politic by the trade union movement. Although dressed up in terms of the rights of individuals, this Bill is no more and no less than an attempt to undermine the ability of trade unions to protect the interest of their members and to conduct their own affairs in accordance with the democratic wishes of the majority of their members. Instead they are to be subject to detailed regulation and interference and to constant harassment by any disaffected minority. This is not a Bill which looks for reconciliation, unity, the healing of wounds or the recreation of one nation. It is no more than old-style class war in the spurious guise of individual rights.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, expressed surprise that we on these Benches, having supported many aspects of previous trade union legislation, were not wholeheartedly in support, to put it mildly, of the Bill that has come to your Lordships' House today. I do not know why he should be surprised. The Government talk about a step by step approach, but it is possible to go along step by step with the Government and then to decide that enough is enough. I shall come to the reasons why I believe that enough is enough in a few moments.
I want to agree with those who have been critical of Clause 3. For the reasons that have already been given, I shall not enlarge on that because it has been a major theme running through today's debate. I would merely pick up the point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in the second speech this afternoon when she pointed out that it is perfectly possible, when the question of loyalty to the employer and breach of contract with the employer is raised, to have, as so many other countries have, a legal right to strike and along with that legal right to strike the temporary suspension of the contract of employment during the period of the strike. If the 995 Government are really concerned about that point of confusion of loyalties, that is a very easy way in which they could deal with it.
The noble Lord the Minister said that previous legislation has been so successful and that this is an argument for further development. I would ask him to think very carefully about his justification for the success of the previous legislation. Certain aspects of it have been successful. There was need for changes. But when the noble Lord points to the fall in the number of days lost through strikes as a result of the legislation—it may well be a non sequitur—if he looks back at the statistics he will find that at times of high unemployment the numbers of days lost in strikes have always fallen dramatically. We shall have to wait until the boasted return of, if not full employment, something like full employment before we know whether this legislation has been the cause of the reduction in strikes, or whether it has merely accompanied the reduction in strikes which may well have been primarily due to other causes.
That brings me to one of the reasons why I am very uneasy about the legislation. The Government continuously tell us that we are moving back into a state of economic recovery and a state in which unemployment is falling. We know that in certain parts of the country there are scarcities of labour in certain important categories. Are the Government so confident that they have created a climate of industrial relations in which, under conditions of full or near full employment, the good economic consequences which they seek will come? I am not going to say that the recent strikes and threats of strikes which we have had are anything remotely like a return to the winter of discontent. That would be a great exaggeration.
However, under good economic conditions, the absence of strikes and economic development depend on genuine good relations inside industry. That kind of legislation is not likely to develop those good relations, but to make it more difficult to get the kind of good relationships which we shall need increasingly when the threat of unemployment is removed and when we are back to the situation which we were in before. Then we needed to have no strikes; we needed to be able to guarantee that there would be no unreasonable, excessive wage claims.
These things depend on understanding and good relations. I doubt whether the legislation will move us in that direction. Indeed, one reason why we do not go any further in the steps of the Government in their reform of the trade unions is precisely because we believe that there should be a minimum of law in industrial relations. I believe that very strongly; it is the creed in which I was brought up in the field of industrial relations and I have never deviated from it. Good industrial relations depend upon good relationships within the place of work. The development of good relationships within the place of work can be hampered and not improved by too much law. I want to keep the sticky fingers of the lawyers out of industrial relations; in my view they have been coming in far too much over recent years. I want to see that cut back, not increased. I am not making any friends with the lawyers; but that never worried me very much.
996 I personally want to spend more time this evening on Part II of the Bill. Nearly everybody in today's debate has concentrated on Part I, which is of course important. Industrial relations are important in their own right and for the development of companies and therefore of the economy. But I believe that good industrial relations only create the environment in which that success can come about, and that good training is really in the long run more important even than good industrial relations. So I am deeply interested in Part II, which deals with training.
I do not understand what the Conservative Government are doing with the Manpower Services Commission. It was after all the Conservative Government which brought it into force. They removed the employment services from the Department of Employment and put them into the Manpower Services Commission. They did that and—let us not be mealy-mouthed about this—the employment services under the Department of Employment have been an outstanding failure. The labour exchanges of the old department were a bad joke, and anybody who was in industry at the time will tell you that that was so.
I do not understand why, having put the employment services into the Manpower Services Commission, the Government are now taking them out again. Of course, the Government are doing it because they see a very close link between benefit and employment. But one of the reasons for removing the employment services from the Department of Employment was that they should not be linked with benefit and unemployment, but should be a constructive service, furthering employment. People should not feel that the service was linked to benefit. It was the Conservative Government which took it out. Why on earth should a Conservative Government go into reverse?
The link between employment and training is far more organic and important in my view than the link between benefit and employment, particularly if we are moving to a position to which we ought to be moving, where a great deal of work goes on at local level. There is far more freedom to manoeuvre than there has been at local level up till now, so that it is possible to match training programmes to local employment needs. That has been one of the greatest weaknesses up until now.
We have national figures about unemployment and employment, and we have national schemes for training. What is really needed, because the great mass of people get jobs or do not get jobs in the area in which they live, is that there should be the closest possible working relations between the employment service and the training service. This is what the Government are deliberately undermining.
