That is precisely what is wrong with this Bill and its imposition—I use that term because the noble Lord will no doubt repeat comments he has made before, and the noble Baroness the Minister has also said, “It is up to companies: there is no statutory obligation”. But he who pays the piper calls the tune. I am sure we will see Governments use these powers, whether through funding or other forms of coercion. No one will be fooled. I think it is dangerous for the Government; my advice to them is to stay out of industrial relations—it will only end in tears.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his helpful advice. I will be sure to pass it on to the Prime Minister.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Ted Heath would have done.

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.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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They will also get to vote in democratic elections and make their feelings clear. By the very nature of the legislation, if a strike is taking place with no minimum services, given that this Bill imposes minimum services, his parishioners will get a better level of service once it goes through. However, we should have debated these points at Second Reading. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate could not be present then.

Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Allan, seeks to require the Secretary of State to lay a Statement before each House outlining how the regulations that set minimum service levels and specify the relevant services are both necessary and proportionate. As my noble friend Lady Noakes, who has had to go to the Financial Services and Markets Bill in Grand Committee, pointed out, this amendment adds unnecessary duplication. Sufficient checks and balances before the regulations can be made are already built into the legislation. This includes the need to carry out consultations and the requirement that regulations must be approved by both Houses before they can be made.

Key stakeholders, including employers, employees, members of the public—perhaps even churches—trade unions and their members are all encouraged to participate in the consultations and have their say in the setting of these minimum service levels before they come into effect. Parliament, including Select Committees, as they already have done, will have an opportunity to contribute to the consultation. Following the consultation, the Government will consider all representations and publish a response setting out the factors taken into account in determining the minimum service level to be specified in those regulations.

Subsequent regulations on MSL will be accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum which will outline the legal effect of the regulations, to address the complaints of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and its rationale and why they are necessary. Impact assessments will also be published alongside the regulations, which will then be subject to the affirmative procedure. We think this approach is appropriate; it is a common way for secondary legislation to be made.

Amendment 36, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, also requires the relevant Commons Select Committee to publish a report on how the Act will impact that sector before regulations are made. This will delay the implementation of minimum service levels—I suspect that is its intent—and extend the disproportionate impact that strikes can have on the public.

Amendment 36A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, would require the Government to lay draft regulations before each House of Parliament at least 28 days before the regulations are intended to be made, with an Explanatory Memorandum setting out factors taken into account in determining the MSL. These additional steps are, in our view, unnecessary and duplicative for the reasons that I have set out. The Government resist Amendments 16, 17, 20, 36 and 36A.

Amendments 38 and 39, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, would place limitations on the consultation provision, which the Government again resist. In the Government’s view, Amendment 39, as drafted, would not have the effect that noble Lords perhaps intended. In reality, it would require consultations to be published within a six-week window after the Act is passed, meaning that, by their very nature, future consultations after this period would then not be possible. Amendment 38 would prevent consultations taking place at all after the Bill has achieved Royal Assent. Both amendments would remove the ability to specify minimum service levels on an ongoing basis and, in our view, unduly limit our ability to respond appropriately as circumstances change—again, I suspect that this is the purpose of those who tabled the amendments. Key stakeholders are all encouraged to participate in the consultations to help shape the way MSLs operate. As I have made clear in previous responses, the Government have already published consultations on implementing minimum service levels in ambulance, fire and rescue, and rail services.

Amendment 40, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, would require the Secretary of State to lay a copy of a report in both Houses of Parliament, no later than six months after the Act is passed, setting out the findings of a review into the impact of the Act in regard to six key sectors. The noble Lord will be unsurprised to hear that I resist this amendment on the grounds that all the potential impacts of minimum service levels, including those on staffing, etc cetera, and the other factors the noble Lord mentions, will be considered as part of the process of making detailed regulations for those specified services. As I have set out on numerous occasions, these regulations will be accompanied by detailed impact assessments. We have also committed to conducting the usual review of the full impact of the Act within five years of the first secondary legislation coming into force. We believe that is a much more appropriate timescale to review the impacts.

I apologise to the Committee if I have spoken at length but there were a lot of amendments in this group. I hope I have been able to provide at least some reassurance on the consultation processes that we intend to undergo prior to making regulations, as is required by the Bill.

I was going to say that I hope noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments, but I see that some noble Lords are seeking to intervene.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I want to ask a question of the Minister, just to be clear in my own mind. The trade unions say that the Government do not need these powers to enforce minimum service level agreements because they are reasonable and negotiate voluntarily and will continue to do so—they say it is not necessary to legislate. The Government disagree with that and legislate. Then, when some of us say that there needs to be a transparent process and proper consultation because this is such grave legislation for trade union rights, the Minister responds by saying, “No, no—we do it anyway, so we don’t need to put that on the face of the Bill”. Is there not a contradiction at the heart of this argument? The Government will legislate only one way: for powers for the Secretary of State but never for scrutiny of the Secretary of State. How is that consistent with what the Government say to unions, who are saying do not legislate for this because reasonable agreements will be negotiated in any event?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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On a number of occasions, including the first day of Committee, I have made it clear that if voluntary arrangements are in place, which there are in some services, that is our preferred approach. However, it is the case in certain ambulance services that those voluntary arrangements were not agreed until literally the night before the strike action was due to take place, and indeed some trade unions then changed their minds about voluntary arrangements. We therefore think it is appropriate to have the back-up power. If they can be agreed, that is our preferred approach. The approach outlined by the noble Baroness is the normal process of consultation. If Parliament chooses to give the Government these powers—we will see the outcome of the debates in both Houses—then we will consider whether it is appropriate to make these regulations or not, given the circumstances in each case. Those regulations will then be further approved by Parliament.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I have two points. In answering the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the Minister used the ambulance service as an example of the Government having to use the power. I understood that it was the employer that used the power, and in the case of ambulance workers the Government are not the employer. Can the Minister perhaps square that language?

In a rather less difficult answer, in dismissing one of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the Minister said that the process of publishing information at parliamentary level would take too much time. It is on the record that a recent former Transport Secretary of State said that the Bill will not solve the current problems. What is the Government’s time target for this, given we know that the Minister thinks one of the amendments would take too much time? What is sufficient time? When do the Government expect the Bill to be in place, all other things being equal, and what is the hurry?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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On the noble Lord’s first question, as he well knows, it is the Government’s job—or duty, if we get the legislation through—to make the regulations, and then it will be at the discretion of employers whether they use the powers that are given to issue work notices. We have debated this many times.

With regard to the timetable, these things are beyond my authority level. It depends how quickly the Bill goes through Parliament, how many amendments there are, how long ping-pong takes, and the scheduling of the legislation by the usual channels. I hope we will get the legislation through as quickly as possible. Of course, I hope that we never need to use it, as I have said before, but we think it is appropriate that the power should be there as a backstop.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sorry to trouble the noble Lord a moment further, but could I invite him to express a view on the report of the Delegated Powers Committee? It points out that there is no detail in the Bill and criticises it for that. Does the noble Lord accept that criticism?

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.