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Baroness Miller of Hendon: First, I thank the Minister for his explanation of why the Government would wish to reject the amendments. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, I have a feeling that my noble friend said something similar in that he did not like the idea of a quota, a number, of 25 per cent. I think that the noble Baroness said that she did not understand where the 25 per cent came fromor something like that. I was trying to say that it would have to be a substantial amount. If there were a majority, the noble Baroness said that that should be it. At the moment under the Bill it is only 40 per cent of those who have voted. That is certainly not a majority, but that is how it stands at the moment.
Having said that, it is my duty to look at the Bill and if there are any items that need to be tested or spoken tothe Government have no objection to my doing thatthe Government will answer accordingly. I do not believe that it is appropriate to saythe Government certainly did not saythat one hopes that the Conservatives will not repeal legislation in the future. The Government, whether a Conservative or a Labour government, will do what they consider best at the time. That does not mean that I should feel intimidated when moving any amendment that I feel needs to be considered.
I read very carefully everything that takes place in the House of Commons, where many Bills are guillotined in such a way that whole sections of clauses are not discussed. In this House we are fortunate to have the freedom to raise any matter on behalf of the people of this country. I did not pluck these
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amendments out of the air. The subject of the amendments has been mention to me by various organisations that have asked me to air them in Committee to find out the views of the Government. I have felt it my duty to do that and that is what I am doing.
Interestingly, when the first groupings list was issued, Mr Makower had listed most of these amendments separately. For the benefit of the Committee, I grouped them so as not to waste time unnecessarily. I am sorry that I have had to take time now to explain that. On the first day in Committee it should have been clarified that I will not always be attacked when I table an amendment that I legitimately consider needs to be aired for whatever reason.
It is interesting to hear a Minister in Committee say that he hopes that an amendment will be withdrawn because, of course, an amendment has to be withdrawn if it is not agreed to. So it is with pleasure that I withdraw it, but with not so much pleasure I shall consider the matter again and consider what the Minister has said.
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak extremely briefly to Amendments Nos. 8 and 11 to the very important and significant Clause 5. The amendments relate to a different issue from the confidentiality amendments that we discussed earlier. Amendment No. 8 is a paving amendment, again qualifying the employers' duties to supply information about workers by making it subject to the workers' consent. We have already discussed that fully and I shall not take up the time of the Committee further at this stage. I have left the amendment on the record as a marker in case we have to return to the subject at a later stage.
The substantive Amendment No. 11 provides a reasonable limit to what the union may say to those whom it hopes to represent as a result of the recognition process. Of course, the union must be allowed, without censorship, to make the case to the workers, but the fact is that this material will be distributed pursuant to the proposed new paragraph 19E(1) by what is called the "appointed person". That gives the material the appearance of an officially sanctified communication and thus the appearance of veracity, no matter how contentious or how accurate it may be.
I accept that these days communications from official sources are sometimes justifiably regarded by the public with a great deal of healthy scepticism. However, such communications in the recognition
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procedure, while making the union's case as forcefully as is reasonably necessary, should indeed, and I believe must, avoid inflammatory and derogatory language.
The amendment merely requires the unions to exercise a very small degree of moderation in the language they use, and gives the appointed person the power to ensure that they do so in any communication to which he lends his authority.
I certainly cannot imagine that any responsible union would argue against the basis of this proposition, or indeed would think that it was not necessary. But on the basis of belts and braces, I think that it should stand. I beg to move.
Lord McCarthy: I hope the noble Baroness will accept that I approach her looking for peace. I wonder whether she would agree that it would have been much better if the amendment had included a similar phrase about it not being right for any distribution of an inflammatory and derogatory nature about the union from the employer. Surely the provision should cover both sides. Employers can say inflammatory and derogatory things and they should not be allowed to, should they?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am rather puzzled about this. Perhaps I may ask a question. I do not know the answer, never having appeared before the tribunal. Is not the information given to the tribunal by the employers and the union confidential? Surely, it is not distributed to the press or public; it is information put before the tribunal, which has the privilege of confidentiality. If it contains derogatory or inflammatory material, that merely cuts against those who present it. Am I wrong about that?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I cannot answer my noble friend on that point and perhaps the Minister can. But in answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, the amendment is to page 6, line 11. New paragraph 19E(1)(b) goes on to say,
It does not talk about any information supplied to the employer. That is why I put down the question on that particular point. It may very well be that one needs to consider the whole thing in its totality. I am not saying that I would not; I simply say that I put it down there because that was the particular part I was dealing with as I went through the matter.
Lord Triesman: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for giving me a brief opportunity to respond. A
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good deal of the material, certainly in respect of Amendment No. 8, covers some issues which we have discussed. I re-emphasise on the distribution of information that there would be no question of materials being distributed more widely.
Obviously, the communications that the union wishes to use to go through this process in order to advance its case is a right that is limited in nature. It is right that the union should send written communications to the relevant workers. The union will not send these communications directly; it will give them to the suitable independent person appointed by the CAC who will distribute them to the workers on the union's behalf. The employer must give the CAC the names and addresses of the relevant workers and the CAC would pass those to the suitable independent person.
There is no question of a wider circulation. No doubt union members will be in direct contact with their union because unions obviously will retain the right to deal with, speak to and advise their members. That right is not interfered with in any respect by the procedures that I have described.
The burden of the issues has probably been covered. The argument has been advancedI want to consider this very carefullythat the independent person status may change the status of communication that is received by giving it more apparent authority. I suppose that there is a balance to be struck between ensuring that flaws in direct communication, which fly wholly outside the procedure and are potentially vulnerable to all kinds of defects as a result, is a worse outcome than someone receiving something and considering that it is a rather formal communication because it has come from an independent person.
I make that point because the outcome of the whole processthe receipt of materials, the ballot if there has to be one and so onappears to be one in which people will look hard at legitimacy; they will want to feel secure that the process has been set out in the proper detail; and they will want to feel that legitimacy has been achieved because the process has been worked through thoroughly.
In that light I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that I would prefer the procedure to take place with that step in it to secure appropriate validity in everyone's mind at the end of the process, as well as being the better option in the circumstances. That is why it is constructed in this way. I thank her for giving at least preliminary notice of her intention to withdraw the amendment. While I understand the nature of our procedures, none the less that is a courtesy that I respect.
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