David Cairns: Is not my hon. Friend being a tad generous? He says that the Conservatives do not know which regulations they want to get rid of, but in fact they know full well and are afraid to tell us. We know that the minimum wage, the new deal and the working tax credits, all of which they regard as regulation, will be for the chop when they get into power. They know which regulations they want to get rid of, but they do not have the courage to tell people.
Rob Marris: Sad to say, my hon. Friend may be right; the Conservatives are being evasive and are not giving us their true agenda. That would be true about many of the policies of the official Opposition.
We need to debate the Bill more broadly rather than focusing only on the technicalities, many of which have been covered by hon. Members on both sides of the House, although I shall return to some of them if I have time. We need to cast our eyes a little wider and consider what kind of society we want to live in. Do we want a low-wage, low-skill society where employers grind the faces of the employees? I do not. In most countries, there is generally a correlation between trade union rights and quality of life. I am sure that a Member could intervene with a specific example to show that I am wrong, but I suggest that there is that broad correlation: the stronger the trade union rights, the better the society.
The richest country in the world is the United States of America in terms of its overall gross domestic product and, leaving aside some of the oil emirates, it is one of the richest in terms of GDP per capita, but according to the UN index it is not the best to live in. One reason is that over the past 25 years unionisation and union rights in the United States of America have been progressively lessened. That trend reached a plateau under the Clinton Administration, but George W. Bush is continuing the work of Ronald Reaganwho smashed the air traffic controllersand of his father, in depressing trade union rights. That depresses the whole society in the United States of America; it is not as pleasant a place to live and, despite the country's massive wealth, in the past 25 years family income has stayed about the same or gone down. That is partly because the rate of unionisation has
The rate of union density in Canada is roughly twice that in the States and it is a much better society to live in. I do not say that just because I lived there; I rely on the UN annually updated index of desirable countries to live in. Generally, Canada vies with Sweden for first or second placeCanada is often ranked first, although last year, I believe it was ranked second. I would hazard that the rate of unionisation in Sweden is about 70 per cent.
The two richest countries in the European Union in terms of per capita GDP are Luxembourg and Denmark. The rate of unionisation in Luxembourg is very highI cannot give the precise figures; if an hon. Member can, I will gladly take an intervention. In Denmark the rate of trade union organisation in the labour force is about 90 per cent.
I am not saying that if one strengthens trade union rights as much as possible, a more wonderful society will necessarily result, but that, as a broad correlation and a broad generalisation, if there are stronger trade union rights, it tends to be indicative of a society that respects the people who live in it and the way in which they earn their living and one that respects trade union involvement and worker involvement in enterprise and fostering innovation and involvement and so on. One tends to get a better society in those circumstances.
In the United States they have had problems because the rate of unionisation is dropping. I accept that that is not the only reason for its problems; the States has huge economic problems and is sucking in imports at the rate of $1 billion a day. The structural problems in that economy are also enormous. Its rate of productivity is behind that of France, which has quite a high level of worker organisation, although not formal trade unions in the way that we would recognise them. The States is also ranked behind the Netherlands.
As I said, the US has big problems, but because union density has dropped, companies like BMW have been going to South Carolina, where they do not want unions so they pitch the wages at just below the union rates. What keeps up the standard of living of some people in the States is pay rates that piggyback on the rates set by unions, that is particularly the practice in some of the Japanese companies, which piggyback just below the United Auto Workers rates for the big three domestics, principally based in Detroit. Because of such piggybacking, American unions are in a sense maintaining the living standards of a number of others in the work force. With a membership density rate of about 16 per cent.my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas), who has a PhD in political economy, could probably tell me the figuresthe unions are probably holding up the living standards of at least another 16 to 20 per cent. of the US work force, whose pay is just below the agreed union rate, or may even be a little more because of the Wilson-Palmer type of arrangement that the Bill will fortunately get rid of,
The type of society we live in is, as I hope hon. Members realise, intensely important to me, as it should be to all hon. Members. I am stunned that the official Opposition seem to be coming in with what is, to my mind, an anti-regulation agenda, to the point where the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) seems to be saying, "I think we should get rid of all regulations and leave it to the marketemployers and employeesto work out."
We should bear in mind that 10,000 people a year are dying of asbestosis, mesothelioma and pleural plaques that lead to those diseases. Many lives have been saved by safety legislation, from the factories acts from the beginning of the 20th century to the Factories Act 1961, to the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 introduced by Labour Government, and the daughter directive brought in under the 1974 Act to protect people at work.
That is true health and safety regulation, and there is more, because the six-pack of regulations that came into effect on 1 January 1993 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988, under an EU directive, have saved hundreds of lives in the United Kingdom. Almost all those regulations apply in every workplace because, in our society, the state, the Government and we as individuals have a duty to protect people at work.
All hon. Memberseven the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey, who probably was not thinking of health and safety when she appeared to suggest that all regulations should gowould say that we need some health and safety regulation at work. Finewe have got some common ground, so let us build on it. We also need regulations to govern the way in which employers and employees interact with one another. If we did not have such regulations, as some official Opposition Members seem to suggest, we would have a situation that, I suspect, they would be the first to decry: wildcat strikes would break out all over the place, because that is what happens in such circumstances.
People in Latin America used to say, "You can't dig coal with a bayonet." The point was that people could repress the miners all they liked in Chile, or wherever, but they could not get the soldiers to dig the mines. Workers are needed to produce the wealth in society, and the relations between employers and employees need to be regulated. If people allow a free-for-all, they will end up with wildcat strikes, which reduce production, which will not suit employers.
An awful lot of this country's employersnot only in the public sector, but in the private sectorwelcome those regulations because they produce a level playing field, for example, in health and safety. A disproportionate number of deaths at work happen in small companies. That is not to say that all small companies are unsafe to work for, but they are proportionally, statistically and as a generality unsafe, and those arrangements have to be enforced on them to create a level playing field. That is very important in terms of state regulation.
I have some minor problems with the Bill, and if it receives its Second Reading and I serve on the Standing Committee, I hope to raise them, along with those of my hon. Friends who have also mentioned them. However, I make no apology to the House for setting the scene, by putting the Bill and the massive improvement in worker protection introduced in the past six and a half years under the Government into a social context.
Official Opposition Members should think very seriously before they go down the anti-union route because they think that the effect of all this regulation is cumulative. In fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) suggested, Opposition Members want to chip away at all regulation, but they have not guts to say so. Worst of all, they and members of Conservative associations throughout the country fail to realise that they would be horrified at the kind of society that we would all end up living in without the cumulative, beneficial effect of regulation.
Sadly, if the official Opposition were ever in government and they stripped away the maternity rights, the minimum wage and the health and safety regulationsall those basic things that we take for granted in our societythey would regret it along with the rest of us, because we would live in a poorer society, both materially and in terms of the human condition and the human spirit. I do not want that to be belittled; I want to raise the standards