§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Campbell of Alloway.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The BARONESS LOCKWOOD in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Amendment of s. 10(3)(c) of Trade Union Act 1984]:
Lord McCarthy moved the following amendment:
Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("up to a maximum of six weeks").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment perhaps I may remind the Committee briefly of the contents of the Bill and of the purpose of the amendment. The Committee will remember that the Trade Union Act 1984 stipulates that in order for a strike to be lawful it must fulfil two conditions: an affirmative ballot in accordance with Section 10 of the 1984 Act, and authorisation or endorsement of that ballot by the appropriate union body.
The critical issue from the point of view of the Bill before us and the amendment is that the 1984 Act goes on to say:
after the date of the ballot and before the expiry of four weeks beginning with that date".
§ That is what has come to be called the 28-day rule. You must get your strike off the ground. It is not just a matter of authorising the strike. You cannot authorise it and put it on the shelf; you must get your strike off the ground and airborne within 28 days. A strike must take place.
The Committee will recall that the purpose of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is to allow the courts, probably in connection with an injunction, to extend the four week period. The noble Lord wishes that period to be extended so that it would be indefinite. The Bill says:
for such period as the court may direct".
§ There would then be a 28-day rule plus an unlimited extension period. It should be clear that the purpose of the amendment is to place a limit on the period of extension to a maximum of six weeks. If the amendment were included on the face of the Bill and the Bill were to become an Act we should have a 28-day period with a further 42 days at the discretion of the judges, giving an overall period of 10 weeks within which a strike could take place under the terms of the 1984 legislation.
§ Those who were present when we discussed the Bill at Second Reading—and I see that most of those noble Lords are here today—will recall why the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and a considerable number of other distinguished lawyers who participated in the debate, thought the Bill necessary. Their reasons related to the case of the recent 477 national dock strike. Therefore I shall recapitulate briefly the crucial dates in that strike, to which the amendment and the Bill itself relate.
§ On 6th April 1989 the Government announced the repeal of the dock labour scheme. On 7th April there was a First Reading of the Bill repealing the scheme. On 11th April the Transport and General Workers' Union decided to oppose the Bill and on 18th April the employers refused to discuss a negotiated alternative by means of collective bargaining. There was a failure to agree. On 2nd May the Transport and General Workers' Union decided to ballot its members on a national strike to achieve a negotiated alternative to the legal framework which was to be abolished. On 8th May the employers issued a writ.
§ The employers' writ alleged that the strike was unlawful and did not involve a trade dispute. Various other points were made which need not concern us now. The union decided to press on with the ballot. The ballot was conducted with commendable dispatch over a period from 10th to 17th May and resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of the strike. The day the ballot ended and before the union was able to declare the result of the ballot the general secretary of the union found himself in court rebutting the case for an injunction.
§ Ten days later at the court of first instance, before Mr Justice Millett, the court decided in favour of the union. As the Committee will know the employers went on to appeal. On 7th June the Court of Appeal decided against the union, on rather different grounds, so the union went to the House of Lords. On 21st June the union obtained a decision from the House of Lords in its favour and on 27th June it went back to hear the reasons. The critical point is that by then the union was out of time. The 28 days ran out on 14th June and so the union needed another ballot.
§ The central argument, and the argument which we made at Second Reading, is that that was not the Government's intention in passing the legislation. I have read again the replies of the Minister both when the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, introduced the Bill in the previous parliamentary Session and again in December. At no time did he say that the Government intended what has now happened. He said that this was the only case and that in five years this was the only occasion on which a union had run out of time. He also argued that there was a central reason why the Government could not accept the Bill as it stood.
The Minister's argument was that the Bill proposed an extension for an indefinite period. A great deal was made by the Minister of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was asking for an ability for the judges to extend the statutory period of four weeks indefinitely. After admitting the concern which had been expressed in the debate by the Master of the Rolls and others about the problem of finding priority in the queue in order to remain within the four week period, the Minister said that he was not entirely convinced because:
there remains a fundamental difficulty about the proposition that the court should have discretion to extend the 28-day period".
I believe that I am being fair to the Government in saying that that was the central argument against the Bill. The Minister went on to say that:
To allow an unlimited—or unduly lengthy—period of time risks creating a situation in which the ballot result no longer accurately represents the views of the union members". [Official Report, 6/12/89; col. 961.]
