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Points of Order

3.32 pm

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You may not be aware, since you were forced to change your seating arrangements in the House, that there are many places in the Chamber where the system for letting Members listen to the little loudspeaker on the back of Benches no longer works. That is primarily probably due to the fact that the enunciation of most Members is appallingly poor. They do not know-- [Interruption.] You can hear me, laddie.

There are two other possibilities. One is that the technical competence of the people who service the little things on the back of the Benches--

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I am not a little thing. [Laughter.]

Mr. Andrew Faulds : This is serious for those of us who are elderly and short of hearing.

It may be that their competence is somewhat lacking. The most likely explanation is that, since the malign introduction of radio and television into the Chamber, these little speakers on the back of the Benches are turned down so that they do not interfere with the output of the radio and television transmission. Could you please examine the problem? Otherwise, I might as well sit at home holding my wife's hand and having a cup of coffee. I would hear the proceedings of the House much more easily if I relaxed in that fashion.

Madam Speaker : It could also be that the noise in the Chamber often makes it difficult for Members in various parts of the House, as well as the Speaker, to hear what is going on. I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said and it will certainly be attended to.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the flagrantly inaccurate, dishonest and inadequate response to my supplementary question--

Madam Speaker : Order. [Interruption.] Order. I can deal with this matter. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman used a word which he will withdraw. I do not wish it to be used in the House. No one is dishonest here.

Mr. Winterton : If you feel, Madam Speaker, that it is unparliamentary, I can only say that my right hon. Friend knows that what he said was inaccurate. If that is not dishonest, I do not know what is.

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Hon. Members : Withdraw!

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing parliamentarian and a member of my Chairmen's Panel. I am sure that he will rephrase what he has to say.

Mr. Winterton : Madam Speaker--[ Hon. Members :-- "Say economical with the truth'."] I am being helped by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I believe that my right hon. Friend, on mature consideration, will realise that in responding to my question he was being very economical with the truth. As a result, if I say that a response was dishonest, I am honourable enough--and, indeed, I have been here long enough--to accept the advice which you give from the Chair. I will withdraw the word "dishonest" in respect of his comments, which were clearly totally and flagrantly inaccurate.

Madam Speaker : I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Would you, Madam Speaker, give guidance to hon. Members as to the propriety of any hon. Member releasing to the press the contents of a speech intended to be made during debates in the Chamber and allowing it to be published as if it had been made, although it was never made? Would it be reasonable for the hon. Member or hon. Members involved to provide follow-up press releases stating that the speech was not made?

Madam Speaker : If what the hon. Gentleman says is correct--I have no reason to believe otherwise--I hope that the practice will cease forthwith. I caution the House that any speech which is not published in Hansard , although it may be published elsewhere, is not a parliamentary proceeding and is therefore not privileged. All hon. Members should be made aware of that.

Mr. Tony Banks : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you know, I am not one of life's whingers, even though I have to sit next to my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and translate for him during the proceedings, but you may recall that this is the second day running that my question has failed by one to be reached. I wonder whether you would consider abolishing Prayers. They are clearly not a popular institution, and they deprive me of the opportunity to raise important issues.

Madam Speaker : I have never thought that the hon. Gentleman has been very much deprived in his public life.

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Cycling Safety

3.36 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for the safety of cyclists on highways ; to encourage greater use of the bicycle ; and for connected purposes.

For the benefit of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), I shall attempt to enunciate properly.

Outside the House, traffic is crawling up to Parliament square. The rush hour is building up, and millions of citizens throughout the country will waste millions of hours sitting in their cars on their way home. That position is unlikely to improve, because the long-term forecasts for traffic growth are horrendous, as the House will know. Those millions of vehicles will pump more carbon monoxide and pollution into the air of our cities. In the past two years, we have seen smog return to London. It may not be like the old pea-soupers, but it is a potent and unpleasant mix. Carbon monoxide and exhaust emissions go up into the atmosphere to contribute to global warming. In Britain, as elsewhere, we are committed to reducing carbon emissions.

