Relevant documents: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 27th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee
Schedule: Minimum service levels for certain strikes
Amendment 1
Moved by
1: The Schedule, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(5) The powers conferred by this section must not be exercised unless a consultation on the potential impact of their use has been carried out, published, and reviewed by a committee of each House of Parliament whose remit includes either the wider UK workforce and industrial relations, or the sector to which the regulations in question relate.(6) Such consultations must—(a) be carried out by the Secretary of State and involve representatives of any relevant unions, employers and other interested parties,(b) include an assessment of the potential impact of the minimum service regulations on the rights of workers to strike, the effectiveness of the relevant services, and the impact on the wider public,(c) consider services in all categories listed in subsection (4), and(d) include reference to respective service levels outside of strike action.(7) The results of the consultation and the reviews by committees must be published in a report, and the Secretary of State must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require a consultation to be carried out and reviewed before the powers in section 234B can be used.
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his chair.

Amendment 1 is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. This amendment is agnostic about what is thought about the legislation’s purpose; you might support its intentions or you might reject them, and there are groups coming up after this one that will give your Lordships a chance to have that debate. This amendment revolves around what you think of Parliament and its role in making important laws that affect people in a big way. I will explain that briefly.

The central focus of the Bill is to establish legally binding minimum service levels for a range of services, some of which are delivered via the state and some of which are delivered via private companies. You will hear arguments later about how this is designed to work, but suffice to say the key element of the Bill is what constitutes a minimum service level that should be expected during a strike. The nature and quantum of this is critical to determining how many workers are effectively compelled to go to work on a strike day. The service levels are critical, and yet Parliament is effectively sidelined in the process of their development.

In the Commons, that celebrated supporter of the labour movement, Jacob Rees-Mogg, called the Bill “badly written” and an

“extreme example of bad practice”.

He criticised the lack of detail and said that it should instead

“set out clearly what it is trying to achieve”.

He added:

“This Bill is almost so skeletal that we wonder if bits of the bones were stolen away by wild animals and taken and buried somewhere”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/23; cols. 89-92.]

Your Lordships will have seen the less colourful response from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which makes a similar plea for more detail in this primary legislation.

Despite this being a Bill that deals with minimum service levels during strikes—that is what it says on the cover—there is nothing in it to say what those minimum service levels are, or indeed the nature of what a minimum service level is. That is left to the Secretary of State. The vital details will follow the enactment of the Bill, when the Secretary of State makes regulations. The DPRRC describes this as “small comfort to Parliament”. The Government say that the detail required to set the level of service for each relevant service is not appropriate for primary legislation. However, the DPRRC notes that

“the Memorandum does not explain why setting out any detail on the face of the Bill would be inappropriate. Parliament”—

as we know—

“is not allergic to matters of detail, particularly where it relates to an important matter such as the right to strike”.

Instead, the process of adding flesh to this skeleton is left to as yet unspecified regulation. The additional irritant to the scrutiny of the Bill has been the absence of a coherent or comprehensive impact assessment.

This amendment seeks to bolster Parliament’s oversight. It would require a consultation to be carried out and reviewed before the powers in new Section 234B for the Secretary of State to specify minimum service levels can be used. The amendment would insert three new conditions. First, proposed new subsection (5) would mandate proper consultation on the potential impact of the use of minimum service levels to be carried out, published and reviewed by a committee of each House of Parliament. Next, proposed new subsection (6) would ensure that the consultation includes all those involved; covers the potential impact of the minimum service regulations on the rights of workers to strike and the effectiveness of relevant services, and the impact on the wider public; and takes into consideration service levels outside of strike days. Finally, the amendment would insert new subsection (7), which would ensure that the results of the consultation and the reviews by the committees are published in a report, and that the Secretary of State lays a copy of it before Parliament. The Minister will say that extensive consultation is under way, but it is non-binding and bypasses Parliament.

In conclusion, this is a modest amendment that in no way impedes the purpose of the Bill. It is about democratic process—something your Lordships have often had to defend. Amendment 1 seeks to bring Parliament back into this process at the expense of undemocratic executive action. I beg to move.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, very briefly, I support this amendment. It seems to me that we have seen Bill after Bill in which this Government have chosen to bypass Parliament and leave too many decisions to Secretaries of State. Therefore, for me, as a former member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the most important aspect of this amendment is the requirement, following consultation, to present these matters to committees of both Houses of Parliament. I do not want to say any more; the case has been made very clearly. However, I would like it noted that I support this amendment very strongly.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I too will be brief in strongly supporting this amendment. Whatever your Lordships’ views about the state of industrial relations in this country, we should all agree, across this House, that a rushed process which puts power over making laws into the hands of Ministers without proper parliamentary scrutiny and oversight is simply not right. I appeal to all Members of the House to support Amendment 1.

As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said in the debate on his committee’s report,

“when laws are passed without proper parliamentary scrutiny, they cease to be just technical, as they threaten the rights and freedoms of the individual”.—[Official Report, 12/1/23; col. 1532.]

That is absolutely true when it comes to this Bill. There is no clear understanding of the form that minimum service levels are likely to take or of the impact on workplace relations and services to the public.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to the excellent briefing from NHS Providers, which is responsible for managing the NHS and 1.4 million staff. It says that the Bill

“risks damaging relationships in the NHS between trust leaders and their staff, and between trust leaders and local union representatives at a particularly fraught time, without addressing any of the issues underlying current strike action or providing a useful alternative approach to managing service provision during periods of strike”.

We have heard that the impact assessment from the RPC found that the Bill was red-rated. Not only did the impact assessment for the predecessor legislation make the point that it could lead to more and longer strike action but the impact assessment for this Bill, which received a red rating, said that the impact assessment
“does not consider or discuss the rationale behind workers’ decisions to strike, or consider the actions short of striking that may be taken. The IA could have considered this”.
As the noble Lord said, this amendment seeks not to prolong, delay or frustrate but to ensure that Parliament has proper oversight and that there is proper consultation with all those involved before the statutory legislation and the statutory instruments are laid. I support the amendment.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise for keeping the House waiting for the start of the debate; the previous business finished much earlier than everyone expected.

I am grateful to those who have contributed to this debate, although clearly we have repeated a lot of what was discussed in previous debates. The House will be unsurprised to hear that my position is similar to what it was in Committee. As I did then, I resist this amendment relating to consultation requirements, parliamentary scrutiny and assessment of impacts of the legislation.

