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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that our concern is not merely about the first wave of regulations, but that under this Bill, if it becomes an Act, Ministers will subsequently be able to issue new regulations? Therefore, this Bill is a pig in a poke. We do not know what the first, second, third or fourth waves of regulations will be.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we know a great deal about the first wave of regulations. A number of them are already available. As regards subsequent regulations, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee will consider the extent to which it is proper to have delegated legislation and the extent to which it should be subject to the negative or affirmative procedures. We have responded to its recommendations on these issues.
I return to the principle behind the Bill. With the wealth of his experience at BP, my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury put it best. The issue here is, above all, that of partnership. That is the difference between us and the previous government. They abolished almost every institution which brought employers and unions together. They abolished the Manpower Services Commission, the national NEDC and all the little Neddies and tried to keep trade unions out of the TECs. They were banished along with the famous beer and sandwiches at No. 10. I was never involved in that. However, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, said about the quality of the sandwiches at the TUC, I hope that they were better at No. 10 with Mr. Harold Wilson.
One has to be fair. There were times during the 1980s when the CBI was not welcome at No. 10. The Government did not appear to like either of the social partners at that time. We want to work with both business and the unions. We do not want to impose our ideology on them. That is why we set up the Low Pay Commission to advise us on the level of the national minimum wage, which is an example of a successful partnership at national level.
We followed the same procedure with Fairness at Work. Soon after the election the Prime Minister asked the CBI and the TUC to try to narrow their differences on trade union recognition. Several months of talks were held, with a constructive joint statement being made in December 1997. That formed the basis of the proposals
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not believe that they did. I believe that the differences between them were considerably reduced by the amount of negotiation that took place. We listened to the responses and held talks with the TUC and CBI. So when the final decisions were taken they were based on open consultation.
There is a certain symbolism in this. We are trying to build a culture of partnership at national level and we are doing so in order to build a partnership at the individual workplace. As regards the work being done on regulations, we are still involving employers and trade union organisations in the legal framework.
We recognise, as a number of noble Lords on this side of the House have said, that the world has changed. Managers have to earn respect. The people who do the job, meet the customers and shift the products want to make their views heard. The best employers already do that. They involve and consult their employees through their unions, works committees and staff councils. They offer good conditions and training and reap the rewards. They get the best staff, who stay with the business and give it their commitment. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked me to pay tribute to Asda and Archie Norman. I certainly do that. That company is among the outstanding employers for the reason that it does what is provided for in this Bill. When a company such as Nissan creates new jobs there are dozens of applicants for each new post. Many of them wish to move from other employers. I believe that my noble friend Lord Haskel is right. Those companies which do not act as good employers will disappear. We want every business to be of a similar nature. The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, said that we cannot legislate to eliminate bad employers. Can we not? Let us see. That is our objective. The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, called this Bill a modest measure. He is entitled to his opinion. I believe that the mission of turning bad employers into good employers by persuasion, as far as possible, is worth pursuing.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for that clarification. I did not doubt it. I was only teasing. I do not need to say much more about costs. In his opening speech, my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury made it clear that we are speaking about 0.01 per cent of the total wage bill, which is about 5p per week per employee. That is relevant to the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.
My noble friend Lord McCarthy has had to leave us because his wife is ill. He gave us a very interesting exposition of the "last two hours" theory. We heard a number of modern variants on that in the course of this afternoon and evening.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will allow a member of the party which changed the conspiracy laws so as to legalise trade unions to ask a question. Does he believe that the contributions we have made--diffidently as always from this side when in Opposition, as we are--to this debate are really motivated by a desire to do down trade unionism and to foster bad employers, or does he credit us with something a little better? Can he tell me why, for example, it is the mark of a bad employer to resist a demand for recognition of a trade union when 60 per cent of his workforce are against it but 40 per cent--which is the threshold in the Bill--are for it?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not accuse all noble Lords opposite of trying to bring down trade unions. I do not think they know how best to foster the partnership which trade unions can bring. I speak as one who, with a workforce of about 35, had the only trade unionised market research company in the country. That caused me some grief because people from the United States who tried to take over the company turned away in horror. But it gave me enormous advantages--free advice on the formulation of my pension fund, quite apart from others. Of course I am not attacking the motives of noble Lords; I am attacking their recollection of history and the way in which they appear to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.
As to trade union recognition, the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, said that voluntary agreement was the ideal. Of course he is right. I hope that the 42 pages of Schedule 1 to the Bill will be used as little as possible. That is the Government's position; we want voluntary agreements. This comes back to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. We want voluntary agreements wherever possible. We learned from the legislation of the 1970s that if one does not cover the waterfront and close off the loopholes there are employers who will seek to overturn the regulations. From that point of view it is essential to go into the horrifying detail in Schedule 1. I do not claim to have read all of it; when I asked around I found that not many other people have read it either. But the regulations are necessary and I apologise only for their length.
