Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:51 pm on 30th January 2023.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause 2 stand part.
Amendment 80, in clause 3, page 1, line 14, after “may”, insert “not”.
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that any consequential provision is made only by an Act of Parliament.
Amendment 84, page 1, line 15, at end insert—
“(1A) No such regulations shall be made without the prior agreement of the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress.”
This amendment, together with Amendment 83, is intended to partially fulfil the conditions required by ILO Convention 87 by providing that minimum service levels are reached by negotiation.
Amendment 100, page 1, line 16, leave out subsections (2) and (3).
This amendment would remove the Secretary State’s powers to amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation, through regulations.
Amendment 27, page 1, line 16, after “may” insert “not”.
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that any amendment, repeal or revocation of primary legislation is made only by an Act of Parliament.
Amendment 101, page 1, line 18, leave out from “Act” to end of line 19.
This amendment would remove the Secretary of State’s powers to bring in regulations to amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation, later in the same session of Parliament as this Act.
Amendment 22, page 1, line 19, at end insert—
“(2A) No provision whatsoever having effect in Northern Ireland may be made under or by virtue of this Act unless and until the Northern Ireland Assembly has approved a joint decision by the First Minister and deputy First Minister that such provision should be made.”
This amendment is intended to ensure that the Bill will not be extended to cover Northern Ireland without appropriate devolved consent.
Amendment 102, page 2, line 5, leave out from “section” to end of line 7 and insert—
“must be made under the affirmative resolution procedure”.
This amendment would ensure that any regulations made under clause 3, must be made under the affirmative resolution procedure.
Amendment 28, page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) In this section “primary legislation” means an Act of Parliament.
(6) For the avoidance of doubt, this section shall not apply to—
(a) an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru, or
(b) an Act of the Scottish Parliament.”
The purpose of this amendment is to provide that, if Clause 3(2) is retained, the power of United Kingdom Ministers to amend primary legislation should not apply to Acts of the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd Cymru.
Amendment 97, page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5A) For the avoidance of doubt, this section shall not apply to—
(i) an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru, or
(ii) an Act of the Scottish Parliament.”
The purpose of this amendment is to preclude the power of United Kingdom Ministers in clause 3(2) to amend primary legislation and extends that power to Acts of the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd Cymru.
Amendment 81, page 2, line 8, leave out from “means” to end of line 11 and insert “an Act of Parliament.”
This amendment would remove Acts of the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru from the power to amend or repeal primary legislation by regulations made by statutory instrument.
Amendment 76, page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (b).
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from being able to make consequential amendments to an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru.
Clause 3 stand part.
Amendment 98, in clause 4, page 2, line 13, leave out from “England” to end of line 13 and insert—
(2) This Act does not apply to disputes which take place in—
(a) Scotland or Wales; or
(b) the United Kingdom if any of the workers who are parties to the dispute are employed by an employer to work in Scotland or Wales, as the case may be.
(3) For the avoidance of doubt, this Act shall apply only to disputes where all the workers who are parties to the dispute are employed by an employer to work in England.”
The purpose of this amendment is to exclude the application of the Act to Scotland and Wales.
Amendment 77, page 2, line 13, leave out “and Wales”.
The purpose of this amendment is to exclude the application of the Act to Wales.
Amendment 30, page 2, line 13, leave out “and Scotland”.
This amendment is intended to prevent the Bill applying to Scotland. See also Amendments 36, 37 and 38.
Amendment 107, page 2, line 13, leave out “and Wales and Scotland.”
This amendment would confine the extent of the Act to England.
Clause 4 stand part.
Amendment 31, in clause 5, page 2, line 15, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (2),”.
See explanatory statement for Amendment 32.
Amendment 67, page 2, line 15, leave out from “force” to end of line 15 and insert—
“in accordance with this section.
(1) Sections 4 to 6 of this Act come into force on the day on which this Act is passed.
(2) The remaining provisions of this Act come into force on a date specified by the Secretary of State, which may not be before one month after the day on which the Joint Committee on Human Rights, following the taking of written and oral evidence, has published a report as to whether in its opinion the Act’s provisions are compatible with the right to freedom of assembly and association under Article 11 nof the European Convention, as well as the right to strike as recognised in other international instruments that the United Kingdom has ratified.”
This amendment requires the publication of a report from Joint Committee on Human Rights before the Act can come into operation.
Amendment 20, page 2, line 15, leave out “on the day on which this Act is passed” and insert—
“in accordance with section [Compliance condition for commencement]”.
Amendment 32, page 2, line 15, at end insert—
“(2) But no regulations may be made under this Act or the Schedule to this Act before the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament statements of consent to the Act from—
(a) the Scottish Parliament,
(b) Senedd Cymru, and
(c) the Greater London Assembly.”
The intention of this Amendment is to prevent the Act coming into operation until after consent to the Act has been obtained from the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and the Greater London Assembly.
Clause 5 stand part.
Clause 6 stand part.
New clause 1—Compliance condition for commencement—
“(1) This section and sections 4 to 6 come into force on the day this Act is passed.
(2) The remainder of the Act comes into force on a day to be specified in regulations by the Secretary of State which may not be earlier than the day after the High Court has issued a certificate under this section.
(3) The Secretary of State may apply to a Judge of the High Court of Justice for a certificate that the law in this Act is compliant with—
(a) the obligations set out in Convention 87 of the International Labour Organisation;
(b) the obligations set out in the European Social Charter of 1961 which have been ratified by the United Kingdom;
(c) the obligations of the United Kingdom set out in Article 387 sub-paragraphs (2) and (4) of the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement 2021; and
(d) the obligations of the United Kingdom set out in Article 399 sub-paragraphs (2) and (5) of the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement 2021.
(4) On an application made by the Secretary of State for the certificate in subsection (3) above, after hearing the Secretary of State, the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry and such other organisations or individuals whose applications the Judge may consider should be heard, the Judge shall grant the certificate only if the court is satisfied that the law of the United Kingdom is compliant with the obligations set out in paragraph (3).”
This new clause would prevent the Act from coming into operation until a court had certified that the Act complied with the UK‘s relevant international obligations.
New clause 2—Extent (No. 2)—
“(1) This Act extends and applies to England only.
(2) This Act does not apply to disputes which take place in—
(a) Scotland or Wales; or
(b) anywhere in Great Britain, if any of the workers who are parties to the dispute are employed by an employer to work in Scotland or Wales, as the case may be.
(3) For the avoidance of doubt, this Act shall apply only to disputes where all the workers who are parties to the dispute are employed by an employer to work in England.”
The purpose of this new clause is to exclude the application of the Act to Scotland and Wales.
New clause 3—Impact assessment: duties to work with trade unions in Wales—
“The Secretary of State must, within one month of the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament an assessment of the effect of this Act on industrial relations in Wales, with particular reference to the intended outcomes of the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill currently before Senedd Cymru.”
This new clause would require the Government to publish an assessment of the impact of this Act on social partnership.
New clause 4—Requirement for consent from devolved institutions—
“No regulations may be made under any provision of the 1992 Act inserted by this Act before the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament statements of consent to this Act from—
(a) the Scottish Parliament,
(b) Senedd Cymru,
(c) the Greater London Assembly, and
(d) Combined Authorities in England that have responsibility for delivering services that fall within any of the categories set out in s234B(4) of the 1992 Act.”
Amendment 36, in the schedule, page 3, line 7, after “services” insert “in England and Wales”.
This amendment is intended to prevent the Bill applying to Scotland.
Amendment 37, page 3, line 8, after “levels” insert “in England and Wales”.
This amendment is intended to prevent the Bill applying to Scotland.
Amendment 38, page 3, line 11, after “levels” insert “in England and Wales”.
This amendment is intended to prevent the Bill applying to Scotland.
Amendment 83, page 3, line 12, at end insert—
“(1A) No such regulations shall be made without the prior agreement of the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress.”
This amendment, together with Amendment 84, is intended to partially fulfil the conditions required by ILO Convention 87 by providing that minimum service levels are reached by negotiation.
Amendment 115, page 3, line 12, at end insert—
“(1A) Minimum service regulations—
(a) may be made only if the Secretary of State reasonably believes them to be necessary to protect the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population; and
(b) may provide only for levels of service reasonably considered necessary to provide protection for the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population.”
This new subsection would limit the levels of service which the Secretary of State could set in regulations to levels of service that the Secretary of State reasonably believes to be necessary to protect life, personal safety or health.
Amendment 116, page 3, line 12, at end insert—
“(1B) Minimum service regulations must—
(a) not provide for levels of service which are greater than those necessary to satisfy the basic needs of the population or the minimum requirements of the service; and
(b) ensure that the scope of the minimum service does not render ineffective any strike it affects.”
This new subsection would limit minimum service regulations to the levels indicated as appropriate in conclusions of the International Labour Organisation’s Committee on Freedom of Association.
Amendment 15, page 3, line 15, leave out “even” and insert “except”.
This amendment would stop the Secretary of State from being able to set minimum service levels for disputes that have already been balloted for.
Amendment 99, page 3, line 15, leave out “even if” and insert “unless”.
The amendment seeks to stop regulations under this Bill from being applied to strikes which have already been balloted for.
Amendment 59, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
“(2A) A minimum service level must not be framed so that it would require more than 30% of a workforce to be served with a work notice.”
This amendment would limit the proportion of a workforce which can be required by a minimum service level so as to ensure that a majority of workers will be able to withdraw labour.
Amendment 60, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
“(2A) A minimum service level must be framed to take account of the actual levels of service provided in the previous year.
(2B) After a minimum service level regulations have been issued, no work notices may be issued for any further strikes unless the employer has maintained the minimum service level on days not affected by strike for at least 3 months.”
This amendment would prevent employers from requiring a minimum service level if the employer had not previously been able to maintain such a level on days not affected by strike action.
Amendment 61, page 3, line 20, at end insert—
“(2A) Minimum service levels must not exceed 20% of normal service levels achieved, except in so far as additions to the minimum service level is wholly determined for operational reasons related to health and safety requirements.”
This amendment would stipulate 20% of normal service levels as an upper threshold for minimum service levels.
Amendment 16, page 3, line 21, leave out subsection (3).
See Amendment 17.
Amendment 21, page 3, line 22, at end insert—
“(2A) The Secretary of State may not add to the list of categories in subsection (4) below.
(2B) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument subject to annulment remove any categories from subsection (4) below.
(2C) After a category has been removed from subsection (4) below, it may not be added back in to that subsection except by primary legislation.”
This amendment bars any addition to, or any reinstatement of, the 6 categories of service to which this Act applies, while facilitating the removal of any of those categories.
Amendment 17, page 3, line 23, leave out from “that” to end of line 31 and insert—
“have been approved for specification under this Act by resolution of each House of Parliament.”
This amendment would ensure that minimum service level regulations apply only to services that have been approved by resolution in both Houses.
Amendment 9, page 3, line 25, leave out paragraph (a).
This amendment would remove “health services” from the Bill.
Amendment 75, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
“except nurses, doctors, paramedics, ambulance support workers, veterinary services, community health services, pharmacists, mental health services, sexual health services, speech and language therapy services, dental services and transportation of medical supplies services.”
This amendment would various occupations and sub-sectors of the health sector from the regulations in the Bill.
Amendment 10, page 3, line 26, leave out paragraph (b).
This amendment would remove “fire and rescue services” from the Bill.
Amendment 11, page 3, line 27, leave out paragraph (c).
This amendment would remove “education services” from the Bill.
Amendment 74, page 3, line 27, at end insert—
“except primary schools, secondary schools, further education colleges, universities, contracted school transportation, private schools and academies.”
This amendment would exempt various occupations and sub-sectors of the education sector from the regulations in the Bill.
Amendment 12, page 3, line 28, leave out paragraph (d).
This amendment would remove “transport services” from the Bill.
Amendment 73, page 3, line 28, at end insert ——
“except aviation services, airline services, airport services, airport fire services, car delivery services, road haulage services, parcel delivery services, bus services, tram services, rail infrastructure, rail engineering ferry and waterway services, seafarers, and dock services.”
This amendment would exempt various occupations and sub-sectors of the transport sector from the regulations in the Bill.
Amendment 109, page 3, line 28, at end insert—
“, except where the service is
(i) a rail service wholly or partly within Scotland,
(ii) a bus service registered with the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland,
(iii) a ferry service wholly or partly within Scotland,
(iv) any aviation service which uses a facility holding an aerodrome certificate issued the Civil Aviation Authority for all or part of its journey, or
(v) any aviation service which receives funding as part of a Public Service Obligation.”
This amendment would exempt passenger transport services in, to, and from Scotland from being subject to a work notice.
Amendment 13, page 3, line 29, leave out paragraph (e).
This amendment would remove ““decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel” from the Bill.
Amendment 14, page 3, line 31, leave out paragraph (f).
This amendment would remove “border security” from the Bill.
Amendment 106, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(4A) No regulations made by statutory instrument under this section shall apply to any service which relates to the provisions of—
(a) the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019;
(b) the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001;
(c) section 8 of the Railways Act 2005;
(d) section 10 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982; or
(e) any passenger ferry operating within the portion of the UK Exclusive Economic Zone lying under the jurisdiction of Scotland, or to any service defined by Scottish ministers as relating to the provision of transport services in Scotland.”
This amendment would exclude most passenger transport services in Scotland from being subject to minimum service regulations laid by the Secretary of State.
Amendment 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.”
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.
Amendment 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
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.
Amendment 23, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(5) Regulations made under this section in relation to strikes affecting services in an area for which an elected mayor is responsible may not be made without the consent of the elected mayor for that area.”
This amendment would require the consent of the relevant elected mayor before minimum service levels could be set in relation to an area for which an elected mayor was responsible.
Amendment 39, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(5) Regulations under this Part may not—
(a) prohibit or enable the prohibition of participation in, or any activity in connection with, a strike or other industrial action;
(b) create an offence; or
(c) require levels of service on strike days which are higher than those ordinarily provided on non strike days.
(6) Regulations may not make provision which is contrary to the United Kingdom’s international obligations, and in particular—
(a) International Labour Organisation Convention No 87;
(b) Social Charter of the Council of Europe, Article 6(4); and
(c) EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, Article 399.
(7) For the purposes of subsection 6(a), reference shall be made to the Observations of the ILO Committee of Experts, and the Conclusions of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association to determine the United Kingdom’s international obligations.
(8) For the purposes of subsection 6(b), reference shall be made to the Conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights to determine the United Kingdom’s international obligations.”
This amendment is designed to restrict the power of the Secretary of State to make regulations, and in particular, to ensure that regulations should not authorise any steps which restrict the right to strike. Subsections (5)(a) and (b) are based on the restraints on the power to make regulations in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Subsection (5)(c) is new. The amendment is designed to ensure also that any regulations are compatible with international obligations.
Amendment 94, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(5) Regulations may not—
(a) prohibit or enable the prohibition of participation in, or any activity in connection with, a strike or other industrial action;
(b) create an offence; or
(c) require levels of service on strike days which are higher than those ordinarily provided on non-strike days.
(6) Regulations may not make provision which is contrary to the United Kingdom’s international obligations, and in particular—
(a) International Labour Organisation Convention No 87;
(b) Social Charter of the Council of Europe, Article 6(4); and
(c) EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, Article 399.
(7) To determine the United Kingdom’s international obligations for the purposes of subsection 6(a), reference shall be made to the Observations of the ILO Committee of Experts, and the Conclusions of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, and for the purposes of subsection 6(b), reference shall be made to the conclusions of the European Committee of Social Rights.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from making regulations which unduly abridge the right to strike. Section 234(5)(a) and (b) are based on the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Section 234(5)(c) is new. The amendment is intended to require any regulations to be compatible with the UK’s international obligations.
Amendment 108, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“(5) Any services deemed to fall within a category specified in subsection (4) which are subject to the competence of—
(a) the Scottish Parliament,
(b) the Senedd,
(c) the Northern Ireland Assembly,
(d) the Greater London Authority,
(e) a combined authority constituted under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009,
(f) any other elected body named by the Secretary of State, shall not be subject to regulations made under subsection (3).”
This amendment would remove any service provided by a devolved government or authority from being subject to a regulation made by the Secretary of State under this Act.
Amendment 40, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“234BA Parliamentary Scrutiny
(1) Where regulations are made under section 234B—
(a) a senior Minister of the Crown shall as soon as is reasonably practicable lay the regulations before Parliament, and
(b) the regulations shall lapse at the end of the period of seven days beginning with the date of laying unless during that period each House of Parliament passes a resolution approving them.
(2) If each House of Parliament passes a resolution that the regulations shall cease to have effect, the regulations shall cease to have effect—
(a) at such time, after the passing of the resolutions, as may be specified in them, or
(b) if no time is specified in the resolutions, at the beginning of the day after that on which the resolutions are passed (or, if they are passed on different days, at the beginning of the day after that on which the second resolution is passed).
(3) If each House of Parliament passes a resolution that regulations shall have effect with a specified amendment, the regulations shall have effect as amended, with effect from—
(a) such time, after the passing of the resolutions, as may be specified in them, or
(b) if no time is specified in the resolutions, the beginning of the day after that on which the resolutions are passed (or, if they are passed on different days, the beginning of the day after that on which the second resolution is passed).
(4) Nothing in this section—
(a) shall prevent the making of new regulations, or
(b) shall affect anything done by virtue of regulations before they lapse, cease to have effect or are amended under this section.
234BB Parliamentary Scrutiny: Prorogation and Adjournment
(1) If when regulations are made under section 234B Parliament stands prorogued, His Majesty shall by proclamation under the Meeting of Parliament Act 1797 (c. 127) require Parliament to meet on a specified day.
(2) If when emergency regulations are made under section 234B the House of Commons stands adjourned, the Speaker of the House of Commons shall arrange for the House to meet on a day during that period of adjournment.
(3) If when emergency regulations are made under section 234B the House of Lords stands adjourned, the Speaker of the House of Lords shall arrange for the House to meet on a day during that period of adjournment.”
The inserted sections 234BA and 234BB are designed to enhance the power of Parliament to approve regulations. These provisions are based on the power to make regulations in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
Amendment 41, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“234BC Consultation with Devolved Administrations
(1) Regulations which relate wholly or partly to Scotland may not be made unless a senior Minister of the Crown has consulted the Scottish Ministers.
(2) Regulations which relate wholly or partly to Wales may not be made unless a senior Minister of the Crown has consulted the National Assembly for Wales.
(3) For the purposes of (1) and (2) consultation means consultation with a view to reaching an agreement.”
The inserted Section 234BC is designed to ensure that the Minister must consult the Scottish and Welsh ministers before regulations are made. Section 234BC(1) and (2) are based on similar provisions in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
Amendment 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“234BA Power to specify minimum service levels: health and safety
(1) Minimum service regulations must take into account the levels of service provided in the relevant service in periods when that service is not affected by strikes.
(2) Before making any regulations under section 234B, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an assessment of the level of service provided within the relevant specified category over the most recent period of 12 months for which data is available.
(3) The assessment under subsection (2) must include an analysis of performance in relation to health and safety standards applicable to the relevant service.
(4) The Secretary of State must give priority in making regulations under section 234B to maintaining health and safety standards during a strike which are no lower than the relevant applicable standards in the specified service.”
This amendment would require the Government to assess health and safety performance in the affected sector before making minimum service regulations.
Amendment 82, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“234BD Consultation with Social Partners
(1) Before making regulations under section 234B the Secretary of State shall consult organisations representative of employers and trade unions.
(2) Consultation under subsection (1) shall take place with a view to reaching an agreement.
(3) Where consultation takes place without an agreement being reached, the Secretary of State shall refer the matter to arbitration for the resolution of any matters of disagreement between the Secretary of State and the organisations representative of employers and trade unions.
(4) The arbitrator appointed under subsection (3) shall be an independent person appointed by ACAS from a panel of arbitrators established by ACAS for this purpose.
(5) The decision of the arbitrator shall be binding.
(6) The Secretary of State shall not make regulations which are inconsistent with the decision of the arbitrator.”
The proposed new section 234BD is intended to require the Secretary of State’s to consult and agree minimum service levels with the social partners, failing which minimum service levels will be determined by an independent arbitrator.
Amendment 117, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“234BA Requirement for opportunity for negotiated settlement and involvement of independent body
(1) The Secretary of State may not make minimum service regulations in respect of any strike of which a trade union gives notice to an employer under section 234A unless—
(a) the employer and the trade union have been given a reasonable opportunity to reach a negotiated agreement on minimum service levels in respect of the strike; and
(b) if the employer and the trade union have not been able to reach an agreement on minimum service levels—
(i) the employer and trade union have both been given a reasonable opportunity to make representations to a quasi-judicial body independent of the employer, trade union and Government; and
(ii) the independent body has been given a period that is reasonable in the circumstances to determine minimum service levels in respect of the strike.
(2) If the employer and trade union have reached a negotiated agreement on minimum service levels in respect of the strike referred to in subsection (1), the Secretary of State may not make minimum service regulations in respect of that strike.
(3) If the independent body referred to in subsection (1)(b)(i) and (ii) above has determined minimum service levels in respect of the strike within the reasonable period—
(a) The employer and trade union are bound by those minimum service levels;
(b) The Secretary of State may not make minimum service regulations in respect of the strike referred to in subsection (1).”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State making minimum service regulations in respect of a strike unless the trade union and employer have had an opportunity to reach a negotiated agreement on those levels, and where an independent body has had the opportunity to determine the levels in the absence of an agreement.
Amendment 119, page 3, line 34, after second “a” insert “recognised”.
Amendment 42, page 4, line 1, at end insert—
“(1A) An employer shall also send a copy of a work notice to any person identified therein as someone required to work during the strike.”
This amendment is designed to require the employer to send a copy of the notice to each of the individuals identified in the notice.
Amendment 111, page 4, line 18, at end insert—
“(c) not relate to a service which does not relate to a competence listed in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998.”
This amendment this would exclude any devolved services in Scotland from being subject to a work notice.
Amendment 70, page 4, leave out lines 19 to 21 and insert—
“(5) A work notice must not identify any more than the minimum number of persons necessary for the purpose of providing the levels of service under the minimum service regulation.”
This amendment, with Amendments 71 and 72, is intended to require employers to take reasonable steps to ensure the serving of work notices does not prevent lawful industrial action from taking place.
Amendment 69, page 4, line 21, at end insert—
“and no person shall be identified in one or more work notices where the effect would be that they would be prevented from taking part in industrial action on fifty per cent or more of the days included in the notice referred to in section 234C(1)(a)”
This amendment is intended to ensure that specific workers cannot be prevented from striking by this Bill.