However, worse than that, as I mentioned last week when the question of the Government's proposal to set up agencies was raised, the Government are now saying that one of these agencies is to be the employment services. Will the Minister please explain what the Government are up to? Only last October they said that they would take the employment services out of the Manpower Services Commission and put them back into the 997 Department of Employment. They are now going to take them out of the Department of Employment and put them into an agency.
All those changes are disruptive to the staff and disruptive to the good work which the employment services are doing. If the Government really mean to make an agency of them, can they not leave them in the Manpower Services Commission until they have set up the agencies and then do something about it? It seems that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing inside the Government. There are two plans which simply do not move in harness at all. I should very much like an answer to that.
Then the Government are determined to increase the proportion of employers, both on the Manpower Services Commission (the Training Commission as it will be) and on the local training boards. I am chairman of one of the manpower boards and I hope to be chairman of one of the training boards. The Manpower Services Commission did not want the increase in the employers. I can tell you that as a chairman of a local board that I do not want the increase in employers. It is essential in these schemes to carry the trade unions with us. There have been many moments when the support for schemes—good schemes in my view—from the trade unions has been very difficult to obtain. But if the Government insist both at national and at local level on outvoting the trade unions by putting up such a high proportion of employers, then of course the trade union confidence in the commission and in the local boards will be undermined. It will be extremely difficult to carry through what I hope will be revolutionary changes in training, although they will not be revolutionary unless the Government are prepared to put even more money into them. But that is another matter. It will be difficult to do that if the trade union suspicion of those organisations is of such a kind that their collaboration is either non-existent or extremely hesitant.
Then there is the question of the reduction or the removal of benefit for youngsters in connection with the YTS. Again, the Manpower Services Commission was quite clear that these schemes should be voluntary. In my view it is most regrettable that the Government have gone back on this, against the advice of the MSC. If for all 16- to 18-year-olds we had a period which was regarded as education or training, and there were appropriate grants for people from 16 to 18 as being either students or trainees, that would be another matter. But that is not what we have. We are saying that youngsters must go into a YTS programme or they will lose benefit. What is the point of forcing someone into a training programme when they do not wish to go into it?
I should hate to have to train someone who did not wish to be there. Youngsters are extremely good— and not only youngsters, but people generally—at finding ways of making life very difficult indeed for people who are trying to work with them if they do not wish to be engaged in that work. Their ingenuity in doing this will be unbounded. If I were an employer involved in the day-to-day work of carrying out the training programmes, the last thing I should want would be conscripts to the schemes.
998 There is a further point which we must admit. The YTS commitment to provide training is a bold scheme. With all its defects, I have always supported it because we have such a woefully untrained labour force in this country. There are very big improvements going on. The second year of YTS, with its approved training organisation recognition and its achievement of the standards that are required, has meant that it is doing what has always been needed. It is giving us a much better expectation that the training really will be good.
But we know that a lot of the training is not good enough yet. We know from the Government's own publications that employers in this country are way behind employers elsewhere in the calibre of training that they are providing. Of course there are some places which offer absolutely first-class training but there are a great many which pay only lip service to it. It is monstrous to say that we have to force youngsters to go into training not only when they do not want to but when we know that the quality of that training is not good enough. I beg the Government to think again on these matters.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, we have had an interesting if not a balanced debate. I make it seven speakers for the Government and 12 speakers against the Government. That assumes that the noble Earl. Lord Dundee, will support the Government. If it has not been a balanced debate it has also not been a very novel debate. Indeed some of the arguments that have been used on both sides of the House have been a bit old hat. That is not really our fault. Every other year this Government introduce an anti-trade union Bill. I disagree with my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton only in the fact that there was one other Bill which he did not mention and that was the Wages Act 1986. Therefore there is the Employment Act 1980, the Employment Act 1982, the Trade Union Act 1984, the Wages Act 1986 and now we shall have the Employment Act 1988. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, when he said that there will be more. After all we have it on the highest conceivable authority.
The Prime Minister told Brian Connell in a well known interview in the Director in September 1983:We may need to continue every other year until we get it right".So of course there may be more and more Bills and we apologise in advance if the argument gets a little repetitive.
I have been round this course at least five times. I have seen off the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, the noble Lords, Lord Cockfield and Lord Young of Graffham, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, all of whom have moved to higher things. However, we have back the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and I hope that he moves to higher things as well.
As a result of all this the noble Lord summarised for us what he thought the Bill would achieve and where he thought we were. We do not recognise the picture that he painted, however. What we see are trade unions in this country as a result of the legislation with fewer rights and more liabilities than in any other country in Western Europe.
999 We see British workers, especially those who are most likely to be dismissed unfairly—that is workers who work for small firms and workers who have less than two years service—with no unfair dismissal rights at all. We see the United Kingdom trade union movement more regulated than in any country in the West which is a signatory to the ILO Convention on the Freedom to Organise. We believe that this country is in fact in fundamental breach of the ILO Convention.
Now we have another Bill. I have tried to analyse as best I can the arguments that have come from the various supporters of the Bill to see whether I can draw them together and find some simple answers. I think that there have been four general arguments. First, we have been told that we must pass this Bill because of the beneficial effects of previous Bills; all previous steps that have been taken have been good steps so we must have some more steps. That has been the argument of the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Mottistone.
