Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton: My Lords, I agree with what my noble friend on the Front Bench said about the need to support rural services. I remind the Minister that in the industries that have been privatised, such as electricity, water and many others, there is always an obligation to provide a public service. To the villages that have post offices, they are not merely a convenience for those of us who happen to have motor cars but a necessity, especially for old age pensioners. If they live some distance from a town, old age pensioners would be at a grave disadvantage if their local post office closed. Will the Minister bear that in mind?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I take that point very seriously. Rural post offices are enormously important to their communities and the reason for that goes beyond simple commercial criteria. They are the foundation of many villages and their community life. I emphasise again that--for the first time--accessibility criteria will be included in the Bill and the regulators will have a responsibility to monitor their fulfilment. We cannot guarantee that post offices will not close, because they are private businesses and if the owners decide that they cannot continue we cannot necessarily put something in their place. We are well aware of the importance of rural sub-post offices. That is why we are specifying those criteria and will put in place, for the first time, a regulator outside Government who will monitor the network against that criteria.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his statement this afternoon. Perhaps I may ask him a couple of quick questions. He referred to the modern Post Office being formed in 1969, but I am sure that the Government will be aware that the history of the Post Office in this country goes back 350 years and it was 180 years ago that the penny black came into existence.

The statement says that the directors of the new Post Office plc will owe their duty to the company. That cannot be right. Surely they will owe their duty to the shareholders of the company, who are the 55 million British citizens in this country. The statement continues by mentioning joint ventures and strategic alliances with other companies. We can understand why those may be necessary in the modern, global market, but will the Minister assure us that any sale or exchange of equity will be limited, not wholesale?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, while it was right to pick on 1969 as the date when the modern Post Office was set up, I agree that it has a long history. When I sat on a commission in the late 70s to review the Post Office, a friend of mine produced a long list of all the commissions that had sat previously to review the Post Office. There is nothing new in the world, and the Post Office certainly has a long history. I would point to 1981 as a significant date, when the Post Office was separated from telecommunications.

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1037

In plc law, the duty of the directors is to the company, and through the company to the shareholders. As the Post Office will be a publicly-owned company, the directors' duty will continue to be a duty to the Government and the people of this country. I confirm that any exchange of equity will be limited.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, I apologise for not being here right at the beginning of the Minister's statement. I know that the regulator will protect consumer interests, but what will be the position of the new Post Office plc in relation to the fair trading legislation? Currently, the Post Office has wide exemptions as a public undertaking. Will it be subject to all the regulations, rules and provisions of the fair trading legislation?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I hesitate, especially with my noble friend Lord Borrie sitting behind me, to make a statement on that point, but I can say that the regulator will have the powers to adjudicate on issues of fair competition, as well as his regulatory powers. I believe that that is the position for most of the regulators. I will check on that point and let your Lordships know if that is wrong.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, the Minister kindly said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, that the regulator is not to be a single individual but will be constituted as a commission. Is that a good sign that the Government will introduce a utilities regulation Bill in the near future? That idea comes from Labour, and is contrary to the model the Conservative government used, which constituted regulators as individuals. I hope that the new model will be extended to the other utilities so that they will have a commission or board to share the decision making.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, this is an idea whose time has come and it can be seen to be a sign of the way thinking is moving.

Employment Relations Bill

4.20 p.m.

Report received.

Schedule 1 [Collective Bargaining: Recognition]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 18, leave out lines 25 to 32 and insert--
("2A.--(1) This paragraph applies for the purposes of this Part of this Schedule.
(2) The meaning of collective bargaining given by section 178(1) shall not apply.
(3) References to collective bargaining are to negotiations relating to pay, hours and holidays; but this has effect subject to sub-paragraph (4).
(4) If the parties agree matters as the subject of collective bargaining, references to collective bargaining are to negotiations relating to the agreed matters; and this is the case whether the agreement is made before or after the time when the CAC issues a

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1038

declaration, or the parties agree, that the union is (or unions are) entitled to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of a bargaining unit.
(5) Sub-paragraph (4) does not apply in construing paragraph 29(3).
(6) Sub-paragraphs (2) to (5) do not apply in construing paragraph 32.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I should like to speak also to government Amendments Nos. 9 and 52 and then to respond in due course to Amendment No. 8 in the name of my noble friend Lord McCarthy.