Amendment 120, page 4, line 21, at end, insert—
“or have the effect of preventing any one person taking part in protected industrial action”
Amendment 93, page 4, line 21, at end insert—
“(5A) A work notice must not include a person who is an official of the trade union (within the meaning of section 119) at the time a work notice is issued.”
This amendment would exempt trade union officials from a work notice under the Act.
Amendment 64, page 4, line 24, at end insert—
or whether the person took part in the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time;
or made use of trade union services at an appropriate time.”
This amendment would ensure that the selection of persons for work notices cannot be targeted at trade union activists.
Amendment 68, page 4, line 24, at end insert—
“; or whether the person took part in the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time; or made use of trade union services at an appropriate time.
(6A) An employer having regard to one or more of the matters referred to in subsection (6) in deciding whether to identify a person in a work notice shall be deemed to subject that person to a detriment for the purpose of section 146 of this Act.
(6B) Subjecting a person to a detriment in contravention of section 146 of this Act by reason of subsections (6) and (6A) shall be actionable as a breach of statutory duty.
(6C) A person deemed to have been subjected to a detriment for the purpose of section 146 by reason of reason of subsections (6) and (6A) may, as an alternative to pursuing an action for breach of statutory duty in accordance with subsection 6B, present a claim to an Employment Tribunal in accordance with that section.
(6D) If there facts from which a court or tribunal could conclude, in the absence of any other explanation, that the employer has contravened, or is likely to contravene, subsections (6) and (6A), it must find that such a contravention occurred, or is likely to occur, unless the employer shows that it did not, or is not likely, to occur.”
This amendment is intended to gives legal recourse in cases where employers may choose to target trade union members with work notices.
Amendment 85, page 4, line 25, leave out from “must” to end of line 28 and insert—
“reach agreement with the union about the number of persons to be identified and the work to be specified in the notice.”
This amendment is intended to partially fulfil the conditions required by ILO Convention 87 by providing that minimum service levels are reached by negotiation between the social partners
Amendment 103, page 4, line 25, leave out from “must” to end of line 28 and insert—
“take reasonable steps to reach agreement”.
This amendment aims to ensure that minimum service levels are reached by negotiation between employers and trade unions.
Amendment 43, page 4, line 25, leave out subsection (7) and insert —
“(7A) A work notice shall not be valid unless the employer has consulted the recognised trade union, or in the absence of a recognised trade union, a representative trade union.
(7B) Consultation under subsection (7A) shall take place with a view to reaching an agreement.
(7C) Where consultation takes place without an agreement being reached, the employer shall refer the matter to arbitration for the resolution of any matters of disagreement between the employer and the trade union.
(7D) The arbitrator appointed under subsection (7C) shall be an independent person appointed by ACAS from a panel of arbitrators established by ACAS for this purpose.”
This amendment is designed to enhance the employer’s duty to consult about work notices.
Amendment 86, page 4, leave out lines 25 to 28 and insert—
“(7A) A work notice shall not be valid unless the employer has consulted the recognised trade union, in the absence of which a representative trade union.
(7B) Consultation under subsection (7A) shall take place with a view to reaching an agreement.
(7C) In the event of a failure to agree the matters in (7A) the employer or the union may refer any or all disputed issues to an arbitrator who shall be an independent person appointed by ACAS from a panel of arbitrators established by ACAS for this purpose and the decision of the arbitrator shall be binding.”
This alternative amendment turns on a duty to consult rather than to reach agreement.
Amendment 71, page 4, line 27, leave out “and”.
This amendment, with Amendments 70 and 72, is intended to require employers to take reasonable steps to ensure the serving of work notices does not prevent lawful industrial action from taking place.
Amendment 65, page 4, line 28, leave out “have regard to any views expressed by the union in response” and insert—
“take into account the views expressed by the trade union with a view to reaching agreement with the union.”
This amendment is intended to promote good faith engagement between the employer and trade union when consulting over work notices.
Amendment 72, page 4, line 28, after “response” insert—
“and (c) be satisfied that the requirement in subsection (5) is satisfied.”
This amendment, with Amendments 70 and 71, is intended to require employers to take reasonable steps to ensure the serving of work notices does not prevent lawful industrial action from taking place.
Amendment 87, page 4, line 28, at end insert —
“(7A) In the event of a failure to agree the matters in subsection (7), the employer or the union may refer any or all disputed issues to an arbitrator who shall be an independent person appointed by ACAS from a panel of arbitrators established by ACAS for this purpose and the decision of the arbitrator shall be binding.”
This amendment is intended to partially fulfil the conditions required by ILO Convention 87 by providing that minimum service levels are reached by negotiation between the social partners.
Amendment 112, page 4, line 28, at end insert—
“(7A) No employee of any organisation listed in Schedule 1 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 shall be subject to any work notice.”
This amendment would exempt any occupation or employee subject to the above Act from any regulations allowing a work notice to be issued.
Amendment 44, page 4, line 30, after “union” insert—
“and to each individual person identified in the notice”.
See Amendment 42.
Amendment 95, page 4, line 30, after “varied” insert—
“to any person identified therein as someone required to work during the strike and,”.
This amendment is intended to require the employer to send a copy of the notice to each of the individuals identified in the notice.
Amendment 88, page 4, line 33, at end insert —
“(8A) A variation shall not be valid unless the employer has consulted the recognised trade union, in the absence of which a representative trade union.
(8B) Consultation under subsection (8A) shall take place with a view to reaching an agreement.
(8C) In the event of a failure to agree the matters in subsection (8B) the employer or the union may refer any or all disputed issues to an arbitrator who shall be an independent person appointed by ACAS from a panel of arbitrators established by ACAS for this purpose and the decision of the arbitrator shall be binding.”
This alternative amendment turns on a duty to consult rather than to reach agreement.
Amendment 89, page 4, line 34, leave out paragraph (9) and insert—
“(9A) In the event of a failure to agree the matters in subsection (7A) the employer or the union may refer any or all disputed issues to an arbitrator who shall be an independent person appointed by ACAS from a panel of arbitrators established by ACAS for this purpose and the decision of the arbitrator shall be binding.”
This amendment is intended to partially fulfil the conditions required by ILO Convention 87 by providing that minimum service levels are reached by negotiation between the social partners.
Amendment 90, page 4, line 34, leave out paragraph (9) and insert—
“(9A) An employer may vary a work notice.
(9B) A variation shall not be valid unless the employer has consulted the recognised trade union, in the absence of which a representative trade union.
(9C) Consultation under subsection (9A) shall take place with a view to reaching an agreement.
(9D) In the event of a failure to agree the matters in (9A) the employer or the union may refer any or all disputed issues to an arbitrator who shall be an independent person appointed by ACAS from a panel of arbitrators established by ACAS for this purpose and the decision of the arbitrator shall be binding.”
This alternative amendment turns on a duty to consult rather than to reach agreement.
Amendment 104, page 4, line 34, leave out from “must” to end of line 37 and insert—
“take reasonable steps to reach agreement”.
This amendment aims to ensure that minimum service levels are reached by negotiation between employers and trade unions.
Amendment 96, page 4, line 34, at end insert—
“(za) send a copy of a work notice to any person identified therein as someone required to work during the strike,”.
This amendment is intended to require the employer to send a copy of the notice to each of the individuals identified in the notice.
Amendment 46, page 4, line 35, after “union” insert—
“and each individual person identified in the notice”.
See Amendment 42.
Amendment 66, page 4, line 37, leave out “have regard to any views expressed by the union in response” and insert—
“take into account the views expressed by the trade union with a view to reaching agreement with the union.”
This amendment is intended to promote good faith engagement between the employer and trade union when consulting over work notices.
Amendment 47, page 4, line 37, after “union” insert—
“and by each individual person identified in the notice”.
See Amendment 42.
Amendment 110, page 4, line 40, at end insert—
“(a) A work notice must be submitted to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, the Llywydd of the Senedd, and the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly for consideration by a sitting of each body.
(b) Where less than four-fifths of those elected representatives constituting each body vote in favour of a motion supporting the granting of a work notice, the notice shall be deemed invalid.”
This amendment would ensure that a work notice would be valid only if its provisions were submitted by an employer to the three devolved institutions and received the support of over 80% of elected members in each chamber.
Amendment 48, page 4, line 40, at end insert—
“234CA Protection of Employees
(1) A person shall not be subject to a work notice if the person in question has not been given or received the work notice.
(2) The onus will be on the employer to prove that an individual received a work notice.
(3) Failure to comply with a work notice shall not—
(a) be regarded as a breach of the contract of employment of any person identified in the work notice; or
(b) constitute grounds for dismissal or any other detrimental action.
(4) Having regard to subsection (3), failure to comply with a work notice shall be deemed to be—
(a) a trade union activity undertaken at an appropriate time for the purposes of section 146 above; and
(b) participation in industrial action for the purposes of sections 238 and 238A below.”
This inserted Section 234CA is designed to ensure that compliance with a work notice should be voluntary on the part of the employee in question. Provision is also made to protect the individual who decides not to comply from any sanction imposed by the employer.
Amendment 113, page 5, line 6, at end insert—
“(2A) No disclosure of information authorised by section 234C shall apply to any individual habitually residents or ordinarily employed in Scotland.”
This amendment would protect the personal data of people living and working in Scotland.
Amendment 49, page 5, leave out lines 9 to 22.
The purpose of this amendment is to delete inserted section 234E in order to exclude the operation of the duty of the union to take reasonable steps to ensure that all workers identified in the work notice comply with the notice.
Amendment 79, page 5, line 14, leave out from “234C” to end of line 17.
This would remove the requirement for trade unions to take reasonable steps for employees to comply with work notices, as these are not a matter between trade union and member, but between employer and employee.
Amendment 63, page 5, line 17, leave out “comply with” and insert “are aware of”.
This amendment would ensure that the trade union’s legal duty is restricted to making its members aware of the content of the work notice.
Amendment 92, page 5, line 17, at end insert—
“(1A) In paragraph (1)(b), if it is alleged that a union failed to take “reasonable steps”, a failure to take any of the following steps shall not be taken to constitute a failure to take reasonable steps—
(a) to discipline or impose any detriment for non-compliance or threatened non-compliance, or for inducing or seeking to induce non-compliance by another member with a work notice, or
(b) to threaten to discipline or impose any detriment for non-compliance or threatened non-compliance, or for inducing or seeking to induce non-compliance by another member with a work notice, or
(c) to instruct a member not to comply with a work notice, or to revoke any instruction or encouragement to take part in the strike.”
This amendment is intended to limit the requirement that a union should police its own members.
Amendment 52, page 5, line 22, at end insert—
“(3) A trade union shall be deemed fully to have complied with its obligation under subsection (1) if it informs any members identified in a work notice that they have been so identified.
(4) For the purpose of subsection (3) a trade union is required to do only whatever is reasonably practicable by whatever means it deems appropriate.
(5) For the purposes of subsection (3) a trade union will not be deemed to have failed to comply with its duty in paragraph (b) on the ground only that one or more members has or have not been informed that they are the subject of a work notice.
(6) For the avoidance of doubt, a trade union will not be required to discipline or expel a member who—
(a) refuses to comply with a requirement to work under a work notice, or
(b) encourages others not to comply with a work notice.”
This amendment is intended to restrict the trade union’s compliance duty under the Act.
Amendment 118, page 5, line 22, at end insert—
“(3) Peaceful picketing within the meaning of section 220 of the 1992 Act shall not be regarded as an act done by the union to induce a person to take part, or continue to take part, in the strike, for the purposes of subsection (1).”
The intention of this amendment is avoid picketing alone being a cause for a claim against the union under the Act on the basis that this was inducing an identified person to take part in the strike.
Amendment 91, page 5, line 22, at end insert —
“(2A) A trade union shall be deemed fully to have complied with its obligation under section (1) if it informs any of its members identified in a work notice that they have been so identified.
(2B) For the purpose of subsection (2A) a trade union is required to do only whatever is reasonably practicable by whatever means it deems appropriate.
(2C) For the purposes of subsection (2A) a trade union will not be deemed to have failed to comply with its duty in paragraph (b) on the ground only that one or more members has or have not been informed that they are the subject of a work notice.”
This amendment is intended to limit the requirement that a union should police its own members.
Amendment 50, page 5, line 23, after “consultation” insert “with Social Partners”.
This amendment is linked to Amendment 51.
Amendment 8, page 5, line 23, at end insert—
“(A1) Before making regulations under section 234B the Secretary of State must receive a report into minimum services in the affected sector from the relevant House of Commons select committee.
(A2) For the purpose of subsection (A1), “relevant House of Commons select committee” means—
(a) House of Commons Home Affairs Committee for regulations affecting fire and rescue services, and border security as set out in 234B(4),
(b) House of Commons Education Committee for regulations affecting education services as set out in 234B(4),
(c) House of Commons Transport Committee for regulations affecting transport services as set out in 234B(4),
(d) House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee for regulations affecting health services as set out in 234B(4),
(e) House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee for regulations affecting decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel as set out in 234B(4).
(A3) The Speaker of the House of Commons may determine in case of any doubt the relevant successor of any committee mentioned in subsection (A2).”
This amendment would require that each relevant Select Committee conducts and publishes inquiries on how the Act will impact on each named sector, before the Act can be brought into operation.
Amendment 51, page 5, line 24, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“(1A) Before making regulations under section 234B the Secretary of State shall consult organisations representative of employers and trade unions.
(1B) Consultation under subsection (1) shall take place with a view to reaching an agreement.
(1C) Where consultation takes place without an agreement being reached, the Secretary of State shall refer the matter to arbitration for the resolution of any matters of disagreement between the Secretary of State and the organisations representative of employers and trade unions.
(1D) The arbitrator appointed under subsection (3) shall be an independent person appointed by ACAS from a panel of arbitrators established by ACAS for this purpose.
(1E) The decision of the arbitrator shall be binding.
(1F) The Secretary of State shall not make regulations which are inconsistent with the decision of the arbitrator.”
Consistently with the practice in other countries, the purpose of this amendment is to remove the Secretary of State’s unilateral power to determine what minimum service levels should be. The Secretary of State would l be required to consult and agree minimum service levels with the social partners, failing which minimum service levels will be determined by an independent arbitrator.
Amendment 62, page 5, line 25, leave out lines 23 to 40 and insert—
(1) If a Minister of the Crown proposes to make regulations under this Act the Minister must—
(a) consult such organisations as appear to the Minister to be representative of interests substantially affected by the proposals;
(b) where the proposals relate to the functions of one or more statutory bodies, consult those bodies, or persons appearing to the Minister to be representative of those bodies;
(c) consult the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers, and
(d) consult such other persons as the Minister considers appropriate.
(2) If, as a result of any consultation required by subsection (1), it appears to the Minister that it is appropriate to change the whole or any part of the proposals, the Minister must undertake such further consultation with respect to the changes as the Minister considers appropriate.
(3) If, before the day on which this section comes into force, any consultation was undertaken which, had it been undertaken after that day, would to any extent have satisfied the requirements of this section, those requirements shall to that extent be taken to have been satisfied.
(4) In subsection (1)(b) ‘statutory body’ means—
(a) a body established by or under any enactment; or
(b) the holder of any office so established.
234FA Draft regulations and explanatory document laid before Parliament
(1) If, after the conclusion of the consultation required by section 234F, the Minister considers it appropriate to proceed with the making of regulations, the Minister must lay before Parliament for a period of at least 60 days —
(a) a draft of the regulation, together with
(b) an explanatory document.
(2) The explanatory document must—
(a) introduce and give reasons for the regulations;
(b) give details of—
(i) any consultation undertaken under section 234F;
(ii) any representations received as a result of the consultation;
(iii) the changes (if any) made as a result of those representations;
(c) explain why the draft regulations are consistent with the United Kingdom’s international legal obligations.
234FB Super-affirmative resolution procedure
(1) In determining whether to make regulations, the Minister must have regard to—
(a) any representations made,
(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and
(c) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft regulations, any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft regulations,
(2) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister wishes to make regulations in the terms of the draft, the Minister must lay before Parliament a statement—
(a) stating whether any representations were made under subsection (1)(a); and;
(b) if any representations were so made, giving details of them.
(3) The Minister may after the laying of such a statement make regulations in the terms of the draft if it is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(4) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft regulations may, at any time after the laying of a statement under subsection (3) and before the draft regulations are approved by that House under subsection (3), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft regulations.
(5) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under subsection(4) in relation to a draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the draft regulations in that House under subsection (3) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(6) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister wishes to make regulations consisting of a version of the draft regulations with material changes, the Minister must lay before Parliament—
(a) a revised draft of the regulations; and
(b) a statement giving details of—
(i) any representations made under subsection (1)(a); and
(ii) the revisions proposed.
(7) The Minister may after laying revised draft regulations and statement under subsection (6) make regulations in the terms of the revised draft if they are approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(8) However, a committee of either House charged with reporting on the revised draft regulations may, at any time after the revised draft regulations are laid under subsection (6) and before they are approved by that House under subsection (7), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations.
(9) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of either House under subsection (8) in relation to a revised draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations in that House under subsection (7) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of that House.
(10) In this section the “60-day period” means the period of 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft regulations were laid before Parliament under section 234FA.”
This amendment would provide a super-affirmative procedure for Regulations under the Act.
Amendment 5, page 5, line 25, leave out
“such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate” and, at end insert —
“(a) trade unions in each affected sector,
(b) employers in each affected sector,
(c) relevant Government Departments for each affected sector, and
(d) relevant Parliamentary Select Committees for each affected sector.”
The intention of this amendment is to require that the Government consults with a range of stakeholders for each affected sector before making regulations, including relevant trade unions, employers, Government Departments and Select Committees.
Amendment 114, page 5, line 25, leave out
“such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate” and insert—
“(a) the Scottish Trade Union Congress,
(b) the Trade Union Congress,
(c) the Irish Congress of Trade Unions,
(d) all trade unions entered on the list maintained by the Certification Officer under Section 3 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992,
(e) the Scottish Parliament,
(f) Scottish Ministers,
(g) Senedd Cymru,
(h) Welsh Ministers,
(i) the Northern Ireland Assembly,
(j) the Northern Ireland Executive, and
(k) such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
This amendment would mandate consultation with all relevant trade union bodies, individual trade unions, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru, Northern Ireland Assembly, and allow the Secretary of State to consult others.
Amendment 53, page 5, line 26, at end insert—
“(1A) For the avoidance of doubt subsection (1) is without prejudice to the obligations of the Secretary of State in section 234BC (duty to consult Devolved Administrations) and section 234BD (duty to consult Social Partners).”
This amendment is linked to Amendment 41.
Amendment 24, page 5, line 26, at end insert—
“(1A) In particular, the Secretary of State must consult elected mayors of Greater London and of Combined Authorities in respect of minimum service levels for services for which they have responsibility.”
The intention of this amendment is to ensure that elected mayors with strategic responsibilities for transport, for example, are included in the consultations before minimum service levels are set.
Amendment 7, page 5, line 39, leave out
“(as well as by consultation after that time)”.
The intention of this amendment is to require that the consultation may be satisfied only by consultation completed before the passing of the Act.
Amendment 6, page 5, line 40, at end insert —
“(6) Any consultation carried out by the Government under this section must be published within six weeks of the day on which this Act is passed.”
The intention of this amendment is to require that the Government makes public any and all consultations.
Amendment 18, page 5, line 40, at end insert—
“234FA Impact assessment of this Part
(1) The Secretary of State must conduct a review into the impact of this Act on each the categories listed in section 234B(4), with regard to—
(a) recruitment of new staff,
(b) retention of existing staff, and
(c) the provision of adequate staffing levels in the long-term.
(2) The Secretary of State must a lay a copy of the report under subsection (1) before both Houses of Parliament no later than six months after the day on which this Act is passed.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to conduct a report into the impact of the Bill on recruiting staff, retaining staff and the provision of adequate staffing levels in the long-term.
Amendment 19, page 5, line 40, at end insert—
“234FB Impact assessment of this Part (No. 2)
(1) The Secretary of State must conduct a review into the impact of this Act on—
(a) numbers of working hours lost attributable to the operation of this Act, and
(b) the total cost to the Exchequer of litigation arising from legal challenges to this Act over the first 12 months after the day on which this Act is passed.
(2) The Secretary of State must a lay a copy of the report under subsection (1) before both Houses of Parliament no later than 18 months after the day on which this Act is passed.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to conduct an impact assessment on the working hours lost, and costs to government of legal challenges, incurred as a result of the Act.
Amendment 54, page 6, line 2, at end insert—
“‘senior Minister of the Crown’ means—
(a) the First Lord of the Treasury (the Prime Minister),
(b) any of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, and
(c) the Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury.”
This provision is based on the Civil Contingencies Act 2004: see Amendment 41.
Amendment 55, page 6, line 9, leave out paragraphs 3 to 5.
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that trade unions do not incur delictual or tortious liability where there is a failure to take reasonable steps to ensure workers fail to comply with work notices.
Amendment 1, page 6, line 29, leave out paragraphs 6 to 10.
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.
Amendment 78, page 6, line 33, leave out paragraph 8.
This amendment would remove the Bill’s intention to remove protection against unfair dismissal for workers who refuse to work on strike days.
Amendment 58, page 7, line 4, at end insert—
“(ab) however, where the industrial action is a strike relating to the provision of a particular service, an employee who takes part shall be treated as having taken part in protected action if the only reason why the action is not protected in accordance with subsection (1) is that the union has failed to comply with section 234E above.”
This amendment would ensure that unfair dismissal protection for participating in industrial action is retained where the union has failed to take reasonable steps in accordance with section 234E.
That the schedule be the Schedule to the Bill.
Amendment 57, in the title, line 1, leave out
“about minimum service levels in connection with the taking by trade unions of strike action relating to certain services” and insert—
“to make provision for workers in specified services to be subject to compulsory work notices contrary to their decision to withdraw their labour in an industrial dispute”.
The intention of this Amendment is to re-phrase the long title of the Act.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans.
It is well known that the first and foremost job of any Government is to keep the public safe. Every one of us in this Chamber will know of people who have been impacted by industrial action. Every one of us will know constituents who work hard and expect access to essential and life-saving services when they need them. It is clear that that is not happening in all cases. That is why this Government are taking proportionate and sensible steps through the Bill. Our position, which has the support of the majority of our constituents—in a recent YouGov poll, 56% of those polled said that they support the legislation—is that we need to maintain a reasonable balance between the ability of workers to strike and the ability to keep the lives and livelihoods of the British public safe.