He said that, if that happened, the ballot,
would … no longer be valid".
He went on to say that, if that were to happen,
it is right that the union should be required to re-ballot its members to make sure they are still content for it to call on them to take industrial action".
§ From the Government's point of view, we can see why they argue that way. We can see why they say that they do not want a Bill which gives unlimited periods of discretion to the judiciary. That is what I am trying to deal with tonight in the amendment. It tries to deal centrally with that point. It states that there will no longer be an unlimited period and that it will be an overall period of 10 weeks. That is the maximum by which a valid ballot may delay the process of a strike.
§ In the case of the Transport and General Workers' Union—I use that example because it is the only example we have had, although, as many noble Lords said, there could be many other examples—that would have given it about four or five weeks at the end of the period in which it could have organised a strike; in other words, something similar to the period which it would have had if there had not been legal intervention.
§ Perhaps the Minister will say that 10 weeks is too long and that he will accept eight weeks. I have consulted on the matter. People who know more about it than I do believe that a six-week discretion of that kind would give us a slight leeway as the courts were extremely expeditious in moving from the court of first instance through the Court of Appeal to the House of Lords and may not be able to do so at quite that speed next time. It would give the union a slight leeway if there were a small falling away if there were several cases of that kind; yet it is still entirely up to the judges as to whether they want to give that period. I stress that it is the maximum period. The judges might well decide that, if the matter were settled at the court of first instance, all the union would need is another fortnight. It would be up to the union to make the case at the time as to what period of extension would be legitimate for it in that case.
§ We must reject the arguments made by the Government to the effect that this is an isolated case which cannot come about again. Most of the time, employers do not take cases all the way through the system, but they might do so in future, as might unions. There might not be in most cases, and probably have not been in past cases, outstanding issues about which, at the injunction stage, there could be said to be a question of legality in which case neither side would go for an injunction. However, there might well be a tendency to take the case through its various stages.
§ I return to the basic point which the Government do not challenge. This was not the intention of the Bill in 1984. It was not the intention of the Bill to 479 make unions run two ballots, one after the other, simply because they had got themselves into the legal process.
The only other argument with which I must deal very quickly was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, at the end of his speech on 6th December. In col. 962 of Hansard he seemed to imply that the problem which had produced the Bill was in some way the fault of the Transport and General Workers' Union because it failed to start the strike soon enough. It did not take advantage of the fact that it could have held the strike between the employers giving notice of their intention to seek an injunction and the courts deciding the case. The noble Lord said that
if the union had taken advantage of that opportunity, "it would then have satisfied the requirements of Section 10(3)(c)…Even if it had subsequently withdrawn its authorisation when an injunction was awarded, the union would have been able to organise the action without the need for a further ballot".
§ I ask the Committee to consider what is suggested. It is suggested that the leadership of the Transport and General Workers' Union should have started the strike between the declaration of the ballot result on 19th May and the court's decision on 27th May, a period of eight days. It should have declared the strike within those eight days in advance of the decision in case the decision went against it, or, if it went in favour of the employer, it should have done it before it went to the Court of Appeal.
§ One can imagine what the public reaction to that course of action would have been. One can imagine what the Government would have said. One can imagine what Fleet Street, or whatever it is now called, would have said; namely, that a union authorised a strike and a union leader conducted a strike on the very day that he went along to a court to defend his decision against the charge of illegality. That is what is suggested as an alternative to the Bill and to the amendment.
§ That is no solution at all. If it ever became the general practice of unions, employers would stop giving early notice of their desire and intention to ask for injunctions. If it operated at all, the courts would be under even more pressure than they are now to hold an expeditious hearing. As the Master of the Rolls, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, the judges would be under pressure to hold up an injunction in order to give the unions time to start a strike. What kind of argument is that? In the heyday of the Department of Employment that kind of argument would never have been put into a young Minister's brief. That is how far we have gone. It is irresponsible and sick. The Government know that the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Mr. Todd, was absolutely right not to threaten strike action until he knew that if the strike took place it would be perfectly lawful. He would have been absolutely wrong to start it otherwise.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
This is Committee stage and we are dealing with the noble Lord's amendment. We 480 are discussing only whether we are to change the period up to a maximum of six weeks.