Secondly, there have been those who have talked about the alleged abuses; although a great number of abuses have been removed by this legislation unfortunately some remain. That was the argument of the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne, Lord Wyatt of Weeford and Lord Renton.
Thirdly, quite apart from the alleged abuses and the beneficial previous steps, it has been argued that the public wants this Bill. The public has said through public opinion polls and other measures that it wants more of these provisions. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said that. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, asked one of our speakers about this and the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, made much of public demand. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said something which is not quite the same thing. He said that it does not really matter what the public says through public opinion polls. This measure was included in the manifesto, it was included in the Green Paper so the Government can do it anyway.
I wish to go very quickly through these four arguments and see how they stand up. First, there have certainly been some effects from past Bills. There is no doubt about that. Unlike the Industrial Relations Act 1971, previous Acts have been used. There have been 40 court cases on the part of employers to enforce Part II of the 1984 Act. There have been 60 other cases, we are told, 40 of which involved secondary boycotts.
The TUC says that 12 trade unionists have actually brought actions for unreasonable exclusion against their trade union, although in the great majority of cases the trade unions sustained their case. ACAS says that it knows of 80 or so strike ballots and a similar number of closed shop ballots and that the trade unions on the whole won about 70 to 75 per cent. in each case. So this legislation has been used. It has not been used by the overwhelming majority of employers of course but it has not exclusively been used by the cowboys. Some quite reputable employers have used this Act.
Because of that the Government say, and I believe that the Minister today actually repeated the words 1000 used in the brief of the Secretary of State in another place, that as a result of the legislation we have:avoided much unnecessary and damaging industrial action".He went on to quote the very words used by the Secretary of State about that industrial action. He mentioned the fact that we had had fewer strikes in 1985 and 1986 than at any time since the war and that the Secretary of State was speaking in another place at col. 816 of the Official Report of 3rd November, against a background of:the lowest monthly total since the war of days lost".Let us look at those figures, although to some extent previous speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, have already exploded the argument based upon them. The number of strikes has been declining in this country since 1970, the last year of the Heath Government, when it reached the all time figure of around 4,000 strikes a year. Since that time the number of strikes has been declining. By 1984 it was about 50 per cent. of the 1970 figure and it has been falling at roughly about that rate ever since.
I know why the Minister uses the figures as he does. It is because in 1986 the number of strikes actually rose again. In 1986 there were 23 per cent. more strikes than in the previous year. I calculate that 1987 will at least be up to that figure when we get the full figures.
Similarly we are told that we have the lowest number of working days lost in any month since the war. That figure referred to the month of August which is a rather far away background. In September the number of strikes rose by 27 per cent; in October by 31 per cent. and they have been rising since. As several speakers have said on this side of the House, the signs are that 1987 will be a record year for working days lost in terms of the last few years.
Of course I doubt very much whether we shall get back to the notorious figure of 1984 when there were 27.1 million working days lost mostly in the mining industry. Nevertheless I calculate that so far in 1987, 3.4 million working days have been lost, and that is an annual rate of 4 million working days lost for the year as a whole.
If 1988 so far is any guide it could be above that next year. But as speakers on this side of the House have said we know that whether the number of working days lost goes up or down does not depend upon the law. I do not believe that it depends in fact upon a general economic recovery. Whether or not the number of working days lost goes up or down in any year since the early 1970s depends on what the Government's attitude is to pay in the public sector. If they get involved in a major dispute with workers in the public sector, we shall go back to a figure of working days lost of 6, 9 and 10 million or so. That has nothing whatever to do with legislation.
Turning to the allegation that abuses are still rampant, I was pleased to see that the Minister did not go back to the ETU. The ETU has been an old friend in previous debates. We have known it was going to appear whenever people talked about abuses in the trade union movement. But the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, did not disappoint us. However, we did not hear about the ETU from the 1001 Government. We got more recent issues. In the Green Paper we have one or two rather more recent examples. However, they were very vague.
For the most part, the electoral abuses are allegations. They are not proven, as was the case with the old ETU. As regards the actions against individuals, some of which are contained in the Green Paper—the case of the T&G, the members of the NUR, ASLEF, and so on—we say two things. It has already been said by speakers on this side of the House but I must repeat our view that those cases are atypical. We do not say that they do not exist, or that no trade union election is ever irregular. We do not say that discipline is never taken against individual workers in trade unions in ways which are unjustified. But we say that those cases are atypical. For example, in most cases which I know about affecting discipline the unions never carry their sanctions out, or actually collect the money. They go through the motions.
Secondly, we say that there are powers to deal with these matters. Powers have been put in place by previous employment Acts. We say that this Bill makes any kind of action to enforce a closed shop quite unlawful, which was the basis of any unfairness and damage which arose out of unreasonable expulsion. We say that as a result of the 1980 legislation there is now on the statute book a provision for compensation in cases of unreasonable expulsion.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, gave an example concerning the NUJ and the £1,000 fine which the NUJ "unofficial group"—I believe that those were his words; I wrote them down—sought to take from the NUJ members. I can only say that even before any of the present Government's legislation came into force, the good old common law provided that if an unofficial group, unjustified by the rule hook of the NUJ, sought to use power in that way, that was actionable and the victims could go to the High Court and get legal aid. Therefore, we say that there are safeguards which would exist without the Bill. They do not justify the Bill.