The life of all those who live near roads is further degraded by the incessant noise of traffic-- [Interruption.] --and by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Traffic and congestion continue to increase. Cycling can help ease the congestion and pollution. More than 60 per cent. of journeys by motor car cover a distance of less than five miles --well within the range of most cyclists.

Already, approximately 200,000 bicycle journeys are made each day by commuters into and out of London. Cycling is clean, non-polluting, cheap and accessible to all. Cyclists rarely cause traffic jams. Cycling is an excellent option for short journeys : it is quiet ; it can be relaxing and therapeutic ; it can be healthy and it is recognised as an excellent form of aerobic exercise. It is a popular form of recreation in the lanes of Leicestershire and in my constituency. Indeed, I can find little disagreement with the idea that we would be wise to encourage cycling, especially in urban areas, but also for recreation.

The traffic management chairman of the corporation of the City of London was quoted on Monday as saying :

"We are keen to encourage cycling as an environmentally and economically sound way to travel around the City."

I have mentioned the City of London for the benefit of those on the Opposition Front Bench, to show that cycling is hardly a fringe activity of relevance only to those poor people who cannot afford cars, or to weirdos who for some strange reason prefer to battle through wind and rain rather than sit in a warm and comfortable car. My county of Leicestershire has an excellent cycling strategy, which has the objective of increasing significantly the proportion of trips made by cycle in its urban areas. The Department of Transport, which wishes to encourage cycling, does not disagree. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), the Minister for Roads and Traffic, understands the value of cycling as a means of local transport. His Department has been encouraging local highway authorities to provide safe and convenient cycling facilities. The benefits of increased cycling are obvious : there is little disagreement about them. There has been an encouraging increase in the sale of mountain bikes, but sadly there has been no marked increase in cycling--indeed, there is anecdotal evidence of cyclists abandoning

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two wheels for four, especially in urban areas. The perception of danger is the main reason, and it is a very real danger. A Department of Transport study claimed that cycling is between 16 and 18 times more dangerous than driving over a given distance. Although those statistics do not tell the whole story, they point to a real reason for not getting on one's bike.

My brother, who cycles to work from Clapham to Westminster, has been knocked off his bicycle three times, yet to the best of my knowledge he has never had an accident in a car. The problem is not merely the reality of danger but the threat of it. Anyone who has cycled recently knows how much more intimidating and aggressive drivers have become as the amount of traffic on our roads has grown. A friend told me this morning how a double- decker bus had squeezed him into the pavement on Regent street and forced him off the road. That happens far too often when cycling in our cities.

I fear that most hon. Members have not cycled much since they were children or students.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : What about tricycling?

Mr. Robathan : Yes, perhaps some have tricycled.

Instead, hon. Members perhaps share the worries of most parents and grandparents about allowing children to go out on the roads on their bicycles. There are other dangers, as we have all too sadly witnessed this week, but the fear of traffic has led to a marked decrease in children cycling to school, which means that parents drive them there by car, thus causing even greater congestion.

A long time ago, when many hon. Members had more hair and it was perhaps somewhat darker, most of them would have taken their driving test at a time when the highway code suggested :

"All drivers should give a pedal cyclist a wide berth of at least six feet."

I wonder how many Members have been able to do that when driving recently. The highway code has now dropped that advice.

As further evidence of increasing intimidation on our roads, one might look no further than the House of Commons Cycling Club, which I am told used to have upwards of 50 members. The club folded in 1983, largely due to the increasing danger on our roads.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : No, it was because they did not get enough free trips.

Mr. Robathan : It may also have been because they were intimidated by the hon. Member for Bolsover.

The increasing volume and speed of traffic leads to drivers cutting up cyclists, cutting in front, squeezing past, trying to nip through where there is insufficient space. It is depressing to note that more and more cyclists are being hit from behind--a sign that drivers are not giving them enough room. That is an example of drivers showing lack of due care and attention, for which they are now likely to be charged with careless driving.