§ Lord McCarthy
I do not disagree with the Minister, but I do not see why I am not making a valid point. When the Minister was last on his feet, he said that we did not need the Bill, and therefore presumably the amendment, because there was an alternative open to the union. I ask the Minister to have the courtesy to say this evening that on reflection he now accepts that that is no kind of argument at all and therefore that there is no argument against the Bill or the amendment.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Noble Lords will remember that the first time around at Second Reading I canvassed the long stop extension of four weeks, making eight weeks in all. I said that if, for example, it were the wish of government to limit to four weeks the period of extension proposed by the Bill, then so be it. The second time around at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy said:As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said, if that is the Government's primary objection to the Bill they could let the Bill go forward and in Committee propose amendments along those lines".—[Official Report, 6/12/89; col. 955.]Then the noble Lord asked me whether I would support an amendment along those lines. Indeed I do support his amendment which allows for 10 weeks in all as a maximum.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, for having tabled this amendment. I hope that it will meet with the approval of the Committee and also with that of my noble friend the Minister. It meets the second and third categories of objections of my noble friend the Minister, to which I referred at col. 945 on 6th December. The first head of objection that he raised—that this was a one-off situation—has been disposed of by the weight of reasoned argument and has been exposed as a misconception. The fourth head of objection was unintelligible and misconceived because it rested upon the premise that the 28-day period was under attack when indeed it was not.
But then my noble friend the Minister in his winding-up speech took a new head of objection, to which the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has just referred, at col. 962. He said that there was no need for the Bill at all because if within 28 days from a ballot the union authorises the action before an injunction is granted, the requirements of the statute would have been satisfied and there would be no need for any further ballot once the injunction had been lifted.
That was a point of legal construction which had not attracted the attention of any noble Lord who had spoken in either of the debates on this Bill. It was not raised by my noble friend the Minister or any other noble Lord the first time around. It was produced by my noble friend the Minister with the prestigious charm of a practised conjuror who taps the departmental hat and up pops the rabbit. He then suggested that this rabbit was a viable objection to the Bill. Noble Lords blinked in utter astonishment and we all went on our way.
481 But, having considered the matter, the Master of the Rolls wrote to my noble friend the Minister the next day, on 7th December. The Master of the Rolls concluded that although the rabbit existed—in other words the point of strict construction was well founded—it was only, so to speak, by a trick of mirrors that it could be seen as a viable objection to the Bill. Quite the reverse, for if this point of construction were right—and it is open to question, there being no judicial decision as yet—the need for the Bill, in the view of the Master of the Rolls, was no less than imperative, as appears from his letter of 7th December to my noble friend the Minister, which I have the permission of the Master of the Rolls to quote. I quote the letter as it supports the need for the Bill as amended, if such be the Chamber's wish.
The letter speaks for itself. It will command the authority and respect which all noble Lords would wish to accord to the noble and learned Lord the Master of the Rolls. It is addressed to the Lord Strathclyde and reads as follows:Following the good humoured debate last night on this Bill, I looked into the point which you raised when stating the Government's attitude".This is the point that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, was making towards the end of his remarks.I rather think that the legal advice which you received was correct. Under section 10(3)(c) of the 1984 Act, the "relevant act", i.e. the strike or other industrial action authorised by the ballot, has to take place within the 28-day period. At first I thought that the whole of the relevant act had to take place within that period, but clearly that is not correct, because this would mean that no strike could lawfully last beyond the end of the period. It follows, as you were advised, that all that is required is that it shall start within the period. Once it has been started, it could theoretically be suspended in response to a court order and resumed at a later date, if and when it was held to be lawful".In effect it is getting pretty near Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot in some aspects.If I may respectfully say so, I think that you have been misled into scoring an 'own goal', for two different reasons".The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, picked one of them, but there are two.(1) As you will know, it is difficult for trade unions to call off a strike on a temporary basis once it has started.This was the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy's, point—the practical point of view.These things have a momentum of their own. In encouraging unions to rush into industrial action when a legal challenge is threatened or anticipated, you risk creating a situation which will damage the authority of the courts. The union will no doubt issue instructions for the industrial action to be suspended and so will not be in contempt, but the industrial action will continue on the ground.(2) The courts will be asked to enable the union to qualify under section 10 by leaving them free to start the industrial action. This could be achieved if any injunction granted at first instance was suspended pending an appeal or if the claim to an injunction failed on its merits at first instance, by refusing relief designed for the limited purpose of preserving the position pending an appeal. In the light of your advice this would be difficult to resist.Surely it would be better to give the courts the power proposed in the Bill, which would enable them to deal with the matter on a straightforward basis without regard to the tactical position of the parties.482I am copying this letter to Alan Campbell and Derry Irvine, both of whom were, I know, very interested in your point".It is surely right that we should deal with the matter according to its substance, according to its merits and according to what I and all noble Lords have understood to be the general intendment of government to pass the Bill.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
As the Committee will know, we on these Benches support the Bill. We supported it in both Second Reading debates. I rise to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord McCarthy. I do not want this evening in the limited time at our disposal to go over the history of the reasons for the Bill which he has done very effectively. However, my recollection of the Second Reading debate is the same as that of my noble friend Lord McCarthy and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. A prime point made by the Government was that as drafted the Bill was open-ended and it would give a union the opportunity to call a dispute when the mandate that had already been given by a vote was in effect exhausted because so much time had elapsed since the ballot had taken place.