As I made clear in Committee, it is my firm view that sufficient checks and balances are already built into the legislation before regulations can be made. This includes the need to carry out consultations—indeed, we are undergoing consultations at the moment on some draft regulations—which, of course, relevant parliamentary committees are able to and almost certainly will contribute to, as well as the requirement that regulations must be approved by both Houses before they can be made. Impact assessments will also be published for all subsequent regulations on minimum service levels.

Key stakeholders, including employers, employees, members of the public, trade unions and their members are all encouraged to participate in the consultations—some of which, as I said, are live even now—and have their say in the setting of the appropriate minimum service levels, and all that will happen before the minimum service levels come into effect, and only then if they have been approved by Parliament.

I am therefore of the view that this approach is both appropriate and in line with the normal way in which secondary legislation is made. As such, the Government believe that the amendment adds unnecessary duplication into the process, and therefore I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their support for this amendment. The Minister is right that much of this debate has been had before in Committee. He is also right when he describes this as the normal way. I am afraid it has become the normal way that this Government operate to shunt as much power as possible to the Secretary of State and marginalise Parliament as often and as broadly as they can. This is a highly skeletal Bill—it is almost impossible to get one that is smaller. For that reason, I would like to test the will of the House.


Division 1

Ayes: 221

Noes: 197

Amendment 2
Moved by
2: The Schedule, page 4, line 23, leave out from “to” to end of line 24 and insert—
“(a) whether the person is or is not a member of a trade union,(b) whether the person has or has not—(i) taken part in the activities of a trade union, or(ii) made use of services made available to the person by a trade union by virtue of the person’s membership of the union, or(c) whether or not—(i) a matter has been raised on the person’s behalf (with or without the person’s consent), or(ii) the person has consented to the raising of a matter on the person’s behalf,by a trade union of which the person is a member.(6A) In subsection (6) “a trade union” includes—(a) a particular trade union, and(b) a particular branch or section of a particular trade union.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for additional matters that an employer must not have regard to in deciding whether to identify a person in a work notice.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 2 in my name. The House will know that the Government were clear at the introduction of the Bill that employers must not have regard to a person’s trade union status when producing a work notice. Employers should identify the workers who are best placed and most appropriate for each role, so that that minimum service level can be achieved. In our view, a person’s trade union status has no place in this process.

I thank the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its report on the Bill and for its feedback, as well as feedback from the debates in Committee on protections from trade union discrimination in relation to work notices—including from the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, who was particularly vocal on this point. I hope the noble Lord will agree that this amendment addresses his concerns in full.

Through this amendment, employers must not have regard to whether a person has or has not taken part in trade union activities, made use of their services or had issues raised by a trade union on their behalf. Employers must also not have regard to whether a person is part of a particular trade union or a particular branch or section of a trade union. This also ensures a greater level of consistency with existing sections within the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, such as Sections 146 and 152.

As I said in Committee, the activity or services that a trade union member may have been involved in are connected to whether they are a trade union member, and therefore, even under the clause as it stood, an employer must not have regard to such matters when producing a work notice. While I still believe this to be true, I hope that the amendment provides further reassurance to the House, in addition to trade unions and workers, putting the issue of trade union discrimination in relation to work notices beyond doubt. I beg to move.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, very briefly, it is appreciated that the Minister has done this and that the Government have understood that there was ambiguity. In a sense, it is a shame that the Minister has not taken all our advice, but we thank the Government for taking this particular piece.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that we appreciate what this amendment will do.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, noble Lords have broadly welcomed this and clearly want to move on to another section, so I do not think I have any points to raise in response.

Amendment 2 agreed.
Amendment 3
Moved by
3: The Schedule, page 4, line 40, at end insert—
“234CA Work notices: further provision(1) In the event that the Secretary of State makes minimum service regulations under section 234B—(a) no obligation is imposed on any employer to give a work notice under section 234C;(b) no person may direct any employer to give a work notice under section 234C.(2) If an employer determines that they will not give a work notice under section 234C—(a) no liability whatsoever shall attach to the employer or to any other person in respect of that decision;(b) no proceedings may be brought in any court in respect of that decision.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new clause is intended to make clear that the decision to issue a work notice is entirely within the employer’s discretion. The employer is therefore under no obligation to give a work notice and, if the employer determines that they will not give a work notice, the employer is under no liability to anyone and the decision cannot be challenged in court.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I will move an amendment on a very short point and I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam. The schedule to the Bill sets out the procedure for giving a work notice and the Explanatory Notes say that it is intended to show

“how work notices are to operate”.

Subsection (7), for example, requires consultation with the unions. However, the critical point which emerged in Committee was the nature of the obligation on an employer to give a notice. Did the employer have to issue a notice? Was it entirely voluntary or was there something subtle in the middle? It all turns on the meaning of “may”—a good point for a lawyer possibly to take.

It is accepted that “may” does not mean “must”, although sometimes courts interpret “may” as meaning “must”. The question arose as to whether it meant that an employer was free to decide voluntarily what to do, given the impact it might have on his relations with the staff, or whether the position was more complex. I drafted Amendment 3 to make it clear that it was to be entirely voluntarily and sent it to His Majesty’s Government. Their response on “may” was clear. The Government’s letter said:

“The Bill does not place any direct obligation on an employer to issue a work notice. Rather, it gives employers a statutory discretion whether … to do so. This is right given that they are closer to the day-to-day operation of their services”.

It went on to explain the complexity, saying that

“where an employer is a public authority, they will need to consider their overarching public law duties. Employers will also need to consider if they have any contractual or other legal obligations that they need to comply with”.

There is no point in debating whether His Majesty’s Government are right in the interpretation of “may”; that must be for the courts to decide. But let us assume they are. There are a number of consequences. First, there is a process to be gone through by the employer—although it is not in the Bill, despite what the Explanatory Notes say. Secondly, if an employer has contractual obligations, it will have to examine what those are. If an employer is a public body, it would have to consider its public law duties, spelled out in legislation and government directions. As regards public law, it would no doubt be prudent to consult the relevant Government.

The employer would then have to weigh up the damage the notice might cause to staff relations and the provision of services in the future. There might be other considerations. It will be a difficult decision for employers in England and they might be pressurised, either by an injunction or a judicial review. We must emphasise that the courts are now likely to come into this.

In Wales and Scotland—assuming the Bill applies to them—there would be a further layer of uncertainty because they would be subject to Welsh and Scottish primary legislation and the views of their Governments. How could it be expected that public bodies in those two nations and devolved areas should be responsible for working out what their duties were?