However, any motorist who has already struck a cyclist has endangered life- -if it was the motorist's fault. As a parallel, any driver who has drunk a certain amount automatically loses his or her licence, if caught. Although I applaud that, the driver may not even have seen another road user and may not have been able to endanger life.

I propose that a special measure should be introduced so that, after any accident in which a driver, through his or

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her bad driving, hits a cyclist, he or she will be charged with dangerous driving. If found guilty, the driver would automatically be disqualified from driving.

The purpose of the Bill is to change attitudes on our increasingly crowded roads. The current attitude was illustrated this morning by one hon. Member who told me that he would ban all cyclists from the streets of London. That is not a constructive policy or one that is shared by any political party as far as I know. We need to change that negative attitude, of which we are all guilty when we hide behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. That attitude usually means that any vulnerable road user--be he pedestrian, equestrian or cyclist--is judged an obstruction, a nuisance or a problem, whereas, on the contrary, the problem is that there are too many cars being driven badly and too fast. Very few motorists are killed by cyclists, but the converse, sadly, is not the case.

The Bill recognises the need to encourage cycling and to encourage people to get on their bikes, and to discourage selfish driving by motorists. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew Robathan, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. David Nicholson, Mr. Anthony Steen, Mr. Gary Waller and Ms. Joan Walley.

Cycling Safety

Mr. Andrew Robathan accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision for the safety of cyclists on highways ; to encourage greater use of the bicycle ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 12 March, and to be printed. [Bill 138.]

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Orders of the Day

Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill

Order for Third Reading read.

3.47 pm

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mrs. Gillian Shephard) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has been debated for 56 hours in Committee and for seven hours on Report. I have no doubt that the amendments that the House has accepted on Report will improve and strengthen the Bill. The great majority of the amendments that the House has accepted over the past two days are a direct response to points raised by the Opposition when the Bill was in Committee. I am happy to pay tribute now to the vigilant and serious way in which the Opposition approached many parts of the Bill in Committee. It is in large part because of the constructive spirit of the debates in Standing Committee that we can say that the Bill which goes to be debated in another place is an even better Bill than the one that we debated on Second Reading.

The Bill is, above all, a Bill that creates new rights for people at work. It gives every woman in employment a right to 14 weeks' maternity leave, regardless of the number of hours she works or the length of her service. It gives every woman the right not to be dismissed because she is pregnant or because she exercises her statutory right to take maternity leave. It gives every employee who works more than eight hours a week the right to receive a written statement explaining his or her basic terms and conditions of employment. It gives important new rights in relation to health and safety : it provides protection against dismissal for safety representatives carrying out their duties and for employees who have to leave their work because of imminent risks to their health and safety.

The Bill also gives important new rights to all trade union members. For the first time, the Bill gives employees the right to join the union of their choice--not the union chosen for them by a Trades Union Congress committee. For the first time, it gives trade union members the right to a postal ballot, before a strike, and the right to have that ballot independently scrutinised. It gives all union members the right to decide for themselves how they pay union subscriptions. It gives all union members new protection against mismanagement of their union's finances and new protection against fraud and abuse in union elections.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : As the right hon. Lady knows, we believe that the Bill undermines existing rights in many respects and jeopardises people's rights in certain occupations. Does she recognise that, at a time when, on the official figures, it will shortly be announced that more than 3 million people are unemployed--the true number is probably nearer 4 million--she should come to the House with measures to give rights to our fellow citizens who are denied the right to work? Instead, she is today dealing with largely irrelevant matters at the expense of the crucial issues for the economy.

