Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 30th January 2023.
Amendment proposed: 2, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(5) Levels of service set by regulations under subsection (1) may not exceed the lowest actual level of service for the relevant service recorded on any day of the 12 months before the regulations are laid.
(6) Before making regulations under subsection (1) for the relevant service, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report showing that the condition in subsection (5) is met.”—(Christine Jardine.)
This new subsection (5) would require the Secretary of State to specify any minimum service levels made in regulations under subsection (1) of the new inserted section 234B at a level no higher than the lowest actual level of service recorded on any day in the year before the new regulations are laid. Subsection (6) requires the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament to prove that the condition in subsection (5) has been met.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 247, Noes 318.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: 4, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(5) The Secretary of State may not make any regulations under this section until after a Minister of the Crown has laid before Parliament assessments outlining the impacts of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 on—
(a) workforce numbers,
(b) Individual workers,
(d) trade unions, and
(e) equalities.”—(Angela Rayner.)
This amendment would require the Government to publish assessments of how the proposed legislation would impact on workforce numbers, individual workers, equalities, employers and trade unions before the Bill comes into operation.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 250, Noes 317.
Question accordingly negatived.
More than five hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order,
The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Amendment proposed: 1, page 6, line 29, leave out paragraphs 6 to 10.—(Angela Rayner.)
This amendment would preserve existing protections from unfair dismissal, including for an employee who participates in a strike contrary to a work notice under this Bill.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
While I am sure that the House would like me to enter back into some of the key arguments at this hour, I think I will for the purposes of brevity stick to the main principle at stake here, which is quite simply this: in many democratic countries throughout the world, and particularly among our European neighbours, we find that strikes are often banned entirely in what we would refer to as the blue light services. Yet in this country, the only blue light service to have strikes banned was the police in 1919 by a Liberal Prime Minister. I know of not a single member of the police who has ever lost their job as a result of that sensible restricted right to strike.
We are not proposing a Bill that would prevent people from being able to strike in other blue light services or in other areas. We are not doing what we have done with the police or with the Army in this country. We are not doing what they have done in other European nations or in countries across the world, including Canada, Australia and large parts of America. We are not doing any of those things because we respect the right to withdraw labour. Rather, through this legislation, which I note was receiving large majorities in the House this evening, we are simply proposing to protect people’s lives and to protect people’s livelihoods.
I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, how is it that Members in this House can look at their constituents and say to them that they should not have the right to an ambulance if they have a heart attack, a stroke or a serious illness? Why should that be left to a matter of chance, depending on their postcode as to whether those vital services turn up? Furthermore, after years of disruption through covid, why should our children have to miss school? Why should it be that people who work for themselves and rely on their own ingenuity to get their jobs and to take home money be denied over months and months the opportunity to get to work? We move this Third Reading this evening because we care about people in our workforce and their livelihoods and about our constituents and their ability to access vital services. That is why I commend this Bill to the House.
I thank all the Members who spoke so passionately for the Opposition Front-Bench amendments tonight. The Secretary of State has turned up for Third Reading and tries to provoke, but once again, as I said in the previous debate in Committee, the way in which he wants to portray our key workers, who make those concessions and who ensure life and limb cover, is disgusting and disgraceful, and he should be ashamed of himself.
We have heard time and time again that this Bill is impractical and insulting. It is a vindictive assault on the basic freedoms of British working people. It is full of holes and it has been rushed through on the hoof with no real time for scrutiny. I rarely find myself agreeing with Mr Rees-Mogg, but this Bill is incompetent. It is badly written, it uses bad parliamentary and constitutional practice, and it is wrong that the Government are trying to bypass scrutiny. The Opposition have been clear throughout that we will oppose this sacking nurses Bill. If it passes, the next Labour Government will repeal it. It threatens key workers with the sack during a workers’ shortage and crisis, and it mounts an outright assault on the fundamental freedom of working people while doing nothing to resolve the crisis at hand.
Let us look at what the Bill is really about: a Government who are playing politics with key workers’ lives because they cannot stomach negotiations; a Government who are lashing out at working people instead of dealing with 13 years of failure; and a Government and Prime Minister who are dangerously out of their depth and running scared of scrutiny. We on these Benches will vote against this shoddy, unworkable Bill. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to stand up for our key workers, stand up for the British freedom to withdraw labour, and stand up for good faith negotiation by joining us tonight and voting down the Bill.
As we have heard, the Government still have not listened, because they would not accept any amendments. The Secretary of State rehashed some of the old arguments: he said the Bill was about health and safety, but he then used the example of teachers. Teachers are not childminders—they are there to provide education —but he is using them as an excuse to allow other people to get to work. He talked about protecting ordinary workers, but what about rewarding the ordinary key workers who are providing vital services, instead of waging a culture war on them?
The Government have not listened to the fact that the ILO does not actually back their legislation. They have ignored the fact that European trade unionists have stated that the UK already has the most draconian strike legislation. They refused to acknowledge the point of my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry that the only other countries in Europe that allow Governments to stipulate minimum service levels and penalise workers by sacking them for not complying are Russia and Hungary. That is the company that the UK Government are looking to keep.
The Government try to tell us that workers such as nurses cannot get sacked, but the explanatory notes say clearly in their overview of the Bill that it will
“restrict the protection of trade unions under the 1992 Act from legal action in respect of strikes relating to certain services and the automatic protection of employees from unfair dismissal”.
That makes it clear that workers can get sacked if they do not comply with the work notices when they are told to work, even if they do not want to and they want to adhere to the strike.
The Government also have not listened to Mr Rees-Mogg, who pointed out how badly written the Bill is and the unlimited powers that it gives to the Government. I note that he is suddenly in favour of the Lords amending legislation, which is a change in tune from recent years, when he was against that. It shows how bad things are when, yet again, we are relying on the unelected Lords to amend the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am in favour of their lordships doing their proper job, which is revising legislation to make this legislation, which is very good, perfect—that is what they are there for.
The right hon. Gentleman did not say that when it came to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 during Brexit.
The Bill allows individual workers and trade unions to be targeted. It is an assault on the devolution settlement. Employment law should have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament but, as I said earlier, Labour opposed it being devolved. Even worse, the powers in the Bill allow the UK Government to amend devolved legislation, which is an assault on the devolved nations. I am disappointed that Labour did not back the SNP amendment, which would also have protected the Welsh Government. I do not know why Labour sat on its hands about that.
The Bill is an assault on devolution, an assault on workers and an assault on trade unions. That is why we oppose it and why we need independence to get away from this institution.
Briefly—I do not want to delay the House—I say to the Government that bringing forward this legislation during the current industrial relations climate demonstrates a lack of appreciation on their side for the strength of feeling of the nearly 1 million people who are taking industrial action and the millions who support them. The Bill is provocative: it will ensure that the current disputes are more bitter and last longer, and it will inspire other disputes. I hope that the other place brings forward amendments that will ameliorate it, but I warn the Government that, when the first trade unionist is sacked or fined, they will regret the reaction from the trade union movement, because it will damage our economy and our society as a result of their irresponsible and provocative actions tonight.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.