At Second Reading I made the point that it is never in the interests of a union, following a ballot vote, to prolong the time for calling a dispute. I speak as someone with experience of these matters on the ground. I can assure the Committee that once there is a ballot vote in favour of dispute action, one has to get up and go because at that stage the membership is all prepared and waiting for the next step to be taken and union instructions on what to do. Once one has lost that impetus it is very difficult to get it back again. That is where he unfairness exists which has already been described by my noble friend Lord McCarthy.
In the amendment he has tried to meet—I think very reasonably—the Government's objection. If the amendment were accepted there would be a maximum of 10 weeks. If the court had discretion, that would be the maximum amount of time available for a union. It would be reasonable because in normal circumstances a union would be able to get on with the organisation of the dispute in that period. The amendment is a reasonable and modest measure that is attempting to address an injustice which I do not think was originally envisaged when the legislation was promulgated.
In this Chamber we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, for being so persistent on this question, and for bringing back the Bill a second time; and to my noble friend Lord McCarthy for attempting to meet in a very genuine way the objections that have been voiced by the Government.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Brightman
I entirely support the Bill. However, I feel that I ought to enter a caveat on the wording of the amendment. It occurred to me rather late in the day; otherwise I should have had a word with the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, about it.
Members of the Committee know that, under the existing Act, to be lawful a strike must begin within 483 four weeks of the close of voting. Under the Bill the period of four weeks may be extended for such period as the court directs. The amendment seeks to add the words, "up to a maximum of six weeks". With very great respect to the noble Lord, that formula is capable of meaning either that the court may extend the period of four weeks up to a maximum of six weeks inclusive of the basic four weeks, or, as is intended, that the court may extend the period of four weeks by adding to such four weeks a further period not exceeding six weeks.
I have spoken to my noble and learned friend Lord Donaldson of Lymington. He authorises me to say that he also considers that the proposed wording of the amendment is ambiguous. I therefore respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, whether he will consider the wording between now and Report stage if the amendment is accepted by the Committee.
§ Lord Renton
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, has raised a very important point. However, with respect to him, I am not quite sure that we can deal with this by leaving it to Report stage. Under our rules there is no Report stage unless the Bill has been amended in Committee. If I am wrong about that I shall be happy to be corrected. I was borrowing from experience in another place which perhaps does not apply here.
§ Lord Brightman
I envisaged that the Bill would be amended in Committee in the form which was advocated by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. I was seeking that a further amendment be brought at Report stage.
§ Lord McCarthy
I fully accept the arguments made. It was my intention that it should read 10 weeks. In other words, it is the larger period rather than the smaller. If there is an ambiguity, I am perfectly willing to let the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, dictate the amendment which I shall bring in at Report stage.
§ Lord Strathclyde
In order to avoid confusion, I understand that an amendment could be brought forward at Report stage even though there had been no amendments at Committee stage.
§ Lord Renton
I am very glad to hear that correction. It shows that procedure in this Chamber is more liberal and shows a better understanding of circumstances than the procedure on this point in another place. It is therefore not necessary for the amendment to be accepted this evening in its present form. It can be put right to remove the ambiguity. I was very glad that the noble and learned Lord drew attention to it. I was puzzling in my mind whether it meant six weeks altogether or four weeks plus six weeks, making 10 weeks. We have to get the provision right.