The purpose of Amendment No. 1 is to clarify the scope of collective bargaining and how it may be altered. We wanted it to be absolutely clear that even if the CAC issued a declaration of recognition, the union and employer could agree to alter the scope of collective bargaining to include matters other than pay, hours and holidays.

Amendment No. 52 clarifies the scope of collective bargaining in Part III of the schedule, which is the part that deals with changing the bargaining unit, by introducing new paragraph 74B. It also allows the parties to vary a bargaining method imposed by the CAC under Part III, in new paragraph 74C. This mirrors the existing provision in paragraph 29 for bargaining methods imposed under Part I.

I now turn to the issue of whether a union should be required to give up an existing collective bargaining agreement in order to apply for recognition under Part I. Amendment No. 8, to which my noble friend Lord McCarthy will speak, covers this point, as does the Government's Amendment No. 9. I shall not pre-empt anything my noble friend may say, but perhaps I may explain why the Government want to deal with this issue in a slightly different way from that proposed by my noble friend.

We have proposed Amendment No. 9 which changes one of the preliminary tests an application must pass in order for the CAC to accept it. The test currently requires the CAC to reject applications for recognition in a bargaining unit if any union, including the applicant union, is already recognised to conduct collective bargaining on behalf of one or more workers in the bargaining unit. One effect of this is to require a union which has a very limited but possibly long-standing recognition agreement--covering the union's role in disciplinary matters, for example--to give up that recognition in order to apply for statutory recognition under Part I.

That is not an unusual arrangement. In my own company, I recognised a union for disciplinary matters and such issues as the location of the business but not for pay, hours and holidays because my employees preferred to negotiate on these matters individually with me. The point is: should such recognition for what might be called "non-core" issues bar the union from seeking recognition through the procedure for pay, hours and holidays?

I do not think it is desirable for a union to be required to end a recognition agreement covering the "non-core" issues if both the employer and union are happy with it.

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1039

The union should be able to seek recognition on the "core" issues of pay, hours and holidays without being forced first to tear up an existing agreement. Amendment No. 9 therefore provides that a voluntary agreement which does not include bargaining about pay, hours or holidays does not bar the recognised union from applying under Part I. The employer will, of course, still be able to terminate the voluntary agreement if he wishes. It may be that an employer, faced with an application for recognition on pay, hours and holidays, wants to renegotiate on the matters for which he already recognises the union. The Government's amendment allows for that. I beg to move.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, the Government have introduced this change or modification--I do not want to call it a "volte-face" because they may not like that--at a very late stage. We argued this point in Committee and the Minister said that we could not have it. Never mind, he now comes along and says that the Government will not function in such a way that unions which are recognised for matters other than wages, hours and conditions have to quarrel this away in order to negotiate about core conditions. To my colleagues and I in Committee, that seemed to be only common sense. If you have a Bill, the object of which is to encourage and assist recognition, you do not, as I said in Committee, operate pontoon; you do not say that people have to twist or bust. You say that if you have a little non-core recognition, you can come along and see whether you can get core recognition. If you do not get it, you still have what you had in the first place. You do not have to go back to square one.

In practice, I do not think that employers who have allowed a certain limited amount of recognition of the kind the Minister described in his own company will cancel it if their employees want to extend it. The real difficulty will be those employers who give no recognition at all, who would not be seen dead with recognition and where the union would have to come from a position of non-recognition to a position of core recognition. In that circumstance--I thank the Government for making a concession at this late stage--my amendment has no purpose because it was an attempt to get the Government to limit their existing position so that it applied only to new unions. The Government have come round to that. Therefore, my amendment has no purpose and I do not intend to move it. I thank the Government very much.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page