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David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that trade unions will certainly welcome what she has just said and what is contained in the measure? Is it not totally unacceptable that a union should be forced to accept in many cases known racist thugs, when many of the union's members are black or Asian, as the case may be, and, moreover, the union will have a consistent anti-racist policy? Why should it accept those racist thugs and be penalised as a result? I much welcome what is being proposed, and I hope that the Opposition will do likewise.

Ms Hewitt: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his endorsement. The trade unions, as voluntary associations of workers, play a crucial role, and have done so for many decades, in fighting racism and promoting equality for all in our society. I share his hope that—at least, on this point—the Opposition will welcome what we are doing.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend also absolutely condemn the fact that members of far-right groups are specifically encouraging their members to join unions and pointing out where they are standing as candidates in elections to try to claim money in compensation, so that it can be put back into the funds of those political parties?

Ms Hewitt: I absolutely condemn that, and I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has just said.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): One of the major issues that has been omitted or has changed in employment legislation relates to clause 15, where pensions, in particular, are outwith the core negotiating parts of the Bill. Will my right hon. Friend consider reinstating pensions into the negotiating core? She can make a decision to include them. Will she consider tabling an amendment in Committee to ensure that pensions, which are vital as deferred pay, are included in the Bill?

Ms Hewitt: Although I do not think that it would be right to do so just yet, when pensions are only included in a minority of such negotiations, but my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that we are taking powers in the Bill to make regulations to extend the remit of collective bargaining, as he proposes.

In closing, I realise that that the Opposition will complain about more regulation, just as they complained about and opposed the minimum wage,

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rights for working parents and paid holidays for all, but the costs to employers of most of the measures in the Bill are, frankly, insignificant. Small firms are the least affected, and both the TUC and the CBI have welcomed the Bill. It will promote better jobs and better workplaces. It will help us on our way to build an even stronger economy and a stronger society. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.3 pm

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. Of course, I fully realise that, under the current dispensation, Labour Members are under no obligation to register their interests in relation to trade unions, but it would always be helpful if they would volunteer such information and say which unions they are members of when dealing with such a Bill. Such information is in the register, but it would be helpful if it were always declared—Conservative Members always do so.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman refers to the Register of Members' Interests and imputes that Labour Members have not registered their interests, despite the fact that, in relation to trade union membership, the House authorities have given specific advice on what should and should not be registered.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has made the point. Every hon. Member is responsible for his or her entry in the Register of Member's Interests, so it is not for any other hon. Member to comment on such matters. Hon. Members are their own masters in that situation, and it is up to them how they fill in the register, with the advice of the registrar.

Mr. O'Brien: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I hope that it was absolutely clear that I was talking about volunteering information. I fully understand the dispensation of the House in relation to trade union membership.

Mr. Davidson rose—

Mr. O'Brien: I ought to make some progress before I take an intervention.

I am glad to see that today, unlike yesterday, the Secretary of State has deigned to come to the House to present the Bill. Yesterday, in Opposition time, I, as her shadow, led for the Opposition in the debate on the continuing crisis in the post office network, which is under her watch, but she could not be bothered to turn up and take her place to defend her policy to every Labour Member who spoke, as well as to all my hon. Friends, who each criticised the shambles of our postal services, over which she presides and for which she is accountable. But, focusing on today's business, I look forward to the day when the Secretary of State and the Department of Trade and Industry come up with a Bill that promotes trade and strengthens industry and can be said to be good for UK business. That Bill would probably only have to be a one-liner, saying that the DTI and the Government will get out of the way of business and stop their incessant meddling.

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In the context of the report in The Times yesterday, which stated that

and that in 2002—the last year for which figures are available—

I find the choice of legislation before us today proof, if proof were needed, of the Government's extraordinarily misplaced priorities. Productivity growth has halved under Labour and corporate profitability is at its lowest level since 1993. We now have the biggest trade deficit since 1697 in the reign of William and Mary, and the CBI has warned that the cumulative tax bill faced by UK firms is likely to hit £54 billion by the financial year 2005–06, with the annual total about £7.6 billion higher than when the Government came to office in 1997. It is unfortunate, against that backdrop, that the Department of Trade and Industry believes that its mandate is to promote regulation, rather than innovation, and that it prefers to expend valuable legislative time on a Bill that principally revisits an Act on labour law and trade union rights that is just four years old.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that most academic studies that have compared trade-unionised and non-trade-unionised units show that those with trade unions on site are more productive? Would he like to comment?

Mr. O'Brien: I am aware of some of those academic studies. Indeed, I have experience of operating in companies in the UK and in 27 countries abroad involved in heavy-side manufacturing, where we had both unionised and non-unionised work forces. Flexibility was the key, and productivity was to do with good management motivation, real commitment to the enterprise from all employees and good conditions in the workplace. Although academic studies can be helpful, they may not give the whole story.

When the DTI should be championing greater labour flexibility, it focuses on rights to greater union recognition in the workplace. Where a lighter touch is needed, the DTI loads businesses with more unnecessary regulations. I make no apology for saying that, despite the fact that Secretary of State tries to dismiss such things lightly, as though we should not be concerned about imposing regulations on business, and says that it is predictable that Conservative Members complain. Of course we complain, because that is exactly what businesses are doing throughout the country.

It is indeed odd that a Government, who like to criticise sanctimoniously the rigidities of the European employment model and Brussels obsessive addiction to burdensome bureaucracy and regulatory red tape, seek to ape that behaviour, rather than to defeat it. Therefore, to say—I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to this—that we do not oppose some measures in the Bill is not the same as saying that we recognise its overall utility relative to other industry priorities and business competitiveness.

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That said, it is only fair to join the CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and others in welcoming what the DTI has managed not to include in the Bill.

The decision not to extend trade union recognition to small businesses is especially welcome, despite the TUC's demands for it. However, we do not need a Bill for what is thankfully not in this Bill. Indeed, on that point, I urge the Government to consider raising the exemption on firms with fewer than 21 employees to those with fewer than 50 employees because that would be in line with the very EU information and consultation directive that is incorporated in the Bill. However, again, we do not need a Bill for things that the Government are not proposing, but that might be fertile ground for the Committee if the Bill receives its Second Reading.

With the CBI and the other bodies that I cited, we welcome the fact that the Bill will not extend the core areas of collective bargaining to include pensions, so pay, hours and holidays will thus remain as the only areas covered by such legislation. However, we do not need a Bill to achieve that. I am pleased to note that it will not extend the eight-week time limit on protection for workers against dismissal for taking part in lawful strikes, despite the new exemption of lock-out days from that period, but we do not need a Bill for that either.

The House and I need a cast-iron assurance from the Minister for Employment Relations, Competition and Consumers in his winding-up speech that he and his Secretary of State will ensure that there will be no concessions on those points to unions or Back Benchers of any party while the Bill continues its passage. That does not concern only me, because the Engineering Employers Federation says of the Bill:

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