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Mr. Fabricant: I am a little puzzled. What is voluntary about the scheme if, under the Bill, just 40 per cent. of those actually voting can force collective bargaining on both employees and management?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the amendment before us, which is narrow.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful for your guidance,Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suspect that my hon. Friend may have some opportunity to go down that route in looking at later amendments that are relevant to automatic recognition, which may leave him slightly less baffled than he is at the moment--at least if the Government have the wisdom to accept those later amendments.

The Government's original intention, as set out in the White Paper, "Fairness at Work", was for collective bargaining procedures to cover pay, hours and holidays as a minimum. The White Paper went on:

That is all very fine, but the Bill, as amended, raises a number of significant questions.

As it stands, the Bill specifies that negotiations relating to pay, hours and holidays should be those that are included in collective bargaining arrangements, but new subsection (6) states that the effect of that will be subject to sub-paragraph (7), which says that wider matters can be included by the parties subject to their agreement, but that in turn is complicated by the exception provided in paragraph 27(3).

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I hope that my hon. Friend will explain the effect of the removal of the reference to subparagraph (7). Is he satisfied that the connection between subparagraphs (6) and (7) will be as strong? I fear that the amendment may destroy the effect of sub-paragraph (7).

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that specific aspect of amendment No. 46. [Interruption.] He is indeed a fine example of the products of the Scottish education system, and does it great credit. I am sure that that is what the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) was trying to suggest from a sedentary position.

Sub-paragraph (7) expressly gives the parties the right to vary agreements. Surely the specification of such terms in legislation is unnecessary, given the voluntary tradition of labour relations in this country. What are the Government driving at? By implication, does not the Bill in its present form perversely suggest to those who may

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come into contact with it in the courts that any elements that do not carry a specific endorsement of the right to engage in wider issues on a voluntary basis constitute a presumption against it?

It is being considered appropriate to say that it is possible for the parties to engage in wider voluntary agreements, but that specific power is not conferred in other parts of the Bill. It could be said that the implication is that there is no power or freedom for the parties to engage in free bargaining in whatever manner they choose. I hope that the Minister will deal with that, and, in particular, with the exemption relating to paragraph 27(3), which is consequential on the amendment.

The fact that paragraph 27(3) does not apply to voluntary arrangements raises further questions. What scope will the Central Arbitration Committee ordinarily have, under other parts of the schedule, to dictate the conduct of collective bargaining?

Mr. Bercow: In the light of those last remarks, I wonder whether my hon. Friend is encouraged by paragraph 140 of new section 81. Page 35 of the explanatory notes refers to the scope for "collective or workforce agreements". Some adumbration of the significance of that from the Secretary of State would be extremely helpful.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, although my memory is not as photographic as his and the explanatory notes are not at the forefront of my mind.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Wills): Shame.

Mr. Brady: I freely admit that the fault is entirely mine, and that it does me no credit; but I was educated south of the border, albeit at a very fine grammar school. I know that you would not want me to pursue matters relating to the English education system, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall not do so. [Interruption.] I am sure you know very well that I was educated at Altrincham grammar school, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have made many references to it in the House, and I shall continue to do so--but not on this occasion. You will be pleased to hear that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The aim of amendment No. 46 is to probe the Government's thinking. What led them away from the relatively definitive terms in the "Fairness at Work" White Paper? What--with no reference in Committee to the inclusion of training--led them to think that training should be excluded, presumably following the consultation that resulted from the White Paper? Whatever that was, it then led the Government to move on to the first draft of the Bill, which widened the scope of collective bargaining for these purposes to a considerable extent by including all the matters referred to in section 178 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. That took the Bill into the spheres of discipline, workers' membership or non- membership of trade unions, facilities for trade union officials, machinery for negotiation and consultation, and numerous other matters.

It was clearly a deliberate move on the Government's part to move from a tight definition in the White Paper to a wide definition in the first draft of the Bill. Having given only limited explanations in Committee, they have seen

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fit to table amendments further tightening the scope of collective bargaining for these purposes. I must say that I welcome that.