The Minister has started with a red herring about keeping people safe. Can he explain, then, why teachers and education are included in the Bill?
Clearly, there is a wider context for children. It is about services and safety—those are both contexts in this—as well as livelihoods. All those things are affected when people do not provide a minimum service level.
If I may, I will respond to the question from Alan Brown. All those things are affected when there is a universal strike. The Bill is about guaranteeing a minimum service level.
I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Coventry South.
I thank the Minister for giving way. This anti-worker, anti-strike Bill applies to the fire and rescue service, which has seen a 30% cut in central Government funding since the Tories came into power, with one in five firefighter jobs being lost. Today the Fire Brigades Union won a historic ballot against another insulting real-terms pay cut. Does the Minister agree that if the Government really cared about minimum service levels, they would properly fund the fire and rescue service, alongside other key services, and give pay rises, rather than this pathetic attempt to cosplay as Thatcher, pretending that firefighters and workers are the enemy rather than the people keeping the country running?
Negotiations need to go on. This does not stop—
On a point of order, Mr Evans, is it acceptable for Members to speak on an issue and not declare an interest when they have received money from trade unions?
It is up to each individual Member to reflect on whether they wish to declare an interest, but at least the hon. Member has given a timely reminder that those who wish to do so should, even in interventions, declare interests.
Further to that point of order, Mr Evans, to be helpful to the House, given that a number of Members who spoke on Second Reading declared their interest, is it really necessary for them to do so again in Committee? I know that Alexander Stafford is new to the House, but perhaps he might re-acquaint himself with “Erskine May”.
Further to that point of order, Mr Evans, is it also in order for hon. Members who have received donations from employers to register them in the debate?
That is exactly the same point. Let us just move on please. We have got a lot to deal with today, and it is six hours of protected time.
In answer to the point from Zarah Sultana, negotiations need to continue, and they need to be fair to workers, but also to the taxpayer, which I will touch on in a second.
I reject the characterisation of this Bill by the Opposition, who clearly put their relationship with their unions over the interests of this country. This is not a radical Bill. What we are doing is not even new. We are taking reasonable, proportionate and balanced steps and aligning ourselves with many of our European partners, such as France and Spain.
Will the Minister accept that health and safety legislation in this country—to ensure guards on machinery, for example, to stop people’s hands being chopped off—was won because workers withdrew their labour? Does he understand that the ambulance workers and the nurses say that the very reason they are going on strike is to make sure that the service is safe? What he is saying at the Dispatch Box is complete rubbish.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. On nurses, we already have voluntary agreements, yet still they go on strike. The two things are consistent and are not mutually exclusive, but I recognise his point on the right to withdraw labour and bring attention to certain things, whether pay or other matters at work. It is absolutely right that people should be able to do that, but it should not prevent others going about their daily business and, indeed, feeling safe in terms of such things as healthcare.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
In relation to safety—others have mentioned this—the nurses that I have spoken to and been on the picket line with have told me that they want better pay and conditions and more staff, but they have also made sure that at no stage was emergency cover not available. The ambulance service staff who went on strike always made sure emergency cover was available. It is really a matter of staffing and wages. Does the Minister, who I respect greatly, understand that nurses have already ensured cover, and all they are looking for is fair pay?
The hon. Member makes an important point. We are happy with the agreement we have with the Royal College of Nursing, and that is why we are not consulting on minimum service levels for nurses. On ambulances, we got only last-minute agreements—we had to negotiate on a trust-by-trust basis—that provided no confidence that the service would be in place and did not cover things such as strokes and chest pains in all cases. That would put somebody who is worried about having a stroke in a state of anxiety, and that is what we are trying to protect against.
I will make some progress.
We clearly want to resolve these disputes, but we must do it in an affordable way. An inflation-matching pay increase of 11% for all public sector workers would cost £28 billion, which would put just under £1,000 on to the bills of every household in all our constituencies. That is on top of the Opposition’s spending plans, which would add £50 billion of recurrent costs annually on to our economy, where we are already running a £175 billion deficit. As we have seen in recent months, we cannot take the market for granted, so that level of borrowing is absolutely unsustainable.
The disputes are already costing our economy and threatening businesses and livelihoods. The estimated cost to the economy so far is £6 billion, including £2.5 billion to the already challenged hospitality sector. I will conclude my comments there. I am happy to hear contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I will listen with interest and look forward to responding later.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, because I continue to be a proud trade unionist and I am proud to represent my constituents in the Chamber when I speak today.
We are in an absurd situation: we are back to debate the Conservatives’ sacking nurses Bill—[Interruption.]— not just nurses, but millions of other key workers. The Bill is controversial and divisive, and as irrational as it is impractical. It is strongly condemned by all Opposition parties.
Some 110 amendments and new clauses have been selected for consideration today, including more than 35 tabled by the Labour Front-Bench team. Given that we have had just a few days to draft and table them, that is quite some feat. We will have only five hours to debate those amendments, however, with no reasonable timetable; there would have been more if we had had that. We have had no line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill and we are unable to hear any evidence. The Government have simply prevented the House from doing its job, so it will be left to the other place to scrutinise the legislation properly, which should be a major concern to us all.
Under this legislation, workers can be sacked for taking strike action that has been agreed in a democratic ballot, which is a gross infringement of working rights and goes against the long-established principles set out in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. It also goes against the pledge in the 2019 Queen’s Speech, which said that sanctions would not be directed at individual workers. In the light of that, does my right hon. Friend agree that we simply have not been given enough time to debate a Bill that goes against everything that we stand for?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that Labour stands against this sacking nurses Bill—the Minister chuntered earlier about that not being the case; if he would like to prove that, then the Government could accept our amendment that would resolve the unfair dismissal situation.
We oppose the Bill in the strongest terms on principle and by virtue of the serious flaws that render it utterly unworkable.
Does the right hon. Lady think it is right that the police are restricted from taking strike action? If she does, why does she oppose similar restrictions on other important public services?
The hon. Member should know, because of what has happened recently, that members and those who deliver critical public services have voluntary agreements to ensure that “life and limb” services are covered. The Bill, however, would restrict trade unions’ rights—which are already among the most restricted in the evolved democracies anywhere in the world—and further, goes from clapping nurses to sacking them. I hope he will vote with us tonight, at least on our amendments, if he does not want to see that happen.
The Secretary of State says we need this Bill to ensure safety levels on strike days, slandering the brave and hard-working ambulance workers as he goes and ignoring the “life and limb” deals that workers already agree. What about our constituents who cannot get an ambulance on any day, such is the crisis in the NHS? The Prime Minister admitted today the serious challenges facing the health service, and he is right, but it is his Government’s duty to protect the public’s access to essential services. The public are being put at risk every day due to this crisis of his own Government’s making.
Lives and livelihoods are already being lost. What about the commuters stopped from going to work because of the failing rail companies in the north? If the Prime Minister really cared, he would insist on fixing the broken public services we have today because of 13 years of Conservative failure. If they were confident of their case, why not agree to amendment 3 and provide us with reports on safety and service levels on any given day in transport, health, education and so on? Or are they just playing politics to distract from their 13 years of failure?
Does my right hon. Friend understand that the Government are authorising employers to do what not even a court in this country can? Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, no court can compel an employee to do any work or attend any place for the doing of any work, but after a notification to a union of the identity of workers to be requisitioned, the Bill requires the union to take reasonable steps to ensure that all members of the union identified in that work notice comply with it. Is that not absolutely turning the whole system on its head?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. These are the fundamental freedoms that underpin our democracy. Conservative Members should be very concerned about what the Government are trying to do; even Henry VIII would be spinning in his grave and absolutely astonished. If, as the Secretary of State and his Prime Minister say, the International Labour Organisation backs their plans, why did the ILO director general slam them? Why did President Biden’s Labour Secretary raise concerns too?
The Secretary of State says that threatening key workers and tearing up their protection against unfair dismissal is necessary. Nurses, teachers, ambulance workers, cleaners, border staff, firefighters, rail workers, bus drivers and nuclear decommissioners—all threatened with the sack in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis. If that is not the purpose of the Bill, Government Members have the chance to join the Opposition in voting for amendment 1 and removing the sacking key workers clause. I am happy for the Minister to intervene to confirm that he is happy to accept that amendment, and then we can move on. No? Okay.
I also want to draw attention to the gaping holes in the Bill. The Secretary of State would have not just the power to set, impose and police minimum service levels, but to amend, repeal and revoke primary legislation—not just existing Acts but future Bills. We might pass a Bill only for a Minister to rewrite it by statutory instrument the next day. Why on earth do the Government need this power? Are they admitting that future legislation will be badly drafted, or are their motives more sinister? If those are the powers they seek, the least we can do is ensure that those regulations are made under the affirmative procedure.
If there is nothing to fear, the Government can show it by accepting amendments 100 to 102 tonight. Riddled with holes, the Bill gives sweeping powers to a power-hungry Secretary of State.
Why should minimum service levels apply to strikes that have already been balloted for? Would the Minister propose retrospective legislation in any other circumstances? Surely this would undermine attempts to find a resolution to the current disputes, prolonging the pain that the Government are hellbent on putting the public through. Or is it that the Government offer no solution because they caused the problem?
The only minimum service level that I and my constituents would like to see is one for the Prime Minister, Secretaries of State and Ministers. Indeed, in opening the Committee stage for this important and draconian piece of legislation, the Minister certainly provided a minimum level of service. Does my right hon. Friend agree?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and here is the rub. I think it is the reason for the latest poll out today on support for the action that trade unions are taking. It is not because the general public like the inconvenience. Of course we all want strike action to be avoided, but the public can glaringly see through the Government’s defence—that this legislation is needed because we need minimum service levels—because they have seen ambulance workers, nurses, and all other key workers fighting for this country and protecting people when this Government cannot provide the minimum safe service level at any other time, during any other week, when there is no strike action. It is this Government who are failing the British people and not providing the level of care, not our key workers, not our nurses, not our teachers and not our firefighters. They are the ones supporting our key public services, and I applaud them for doing that.
The Bill also allows bosses to target union members with work notices. What is to stop that happening? Will trade unions be liable for the actions of non-members? What about when there is no recognised trade union? What reasonable steps will a trade union need to take? Will it be penalised for picketing, or could the simple existence of an otherwise lawful peaceful picket line be effectively banned? The Secretary of State claims to stand up for the democratic freedom to strike. Where are the protections to ensure that work notices do not prevent legal industrial action, or the requirements on employers to take reasonable steps to make sure that they do not, either intentionally or not? Can he really say that not one worker will be banned from action by simply being named in every work notice? What about workers in control functions on the railways, such as fleet managers, route managers and maintenance managers, who would be forced to work regardless under this law?
If the Secretary of State does not care about workers, what about the burden on the employers? Does he seriously think that overstretched public services have the resources to assess new minimum service laws—to work out who needs to be in work, how many people and where, before every single strike day? Should we not promote good-faith negotiations instead? If only the Government put their time and their effort into doing the one thing that will resolve this crisis: negotiating with the employers and the workers in good faith. There are reports that some Ministers are seeing the light and are ready to negotiate. The Transport Secretary admits that these measures will not work; the Education Secretary sees the damage they will do to schools.
As is normally the case in Committee upstairs, we have tabled probing amendments—for example, why these six sectors? Will the Secretary of State add more, and how are they defined? Do health services include veterinary services, dentists or pharmacists? What about parcel delivery, ferry and waterway services, or steam railways? Does he mean to include private schools? Will he regulate minimum service levels for Eton?
The Government are running away from scrutiny precisely because they know that this Bill will not stand up to it. Does the Secretary of State not accept that first we need to see the assessment by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and inquiries by the relevant Select Committees, and that all promised consultations must be completed and published before the Act comes to pass? I know the Minister understands the challenges with legislation and the need to ensure that those affected are consulted properly, so I do not understand why he stands at the Dispatch Box today and does not want, as a minimum, these things to have happened before legislation is passed.
Who is the Secretary of State planning to consult? Will he consult the trade unions and employers affected? Why has he failed to publish the impact assessment that he promised? The Bill has nearly passed through the lower House and we have still not had any sight of it. This is near unprecedented and deeply anti-democratic. Even the Regulatory Policy Committee has not seen it. Is the Secretary of State scared that the impact assessment will speak the truth—that it will conclude that this legislation is unneeded and will actually make things worse?
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The Minister should go on a field trip to really understand what happens with these agreements. The paramedics on the ambulance service picket line carry bleeps, as do those in the NHS, so that they can provide surge staffing when that is required. That is an ongoing dialogue throughout the day and the minimum standards in the Bill will not address that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the standards are therefore superfluous because they will not address the day-to-day, minute-by-minute needs of the health service?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Her point links to what I was trying to express earlier: the Government fail to recognise that every time they suggest in some way that our paramedics, nurses and other key workers do not provide a minimum service and do not take seriously the impact of challenging in the way they have been forced to. They protect the very people they are there to support. The Government have misjudged how people feel about that, because not only have they caused offence to those workers who protect us day in, day out, but they have failed to recognise that every single one of our key workers who does that has friends and family who know that they do that. This is why the public get very upset with the Government when they suggest that somehow our paramedics, nurses and other key workers do not provide those standards. I agree with my hon. Friend: if the Government were able to get out more and see what happens on the ground, they would have a clearer understanding of why this legislation will not work and fix the problems. The public understand that and the Minister should take note.
If we walk through this legislation and its eventual implementation, we see that it will result in either a worker being sacked or a worker being sacked and a trade union being fined. Can my right hon. Friend think of anything that could greater exacerbate the current industrial-relations climate than those sorts of threats?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. That is exactly what this Government are walking into and I think it will exacerbate the situation. The Government have been exacerbating the situation not just by bringing forward this legislation—most of the public can see what they are trying to do—but through the tone with which they have carried out, or failed to carry out, negotiations to avert the industrial action we have seen. Nurses are taking industrial action for the first time ever. Rather than get round the table and sort the mess out that they have created after 13 years in government, the Government try to demonise those very workers. The public do not thank them for that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this legislation is a diversion from this Government’s incompetence? Last year, they practically cost the taxpayer £55 billion because of the economic mismanagement of their Government under the former Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss. Instead of negotiating to protect people, the Government are blaming them for their own incompetence.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We cannot be divorced from the fact that members of the public have seen how this Government have conducted themselves—the sleaze and scandals, the outrageous waste of money, and crashing the economy, of course—while at the same telling the key workers who got us through the pandemic that they have to like it or lump it and suffer the consequences of the Government’s incompetent governance. It does gripe with the general public and they do not accept it.
My right hon. Friend is making a really powerful speech. I remind Members that this afternoon the fire and rescue service members in the FBU voted—on a 72% turnout—88% yes to industrial action. They have a huge mandate but, like other trade unions, they are suggesting that there should be 10 days in which the employer can discuss with the unions some sort of resolution to the strike action, by discussing pay and so on. Is that not a far better way to deal with this unrest than trying to implement the most anti-democratic, anti-worker and anti-trade union legislation? I declare an interest and refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I think we all have an interest in ensuring that we have good, valuable public services. Like our other key workers, firefighters put in place local agreements to ensure that services continue if life is at risk or there are major incidents. There is not a single firefighter who would not attend a major incident. These are our brave heroes who run towards danger when the rest of us run away. There are also already legal obligations on fire services to provide contingency plans for strike days, dating back to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. Yet again, we have a Government fixated on creating a problem and trying to fix a problem that does not actually exist, instead of dealing with the problem that they have created—penalising and causing great hardship for our key workers, such as the firemen and women who protect our lives every single day.
Can the Minister promise that we will get separate assessments of the impacts of this legislation on all six of the sectors named? Can he guarantee that there will not be any impact on workforce numbers? Can he guarantee that work notices will not put undue burdens on overworked, under-resourced employers? Can he guarantee that equalities law will be upheld and that these new measures will not be used to discriminate against workers with protected characteristics? I fear we already know the answer to that question.
That brings me to our biggest concern with this Bill: the “sacking key workers” clause—
I gave the Minister the opportunity to back our amendment. I give him the opportunity to intervene now and say that he will back the amendment and that he does not want to sack those nurses or key workers, as is set out in the current Government proposal. I will happily stop again and allow the Minister to confirm that.
No. Thought not. The “sacking key workers” clause will give the Secretary of State the power to threaten every nurse, firefighter, health worker, rail worker or paramedic with the sack—on his whim. These are the workers who got us through the pandemic; the workers who run towards the danger as the rest of us run away; the workers who have been pushed to exhaustion by austerity. And how does the Secretary of State pay them back—by ripping up their protections against unfair dismissal, with no regard for our NHS, schools, or transport lines that cannot cope with mass sackings. How can he seriously think that sacking thousands of key workers will not just plunge our public services further into crisis?
One hundred and thirty-three thousand and four hundred—that is the latest vacancy number in our NHS. One thousand six hundred—that is the latest number of teaching vacancies. One hundred and twenty thousand—that is the number of new vacancies that City & Guilds estimates the rail sector will see in the next five years. We all know that we have a national staffing recruitment and retention crisis and that business groups from the Confederation of British Industry to the British Chambers of Commerce are crying out for vacancies to be filled. How is this a rational and proportionate response? Labour Members are not the only ones asking that question. Has the Secretary of State listened to Stephen McPartland who said earlier this month:
“I will vote against this shameful Bill…It does nothing to stop strikes—but individual NHS Staff, teachers &
workers can be targeted &
sacked if they don’t betray their mates.”
The right hon. Gentleman understands the Bill, but the Minister clearly does not understand his own Bill. I know that many Conservative Members will share the feelings of the right hon. Member for Stevenage, and that they will be uncomfortable with this awful attack on individuals and with taking away workers’ basic freedoms and removing hard-won basic rights and protections.
My right hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. Does she accept that the only way a union can avoid the situation she has just talked about, where unfair dismissal protection is taken away from workers, is by ensuring that they become an instrument of coercion, of the state and of the employer? For 35 years in this country, legislation has provided that a trade union is prohibited by law from disciplining or expelling a member who refuses to take part in a strike. Under the Bill, the same trade union may be required to discipline or expel a member who does what their workmates and they themselves may have voted for—namely, to withdraw their labour. Jonathan Swift could not have made this up. Nothing in all Lilliput or Brobdingnag could come up with a more ludicrous situation.
Interventions, by their nature, should be short, not lengthy.
The Bill is an attack on our basic British freedoms, and Conservative Members should be concerned about that. It is from a Prime Minister who is desperately out of his depth, and desperately blaming the working people of Britain for his own failures. There has been no opportunity for real scrutiny, no impact assessment, and there is no justification for it. The Government’s pretence that it is about safety is offensive to every key worker. For the sake of every nurse, teacher and firefighter across the UK, I urge every member of the Committee to vote for our amendments. For the sake of freedom, fairness and feasibility, I also urge all Members to join us in voting down the Bill tonight.
Order. I remind Members that if they were here for the openings of both speeches, then yes they can make a speech in Committee, but if they were not they cannot. If they have been here for what I would say is a decent time, then they are by all means able to make interventions.
It is a pleasure to follow Angela Rayner. I am a supporter of the Bill. I think it is a good and proportionate Bill, but it is badly written. What the right hon. Lady said about Henry VIII clauses is absolutely spot on. Indeed, should the socialists ever be in government in the future I hope they will remember what she said, because skeleton Bills and Henry VIII clauses are bad parliamentary and constitutional practice.
It seems to me that it is hard to describe the right hon. Lady as having been wrong for tabling amendment 101— I will not vote for her, but I say none the less that she is far from being described as wrong. Clause 3 suggests:
“Regulations under this section may amend, repeal or revoke provision made by or under primary legislation passed…later in the same session of Parliament as this Act.”
On what basis can any Government claim to have the power to amend legislation that has not yet been passed? The only argument for doing so, which no Government would wish to advance, is incompetence. The only way to pass a subsequent Act without amending it before it is passed is if we have not noticed what it was saying in the first place, and I cannot understand why a Government would wish to put such a measure in a Bill. Indeed, I am puzzled as to how clause 3 managed to get through the intergovernmental procedures that take place before legislation is presented to the House. I do not understand how the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee managed to approve a Bill with such a wide-ranging Henry VIII clause and which fails to set out in detail what powers the Government actually want.
I will support the Bill because its aim is worthy, but the means of achieving that aim are not properly constitutional. Henry VIII powers, it has been established, should be used exceptionally or when there is no other alternative. During the passage of the Coronavirus Act 2020 it was perfectly reasonable to have Henry VIII powers. Why? Because the Act was brought forward extremely quickly, there was little time to revise it and there was not an enormous amount of time to work out precisely what revisions to existing statute law may be needed. Emergency legislation falls into that category. But this is not emergency legislation; this is a Bill that we in the Conservative party have been cogitating about since at least our last manifesto, if not back to about 2016. I have supported it all the way through. I wanted the Bill to come forward. I think it is the right thing to be doing, but there is no excuse for failing to do it properly.
I think the Conservative party has been contemplating this since the Combination Acts of the 18th century. Anyway, strange alliances have been formed over the years on this issue. If the right hon. Gentleman recalls, an alliance was formed over the Civil Contingencies Bill, and we had a concession from the Government on some of the legislation regarding at least a super-affirmative mechanism that would give the House a bit more influence to amend statutory instruments. Would he be in favour of that?
I am slightly more ambitious than the right hon. Gentleman, because I think that, in and of itself, clause 3—I hope Opposition Members will take note of this—is an argument for the existence of the House of Lords. I hope that their lordships will look at the clause and say, “That is simply not something we can pass into law as it is currently phrased.” The Government must accept amendments, and I hope their lordships will vote through amendments that clarify and set out in detail the powers that are desired.
Other than urgency, there are only two reasons for bringing forward extensive Henry VIII powers. One is that the issue is too complicated to determine. That is problematic, because if it is too complicated to determine for primary legislation, how can it be sufficiently set out in secondary legislation? That probably means that the secondary legislation in and of itself will not be well formed. This is where the Government’s interest—the Executive interest—and the legislature’s interest combine, because if the House passes good, well-constructed legislation, it is much less susceptible to judicial review. There is a Treasury Bench interest in good, well-crafted legislation, which, as I have been saying, this Bill is not. That is why the Government should be keen that the House of Lords, in the time available and with the help, I hope, of parliamentary counsel, will be able to specify the powers more closely.
It is a pleasure to see the right hon. Gentleman back on the Back Benches as part of the awkward squad. Does he agree that part of the reason why we have ended up in this mess is that the Government have rushed the Bill, with a programme motion that allows for only five or six hours on the Floor of the House? They are attempting to ram it through and perhaps intend to use it as a stick or as a carrot to dangle during trade union negotiations. This is not thoughtful legislation; this is being rammed through, isn’t it?