The third argument is that the public want more controls, as envisaged by the opinion polls. I suggest to the Government with all seriousness that it is dangerous for them, in their position, to be keen on opinion polls. Most of the time, since we joined the Common Market, public opinion polls have wanted us to get out. For several years now there have been opinion polls demanding the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. In Dublin, there are even larger majorities in favour of ending the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Especially at this time it is bad for Conservatives to talk about public opinion polls because they know and we know that all the polls suggest that the Chancellor should give his money to the NHS rather than giving it away in tax cuts. We also know that the Government will not take any notice of those polls.
Therefore, it is silly for the Government to bring opinion polls forward as a justification. In any case, those polls contradict one another. It has been said in the debate from the other side of the House and by the Secretary of State in another place that the MORI poll supported what we on this side of the House call the scab's charter, which is Clause 3. However, the TUC says that the poll was unfair because the 1002 question asked did not make it clear that the discipline which was being ruled out was taking place after a legal ballot. Nevertheless, a subsequent Gallup poll supported the position of the Trade Union Congress. Of those interviewed, 25 per cent. said that in their opinion the Government's antiunion legislation had gone too far already.
Only one in five of the public thought that we needed the Bill. So opinion polls say different things, and as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, has said, if you are to justify legislation of this importance you must justify it by reference to its merits. You cannot quote public opinion polls, say you put it in your manifesto, make vague statements about alleged abuses and talk about the fine things you have done in the past. You have to defend it clause by clause and section by section on the Floor of the House.
I do not have the time nor do I wish to go through the various clauses in the Bill which we shall discuss in considerable detail at Committee stage and which I think my noble friends on this side of the House have broadly dealt with. However, I wish to say a few words about two of the clauses. The first is the scab's charter. I want to answer one argument of which the Secretary of State is very fond and which has been used by noble Lords on the other side of the House. We shall probably hear it at the Committee stage. I call it the plurality of obligations argument.
The argument is that we must get the striker to think of his employer, of the state, of the public, of his wife, of his children and of his dear old mum. The Government are truly concerned, they tell us, to protect the right of strikers to decide, subject to no coercion. Yet they are the people who have taken away the right against unfair dismissal for all workers employed under two years. They are the people who have refused to legislate to give workers a right to strike. Workers have no right to strike in this country and all strikes involve a breach of contract. They say: "We intervene to protect you from trade union pressure; but if it is employer pressure which threatens you with the sack, I am afraid you are on your own". So much for the plurality of obligations.
If the Government were truly concerned about fathers, mothers or wives, would they not provide a decent level of supplementary benefit during a strike? Would they not do something about the disregard? No, because of their hypocrisy, as my noble friend has said. The plurality of obligations argument is just another way of undermining trade union solidarity.
I turn to Part II. I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who has said that she does not know what the Government are doing to the MSC, that I do not think that she can possibly mean that. They are taking it out and shooting it. They are neutering it. Why? Because they cannot shut it up. They have taken Brian Nicholson round and round the garden and he still says that they are ruining his training programme by making it compulsory. So they have had to get rid of him. Everybody tells them—the CBI, the Youth Training Council, which is their own consultative body—that if they set up a compulsory system without any more money they are gong to ruin the scheme. The answer is that they do not mind. That is why they are doing what they are doing to the MSC.
1003 We therefore ask the House to support us in subsequent debates at the Committee stage when we seek to modify this Bill. We believe that the trade union movement is not alone any more. As Members on my side of the House have admitted, there was a time, in the early 1980s, when support for the trade union movement, after the winter of discontent, was extremely low. But since that time more and more people have come to see that the present position of the movement is in some way like the BBC, local government, the Bench of Bishops, the MSC and all those other people in the country who will not quite do what they are told by the Government. That is why we oppose the Bill.
§ 7.20 p.m.
The Earl of Dundee
My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking all of your Lordships who have spoken on this subject. The attention that has been given on all sides of the House to the detail of the Bill has been reflected in the quality of the debate, and I look forward to the further discussion when we come to the Committee stage.
There has also been a consistent theme in our approach to such legislation. First of all, legislation has been designed to tackle issues of evident public concern. That was perhaps self-evident in the case of the 1980 Employment Act where the public had clearly repudiated the system of law in force in the late 1970s, to which some of your Lordships have already referred. Among other things, the 1982 Employment Act tackled one of the roots of public concern—the legislation which had put trade unions in a unique position as regards their immunity from legal proceedings. Similarly, the relevance of the Trade Union Act 1984 was vividly illustrated by the problems about ballots before strikes which were apparent during the miners' strike which started before the Bill was introduced. The present Bill responds to the perception that union members are relatively defenceless when pitted against the might of their union.
The second theme underlying the Government's approach has been that changes have been made within the existing framework of the law and common law principles. Although in 1981 the Green Paper Trade Union Immunities put forward for discussion radical ideas such as "positive rights", there was no real enthusiasm for such a degree of change from those in industry who deal with industrial relations matters on a day-to-day basis. The existing legal framework therefore has continued to be used. Moreover, a crucial principle in all that has been done since 1979 is that the initiation of legal action under the law is left to affected parties. That has enabled the Government to reform the law by redefining the boundaries for legal immunity which society is prepared to accept and it has preserved the fundamental principle that at the heart of the employment relationship lies an explicit or implicit contract.
