Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, the House will forgive me for intervening. Could the noble Lord deal with a serious problem relating to the procedure of the court? Is he prepared to consider that evidence should be given on oath? Is he prepared to consider that there should be cross-examination? Is he also prepared to consider whether the discovery rules as to procedure should include branch discovery of records, which I am told do not?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, it is probably as well if I try to address that immediately. It is a complex issue and I should be prepared to discuss it in much more detail in Committee.

29 Apr 2004 : Column 931

On the application to undertakings employing fewer than 50 employees, we are wary of imposing additional regulatory burdens on small firms unless there is an absolutely clear need to do so. The directive acknowledges this by giving the option of applying only to undertakings with more than 50 employees. In practice, the vast majority of UK employees—about three quarters of them—will gain new rights under the information and consultation legislation. But we will be considering good practice guidance on employee dialogue in small firms not covered by the legislation.

We do not intend to change the status of abstentions in recognition ballots. However, the Government are keen to ensure that as many workers as possible vote. It is obviously good for democracy and for the standing of the ballot result. Indeed, the introduction of postal votes, for example, in relation to industrial action ballots was designed entirely to accomplish that objective—at least that was the argument put for it by the Conservative government at the time—hence, the need to introduce the provision in Clause 7 to give workers a chance to vote by post in workplace ballots.

The significance of the changes in the wording of paragraphs 35 and 44, which are referred to in Clause 10, was discussed in the review of the Employment Relations Act. The review found that there was some confusion in the meaning of the paragraphs, which would be resolved by this kind of wording.

In all these cases, we are seeing sensible resolutions to outstanding issues. Having raised those matters, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is entitled to a serious answer to them. If I have missed any of her other points, I shall be happy to write to her in due course.

My noble friend Lady Turner raised several very important questions—echoed, I believe, by my noble friend Lord McCarthy—about the complexity of the procedures. I am sure that that matter will be discussed in greater detail, and therefore I would say only that the complexity is, without question, a reflection of the fact that ambiguities have been thought to exist in the processes as they stand. A great deal has been spent on legal advice in order to try to find a solid route through some of these matters, and one often ends up with as many pieces of advice as the number of lawyers to whom one turns. Even if the procedures are lengthy, the intention must be to ensure the greatest possible transparency for everyone.

To my answer to my noble friend Lady Turner, I would add that the use of a qualified independent person in ballots and suitable independent persons for the purpose of union communications is to give greater confidence to everyone involved that the matters have all been handled fairly and efficiently and so that every party can have confidence in the results.

Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I do not intend today to go over the arguments and evidence on the 21-worker threshold or the 40 per cent ballot threshold. Much evidence relates to these areas, and I have no doubt that the matter will be discussed in Grand Committee. However, the evidence suggests

29 Apr 2004 : Column 932

that those are not insuperable barriers in any respect and, in fact, they place upon everyone the need to work harder to produce sensible results.

The core bargaining agenda is important. What we have—I shall not disguise it—is the basis of an agreement between the TUC and the CBI about the core topics. There is no question that other matters may well be discussed by additional routes, but they will not themselves represent the greatest level of consensus that was achieved in those discussions, which I believe were hugely valuable. I make the same point to my noble friends Lord McCarthy and Lady Turner. Again, there is a great deal of evidence in relation to the whole issue of the eight-week rule in industrial action, and I believe that that is probably best handled in Grand Committee. In short, there is at least a degree of consensus on all those matters, even if the TUC and the CBI would like us to go further.

In going through many of those issues and in considering some of the others, in the brief time available I want to touch on just one other matter that was raised—that is, the question of the JCHR report. The Government have prepared a detailed response to the concerns, which is available in the Library of the House. The memorandum explains why we consider the Bill's provisions on Wilson and Palmer to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and the implementation of the European Court's judgment in that case. However, I say openly that we shall look forward to discussing that matter in detail in Grand Committee.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, perhaps I may get one matter clear. Is my noble friend telling me that he has written something new which we have not seen and that it is now in the Library?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am saying exactly that. It is very recent and very new. Even yesterday, I myself was not aware of its contents but I am today.

Things are, in a general sense, working well. We were asked why we should change that position. As my noble friend Lord McCarthy said in making his point about incremental change, it makes the law more explicit and more effective.

In summing up, perhaps I may say that it is a privilege and a pleasure to be involved in this Bill. I look forward to the continuing and detailed discussions that we shall no doubt have in Grand Committee, where I am sure we shall receive the benefit of everyone's close and expert scrutiny. I completely agree with the point that any rhetoric of confrontation will not help that process. The measures contained in the Bill will take us further down the road of partnership and high-performance workplaces and will help to maintain the impressive climate of employment relations that we enjoy today, which are so fundamental to the well-being of our economy. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.

29 Apr 2004 : Column 933

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Agreement on Enlargement of the European Economic Area) Order 2004

2.15 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26 April be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am pleased to move the Motion for this order on enlargement of the European economic area. As the House is aware, the Government have put tremendous effort into ensuring that our friends in central Europe, Cyprus and Malta are able to join the European Union this Saturday. This order is a formal step towards delivering that enlargement.

I apologise for the short notice in bringing the order before the House. EEA enlargement is due to take place with EU enlargement on Saturday, 1 May. However, unfortunately the Foreign and Commonwealth Office failed to take into account the Easter Recess when calculating the 21 sitting days required between the order being laid in the House and the subsequent debate. The command paper was laid in the House on 15 April, but we should like to secure ratification as soon as possible in order to co-ordinate with EEA enlargement. Approval of the order today would allow it to be considered by the Privy Council on 6 May. If the Privy Council approves the order, the UK will be able to ratify in the week of EEA and EU enlargement. Therefore, I apologise to your Lordships. It was, indeed, a slip-up, but I hope that it will not impede our progress.

The European Commission had prepared provisional administrative measures for the eventuality that not all member states would be able to ratify EEA enlargement in time for 1 May itself. I believe that the UK can be proud of the major part that it has played in ensuring that the conditions are right for EU enlargement to take place. We shall continue to promote and support reform in the accession states, helping those countries to fulfil their potential.

The subject of the order—the agreement signed in Luxembourg on 14 October 2003—together with four protocols, which are not the subject of the order, allow the participation of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic in the European economic area. The EEA allows our friends in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein to participate in the internal EU market, bringing benefits to them and to us in terms of trade and the free movement of people. An effective internal market is crucial to the success of the EU. We must ensure that the market embraces the accession states as soon as they join so that they will be able to trade as liberally as we, or any other EU member states, already do with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

Through the EEA enlargement agreement, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein will make valuable financial contributions to economic and social reform in the accession states over the next five years. Under the terms of the agreement and four associated protocols, Iceland,

29 Apr 2004 : Column 934

Norway and Liechtenstein will contribute 415 million over a five-year period to help to alleviate social and economic difficulties in the accession states. Moreover, Norway will contribute an additional 393 million to help to facilitate the integration of the accession states into the internal market.

I believe that this is a positive measure for the United Kingdom, ensuring effective free trade between European partners. I am sure the House will agree that it is a welcome agreement that supplements part of the EU enlargement process, ensuring that the full benefits are available to all. I hope that we shall be able to approve the order today. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26 April be approved [16th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page