Debates between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 9th Mar 2023
Tue 13th Oct 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard)

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I support both the amendments. I have sat in my office all afternoon listening to this debate. At times, it was difficult to concentrate, simply because there was a degree of repetition. I do not blame noble Lords for that; I blame the Government—as usual. At least I got lots of old paperwork sorted, which was real progress for me.

Despite trade unions sounding the alarm on unsafe levels of staffing in public services such as hospitals for quite some time, the Government refuse to implement legislation ensuring safe levels of staffing on any day other than a day when workers have chosen to withhold their labour by going on strike.

These amendments lay bare the ridiculousness of the Bill. Under this legislation, the Government will force workers to go to work against their will, with the perverse outcome being that strike days could see services with a higher number of staff than on non-strike days. It sounds like slavery to me. Is it not slavery when you force people to work against their will?

The Government propose that this is done by employers writing out a list of names of workers who must turn up and work on a strike day. Unlike on a normal work rota, workers will not be allowed to call in sick, take parental leave, take bereavement leave or even be in hospital having had a major condition of some sort. This legislation drags the workers in and forces them into a temporary state of servitude. That goes against every single principle of common law, contract law and employment rights in this country.

I have a cunning plan which would save the Government on this issue; it would just need a few tweaks in the Bill. If the Government want to make it illegal to go below minimum staffing levels in hospitals and the ambulance service, why do we not do that 24/7 and 365 days a year but, instead of the unions getting fined, we fine the CEOs and Government Ministers? That way, if you want someone to be responsible for old people waiting eight hours for an ambulance, you put the legal responsibility on the people at the top, not at the bottom. This seems eminently sensible and much more practical. Let us have laws that apply to the people in charge rather than target the overstretched staff on the front line, who are struggling for better pay and conditions. The Government will not be able to deliver either my idea or the Bill as it stands. In fact, this Government is too incompetent to deliver a pizza, so why should they be able to deliver a Bill such as this one?

If the next Government have any sort of involvement with the Green Party, they should know that we have committed to repealing this legislation and all other anti-trade union legislation passed since the Thatcher Government—that will be quite an exercise. We can create safe, well-run public services by working together with workers and unions, not by using authoritarian laws to strong-arm them into the workplace no matter how badly their working conditions get. I hope that the Government see sense on this, but I can tell from the looks of noble Lords on the Front Bench that it is not going to work.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, it is quite difficult to follow that speech. I do not think that anybody would want to encourage the dissipation of the Green Party in any Government, so the noble Baroness’s ideas will not go very far.

I will not talk about the NHS, which all noble Lords have spoken about so far; I will address only Amendment 13 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, but not in the context of the NHS, to which he addressed all his remarks.

Trade Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I will take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in a moment. In the meantime, I would like to say what a pleasure it has been to work with the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie. I am delighted to support these two amendments.

I really congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. It is almost like having a third member of the Green group sometimes. I am sure that she hates that thought and that the Minister might as well. It has been quite a slog for us during this Bill. We have repetitively talked about these issues and it is getting a tad boring.

This amendment is a mechanism to maintain trade standards that are as high or higher than domestic UK standards. For the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that means that it is okay to trade with countries that have higher standards, even though they are not the same as our standards; that is the point of this part of the amendment. He asked why this is necessary. It is necessary because we simply do not trust the Government. If he can put his hand on his heart and say that he trusts the Government—go on; no?—I will be astonished. We have fantastic Ministers here—we even have a fantastic government team—but we do not trust the Government.

This amendment addresses the criticisms raised in previous iterations of the Bill, when noble Lords suggested that defining UK standards and equivalent standards would be a difficult legislative exercise. The amendment would create a specific body to undertake that exercise, and would grant it the necessary resources to do so. That might be a bit of a sticking point but, quite honestly, it is possible to move resources around, so I do not see that as an essential problem.

My colleagues, the three noble Baronesses, have covered almost every aspect on which I should have liked to speak, so all I will say is: will the Minister commit to working with us, perhaps to find a compromise amendment ahead of Report? Otherwise, there will the inevitable Division and government defeat, which will obviously be quite exciting for many of us but probably less so for the Minister and his team. So it would be wonderful if we could see a positive way forward.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, first, I want to associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lansley. I agreed with absolutely everything that he said.

It should be up to the Secretary of State to decide whether she needs any advice on standards or the criteria to be adopted. But, of course, this amendment is not about giving advice; it is about imposing criteria on the Government. Even if it does not cross the line, it is getting very close to interfering with the Government’s use of the royal prerogative in negotiating trade deals.

As noble Lords will be aware, there is already an extensive array of bodies—the Strategic Trade Advisory Group and individual trade advisory groups with extensive memberships—advising the Secretary of State. The only purpose of this amendment is to try to impose something on the Government. Yet again we hear something that we have heard before in Committee; this amendment is coming forward because “We don’t trust the Government to do the right thing”. I have to say to noble Lords that Governments do not legislate because noble Lords opposite do not trust them. Noble Lords must accept the Government’s assurances as they are given.

I will just say something on the Dimbleby report, because we have heard a lot about it both here and in relation to the Agriculture Bill. As I understand it, this is a draft report; it is not yet final. The Government have not made any response so far, and do not intend to do so until after the final version. It would be extraordinary to try to legislate in this Bill for policy that is not yet made. I accept that this is a probing amendment today, but I hope my noble friend will not press it again on Report.