Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, we should be indebted to my noble friend Lord Allan for introducing the concept of necessity and proportionality. It is a shame because, in an ideal world, the Minister would have stood up at Second Reading and set out at the outset the necessity and proportionality of the Bill. That did not happen, with due respect to the Minister, so we are having to have that debate now in Committee.

We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, that the Government’s preference is to negotiate, rather than compel these MSLs. I believe that she is sincere when she says that, but we must look at what has been happening with the disputes. We have had several real-world examples going on around us. To take the rail dispute, for example, it is absolutely clear that the Secretary of State, operating behind the scenes, prevented decisions being made that would have shortened that dispute. Had this legislation been in existence, how would the Secretary of State’s hand have been strengthened even further? Would we be any closer to a resolution now? I suggest that we would have been a lot further away.

When it comes to the health disputes, it took months before the Government got around the table with nurses and doctors to negotiate and do what was needed to end those disputes. It is not clear to me that the idea that “We would rather negotiate” is absolutely on the table. We know very well that “We would rather stand back” has actually been the Government’s approach. We have to take the Government on the evidence that we have seen, rather than what we have heard in your Lordships’ House.

I turn to the short, but excellent and pithy, debate that we have been having. With the fear of damning the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, yet further, I say that she is completely correct to focus us on the users of the services. However, I would say that the impact of days that make up a year of service disruption through strikes, regrettable though these are, is far smaller—thank goodness—than that of the day-to-day service that people experience. Perhaps the noble Baroness could focus her not inconsiderable energies on improving the day-to-day services that her Government are delivering for consumers across this country. That is the real world that most of them experience: the everyday service, not the strike day service. So perhaps she could use her energies in that direction—I am sure that everything would get better if she did.

I will say a few words about Amendment 40 in my name and a little bit about the friction that the Bill is creating within industrial relations or, indeed, in the case of my amendment, with recruitment. It is really a probing amendment to ascertain from the Minister whether he thinks that the Bill will impact the morale of existing workers and, more specifically, the ability to recruit new people. The existence of the Bill, whether or not it is used, will have a communicating effect both on the current and future employees of these services. The Government need to take that into consideration.

In an earlier group, noble Lords talked about the chronic shortage of people in many of the sectors that we are dealing with here—health, education and others. I realise that job security is not something that many Ministers experience—although the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, is perhaps an exception to that, having been a Minister for many years—but I ask him to empathise on the subject of job security, and indeed task security. As I say, that may not be something that he has experienced widely. We have to remember that the employment market is a seller’s market; there is a shortage of people to go into these services. Therefore, it is absolutely not helpful if the Government make the prospect, or the sense, of working in these services less good and less favourable.

I am not necessarily suggesting that this legislation does that. I am asking the Government what work they have done to assess what effect this legislation would have on employee morale and future recruitment. Can the Minister set out the response and the nature of that work, statistically and qualitatively? If the work has not been done, why not?

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, I am sorry to come into the debate quite late; I had not realised we were getting so close to the end. I support Amendment 20 from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and Amendment 40 from the noble Lord, Lord Fox. I regret that I have been unable to be in my seat at earlier stages, but I am grateful that my right reverend friends the Bishops of London and St Edmundsbury and Ipswich have passed on my concerns. Amendments 20 and 40 are absolutely invaluable. If this Bill is—regrettably, in my view—to become law, it must have all necessary consultation and evidence gathering before it.

Amendment 20 would require that an assessment of health and safety performance in the affected sector is made prior to minimum service regulations, and that is critical. As other noble Lords have said, if we look at this past winter, it is valid to ask whether what might be considered a minimum service level is reached on a daily basis even when there is not a strike going on. Assessing the level of service provided in periods when the service is not affected by strike action, and requiring that to cover the most recent 12 months, creates an important benchmark.

Amendment 40 would introduce a necessary review of the impact on recruitment and retention of staff. Research by the TUC suggests that the recruitment and retention crisis is ongoing. Something like two-fifths of public servants say that the implications of this Bill have made them more likely to consider leaving their job in the next three years. We have a crisis of vacancies in many sectors. This is not going to help.

