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Lord McCarthy: My Lords, perhaps I can ask the Government to be flexible in this matter. They have changed the Bill so many times that they cannot say that they cannot change it any more. There has yet to be Third Reading.

It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Simon, says, that there is no reason why we should insist on a Clause 10 that enables someone in the Security Service or the Secret Intelligence Service or the Government Communications Headquarters to bring in people from outside. We are talking about fellow workers. Most of Clause 10 talks about the choice from among fellow workers. Surely, it would be possible to amend the Bill so that that is clear and so that those three categories of people were able to take their advisers and spokespersons from inside the organisation but not from outside. That could be done at Third Reading.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, I want to speak in a similar vein. Coming from a background as a Civil Service trade union general secretary, I know relatively little of the arrangements that apply to the Security Service or to the Secret Intelligence Service. As a trade union official in the Civil Service arena, I know much about the Government Communications Headquarters. A couple of years ago, when the Government were elected, I was personally involved in the return of trade union representation to GCHQ.

One of the issues that we have campaigned on is the unfair treatment of staff at GCHQ, as we saw it, with regard to industrial tribunals. I know that efforts have been made to provide alternatives, but I am not sure whether the Government are correct in regard to GCHQ. Have the Government had consultations with the PCS, the union involved in representing the staff at GCHQ, and what has been the out-turn of such negotiations? If there have not been any consultations or discussions with the PCS, why not? Perhaps they will be prepared to do so before we get to the final position on this legislation.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I sympathise with the arguments set out by the noble Lord, Lord Simon, as to why people employed in those categories need special consideration. Before accepting that the clause stand part, I want to ask the Minister whether the Government have considered whether there are any private sector employment areas where similar issues of security apply. I am thinking of data centres in private companies where sensitive information regarding people's financial, medical and legal records is kept and other such secure environments. There may be other situations to which the same considerations may apply. Does the Minister know whether they need to be accommodated in a similar way?

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this amendment. I did not know

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that this matter was to be raised. As a former member of one of the services involved, I want to express my appreciation to the Government for the fact that they have accepted and recognised that there are problems in those areas. I am not speaking of GCHQ, about which I know nothing, but I feel considerable relief and appreciation of the fact that the Government have accepted and put forward this idea.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I shall say two things to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. Clearly, there is nothing on the face of the Bill to prevent employees being accompanied by a companion of their choice from within their own employment. I made that point clear when stating the case. Indeed, it is part of existing procedures that they do so. Putting such a matter on the face of the Bill is unnecessary because the right is already covered.

Of course, GCHQ workers currently can be accompanied by a union official. If I am correct-- I believe I am--in some cases hearings have been held where employees have been accompanied by an outside trade union official. I believe that both cases put forward by colleagues from my own Benches are cases that are merely trying to put on the face of the Bill matters that are already covered by current practice: by a member of the same organisation accompanying the employee or, in the case of GCHQ, a union official.

I am not aware that consultations have taken place with PCS, but I am aware that GCHQ rules allow assistance by friend, colleague, welfare officer or Civil Service trade union official in oral representations, subject to the proviso that the adviser is a member of GCHQ. The argument will be considered, but I do not believe that adding anything to the face of the Bill will add to the extremely good procedures that I am aware that both services currently have in place.

On the question of the private sector's interest in having separate arrangements, we have consulted widely on the terms of the Bill to date. I am sure that those cases have been adequately put. Of course, where there are security issues, the nature of ACAS advice is helpful in outlining the way in which matters can be taken forward. However, I do not believe that the face of the Bill is the place for differentiating private sector experiences. For that reason, we do not intend to change the way in which the procedures are currently written.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Unfair Dismissal of Striking Workers]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 121:

Page 79, line 3, leave out ("eight") and insert ("four")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a short amendment that I hope I can explain with equal brevity.

Along with other industrial nations, we ascribe to the right to strike rather than the more civilised, less disruptive and less aggressive process of compulsory binding arbitration, a topic that I may bring to your Lordships' attention when time permits on another occasion.

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An employee exercising his rights to impose that sanction on his employer should not be subject to dismissal unless he commits some tortuous or criminal act or unless a time arises when it is reasonable for his employment to be terminated. The difference between us and the Government is how long that time should be. We believe that eight weeks is grossly excessive. Very few industrial disputes last for as long or longer than that. That period can only be regarded as a potential restriction on the rights of the employer to protect his business after a reasonable time.

The present provisions make any dismissal within the eight-week period unfair, whatever the behaviour of the union or the employee. Let us suppose that as a bargaining tactic the union declines to negotiate or merely goes through the motions of negotiating for the greater part of the eight week period; that it refuses to enter conciliation, to take the dispute to an independent arbitrator or to honour an established agreement to resolve disputes. It may do any or all of those things in order to weaken the employer and to reduce its powers to oppose a claim.

No doubt the Government have chosen this long period remembering the outcome of the dispute in which the print unions were involved with Rupert Murdoch. The purpose of this Bill, according to the Government, is to be even-handed between employer and employee, which it most certainly is not in this case. They also say it is to foster good industrial relations, which I believe the unbalanced provision in this clause most certainly will not do. On the contrary, it will only serve to encourage obstinacy and a continuance of bad relations after the dispute is resolved, as inevitably it will be.

Bearing in mind that a strike comes at the end of a period of negotiations or discussions, four weeks should be long enough to concentrate the minds of the employees and their representatives on finally reaching a settlement without inflicting further loss and damage to their employers and possibly their co-workers who may not be involved in the dispute. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this issue was discussed at some length in the House of Commons and an amendment was tabled by the noble Baroness at Committee stage, although she decided not to move it. We do indeed intend to deter employers from dismissing workers soon after industrial action has begun. Precipitate dismissals are undesirable, they often complicate industrial disputes, and they make them more difficult to resolve. Dismissal should be seen as one of the last resorts, not one of the first. That is, of course, the approach taken by the large majority of businesses. Relatively few employers ever consider sacking workers who take industrial action. Only poor employers, or those involved in prolonged and intractable disputes, seriously consider this option.

Our proposals mean that it will be automatically unfair to dismiss workers for the first eight weeks of action. We want to set a period which allows a reasonable time for the parties to resolve their dispute and therefore avoid the possibility of dismissals. In our judgment--and I admit it is a judgment--eight weeks

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gives enough time for detailed and serious discussions to take place, possibly involving third parties such as ACAS.

The noble Baroness's amendment to reduce the period to four weeks is too short a time span for sensible negotiations always to take place. Obviously, we hope that disputes can be settled within a shorter period. Most of them are. Whenever that happens the eight weeks does not apply. Indeed, our proposals actually encourage early settlements by encouraging negotiation. However, it is not our intention to put pressure on the parties to reach agreement within a period when it is just not possible to do so. Some disputes are complicated, they take time and skilful negotiation to resolve. We have therefore framed the protection to ensure that the parties have sufficient time to work through their problems.

The noble Baroness argued that this was an incentive for unions to delay real negotiations towards the end of an eight week period. I cannot accept that. When a dispute is taking place the people on strike are not getting any money, or at least they are not getting any money from the employers. There is always an incentive for unions to resolve a dispute as early as they possibly can, and for that an eight week period is reasonable. It provides enough opportunity to hold constructive negotiations and explore all avenues to resolve the dispute. I hope the noble Baroness will not press this amendment.

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