Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 83 and 84:

Page 2, line 28, at end insert--
(", and
"worker" has the meaning given by section 13.")
Page 2, line 29, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (5),")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to these amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Ballots and notices]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 66, line 16, after ("and") insert ("depending on the circumstances")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment relates to what has been called the "health warning" that the Bill requires shall be inserted on a strike ballot form. It tells the employee his rights not to be dismissed in rather one-sided words, referring only to where such dismissal would be unfair, without mentioning the fact that in some circumstances it might be fair.

In Committee, I proposed an amendment to redress the balance. In reply, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said that my amendment was unnecessary. However, after further discussion the noble Lord relented and generously agreed to look at the matter again. The noble Lord has honoured that promise, and my amendment now contains the wording that both meets my point and, I believe, is acceptable to the Government. I beg to move.

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1076

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this amendment seeks to amend the wording of the statutory health warning statement which all voting forms must contain, to make it clear that the dismissal of striking workers after the eight-week period may not necessarily be unfair. The health warning as set down in Schedule 3 simply reads that the dismissal "may be unfair", and the noble Baroness is concerned that it does not explicitly make the point that dismissals could be fair. She will remember that, as a market researcher, I am used to the idea that a question should contain both options in order to be a proper question.

We rejected the noble Baroness's amendment previously on the grounds that, strictly speaking, the health warning conveyed the notion that dismissals could be fair or unfair. However, as she said, we undertook to look at the matter again. The noble Baroness clearly feels strongly about this issue, and I want, as she does, to make sure that the wording is as clear as possible. In those circumstances, we are happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 86:

Page 66, line 16, at end insert--
("( ) In the definition of "strike" in section 246 (interpretation) after "means" there shall be inserted "(except for the purposes of section 229(2))".")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 87. These two amendments contain the Government's proposals to amend Schedule 3 on industrial action ballots and notices.

Amendment No. 86 arose from a helpful discussion that we had in Committee on our proposals to define overtime and call-out bans as "action short of a strike". My noble friend Lord Wedderburn drew attention to our failure to spot the need to amend Section 246 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. I undertook to look at the matter again. I have done so, and I conclude that we need to make a consequential change to Section 246 of the 1992 Act along the lines of my noble friend's suggestion.

Amendment No. 86 makes it clear that the general definition of a strike given in Section 246 does not apply when it comes to the categorisation of overtime and call-out bans as "action short of a strike" for the purpose of the balloting provisions. The amendment helps avoid possible confusion in the future and ensures that Section 246 cannot be drawn upon, as it was in the recent Connex v RMT case, to justify the classification of such action as a "strike".

Amendment No. 87 deals with the treatment of merchant seamen during industrial action ballots. Obviously, such workers move around. They are often away from home. That can create problems for them during industrial action ballots because, to comply with the existing law, most ballot papers have to be

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1077

sent to their home addresses. If members are away at the time, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to vote.

The current law allows seamen to be balloted on board ship, or at a port where the ship is, as long as they are at sea or at a foreign port during the entire period of the ballot. This helps the balloting process to a certain extent. But it does not deal adequately with the situation where a seaman is at sea for just a part of the balloting period. In such circumstances, it may be impractical for a seaman to return to his home address. For example, he might well be staying at a port elsewhere in the UK awaiting embarkation.

Amendment No. 87 deals with these circumstances. It enables the union to send the ballot paper to the ship or to a UK or foreign port where the ship is, if its member is at sea or at a foreign port for any time during the balloting period. In deciding whether to do this, the union must judge whether it would be convenient for the member to receive the ballot paper in this way. In practice, this judgment should not pose difficulties for unions. If in doubt, they can always ask their members in advance of any ballot what their movements are expected to be. The amendment makes it easier for individual seamen to participate in ballots.