I had hoped for one of two things: either the Government would accept my amendment—but it is plain they will not—or they would set out the considerations and put them into the statute. But they have not done that either.

I will therefore move this amendment, but I do not intend to seek the opinion of the House for two reasons. First, if His Majesty’s Government are right on the meaning of “may”, there really are contentious points of law for the courts in defining the employer’s obligations in the different contexts of hospitals, teachers and railways. This is most unfortunate. Secondly, the Bill should be clear and spell out the decision in the way the Explanatory Notes said it should be done but, as I said in Committee, this Bill is the epitome of legislation first, policy second—a total reversal of the proper policy. I beg to move.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, to which I have added my name. A benefit of the Committee stage in this House is that it allows us to identify concerns that may not have been apparent when a Bill was first introduced. It is through that process of analysing how legislation will work in practice, informed by the experiences that noble Lords bring to this place, that we can flush out those unintended consequences. On a good day, the House having flagged something that is a reasonable area of concern, the Government will provide us with clarifications that show that our fears are misplaced and that all will be well. On a really good day, a Minister will acknowledge that we have identified a genuine problem and set out a path to fix it. We have just had an example of that on the previous amendment.

I believe we have done our job and identified a real gap here between the Government’s rhetoric that employers will not be mandated to issue work notices and what may happen in practice, yet the Government have so far failed to provide either a clarification that our concerns are unfounded or an acknowledgement that we have identified a real issue that they intend to fix before the Bill becomes law. In this amendment we are presenting a way to demonstrate the kind of fix that we think is needed, not to undermine the Government’s intentions in respect of the legislation writ large, but rather to ensure that it works as they themselves have said they wish to happen.

My concern is quite specific. It is that employers will be advised that they expose themselves to significant legal risk if they do not issue work notices, even where they feel that they would be counterproductive to their efforts to negotiate with their employees. The circumstances under which they may feel this compulsion are not fantastical but all too apparent if we look at broader trends in litigation. We do not have to stretch our imagination too far to see somebody suing an NHS body that chose not to issue work orders, alleging that their treatment could have been delivered if it had; a student taking action against an educational institution on the basis that it did not order teaching staff to turn up during strike days; or businesses suffering disruption as a result of transport strikes going after train operators, claiming that more service could have been provided.

Some noble Lords may have sympathy with this approach and think, “Good; if employers feel compelled to issue work orders, the Bill is working”, but the Government have said repeatedly that the work order should be voluntary and that this is not what they intend. If they wish to make work orders compulsory, they should have the honesty to say that in the Bill. They would be de facto mandated because of the threat of litigation, and if the Government do not wish that to happen, they should agree to our amendment to make that clear to employers.

It seems far from ideal to leave this confused, with the extent of compulsion in practice decided on the basis of an assessment of the threat of legal action. I fear that the Government will argue, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, has already indicated, that this is an acceptable state of affairs and that they do not intend to change the legislation, but I hope that noble Lords will see the force of our arguments and will support Amendment 3.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, many people in this House will know that I have a firm belief that the best industrial relations are conducted by two parties that are trying to achieve objectives in common and are not clashing with each other. This amendment basically helps that to happen because it says that an employer will not be under an obligation to give a work notice if it does not want to. Surely the reason it would not want to is because it would worsen the industrial relations within the company or body concerned. That cannot possibly be a good objective to pursue.

If we are saying that the Government will interfere to make employers issue work notices where they think it would actually be deleterious to their industrial relations, I think we have got it wrong—it is as simple as that. I hope the Government can think again, because the areas in which we force employers to issue work notices are those in which industrial relations will deteriorate, not improve, but they will also deteriorate between the Government and the employers. Employers seem a bit bereft of representation at the moment, admittedly, but when they get their act together again and have a group to represent them, they will not wish to be conflicting with the Government in such a way that the Government, against their wishes, order them how to organise their business. One assumes that if they do not wish to issue a work notice, that is because it would have an adverse effect on their business.
I ask the Minister to think very carefully about the long-term consequences of this way of approaching industrial relations. It is not sound.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for his constructive engagement on this matter. He wrote to us about it and has had a reply, so he knows the Government’s position. We believe that the current drafting of the legislation strikes the right balance so that, while employers have the statutory discretion to issue a work notice, they also have to consider any other existing legal duties that they may have—for instance, contractual, tort or public law duties. My concern is that the amendment would enable employers to act without due consideration to such duties, as it effectively seeks to remove any legal consequences for not issuing a work notice.

The decision to issue a work notice should be objective but, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Allan, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, have said, the amendment would then enable subjective, and potentially political, factors to influence that decision.

It would be likely—and I suspect this is the intention of the movers—to lead to many fewer work notices being given where they were needed, leading to minimum service levels not being met in more cases, but the reason for this legislation is that the Government do not believe that is in the best interests of service users or the public. I therefore maintain the position that I took in Committee and resist the amendment on that basis. I hope the noble and learned Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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It is disappointing that the Government will not put in the Bill what the position is. The word “may” is too ambiguous. I am afraid we may be back to the kind of thing that happened 50 years ago, as we are seeing a large number of disputes go to a successor—the ordinary courts, this time—to the National Industrial Relations Court, and that was not a happy outcome for anyone. But the Government have taken their stand. I do not wish to press this to a Division and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4
Moved by
4: The Schedule, page 4, line 40, at end insert—
“234CA Protection of employees (1) A person is not subject to a work notice if the person in question has not received a copy of the work notice.(2) It is for the employer to prove that an individual received a work notice.(3) Failure to comply with a work notice is not to—(a) be regarded as a breach of the contract of employment of any person identified in the work notice, or(b) constitute lawful grounds for dismissal or any other detriment.(4) Having regard to subsection (3), failure to comply with a work notice is deemed to be—(a) a trade union activity undertaken at an appropriate time for the purposes of sections 146 (detriment on grounds related to union membership or activities) and 152 (dismissal of employee on grounds related to union membership or activities), and(b) participation in industrial action for the purposes of sections 238 (dismissals in connection with other industrial action) and 238A (participation in official industrial action).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would prevent failure to comply with a work notice from being regarded as a breach of contract or constituting lawful grounds for dismissal or any other detriment.
Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to the amendment in my name and the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Fox. This amendment would ensure that an individual employee named in a work notice cannot be sacked or sanctioned if they do not comply. In short, it would avoid the risk of a shameful and ultimately self-defeating spectacle of nurses and other key workers, whom not so long ago we all clapped, being sacked.