I do not think there is any great need to “ram it through”, as the hon. Gentleman phrases it. The secondary legislation will not be written in time to affect the current set of disputes. Indeed, if the secondary legislation is already written and is in a position to be used, those measures ought to be in the Bill in the first place and there would be absolutely no reason for not having them. It is hard to understand the need to rush this through when, as I said, this Bill has been contemplated for many years, and therefore it ought to have been prepared in detail.
I think that it is helpful to refer to two very good reports from the House of Lords on the subject, “Government by Diktat” and “Democracy Denied?”, both published in November 2021. May I thank the Vote Office for hastily printing them for me? It has to be said that it is much easier to read what was said from sheets of paper than from a small mobile telephone. One of the points they make is:
“It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that the critical problem about relegating significant policy change to secondary legislation is that parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation is far less robust than that afforded to primary legislation”.
I remind the Committee that there were recently complaints about the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. Primary legislation was specifically excluded for exactly this reason: when I was responsible for that Bill, it seemed to me that if Parliament passes primary legislation, it should not, as a matter of routine, be changed by secondary legislation.
The “Government by Diktat” report goes on to say:
“We are concerned that the underlying challenge to the balance between Parliament and government is not primarily attributable to the impact of ‘exceptional times’ such as Brexit and the pandemic, as the Permanent Secretaries appeared to assert, but is instead the result of a general strategic shift by government.”
It seems to me that this Bill, which has been thought about for so many years, falls into exactly that category.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee refers to “skeleton legislation”. This Bill is almost so skeletal that we wonder if bits of the bones were stolen away by wild animals and taken and buried somewhere, as happens with cartoon characters. The DPRRC takes the view that
“skeleton legislation should only be used in the most exceptional circumstances and that, where it is used, a department should always provide a full justification, including an explanation of the nature of those exceptional circumstances” and
“why no other approach was reasonable to adopt”.
Again, that seems to be absolutely fair and reasonable. If I may quote further:
“Skeleton bills or skeleton clauses, by their very nature, cannot be adequately scrutinised during their passage through Parliament.”
We are trying to scrutinise the Bill and hold the Government to account. I want good legislation. I want legislation that achieves its objective and that clarifies the boundaries of power between the legislature, the King in Parliament and the courts.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument, which I think behoves us to ask the question: why are the Government bringing forward legislation prematurely? The purpose may be that they are seeking to raise conflict in relation to the unions and the strikes for a political reason. The Government are in a position to resolve the strikes but are choosing not to do so, and they are now using legislation as a vehicle by which to do so.
I do not want to be disagreeable, but I do not take that view. I think the Bill has been brought forward as it is because, actually, it is easy for Governments to bring forward skeleton legislation. In my view, it exhibits a general trend in a very acute form. The tendency for Governments to do so goes back many years. Thanks to a House of Lords report, I have a quotation from 1929 from Lord Chief Justice Hewart, who was concerned even then about excess powers being taken. But this Bill puts it in such an acute form, because clause 3 is simply so wide ranging.
I think that this is seeking the easy way to legislate. In my experience, parliamentary counsel, who are among the finest civil servants in the country—the work they do is phenomenal—are never defeated by time, but they are sometimes defeated by political instruction. Had they been instructed to draft a Bill that contained the proper details of what is needed, they would have been able to do so.
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Member’s erudite exposition of the constitutional matters affecting the Bill. I draw his attention to the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Huw Merriman, who, in recent discussions with the trade unions, made it clear that this was about one thing only—pay—and that the Government would not “capitulate” to the rail trade unions because they would have to give a fair deal to every other sector going on strike, with the latest being the firefighters.
I agree with what the Bill is intended to do. I think that minimum levels of service are perfectly reasonable and not an outrageous thing to ask; they apply to the police and to the armed services. My objection is not to the aim of the Bill; it is merely about the constitutional process.
My right hon. Friend is right, in response to the comment from John McDonnell about strange alliances, that it is the constitutional issues that raise the most significant concerns among Government Members.
In addition to those two reports from the House of Lords, we have the pending review from the Hansard Society on secondary legislation, with its preliminary findings due, I think, on 6 or
The Bill is, as I said, a particularly extreme example of bad practice with the least possible excuse for it. There are many Bills where we can find some reason why it had to be done in such a way. I sat on Committees looking at Henry VIII powers and trying to stop them, and I often found that, actually, they were needed because that was the only way of doing things. I make no apology for the Energy Prices Act 2022. That was emergency legislation, and it contained lots of powers because energy prices had got so high that something had to be done straight away to save people from financial distress. That was a reasonable balance between the Executive and the legislature, but this Bill is not urgent legislation.
My fear is that, by writing poor legislation, we invite the courts to intervene more. I do not like the fact that, over recent decades, the courts have intervened more in our legislative processes. That undermines the democratic remit that we have to make the laws. However, if that is handed over to secondary legislation, of course the courts will intervene because the level of scrutiny of secondary legislation is so much lower and there is little other protection. So if we take away scrutiny from this House, where else will it go? Then we get judicial review, and then the Executive finds that it cannot carry out its plans for government, so it becomes self-defeating.
I understand and completely follow the logic of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument. I agree with it. However, he is shirking the responsibility of this House by simply passing it to the Lords. In recent months, we have seen the Government withdraw a Bill for further consideration until they got it right. Surely that is the mechanism to get the Bill right; otherwise, we are shirking our responsibility.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that he attributes to me more influence than I have. My fusillade against clause 3 will not change many votes this evening—including my own, as it happens. Therefore, it will not be the case that the Government will be defeated in the Committee. I think that I went quite a long way in saying that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne was not wrong on amendment 101; I thought that was pretty generous. However, the right hon. Gentleman is a hard man—he is known as a hard man of the left, and he is a hard man of parliamentary procedure as well.
It is quite impressive that, despite the right hon. Member having been on his feet for 16 minutes telling us how bad the Bill is, he has not convinced himself to vote against it. Is it not the case that he was quite happy to have Henry VIII powers when he was Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but, now that he is a Back Bencher, he is against them and back to respecting parliamentary sovereignty?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong about that. In all the legislation that I was involved with, I pushed against Henry VIII powers on every single occasion and always asked why they were necessary—I merely could not make that particularly public. There is a place for Henry VIII powers—they are not all bad—but those in the Bill go much too far. If he looks at the evidence that I gave from those House of Lords reports, he will see that it was on exactly those lines.
I must give up soon, but first I give way to my right hon. Friend.
I appreciate how my right hon. Friend is trying to give helpful pointers to Government Front Benchers about ways in which the Bill could be improved. Does he agree with a point made to me by a regional representative of the TUC: that there is so little detail in the Bill that it gives Ministers too much discretion to decide what constitutes an adequate service level? That needs to be looked at again, especially because, where such legislation applies in European countries, the unions are involved in deciding what the minimum service levels are.
I think that the Bill should set out clearly what it is trying to achieve, so I will end with an appeal to the other place: I hope that their lordships will look at clause 3 with extreme care, that they will not be abashed by whatever majority comes from this House with respect to the Bill, and that they will amend the Bill to strengthen it, make it more effective and ensure that it achieves its objectives and sets out, in a good and proper constitutional way, what it is trying to achieve. That would be helpful to the Government, but it would also be good practice.
I should love to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but lots of people want to speak and I have gone on for too long.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Rees-Mogg—certainly now that he has found his Back-Bench voice again—but it is disappointing that he is still in favour of the Bill even though he says how badly drafted it is. We know how bad a Bill’s concept and drafting are when something like 120 amendments are tabled, spanning 53 pages, yet the Bill itself has only six clauses over seven pages.
I thank my hon. Friend Chris Stephens, who is responsible for about a quarter of the entire amendment paper. I am disappointed to see that there is not a single Tory amendment, nor a single Tory MP backing any of the amendments despite how many there are. It is good to hear some critical voices, however, and I hope that at the very least the Minister will listen to the Tory Back-Bench voices telling us how unconstitutional the Bill’s drafting is and the dangers that it will bring.
With only five hours to debate amendments, as my hon. Friend David Linden said, it is clear that the Government are intent on ramming the Bill through with minimum scrutiny but maximum politics as part of the Tory culture war—a culture war that they are now taking to something like 7 million key workers. I hope they get their just reward at the next election from those 7 million voters. Considering that the Tory party accumulated only 14 million votes at the last election, those 7 million key voters could be critical up and down Great Britain.
The Bill is so offensive that there is a moral dilemma involved in tabling amendments to it. How can we improve a Bill that we so fundamentally oppose? For that reason, we tabled amendments to delete each clause. As I have said before, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, John Lamont, has described the Bill at the Dispatch Box as “anti-strike legislation”. Our amendment 33, which was not selected, would have changed its title to “Anti-Strikes (Forced Working) Bill”, which would have been quite apt.
The Bill presents opportunities for employers to pick on specific individuals and name them as required to break a strike. If those individuals do not comply, they face the ultimate sanction of sacking. Those proposals are not replicated internationally, even in places where, as the Government like to remind us, there is some form of minimum service legislation. The threat of sacking for going on strike is absolutely outrageous, so I certainly support Opposition amendment 1. Although the Minister says that the Bill could not lead to sacking, the overview in the explanatory notes makes it clear that it will remove protections from unfair dismissal for going on strike. That is the key aim of the Bill, as set out in the overview given in the explanatory notes, so the Minister cannot say that the Bill will not lead to the sacking of key workers.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Minister keeps shaking his head whenever someone mentions dismissal, but it is clearly there in the Bill. The Bill says that someone who is sacked will have no right to an industrial tribunal. The very real concern for many of us is that trade union officials and activists will be the ones who are picked on. They will be dismissed and will not have the right to a tribunal.
I will return to that point, but it is quite clear that the Bill allows individuals to be named. If someone is deemed to be part of an awkward squad, or to be a trade unionist the company wants rid of, they can be named. If they do not break a strike, they could be sacked.
A common theme on the amendment paper is the attempt to control and limit the definition of “minimum service” and ensure that it relates to service required for genuinely critical health and safety-related matters. I support such amendments, although we know that there is existing legislation that covers life and limb protection anyway. In a similar vein, there are attempts to limit unilateral impositions by the Government. There are also several new clauses and amendments that relate to consultation, voluntary agreements, compliance with international obligations and the implementation of an arbitration process. If the Government had any intention of collegiate working, we would not have to debate the inclusion of such measures.
Another theme—I am glad that the right hon. Member for North East Somerset brought it up—is parliamentary sovereignty and the need to prevent too much control from lying with the UK Government. Those are issues that should exercise Tory Back Benchers.
I support all amendments that would eliminate the retrospective effect of the Bill and stop it applying to strikes that have already been balloted for. The Bill is bad enough, but to apply it retrospectively to attack strikes that have already been properly balloted for, under the existing rules and the existing draconian legislation, is just bizarre.
The SNP has tabled amendments that would protect devolution and require approval from devolved Governments and other bodies on devolved matters before implementation. If Scotland were indeed an equal partner, the UK Government would not have a problem with such requirements, but we know that their attitude is “Westminster knows best”, even though it is Westminster that is wrecking inter-Government relations. It is now Westminster that is looking to wreck relationships with key workers, including in the devolved nations.
Our amendment 27 is an attempt to eliminate the ridiculous proposal that secondary legislation could be used to “amend, repeal or revoke” any previous legislation already passed by Parliament or any future legislation in this Session. SNP amendment 28 further makes it clear that such Henry VIII powers should not extend to devolved legislation. It might be acceptable for most of the Tories to allow their Government unparalleled powers over past and future legislation, but it is simply not acceptable to us that Westminster could have carte blanche to rip up devolved legislation that has already been passed. I welcome the similar amendments tabled by Beth Winter to protect the devolved institutions; I hope that Labour Front Benchers too will see the need to stand up and protect devolution.
I also support the hon. Member’s amendments 98 and 77. They mirror our amendments 30, 36, 37 and 38, which would amend clause 4 and the schedule to ensure that the Bill will not apply to Scotland. New clause 2 spells it out: the Bill should
“not apply to disputes which take place in…Scotland or Wales”,
no matter where the workers reside. If the Tories really want this Bill, I suggest that they own it and justify it to the nurses, ambulance drivers and train workers in their constituencies—but do not think about imposing it on Scotland and Wales, whose Governments do not want it.
Our amendments are intended to prevent imposition from Westminster, but the blunt reality is that unless employment law is devolved to Scotland, the Bill—clause 3 in particular—will allow Westminster to interfere and impose as it sees fit. We are now seeing Westminster confirming autocratic powers.
My hon. Friend mentions the devolution of employment law. As far as I am aware, the Smith commission undertook to decide whether it should be devolved. Does my hon. Friend know which party blocked that from coming to Scotland?
I think that was a rhetorical question. It was, unfortunately, Labour that led the charge against devolving employment law. Interestingly, the Scottish Trades Union Congress has made it clear that it supports devolving employment law to Scotland, so I urge the Labour party to reconsider its approach.
I missed what my hon. Friend said. Did he say which party blocked the devolution of employment law?
Just for the record, unfortunately it was the Labour party that blocked the concept of devolving employment law to Scotland—although, to be fair, it was also the Labour party that devolved employment law to Northern Ireland. If it is good enough for Northern Ireland, it should be good enough for Scotland.
Just one more time, for the record, will my hon. Friend confirm which party prevented employment law from being devolved to Scotland?
Again, just for the record—I thought I was speaking quite loudly, but just in case Members did not hear what I said—it was indeed the Labour party that blocked employment law from being devolved to Scotland. Hopefully the Labour party will reconsider, now that that is on the record.
Amendment 32 confirms the need for the approval of the devolved Governments and the London Assembly before the Bill’s provisions can take effect in their areas of competence. So the Minister does have a choice: he can accept amendments proposing co-operation and respect for the policies and views of the devolved Parliaments, or he can choose to continue with the option of riding roughshod over them. It is up to the Minister and his Government.
Amendments 59, 60 and 61 attempt to create some simple rules of fairness. I have grave concerns about the lack of detail in the Bill with regard to what the Government and employers can do to be vindictive or creative when it comes to ways of making strikes harder to achieve and, possibly, ineffective. The reality is that workers withdraw their labour as a last resort, given that they suffer their own financial penalties in doing so. However, if strikes do not have some form of disruptive effect they carry no leverage, allowing employers carte blanche to impose real-terms wage cuts on key workers, or to change terms and conditions unilaterally.
Why is it only key workers whose wages are not allowed to increase in line with inflation? Why is it fine for this Government to lift limits on bankers’ bonuses and allow unlimited wage increases in the private sector, while public sector key workers have to accept real-terms wage cuts because the Government argue that increases would cause further inflation? The Government deny that their policies under the former Prime Minister caused inflation and mortgage increases. They have told us that inflation is a worldwide phenomenon, partly related to Putin’s illegal war. If that is the underlying reason for inflation, why are they targeting key workers such as nurses and ambulance drivers, claiming that their wage increases would further drive inflation? Why are they willing to pay more in revenue protection to train companies than the sums that they could have paid to workers to resolve the wages dispute? This is clear evidence of a culture war, and it is why we need to restrict the Government’s powers as much as possible.
Amendment 59 would provide for a maximum threshold in terms of a workforce that can be forced to work. Otherwise, as I have said, strikes could be rendered ineffective. My big concern is that in the case of transport, for instance, the Government could stipulate a service requirement that would effectively mean that the majority of the workforce needed to be deployed on a given strike day. Railway signalmen are an obvious example. If minimum services are to run throughout Great Britain, which seems to be the demand from some Tory Back Benchers, that means that the majority of signalmen would be forced to work on strike days.
Amendment 60 is intended to ensure that the Government cannot impose a minimum service that companies have failed to match. Just this weekend we saw Avanti cancel services left, right and centre. It would surely be absurd for workers to be forced to work on strike days, and to provide a better service for those companies than they are able to provide on normal days. We know that the train companies rely on drivers working on rest days; if the companies cannot provide that better service without relying on workers giving up rest days, there is no way they should be able to provide it by putting pressure on drivers on strike days.
Amendment 61 provides for further limits on the extent of the minimum service that can be stipulated. I suggest that any normal person would agree that 20% is quite a high minimum service, but the operation of rail services at 20% has been used as an argument for the need for a rail strikes Bill. On Second Reading we heard Tory Back Benchers argue that more trains were needed to run kids to and from school, which is an absurd minimum service argument. That is why we need controls to stipulate the upper levels of minimum service that the Government and employers can try to impose.
In the past the Government have been keen to cite the International Labour Organisation so, logically, they should embrace amendments confirming that they will work with and comply with its obligations. Surely, given that they have held up the ILO’s endorsement of minimum service levels as an option, they will fully embrace what it has to say on these matters, and ensure compliance with convention No. 87.
The Government have also spoken previously about wanting to agree minimum service levels on a voluntary basis. Given the haste to get the Bill through, that concept is debatable, to say the least. If we extend that logic, however, they should embrace the concept of consultation and arbitration before making any regulations under proposed new section 234B. Our amendments 51 and 50 facilitate and outline the consultation with social partners and trade unions and the need for arbitration, and, importantly, the fact that the Secretary of State should not act in a way that is against arbitration recommendations. That would align with the international practice with which the Government apparently want to align themselves.
Similarly, we believe that employers should consult on proposed work notices with trade unions and, when agreement is not reached, should have a transparent arbitration process. Our amendment 43 outlines the use of ACAS for an arbitration panel. I would be happy to support other amendments outlining arbitration considerations, including amendment 117, tabled by my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry. We have tabled amendments relating to the way in which work notices should be served and consulted on, and employees notified of them, in the interests of transparency.
I also support the various amendments that are intended to ensure that employers cannot single out individuals and trade unionists in a work notice. That is a recipe for further full-on attacks on trade unionists and shop stewards, and is very much part of the Tory “divide and conquer” strategy, which is why controls and limits are necessary. It is difficult to believe that these matters are up for debate and, worse, are likely to be defeated by Tory Lobby fodder.
Overall, nothing will change the fact that this is intended to be a vindicative Bill, impinging on the basic human right to strike. Any amendments that are accepted would only make the Bill less bad, but I believe that the amendments that the Government accept or—more probably—choose to vote down will be a test of whether they are serious about complying with international best practice. If they cannot agree to simple concepts such as consultation, negotiations on a voluntary basis, arbitration and not imposing unrealistic minimum service demands, they will be confirming that this is indeed the anti-strike, forced-working Bill. That is why we need employment law to be devolved to Scotland—but, more important, Scotland needs to be independent, and away from this UK Government in Westminster altogether.
Order. A great many Members are trying to get in. I cannot impose a time limit because we are in Committee, but I strongly advise colleagues to speak for rather less than 10 minutes. I also intend to prioritise those who have tabled amendments.
Let me begin by making it clear that I do, of course, want everyone working in the emergency services and the wider NHS to earn a decent living and to work in conditions that help them to perform at their best. I think that everyone wants that.
There is no doubt that our NHS has been under enormous pressure, and that continuing state of affairs has been the subject of much of the debate on this Bill, but I think we must recognise the record investment in the NHS. Demand has soared, and there are pressures on the service run by Labour in Wales and by the Scottish National party in Scotland. We hear the narrative of, “This party this” and “this party that”, but Labour Members keep their heads down when we are discussing the NHS in Wales. That just shows that they are making political capital out of the challenges in the NHS. Angela Rayner shakes her head, but the problems in the NHS are exactly the same in the Labour-run NHS in Wales. That is a fact—and there is more money per head for the NHS in Wales than for the NHS in England.
That said, I welcome the additional steps to support the NHS that the Government have taken today. We need to come to terms with the existence of an ageing population and increasing demand, although I recognise that issue is separate from what we are discussing today, which is what reasonable legislative steps we might take whether public services are performing well or not, and whether or not there is pressure on employees and wages.
I will always defend workers’ right to strike as important, but it has always been a qualified right, not an absolute right. I intervened on the deputy Leader of the Opposition to make the point that we already have legislation—not a voluntary agreement—that states that police officers cannot strike. I have not yet heard of the Labour party putting in their manifesto that they would repeal that if they were lucky enough to win the next election, because they think that legislation on mandatory strike control is unacceptable. That makes the politics of this issue very obvious. Any successful society must balance the right of workers in certain sectors of the economy.
Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that if the police were to go on strike, the Prime Minister would not be issued with another fixed penalty notice? It is quite important that the police are able to do their job.
Perhaps there would not be investigations into some of the historical misconduct in the SNP. We can all throw stones at one another about misconduct. It is not relevant to the debate, but I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s attempt to put me off.
We need balance in society when it comes to the rights of workers, businesses and individual citizens.
No, I want to make progress.
Unions have a requirement to represent the specific interests of specific people who pay them to do just that. Union leaders are not invested in the wider interests of society; they are required literally to deliver for the people who pay their subs. I welcome that as an important part of society and how we get good employment law, but it also means that unions are not a benevolent part of the discussion about businesses, society and the economy. They all have interests and they represent those interests. If that is given too much weight, they can hold a business or public service in a fixed point in time, unable to change and move with the times. It is no different from the battle we fought with the luddites. If unions were around at the time of the luddites, I guarantee that they would have been the first to say, “Destroy the machines; get rid of them; we don’t want them!” They will only ever look after the short-term interests of the people they represent. That is not what we as a Government should look at.
To paint these things as black and white is a gross oversimplification of a complex balancing act. Opposition Members try to make out that we on the Government Benches are anti-union. We are not; we are anti unions running the country without balance and with a Government in their pockets. On other issues we might see whether we get the balancing act right by looking to other countries, but I think we can make those judgements on our own. Again, the Opposition are very keen to tell this Government to look to Europe to decide what is good legislation and the right way to protect workers’ rights. Conveniently, on this issue we can give examples of similar legislation in Europe, but they absolutely do not want that.
The truth emerging in this debate is that if we were to bring ourselves into line with Europe, those on the Government Front Benches would be suggesting collective bargaining levels of 80% or 90%, not the 25% we have in the UK. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw his remark, because it is simply disingenuous and untrue that the legislation is comparable? The ILO has said so.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates my remarks. Whenever we say that, Opposition Members want to bring up differences in union law. The Government do not decide to make individual bits of legislation only if they match all the other legislation in a similar environment. This is a separate issue. Whether we have collective bargaining does not mean that minimum service legislation is or is not valid. You either think it is important to have minimum services, or you do not. Determining whether there can be a strike is completely separate from whether there are restrictions on the impact that a strike can have. I will not withdraw that remark; I stand by it.
No, I have given way a couple of times and I want to make progress. [Interruption.]