Beyond that, even if we achieve recognition, it must be recognition with a requirement to negotiate in good faith. If we simply had an obligation, we would simply have legal wrangles. The Bill sets out methods--very complicated methods, I admit--for resolving disputes, with incentives at every stage for a voluntary agreement. When noble Lords opposite talk about small firms they should recognise that nearly all of the smallish firms that are brought within the scope of the Bill will achieve agreements by voluntary means, or by recognition, or by recognition without necessarily having collective bargaining. There are many other virtues of trade union agreements.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked me about the detriment and dismissal provisions in Clause 15. I can best answer him by reading out the relevant part of the letter which my noble friend Lord Simon has sent to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee:
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, asked about individual contracts. I welcome his acknowledgement that employers and employees will remain free, as they are now, to conclude individual contracts if they wish to, even where collective bargaining arrangements exist. We have no intention of changing that and the Bill does not do so. We recognise that some employers might put pressure on employees to accept individual contracts; that is why the Bill includes protection for employees from being forced to sign contracts with terms that differ from applicable collective agreements.
Perhaps I may now turn to the issue of family friendly policies. Reference has properly been made to maternity leave and parental leave. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, made the point that employers cannot dismiss replacement staff taken on to cover for maternity or parental leave, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. In most cases staff taken on to cover for staff on maternity or parental leave will not have been employed long enough to claim unfair dismissal, even when the qualifying period has been reduced to the reasonable period of one year. In any event, Section 106 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 specifically provides that when an employee is taken on to cover for maternity leave, the return of the woman concerned is a fair reason for dismissal provided the employee was informed of the situation when he or she was taken on. I hope that the noble Baronesses will agree that that is a complete answer to that point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, raised the question of the potential cost to employers of workers on parental leave. We will be consulting fully on the regulations to ensure that we give full protection for workers with families while minimising the costs and burdens on employers, including small firms. There are benefits that flow from an improved loyalty commitment and there is evidence that family-friendly policies such as parental leave can pay dividends in terms of reduced sickness and staff turnover.
I must express amazement at what the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said about taxes on business and particularly on small business. If she looks at the record on corporation tax, small business rates, lower profit rates and advanced corporation tax she will find that taxes, particularly on small businesses, are lower in this country than they have ever been.
I was asked by my noble friend Lord Haskel about European legislation and I was asked by a number of noble Lords about gold plating. We are keenly aware of the importance of ensuring that regulation is kept to a minimum. We take the view that the Bill represents minimum standards. The increase from 14 to 18 weeks goes beyond the strict requirements of Europe, but it has been almost universally welcomed by all sides as a means of reducing enormous confusion.
There was very little criticism in respect of employment agencies. Indeed, I have passed over many aspects of the Bill where I expected criticism and there was not any. That was rather nice. I wish to recognise the contribution of my noble friend Lord Walker of Doncaster in giving effect to Kenneth Lewis's Employment Agencies Act 1973. I am grateful for his recognition that after 25 years more legislation is required.
As to the issue of employment status, some of the most vulnerable members of the workforce are unsure whether they qualify for most employment rights because employment rights are available only to those who work under a contract of employment. The existence of such a contract can often be unclear and in the last resort only determined by a court or tribunal. In the Bill we are taking the power to act on that and to rationalise and update the coverage. However, we cannot do it without further detailed analysis and consultation.
Perhaps I may take this opportunity to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, about nannies. If they are employees on a contract, in other words with the same rights as other employees, they will be entitled to maternity leave like any other employee. There is no discrimination against nannies in the Bill.
As regards waiver clauses against unfair dismissal, my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis pointed out that we have chosen not to outlaw waivers of redundancy rights. Employees on fixed-term contracts know that they will be employed only for a limited period. They do not expect the job security for which redundancy payments are intended to compensate. If they carry on after the agreed date of the contract, they will be entitled to the same rights as any others.
The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, has loyally stayed around for an answer to the question he asked a number of hours ago. He asked me about actors, particularly in the West End, but it applies also to film employees. The abolition of unfair dismissal waivers will restore a fundamental right to fixed-term employees. It is a right to which all such employees are entitled, regardless of the sector of the labour market in which they work. In my view there is no case for creating exemptions. However, I do not believe the noble Lord's interpretation of Clause 16 is right. Abolition will not
On grievance and disciplinary procedures, I was grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Wedderburn on what is proposed. I was interested in the point made by my noble friend Lord Monkswell about whether accompaniment in grievance procedures could be used to tackle the problem of bullying at work. We can certainly consider that because we strongly condemn workplace bullying. The Health and Safety Executive has issued guidance on help on work-related stress and will launch a campaign to promote better management of workplace stress.
I was taken aback by the criticisms of Clause 26 on partnership at work. We did not need legislation for that; it could well have been done as an administrative act. But we wanted to make it clear on the face of the Bill that we were prepared to support projects at the workplace based on employers and employee representatives working together to support innovative projects to develop the partnership approach in the workplace. We are not asking for extra money; it comes from the DTI's existing provision. How that can be described, as the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, described it, as "iniquitous" is beyond me. We are working on the detailed proposals for the fund. We need to because we want the first call for proposals to be launched as soon as the Bill has received Royal Assent. I hope we shall be able to make our position clear before the Committee stage.
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