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Mrs. Shephard : We do not think that the rights of workers and trade union members are ever irrelevant, and I am extremely sorry that the hon. Gentleman should give the impression that he and his hon. Friends take a different view. Later in my speech, I shall make some points about employment and unemployment ; but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the stance adopted by him and his hon. Friends on some of the issues covered by the Bill does not suggest that they believe that employment will come from reducing burdens on employers. The Bill will increase the safeguards against the damaging effects of strikes. It will help to preserve the remarkable transformation in this country's industrial relations record, which has seen the number of days lost through strikes fall to an all-time low. In future, trade unions will have to give employers at least seven days' notice of their intention to call a strike. That will help to overcome the damaging effects which strikes called at short notice can have on business, on jobs and on the life of the community. Also, of course, the Bill gives every citizen an entirely new right to seek the protection of the law if he or she is the victim of unlawful industrial action. No longer will customers be defenceless in the face of unlawful strikes that deliberately seek to cause disruption to services on which people rely.

When I introduced the Bill in the autumn, I made it clear that there was another important theme, as well as that of increasing individual rights. The Bill also includes important measures to increase the competitiveness of the economy and to remove obstacles to the creation of new jobs.

Much debate on the Bill in Committee and last night focused on the proposal to abolish the remaining wages councils. We heard further predictable speeches by Opposition Members during the debate on Report, and doubtless we will hear more this afternoon. But to force employers to pay wages that they cannot afford--whether via the wages councils or via a misconceived national minimum wage--will simply destroy jobs. We do not need to establish a Commission on Social Justice to demonstrate that.

Ms. Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : Is the Secretary of State saying that it is acceptable for the state to subsidise employers who pay poverty wages instead of deploying some minimal protection to ensure that workers--often vulnerable workers--are not exploited by bad employers? Is it right that the taxpayer should pick up the tab for that sort of behaviour?

Mrs. Shephard : It is extraordinary that, when faced with a proposal that will help to bring about greater flexibility in the labour market and remove an unnecessary barrier to the creation of new jobs, Labour Members should oppose it.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : What research has been carried out into companies that have become insolvent to show whether they went bankrupt because of the high wages being paid to their employees?

Mrs. Shephard : I am not clear whether the hon. Gentleman was present for last night's debate. If he was, he will have heard my hon. Friend the Minister of State make the point that 90 per cent. of employers who made representations were in favour of the abolition of wages councils. Those who oppose their abolition ignore the

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evidence that they inhibit the creation of new jobs, and refuse to accept that regulation and red tape can only hinder enterprise. They fail to notice that 90 per cent. of industry successfully negotiates wages without the need for statutory interference.

I am sorry that seems to be the face of the modern Labour party. Is it still wedded to binding statutory regulations and to armies of Government inspectors? Is it clinging to the belief that Labour could run businesses better than business men and women? Is it still in hock to the vested interests of trade unions?

My hon. Friend the Minister of State blew the gaff on the Opposition's policy on wages councils almost before the debate began, on the Bill's Second Reading last November. He challenged the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to say whether Labour would re-establish wages councils after they had been abolished. [ Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] We had to ask that question, because we had not received an answer.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras struggled then to provide a coherent answer.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) indicated dissent.

Mrs. Shephard : Three months later, all we have is a form of words to which, to be very complimentary, a weasel would not put its name. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras shows that he is still a bit sensitive about the matter. Perhaps he will tell the House his latest policy. Perhaps he will confound the commentators by explaining how a national minimum wage can possibly create jobs. If he does, let us hope that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is listening.

Mr. Dobson : As I said on Second Reading and several times in Committee, and as I made clear in a letter to the Secretary of State--when she employed public officials to peddle lies about Labour party policy, for which she has still not apologised--[H on. Members : -- "Oh."] I am not accusing the hon. Lady of lying but saying that she permitted public officials to peddle lies, and that comment is not out of order.

We said that, if the Government achieved the abolition of wages councils, the incoming Labour Government would be faced with no existing wages councils. Our first priority will be to establish a national minimum wage. As I made clear all along, we are consulting people working in industries, their representatives, and various organisations throughout the country that have, over the years, shown a deep and abiding interest in the welfare of the low paid to see whether further special machinery may be necessary to protect the special interests of those who have been most exploited.

