Debates between Lord Prentis of Leeds and Lord Hendy during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 9th Mar 2023

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Debate between Lord Prentis of Leeds and Lord Hendy
Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, I have the honour to serve on your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. As noble Lords will know, in our 27th report we dealt with this particular Bill.

There is an issue which arises in relation to these two amendments. I would like to read to your Lordships just three paragraphs from our report. Paragraph 17 says that

“the Government are ‘of the view that the detail required to set the level of service for each relevant service is not appropriate for primary legislation’. But the Memorandum does not explain why setting out any detail on the face of the Bill would be inappropriate. Parliament is not allergic to matters of detail, particularly where it relates to an important matter such as the right to strike.”

Paragraph 19 says:

“The Government have chosen to put no detail in the Bill in relation to minimum service levels, leaving the matter entirely to regulations. Important matters of detail should be included on the face of the Bill, perhaps with a power to supplement those matters in regulations.”

At paragraph 23, in conclusion on this aspect—there are other aspects to be dealt with—we say:

“Given the absence of an exhaustive or non-exhaustive list in the Bill of the matters that can be included in regulations, the unconvincing reasons for this power in the Memorandum, and the absence of indicative draft regulations illustrating how the power might be exercised, the House may wish to press the Minister to provide an explanation of how the power to set minimum service levels in new section 234B(1) of the 1992 Act is likely to be exercised. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation, we regard the power as inappropriate.”

I looked at the consultation paper that emerged in relation to health services, which has already been remarked upon. It is confined simply to the ambulance service. I looked to see what the criteria for setting minimum service levels might be. I can see that, right at the end, there is half a page suggesting to consultees that they might wish to specify category 1 and/or category 2, and that in respect of one service they might be favourable to a percentage of the ambulance service being carried out. But there is nothing, as far as I can see—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—to indicate what the metrics are. What are the factors to be taken into account in setting minimum service levels?

This is not just for the ambulance service. As has already been remarked, in Amendment 4, my noble friends set out a whole list of potential categories of worker in the health service—and very diverse it is too. What is it that the Government have got in mind to formulate the way in which the minimum service levels will be articulated in respect of each of these trades, professions and subcategories of worker? That is my question to the noble Lord.

Lord Prentis of Leeds Portrait Lord Prentis of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, I support Amendments 3 and 4 in the names of my noble friends Lord Collins and Lady O’Grady. Noble Lords will know that I have already expressed my opposition to the Bill and, in particular, my opposition to skeleton legislation such as this, which gives Ministers unfettered powers to amend, repeal or revoke, calling into question parliamentary scrutiny, which matters.

Amendments 3 and 4 relate to health and would remove health services from the Bill. Quite simply, this Bill has the potential to wreck the partnership working that has been the bedrock of industrial relations in our NHS over 70 years. The workforce is 75% women, as we have heard, and 29% ethnic minority. In relation to health, the Bill is rushed. It is deficient to its core. It weakens protections against unfair dismissal. It flies in the face of ILO labour standards, and it could violate the Human Rights Act. Much of the Government’s argument rests on the ambulance service, which has just been mentioned.

In November, the Government praised the NHS, stating that important factors exist to mitigate the impact of industrial action in that sector. It was put forward as a really good way of working when it comes to industrial action. But by January, the same Government said that ambulance workers had refused to provide a national safety net. What an about-face in only six weeks. Why did it happen? What had been discovered that was not there before? Nothing could be further from the truth. Unions and staff representatives reach direct agreement with their employers. They do it before any action is taken, not on the day. It includes call volumes, rapid mechanisms to bring staff in if needed and constant contact with management. They reflect local circumstances. I do not know how many people have seen the folders of procedures—I would love to give a copy to the Minister—but they are not just two or three pieces of paper; they are whole folders of procedures. The Minister said that a number of ambulance trusts stated that they were not getting agreements to enable them to be satisfied. Where are those trusts? We asked employers which trusts are not happy, and said that we would talk to them, and we were told in no uncertain terms that they did not know where the information had come from.

Looking at, say, the ambulance service, and at whether it needs this additional restriction on taking industrial action, I am not too certain why this should be the case. The Government criticised ambulance workers for guaranteeing only category 1 999 calls. This is misleading. Calls in category 2 are answered if the call has been put through by a clinician, and usually only half of category 2 calls are an emergency. The Government have run two successful pilots where category 2 calls have been directed to alternative services rather than being dealt with by the 999 system. So why does this Bill call for 100% answering of 999 calls—the so-called minimum standard—when in 2022 the figure answered on a normal day was 77% and in 2017 was only 76%?