I also want to take this opportunity to give notice to noble Lords that we are considering a further amendment to Schedule 3. This concerns the simplification of the law on separate workplace ballots. This aspect of the law is notoriously complicated and we are continuing our efforts to identify a suitable way to clarify its effects. If successful, we hope to come forward with an amendment at Third Reading. I apologise for proceeding in this way. But I hope noble Lords will agree with me that it would be best for us to proceed only when we are sure that our proposals are correct in every respect. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 87:

Page 66, line 16, at end insert--

("Conduct of ballot: merchant seamen

. In section 230 (conduct of ballot) for subsections (2A) and (2B) there shall be substituted--
"(2A) Subsection (2B) applies to a merchant seaman if the trade union reasonably believes that--
(a) he will be employed in a ship either at sea or at a place outside Great Britain at some time in the period during which votes may be cast, and
(b) it will be convenient for him to receive a voting paper and vote while on the ship or while at a place where the ship is rather than in accordance with subsection (2).

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1078

(2B) Where this subsection applies to a merchant seaman he shall, if it is reasonably practicable--
(a) have a voting paper made available to him while on the ship or while at a place where the ship is, and
(b) be given an opportunity to vote while on the ship or while at a place where the ship is."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Training]:

[Amendments Nos. 88 to 90 not moved.]

Schedule 4 [Leave for Family and Domestic Reasons.]:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville moved Amendment No. 91:

Page 70, line 2, leave out ("conferred by the regulations") and insert ("under this Chapter")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely technical amendment to new Section 75(1)(e) of the Employment Rights Act, which provides that an employee who has maternity rights under her employment contract and under the statutory scheme can choose to exercise whichever is the most advantageous to her in any particular respect. This is similar to the existing provision in the Employment Rights Act.

The need for the amendment is simply because the Bill as drafted refers to rights conferred by regulations whereas the rights in question are in fact contained in the primary legislation.

I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 93, 94 and 95. These amendments address the issue of a maximum limit on parental leave raised by the amendment which the noble Baroness tabled in Committee, and which she kindly withdrew when I offered to consider further and bring forward a revised version today.

The amendments affect the fallback parental leave scheme which we are intending to set out in regulations. They provide for some additional powers to ensure that the fallback scheme can, if considered appropriate, set a maximum period of leave to be taken at one time or within a given period.

Let me clarify what will be the result. The Bill already provides for the minimum length of an absence to be set out in regulations, and the most that an employee could take overall will be governed by the entitlement, which will be three months, in line with the parental leave directive.

As a result of these amendments we will have more options to shape the fallback scheme in line with the views we have already received, the matters raised in this House, and in response to our impending consultation. We will have more flexibility to arrive at a balanced scheme. For example, we could provide for a single period of leave to be taken as a minimum period of a week, but no more than a month.

8 Jul 1999 : Column 1079

We could limit the amount of leave which could be taken in a given timescale, say six months or a year, without reducing the overall entitlement. We could set out a fair and reasonable framework while leaving it to the individual to choose whether or not to take their leave as a single block or in shorter spells within the framework.

Amendments Nos. 96 and 97 are technical. Their object is to achieve our aim of ensuring that employers and employees have the maximum possible freedom to make their own parental leave arrangements. The amendments replace the existing provisions on collective and workforce agreements in new Section 81 with a more flexible arrangement, which is to be inserted at the end of new Section 78. Our intention, as I made clear in Committee, is to encourage businesses and their workforces to come to their own agreements about how parental leave will operate for them.

We want to ensure that there is sufficient scope for agreements to replace or supplement the statutory provisions, except where these are set in stone as minimum requirements. It will not be possible for collective and workforce agreements to undermine certain minimum requirements; for example, the entitlement to at least three months' leave to care for a child, and the precondition of a year's service in order to qualify for the entitlement, although we will always applaud more generous provision where it can be afforded.

However, there are more discretionary matters, such as the notice requirements or the arrangements for taking leave in short or long periods, where workforces and their employers could agree something different from the fallback scheme which will be provided for in the regulations.

Under the existing provisions, collective and workforce agreements can only substitute for the statutory scheme to the extent that they cover the same ground as the regulations, whereas this amendment will ensure that any relevant agreement can substitute, provided that the contract of employment incorporates or operates by reference to a collective or workforce agreement which provides for parental leave.

This will ensure more flexibility in practice--the light touch we are aiming for. In effect this amendment will also help to ensure that all parties are clear when an agreement is substituting for the discretionary fallback provisions. I commend our amendments in this group to the House and beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page