That ought to be clear. There are no weasel words there. If the hon. Lady does not understand that statement, I do not know why. I hope that, in future, public officials will, at the taxpayers' expense, make it clear that that is Labour's policy--not the lie that they have peddled to date.

Mrs. Shephard : The hon. Gentleman merely confirms the impression that he gave on Second Reading--that Labour does not have a policy in that respect.

Wages councils have long outlived their usefulness. The Bill will bring their activities to an end, and let us hope that

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we never have the opportunity to discover whether the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras would try to bring them back. The Opposition claim to care about the level of unemployment and the fate of people who are unemployed. They continually urge the Government to provide more assistance and support, while ignoring or denigrating the wide range of employment and training measures already in place

The Oppposition have opposed every training programme and every measure to help unemployed people introduced since 1979. The conversion to the merits of training demonstrated today by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) was an amazing U-turn even for Labour. The Opposition continue to claim that they care about the unemployed but on radio last Sunday, when asked what Labour would do, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras had no answer. He wishes to woo the unemployed ; he wants to win the favours of people facing the problems of world economic recession. What does he do? He insults business men. No doubt he would describe those who come here from Japan, America or France to build factories, create jobs and increase our prosperity not merely as incompetent scum, but as alien incompetent scum.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South) : The Secretary of State knows very well that the Norfolk and Waveney training and enterprise council, which is in her area, is unable to provide the level of training that is needed in her constituency and mine, particularly for young people. A number of representations have been made to the right hon. Lady, but she has done nothing about them. She has shown no sympathy for the plight of the young unemployed and untrained.

Mrs. Shephard : The hon. Gentleman knows that my Department's budget is increasing in real terms, and that fewer young people are applying for youth training because of the welcome increase in the staying-on rate. He may not know that I have taken a great personal interest in youth training in Norfolk, and that, by tomorrow, every young person will certainly have been offered a place. The hon. Gentleman likes to pretend to take a close interest in such matters. If that interest is genuine, it is a great pity that he has not informed himself of the facts.

Mr. Dobson : I am not in the habit of intervening unless I am referred to personally. Can the right hon. Lady produce chapter and verse for my description of any foreign investors as "alien"? If she is going to quote what I said about millionaires who want to line their own pockets even more by driving down the wages of some of the worst paid, she should note that I did not describe them as thieving incompetents ; I described them as thieving scum.

Mrs. Shephard : I am grateful for that elucidation--as, I am sure, are all hon. Members and all employers and business men. I am also delighted that the hon. Gentleman rejects the TUC's description of people who come here offering inward investment projects as "alien". At a time of high unemployment, the hon. Gentleman would sign up to the social chapter that the Prime Minister rejected at Maastricht. I wonder whether he has calculated

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the number of jobs that that would destroy. As an incentive to training, he proposes to place a levy on employers--to put a tax on jobs. How many jobs would that destroy? His latest idea is to subsidise jobs by taxing the utilities--to place a tax on success. That is a really positive message for business!

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Given her great knowledge of these matters, can the Secretary of State give an example--any example--of an EC measure that could be moved under the social chapter but cannot be moved under existing Community legislation?

Mrs. Shephard : In view of my hon. Friend's persistent opposition to the social chapter, I am sure that he agrees that it would destroy jobs, strangle the creation of employment and place crippling burdens on business. I have always understood that to be his position. During the Bill's passage, Opposition Members have not demonstrated that they understand how jobs are created. Jobs result from firms competing in world markets, and delivering the goods and services that customers want and will buy, on time and competitively priced. Government's role is to create a sound economic climate, in which businesses can grow and jobs can be created. Part of that climate is the good industrial relations that the Bill will help to maintain, building on our previous reforms.