The final major theme is a recognition of the fact that industrial relations law must respond to changes in the economy and society. The proposals in the Green Paper Trade Unions and Their Members took full account of this principle and quoted examples of 1004 actions taken by unions in recent years which justified legislation to prevent their re-occurrence. It also recognised that many of its proposals reflected experience showing that union members were willing to use the safeguards and remedies which the law could provide and were less willing than in the past to tolerate treatment from unions which they considered unjust or to amount to intimidation.
A number of your Lordships have put their case against the Bill with vigour. I should say, however, that some of the arguments put forward appear to have overlooked various key features of the Bill which were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne in his opening speech. I should therefore like to touch upon one or two of those features.
The Bill does not deal with the rights of members of social clubs, sports clubs, political parties or of a national community. It deals with trade unions and acknowledges that they are in many ways quite special institutions. Governments of various parties have accepted that unions need a special framework of law which recognises the way in which they can affect members' working lives.
Unions and companies are quite different. Therefore analogies with the law regulating companies' relationship with shareholders or employees are not a great deal of use as a guide to the way in which the law should regulate the relationship between unions and their members. The Bill is entirely in the tradition of industrial relations legislation since 1979. It responds to changes in our economy and society and within trade unions themselves. Its provisions look to our present and future needs and not back to the past. Nothing in the Bill results from an ideologically-based attack on trade unions or trade unionists. I believe that unions—responsible and responsive trade unions—will benefit from the Bill, as will all trade union members.
The overall objective of Part II of the Bill is to bring up to date our employment and training services so that we are better able to respond to the demands of the 1990s and beyond.
As I have said, the Bill is in the tradition of industrial relations law since 1979. I do not feel that we have to defend to any great extent the charge of inconsistency in what is proposed. I should say to the noble Lords, Lord Blease and Lord Mason, who suggested that the Bill is an attack on trade unionism, that the main industrial relations and trade union proposals in the Bill were set out in the Green Paper published last February and debated in this House last April as your Lordships well know. As my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham said then, the purpose of these changes in the law is,to strengthen the rights of members of a trade union and not to whittle them away".—[Official Report, 29/4/87; col. 1553.]Some of your Lordships point to the practices of certain trade unions as models of democracy and imply that there is no need for change. However, I do not feel that that view would be shared by the many thousands of union members who have been disciplined by their unions simply for choosing to go to work. Nor would it be readily concurred with by those members who had to complain to the certification officer about failure of their unions to fulfil the statutory duties applying to election of 1005 members of their executives. Then, of course, there are job seekers and employees who find themselves refused work, or dismissed, because an employer risks industrial action being organised against him if he takes them on or keeps them on. Clearly, that category also would not endorse the criticism.
The noble Lords, Lord Rochester and Lord Mason, were concerned that the provisions will damage good industrial relations. I can fully appreciate the apparency of that charge if nothing else, but this country has much to be proud of in the improvement of its reputation both at home and abroad over recent years. Trade unionists and employees have made a critical contribution to that improvement. I can assure your Lordships that the Government will do nothing that would put that achievement at risk and are not doing so with this Bill.
The cry that "good industrial relations will be damaged" has been heard every time the Government have acted to reform industrial relations and trade union law. A variant on the theme, associated with every Bill since the Employment Act of 1980, is that the latest legislation "goes a step too far". But what substance have those criticisms had in practice? Is it seriously suggested that this country would have had better industrial relations had the Government left untouched the legislation they inherited in 1979?
In fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Mason, I recognise that the thrust of his argument was to give us credit for what we have done since 1979, and to single out this particular Bill with which he is not too enamoured. I do not claim that the changes in the law have alone brought about every improvement, but I have yet to see any real evidence that they have on balance harmed our country's economic performance and prosperity.
A major reason for the success of the Government's legislation since 1979 is that it has left enforcement of the law to parties directly affected by unlawful action. The provisions of this Bill are entirely consistent with that principle. It is illustrated, for example, in the approach taken to the commissioner for the rights of trade union members. The commissioner will not (despite the descripton of the provisions of the Bill which is sometimes heard and has been given indirectly tonight) be a "trade union harassment officer". He (or she) will not have any roving brief to challenge a union's conduct by acting on his own initiative or at his own volition. A union member may face an immense disadvantage in taking certain legal actions against his union because the union has far greater resources. The commissioner's assistance will merely redress that disadvantage.
The Government would in fact be quite content if the commissioner's assistance was seldom sought, and therefore seldom used, provided that this was because unions were observing the relevant duties owed to their members, and those members consequently had no cause for complaint that their rights were being denied. The availability of the commissioner's assistance could be an effective and worthwile deterrent in itself.
Similarly, the Government have no desire to see a substantial number of legal actions taken against 1006 unions under any of the provisions of the Bill. Much the best result would be an absence of litigation because unions were not committing the abuses that litigation might be needed to remedy.
