Moved by
15: The Schedule, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(5) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must lay before each House of Parliament a statement outlining how the regulations are both necessary and proportionate.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to outline why regulations made under this section are necessary and proportionate before making them.
Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government have repeatedly said that we are talking about last-resort measures that they are reluctant to, and hope they will not have to, introduce. In this group, we will test the extent to which they genuinely see these as last-resort measures.

Collectively, the amendments could be described as seeking to introduce additional elements of friction, before the Government move to regulating for these minimum service levels. Friction can be a useful thing in the right places: if I wish to enter my own house, I would like that to be as frictionless as possible, but if the police would like to enter it to carry out a search, I would like there to be a reasonable level of friction, with them having to prove why they have the ability or need to do that, and to go before a court to have their need tested in front of others. So, here, we are trying to put those kinds of friction in place so that Ministers do not do what we fear: rush to regulate in the heat of action in the same way that they have rushed to bring this legislation before us in the first place.

Amendment 15 in my name uses two concepts that are familiar to those who work with human rights legislation—the notions of necessity and proportionality. I am not practised in public human rights law, so I will defer to the noble Broness, Lady Chakrabarti, who I am sure will have things to say on this group of amendments. However, I have had to make decisions on freedom of expression and surveillance questions on online platforms where these tests are useful and applied because they seek to balance different rights that we have. It has been generally accepted in our debates that we are talking about fundamental human rights here—the right of an individual to withdraw their labour. When considering whether the Government in the public interest can override that right, these necessity and proportionality tests are the right ones, just as they are in other contexts such as freedom of expression and surveillance.

I am sure that the Government in their response will refer to the human rights certification that is on the front page of every piece of legislation and say that it is an implicit commitment. Of course, no British Government could ever not apply tests of necessity and proportionality because they have signed off the legislation as compliant. However, there are significant advantages to making these tests explicit in this section of the Bill.

The amendment would force the Minister to consider the tests and to apply them explicitly before making regulations, and to publish their deliberations for scrutiny. In practice, this would mean that the Minister would have to ask the team that is putting together the case for the regulations to show its workings; this would have significant value if those workings were available to all of us. That is not least of defensive value for the Government, because at some point they will have to explain why they felt compelled to make the regulations and why they passed the threshold.

I look first at the necessity test. The Minister would need to be satisfied that all other avenues had been tried, which in this case largely means negotiated agreements to provide cover. The risk with the Bill as it stands is that Ministers will be satisfied with vague assurances. They will ask, “Did you ask for voluntary cover?” “Yes, Minister, we did.” “Did they agree?” “No, Minister, they didn’t.” “Okay, let’s move to a regulation.” The test may be no more than that and, indeed, in the letter that has just arrived from the noble Lord, Lord Markham, which we are now considering, one senses an element of that with the Government’s argument around ambulance services: “We asked; we didn’t get one and we therefore now need this piece of legislation.” That is not good enough and, if this is truly a last resort power, we want the Minister to press for all avenues to have been explored including the potential offer of carrots to the workforce for agreeing to provide minimum services, as has happened in many other countries. We debated that at length on the first day of Committee. It is not simply a question of employers ordering their workforces to provide minimum service levels; in many institutions there is a negotiated agreement whereby something is offered to the workforce in return for providing minimum service levels. What we do not want is a necessity test that bypasses and ignores that option altogether. By putting that explicitly in the Bill, the Minister would have to be satisfied that all reasonable steps had been taken and there was no other way in which to guarantee minimum service levels. That is the right necessity test when one is overriding somebody’s fundamental rights, as we have all agreed is happening in this case.

I turn now to the proportionality test. It is included to make sure the provision is done properly. There is a risk of a superficial version of this test—one which is effectively a cost-benefit analysis. We have seen this again in the context of the ambulance debate. The Government will argue that the benefits of having life-saving ambulance cover outweigh the cost of some workers not being able to strike. At that superficial level that sounds reasonable, but it is not a true proportionality test. To do that properly we need to dig into the next level, where we look at the likely actual impacts. There are two areas where the proportionality test might be more complex. First, if there is any likelihood that workers could end up being dismissed—as we have accepted is a potential outcome of this legislation—in this case the costs are dramatically different and that equation would change. Providing emergency cover versus dismissal of workers is a different test from emergency cover versus simply losing the right to strike.