Order. The hon Gentleman says that he will not give way.
As I said, Opposition Members need to make up their minds. On the one hand, they want to constantly castigate this Government for moving away from what they say is the gold standard of employment relations in Europe—I do not agree with that—but when we come up with something that is done in Europe and that we want to do here, they are not interested. They talk about differences in how ballots are run and other elements that are separate from the issue of whether to have minimum service legislation.
What does the hon. Gentleman say to the fact that France and Italy have legislation in place for minimum service, but have seen an increase in strikes rather than a decrease?
As I said, we will not have identical legislation to countries in Europe, but there are countries in Europe that Opposition Members frequently point to that do similar things to us. They pick and choose when they want to compare us to Europe. They hold Europe as an example, but on this occasion when we follow the example, they think it is totally irrelevant and we are way out of line. That does not make any sense and it is not a consistent argument.
Our nation cannot be held to ransom across critical infrastructure. Workers can exert their lawful power to strike in a way that creates disruption, but there must be limits, as there are with the police. That is perfectly reasonable. Under the Bill, regulations will determine specific services in each sector to which a minimum level of service will apply, and will set those levels. The regulations will be tailored to each relevant service, taking account of the different risks to public safety or the impact on daily life.
I understand the thrust of my hon. Friend’s argument, and I agree with a lot of it. But does he agree that it might have a better chance of working if, when those minimum service levels are set for each industry, agreement can be reached with union representatives on what those minimum levels should be? Having reached that agreement, it would be far easier to implement the legislation.
The Government are committed to extensive consultation to set the minimum service levels, and that sets the spirit in which they want to reach the agreements. Agreements, and positive engagement with industry about them, are in place in Europe. As we have seen with the current strikes, it is not as if the will is not there to agree and recognise that there needs to be a degree of minimum service. As I have said, we have it in the police and it is part of legislation. I do not think it is right that we rely on voluntary agreements to secure others such as ambulance service workers. On principle, I do not think that it should purely be up to the negotiating process to decide that. We should aim for negotiation and for agreement, but not rely on voluntary agreements.
The Government expect to consult on this. It is not the huge attack that Opposition Members make it out to be, as we have seen with the police. We are taking a negotiated, compromised position, similar to many countries in Europe. On that, I conclude my remarks.
It is interesting to follow Dr Mullan. As a proud trade unionist, I refer the Committee to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. For the avoidance of doubt, I declare that I do not have an £800,000 overdraft facilitated by the chair of the BBC, a multi-million-pound repayment with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or shares in a tax haven.
I wholeheartedly oppose this hurried, vicious and anti-devolutionary Bill in its entirety, and will vote against it tonight. I rise to speak specifically to the amendments in my name and those of right hon. and hon. Members. Our country is in crisis. Millions of workers are seeing their terms and conditions ground down and their wages eroded. Many are unable to meet their bills and are saying very loudly “Enough is enough.” Yet this Government’s response to strikes called successfully—despite the most severe, draconian balloting requirements and restrictions that they have imposed on trade unions—is to say no to legitimate pay demands and to negotiations, and to attack the very right to strike itself. Britain already has the toughest anti-union laws in Europe.
No worker wants to go on strike. It is a last resort taken at a financial cost. That desperation is evidenced by workers beating some of the strictest thresholds in the western world to do so. The reason that workers are pushed to strike is that in the face of a spiralling cost of living crisis, they have no other option. No amount of tightening the screws on trade unions will change that material fact. This Bill will do nothing to change the reality for millions of British workers who have seen their real-terms incomes drop dramatically since 2010.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I fully support all that he has said in his speech. Would he agree that the effect of the Government’s attitude, and of this and other anti-democratic legislation, is not only to increase support for strong industrial action to win decent pay rises but to encourage many other people who want to live in decent housing and do not want to live in desperate poverty to support this wave of industrial action and bring about a fairer society?
My right hon. Friend is right. People’s response has not been to lie down and accept the Government’s bidding; they have no choice but to stand up for themselves. Labour will have no truck with this terrible attack on working people, and once in government we will not only repeal this appalling legislation but, under the expert stewardship of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, bring in the new deal for working people to tackle in-work poverty head on. The real impact of this Bill will be that any employee who disobeys an order to work during a strike could be fired. That is simply unacceptable in a free society. I was staggered at some of the comments from Conservative Members that they did not think that was the impact of the Bill. It clearly is.
I tried to intervene on Dr Mullan, who I believe was a GP, and my question would have been: if a doctor, nurse, transport worker or fire and rescue service rescue worker had voted for industrial action and was then instructed by their boss to cross a picket line and was compelled to work, what would that do in terms of the duty of care from the employer to the employee and the wellbeing and mental health of those individuals?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is about targeting people. People will be selected for treatment under these work notices, and trade unionists will be singularly picked out to add to the humiliation and distress. It is a dreadful tactic.
The practical reality is that for some workers this takes away the whole right to strike. An example in my constituency is air traffic control. There is no such thing as a minimum service guarantee in air traffic control, and the same can be said for rail signalmen. This process will extend the denial of the right to strike to whole batches of workers, and we need to acknowledge that in this debate.
My right hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. There are workers who are going to be denied that fundamental right to withdraw their labour, and that is a step that should be taken with a great sense of foreboding and concern.
The Bill could also lead to bankruptcy for trade unions as they become exposed to lawsuits that could wipe them out. Notably, there is no minimum service required of the Government in the Bill. If workers are required to provide minimum service levels on strike days, why is there no such requirement for the Government and outsourced private providers on non-strike days? As we have seen in the course of these disputes, workers and unions are well aware of their legal and moral obligations, but this Government’s cynicism stinks. They are more than happy to sit on their hands when there are more than 500 excess deaths a month in our NHS, but they are suddenly sparked into action over concerns about public safety when strikes occur. If they were genuine in their concerns they would give those workers a proper pay award, but instead their real determination is to strip away their rights.
Patients are not dying because nurses are striking. As the RCN says so eloquently:
“Nurses are striking because patients are dying.”
Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, it is already unlawful to take industrial action in the knowledge or belief that human life could be endangered or “serious bodily injury” caused as a consequence. In short, life and limb cover is always maintained. I know that the Conservatives are itching to sack nurses, but the RCN handbook sets out in great detail how those nurses will provide “life and limb” cover—the very task that they have undertaken on our behalf before and during covid and will continue to undertake for as long as they have the energy to do so.
The reality is that if this Bill is passed, public services will get even worse. It has long been established that the right to withdraw one’s labour is a fundamental liberty, and it is trade unions who won us the basic rights of annual leave, sick pay, the two-day weekend, the eight-hour day, health and safety protections at work and much more. We need strong trade unions, not only as a right in themselves but to protect the rights we already have and to fight for more. By attacking the right to strike, and by extension the trade union movement, the Government put all this at risk and there will be even more disruption.
The only Government internal impact assessment found that imposing minimum service levels could lead to an increased frequency of strikes. The Transport Secretary admits the new laws will not work and the Education Secretary does not want them. Inside Government there is a recognition that public services will be the likely casualty of an ideologically motivated attack on the right to strike. Much has been said by Conservative Members and by the Secretary of State in particular about their sudden love affair with the International Labour Organisation, praying in aid the ILO’s approach to minimum service levels, but what the Government conveniently omit to mention is that convention 87 of the ILO sets out the criteria that this Government want to ignore. It stresses that the introduction of a negotiated minimum service as a possible alternative to the total prohibition of strikes should be contemplated only when the interruption of services would endanger life or the personal safety of the whole or part of the population.
The Government have also omitted to say that in other jurisdictions and economies there is much greater collective bargaining by trade unions for better terms and conditions for their members. The comparison with the UK is ludicrous. The ILO says that a minimum service should be a genuine and exclusively minimum service—which this Bill does not prescribe—and that unions should be able to participate in defining such a service. As Sir Julian Lewis has said, disputes should be resolved not by the Government but by a joint or independent body that has the confidence of the parties. There are examples, not only across Europe but across the world, where such practices obtain, but the Bill is as silent about them as it is about any sensible and proper safeguards, leaving the law by diktat entirely to the wide Henry VIII powers vested in the Secretary of State.
It therefore makes sense—as envisaged by amendments 83 and 84, which I commend to the House—to engage the CBI and the TUC in these matters and to pursue resolution disputes through ACAS if it comes to that. In any event, the High Court certification set out in new clause 1 is necessary to ensure that this country meets its full obligations, in respect not only of convention 87 of the ILO but of the obligations set out in the European social charter of 1961 and under the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement. We are parties to all these treaties and we need to make sure that we abide by them. New clause 1 addresses that. As it stands, we have not seen any risk assessment testing those obligations. Professor Keith Ewing told us in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that
“we cannot remove the EU social rights inheritance, because of article 387, where the removal is motivated by trade and investment, which seems to be the motivation here.”
He went on to say:
“Brexit does not mean release from international obligations or even from our continuing obligation to comply with European law.”
In 13 years of Tory rule, numerous pieces of anti-trade union legislation have been passed. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is only the latest attempt to neuter the power of workers, and there is no reason to assume that it will stop there. This dreadful, ideologically insane Government are thankfully on their last legs, but in the time they have left, they are clearly determined to continue their attack on the rights of workers and the services they work in. It will be another sad day for this country if the Bill passes its Third Reading tonight, but the Government should be in no doubt that, in doing this, they will be hammering another nail into their own coffin.
Just a little reminder that I said under 10 minutes would be helpful, otherwise not everyone will get in.
It is a pleasure to follow Andy McDonald. I will pick up where he left off. The right to strike is neither absolute nor unlimited. He was correct to point the Committee to the 87th convention of the ILO on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise, and he will be aware that article 9 of that convention sets out the limited circumstances in which any member state has a margin for discretion to decide whether certain sectors can be banned from striking altogether. As a matter of fact, the United Kingdom exercises that qualification in restricting the right to strike for police officers, members of the armed forces and prison officers.
Despite the hon. Gentleman’s language about this country’s having very restricted union rights, Opposition Members must concede that there has been a high degree of consensus while in government. I gently remind him that when Labour was last in government, after the numerous changes to strike law in the 1980s, it published the “Fairness at Work” White Paper in 1998. Its foreword stated:
“There will be no going back. The days of strikes without ballots, mass picketing, closed shops and secondary action are over.”
Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman, although I present it from a different angle, is that the issue throughout debate on this Bill is whether the proposed restrictions are necessary and proportionate. Amendments 9 to 14 and 73 to 75, tabled by Angela Rayner, who is no longer in her place, and other Labour Front Benchers, would hack out each of the sectors that have been designated as sufficiently important to warrant a minimum service level—education, transport, nuclear decommissioning, border security, fire and health.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough was a tiny bit disingenuous when he read from the ILO’s publication and said that the ILO allows a minimum service level only in
“services the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population”.
He knows as well as I do that he could and should have read on, because the ILO allows minimum service levels in
“services which are not essential in the strict sense of the term, but in which strikes of a certain magnitude and duration could cause an acute crisis threatening the normal conditions of existence…or in public services of fundamental importance.”
Earlier today, every Member of this House received a House of Commons Library briefing on this Bill. It included an important 2012 report from the ILO, which I know many Members will have read, that provides some assistance:
“the right to strike is not absolute and may be restricted in exceptional circumstances, or even prohibited”.
The report gives three examples of where that might apply. The first is certain categories of public servants, and relevant to this debate is the reference to teachers:
“the Committee considers that public sector teachers are not included in the category of public servants ‘exercising authority in the name of the State’ and that they should therefore benefit from the right to strike…even though, under certain circumstances, the maintenance of a minimum service may be envisaged… This principle should also apply to postal workers and railway employees, as well as to civilian personnel in military institutions when they are not engaged in the provision of essential services in the strict sense of the term.”
In relation to the National Education Union, which is striking on Wednesday, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which seems to be striking most of the time, the Opposition know, or at least ought to know, that the ILO thinks that minimum service levels should apply both in education and transport.
The hon. Lady is making a very interesting contribution. She and the Government are making out that the International Labour Organisation somehow supports this measure. However, its director general has said that he is “very worried” about this Bill. Given that, will the hon. Lady invite the Minister to withdraw his assertion that the ILO supports this measure?
An experienced employment lawyer like the hon. Member for Middlesbrough will know the true mechanics very well. A union and probably the TUC and Professor Keith Ewing, because he did the last one, will put in a written submission to the ILO, and its committee of experts based at the ILO office in Geneva will respond in due course. It is not appropriate to say that something is the complete answer of the ILO because somebody has waggled a microphone under somebody’s nose at Davos. There is a procedure.
I hope my speech is not confusing Richard Burgon, because I am not suggesting for a moment that what was sent to MPs this morning is a comment on the United Kingdom. It is the ILO’s statement of general principles on minimum service levels, and I will continue, if I may. The ILO says that the second acceptable restriction is where strikes take place in activities that may be considered essential services. It lists, at paragraph 135 of its 2012 report:
“air traffic control, telephone service…firefighting services, health and ambulance services, prison services, the security forces and water and electricity services.”
The report continues:
“In situations in which a…total prohibition of strike action would not appear to be justified…consideration might be given to ensuring that users’ basic needs are met or that facilities operate safely or without interruption, the introduction of a negotiated minimum service…could be appropriate.”
What the hon. Lady is saying is very interesting, but does she accept that, as we are in Europe, any analysis of the legality of these proposals has to start with article 11 of the European convention on human rights? Can she point to any country in Europe with Government-enforced minimum standards that can lead to the sacking of workers on strike? [Interruption.] The Minister should listen to the question carefully, because the answer will be on the record. Can Laura Farris point to any other country in Europe that has Government-enforced minimum standards, without negotiation and without arbitration—
Order. The hon. and learned Lady will be trying to catch my eye later, and I do not want interventions to be too long.
I know, and I was going to say that it is important that interventions are not interrupted. Has the hon. and learned Lady finished?
Can the hon. Member for Newbury point to any country in Europe in which, as a result of Government-enforced minimum standards, without any negotiation and without any arbitration, a worker can lose his or her job, other than—wait for it—Hungary or Russia?
The hon. and learned Lady is right that negotiation is required. I was shocked to find that, in France, the sanction for a person who refuses a requisitioning request is via the criminal courts. I did not know that, and I did not know it is the case in Canada, too. It may be that I have misread the legislation, and that it is a “life and limb” exemption—I am not familiar enough with French legislation.
I will help the hon. Lady. Is she aware that the ILO is saying that unions should participate in defining minimum service levels, and that any disputes should be dealt with not by a Government but by an independent body? Does she agree with that? It is not in the Bill.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and it is a good point. Even though the ILO has set out, in black and white, the services in which it says the right to strike might lawfully be restricted, and even though its list includes every single service that the Government have included in the Bill—in fact, the ILO goes much further—the Opposition, for some reason, seem to wish to take out every one of those essential services. They would say no to a minimum service level when the schools are on strike, no to any key worker being able to put their kids in school and no to any vulnerable child being able to be looked after. They would say no to the trains running at all during the rush hour. The Opposition need to be clear with the British people about why their amendments deviate so far from international norms. It seems to be the case that, in their view, the country should grind to a standstill.
I will make a bit of progress, because I am conscious of time.
Let me just deal briefly with the issue of sanction, because it has come up. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough will know—he is an employment lawyer, but there may be others—that section 219 of the 1992 Act is uniquely convoluted in the way it confers a protection on the worker and on the union in terms of the right to strike. The statutory language is that there is immunity in suit from the tort of inducement to breach of contract—that is the right to strike as expressed in domestic law. What I think the law is doing here in terms of sanction is removing the immunity—that is what is happening; that is the logical consequence of anything that restricts the right to strike. I just want to say this: nobody in this Chamber envisages sacking nurses or any other category of emergency worker, but it must be right that, if the section 219 immunity is lost or in any way qualified, we bring into play disciplinary sanctions. That must be right and I accept that.
I have said in response to Joanna Cherry that both France and Canada seem to have a far more draconian system—[Interruption.] She can correct this when she makes her speech. Again, I looked at what the ILO said about this issue. I will finish with this Dame Rosie, because I can tell that I am being annoying. The ILO said that if the strike is determined to be unlawful by a competent judicial authority on the basis of provisions that are in conformity with the freedom of association principles, proportionate disciplinary sanctions may be imposed. I do have some improvements that I think can be made to the Bill, but I am going to take them offline and say them afterwards.
Let me say to the hon. Lady that she was not being annoying; I thought she made a thoughtful speech. I also want to emphasise that I cannot impose a time limit. I simply make a plea to colleagues that if everybody is going to get in, a little discipline might not go amiss on the time front.
I rise to speak against this Bill and in support of amendment 2, which stands in my name and that of my party. Having listened to the debate so far, it strikes me that we can dance on the head of a pin all we like, but this legislation would not, in any way, resolve the situation the country is facing. The Bill does not address the problem; it simply seems to take a mallet to peel a peach.
My amendment, which I ask the Committee to support, would address the problem, because it calls on the Government to look at the level of minimum service they are calling for and ensure that it did not exceed the relevant service recorded on any day of the 12 months previously. It also seeks to ensure that before making regulations on minimum service the Secretary of State would lay before Parliament a report showing that that condition as to the previous 12 months had been met.
I proposed that because I would like the Government to ensure that we can depend on a minimum service level in this country regardless of whether there are strikes and that their attention is to the service provided to the public rather than to attacking the unions. In his comments, Mr Rees-Mogg confirmed that this legislation has been on the books, or in thoughts, for some time and that it is not simply about the present strikes but rather about addressing the issue of industrial relations. I would like the Government to think about whether, in talking about setting a minimum service level, the level of service we have at the moment is acceptable or whether they have run public services into the ground, and whether all they are doing with this Bill is shifting the blame on to workers rather than accepting their own failures.
This Bill is yet another attempt to use the workers and the situation we are in, with crisis after crisis, as a political football to distract from the mismanagement of public services that has led us to this point. If the Government truly want to find a solution to these problems, surely the answer is to take a step back and look at the poor levels of service on days when there is no industrial action. Those poor levels of service have not arisen through anyone’s will to have low services. It has happened simply because of lack of resources and investment in our public services, which for many years, including through the pandemic, staff have struggled to improve on and work through, in conditions that they believe in many cases are unacceptable.
The point we are making with this amendment is to ensure that the Government understand just how bad public services have become on their watch. If they look back at the levels of service over the past 12 months and the conditions the people in the public services have been asked to work in, they will see that they are surely unacceptable and that that is not a level of service they would want in any circumstances. So rather than impose minimum levels of service in a strike situation purely to make a political point, will the Government not accept the amendment, look at the levels of services over the past 12 months and try to improve them and invest in our public services?
It is a pleasure to follow Christine Jardine and to have listened to the very learned submissions from my hon. Friend Laura Farris, who brings considerable experience to bear from a distinguished career at the Bar in this area. I was grateful to listen to those submissions.
I rise to speak against these amendments, particularly amendments 9 to 14, and 73 to 75, because I take the simplistic view that all of us here have been elected to represent all of our constituents and all of our communities. That requires that we balance the rights of people to strike. As I said when I last spoke in this debate, I do accept that it is a fundamental right of public sector workers to be able to strike, but it is not unqualified, because we have already excluded the police and the Army from that right. The Bill seeks to restore the balance between the right to strike and the right of the public to know that access to key, often lifesaving, services and their livelihoods will be protected. Moreover, the Bill seeks to ensure that when public sector workers wish to exercise that right to strike, they can do so safely. For those reasons, I do not believe the Bill needs to be amended.
We have heard a lot said about a poor service on days when there are no strikes, but I am delighted to say that health workers in Southend West have not joined in with the national strike action. So I am standing here to ensure that everyone who is not lucky enough to live in picturesque Leigh-on-Sea and Southend has the same levels of care on all days. The Bill is a recognition that some of our public services are vital and that hard-working taxpayers deserve a minimum level of service. The public have the right to get on with their daily lives and access public services just as much as workers have the right to strike.
Those public services must include health, education and transport. I was deeply disappointed to read on a BBC breaking news alert only this afternoon that the Fire Brigades Union has opted to strike. I will certainly be in touch with my local police and crime commissioner to ask how we can minimise any disruption on those days to people living in my constituency. I am also disappointed that the planned strikes in schools are going ahead, which is not just a problem for students. In my constituency, two schools, Chalkwell Hall Junior School and Heycroft Primary School, are going on strike, affecting nearly 900 pupils. Those schools will close and that is a crying shame. Those children have not had a single year of undisrupted education since they started.
Does my hon. Friend think that it would be helpful if there were a requirement for a minimum notice period, so that schools could at least let parents know that they will close? At present, many schools affected by these decisions do not know what will happen on Wednesday.
My hon. Friend makes a critical point. Not only should there be decent notice, but schools should all be required to run a minimum service, so that we do not have our children’s education disrupted again. A total of 270 million pupil days have already been lost through the covid pandemic and our children deserve better.
I have been listening to Members from both sides of the House since the start of the debate, but I am still somewhat confused by the Opposition’s position. As a humble taxpayer in Bracknell representing key workers and ordinary people who want to go to work, I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees that ordinary people living in Bracknell and beyond—right across the UK—have a fundamental right to be able to send their children to school, to be taken to hospital in an ambulance if they fall sick, and to go to London on the train if they want to go to work. I am confused. Can my hon. Friend help me?
My hon. Friend is making the critical point that we represent all of our constituents—not just those who are public sector workers but those who need to go to work in the private sector in order to maintain their way of life and look after their families. That is why the school closures will be a particular problem to many hard-working parents who may have to take a day off work to look after their children.
I will not be troubling the Committee for much longer, so I will carry on and get through my speech.
I know that we are not debating the specifics of the current strikes today, but it is worth saying again that these wage demands are completely unaffordable. Indeed, if we were to cave in to all of the unions’ wage demands, we would be looking at a bill not far short of £30 billion a year. That would have a huge impact on inflation and cause a permanent increase in our cost of living. In effect, that would mean a pay cut for every single one of our constituents.
In 2010 we had a Tory-Lib Dem coalition; that is when I became political and I now sit on these Benches. I was a teacher and it is because of the Lib Dem-Tory coalition that we are in this mess now. We cannot afford to give a 15% pay rise now, but does the hon. Lady not realise that if we had not had the cuts we have had throughout the 13 years that her party has been in government, we would not be where we are now?
I do not agree with the hon. Lady. There have been some pay rises over that period. The hon. Lady forgets that. I have huge respect for people coming into the House from the teaching profession. My own mother was a teacher and she would never strike. The hon. Lady must remember that, when she came into the House, our public finances were in a state. It is a long time ago, but, none the less, the reality was that there was no money.
