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Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): I will be very brief because I appreciate the exigencies of the time. It is appropriate that I should speak in a debate in which the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and I find ourselves in a situation which goes back for many years when he was my boss and I worked with him as a teacher. We had different political viewpoints, but we are essentially in agreement on the very important issue of democracy.

I remind the House of early-day motion 291 of last year which was signed by 22 Labour Members. It rested on the concept of basic democracy, which is the basis of the

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1182

amendment. I hope that the 22 Labour Members might at least have the courage of their convictions, which they had when they signed the early-day motion, to join us in the Lobby in support of a basic principle.

I was involved in the 1979 referendum in Scotland. The 40 per cent. rule applied, and if someone did not turn out, it meant a no vote. That ridiculed the whole idea of democracy and the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Mr. Welsh) moved so eloquently are a challenge to the concept of basic democracy in this country.

Mr. Wills: All the amendments deal with recognition ballots, which is undoubtedly a very important issue. The Government are concerned to get it right. I regret that all the amendments are unhelpful and that some of them are more unhelpful than others. I am certainly not convinced that amendments Nos. 37 and 38. are in the best interests of good industrial relations. Amendment No. 37 would remove the requirement that at least 40 per cent. of workers in a bargaining unit must vote in favour of union recognition. We believe that 40 per cent. is the right figure, and I shall come back to that in relation to amendment No. 9.

The basic principle is that a significant proportion of workers must be in favour of recognition before it should be granted. That seems self-evident and deviating from that basic principle would run the risk of a vocal minority overriding the wishes of the vast majority of those affected. That would disrupt good industrial relations. The Government have no wish for that to happen and we cannot accept an amendment that runs such a risk.

For exactly the same reasons, we cannot accept amendment No. 38, which would remove the converse requirement that at least 40 per cent. of workers in the bargaining unit must vote against the continuation of recognition for it to end.

Amendment No. 9 would alter the figure for minimum support in a recognition ballot to 50 per cent. I have already explained the reasons for having a threshold. We have set a threshold of 40 per cent. Precisely where the level is set is a matter of judgment, and we have made our judgment on the basis that we believe that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, 40 per cent. plus a ballot majority will mean that 50 per cent. or more of the work force support recognition, or at least do not oppose it.

Why not set the threshold at 50 per cent? Because that would, in practice, mean that an even greater proportion of workers--perhaps 60 or 70 per cent.--would have to be in favour of recognition before it would be granted. That is a high hurdle, particularly when, we should remember, the union must also win a ballot. In those circumstances, we do not believe that the amendment would be conducive to good industrial relations--it is unnecessary and unhelpful. I hope that Opposition Members will withdraw all the amendments.

Mr. Welsh: I regret the Government's stance. The 40 per cent. rule has met widespread opposition and has, for example, been described by GMB Scotland in the following terms:

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    John Edmonds, the leader of the GMB has said that the 40 per cent. rule turned the White Paper into a "flawed jewel". The Scottish Trades Union Congress has said:

    "Our position is quite clear--there should be no additional hurdles erected. The only requirement should be that a majority of those in a workplace voting for trade union recognition should get it, and we will not accept anything less than that."

We share those sentiments and they would be delivered by the amendments.

I note not only the support of the trade unions. On9 January 1999, 22 Labour and five Liberal Democrat Members supported an early-day motion on that issue, even though both parties will oppose the amendments. We intend to make the point by pressing this principle to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 1, Noes 301.

Division No. 139
[9.28 pm


Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Dennis Canavan and
Mr. Andrew Welsh.


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Beggs, Roy
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff
Fisher, Mark
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Fyfe, Maria
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Jimmy
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kingham, Ms Tess
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Linton, Martin
Livingstone, Ken
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McDonagh, Siobhain
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Marek, Dr John
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Mountford, Kali
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Giles
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shipley, Ms Debra
Singh, Marsha
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Temple-Morris, Peter
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Woolas, Phil
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. David Hanson and
Mrs. Anne McGuire.

Question accordingly negatived.

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1185

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