Employees are currently protected against unfair dismissal for the first 12 weeks of a lawful strike. In Committee, there were strong concerns around the Committee that this Bill, as currently drafted, unilaterally removes that protection from individual key workers named in a work notice who do not comply, and that this is not compatible with the UK’s obligations on human and labour rights. No other European country with minimum service levels gives employers the power to take away the livelihoods of workers in these circumstances —not one. This would make Britain an outlier in Europe and would constitute a gross infringement of an employee’s individual freedom.

The scope of the sectors covered by the Bill so far means that an estimated 6 million workers could see their employment contracts unilaterally changed in this fundamental way—and all by secondary legislation. Most of these workers are women. In sectors such as health and transport, as we have heard, they are disproportionately black and ethnic minorities. It would not matter that there has been a democratic vote, or that a union has successfully overcome the many draconian obstacles to mounting a lawful strike.

Every worker is vulnerable, because individual workers who have lawfully voted for strike action would be entered into a P45 lottery. If they are unlucky enough to be individually named on a work notice and disobey for reasons of sincerely held belief, they could be lawfully and instantly sacked. This Bill does not even require an employer to prove that they ensured that the worker concerned received a copy of the work notice. Instead, employers are given the power to effectively requisition individuals under threat of losing their livelihood. Most right-minded people find that disproportionate, dictatorial and fundamentally unfair.

Not so long ago, the Government agreed. When the railways minimum service levels Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech in 2019, the Government promised that sanctions would not be directed at individual workers. This amendment seeks to redress the balance and address that injustice. It would ensure that the freedoms and livelihoods of individual workers are protected. It would prevent the creation of a P45 lottery. It would reassure many unions and employers, including NHS employers, which say that the threat to sack strikers, even before this Bill is enacted, is poisoning industrial relations and making difficult situations much worse.

After all, dismissing key workers would do absolutely nothing to tackle the blight of public service staff shortages and backlogs on the country. Since the Minister confirmed that employees named on work notices who call in sick on the day cannot be sacked, it would avoid the potential chaos of making emergency cover much more difficult to plan and deliver. At Second Reading, the Minister stated unequivocally that

“This legislation is not about sacking workers”.—[Official Report, 21/2/23; col. 1563.]

This amendment would ensure that the Minister’s commitment is met.

Lord Bishop of Guildford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Guildford
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My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 4, to which my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has signed her name. Bishop Sarah sends her apologies that she cannot be here, but we both strongly support the amendment, not least given reports that many important voices across the healthcare world, including the Royal College of Nursing and NHS Providers, are similarly supportive.

The basic principles and urgency of the Bill are understandable, given the events of the past months. At the same time, those events themselves reflect the very low levels of morale and trust across many of our essential services, and an overly robust approach at this point would only exacerbate the situation further— in effect, pouring fuel on the fire. The idea that the failure to comply with a work notice should be regarded as a breach of contract or grounds for dismissal, thereby removing existing protections for the employee under the 1992 Act, would seem to reflect that overly robust approach. Were this amendment to be passed, the relevant trade union would still hold some liability, ensuring that this would still remain a useful and functioning Bill.

My friend the right reverend Prelate is understandably concerned about this from a healthcare angle, particularly given her former role as the youngest ever Chief Nursing Officer. From that perspective, passing the Bill without this amendment would seriously damage the co-operation and good will required for successful local negotiations in the somewhat febrile atmosphere in which we find ourselves. NHS Providers points out that, were individuals to go on strike contrary to a work notice and then be fired, unions could, and most likely would, take other action, either through work to rule or calling in sick en masse. Both would undermine the Bill’s primary and laudable purpose to provide safe levels of care. So, if that purpose is at the heart of the Bill, supporting this amendment seems to me to be essential.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 4, and I also support Amendment 5.

Amendment 4 covers the issue of protecting workers from being forced to cross their own picket lines under threat of the sack; it is a fundamental issue which strikes at the heart of trade unionism. The Bill, as it stands, gives bad bosses the power to target and victimise trade union activists by issuing work notices. Although I accept that minor concessions have been made, there are still no sanctions on bosses behaving badly, and we know, unfortunately, that some will do so, given the opportunity. The only way to protect workers fully is to make it absolutely clear that, if a striking worker refuses to cross a picket line during lawful industrial action, they will not lose their legal protections and will not be subject to dismissal. That is why the amendment is so important. Nobody should be forced to make the agonising choice between betraying their trade union principles of solidarity and standing together as workers and potentially losing their job.

Let us dispel the myth that this proposed law follows only what most of Europe already does—what absolute nonsense. This week, over 120 elected politicians from around the world, including from France, Germany, Italy and Spain, have called on our Government to abandon the Bill, pointing out that

“The UK already has some of the most draconian restrictions on trade unions anywhere in the democratic world … Despite this, the UK Government is set on further rolling back worker protections and freedoms”.

On Amendment 5, just as trade union members must be protected from being forced to act against their own interests during a legally organised dispute, so must the trade unions themselves.

This proposed law would, without a doubt, poison industrial relations and victimise workers and their unions. That is why I urge all noble Lords to support both amendments, and particularly Amendment 4.

Lord Sentamu Portrait Lord Sentamu (CB)
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My Lords, why did trade unions come about? Because there were bosses who would pick off one person after another to undermine the workforce. This amendment says that it is worth protecting this principle. We will bring back chaos if the Bill allows an employer to say to an individual who has not been given a notice that they have breached their contract. Of course, collective bargaining, at the heart of it, means that the whole body tries to agree—and that is why the noble Lord said that the best resolution comes from people being together at a table and talking, and not from having this kind of legislation.

I support this and the following amendment for the simple reason that every worker has a right to a fair wage for a fair day’s work, and every worker has a right to withdraw their labour if they think matters are unfair. You cannot bring in legislation which simply gets people back to work because conversation or discussion has not happened.

