All 1 Debates between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Oates

Wed 10th Feb 2016

Trade Union Bill

Debate between Baroness D'Souza and Lord Oates
Wednesday 10th February 2016

(8 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab)
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My Lords, perhaps I may add one point to the excellent summary given by my noble friend Lord Collins. I would like to make an analogy with the other big thing that is happening in our lives at the moment—the EU referendum. You have to think about what you want to get out of a negotiation and consider whether it is conducive to getting an acceptable outcome if you spell out every possible thing that you might want. It seems to me that there is a risk in the clause that the Government want to include because the unions would be almost obliged to put everything and the kitchen sink in the list of demands. This could be counterproductive and make it much more difficult for unions and employers to resolve disputes. Why? Because they might find it difficult to convince members that they should accept a settlement that does not deal with all the issues listed in the ballot paper. In some disputes, it will be difficult for the union to predict how employers will respond and how they will wish to negotiate the settlement.

It would be wise, therefore, for the Minister, in her response, perhaps to acknowledge some degree of validity in the idea that it is not always a good thing to put too much information in the question of dispute.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to speak specifically on the measures proposed in Clause 4 and the related amendments. Clause 4(1)(2B) states:

“The voting paper must include a reasonably detailed indication of the matter or matters in issue in the trade dispute to which the proposed industrial action relates”.

One might be tempted to ask what on earth that means. Evidence given to the Bill Committee in another place from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and others was critical of these measures on the grounds that they will be counterproductive and likely to cause worse industrial relations. Lawyers for both the trade union side and employers were worried about the litigation that would ensue.

What this wording means, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, set out, is that unions will seek to draw the nature of the dispute as widely as possible on the ballot paper to protect themselves from later legal challenge. By putting “the kitchen sink” on the ballot paper, they will, in the first place, probably confuse the membership more, which is the opposite of what this clause purports to—

Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker
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My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, but could the noble Lord clarify which amendment he is speaking to?

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates
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I am speaking to Amendment 23, which was moved to Clause 4.

The most likely thing is that the clause will have the opposite effect to what is proposed by the Government as their motivation—although, I must say, some of us rather doubt their motivation at this stage. It would be much harder, as has been pointed out, for trade unions to settle disputes once they have put all these issues on the ballot paper because their members may, understandably, object to having voted in favour of action and the dispute being settled before all the issues on that ballot paper are achieved.

The Minister will know that BIS’s Code of Practice: Industrial Action Ballots and Notice to Employers states:

“The relevant required question …. should be simply expressed”.

It goes on to say that nothing which appears on the voting paper should be presented in such a way as to encourage a voter to answer one way rather than another. So I have some questions for the Minister. How does she see the requirement to be “reasonably detailed” fitting in with the requirement that any question is “simply expressed”? Does she not think it likely that a reasonably detailed explanation is more likely to be open to interpretation as encouraging a voter to vote one way or another? Given the Government’s concern that people taking part in a ballot should not be misled as to what they are voting for, does she perhaps see opportunities to extend this principle? Does she think it would be better if the general election ballot had provided a reasonable description of what the Conservative Party had in store for voters? Does she think that voters in the general election could have been told that the first actions of the Conservative Government, on winning an overall majority, would be to take thousands of pounds off millions of hard-pressed working people? That certainly came as a surprise to millions of those voters after the election. Of course she does not. I hear someone referring to the manifesto. The Minister will know that there is already provision for Members to be given information about the nature of a ballot. Again, the BIS code of practice states that unions should give information to their members, including the background to the ballot, the issues to which the dispute relates, and the nature and timing of industrial action that the union proposes to organise. Does the Minister not think that the trade unionists are capable of reading this information and deciding how to vote?