I wish to finish my speech.
The Bill will ensure that when people call 999, they can get an ambulance. It will ensure that a fire engine will come if there is a fire. It will ensure that my constituents can send their children to school and travel to work on public transport. This is pragmatic legislation that will bring the UK in line with other countries, such as France and Spain, which already have such legislation in place. I will be supporting the Government’s very sensible Bill, which will protect all my constituents. I urge Opposition Members to do the same, even if that means that their union paymasters do not cough up ahead of the next election.
I speak for millions of trade unionists, public sector workers, key workers and people up and down the country when I say that this Bill is disgraceful, draconian, unconstitutional, undemocratic and a clear attack on workers’ rights.
This afternoon, I will limit my main comments to an amendment of mine that seeks to exclude Wales from the application of the Bill. I also wish to associate myself with a number of other amendments, including those tabled by my right hon. Friend Angela Rayner on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend Richard Burgon, my right hon. Friend John McDonnell, and my hon. Friends the Members for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) and for Ilford South (Sam Tarry).
When I opposed the Bill on Second Reading two weeks ago, I said that it is clear that it will
“overrule the powers and policies of the devolved Governments”.—[Official Report,
This legislation before the Commons has been introduced without any discussion with the Welsh Government. It has been introduced despite it conflicting with the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill before the Senedd. A different approach is being taken in Wales, and I urge Government Members to take note of how things have been done differently—and successfully—in Wales. It is an approach that fosters collaboration and co-operation between Government, employers and workers, and it is encapsulated in the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill, which places partnership working on a statutory footing. It really does work. It is this partnership approach that meant that the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales were able to negotiate a pay settlement recently that was accepted by the RMT.
The hon. Member is giving a powerful speech. What we are seeing in Wales is co-operation and co-working in action, and service is being improved because of it, which, of course, is what good Government and good relations with unions is all about.
I agree with the right hon. Member.
A joint statement by Wales TUC and the Welsh Government called on the UK Government to cease their controversial approach and learn lessons from the collaborative, social partnership approach adopted in Wales. It said that the UK Government should allow the rail companies and RMT to negotiate a deal that is fair and acceptable to Network Rail employees and employees of the UK train operating companies. That is the approach guiding the Welsh Government and the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill before us today is in complete conflict with that legislation. Clearly, there has been no opportunity for the Welsh Government to timetable a legislative consent motion in the Senedd. If they had done so, they would have recorded that the Senedd would withhold consent for this piece of legislation.
The Welsh Government’s view is clear. First Minister Mark Drakeford has stated:
“The Welsh Labour Government does not believe that the response to strikes should be to bring forward such restrictive and backward-looking laws, that trample over the devolution settlement.”
Counsel General Mick Antoniw has said in the Senedd:
“The way to resolve industrial disputes is by negotiation and agreement.”
The Wales TUC has also been very clear. Its general secretary, Shavanah Taj, has said that
“this Bill will prolong disputes and poison industrial relations”,
and has urged all Welsh MPs to reject the Bill.
That is why I have tabled four amendments, each of which seeks to prevent the application of this legislation from taking effect in Wales. I have sought to amend clause 3 by asserting that Senedd Cymru can still pass legislation counter to this Bill. In amendment 77, I have sought to remove the application of the Bill to Wales. In amendments 88 and 97 I seek to remove the powers in the Bill to repeal primary legislation passed in the Senedd, as the Government are seeking to do on agency workers involved in strikes. In amendment 98, I seek to ensure that Welsh workers employed in Wales by English firms are not impacted by this legislation.
I also support a raft of other amendments, as I said earlier, including Opposition amendment 1, which would mitigate some of the most authoritarian elements of the Bill and preserve existing protections against unfair dismissal, including for an employee who participates in a strike contrary to a work notice under the Bill. I also associate myself with amendments setting out the importance of meeting conditions set by the ILO, as already discussed. There must be negotiation between the social partners rather than the imposing of minimum service levels, as this Bill will do.
I refer to those amendments because, as has been mentioned already, the Government have made so much of the claim that the Bill’s purpose has been endorsed by the ILO, only for that claim to be rebuffed by the ILO. In an answer to my written question last week, the Minister confirmed that the Government had had no dialogue whatsoever with the ILO regarding the Bill.
The amendments I have referred to are only a few of those necessary to change the Bill. It should be withdrawn completely, as others have already said. The Government have no interest in social partnership, no interest in good industrial relations and no interest in the views of devolved authorities.
In response to Dr Mullan, who spoke about the NHS in Wales, the reason we are in this situation as a country is that we have endured 12 years of austerity and cuts, and Wales has suffered more than anywhere else. The Welsh budget is worth up to £4 billion less in real terms than when the current three-year funding settlement was set last year. The purse-strings still reside here in Westminster, so shame on this Government for giving money to their wealthy crony partners and friends and to themselves while the rest of the country is suffering.
The Tories’ determination to create a low pay Britain is why we are in this situation, but I am pleased to say that the trade unions and the public are organising and fighting back. The Tories are concerned that they are losing control, and they want to restore it, so what do they do? Attack, attack, attack, enforcing authoritarian and draconian legislation on this country, which we will oppose.
The Bill clearly shows the Tory Government’s contempt and disregard for working people whose difficulties they have caused. It is people’s right to have decent pay and a decent standard of living, but that is not happening in this country. While the wealthy 1% get richer and richer, the 99% are being left behind. That is wrong in so many ways, and we will not accept it anymore.
The purpose of this piece of legislation is to dismantle the trade union movement and workers’ rights, while transferring yet greater powers to the Government and overriding the devolution settlement. I commend my amendments to the House and urge everybody to oppose this terrible piece of legislation.
Let me first refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I notice that not one Conservative Member has referred to their interests in terms of backing from employers, but we will move on.
I want to speak to amendments 39, 42 and 48 and new clause 4. There were 120 amendments tabled to this Bill—a Bill that, in reality, is a page and a half of detail. That would suggest that there are some problems with the Bill. I noted that Mr Rees-Mogg talked about how terrible the Bill was; he will support it, which is up to him, but he was correct to identify some of the problems with it. There should have been line-by-line scrutiny.
When I heard some of our Conservative colleagues speaking earlier, I was in the middle of changing a password. I had to settle for that wonderful Scottish phrase, “In the name of the wee man!”, because I can only conclude that they were talking about a different Bill entirely from the one before us today and the amendments tabled to it. I am sorry to say that what we have heard from the Government about this Bill in the past few weeks is a deadly political cocktail of arrogance, ignorance, misplaced confidence in their ability and a complete lack of knowledge of a trade union working environment.
Anyone would think, from listening to some of the rhetoric from those on the Government Front Bench in the last couple of weeks, that it was the trade unions that were the bosses, and the employers who were the innocent, downtrodden and low paid. The irony, of course, is that the Government went on strike last summer, without a ballot—they had the ballot afterwards. It was okay for them to go on strike last summer to force workplace change, but it is not okay for people in the fire service, education, health or transport. You really could not make up some of the statements the Government try to get away with.
Indeed, the Government are ignoring existing legislation. Not one Conservative Member in the Chamber today has acknowledged section 240 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which provides for safety and “life and limb” cover. That is a must in existing legislation and there is a custodial sentence if a trade union does not supply it. The Government do not seem to know that, and it is incredible that they do not understand the existing legislation. Emergency “life and limb” cover is already there in legislation.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In the recent ambulance and paramedic strikes, it was clear in the action all across the country that those local agreements that protect for life and limb worked pretty well. People did get the service they needed in those emergency situations where life and limb would otherwise have been challenged. Surely the Minister and the Government must listen to that point.
The Government should listen to that point, which the hon. Gentleman has made for me. If there had been no life and limb cover in the disputes in the past few weeks and months, the first thing the Government should have done would be to encourage the employers to take the trade unions to court to enforce that life and limb cover. I note that they have not done so.
This life and limb point is very important. We must balance people’s right to strike against the public’s right to a minimum service guarantee. Can the hon. Gentleman explain how the right to life and limb in present legislation would cover a strike that stops all trains, for instance?
I will take that argument on, because I am coming on to amendment 39. Listening to our Conservative friends on the Government side of the Chamber, anyone would think that this Bill was about setting a minimum service level across the public sector. If only that was the case. That is not what it does. It sets a minimum service level only in the event of industrial action—on strike days, not non-strike days. The Minister has not yet told us what amendments he will accept—maybe that is the theatre he will provide at the end—but amendment 39 makes clear the concerns that many of us in this House have that minimum service levels should not be higher on a strike day than on a normal working day.
The reason for that, as anyone who has a trade union background can tell us, is that when employers come to trade unions to discuss the “life and limb” cover and ensure that all those arrangements are made, some employers then ask for more people on a strike day than they do on a non-strike day. That is just a fact—that is what employers try to do. Amendment 39 would address the point that a minimum level of service on a strike day should not be higher than it is on any other normal day.
Of course, that raises the question of the Government trying to get away with marking their own homework on the ILO conventions. They have determined the Bill complies with the ILO conventions—never mind what anybody else says—because they say so. The Government have marked their own homework, and they say we should be very grateful that they have done so; they are ILO-compliant, so we should just be quiet and accept it. Well, I am sorry, but I like to speak truth to power and to check things—always checking what is in the paperwork and in writing was part of my trade union training. Amendment 39 would ensure that there is a very real sense of the Government’s homework being marked, and that the Bill is compliant with ILO conventions and with the EHCR, which my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry mentioned.
I will conclude my remarks on the issue of devolution, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is not just about Wales and Scotland, or indeed the Greater London Assembly. Every local authority in England that has a service of the sort mentioned in the Bill could have a minimum service level imposed on it by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I do not know about you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it worries me to see the Secretary of State tweeting and referring to the weekend as unofficial strike days, as he did a few months ago. They were rest days, not unofficial strike days. I am concerned that we have a Secretary of State who does not seem to know what happens in a trade union working environment but is trying to set minimum levels of service on a strike day, not just in England, but in Wales and Scotland, affecting their devolved competencies.
If there was a strike in Glasgow by McGill’s Buses, it would be the Secretary of State who determined what the minimum bus level was for that weekend. That is really quite incredible—[Interruption.] The Minister can chunter all he likes, but that is what the Bill says. Agreeing to new clause 4 would sort out that issue, so perhaps the Minister could tell us which amendments he will accept.
I hear the Minister chuntering from a sedentary position about the Bill not covering buses, but that is not what it says. It covers “transport services” and its jurisdiction is UK-wide.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. That is the problem, is it not? The Bill says “transport services”, and that could be anything. It could be buses, taxis or the horse and cart for all we know, because the Bill is so open-ended.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that the Government will look at the amendments that my hon. Friends and I have tabled, which are an attempt to improve the Bill. Our main reason for opposing the Bill is that the Government will be impinging on devolution and on human rights, and they do not know what happens in a trade union-organised environment. That is why the Bill should not get a Third Reading.
Just a tiny point of information: when I am sitting at the Table, I am not Madam Deputy Speaker; I am either Dame Rosie or Madam Chair. I call Rachael Maskell.
Thank you, Dame Rosie. I rise to support many of the amendments. Not only is this Bill bad law, but it will make the industrial landscape far worse. The Minister is trying to make a monster out of something that does not exist and a problem that does not occur.
The Bill needs correcting to comply with international law. I am grateful to Members for tabling amendments 39 and 34, which highlight how the Bill is at odds with ILO convention 87. That is why my hon. Friend Andy McDonald tabled amendment 83, which would bring that convention into law by creating a framework by which the Bill must go forward—otherwise, it will just spend months in the courts, and I expect that that is where it will end.
We are talking about safety, so not having an impact assessment is quite unbelievable, not least when we know that many of the clauses could well result in services being more unsafe than they are currently. I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that we already know that those services are unsafe. On Second Reading, I raised statistics from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine about the health service being unsafe, with 500 additional deaths every single week. The Secretary of State dismissed those figures. However, a witness from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine set out his peer-reviewed workings when he appeared before the Health and Social Care Committee.
Every day, the Government are failing in their duty to ensure that the NHS is safe. Even today the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care appeared before the House and announced that he has now downgraded response times for paramedics to reach desperate people in category 2 calls—including strokes and heart attacks—from 18 minutes to 30 minutes, making patients even more unsafe. We can talk about minimum service levels, but this Government have some nerve coming to the House and saying that workers across the NHS are creating an unsafe environment.
I will focus in particular on section 240 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which covers “life and limb” arrangements by putting in law a framework under which a person who breaks a contract of service
“knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the probable consequences of his so doing will…endanger human life or cause serious bodily injury” could receive a criminal sentence. “Life and limb” arrangements are already covered, so the Bill is superfluous.
Let me address the mechanics of how those agreements are reached, looking in particular at negotiations. As I highlighted earlier, there has to be a dynamic relationship between the employer—a local employer—and the worker, because throughout the day there is negotiation. There can suddenly be an incident in a health setting that causes more staff to be required. Of course, if that is the case, a nationally agreed protocol would not provide the day-to-day, minute-by-minute approach that is needed. That is why it will be unsafe. If the Secretary of State were to agree a protocol that set minimum levels, but there was a major incident and more people were required, that could not be executed and put in place. It is a nonsense piece of legislation.
Let us face the reason why we are where we are: the unions are sitting at the table but have had no one to negotiate with for weeks. The Secretary of State has run around the media studios dreaming up legislation that restricts workers but avoids addressing the dispute. Workers are on those picket lines because they know that their services are completely unsafe. They know the level of agency spend being put in place. Instead of blocking the path to resolution, the Minister should really get around the negotiating table and stop the ideological fight with working people that he is pursuing. I hear the point about affordability but, as a result of what is happening at the moment, £3 billion has been spent on agency workers in the last year. That money should be in the pockets of NHS staff. It is embarrassing to listen to the arguments that the Government are putting forward to deny working people their freedoms and rights.
I want to come to the point in the legislation where we look, line by line, at what the Minister is trying to do in removing workers’ protection against unfair dismissal. We have to remember that workers are out on strike because they know that staffing levels are unsafe. When I went on picket lines and talked to those staff, they were in tears because they are so broken and they know that more people are leaving the service because they are not being paid or respected. This legislation kicks them in the teeth and says, “We are not even going to protect you,” and it means that the industrial landscape will decline rapidly. If that is what the Minister wants, that is certainly what he is going to get if this legislation passes.
The NHS has no more resilience. The staff have no more resilience. Yet the Minister is sitting there saying, “I’m going to take away your protection from unfair dismissal, which could mean you are out of a job,” making that landscape—that industrial workplace—even more unsafe. If that becomes even more unsafe, more people will die in our NHS day by day. That is the reality, and that is why I say to the Minister that he needs to get out on those picket lines and listen to the workers and what they are saying, instead of hiding away and dreaming up this legislation. The Bill needs to change, and that is why I welcome the amendments to bring that about.
The Minister also needs to ensure that there are talks between the parties, and that is what has not happened. Unison said that five weeks went by from announcing its ballot before there was any engagement, and then there was no discussion of the issues appertaining to the dispute, so how does he expect it to be resolved? It needs to be meaningful negotiation between the employer and the workers, and that is what this legislation does not cover, because the Minister clearly does not see that as an important part of resolving a dispute. Ultimately, these threats coming through this legislation will make the industrial landscape more challenging in trying to settle those disputes, because there will be a breach of trust between the employer and the employee.
When does the Minister expect to bring an impact assessment before the House? We are in Committee and will be dealing with Third Reading today. Are Members in the other place going to receive an impact assessment before they get the opportunity to look at this legislation? We not only need to know about the impact on services; we also need an equality impact assessment. I am interested to know which workers will be sent into work against their will, crossing a picket line when they want to stand in solidarity with their peers. When will that assessment emerge? If the Minister does not know, will he write to Members and make clear exactly what he will be doing with that impact assessment? It seems completely self-defeating to keep such information from this House as the Bill moves through its legislative stages.
Finally, if workers do not get enshrined those rights to take industrial action and to withdraw their labour, they most certainly will take action short of a strike, and then the Minister will start to understand the dedication that these workers have. If they take a long period of action short of a strike, when people in some professions are already working more than eight hours a week in unpaid overtime, that will certainly harm these services and it will certainly make them unsafe. By bringing in these measures, he makes things far worse. This Bill is just not fit for purpose. Instead of it being a toy, or a game that the Minister wants to play, it is time that the grown-ups in the room had the opportunity to negotiate a proper deal for working people across our country, and to no longer see this legislation. I know that one thing Labour will do is ensure that this Bill is removed from our statute book.
I begin by declaring an interest as a proud and long-standing member of Unite the union.
I rise to speak in support of amendments 91 and 92, which stand in my name and that of my hon. Friend Grahame Morris and others. These amendments reaffirm the principle that a trade union is a democratic organisation beholden to the will of its members, and not the other way around. That might be an alien concept to a Government who have spent the last year forcing through legislation that undermines the most basic rights of their citizens, but it is an article of faith for those of us in the labour movement.
These amendments are just two of the many brought forward by Members on the Opposition Benches, who have among them many lifetimes’ worth of experience in the trade union movement. It is a shame that that experience is so obviously lacking on the Government Benches, or else the Government might not have brought a Bill to the House that the general secretary of the TUC has rightly denounced for being
“undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal.”
We must confront the uncomfortable truth that no amount of tinkering in Committee could ever hope to salvage this Bill. It is, frankly, rotten to the core and a grotesque affront to our most basic democratic principles. As my hon. Friend Justin Madders has written today, anybody who
“is concerned about individual liberty and freedom should be opposed to this attack on the fundamental right to withdraw your labour.”
Since the Business Secretary first confirmed on
The Business Secretary has even had the temerity to tell the House:
“The British people need to know that when they have a heart attack, a stroke or a serious injury, an ambulance will turn up, and that if they need hospital care, they have access to it.”—[Official Report,
After 12 years of Tory failures, that is not even a guarantee he can make to my constituents when there is no strike action. If he wants to know who is failing the public, he does not need to turn to the picket lines; he need only look in the mirror.
This Wednesday, teachers, civil servants and train drivers will take to the picket lines in what is expected to be the single largest day of industrial action in more than a decade. Whatever Government Members might believe, these are not radicals intent on the overthrow of the state; these are ordinary, conscientious public servants who, after a decade of real-terms pay cuts, simply cannot take it anymore.
Instead of electing to sit down and engage in good faith about the real issues that are driving public workers across the country to such desperation, this Government have instead opted to bulldoze through this House in only a week a Bill that will do lasting and irreparable harm to our democracy, without adequate scrutiny or reference to the devolved Governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh. I will be voting against the Bill in its entirety this evening. On Wednesday, I will proudly stand with striking workers exercising their democratic right to demand better in the midst of this Tory cost of living crisis.
I rise to speak to amendments 115, 116 and 117, which stand in my name. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is about to commence our legislative scrutiny of the Bill but, given the Government’s timetable, any amendments that the Committee recommends at the end of that scrutiny will require to be laid in the Lords. I have therefore tabled these three amendments as a way of probing the Government’s intentions in relation to the three issues I raised on Second Reading: the fact that the Bill is not really about safety levels at all; the inaccuracy of claims that the Bill reflects current practice elsewhere in Europe; and the very real risk that these proposals are in breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the European convention on human rights and international labour law.
The Government’s ECHR memorandum acknowledges that the Bill engages article 11 of the ECHR, and that is where our legal analysis should start, not with the ILO. As I said in my speech on Second Reading, it is interesting to compare the ECHR memorandum for this Bill with the ECHR memorandum for the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which I think probably has a slightly more accurate description of the law. I would love to know why the Government changed their position between the two memorandums. No doubt we will not be favoured with that information.
Article 11 protects the right to strike as an aspect of free association. It is, as Members have said, a qualified right, meaning that its protections are not absolute, but any interference with its protections must comply with the requirements set out in article 11(2). Any restrictions on the rights protected under article 11 must be in accordance with the law and must pursue one of the legitimate aims set out in article 11(2). The most recent ECHR memorandum states that minimum service regulations have the legitimate aim of
“protecting the rights and freedoms of others” because of
“the disproportionately disruptive and harmful impact that strike action has on the public, on their lives and on the national economy”.
In contrast, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s press release for the Bill said that the new law would reduce risk to life, and Government Ministers and spokespersons have made much of that as a justification for the Bill—the Minister was at it again today. The ECHR memorandum, however, does not list public safety or the protection of health as one of the legitimate aims of the Bill.
Probing amendment 115 would add a new subsection to limit the levels of service that the Secretary of State could set in regulations to those that the Secretary of State reasonably believes to be necessary to protect life, personal safety or health. If the Government’s true focus is public safety, the amendment should be acceptable to them. If it is not, we need to be clear that the Bill is about not just reducing risk to life or protecting health, but much more than that. If that is the case, the Government should stop trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes with false rhetoric and, as my hon. Friend Chris Stephens said in his excellent speech, without recognising the laws that already exist to protect the public.
I turn to amendment 116. Article 11(2) requires that any restrictions on article 11 rights have to be
“necessary in a democratic society”,
which includes them meeting a pressing social need and being a proportionate means of achieving their aim. One way to increase the likelihood that powers that can result in interference with rights under article 11 are proportionate is to ensure that there are adequate safeguards against their misuse, but those safeguards are missing from the Bill.
The Bill allows the Secretary of State to make minimum service regulations without any obvious safeguards against the minimum service levels being excessive or directed at something other than the essential needs of the public. The International Labour Organisation has stated that any minimum service levels should be
“restricted to the operations which are necessary to satisfy the basic needs of the population or the minimum requirements of the service, while ensuring that the scope of the minimum service does not render the strike ineffective.”
The Bill also allows the Secretary of State to define relevant services without any safeguards beyond a list of very broadly defined potential service sectors—for example, people may think it is funny, but “transport services” could cover taxis. That does not sit well with what the ILO has said about the possibility of minimum service levels in respect of strikes that could result in
“acute national crisis endangering the normal living conditions of the population” or in respect of strikes
“in public services of fundamental importance.”
Probing amendment 116 would add a new subsection to limit minimum service regulations to the levels indicated as appropriate in the conclusions of the International Labour Organisation’s committee on freedom of association.
Amendment 117 aims to address the problem that a measure that restricts convention rights is unlikely to be proportionate if alternative, less restrictive measures could be taken that would be likely to achieve the same aims. Under the Bill, minimum service levels would be determined by the Secretary of State with no involvement of trade unions or employers. The Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill had the same aim, albeit for just one sector, but proposed an alternative approach to setting minimum service levels that was much more consistent with article 11 rights, as was argued in the original ECHR memorandum.