We should think of why the trade unions were born, and not go back on that—noble Lords should support the amendment. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, did not press his amendment to a Division; I would have supported it, simply because it would have given clarity. The law at the moment is unclear—and we are going to be in trouble at some future time because he was too gentlemanly to press it.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I support Amendments 4 and 5. The issue Amendment 4 addresses is a bit odd, as it creates a situation of servitude for key workers. That slightly puzzles me, because I am sure that the Minister clapped for nurses and the NHS during the lockdown and supported them then—so why not now? Perhaps he can explain that to me. It looks to me as if the Tories are taking a bad situation of their own creation and making it worse. This amendment is extremely important. I hope that the Minister, when he clapped for those nurses, realised just how important they were.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, this amendment really shows what a ludicrous Bill this is. The clause that we are dealing with is unworkable. As noble Lords know, I have to declare an interest as an executive honorary president of the British Airline Pilots’ Association. I have talked in this House before about the fact that this Bill allows the Minister for Transport, our good and noble friend Lady Vere, to identify a pilot and order him, a week before the plane takes off, to fly to Washington. That is ludicrous. If you live in the real world of aviation, you will know that a plane is not cleared for take-off until the pilot certifies that it should take off, something like two hours before it leaves. You have to consider weather and whether the level of staffing is correct—and then the pilot is the captain of the plane, responsible for ensuring that the alcohol levels of the staff are not breached. Unless you let people make a decision, you are just running yourself into trouble.

Aviation is about 70% unionised. Is the employer going to identify some people who are not in the union and tell them to go to work, rather than people who are in the union? You have the same group of people, and some of them are in and some are out. How are you going to decide that, and how will you decide matters such as illness? What happens if someone rings up and says, “I think I’ve got Covid”? Are you going to be able to withdraw their protection from unfair dismissal? Of course not.

This clause, above everything else, demonstrates the weakness and stupidity of the Bill. The idea of naming people in a work notice could come only from the desk of someone who has never had to do it, frankly.

I want to look at Amendment 5. The reason put forward in a note to me for the proposal in the Bill was that the minimum service levels would be far less likely to be achieved as trade unions may attempt to persuade workers not to comply with work notices. That is fairyland. Trade unions spend more of their time and money on our friend the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and his colleagues in the law than is probably sensible. At every stage, they look at the law and say, “We must not break it”.

In my experience, the executive of a trade union, and particularly the local branches, will spend more time persuading the hotheads not to do stupid things than they will encouraging them to do so. It is, for instance, a regular occurrence that a number of British Airways staff believe that they can take actions that are clearly in contravention of the law. It is the job of the executive to say to them, “You will damage the union”; it is not the job of the executive—it never has been—to say, “Behind the scenes, do you think you could do this?” That is not the way that trade unionism works.

I say that as someone who has been involved in trade unionism, for my sins, for over 60 years. It is 60 years since I first became a branch official. Throughout a lifetime of serving in different trade union branches, executives, and now as president of a TUC union, I have always been impressed with how the workers we represented wanted to get it right. They have often had very good reasons for feeling annoyed with the employers, but the job of the union, as a structure, has been to canalise the dispute in such a way that it is within the law and is a compliant dispute that attempts to achieve the objectives that the workforce is looking for. One reason we have trade unions in this country is to provide a bit of balance.

The Bill is not even sensible. It will not work. I hope that, when it goes down the corridor, our new Prime Minister will look at it and say, “For God’s sake, let’s just bury it”. There are far more important challenges facing Britain today than passing an unworkable Bill to annoy one section of the population—not to mention the 1.5 million trade unionists who voted for the Conservative Party at the last election. They will probably vote for it again because they do not vote according to their union; they vote according to their class interests. Most of my union members vote for the Conservative Party.

Let us be aware that this is not a matter where a Conservative Government have to stand up to the unions—they are standing up to their own supporters. Ordinary members of trade unions have worked hard to help the country become the prosperous country that it is. This sort of legislation is just the sort of damn nonsense that people look at and say, “My God, they just do not understand, do they?” They do not say that the Government are trying to do something. The general reaction to this Bill, I am afraid, among my trade union friends is that the Government do not understand what they are doing. I urge the Minister to send it back down the corridor and ask them to bury it in a nice big box somewhere.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thought that I had better interject and speak to Amendment 5 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

I reiterate what my noble friend Lord Woodley said. The Minister has said on every occasion that we have considered the Bill that this is not about banning the right to strike, which is a fundamental right. I have no doubt that the Minister will repeat that when he responds to this debate. We face in this country some of the most onerous processes and procedures in order for people to exercise that right through their trade union. The statutory ballot requirements are pretty rigorous and, as the noble Lord has said previously, they can be challenged in court. Unions are very concerned to make sure that they do not breach the law, that they act within the law and that strikes are lawfully conducted.

Here we have a situation where a clause in this Bill could place trade unions in a position where they would be asked to ensure that the members who vote for industrial action—who go through that rigorous process—do not take part in that action. That is not the responsibility of a trade union. A union could face an injunction or be forced to pay damages if it is deemed not to have taken “reasonable steps”.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, talked about the definition of “may”. Well, what is the definition of “reasonable steps”? What situation are we putting trade unions in with this vague requirement that could result in them facing legal action? If a union is deemed not to have followed the legislation, the strike could be regarded as unlawful and the protection for striking workers, such as automatic unfair dismissal protection, could be removed from all striking members, including those not named in the work notices. So, employees will not know before participating in the strike action whether they have protection, and unions do not know what amounts to “reasonable steps”, as no detail has been provided in the Bill. I think that is an unacceptable situation. We should not be passing laws that put individuals and trade unions in that position.

Of course, this is not simply my view. The Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded:

“We find it hard to see how it is compliant with Article 11 ECHR to expose any participant in industrial action to the risk of dismissal simply because a trade union fails to take unspecified ‘reasonable steps’ required in respect of those subject to a work notice. In our view, the Government has not provided sufficient justification for this consequence or explained why the minimum service scheme could not be effective without it”.

I think those are the words—I do not need to say any more. I hope the House will support Amendment 5.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly to both these amendments, which have my name. There might be an argument that the ends justify the means, but this does not deliver the ends. This false promise does not work. The means we are discussing here will poison industrial relations. The means we are discussing here will make recruitment into public services much harder, because working conditions will be made worse. The means we are talking about here will also remove predictability when we have a workplace dispute, because, as has been noted, people will go off sick and refuse to do overtime, and that will make the job of managing through a strike much harder.

The last group talked about protecting employers from this unwanted Bill. This group talks about protecting workers and unions from this unwanted Bill, and I ask your Lordships to support both these amendments.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 4 and 5. I will be brief and speak only about Amendment 5. The purpose of the proposed new Section 234E is objectionable, for all the reasons my noble friend Lord Collins has spelled out: the ethical objection to requiring a union to undermine its own otherwise lawful strike. There is a more fundamental point here; this is an elephant trap. The purpose of this provision is to enable employers to get injunctions to prevent unions conducting a strike that has been balloted.