Turning to Clause 3, which concerns protection against union discipline, noble Lords have argued against this proposal with great sincerity and conviction, but the clause is not about union-bashing or preventing people from taking industrial action, as perhaps we are led to believe. Nor will it prevent a union from ever disciplining members who break its rules. The protection is targeted quite specifically on discipline for certain conduct only; it is based on the principle that it is wrong that a union should be able to coerce an individual into acting against his convictions or punish him for bringing to light misconduct by his union.
There are a number of points which must be made when considering the need for statutory protection against union discipline for refusing to join a strike or other industrial action. First, although unions may be protected against the legal consequences of inducing employees to break their contract of employment, the individual trade union member himself has no such protection.
The union member has a number of obligations, however. He has an obligation to his trade union, as noble Lords have already said, but he also just as certainly has an obligation to his employer under his contract of employment. And of course he also has an obligation to his own family, to the firm's customers and suppliers and not least to the wider community. Those separate duties and obligations can pull an individual in different directions. The Government's view is that he should not be influenced in coming to a decision about what to do by the fear of disciplinary action taken against him by his own trade union.
Regrettably, there have been instances of just this kind of thing where unions have disciplined members for not striking. The Green Paper mentioned, for example, the National Union of Railwaymen, ASLEF and the National Union of Mineworkers. More recently, the National Communications Union and the National Association of Schoolmasters and the Union of Women Teachers have both been reported as expelling many hundreds of their members simply for going to work. There have also been other cases of individuals being disciplined for going to work. Those are not the only examples.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone, in reference to Clause 3, were concerned about the position of employers and wondered whether the statutory right in this Bill would override the contract. I can tell them that the clause does not alter the relationship between an employer and employees who wish to work but rather protects those employees in their relationship with their unions. Employers are not normally obliged to provide work by keeping workplaces open during a strike so long as they pay the agreed wages. The clause does not alter that in any way and should not therefore present employers with any new difficulties. The question of whether or not an employer is entitled to put an employee on short time or temporary lay-off or is obliged to make him an offer of alternative work is determined by individual contracts of employment.
1007 The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, questioned whether dissidents should be allowed to remain in unions when union membership is now entirely voluntary. Although the Bill removes all remaining statutory support for the closed shop by removing a union's ability to enforce it and by making dismissal for non-membership unfair, that is a far cry from making the closed shop unlawful. For example, it does not stop an employer who wishes to do so requiring job applicants to be union members. Employers are in the best position to judge whom to recruit and should be left as free as possible to do so.
It would be wrong therefore to conclude that Clause 3 is unnecessary because individuals who lose or give up their union membership will have nothing to fear. Lack of a union card can make all the difference when it comes to finding work in the printing industry, for example. But the principal argument for the protection given in Clause 3 is not the closed shop; it is the point of principle that individuals should not be coerced by fear of union discipline into breaking their contract of employment.
The noble Lord, Lord Basnett, asked how a union could discipline unofficial strikers or those who refused to return to work if it were prevented from disciplining non-strikers. The Bill does not prevent the union from disciplining those who do not return to work after a vote has been taken to end the strike, although the noble Lord gave the impression that he thought that that was the unions' current practice. For example, at Wapping the only discipline exercised was against those who chose to work rather than for the purpose of restraining violence, despite suggestions by the courts that disciplinary action might be appropriate in the latter case.
The noble Lord, Lord Mason, asked whether we felt that Clause 3 would undermine the provisions on pre-strike ballots. However, the new right will not alter in any way the fundamental importance to the union of a pre-strike ballot. It will remain of paramount importance to the union to hold a ballot because without one it will lose its immunity from legal proceedings for any inducement to its members to break their contract of employment. That will ensure that unions continue to hold ballots.
However, even without that incentive for the union to hold a ballot, I believe that far from undermining the balloting provisions, unions deprived of the power to discipline non-striking members will actually be more anxious now to obtain the views of their members before calling for industrial action. I believe that unions will come to see the wisdom of convincing members that such action is justified and will hesitate before taking industrial action when they know that a substantial minority of their members is opposed to it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, suggested that union discipline would draw the sting of strikers' ill-feeling against free riders. I understand the point that the noble Baroness seeks to make but must question whether that view justifies the disciplining of so many thousands of individuals.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, took the view that it was a logical error to provide for members to flout 1008 a majority decision if the rule is that decisions are taken by the majority. I must tell the noble Lord that logic cannot determine this issue. It depends on the decision. The union may choose to decide that it will require members to strike. It could equally decide, as unions do in other countries, to invite its members to strike. That can be presented as an issue of logic only within the extraordinary narrow assumptions of the British trade union movement.
I should add in this context that, as perhaps we all know, a MORI opinion poll in June 1987 showed that 70 per cent. of voters, and no less than 60 per cent. of Labour voters, wanted legal protection for union members who refused to join a strike even if the majority votes for one. In a MORI poll of trade unionists taken in August, more supported than opposed that view. More recent polls have confirmed the general dislike of unions imposing their views.
I now turn briefly to Clause 12, which concerns the extension of the statutory election requirement. The Government have made no secret of their belief that union leaders should be representative of the membership. That was spelt out in our manifesto at the general election and in the Green Paper. Additionally, a MORI opinion poll in June 1987 showed that 88 per cent. of union members, including 82 per cent. of Labour voters, supported the election of union governing bodies by secret ballot once every five years.
