Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. In dealing with arbitration issues, we most definitely are going wide of amendment No. 46, which is narrowly drawn.

Mr. Fabricant: I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who argues on the premise that imposition of collective bargaining is already a fact. For all we know, the Government may see reason. Heaven knows, we may even win in a Division on Third Reading and defeat the Bill. The very imposition of collective bargaining is undesirable. We are arguing that, if it is imposed, it should be wide-ranging. However, if my hon. Friend is asking me whether that is what

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1166

employers and employees want, I should say no, as I do not believe that collective bargaining should be forced on anyone.

I remind the House that great friends of Labour--although I do not think that they will be friends for much longer--such as News Corporation, and especially Rupert Murdoch, are only too aware that, had the Government's current proposals been law, Mr. Murdoch would not have been able or motivated to save The Times, after its staff had been on strike for six months, or to crack the stranglehold of the print unions.

Mr. Bercow: Perhaps my hon. Friend was envisaging a breaking of the stranglehold?

Mr. Fabricant: No, I prefer a cracking of the stranglehold, as it is more illustrative and imaginative.

Mr. Ian Stewart: How would the hon. Gentleman resolve a situation in which a company has 100 employees, all of whom are trade union members and wish to have a collective bargaining agreement with the employer, but the employer does not wish to have such an agreement?

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman has got to the crux of the matter. The situation will be resolved because it is impossible to run a company in those conditions. If I were running a company in which 80 or 90 per cent. of employees were members of a trade union, it would be impossible not to have bargaining. That is the reality. I am not against the closed shop--although I shall not stray too far into that issue, which is beyond the scope of amendment No. 46, although it addresses the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Many companies--such as Unilever's subdivisions--prefer dealing with only one trade union, but they do so by voluntary arrangement, which is convenient for both trade union and employer.

Mr. Forth: I am not ready for this.

Mr. Fabricant: My right hon. Friend, who lounges on the same Bench as me, disagrees, but he is being a little naive in the matter. If such arrangements are not imposed by law, they may be advantageous.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is being unduly provocative at this stage in the proceedings. He seems, uncharacteristically, to have forgotten or overlooked the rights of individuals. He seems to be taking us back to the dark days when a cosy arrangement between an employer and unions could sweep away the rights of individual employees. I am sure--knowing my hon. Friend as I do--that he would not want that to happen; would he?

Mr. Fabricant: My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. However, as in all these matters, one has to balance various tensions--to use the word used by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. If both an employer and a group of employees feel that there is an arrangement by which a majority will be able to operate collective bargaining, anarchy may be avoided. If there is no agreement on that basis, there may be anarchy.

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1167

I tell the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Stewart) that, in practice, the type of situation that he described does not occur.

Mr. Ian Stewart: It does.

Mr. Fabricant: If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me an example in which it does, I should be interested to hear it.

Mr. Stewart: The hon. Gentleman is trying to approach the matter reasonably. In 20 years as a practitioner and negotiator in industry, I have often encountered many situations in which recognition has been applied for but rejected, although more than 80 per cent. of employees were union members.

Mr. Fabricant: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Nevertheless, I asked him for a specific example, but he failed to give me one.

I do not want to take up any more of the House's time. I have made it clear that I believe that collective bargaining may be successful only if both parties wish to enter into it, and both parties are free to explore a number of different matters. I do not think that the Government can impose successful collective bargaining, just as I do not think that the Government can create wealth--which is created by entrepreneurs, and by the hard sweat of labour.

As I said, the Government's proposals are just another example of their good intentions--which, sadly, will harm and not enhance labour relations.

Mr. Byers: If amendment No. 46 is pressed to a Division, I shall ask the House to reject it--which will disappoint some right. hon. and hon. Opposition Members, although probably not the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who would be alarmed by the amendment's effect in extending the matters subject to collective bargaining. If the amendment is pressed to a Division, the Government Whips may have some difficulty in keeping some of my hon. Friends from supporting the amendment, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady).

Mr. Brady: I advise the right hon. Gentleman not to continue on that tack--as he is beginning to tempt me to press the amendment, and I might otherwise be easily placated.

Mr. Byers: I should warn the hon. Gentleman that, although there are many measures in the Bill dealing with security of employment, they do not protect hon. Members. If he were to press the amendment, he may well find his own security of employment threatened.

Mr. Brady rose--

Mr. Byers: I should like to press on and reply briefly to the debate, as the situation is fairly straightforward.

The Bill provides that, where there is recognition through the statutory procedure, collective bargaining will be required in matters of pay, hours and holidays. There is nothing to stop employers and employees agreeing to increase the topics beyond those three specific ones, but it

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1168

will be a matter for decision and for agreement to be reached. We believe that that is the appropriate approach to take.

The White Paper, "Fairness at Work", made it very clear that those were the three, very discrete topics on which we should expect there to be negotiations in collective bargaining, when it is subject to the statutory procedures. We did not want to go beyond that, as we recognised that the provisions would have to be tightly focused. However, there was a residual issue on training, on which we consulted separately.

Mr. Bercow: In view of what the Secretary of State said about the potential scope for voluntary extension of the matters subject to collective negotiation, will he confirm that this is an example of a situation in which paragraph 141 on page 35 of the explanatory notes to the Bill would apply?

Mr. Byers: I have to concede to the hon. Gentleman that, off hand, I cannot recall the precise details of that page--for which I do apologise. What I do know is that amendment No. 46 would extend the three specific topics that we have in mind. There is nothing to prevent the parties from agreeing to that, but when the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West moved the amendment, he referred specifically to the reasoning behind the proposal for training being dealt with in a slightly different way. In the White Paper, we identified this issue as one on which we wanted genuine consultation, which has now taken place. Our view is that it would not be appropriate to extend the three areas to include training, and thereby make it four areas--my numeracy skills are improving. It would be better if training were dealt with by consultation. There is a requirement elsewhere in the Bill that if a union is recognised, it will have to be consulted on training. So the matter is covered in that way.

To clarify the position for the benefit of hon. Members who were not on the Committee or who could not attend when this matter was debated, I confirm that the collective bargaining procedures that go through the statutory process are restricted to pay, hours and holidays. By agreement that can be extended, but it is otherwise restricted to those three areas.

8.30 pm

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, because he is being most helpful. I detect that he is drawing his remarks to a close, and I want ask him to deal with the matter of the inclusion of sub-paragraph (7)--with his legal background he should be well able to do so--which seems to me to be otiose. It provides a right to voluntary extension, but, as I understand it, that would ordinarily be assumed.

Mr. Byers: My understanding is that sub-paragraphs(6) and (7) address two different situations. Sub-paragraph (6) states that references to collective bargaining are to negotiations relating to pay, hours and holidays, but sub-paragraph (7) addresses the situation in which parties agree further matters as the subject of collective bargaining. We need to cross-reference to paragraph 27(3), which states:

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1169

    That is if there is eventually a failure to agree, whereas paragraph 2(7) deals with a situation in which an agreement has been reached. That distinction needs to be made. For those reasons, we need paragraph 2(7), because it addresses a different situation in which there is a statutory recognition and the parties enter discussions to extend collective bargaining beyond the three areas. If those discussions subsequently break down, they revert back to the Central Arbitration Committee to establish procedures by which an agreement can be reached. I hope that that has clarified the matter for the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West.

Next Section

IndexHome Page