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Lord Brookman: I too want to declare an interest. I currently sit on the General Council of the TUC. Alongside me is a past General Secretary of the TUC and other colleagues around me have also sat on the General Council of the TUC. The majority of people with whom I come into contact in my area of work would wish to see all workers, irrespective of a figure of 21 or 50, with the right to be represented by a trade union at their place of work. Why? The reason is that, in my opinion, in the world of work there are bad employers.
I recall my second-oldest daughter, home from university--she is a married woman in her late 30s now and she is doing quite well--working part-time in the holidays in a small factory. There were probably about 20, 30 or 40 young ladies working there making sandwiches which were on sale up and down the high street in various parts of the area where I live. I cannot recall precisely--I would not want to be sued--but I believe that my daughter received 75 pence per hour while the owner had a white Rolls-Royce outside the front door. I think that is grossly unfair and I am sure that noble Lords opposite would agree.
On representation at work, I realise that some noble Lords on the Benches opposite are inclined to have no views about trade unions, trade unionists, national leaders of trade unions or the General Council of the TUC. If they could do away with them, neuter them or abandon them, they would do so. We have survived 18 years. I understand the shaking of heads in relation to looking at the past. I am one who wishes to look to the future. I would like those on the Benches opposite also to look to the future. This legislation is about the future and fairness at work in the future. We would hope that all workers have the right to have trade union representation at work. We are satisfied that the Government are doing their best to get harmony in the workplace. Therefore, I hope, along with my colleagues on this side of the Committee, that the figure of 50 is withdrawn.
Lord Tebbit: I am tempted to my feet partly by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. For a while he dwelt upon my reluctance, when I was Secretary of State, to engage in consultations about my legislation. He has a short memory. He should remember that the trade unions mandated themselves not to discuss with me anything about my proposed legislation. I was cast into what they believed was some form of outer darkness and they would not speak to me. I believe that I enjoyed quite a nice illuminated life at that time.
However, if I may tell a secret or two, my life was illuminated from time to time by the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Murray, would come in to see me through the underground car park and the back lift. I always found those meetings agreeable, even when we could not find agreement. I often profited from the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Murray, though I do not know whether he ever profited from anything I said in return. That was the situation at that time. I was willing to consult; but it takes two.
I support these amendments. I have in mind an engineering company with which my family sometimes deals. The proprietor and chief executive of that small company, which would be caught by the Bill, spends days at a time out on the road without even returning to his office. It is a company in which nobody works harder than the proprietor. Often, for days, his only contact with the office is by telephone. Where does that fit in with these provisions?
I thought we had got away from that, and that most people were glad to get away from it. In fact, there are some former businessmen on the Government Front Bench who were glad to get away from the days of the 1970s. This is a small step back in that direction. Of course it will not unduly worry the vast multinationals. In general they can cope with these things--they have years of experience of them. In any case, most of my legislation will be left intact. We are not going back to the bad old days where the print unions ensured that no women, blacks or Asians were employed at the print shops at The Times and other newspapers in Fleet Street; my legislation stopped that. As I understand it, it is not the intention of the Government to undermine that.
So the big boys will not be particularly worried. But this Bill will hit the small companies--those we hope will not stay small but will grow. It will be a disincentive to them to grow. Also, as I read it--I hope I will be corrected if I am wrong--it will be a disincentive to employ part-time workers. After all, if we employ part-time workers, we employ twice as many people, so we bring ourselves into the ambit of the Bill with even a dozen employees, not even 21. There will be a clear incentive on managers and proprietors of such small companies to get rid of part-time employees and replace them with full-timers, thus reducing the head count. I am not sure that that is altogether a good thing. Many part-time workers are part time only because they have other responsibilities; most notably single parents who still have custody of children. Part-time working is one way in which they can get back into the labour market. It would be a tragedy to discriminate against the likelihood of their achieving a job by the introduction of this sort of legislation.
I do not understand why the Government are so attached to the figure of 21. It is an extraordinarily low number. A few years ago we normally defined small businesses as those employing fewer than 100 people. Now we are setting down this sort of definition. Small businesses cannot cope with the possibility of difficult trade union activists mucking the business about, possibly in order to pursue an agenda which is nothing to do with the company in question but concerns a company down the road. For that reason, if my noble friend decides to press these matters to a vote either at this stage or on Report, unless I have heard some powerful arguments to the contrary from Ministers, I shall support her.
Lord Murray of Epping Forest: I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, recalls the old, unhappy, far-off days and battles of long ago. Truth to tell, there was only one real disagreement between the noble Lord and myself in those days. I was anxious to extend to
I am astonished that we should argue about the number 21. As has been said already, that number is far too high. We are talking about a Charlie Jones and a Mavis Thompson. The right of an individual to seek protection is paramount in our society and I wish to ensure that that is achieved. If the figure of 50 had been on the face of the Bill, we would have heard the same arguments, the same passion and the same demands from the Benches opposite to extend it to 75 or 100 for exactly the same reasons as have been adduced. If I was able to introduce an amendment to reduce the number from 21, I would be tempted to do so. I am happy to accept a compromise. It is a good compromise and I go along with 21 for the present time.
Lord Geddes: It is with apologies that I intervene in the proceedings of your Lordships' Committee as I was not able to take part in the Second Reading debate. I shall be extremely brief. It may help the Committee, and indeed the Government, to take cognisance--I say this with some trepidation with my noble friend Lord Tebbit sitting beside me--of the EU definition relative to the number of employees. It supports my noble friend Lady Miller. A "large" firm is defined as an organisation employing 250 plus; a "medium" firm is 50 to 249; "small" is 10 to 49. It is interesting to see how the figure 21 comes into the middle of this. There is a fourth definition of "micro", which is nought to nine.
I am fully aware that British legislation is being proposed but, as my noble friend Lord Tebbit reminds us again and again, to some extent British legislation is also subject to European legislation. I hope that the Government have not got it wrong with the figure of 21 when the Commission defines a "small" business as up to 49 employees and a "medium" business as 50 plus.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: The noble Lord, Lord Brookman, has never heard me say that I wish to pull out of the European Union. His comments do not add anything to our discussion.
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