I am reminded that, 44 years ago, I stood at the Bar of this House as junior counsel in a case called Express Newspapers Ltd v McShane and Ashton. Since then, I must have done dozens of strike cases. I know what my learned friends will say, representing employers in the sort of case where this issue arises; they will say that the union has failed to take reasonable steps. The union will produce a witness statement setting out all the steps it has taken, and the employers will say, “Ah, but there’s one step you didn’t take”, and they will say what it was.

This Bill does not say what the reasonable steps are or what factors are to be taken into consideration. That is in contrast, for example, to Section 238A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992; in dealing with dismissals during a strike, it set outs the words “reasonable steps” and says expressly what factors a court is to take into account in determining whether reasonable steps have been taken or not.

This section, as drafted, gives no indication whatever. For example, does it extend to specific encouragement given by the union to particular people named in the work notice? In a big strike such as the teachers’ strike, the union may have been notified of tens of thousands of members on a daily basis who are required to provide minimum service. Does it require the union to threaten to discipline its own members for refusing to comply with a work notice or to expel members who refuse to comply with one? All these matters are to be left to courts to determine and to unions to fight.
If the union is found not to have taken a reasonable step, as my noble friend Lord Collins spelled out, the consequences are that the strike will be unlawful and anybody participating in it will have no protection at all against unfair dismissal. The union will be exposed to a claim for damages; if it does not comply with the injunction or payment of damages, it will be at risk of proceedings for contempt of court. New Section 234E is wholly objectionable and I hope that all Members of the House will join me in opposing it.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Before I address the terms of the amendments, I will first address the frankly ridiculous exaggerations from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, that the UK is some kind of international parasite or outlier in considering this legislation—

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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They said “pariah”.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My apologies—I thank the noble Baroness. I meant “pariah”. In terms of being an international outlier, many other countries have minimum service levels. I will give the House some examples. In the USA, ambulance workers are in most circumstances prohibited from taking any action; it is the same in Australia; in Canada, there is variation by province; Spain and France have statutory minimum service levels in ambulance services; Belgium has statutory MSLs. All these requirements are laid down in law.

In the USA, Australia and Canada, for fire services action is prohibited completely by law. Nobody in the UK is suggesting that we go that far. I accept that noble Lords opposite will not mind the example of the USA, but, last time I looked, Australia and Canada both had centre-left Governments. Yet they ban strike action completely in fire services. So the UK is not an international outlier in considering these MSLs. Spain, France and Belgium have statutory MSLs in fire services. I have no idea who is in government in Belgium at the moment—there is normally some sort of 20-party coalition—but nevertheless these are not hard-right Governments with complete freedom of action against workers. It is not unusual in international terms to consider MSLs.

Lord Reid of Cardowan Portrait Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for answering an allegation that was not made by my noble friend. His point was that we were an outlier or pariah not because we had minimum service levels but because we were the only country with minimum service levels that was applying the sorts of terms and conditions that are objected to in the proposed amendments. That is quite a different thing from the argument about minimum service levels.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I do not think it is a different thing at all. If action is prohibited completely, as it is in the three countries I mentioned—let us take, for example, fire services—there is no provision for workers to take any strike action at all. If they do so, they are in breach of their contracts—presumably they can be dismissed, in those countries. I think the comparison is completely valid.

I turn to the amendments. To achieve a minimum service level, employers, employees and trade unions all have a part to play, in our view, and the Bill makes it clear what those respective roles are. The amendments in this group would remove key parts of the legislation, which we believe are necessary to make it effective, and I suspect that is the aim of those who tabled them. As such, I take the same position as I did in Committee and resist these amendments.

Amendment 4 seeks to remove the consequences for an employee who participates in strike action while being identified in a work notice. The approach taken is both fair and proportionate. It enables employers to manage instances of non-compliance with a work notice in exactly the same way that they would manage any other unauthorised absence. I repeat the point for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Collins: this is not about sacking workers, nurses or anyone else. An employee loses their automatic protection from unfair dismissal for industrial action if they participated in a strike contrary to a work notice, as indeed they would lose their unfair dismissal rights if they participated in any other form of strike action that was not in accordance with the law, just as failing to attend work without a valid reason does not necessarily mean that they will be dismissed. It simply enables employers to pursue disciplinary action if they believe it is appropriate, but it is ultimately at their discretion whether or not to do so.

Amendment 4 also provides that individuals identified in a work notice are not subject to the work notice unless they have been given a copy of it, and the employer must prove that the individual has received it. However, under the current drafting, employees lose their automatic unfair dismissal protection for going on strike in contravention of a work notice only if the employer notifies them that they are required to work under a work notice and of the work that they must carry out. I believe that this additional requirement is both unnecessary and duplicative; it could also be inappropriate as workers could be given a work notice which identifies thousands of other workers.

Amendment 5 seeks to ensure that unions have no responsibility for ensuring that their members do not participate in strike action and attend work instead if they have been named on a work notice. It also ensures that there are no consequences for failing to meet that responsibility. I suspect this is an attempt to disrupt the balance between the ability to strike and the rights and freedoms of others to go about their lawful business, which is ultimately at the heart of the Bill.

If employees are not incentivised to attend work on a strike day when they have been identified on work notice, or if a trade union has no responsibility to ensure that its members comply, the effectiveness of this legislation will be severely undermined. I suspect noble Lords opposite know that their amendments will do exactly that, and I am sure it is therefore no surprise to them that I cannot support them on this occasion. Given the direct disruption that these amendments will have on the ability of the public to go about their normal, lawful business, I ask noble Lords—without too much optimism—to feel free to not press their amendments.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that response, but Amendment 4 is about the individual freedoms, dignity and livelihoods of workers. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.


Division 2

Ayes: 232

Noes: 201

Amendment 5
Moved by
5: The Schedule, page 5, leave out lines 9 to 22
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove the section that removes protection from Unions.
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister suggested that Amendment 5 undermines the Bill. Actually, the provisions that this amendment addresses undermine the democratic role of trade unions, which is why we have tabled it. This is not about minimum service levels; as we have said previously, these are properly and better addressed voluntarily. If this provision remains, it will simply undermine the role of trade unions. It has to go, and therefore I wish to test the opinion of the House.