Clause 12 of the Bill gives effect to that by extending the 1984 Trade Union Act's election requirements to all those who are members of the executive, general secretaries and presidents and those who act as though they are members. The clause closes a loophole in the 1984 Act by means of which certain union leaders have been able to give up their vote on the principal executive committee and so evade the election requirement. The Government consider it important to avoid providing any new loopholes, and the clause is therefore drafted quite rightly to reduce to a minimum any opportunity for evasion.
The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, argued that some unions should be allowed to continue to appoint their general secretaries rather than have them elected. As we know, general secretaries are often the individuals of whom people think first when they hear a union's name. They can of course wield a great deal of influence, and much more influence than a non-elected post might suggest. Such an amendment to the Bill would permit leaders such as Clive Jenkins (formerly of ASTMS), Ken Gill (formerly of TASS), Fred Jarvis of the NUT, and so on, who are all appointed officials, to be exempted from the election requirement. I do not think that there is much justification for that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, asked me why we should reduce the retirement exemption from five years to two years. This is a misunderstanding. The noble Baroness is referring to the exemption in Clause 12(4), which is a wholly new provision confined to the specific position of appointed officials. The five-year exemption provided by the 1984 Act will remain suitably amended. I refer the noble Baroness to Schedule 3, paragraph 5(5).
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, asked why election addresses should not be sent out with voting papers. 1009 He asked me to confirm that the Government would agree to that suggestion. I can confirm that the Government are considering this issue, and, as was said by my right honourable friend the Minister of State in another place, we hope to table a suitable amendment at the Committee stage.
In reference to Clause 12, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said that general secretaries would have to stop being employees of the union. This is not the case. The Bill contains nothing which prevents an elected general secretary from being employed. It may be necessary for the union to ensure that the contract of employment of a general secretary expires when his post falls due for election; but there is no real difficulty in doing that.
My noble friend Lord Renton asked me what progress has been made in compiling trade union registers of members. Unions have had a duty since 1985 to compile and maintain an up-to-date register. This is a matter for the unions and their members, but the certification officer has received one complaint on which he ruled that the union was meeting the statutory requirements. The Bill will contribute to the maintenance of accurate registers by allowing each member to inspect his entry.
Turning to Clause 16 and the prevention of manipulation of pre-strike ballots, some of your Lordships have raised various matters in this connection. I am sure that we shall have the opportunity in Committee to go over these matters in much more detail. I therefore do not wish to dwell in particular on them now. However, for the moment I simply remind noble Lords what this clause is about and what it achieves.
As the law stands, a union wishing to organise selective action might combine the votes of members working in different workplaces solely on the basis that this was likely to produce an overall majority in favour of action. This problem with the present law has been identified by both the Institute for Personnel Management and the Industrial Society.
In future the union will have to conduct a separate ballot for each of these workplaces, and will have immunity only for organising action at a workplace where the majority votes in favour.
This clause is really as simple as that. It does not prevent unions from organising selective industrial action. It does not require unions to hold separate workplace ballots in all circumstances. It will not disrupt established bargaining arrangements. What it will do, I accept, is to require unions, in particular circumstances only, to review the balloting constituency whose votes must be obtained to see whether, and to what extent, the balloting must be organised in a certain way. If any of your Lordships are in doubt about this, I am sure that we can return to these matters in Committee.
We have heard that the Institute of Personnel Management has published comments stating that in its view Clause 16 should be dropped from the Bill. I suggest that its comments do not necessarily advocate what solution should be adopted as a preferred one and may actually be based on a misunderstanding about the effects of the clause. Again, we can come back to this at a later stage.
1010 The noble Lord, Lord Irvine, is not correct when he says that Clause 16 requires a majority to be obtained at the workplace, when there are separate ballots. The union will keep its immunity from action in tort, in respect of industrial action taken at each workplace where there has been a "yes" vote. The noble Lord is not correct that Clause 3 always protects a member who makes an unfounded statement. He is not protected if the statement is untrue and he knew it to be untrue. I feel that this is unambiguous from Clause 3(4).
Turning to the clause concerning the commissioner, the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, asked why we should not protect the anonymity of complaints to the commissioner. The noble Lord suggested that it would be better if the commissioner were able to act on his own volition in his own name. I understand the concerns that give rise to these suggestions, but there are compelling arguments against such an arrangement. It has been a key principle of the Government's legislation since 1979 that action to enforce the law against trade unionists is left to those who are affected by unlawful action. A self-starting commissioner could be seen as an agent interfering in the trade union's affairs with no proper basis for so doing. That criticism cannot legitimately he levelled at the commissioner as put forward in the Bill. Union members have shown a willingness in recent years to complain in public about their union's failure to accord them the rights and duties that they are owed. In addition, Clause 3 of the Bill will provide specific protection against union discipline for any member who seeks or obtains the commission's assistance.
Moving on to Part II of the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, expressed concern that the provisions will undermine the valuable work of the Manpower Services Commission in the field of employment and training. This is a serious accusation which is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the aim and nature of these provisions.