That Bill imposed a duty on trade unions and employers to take reasonable steps to enter into an agreement on minimum service levels within three months. Where no agreement was reached, it provided for minimum service levels to be determined by an independent central arbitration committee. Under that Bill, therefore, minimum service levels set by the Secretary of State would apply only if none had been agreed by unions and employers or determined by the central arbitration committee.
That is what happens in other European countries. They do not have top-down regulations that are imposed by the Secretary of State or other Ministers without any attempt to reach an agreement through collective bargaining or to put it out to arbitration first. In that context, the International Labour Organisation emphasises the importance of
“adopting explicit legislative provisions on the participation of the organizations concerned in the definition of minimum services”,
and says that,
“any disagreement on minimum services should be resolved…by a joint or independent body which has the confidence of the parties”.
A Bill that does not allow for collective bargaining or independent arbitration therefore does not fit with what the ILO stipulates and would not be proportionate under article 11. Amendment 117 would prevent the Secretary of State making minimum service regulations in respect of a strike unless the trade union and employer have had an opportunity to reach a negotiated agreement on those levels, and an independent body has had the opportunity to determine the levels in the absence of an agreement.
I will ask the question that I asked earlier, and I want the Minister to answer it when he speaks at the end. Can he point me to any other country in Europe that would sack people for taking part in a strike that breached top-down imposed minimum service levels, without any negotiation or arbitration beforehand? Does he really want to be in the same company—the same wee club—as Hungary or Russia when it comes to workers’ rights?
I rise to speak to amendments 78, 95 and 96 in my name, which focus on the instruction of people to work that is encompassed in a work notice. Amendment 78 refers to the removal of the protection for those refusing to work on strike days, and amendments 95 and 96 would ensure that people receive a copy of the work notice and other related details.
I will focus on the legislation. This is a sackers charter that is about destroying the very fabric of the trade union movement. People say that the devil is in the detail, and it certainly is when we read this Bill. When the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, I ask him to confirm, for everybody concerned, whether an individual who is instructed by a work notice that they must go to work on a strike day, but then refuses, will not be sacked. I have a lot of time for the Minister—in fact, I am nearly calling him an hon. Friend—
I hear my right hon. Friend say, “Steady!”, but I want the Minister to confirm that, because that simple question has been asked by many hon. Members tonight and he shook his head on every occasion. Simply, for the sake of individuals who are instructed by a work notice to cross the picket line, will they not be sacked? Never mind the situation whereby their protection under the unfair dismissal regulations will be withdrawn—what does that mean? If that is withdrawn, it means that they will be sacked. That is exactly what it means—we do not need to be employment lawyers to recognise that.
The Bill is also about attacking individual members in the workplace, particularly trade union representatives. If there is going to be a strike in a workplace, perhaps about health and safety, and the trade union representative is advocating strike action because that is what they are elected to do, but the boss—the gaffer—gives them a work notice and says, “You’re the person who’s got to cross the picket line,” how does that work? In the main, we have fair bosses and bad bosses, and bad bosses will pick out people they can get rid of as quickly as possible. A trade union rep advocating action on a health and safety issue could be dismissed, because the protection is gone for someone who refuses to cross the picket line and go into work. Even Conservative Members understand that that is not fair in any way, shape or form. How can it be? Individuals have the right, regardless of work notices, to withdraw their labour. It is a basic human right. Here we have legislation that not many people—even in this place—want; it is a knee-jerk reaction. It is what happens when the Conservative party is cornered and is 25 points behind in the polls. What can unify them? I will tell you what unifies the Tory party: attacking the trade unions. That gets them speaking. That is the true red meat of unifying Tory politics. But tonight there have not been many speakers from the Conservative Benches.
An accusation has been made that trade union members are not ordinary people, but they could not be more ordinary if they tried. They are the fire and rescue service people who run towards fires and towards those in desperate need of being rescued; as we have seen, sadly, a member of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service has just lost their life. These are ordinary people. Nurses are ordinary people saving lives on a daily basis. Transport workers kept the country running before the pandemic, during the pandemic and after it.
The work notice is a bosses’ charter. I have spoken about the duty of care of an employer to an employee. What happens if someone, despite campaigning for action, is told by their employer that they must go to work? What will be the impact on that individual’s wellbeing? What impact will it have on mental health in the workplace when people are compelled to work? It is not short of a form of industrial slavery to compel people to go to work against their wishes.
It is not the same in Italy. It is not the same in Germany. It is not the same in France. It is different. Stop arguing the cheat, because it is completely different, and that has been highlighted by speaker after speaker, particularly with regard to the difference in collective bargaining and sectoral collective bargaining. There has not been an impact assessment or any consultation with the trade unions or those who will be involved. This is simply Government diktat. It is draconian, authoritarian legislation that is unfit for purpose. It is unfair, undemocratic, unworkable and unsafe. It is unfit for purpose. I am proud to be voting against it tonight.
I declare an interest as a proud member of Unite the union and GMB. It is great to follow my hon. Friend Ian Lavery.
May I start by saying how outrageous it is that we have only five hours to debate this extremely important and dangerous legislation? As has been mentioned many times before, there have been well over 100 amendments tabled to the Bill, showing its numerous flaws. In the brief time I have, I will touch on a few.
First, on the retention of protections against unfair dismissal, as covered by amendment 1, too many people already have very little protection in that regard. When I was a trade union official, I frequently represented members whose unscrupulous employers sought to dismiss employees because they dared to challenge their working conditions. I recall in particular one member who had MS and had to work with bank notes, which triggered her condition. Rather than looking into redeploying her to a more suitable position, the employer sought to dismiss her. To add insult to injury, she was a trade union rep herself and had often stood up for other members. Sadly, the laws this Government are seeking to water down further did not protect her.
Amendment 4 introduces a requirement on the Government to publish impact assessments on the regulations. We all know that the Government are not a fan of publishing impact assessments. We know from experience of asking Ministers about the impact of their policies that they are not always forthcoming. Anyone could be mistaken for thinking at times that they have got something to hide. Being open and transparent is what makes better policies, better politics, and a better Government.
Amendment 3 will introduce a requirement on the Secretary of State to undertake a review of health and safety levels in the affected sectors before making the minimum service level regulations. We know the public sector is at breaking point. We know we have a recruitment crisis in schools, social care and the NHS. We know people are being made to work to the bone trying to maintain standards, yet the Government seemingly want to have some of those people work longer and harder if their colleagues go out on strike without a review of health and safety levels. It is clear that we need transparency. We need to know that frontline workers, employers and the Government can have faith in any new regulations before they are published.
When I first started working at the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, we used to have a thing called partnership agreements. Some worked well, others not so well. The key to their success was the employer and the trade union genuinely working together to ensure the best outcomes. There was a recognition that a successful workplace meant motivated employees who could be rewarded when the company was doing well, and issues around health and safety or staff morale could be solved. That was essentially collective bargaining, which is what takes place now in the public sector. Trade unions and employers already negotiate service levels when disputes take place. That is what needs to happen now. Ministers need to get round the table with the trade unions and negotiate a deal, instead of introducing shoddy, ill-thought-through legislation that will only cause further disharmony in the already stretched and overworked public sector.
The trade union movement is open and transparent. Trade union money is some of the cleanest in politics, which is more than can be said for other areas. Unions ballot to appoint a general secretary. They ballot for their committees. They ballot to have a political fund—something companies do not do when donating money to their favoured politicians or political parties. They ballot for industrial action, with some of the highest thresholds and legal barriers in the world. What else do trade unions do? They represent workers, they fight to protect workers and they seek to ensure that businesses are successful, so that their members can also benefit. Instead of bringing forward legislation to attack trade unions and workers, we should be listening to and working with them. I am proud to say that a future Labour Government will always do just that.
Before I speak to my amendments, I want to address a couple of points. Government Members always talk about ordinary hard-working people. Firefighters, nurses, teachers, doctors and train drivers are all ordinary hard-working people too. Indeed, they are the epitome of the hard-working ordinary families who the Tories talk about so often. I really wish they would stop othering people who are forced to strike. Indeed, I call them ordinary workers, but many of them do extraordinary things, and they include firefighters who run towards danger, like Barry Martin, who sadly died in the Jenners fire. I would like to pass on my condolences to his friends, family and colleagues.
I would like to speak to amendments 106 through 114, standing in my name and, in some cases, Plaid Cymru colleagues. Amendment 107 is fairly straightforward and would leave out Wales and Scotland from the extent of the Bill. Quite simply, the Tories have no mandate for this Bill—or any other, actually—in Scotland or Wales. The last time they won an election in Scotland, Tony Bennett was top of the charts and a three-piece suit in non-crushed velvet would set you back 59 guineas, or 12 shillings and thruppence—for the record, I do not have one.
My hon. Friend Chris Stephens was wearing one when he was here earlier.
In every single election since then—17 UK general elections, six Scottish general elections, elections for district councils, regions, boroughs and counties, and elections for the European Union; ah, remember that?—the Tories have failed to win a majority in Scotland. There have been 68 unbroken years of failure, and rejection at the ballot box by the people of Scotland. Indeed, the only reason they had MSPs in the early years of the Scottish Parliament was due to a proportional representation system that they opposed, and continue to oppose for this place.
The Tories are a busted flush in Scotland, an archaic piece of electoral history, and they have been for decades, yet Tory Ministers have the gall to stand at the Dispatch Box and try to legislate to attack the rights of workers in Scotland. Scotland does not want this. Scotland is a modern country, and modern countries have a modern industrial relations policy. Modern countries treat their citizens like human beings, not a force to be crushed, and we have a mandate from the electorate for just that. Given that the Scottish Government have indicated that they will oppose this legislation, I say to the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation—who has just sat down on the Front Bench—and his colleagues: save yourselves the trouble, accept the amendment, or any of the others that do something similar, and exclude Scotland and Wales from Tory delusions.
Amendments 106, 109 and 111 would exempt transport services and exclude devolved services in Scotland from being subject to a work notice. ScotRail is safely under public ownership in Scotland. We are utterly opposed to forcing workers into work, but—dare I say this? Do not tell headquarters; we will keep it our secret—there is the possibility that the SNP might not form the Government in Scotland. These amendments would simply guarantee that, in the brief period between now and Scottish independence, a change in Government in Holyrood would not mean a change in operation of this Bill in Scotland. To be clear, if my amendments are accepted, the Bill would not operate at all for transport services.
No organisation or Government are immune to industrial disputes; what is key is how they are dealt with by employers. In ScotRail’s case, two separate disputes, with ASLEF and the RMT, were settled last year after constructive and mature dialogue and negotiation between employers and workers and their trade union representatives. That is how industrial relations should be conducted: with mutual respect and recognition. Sadly, that approach has not been replicated down here, despite calls by me and many others for UK Transport ministers to learn from their counterparts in Edinburgh.
More broadly, I doubt whether there is a single worker in the transport sector whose job is not in some way safety-critical, whether they are bus, train or taxi drivers, mechanics, signallers, guards, ticket collectors, cleaners, or anyone else involved in keeping our transport infrastructure running. I do not want my safety to be compromised by forcing those employees into work. I want safety-critical staff to be well motivated and happy in the job. I want them to be in an atmosphere that does not involve threats and coercion. I do not want them having to worry about criminal action or financial sanctions being taken against their legal representatives. I want them focusing on one thing: public safety. So to be clear, we will oppose this anti-trade union, anti-worker legislation every step of the way.
Similarly, amendments 108, 114 and 110 would remove services provided by devolved Governments from the Bill. Amendment 110 would ensure that a work notice were valid only if its provisions were submitted by an employer to the three devolved institutions and received the support of over 80% of elected Members in each Chamber. But as has been noted, when this Government encounter opposition, their response is not to argue their case on its merits or otherwise; it is usually simply to legislate that opposition away. We have seen that in elections for Mayors in England, where the supplementary vote system was scrapped and replaced with the discredited first-past-the-post system, despite no evidence that that will improve governance.
When the Government discovered that the Welsh Government had used their powers to disallow the use of agency staff to replace strikers in the public sector, they announced that they would simply overrule the Senedd and repeal that legislation. When Transport for the North became too bothersome and vocal about the UK Government’s appalling record of rail investment in north of England, they slashed its budget. Shamefully, only a couple of weeks ago we saw the veto of legislation passed by 70% of Members of the Scottish Parliament, using hitherto untouched powers.
The Government are even afraid of letting the people of Scotland decide their own constitutional future, so it is clear that they should not be involved in the industrial relations of devolved Administrations or metro authorities. They simply cannot be trusted. Indeed, we remember how Thatcher’s hatred of opposition from metropolitan areas in the 1980s reached the point where large English conurbations were left with little or no effective regional governance, after she wiped the metropolitan counties off the map. She was simply setting a precedent for the current Government’s contempt for political opposition from other elected bodies to their agenda.
My amendments would prevent a Westminster power grab from the English cities and the devolved Administrations and ensure that the voters of those areas retained the ability to determine their own industrial relations and elect politicians who want to work in partnership with workers and unions, rather than engaging in perpetual war.
Amendment 112 would exempt occupations and employees subject to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 from any regulations allowing a work notice to be issued. I do not believe that anyone engaged in supporting and providing critical services should be forced to work. Each of those sectors is vital to the continued functioning of a healthy society. The Secretary of State’s argument is that he believes that that is why they should be prevented from striking. My argument is that that is exactly why they should not.
To conclude, workers’ data, which is the subject of amendment 113, should not be subject to less protection simply because those workers want to exercise the right to strike, especially if they live in a jurisdiction that roundly rejects this Bill and this Government. I am proud to say that Scotland not only rejects this Bill utterly, but rejects the Tories, as it has each and every time for nearly 70 years. With nonsense legislation like this, it will be at least 70 years before they become relevant to Scotland once again.
I rise to speak in support of new clause 1, which I tabled and which I am delighted has been signed by more than 30 MPs. It would mean that if the Bill passes, which it should not, it would not be allowed to come into effect until UK courts certified that the UK was meeting its international labour obligations, including by complying with the International Labour Organisation standards on workers’ rights.
The truth is that the UK has often been in breach of those obligations. New clause 1 is necessary partly because we have heard during the Bill’s progress, as well as when it was trumpeted before it was brought to Parliament, repeated claims from the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary that this legislation will somehow bring our country into line with Europe and that the International Labour Organisation supports such measures. That is absolute rubbish. The ILO does not support these measures. It does not support this legislation. The Bill does not bring us into line with other European countries. The truth is that the rights of workers in Britain lag behind those of workers in other European countries. The reality is that workers’ rights in this country need to be levelled up with the rights of workers in other countries, not attacked further.
How can the Minister, the Secretary of State and other Conservative MPs make these claims about the International Labour Organisation supposedly approving of this pernicious legislation when the director general of the International Labour Organisation said he was “very worried” about this legislation and British workers being sacked if they take industrial action? How can members of the Conservative party claim that this legislation brings us into line with other European countries when the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation says:
“The UK already has among the most draconian restrictions on the right to strike in Europe, and the UK government’s plans would push it even further away from normal, democratic practice across Europe”?
The truth is that the UK already has the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe. That is not something to be proud of—and that is the situation now, even before the Government’s introduction of this, the most draconian anti-strike legislation in living memory.
I think people know what this legislation is about, don’t they? The Government have been sending out press releases that talk about public safety and minimum service levels, but we heard a lot from the Minister about how much strikes supposedly cost the economy. We heard a lot from the Minister about how the pay claims are supposedly unaffordable. I thought it was supposed to be about public safety, not wage claims and that kind of thing. The truth is that this is anti-trade union legislation. It is draconian and anti-democratic, which is why my new clause 1 is necessary.
Let us put this legislation to the test. If the Government are so confident, as they claim they are, that the ILO supports the legislation, and if they are so confident, as they claim, that the legislation brings us into line with other European countries, why not put it to the test by accepting my new clause? All it says is that yes, the legislation can pass, but it will not take effect until the High Court issues a certificate saying that the UK complies with its international labour obligations and workers’ rights standards. If the case the Government are making is true, they should not fear my new clause at all. They can show their confidence in their own legislation and arguments by accepting new clause 1 and letting the courts rule on the Bill.
I think we all know the reason why the Government will not surprise us and accept my new clause: they know that the ILO does not support the legislation and that it does not bring us into line with other European countries. The annual global rights index, which is published by the International Trade Union Confederation, shows that the UK continues to be a “regular violator” of workers’ rights and lags significantly behind neighbouring countries on the rights of workers to organise through trade unions. A series of restrictions on workers’ rights, in employment law and on trade union rights has been introduced every time we get a Conservative Government, from 1979 to 1997 and from 2010 onwards. We thought that had culminated in the Trade Union Act 2016, which hinders the right to strike and ensures greater state interference with trade unions’ internal affairs, but for those who thought that that legislation was as bad as it got, we now have this draconian anti-trade union Bill.
I remember well from when I was an employment lawyer the day that the Conservatives, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, brought in employment tribunal fees. In response to a case brought by Unison, the High Court declared employment tribunal fees to be unlawful. Let us put the Bill to the test in the courts by accepting new clause 1. We have an employment market that is plagued by a race to the bottom: zero-hours contracts, lack of proper sick pay during the pandemic, lack of employment rights and very limited collective bargaining. The truth is that workers’ rights need levelling up.
I understand that some Conservative MPs might not understand employment legislation. One Conservative MP said, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea if trade unions had to tell employers the dates they were going to take strike action?” They have to do that already. We have heard Conservative Members say that the Bill is about public sector strikes, yet it also covers private sector strikes. We have heard the Minister, who is chuntering from a sedentary position, say that the Bill does not relate to buses, yet the Bill states that it covers “transport services” and does not define that further. I think it is frightening.
The hon. Gentleman refers to the need to notify. My understanding is that an individual worker is under no obligation to notify, although the trade union has to give notification. As a consequence, a headteacher could have no idea which staff in their school will be going on strike, and therefore cannot plan for a safe staffing level. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the individual worker should be required, as the trade union is, to give notice of whether they intend to strike?
That is a very helpful intervention, because it illuminates the fact that I am afraid the hon. Member, and other Conservative Members, do not believe in individual liberty. We believe in collective rights as well as in individual rights. The trade union has to notify the employer of the dates of strike action, yet the Government Minister is saying—I mean the hon. Member; I am sorry to accidentally promote him, although he might get a promotion for that intervention. He is saying that individual workers should have to notify the employer about their intentions. That goes against individual liberty, against civil rights, and against individual freedoms. Thereby we see what this Government are proposing.
Anti-trade union laws mean that workers are denied their fair share of the wealth they create. In this era of neoliberalism, which has lasted decades, the race to the bottom has seen the share of the economy going to wages plummet from 60% to less than half today. Wages go down as profits go up. This Bill is happening now because workers are fighting back. This Bill is an attack by the Government on trade unions. If what the Government are saying is true, they would be pleased to accept my new clause, although I am sure they will not. If they have nothing to hide, let a court rule on this. Our country is often in breach of its international workers’ rights and duties. It is in breach with this Bill, and it does not bring us into line. We need to level up the rights of workers in Britain with the rights of workers elsewhere.
Let me tell the Committee—I will finish on this point—that workers in my constituency and across the country are sick to death of being attacked by bad bosses and by a bad Conservative Government. They are sick of being the poor relations of workers in other countries in Europe when it comes to hard-won workers’ rights. Workers in this country deserve better and it is about time that the Government stopped attacking them.
I rise to speak in support of the many amendments to which I have put my name, and indeed of any amendment that would make the Bill unrecognisable from its current form. Fundamentally, this Bill is so wrong that we should not even be debating it. I am proud to declare my membership of Unite the union, and I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests for the support I receive from other unions.
The Conservative party continues to talk about our trade unionists with such contempt, as if they are some separate class of people. My hon. Friend Ian Lavery put it absolutely right when he said that they are just ordinary people. They are the representatives of working people in this country, and Government Members would do well to put some respect on their name.
Hon. Members will find no shame on this side of the Committee. My hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft put it well, because trade union money is the cleanest money in society. Perhaps there is a lot more shame on the other side of the Committee, or perhaps it is just that if we were to spend our time going through all the Government Members’ murky interests, we would be here for some time and not get to hear their speeches.
Our trade unions call the Bill “undemocratic, unworkable and illegal”, and they are rightly considering legal action if it passes. As we have heard time and again, it likely breaches article 11 of the International Labour Organisation’s constitution. But we have seen that the Government have absolutely no issue with breaking international law.
I was shocked to find myself agreeing with a fraction of something said by Mr Rees-Mogg. However, I could not quite understand how he did not arrive at the conclusion that he would vote against the Bill. He lost me on his blanket acceptance of Henry VIII powers. A basic British primary school education tells us that Henry VIII was not a particularly democratically minded man, or a reasonable one. In a modern democratic society, there is no place for such powers or such men.
How many times have we seen those powers used recently in Government legislation? Far from being an exception, they have become the rule. It has also become the rule that the Government fail to publish impact assessments, which is bad practice from a bad Government who know that their bad policies will impact some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We have passed legislation in a day when we have needed to, and this legislation is being done at an unusual speed, so why do we need those powers? To put it clearly, our constituents do not send us to this place for a small group of people from the Conservative party to make all the laws unchecked.
I want to go over some of the claims that Ministers have made about the Bill. They say that other countries have similar agreements on curbing strikes. That idea needs debunking. Yes, others have such agreements, but the context is very different. Anti-trade union laws are far more severe here than in other countries, as are the sanctions for breaking such agreements. To use Italy as an example, a worker could lose the equivalent of two hours’ pay. In this country, they could lose their job and livelihood and be blacklisted, with no recourse to claims of unfair dismissal. Our unions could also face unlimited fines.
Another claim is that the legislation was a 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment. Well, so was providing the resources that our public services need and the recruitment of additional doctors and nurses—when exactly will the Tories meet those commitments? The reality is that our public services are in crisis and medical professionals are leaving in droves, forced out by understaffing and falling real-terms pay.
The Tories have no mandate for the Bill, because, again, the 2019 Conservative manifesto had only one reference to minimum service levels, which was as follows:
“We will require that a minimum service operates during transport strikes.”
There is nothing at all about imposing that on NHS workers or firefighters, or on other workers in the future, but that is exactly what the Government want to do. In addition, that sole paragraph dealing with minimum service levels goes on to say:
“Rail workers deserve a fair deal, but it is not fair to let the trade unions undermine the livelihoods of others.”
It is not true in the slightest that the Government, who are interfering so blatantly in the current dispute, are providing a fair deal for rail workers, or that strikes undermine the livelihood or safety of others. Our trade unions are striking not just for pay and conditions but because of the poor levels of service that the Government have driven their sectors to.
