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Lord Campbell of Alloway: Before the noble Baroness speaks, would it be convenient if I responded briefly to the noble Lord? He has approached this matter objectively from his point of view and he speaks with a wealth of practical experience. Speaking for myself and obviously not for my party—I never have that privilege—I take on board what the noble Lord said about Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5. They are, frankly, of minimal consequence.

Amendment No. 2 is a slight worry because, first—

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: We have already dealt with Amendment No. 2.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: All right, I shall not speak to it. I thought that it was included in this group, but I can leave that matter alone. That makes it far simpler because my own request—it is a respectful request—is that the Government should consider the very important principle contained within Amendment No. 1—a principle which has arisen and to which I have already spoken. Inevitably, that amendment, even if not retabled by my party, would be retabled by me. It is a matter of fundamental principle and I ask that reconsideration be given to it.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Perhaps I may return to Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5. I listened carefully to what the Minister and, indeed, what my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said regarding Amendment No. 3, in particular. I can foresee that it might be difficult to decide what was most effective rather than ineffective, and I shall read very carefully what the noble Lord said.

With regard to Amendment No. 4, I think that the Minister said that it is already stated in the Bill in the various places that he quoted that the opinions of both the union and the employer should be given equal consideration. I shall certainly look that up carefully. If that is so—one has to go and look for it—I would say to the Minister that it does not make any difference. My amendment provides a belt and braces approach and there should be no real objection to it.

However, I have a difficulty in understanding why the Minister does not like Amendment No. 5. The White Paper, Fairness at Work, which went out for consultation, talked about the desirability of avoiding fragmented units; it did not talk about avoiding "small" fragmented units. Unless I misunderstood, the Minister said that sometimes it was important that the unit was small. The Bill talks about avoiding that kind of unit. I was simply attempting to delete the word "small" because, as I said when I moved the amendment, I thought that the size was irrelevant and the word "small" could be important. That is why I tabled an amendment to that effect.
 
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Obviously, at this stage, I shall do as the Minister said and withdraw the amendment. However, for the reasons that I have given, I should be most grateful if he would reconsider the matter, as I shall. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 6:


"19BA If more than 25 per cent of the workers in a bargaining unit determined by the CAC do not wish to be represented by the union, they shall retain the right to negotiate separately from that union.""

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 6, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7. Amendment No. 7 is a minor consequential amendment to Amendment No. 6, which necessitates the slight renumbering shown in the second amendment.

The substantive amendment is to Clause 4. It states in simple, virtually self-explanatory, terms that in a bargaining unit established by at least 40 per cent of the workers requesting union representation, if another substantial group of 25 per cent do not want to be represented by the union, or to have terms negotiated by the union imposed on them, they should have the right to negotiate on their own collective, separate behalf.

If 40 per cent of employees request union recognition, that is undoubtedly a substantial number, but if 25 per cent—a quarter of the workforce—want nothing to do with the union, that is also a substantial number. Theoretically, that 25 per cent could be another 40 per cent who wish to negotiate for themselves. They should have the right to express their own views to the employer in their own way in order to achieve their own objectives, even if they are different from those of the union. There is nothing to prevent an employer, at the end of negotiations, rejecting the deal wanted by the non-union employees on the grounds that, "If it's good enough for the majority, it certainly ought to be good enough for you".

It would be an equally valid argument if the employer insisted on the union deal on the grounds that, in words that the party opposite will undoubtedly recognise, the employer did not want the disharmony on the shop floor that would be caused by having a two-tier workforce.

The amendment, if accepted, would also have the side effect of resolving an issue of which the Minister is well aware—an issue over which his colleague in the other place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, expressed some sympathy when Clause 3 was debated in the Select Committee. I refer to the plight of the Plymouth Brethren—otherwise known as "the Brethren"—who do not want to be involved, whether as employers or employees, with any organisation outside their own sect. It is certainly not for me to comment on their beliefs, which some people might find objectionable on
 
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a variety of grounds. But they are a genuine, long-established sect and not one dreamed up for the purpose of avoiding the provisions of employment legislation. That has been their way for a number of years. Whether we agree with them or not, it might be right to countenance their somewhat isolationist views.

The amendment would have the effect of accommodating their beliefs as well as killing another bird with the same stone—that is, it would accommodate the more conventional views of a substantial part of the workforce of an enterprise who wanted to represent themselves rather than be represented by a specific union. The issue covered by the amendment is not merely one of counting heads. We are discussing not only the rights of a few dissident employees but those of a substantial minority—at least 25 per cent of the workforce. As I said previously, that would be the minimum that could be considered, but the figure could be higher.

As President Thomas Jefferson said in his first Inaugural Address more than 200 years ago,

I invite the Government, with their large parliamentary majority, to protect the minority rights of workers by accepting this simple amendment. I beg to move.

Lord McCarthy: It is becoming increasingly difficult to accept the bona fides of these amendments and increasingly difficult to take seriously the statement of the noble Baroness that she is trying to help and to clarify. It makes one ask whether the Conservative Party would, if it ever came to power, repeal this legislation if it is not able to frustrate it totally before then.

It is amazing: we are to have the 10 per cent credibility test—it is not suggested that that should be got rid of; we are to have the 50 per cent membership test; and, if you do not pass that, you can have the 50 per cent ballot test. We also have the 40 per cent turnover test and, as if there are not enough tests to get through, we now have the 25 per cent breakaway test. There could be a situation in which three-quarters, or slightly fewer, of the workers in the bargaining unit wanted the union to be recognised but it would be perfectly possible for 25 per cent to go away and form their own union.

Most employers who are serious about this matter do not want to facilitate breakaway unions. If they are to recognise a union, they want it to be the one with the majority of workers in the defined bargaining unit and they want to negotiate with them. How on earth that could ever be spelled out on a series of ballot papers, I really do not know. If amendments such as this are tabled from the opposite side of the Committee, we cannot take them at all seriously.

Lord Razzall: I rise for the first time in this Committee, having watched with some amusement over the past hour and 20 minutes the immutable forces of capitalism meet the irresistible forces of trade
 
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unionism. I have some sympathy if not with the tone of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, at least with the substance of what he said.

As we all know, the Bill is a compromise between the views of the TUC, which were put very forcefully to Her Majesty's Government, and the views of the CBI, which were put with equal force at Second Reading. If this were a football match, I suspect that the CBI would get away with, at best, a score draw and even possibly an away win. Therefore, I think that any further attempt by the Conservative Party to water down what, from my point of view, has been a very satisfactory compromise should be regretted.


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