Having said that, perhaps I may say this, I hope without being pompous. It is very refreshing on a delicate trade union matter to find open-mindedness on both sides of the Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, made a very valid point when he said 484 that it would be wrong to have an indefinite period where as the Bill stands, the judge could say, "Let it run on for months". I believe that very few judges in their discretion would be likely to do so. However, we have to enact the laws on the basis not of optimism but of possibility. Therefore it is a point that ought to be put right.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is to be congratulated both on the introduction of the Bill and on his attitude towards the amendment. I make a plea to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I very much hope that the Government will show the same sense of co-operation that both sides have shown towards each other on the Bill. I hope that the Government will accede to amendment of the Bill on the lines suggested and that the Bill will reach the statute book.
§ Lord Rochester
Like the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I am glad that the ambiguity to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, referred earlier has been picked up by the Committee. I had a word today with the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord McCarthy, on this point. I am relieved to learn—as no doubt are other noble Lords—that it can be put right at Report stage.
The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that the relevant period might be extended by up to six weeks to make an overall period of 10 weeks is a fair and reasonable attempt to reconcile the views of government, the judiciary, employers and trade unions. I am therefore pleased from these Benches to support the amendment of the noble Lord. Like other noble Lords, I very much hope that in the interests of political consensus—which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, earlier said he was seeking in first introducing the Bill—the Minister will now find it possible to accept the amendment on behalf of the Government.
§ Lord Carr of Hadley
Perhaps I may very briefly add my support to the purpose behind the amendment. I supported the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, the first time round last Session. I should have done so again had I been able to be here on the evening of 6th December. I was disappointed at the Government's reaction at that time. I could use a stronger word than disappointed but I shall not. However, I felt that there was this one point of substance in their objection which the purpose behind the amendment corrects. I very much hope therefore that the Government will accept the amendment in principle, taking note of the uncertainty that at present it contains and the need to put the uncertainty right, presumably with some further amendment at Report stage.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
I should like to underline one point. The acceptance of the proposal would reduce the danger of strikes rather than increase it. If a union which has taken a ballot intended in part to induce a period of reflection and it is then faced by court proceedings which are terminated in favour of the union, there could be a danger of the union unduly precipitantly engaging 485 in strike action. If a limited additional period is given, there will be much greater opportunity for discussions and negotiations to take place. Given the certainty on the part of the employers that a limit will be imposed, it will be mutually advantageous to have a period during which the union can talk rather than activate the strike decision.
§ Lord Strathclyde
As is customary when dealing with this subject, we have had an interesting and varied debate. I have listened with great care to the speeches that have been made. As I said during the Bill's Second Reading, we are keeping this aspect of the law under close review, and will continue to do so whatever the fate of this particular Bill. However, I shall limit my words to the amendment on the Marshalled List.
I have to say that I do not find the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, attractive. In order to explain that view, it may be helpful if I once again describe the essential purpose of the present four-week limit on the period allowed for the first authorisation or endorsement of industrial action by a union following a proper ballot.
In requiring a union to hold a ballot of its members, the law simply ensures that union members can expect to have a vote in a proper ballot before being induced to take industrial action by their union. To allow an unduly lengthy period of time to elapse between such a ballot and the union's first authorisation or endorsement of industrial action risks a situation in which the ballot result no longer accurately represents the views of the union members as recorded in the ballot. The 1984 Act fixed the limit at four weeks from the date of the ballot.
The principle I have just described is really at the heart of the matter. The noble Lord's amendment would constrain the ability of the courts to grant an extension of more than six weeks on top of the four-week limit, but it does no more than that.
If a ballot was still an accurate representation of relevant members' views more than four weeks afterwards, I wonder why it should cease to be so after 10 weeks. If a ballot is to be held to continue to represent the view of relevant members more than four weeks after it has taken place by virtue of what a court decides, why should that depend on a court's decision and not simply be applied as the norm?
If there were to be changes in this area of the law, the Government believe that the right approach would be to preserve the principles upon which the present legislation is founded. The noble Lord's amendment fails to satisfy this test, in my view.
