Trade Union Bill Debate

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Lord Lea of Crondall

Main Page: Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-affiliated - Life peer)
Wednesday 10th February 2016

(8 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait The Lord Speaker (Baroness D’Souza)
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My Lords, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 24 by reason of pre-emption.

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—

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Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall
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I go back to Ted Heath and 1971 and 1972, as the noble Lord does. I think it is unnecessary to use over-the-top language such as “striking against the public”. Take the present dispute of junior hospital doctors. If you meet any of them, do they think that they are striking against the public? No, of course not. There is obviously a nuance—to put it mildly—between whether you are talking about the Secretary of State being the public or somebody else being the employer, or the issue of how many hours a week are being worked or whether you work on Saturdays and so on and so forth. It is not helpful to have this characterisation. Even though the metaphor of the two sides of industry is a well-known one, it is open to interpretation.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben
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It would obviously be unsuitable for me to make any comment whatsoever about the current strike, given my relationships. Therefore, I will keep away from that. However, I will take on very clearly the point that the noble Lord has made. One cannot possibly suggest that a railway strike is effective if it does not affect the railway passengers. To say, “I am striking but I do not mean to upset the passengers” is really a metaphor without meaning. The staff are striking because they do mean to upset the passengers, because that is the only way they think they can bring their case properly to the eyes of whichever British transport company is concerned. I do not in any way want to make the noble Lord unhappy, but one of the problems is that we pretend. We should not pretend: the purpose of a strike is to cause inconvenience in order that the management of whatever it is should give way.