Division 3

Ayes: 220

Noes: 196

Clause 3: Power to make consequential provision
Amendment 6
Moved by
6: Clause 3, page 2, line 9, leave out from “Act” to end of line 11 and insert “of Parliament.
(6) This section does not apply to—(a) an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru, or(b) an Act of the Scottish Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that the power of United Kingdom Ministers to amend primary legislation does not apply to Acts of the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I shall speak to both Amendment 6 and Amendment 7— Amendment 7 being the more important. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for supporting these amendments. I have tabled these amendments because this Bill, in its application to Scotland and Wales, is impractical, undemocratic and will make the services there worse. Let me briefly explain each of those points.

First, on impracticality, the main services—that is health, education and ambulance services—are all devolved. It simply is not practical for the Secretary of State for Health or the Secretary of State for Education, as advised by their departments in England, to deal with the position in Wales and Scotland. They do not deal at all with health and education in Wales or Scotland. They are run differently, on a basis of very different legislation to that in England. Let me explain why by reference to Wales.

As to health, under Welsh legislation it is the Welsh Ministers who give direction to the employers—the local health boards and trusts—about their functions. It is Welsh Ministers who have a role in setting pay and conditions in accordance with Welsh regulations and directions and the priorities of the Welsh Ministers.

As to ambulance services, these are run in Wales under the direction of a joint committee of health board chief executives, which has commissioned the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust to run the services for the whole of Wales. Those same health board chief executives are appointed by Welsh Ministers, who are of course accountable to the Senedd. How can an English Minister set minimum service levels for Wales and interfere in this structure when the Minister and the department have no basis whatsoever for doing so, no interest in the policy, no interest in the priorities and do not really understand either the demographics or geography of Wales.

As to education, in Wales it is the local authorities that, with the governors, employ the staff. There are substantial differences in structure: there are no academies in Wales; funding, unlike in England, is not hypothecated; and minimum qualifications for teachers are different. Pay and conditions are set by the Welsh Government for the needs of the curriculum in Wales which, quite apart from bilingualism, is different to that in England. How can a Minister who knows all about education in England, yet has not been able to work out a policy for minimum service levels, set minimum service levels for education in Wales, about which the Minister knows absolutely nothing?

Overall, the position of the employers who have to decide whether to give a work notice in Wales and Scotland will be different to that in England. I have already set out the difficulties in dealing with Amendment 3. They will have to take into account different public law duties under different legislation, and the views of the Governments of Wales and Scotland, who have the power to give directions. Again, one can see a wonderful field day for lawyers.

Secondly, in my view, it is wholly wrong and contrary to basic democratic and constitutional principles for this to apply in Wales and Scotland. The responsibility for dealing with these services is not that of the UK Government but the Welsh and Scottish Governments under the legislation applicable in those nations. The Governments there were elected to run these services and are wholly responsible and accountable to the electorate for them. The English Government—the UK Government—are not accountable. It is therefore wrong in principle to undermine that accountability and democratic choice.

This is underlined by the refusal yesterday of the Senedd to give legislative consent. His Majesty’s Government will argue that the refusal is irrelevant, as it is not a matter for the Senedd or the Scottish Parliament because the Bill concerns a reserved matter, industrial relations. With the utmost respect to government lawyers, that is nonsense: the Bill is not about industrial relations but about devolved services. As has been explained, there is a fundamental failure to understand what the Bill is about. Secondly, the Senedd is the body democratically accountable for services, not the UK Government. Therefore, unless amended, this will be another piece of legislation where the Sewel convention is ignored. I have spoken of this before, but it is now being ignored at the heart of devolution, in services that have been run in Wales and Scotland for a very long time.

Thirdly, it will make matters worse for the people of Wales and Scotland by undermining the ability of the Welsh and Scottish Governments to manage their own relations with their staff and employees. The management of those relationships is different from, and has generally been more successful than, that of the Government responsible for England. Applying the Bill to Wales and Scotland is effectively taking away power from those who have responsibility for the management of the relationship, for the negotiations and for the setting of pay and conditions. It will undermine their ability to do this successfully. It is simply an arrogation of powers in matters over which the Government in England have no responsibility. Power without responsibility is a recipe for disaster for the people of Wales and Scotland, for which the Government, in respect of these services, have no responsibility at all.

In summary, the UK Government, which are under the law responsible only for health, ambulances and education in England, should not be interfering in areas for which they have no responsibility in Scotland and Wales. It is impractical, wrong in principle and makes no sense. The real problem is that this is yet another attempt to undermine devolution and give strength to those who wish to see the union weakened.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has spoken very powerfully and comprehensively on this, and I am delighted to offer my support on both these amendments, which reflect how badly written this Bill is. It reflects a Government in a temper tantrum in the face of a period of determined and effective trade union action. I can hear government Ministers stamping their feet in a fit of rage and the result is this badly drafted Bill.

The report of the Select Committee on the Constitution condemns the Bill for being “skeletal” and declares that the concept of minimum services levels is insufficiently specified. This problem is particularly acute in relation to the devolved Administrations, because it is surely up to them to decide what minimum service levels should apply in their own countries in their own circumstances.

I will give two very concrete examples. First, in relation to health services, ambulance response times might quite reasonably be very differently specified in Wales and Scotland because in the Highlands of Scotland and rural mid-Wales the distances travelled are massive. Secondly, if you look at Welsh-medium education, dare I say it, it is unlikely that a UK Minister would even understand the minimum service levels they would have to specify. It is totally inappropriate that it should be in their hands.

At the heart of these amendments is the fact that most of the services specified are, of course, devolved and have a close impact on devolved services at the very least. Education, health, fire and rescue and most transport services are in the hands of the devolved Administrations, which are democratically accountable for the running of those services, yet the UK Government want to intervene in that relationship. That intervention will inevitably sour employer-employee relationships and inevitably mean worse services for the people of the countries concerned.

It will create a seriously muddy situation. Minimum service levels should be down to the democratically responsible Governments concerned, and in these services that is the devolved Governments. The muddy waters will be even more troubled by the information referred to earlier in Amendment 3 from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that in practice employers will have to issue work notices in order to avoid being sued.

So, we have employers in devolved Administrations working to the devolved Governments which are going to have to act in response to UK Government actions. This is not practical, so for all these reasons I believe the Government need to draw a halt to their many steady and determined attempts to undermine devolution, and this Bill needs to apply only to England.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
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My Lords, I support both these amendments, speaking, if I may, from a Scottish point of view. I endorse entirely what has been said by my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

I would like to come back to the point about legislative consent, because I very much regret the fact that the Government have not sought that from the devolved legislatures. It is pretty obvious that it would have been withheld, but the fact that they never did that itself tells one a great deal about the Government’s attitude to devolution.