There is no question of whether the Government should accept the amendment. It is entirely up to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway to decide what to do with the amendment. I repeat the fact that the Government will keep the matter under close review.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
With respect—and there is nothing personal in my comment—my noble friend speaks with two voices. With one voice he 486 makes plain the fact that the Government are totally opposed to the Bill. With another voice he says that the Government are keeping an open mind. Then I am asked what I propose to do. Frankly, at this precise moment I have not the slightest idea. The only honourable course is to continue the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House. In a sense, it is the joint responsibility of all sides of the House and it is not in the area of political dispute. The only dispute is between your Lordships' House and Her Majesty's Government, and I suppose we continue.
One other aspect arises and it is right. I was not consulted in the drafting of the noble Lord's amendment, and there is no reason why I should have been. An ambiguity is raised and I respectfully suggest that we pass his amendment accepting that fact. Perhaps the noble Lord will speak with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, or even with me and we can devise a form of words which will clarify the ambiguity on Report. Perhaps that would be an acceptable way of dealing with the matter.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
If the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, is in any doubt about proceeding with the Bill, I should like to encourage him to do so. I genuinely believe that he is doing more for good industrial relations than anything that has been said today from the Government Front Bench. I sincerely believe that the Government would be wise to accept a similar amendment and allow the Bill to pass.
If there has been one matter that has made me feel uncomfortable in recent years it has been the strongly held view within the trade union movement that, however strong a case it may make, however forceful its arguments, however unjust its position, it can receive no remedy. That is bad for the Government of this country and for the constitutional arrangements under which we work.
Although I do not believe that the passage of the Bill will remove all the complaints of the trade unions, nor do I believe for one moment that it will abate their opposition to the Government in general, it will be for the good health of our constitutional arrangements. They should believe that a case can be made. If a Bill can be put forward by a Conservative peer and receive support from all sides of the House, we are still in a position where the Government will bow to the view clearly expressed. I was deeply impressed by the speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, who gave the view of the Master of the Rolls.
I am sure that I am speaking to a sympathetic audience when speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and I hope that he will continue with the Bill. By all means let us pass the amendment now that we have received an assurance that it can be amended. I am sure that with the combined wisdom of everyone present a suitable amendment can be found. I sincerely beg the Minister to convey to the Government the sentiments that have been expressed from all sides of the Committee, and I hope that they will allow the Bill to go through. The Minister may say that it is a matter for his noble friend Lord Campbell. However, I fear that the view of the Government, and those who have not heard 487 the argument but come only to vote, will prevail unless the Government put their weight behind the Bill. I urge them most strongly to do so.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. In view of his encouragement I undertake to continue with the Bill.
§ Lord McCarthy
I accept everything that has been said, except the comments of the Minister. Strangely enough, my experience has been that in all our debates on the Bill no one has supported the Government at any stage in this House. The Minister has been entirely alone.
I accept the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, as to what should happen. The Committee should accept the amendment, imperfect though it undoubtedly is. I shall undertake to go away with noble friends and others and find a form of words which is unambiguous.
The problem we have is that the Minister assures us that the crux of his objection is that he cannot move away from the position in which the period between the ballot and the strike must not be unduly lengthy. He has said so repeatedly. It appears that four weeks is the definition of "unduly lengthy". Even if the union has only two weeks or has run out of time and has to have another ballot, four weeks is the limit. If we had taken the minimal definition of my amendment so that it did not give 10 weeks but an additional two weeks, I do not believe that the Minister would have been any more welcoming. He tells us that this is unduly lengthy but will not tell us what is unduly lengthy.
I should like to warn the Government —as did my noble friend Lord Callaghan —about going too far down the road of saying that unions should have second and third ballots. In another place the Secretary of State for Health, Mr. Clarke, was quite right to say that part of the problem of the ambulance drivers' dispute is that there were two ballots. They had one ballot and then another ballot. Two affirmative ballots close together reinforced their determination to fight. It is not in the Government's or anyone's interests to force people who have once balloted to ballot again in a period when they feel they have been cheated by a law of this kind. In such circumstances it is in everyone's interests to give a little more time for those conducting the strike in an impeccably legal way —as did Mr. Todd —before they start their dispute. Therefore I should like the Committee to pass my amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with an amendment.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.53 to 8 p.m.]