As my noble friend Lord Trefgarne has made clear, we have reached a significant turning point in the labour market. Over the past two years there has been an extraordinary and rapid reversal in unemployment; and unemployment is falling at record levels. Since 1983, over l½ million additional jobs have been created. Paradoxically, our very success in turning the labour market around throws up new problems. We must ensure that unemployed people can take full advantage of the new jobs. As skill shortages grow, we must make sure that training is given priority both for those in employment and for the unemployed so that they can gain the skills they need to fill the growing number of vacancies. The aim of Part II is to set a framework in which we can face these problems head-on in the years to come.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said that the provisions of Clause 24—which adjust the powers of the Employment and Training Act 1973—show excessive centralisation and a distaste for consensus. Our manifesto clearly outlined plans to consult on a major restructuring of our employment and training services. We have now established an integrated employment service after consultation with the 1011 Manpower Services Commission, which, as my noble friend Lord Trefgarne explained, is designed to help the unemployed to get their fair share of the new jobs the economy is generating. The adjustments made by Clause 24 follow from our desire to give the Secretary of State his own power to run the new employment service within the Department of Employment through the modest adjustments to the 1973 Act made by Clause 24.
There is no reason why this change should affect in practice the relationship between the Secretary of State and the commission, or the commission's ability to carry out the same functions as it does at present. Indeed, Schedule 2, paragraph 4, specifically provides that it should.
Training has a crucial role to play as our economy picks up, both in helping the unemployed to take advantage of the new opportunities and in ensuring that employers have the trained workforce they need to compete successfully and grow. As foreshadowed in our manifesto, Clause 23 marks an important change in the role of the Manpower Services Commission to enable it to focus on training and retraining. In that regard I am very grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Vinson for this new focus. I note his comments about part-time work and the long-term unemployed.
Clause 23 has given the commission an appropriate name—the Training Commission. It has given it the right kind of structure by providing scope for greater involvement of employers. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said that the Trades Union Congress considers this change as an attempt to marginalise its role. We recognise the commitment of the TUC to training, and we see a continuing role for all those currently involved in the commission; but employers are the main providers of training. They are also the main customers for it. This change will allow us to appoint employers from across the spectrum of industry including the newer sectors where employment growth is fastest. Far from undermining the commission, these provisions are designed to ensure that the commission can as effectively meet the challenges of the next 15 years as it did those of the past 15.
We must also ensure that we invest fully in the skills of our young people. In future, for the first time every young person will be able to stay in full-time education or training until the age of 18 and every young person will have the opportunity to enter the world of work with a recognised qualification. That is the way, in conjunction with the Social Security Bill, that we are able to provide new arrangements for our young people so that none of them need ever again go straight from school to the dole. That is why we have taken the power in Clause 24 to provide a bridging allowance to enable young people—after they have exhausted entitlement to child benefit—to make the transition from one job or YTS to another.
On the powers in Clause 24 to include duty to make special provision for the disabled—to which reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, and my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter—all our major programmes make special provision for the disabled, including YTS. Moreover, the powers 1012 contained in Clause 24 impose a duty to make arrangements for the purpose of assisting persons to select, train for, obtain and retain employment suitable for their ages, and in particular their capacities.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, asked why the level of the bridging allowance will not be approved by Parliament. No payments made under the powers of the Employment and Training Act 1973, which Clause 24 amends, are subject to such scrutiny, including the YTS allowance. However, the bridging allowance will be paid by the Department of Employment. It is not a form of income support, as the noble Lord perhaps suggests; but it is a short-term payment intended as a bridging allowance for young people waiting for a new YTS place after leaving YTS or waiting for a job.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked about the position of young people studying under the so-called 21-hour rule. Young people studying part-time, while also drawing benefit, must be unemployed and seeking work, even though they are filling some of their time with part-time study. It is surely fair that they should be treated in the same way as other unemployed 16 and 17 year-olds. Young people under 19, staying on in full-time education, have traditionally been considered by both this and previous governments to be primarily dependent on their parents for financial support. In such circumstances, child benefit is available to the parents until the young person's 19th birthday. There are ample opportunities for those reaching minimum school-leaving age to further their education and training. For example, those seeking to improve their qualifications will have the option of staying on at school or going to a college of further education on a full-time basis. Alternatively, part-time study may be undertaken at night school while in employment or on YTS. Those aged 18 and over, studying part time while in receipt of benefit under the DHSS 21-hour rule, will continue to receive benefit as long as they satisfy the normal conditions of eligibility set by the DHSS.
The Government make no claim that the Bill will put the world to rights—even the industrial relations or trade union world—or that it will be the last measure of its type which will ever be needed. Nor do I claim that Part II of the Bill will solve the unemployment and training problems which we shall face in the late 1980s and over the next 10 to 15 years. Your Lordships will have the opportunity to consider the detail of the Bill in Committee. I am confident that the general principles of the legislation will meet with your Lordships' approval though, as with previous similar measures put before the House, your Lordships may well be able to make significant improvements to the detail. However, the need for the Bill, and for the protections that it will provide for ordinary trade unionists, are surely quite apparent. It can provide the means to prevent particular abuses of trade union power. It also sets the right foundations for tackling the key issues for training and employment in years to come. Taken together, both parts of the Bill will thereby help to lay the framework for our future prosperity. In that spirit I ask the House to give the Bill a second reading.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.