The fact is that almost all the services that we are concerned with—health, education and so on—are devolved. It follows that industrial relations in relation to these services are in the devolved area. We see this in Scotland day after day. Discussions about pay and conditions for nurses, junior doctors, ambulance workers and so on are dealt with in Scotland by the Scottish Government because they are dealing with devolved areas. Therefore, industrial relations in relation to these services really are within the devolved area and should have nothing to do with Ministers in Whitehall. There is a basic misconception about the approach the Government have taken in the Bill in relation to these devolved areas. Without elaborating on the other points that have been made, it is because of that very basic misconception that has misguided the Government from the start that I support these two amendments.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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I am glad of the opportunity to support these amendments and to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for introducing them and noble Lords for the supporting arguments that have been put forward so far.

Wales has a long and honourable tradition of trade unionism. It has been constitutional trade unionism. There has been an interesting situation over the past 20 years where mainly Labour-led Governments have had to negotiate with trade unions in Wales. Of course, there have been differences of opinion, and give and take, but generally the attitude and the atmosphere have been positive. The last thing we want is to see legislation from Westminster or anywhere else cutting across that and becoming an excuse for things that then go wrong. We want the responsibility for these matters to lie with our Senedd in Cardiff and no doubt likewise in Edinburgh. For that reason, I very much hope these amendments will be passed.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, I point out that Scotland and Wales have separate trade union organisations. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, would like to tell us of some of the divisions, difficulties and challenges that she faced within the TUC in getting a common position. One should not underestimate the fact that both these countries have a separate tradition and, importantly, a separate structure. So if orders are going to be given and trade unions are going to be disciplined, they are going to have to be disciplined in more than one jurisdiction. I would be very interested to hear from the noble Baroness the difficulties that she sees in trying to make this work, when quite rightly the trade union movements in Scotland and Wales have separate structures, often separate policies, which may be congruent but are separate, and separate ways of existing and negotiating.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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Speaking as a Scotsman and a unionist, I strongly support the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. It seems to me that if one is to maintain the union, it is important to maintain the devolution settlement. This Bill undermines the devolution settlement.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to make a few brief points. Of course, the noble and learned Lord is absolutely right that defining and managing service levels is a devolved matter. It is how you manage and define them. So when it comes to defining minimum service levels, who has responsibility? It is not the Government. It is actually going to be the responsibility of the devolved institutions and devolved Governments. Let me say this: this is not about devolving employment rights. Employment rights are in a single market and they are clearly defined. This is about service levels. We had debates in Committee about how to define service levels on non-strike days. The devolved Governments are going to be responsible for that, and that is the democratic accountability. That is why it is really important that we support these amendments.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, Amendments 6 and 7 relate, as has been said, to the devolved Governments. Amendment 6 seeks to remove the power for the Secretary of State to make consequential amendments to primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd Cymru. This amendment was previously tabled in Committee, and no one will be surprised to know that the Government’s position remains unchanged.

As I have previously stated, the powers in Clause 3 can be exercised only to make amendments that are necessary to give effect to the Bill; they are therefore truly consequential. Employment rights and duties and industrial relations are reserved in respect of Scotland and Wales. It is therefore right that the Secretary of State has the power to make consequential amendments to primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru, if required, to ensure that the new legal framework operates in a coherent way across the whole of Great Britain. As always, the Government will engage with the devolved Governments as appropriate should consequential amendments be required to Acts of the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd Cymru.

Amendment 7, meanwhile, seeks to limit the territorial application of this Act to England. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, tabled a similar amendment in Committee, and the Government continue to resist this change for the same reasons that I set out then.

As has been said numerous times in this debate, once regulations for minimum service levels are in force for a specified service, if a trade union gives notice of strike action, it is then the employer’s decision whether to issue a work notice ahead of the strike, specifying the workforce required to achieve the minimum service level for that strike period. If the employer is the Scottish Government or the Welsh Senedd, it is their decision whether or not they use this legislation. Of course, we hope that all employers will want to do so where needed —as was said in relation to the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, employers must consider any contractual, public law or other legal duties that they have—but the Bill does not contain a statutory requirement to do so. No one is forcing them to use this legislation.

We will, as we have done throughout this legislation, continue to engage with the devolved Governments as part of the development of minimum service levels in those areas and the consultations that would be required that are informing these decisions. The Government have a duty to protect the lives and livelihoods of citizens across Great Britain. The disproportionate impacts that strikes can have on the public are no less severe in Scotland or Wales, and the people there have every right to expect the Government to act to ensure that they can continue to access vital public services, which they pay for, during strike action.

I hope—again, perhaps without too much optimism—that noble Lords will therefore feel able not to press their amendments.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I considered whether to press both amendments to a Division, but it seems to me that the critical one is Amendment 7. If the Act is not applicable to England, Amendment 6 is, in effect, consequential and falls away. I therefore intend to withdraw Amendment 6 but will ask to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 7.

There are two fundamental reasons for that. First, it is essential that we do not undermine devolution. The devolution Acts give the responsibility for services to the devolved Governments. If the devolved Governments fail to deliver those services, they can be booted out at the next election. That is democracy, which I had hoped this Government believed in.

Secondly, the argument that the Minister has put forward—that the Governments in Wales and Scotland are the employers and can themselves determine whether the notices should or should not be given—is misconceived. As I sought to say, they are not the employers. The employers are the trusts and the local authorities. Probably wrongly, I did not press Amendment 5, but the Government now have to bear the consequence.

If they had agreed to my amendment, the point the Minister made might be a good one—but they did not. The consequence is that it is not up to the Governments of Scotland and Wales. They will have interests and points to make, just as no doubt the UK Government will have to the English authorities. But, ultimately, it will be for the employers. Therefore, this is an outright interference in the running of services in Wales and Scotland. They are at the heart of devolution. This, if anything, proves that what this Government want to do is undermine devolution and thus weaken the union. I will therefore press Amendment 7 in due course, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Clause 4: Extent
Amendment 7
Moved by
7: Clause 4, page 2, line 13, at end insert “but applies only to England”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would limit the application of this Act to England.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 7.


Division 4

Ayes: 213

Noes: 184