Secondly, if the regulations did not result in more people showing up for work—for example, because people take other forms of industrial action, which they are entitled to do; there are all sorts for ways in which the climate could be poisoned to such an extent that one ends up with fewer people at work than one would have done absent the regulation—the benefits would not have been realised and the proportionality, the cost-benefit equation, changes. This amendment therefore proposes the kind of proportionality test that I hope the Minister would apply by rigorously looking at all the costs and benefits, and is then prepared to publish and defend that analysis rather than making simplistic assumptions. The amendment simply seeks to introduce that rigour with publication to make sure that it happens.

Other amendments in the group will add other forms of beneficial friction and I will leave it to their proponents to argue for them, but I hope that I have made a reasonable case for the Government to accept the additional clarity offered by Amendment 15. I beg to move.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I speak in support of every amendment in this group, even at the risk of offending the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. At first blush, her Amendment 17 enhances my noble friends’ amendment and does no mischief to it whatever because. by including the impact of the legislation on service users in the list of other groups of people affected, she has, perhaps inadvertently, introduced an element of proportionality into the assessment of the legislation. I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam. I perhaps would not have chosen his friction metaphor because it is the legislation itself that is introducing friction into what ought to be partnership industrial relations. This group may not be Henry VIII on stilts, but it is Henry VIII revisited. What every amendment in the group at least purports to do is to introduce an element of transparency into the process before the Secretary of State inflicts these regulations on the public or on Parliament.

I want to be clear, as I have been in the past, that the Bill is not desirable or necessary but if such minimum service level agreements were in a particular instance desirable, necessary and proportionate to comply with convention rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Allan, rightly pointed out, it would be for a number of reasons better for everyone—including Ministers—to do this by way of purpose-specific primary legislation. In a moment where it was truly necessary to impose these agreements because they could not be reasonably negotiated, it would be better for legal advocacy to do this by way of purpose-specific primary legislation. Why? Because it would be purpose-specific and because any court subsequently considering the necessity, proportionality and compliance with the law of the measure would give greater deference to the scrutiny and process undertaken in both Houses of Parliament in the context of a Bill rather than regulations.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We will be responding in due course to the report from the Delegated Powers Committee. I entirely accept that this is a wide secondary-legislation-making power for the Government, but we think that it is appropriate in these circumstances.

With that, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, I am sorry the Minister did not feel comfortable accepting the amendments in this group, but I think it has been a helpful debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, both talked about the potential for inserting friction into industrial relations. These Benches very much agree that that may be the effect of these regulations, so we think it is right to insert a certain level of friction into the legislative process to try to head off what may be a very poor outcome.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who I understand is now in Grand Committee, talked about the measures as being “not draconian”, which is an interesting framing. However, the fact is that they impact on people’s fundamental rights. Whether it impacts one person, a thousand people or a hundred thousand people, the general principle is that one should be much more careful with any legislation that affects fundamental rights. My amendment was trying to make sure that we had a framework which reflected that.

There is an old maxim that if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In this Bill, the Government are granting themselves the power to create a hammer which will be offered to employers, but employers may prefer to meet their staff with other tools, such as cash or commitments to a negotiated settlement. In this debate, concerns have come out once more about what happens when the only tool you offer employers is the hammer and the potential knock-on effects of that.

It is right that we are testing whether the Government really will use those powers only in extremis, because “can’t” is often used when “won’t” is closer to the truth, until “won’t” becomes “will” and “can’t” is miraculously turned into “can”—as we have just seen with the recent move to settle the health disputes. That is another example of the Government saying that something is impossible—like minimum service levels are impossible—and then it becomes possible. I hope the Government will strengthen the Bill before Report to make sure that “can’t” really means “can’t” when it comes to negotiated minimum service levels. With that hope, and not yet entirely jaded by experience, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.