Mr. Fabricant: Might not the Government have decided to narrow the field on which collective bargaining can be fought out because collective bargaining is being imposed on both parties? True collective bargaining, as Adair Turner has said, should be based on trust and mutual consent.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and makes it cogently. Such matters should indeed be conducted on a voluntary basis, with no imposition of collective bargaining arrangements that one or the other party may not want. It must be said that, given the automatic recognition procedures provided by the Bill in its present form, collective bargaining arrangements may not be wanted by either party. Perhaps that is part of the reason why the Government chose to tighten the definitions, but why has training been excluded? So far, we have heard no answer to that question.

8 pm

Why has it been considered necessary to include sub-paragraph (7)--which deals, as far as I can see, with something that would in any case have been presumed in the wider context of employment law--yet then apply paragraph 27(3) to only part of the collective bargaining arrangements, which allows the parties to be directed in how to conduct certain elements of collective bargaining, but not others? Even if there is statutory collective bargaining within the terms of the Bill, that collective bargaining will be better conducted freely and openly, as decided by the parties, rather than in a way that is constrained by the CAC's intervention. That is a point of considerable concern.

The passage of the Bill has "form." I have sought to outline its history. It began with the "Fairness at Work" White Paper. It has had extensive public consultation, particularly in relation to the training provisions. Further comment was implicitly invited by the Government in paragraph 8 of the White Paper. It has become a Bill, which goes far wider. The Government have seen fit to amend the Bill in a way that comes much closer to the tighter terms of section 178(2)(a), which is entirely appropriate.

Given that these matters were not extensively debated in the Standing Committee and that the Minister has given rather scant explanation for the to-ing and fro-ing of Government thinking on the matter, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I hope that some assurance will be given on my particular concern. By including sub-paragraph (7) and by specifically providing for voluntary flexibility, the Bill may, by implication, mean that, where there is no explicit permission for voluntary variations or voluntary flexibility in arrangements between employers and employees, flexibility does not exist. It is a legal point, but I should be grateful for the Minister's reassurance on it.

Mr. Boswell: My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has, as those of

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us who have had the privilege of serving with him onthe Standing Committee had anticipated, moved the amendment with characteristic perspicacity and modesty. He has sought to get a clearer view from the Secretary of State and from his advisers as to the legal effect of the schedule, which he rightly says was not extensively debated in Committee.

I make two or three more general points; I am conscious that we wish to make progress in the consideration of the Bill. My hon. Friend has laid out the scene and other colleagues wish to contribute. Therefore, I need not delay proceedings unduly.

The general principle on which my hon. Friend is surely right is that parties should be able, wherever possible, to reach voluntary arrangements for collective bargaining. That is not an issue across the Chamber; it is generally understood. Those arrangements should be as flexible and appropriate as the circumstances permit. I think that that is understood, too.

There is, however, a difference between us as to whether statutory arrangements should be made for the imposition of collective bargaining in particular cases of failure, where it does not seem possible to achieve those by voluntary agreement. The point that my hon. Friend makes is that the Government need to make it clear why they have selected the scope of collective bargaining that is to be imposed after the procedures that are set out in great detail in schedule 1. Ultimately, a declaration by the CAC as to what was required would be needed.

Two tensions can be identified. First, if collective bargaining is to be imposed--as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) said, it should be a voluntary matter--it should be imposed on the narrowest possible scope, and there should be as much freedom outwith that as possible. That is an understandable principle.

The second point to some extent conflicts with that. It is usually better, where legal concepts exist and have been codified in the 1992 trade union legislation, not to depart from those without good reason. At least their scope and definition have become matters of general awareness among practitioners of employment law, trade unions, employers and others. If we introduce a new set of definitions, we will get ourselves into a muddle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West has identified that there is a tension. It is for the Secretary of State to explain, after my hon. Friends have made their comments, exactly how he intends his provisions to work.

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