Mr. Winnick : The Secretary of State says that the Opposition's policies would destroy jobs. Is she not aware that, when her party came to office in 1979, a total of 1 million were unemployed? As she knows only too well, even the official figure is now 3 million--and, had not the system of calculation been changed, it would be nearer 4 million. Who are destroying jobs? Are they not being destroyed by the right hon. Lady's Government, and is she not directly responsible for policies that destroy jobs and small businesses day in, day out? She owes us an apology, rather than a lecture.

Mrs. Shephard : The hon. Gentleman knows well from our exchanges in the House that I am extremely concerned about the plight of anyone who is unemployed. He ignores the fact that we are in a world recession and that we share the problem of rising unemployment with every other major industrialised country, among which we had the best possible record, as corroborated by the OECD, for job creation in the 1980s. Curiously, Labour Members find it convenient to forget that fact.

I was disappointed that the Opposition chose to vote against clause 34 in Committee, which means that, in future, arrangements will be made for careers services to be provided by whomever can best and most successfully do so in each area. I had hoped that they would have welcomed the greater freedom and flexibility that this will bring for services to respond effectively to the needs of local communities.

The principles underlying the provision of the service will remain unchanged. There will, of course, be a free service delivered by professional staff to a core client group of young people, but there is no doubt in our minds that the overall quality of the service can be raised. The high standards achieved by the best should be available in all parts of the country.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn) : What assurances will the Secretary of State give the House that there will be a

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quality threshold to ensure that the quality that she says she seeks is maintained? No assurance was given in Committee about any form of quality threshold, and any Tom, Dick, Harry or Harriet could now set themselves up as a careers officer.

Mrs. Shephard : The hon. Gentleman is right to ask about quality, which is important and which was fully discussed in Committee. He will know that we have undertaken to consult about how to prepare the guidance that will be issued on setting up the new services. We must be committed to the provision of high-quality and responsive career services, because much depends on them. We want to see careers services develop so that they are well placed to meet the needs of potential clients and customers in a dynamic economy, which is what underlies this important reform. Once in place, they will bring rich rewards.

When I moved the Second Reading of the Bill, I reminded the House that the Labour party claimed at the last election that, if elected, it would keep the trade union legislation of the 1980s, despite the fact that it had voted against every trade union Bill since 1979. I said then that many people doubted whether its conversion to the cause of trade union reform was genuine, but that I was prepared to keep an open mind until we learned what attitude it would take to the Bill.

I urge Labour Front-Bench spokesmen not to make the same mistake as all their predecessors by voting against the Bill, only to admit in a few years' time that the reforms that it introduces are here to stay. I urge them to break out of the cycle of unthinking opposition followed by embarrassment and half-hearted acceptance. That has been their record on such vital issues as strike ballots and the closed shop. They did not take my advice, and voted against the Bill on Second Reading, and they may vote against it tonight.

We have heard much recently about the Opposition's conversion to the cause of the individual. We have even heard that they have discovered the importance of small business, but there has been little sign of that in our debate.

Let us examine the Opposition's commitment to the individual in some of their amendments. They would give a worker the right to join a trade union of the TUC's choice. They would give an employee the right to be paid a minimum wage, which many employers could not afford to pay, even if that meant people losing their jobs. They would give a consumer--for example, a commuter--the right to be left stranded and helpless if the service on which he depended was disrupted by an unlawful strike.

Is that how the Opposition believe that the interests of the individual are best served? How can they possibly claim to believe in the individual when they would deny people the right to choose and decide for themselves? How can they claim to support the interests of small business when they have lost no opportunity to press for new burdens and new regulations to be imposed on employers? That is why they have opposed the ending of wages councils, despite the fact that the previous Labour Government abolished 11, which covers about 600, 000 employees, and despite the fact that we do not know what their future policy on wages councils is.

In their attitude to these important parts of the Bill, the Opposition have, I am afraid, revealed a tired old face, that of socialist dogma. The truth is that the gap between the Opposition and the Government on industrial relations

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