Earlier today the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, asked a pertinent Question about the performance on the west coast rail line, and I was glad to be able to ask a supplementary to that. If nothing else, that exchange should have made clear to every one of us in this House that there is no point in setting minimum service levels for strike days when current performance is so depleted. Such poor provision of services, often exacerbated by the low morale consequent upon poor or aggressive management practices, means that acceptable minimum levels of service are just not available to customers or the public even on normal working days.

There is a duty on all of us who govern our nations to go beyond the most basic economic calculations when we are legislating to do so for the common good and human flourishing—something set out in the teaching of many religious denominations. This Bill, as drafted, fails that duty.

Lord Cashman Portrait Lord Cashman (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak in favour of the amendments listed. I look to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and assure her that I will not, at this point, offer my support to her amendment; I am sure that will give her great comfort. I will not repeat the points I made at Second Reading, but I believe this Bill undermines basic democratic and fundamental rights. I believe it is dangerous. It is barely drafted and badly drafted. I thank my friend the executive dean of Leeds, Professor Johnson, for the advice he has given me on the Bill.

I equally thank the Equality and Human Rights Commission and will refer to its recommendations now. I hasten to add that the commission, in my opinion, has been much muffled and muted during the last 18 months. Let me quote:

“Having carefully considered the issues, we believe the Bill raises several human rights considerations, specifically in relation to Article 4 (Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour), Article 11 (Freedom of Assembly and Association) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that require careful scrutiny.”

I believe that these amendments provide for that.

To pick at random out of the commission’s substantial documents, paragraph 4 says:

“In the human rights memorandum that accompanied the earlier Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill”—

to which my noble friend Lord Collins referred earlier—

“now superseded by this Bill, the case for the lawfulness of similar provisions was made partly by distinguishing the Bill’s transport-focused clauses from measures affecting other sectors, including health and education. In that document, the Government recognised the importance of existing measures to mitigate the impacts of industrial action in health, education and fire and rescue services. For example, some healthcare sector trade unions already provide life and limb cover during strikes, and the Secretary of State has legal powers to give directions to fire and rescue authorities, which could be used in the event of industrial action.”

Paragraph 5 says:

“It is not clear what consideration has been given to these existing measures in the current Bill. We advise that more detail may be needed to articulate a legitimate aim for imposing Minimum Service Levels (MSLs) on each sector impacted by the Bill.”

I now turn to paragraph 11, to which I referred at Second Reading:

“Finally, we are concerned that an employee would lose automatic unfair dismissal protection not only if they fail to comply with a work notice, but also if their trade union has failed to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance: an employee will not know before participating in a strike whether that is the case or not.”

I could go on. For those reasons and many more, I urge noble Lords, if not now then when these amendments come back, to give their full support.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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He was slightly less successful than the current one.

Each amendment in this group seeks to add additional evidence-gathering or reporting requirements or scrutiny to the regulation-making powers in the Schedule to the Bill. Before addressing them, perhaps the Committee will permit me a moment to reply to the rather general points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I am afraid that I fundamentally disagree with him. Recent strike action has demonstrated the disproportionate impacts strikes can have on the public, presumably including his parishioners. They have been unable to access work and healthcare or attend education classes and are worrying whether an ambulance will be there when they need it. Businesses are also crucially affected by industrial action; 23% of them could not operate fully due to industrial action in the UK in December and 2.4 million strike days were lost between June and December. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate does not believe his parishioners need protecting from these actions, but this Government certainly do.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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I have every concern for my parishioners and the members of the various parishes, schools and chaplaincies—everyone in my diocese, whether they are Anglican or otherwise. However, I do not believe that this legislation is taking us in the right direction or that passing it will create better ambulance, train or hospital services for the people in my diocese. We may disagree, but I assure the Minister that I speak on behalf of everyone in my diocese.