Pay freezes have also been imposed even though cumulative consumer price inflation in the two years to November was more than 16%. Official projections from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that real pay will fall again in 2023 unless there is a big pay rise.
I do not want to spend all my time talking about the Conservative manifesto, because, as the Committee will imagine, it is not my favourite document. Dr Mullan asked what would be in our manifesto. My hon. Friend Andy McDonald laid it out quite well, but if Conservative Members want to hear more about what will be in the Labour party manifesto, they should encourage their colleagues to call a general election so that we can give them one and they can have a good read of it.
The Government claim that there is no money left, or that their miserly pay offers are the work of an independent pay review body. That has already been widely exposed as incorrect. The review bodies’ entire terms are set by the Government. Ministers have found hundreds of millions in funds to subsidise the rail companies for strike losses; in fact, they have admitted that it would have been cheaper for them to settle the dispute. That shows that the Government’s real aim is to break trade unions, but trade unions will not be broken. They have the support of people right across this country. If the Government continue to attempt to restrict the right to strike, all they will have on their hands is more strikes.
If we saw this happening anywhere else in the world, we would be outraged. We would call it draconian, undemocratic or evidence of a dictatorial regime. The Government should be ashamed of themselves. They style themselves as espousing the best of British values, but they would undermine one of the most fundamental British rights, all because they have lost the argument. Let us make no mistake: they have lost the argument on pay and conditions, which is why teachers, nurses, train drivers, physios, firefighters and others are all striking or set to strike. The Government are doing this because disputes are being won, right across the country, and they do not want to see any more wins for our trade unions. This unprecedented situation is no ringing endorsement of this Government; it is further evidence that it is time they left office, taking their shoddy legislation with them.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dame Rosie. I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am the co-chair of the justice unions parliamentary group. I am not employed by it and do not receive a penny from it, but I still have to declare it. It would be very useful if other hon. Members had to declare their support from employers as well.
I rise to speak to amendment 76 and new clause 3 in my name. It is telling that amendment 76 is one among many amendments—including those tabled by SNP colleagues and by Beth Winter—designed to prevent the UK Government from interfering with primary legislation passed by Senedd Cymru or the Scottish Parliament. Powers to amend or revoke workers’ rights legislation on a whim have no place in a modern democratic society. The protections that my amendments would afford are critical in a period when it is becoming increasingly clear not only that devolution is under attack from Westminster, but that our fundamental rights and freedoms as citizens are not safe from an increasingly authoritarian Government in Westminster.
New clause 3 would require the UK Government to conduct an impact assessment of the effect of the Bill on industrial relations in Wales. Actually, it does not go as far as the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley. It seems a very reasonable request to see what the effect of this legislation is on a sister Parliament in the United Kingdom. The assessment under the new clause would have
“particular reference to the intended outcomes of the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill”.
That Bill, which is currently being debated in the Senedd, will place a duty on certain public bodies to work with trade unions when setting and delivering on wellbeing objectives.
In Wales, we seek to include workers in the making of the very public policy decisions that will have an effect on their working lives. We want to chart a different path: one whereby workers are empowered and valued, not bullied as they are by Westminster. That brings us to the very heart of the question why the right to strike is so important. Giving workers the opportunity and the choice to be represented collectively in the work environment by a trade union enables them to be heard and to bargain collectively. Okay, those are good words, but why do they actually matter? They matter because this is the key tool for improving living standards and tackling inequality. That is especially important in a country like Wales, where sadly a third of children are growing up in poverty.
We have a duty to tackle inequality and poverty. Undermining the effectiveness of industrial action at a time when the cost of living crisis is biting will only perpetuate the cruel poverty cycle that has trapped so many people in so many communities. Amplifying workers’ voices can also bring significant benefits to employers, as it can be a way of identifying issues at an early stage and ensuring that the valuable insights that workers have into how services can be improved are heard and acted on. This is about facilitating meaningful discussions and negotiations that lead to real solutions—which is not to say that such an approach is always easy, but in the long term it is far more effective than actively sowing the seeds of discord between workers and their employers.
I yield to no one in the Chamber in my respect for trade unions. I have had the privilege of chairing three public sector employer organisations and the European sectoral social dialogue in education, so I know from lengthy personal experience that a great deal can be achieved through processes of that kind. However, 61% of workers in Britain are employed in small and medium-sized enterprises, and a further 15% of the UK workforce consists of self-employed people. Does the right hon. Lady think it is necessary for the interests of those people to be raised in this debate, as well as the interests of those who are part of large unionised organisations?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point, but when we are looking at the culture of workplace relations and at productivity, perhaps we should look to Europe. In Germany, for instance, that culture is far more effective and far more productive, so perhaps it is something we should be addressing.
As I was saying, the Bill, as it stands, actively sows the seeds of discord between workers and employers. This destructive approach, which the UK Government seem hellbent on pursuing, will serve only to exacerbate the very recruitment and retention problems that are placing so much pressure on our public services. I therefore welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to seeking every possible lawful means of opposing the implementation of the Bill in Wales.
It would be remiss of me at this stage not to encourage the Welsh Government to live up to their laudable rhetoric by showing leadership when it comes to public sector pay disputes taking place in Wales. I am sorry to say that, so far, that has been lacking in their approach. It is sad to see the difference between Labour’s message here and its message in Wales, but we are dealing with this Bill in the here and now, and that is our serious problem. I urge the Welsh Government to consider adopting the five-point plan to tackle the health crisis presented by my Plaid Cymru colleagues in the Senedd: that is a result of collaboration, and collaboration brings results—unlike confrontation, which is what we are discussing today.
I remind the Minister that the UK Government cannot legislate their way out of disputes that are taking place because of the pressures on the very public services they have stripped to the bone year after year. Our society cannot function without the thousands of workers who run our hospitals, public transport systems, schools and courts. Sacking people for demanding fair pay and fair conditions for their work is blinkered and short-termist. Why are the Government doing this? Public sector workers and workers in key publicly funded services are not to be demonised. Follow the money—services are creaking and in a skeletal condition, having been starved by 13 years of Tory budget choices. Everything else is cynical window dressing.
It is an honour to follow that speech from Liz Saville Roberts, who explained, epically, why people in Wales are so angry. I should begin by drawing the Committee’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I do so proudly, because every pound that has been donated to me has come as a result of democratic decisions made by the thousands of local trade unions members who support me in the work that I do as a Labour party representative.
I wish to speak in favour of amendment 86, tabled in my name, and other amendments tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame Morris), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) and my right hon. Friend Angela Rayner. This Bill represents one of the most restrictive, interventionist and incoherent industrial relations strategies that we have ever witnessed in this country. If it is passed in its current form, nurses, firefighters, teachers, bus workers, paramedics, lecturers, pilots, rail workers, solicitors and civil servants—the very same workers whom the Government have praised time and again during the pandemic—will find themselves deprived of their fundamental rights as workers and at risk of arbitrary dismissal, as so many Members have pointed out this evening.
This is nothing more than a sacker’s charter. Hundreds of thousands of workers have taken industrial action this winter. There are individual disputes, but with a common cause: a pay disaster that means that workers are paid significantly less in real terms now than 14 years ago. Today, firefighters have voted in record numbers to take industrial action, saying “Enough is enough” to a Government-created pay crisis. This Government could simply listen: improved pay and conditions could resolve that, not autocratic, poorly thought out legislation.
The Government have often invited comparisons with other European countries, which I find completely disingenuous. As the general secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions noted, the Government have failed to mention that unions in those countries negotiate their minimum service levels and do not face anywhere near the excessive balloting rules and thresholds imposed in the UK. As I said in an earlier intervention, European countries with minimum service levels typically have huge levels of collective bargaining—often 80% to 90%—while here in the UK it is around 25%. If the Minister wishes to bring our workplace law in line with that of European neighbours, perhaps he should start there. I have heard so many people say that the Bill is like Australia, France and Germany. It is not. It is more like Turkey, Singapore or Russia.
Amendment 86 would go some way to combating the lopsided relationship put forward in the Bill, by requiring employers to consult recognised trade unions before the imposition of a work notice. After all, every trade unionist I know who runs a local branch is perfectly capable of getting around the table, having a discussion and coming to an agreement—sometimes compromising to do so—in the interests of the workers they represent. The problem is that getting a deal is easy for trade unionists, but this is a no-deal Government who are focused on attacking workers, not resolving disputes.
The Bill is unique not just in its vicious anti-worker sentiment but in the extraordinary powers that it grants the Secretary of State. It leaves a tremendous amount of detail to be decided, as Mr Rees-Mogg pointed out. It is a constitutional farce. It would deny all Members proper scrutiny. The Government are trying to push the Bill through rapidly, in one evening. That flies in the face of our traditions and democracy, and certainly gives far too much power to the Secretary of State.
I spoke to a representative from the British Airline Pilots Association earlier today. The Bill covers transport, which could include aviation. They expressed serious concerns that the Bill would enable the Secretary of State to overturn the highest-ranking aviation safety officers in the country, and force airlines to run dangerous and potentially understaffed flights. Will the Secretary of State sit in Whitehall deciding on flights coming in or out of London Heathrow or any other major international airport? I would be happy if he banned a few more flights to Mustique and the Cayman Islands, because Members on the Government Benches would probably have more time to spend here working on the Government’s agenda to sort out our country’s parlous state.
It is no wonder the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge referred to the Bill as a
“skeleton bill with a supercharged Henry VIII clause”.
It will grant the Secretary of State powers to rule by diktat. We should not be debating such extreme legislation that gives the Secretary of State absolute power to decide which workers will be able to take industrial action and when. It severely restricts the democratic and human rights of millions of people in this country, without the necessary detail or time to scrutinise it properly in this House. That is clearly unacceptable and should not stand.
Turning to the workability of the Bill, outside the clear moral issues that compel Opposition Members to vote against it, it simply will not work. It is utterly dangerous, and will set back industrial relations. It will do nothing to help resolve disputes or support good industrial relations, which I am sure the Minister will agree are the basis of a healthy economy. In fact, it will do the opposite. It will force trade unions to develop other tactics to fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.
If Members will indulge me for a minute, I will give a short history lesson. In the 1940s, order 1305 was brought in during the war to give the Government power to decide, in a similar way to this Bill, to ban strikes in various sectors. Of course, we were fighting a fascist regime and we want to think that all those powers were appropriate, but when they were used it was a huge own goal because they led to significant increases in the number of days lost to strikes. Workers got so fed up that they simply walked out on unofficial strike, and they did so without any trade union involvement, creating a situation where the unions had less say and less influence to reach a resolution or to monitor what was happening. So history shows that this kind of legislation is a total disaster.
The Bill is not just impractical; it might even be illegal. The right to strike is a hallmark of any democratic society, recognised and protected by UN treaties, ILO conventions, the European social charter and the European convention on human rights. These proposals clearly violate our obligation to sustain those rights and are almost certainly in breach of other laws protecting rights in this country. Let us look for a moment at the rail sector, the bit that is such a focus for the Government. Earlier I mentioned the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Huw Merriman, and he has admitted—this came from the horse’s mouth—that the Bill was essentially about defeating the rail unions to ensure that there could be no resolution to the rest of the disputes across the public and private sectors. The Government simply do not want to pay the money to the people who need it.
Someone who is not involved in trade unions but is an expert on safety standards on the railways is the chief executive officer of the Rail Safety Standards Board. At the Tory party conference he talked about the first iteration of this Bill, which was just about transport. He said:
“It can be progressed but it won’t make the slightest bit of difference… If you introduce minimum service levels there’s a huge issue of how that level is set and particularly if you set that minimum level and you’ve rostered staff to work then I would suggest then you’d probably have a much higher level of sickness arise because of that, because people won’t want to be seen to be breaking the strikes that their colleagues are involved in.”
This is farcical. Our railway system is broken—the Government do not even seem to be able to get HS2 to come to Euston at the moment—yet they are creating a situation that will lead to even more days being lost to strikes.
The Bill will also place trade unions in an impossible position where they will be enforced to instruct their members, who have democratically voted for industrial action, to break their own strikes. If they do not comply, the unions may face an injunction and be forced to pay damages. This is an outrageous infringement of trade union freedoms. In my view, this will create the modern Tolpuddle martyrs, because we know how fond this Government are of deporting those people who least deserve it.
The effects of the Bill will not be confined to those directly impacted by the minimum service standard. Indeed, the impact assessment produced the first time this was brought forward, with the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, suggests that it could drive down pay and conditions in other sectors. I want to quote from it, because I think it is relevant. It states:
“If terms and conditions are reduced over time relative to the strength of the economy in one sector then there is a potential for employers in other related sectors to be able to offer similarly reduced terms and conditions”.
At a time when workers are suffering their longest pay squeeze since Napoleonic times and facing double-digit inflation, this Bill could not be worse timed. For too long, decisions have been taken in this place that do not have the consent of working people.
The Bill is just the latest attack on the workers and people in this country who are struggling the most, and on the people who have fought for and championed the rights that have been won by working people in this country over two centuries. It is worth reminding ourselves that it was trade unions that ended child labour, that made our workplaces safer and that gained us paid holidays, maternity and paternity leave, sick leave, equal pay legislation, pensions, workplace anti-discrimination laws and even the weekend. It is high time we had a Government that respected and valued the incredible contribution that the trade union movement has made to this country, instead of attacking and blaming the workers who deserve a pay rise. On that basis, I commend these amendments to the House.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Sam Tarry, who made a passionate speech.
As a proud trade union member, I begin by referring the Committee to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I speak today in opposition to the Government’s proposed measures. The decision to go on strike is never taken lightly, especially as families struggle with the financial effects of the cost of living crisis. Opting to lose a day’s wages, particularly for workers such as teachers and nurses, is always a last resort when all others have failed, as I know because I have been on strike as a low-paid teacher.
I will focus my brief remarks on amendment 1. The Bill currently allows for workers who do not comply with a work notice to be sacked. The Labour party does not believe that any worker should be sacked for taking industrial action. As a former state school teacher, and as an MP representing a coalfield area that has previously suffered from Tory attacks on unionised workers, most notably during the 1984 miners’ strike, I have seen at first hand the importance of the right to strike and how it would be fundamentally unfair for people to lose their livelihood for taking the decision to withdraw their labour.
This goes beyond public sector workers. For example, transport services could include road haulage and distribution, both of which are key to South Yorkshire’s regional economy. The Bill allows two ways to enforce a so-called work notice: employers may either sue a union for losses, or they may sack individual workers.
One of the clearest examples of how this legislation targets workers and is not fit for purpose is in the transport sector. The train operating companies do not make losses due to strikes. Operators get a fee regardless of whether their services run, meaning they have no financial incentive to settle industrial disputes. Frankly, my constituents are lucky if they can travel across the Pennines, whether or not it is a strike day, but that does not touch the companies’ profits under the current system. Surely the only power that this Bill provides in such cases is to sack the workers in question. In an industry facing massive shortages, it is a strange solution to sack staff. It is hard to escape the conclusion that, instead, employers are simply being encouraged to target union activists, which is why amendments 64 and 68 are also important.
Fundamentally, minimum service levels are ineffective. Comparable countries such as France and Italy, which already have legislation in place for minimum service levels, have seen an increase in strikes rather than a decrease. The Government propose this Bill as a solution to the current levels of industrial action in the UK, but the reason why the number of strike days is at its highest in a generation is because this Government have given us a low-wage, low-growth economy for 13 years. These strikes are a symptom of Conservative economic failure. Key workers kept our country moving throughout the pandemic. This Government should stop threatening to sack them; they should pay them a fair wage.
I rise to speak to amendments 21 to 24, which are in my name. In doing so, I am happy to support the amendments in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), and my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry. I declare my interests, as other hon. Members have: I believe in democracy and I am a member of Unite.
Before I speak specifically to the substance of amendments 21 to 24, I will say a few words about the Bill and develop some of the points I outlined on Second Reading. To be blunt, this is a bad Bill that I believe is in total violation of the fundamental human right to withdraw one’s labour. Since Brexit, and throughout this Parliament, we have been promised an employment Bill but, alas, none has materialised. Time and again, we have been told there is insufficient parliamentary time for such legislation to go through both Houses of Parliament but, miraculously, the British Government have suddenly found parliamentary time to ram through a hugely controversial Bill, albeit a short Bill, that will radically alter employment law and trade union relations on these islands.
This Bill will be railroaded through its remaining stages in just six hours tonight, which is a total disgrace that makes a mockery of those who say Parliament is taking back control. We are about to confer huge, sweeping powers on a Secretary of State who, at the stroke of a pen, will be able to force employees to work against their wishes. I do not know how often it needs to happen for Ministers to take it seriously, but when Mr Rees-Mogg suggests this Bill is going in a dangerous direction, it is a clear indication that they ought to think again.
It is clear from the few speeches we have heard from Conservative Members tonight that the British Government see the foundations for this Bill as being the fact that some European countries have provisions for minimum service levels. Leaving aside any surprise at the UK suddenly benchmarking itself against legislation from EU member states, we see nothing on the continent that is anywhere near as strict as what is proposed in this Bill and drafted in a way that gives one man in Government such wide-ranging powers.
Is my hon. Friend aware of anywhere else in Europe where an employee could be dismissed, with no right to a tribunal, as proposed in this legislation?
My hon. Friend is spot on with that question. That point has been made throughout the debate by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West, when she makes the case that if we looked for countries that do that, we would find ourselves in with the unholy club of Russia and Hungary. Perhaps the policy of global Britain has changed and the Government are seeking to emulate the policies of Hungary and Russia. That would be a courageous electoral strategy if they are, but none the less my hon. Friend makes that point.
I wish to say one more thing about international comparisons before moving on to deal with the amendments. Many Government Members suggested on Second Reading that the Bill enjoyed the support of the ILO, but it has since clarified that that is not the case. So that nullifies that line from the British Government, which, when scrutinised, is found wanting on just about every clause in this tawdry Bill.
I am conscious of the fact that there are well over 100 amendments in 50 pages on the amendment paper, as well as multiple new clauses, so I will seek to confine my remarks solely to those that stand in my name, and I will start with amendment 21. Many of us know that this legislation is only the thin end of the wedge; I do not think that Ministers will stop here. For many on the Tory Benches, this is an ideological war. It is a blatant attempt to finish what Margaret Thatcher started: bringing the unions to heel. We have heard it tonight, with language such as “union barons” “the paymasters” and so on. Fundamentally, the Bill is about the victimisation of trade unions and working people, and it is all about creating a wedge issue for the next election.
My hon. Friend is making a fantastic point about who is being victimised here. Instead of attacking working people and families, should this Government not be going after those who are not paying their taxes, so that we can get some more money? We could also go after those who are wasting billions of pounds as well.
My hon. Friend seeks to lead me into an area that could probably land me in a lot of hot water, in terms of naming Members and breaching “Erskine May”, so I will avoid straying into the area of affairs of taxation for the Conservative party. He is right to put that on the record and I am sure it will be ringing out in Stratford-on-Avon.
On amendment 21, the Bill already makes provision for six wide-ranging sectors that the British Government have identified for restrictions at a time of industrial action. Quite apart from the fact that “life and limb” cover is already provided for in statute, the list is already incredibly far-reaching. My amendment seeks to tighten up this part of the Bill, making it harder for Ministers to add further sectors of service provision. I am thinking specifically of Royal Mail, where our trade union colleagues in the Communication Workers Union are currently engaged in a dispute.
I have no doubt that this is not about “life and limb” cover, which unions already negotiate in advance of strike action. Ministers’ language has already evolved in recent weeks and months to “lives and livelihoods”, which gives them carte blanche to add in whatever sectors they fancy later on. I firmly believe that they will draw in other industrial disputes to be covered by this Bill and use it as a signal to bad bosses, the likes of Royal Mail’s Simon Thompson, who seems to be content with being at war with trade unions. The effect of amendment 21 would be to prohibit any addition to or any reinstatement of the six categories of service to which the Bill applies, while facilitating the ease of removal of any of these categories.
Amendment 22 relates to the devolved nature of employment law in Northern Ireland. As hon. Members will be aware—although perhaps not those who think it is impossible to devolve employment legislation to Holyrood —Northern Ireland already has legislative competence for employment law, so the territorial application of this Bill is not extended there. However, with no functioning Assembly or Executive, my amendment 22 would provide that this anti-worker power grab from Ministers could not be imposed on workers in Northern Ireland in any circumstances, including in the event of direct rule. In short, no devolved consent means no anti-strike legislation in Northern Ireland. However, for a party that purports to be so passionate about the Union, it is somewhat bizarre that, by passing this legislation, it is essentially engineering a situation whereby UNISON’s health service members in Northern Ireland would be exempt from the legislation that would directly infringe their very peers on this island. Perhaps we could call this particular amendment the anti-strike protocol.
I turn to amendment 23, which relates primarily, although not exclusively, to the issue of transportation, and with which it will be convenient to consider amendment 24, which is not dissimilar. If we leave to one side the incredibly vague wording for the definition of transport service provision, there are a number of problems with the new schedule and the application of provisions for transport. Amendment 23 means that the Secretary of State must seek the consent of elected Mayors in London and the combined authorities. If amendment 23 is not in the Bill, I am unclear where that leaves the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has responsibility for the London underground. Will the Secretary of State be able to come crashing in and call the shots when an industrial dispute arises on the London underground?
Similarly, in Greater Manchester, Mayor Andy Burnham’s responsibilities include overseeing road management, bus lane enforcement and congestion, as well as influence over bus services, the Metrolink tram system and cycling schemes. I posit this thought: if an industrial dispute arises in any of those areas or workplaces, will Mayor Burnham be stood down while the Secretary of State takes over from Whitehall, setting minimum service levels?
Similarly, the Mayor in Liverpool has responsibility for Merseyrail. If the RMT were to call industrial action on Merseyrail, will the Secretary of State tell the Mayor to move over and that the big boys from London will take over? The same already applies in respect of the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales, as other amendments touch on. In short, who sets the minimum service levels? Supporting amendment 24 would crystalise some of that. Otherwise, the Bill flies in the face of devolution and its settlement, and it allows Tory Ministers in Whitehall to grab powers from devolved Administrations and combined authorities and act with impunity during their war on workers.
I am conscious of time, so I will draw my remarks to a close by saying that the Bill is fundamentally undemocratic, it will do nothing to resolve industrial disputes, and it is the complete antithesis to taking back control and strengthening employment rights, which was what was promised during Brexit. The only option left to Opposition Members tonight is to ameliorate a Bill that this Government should be thoroughly ashamed of. I therefore encourage Members to support amendments 21 to 24 en bloc.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a proud trade union member. I rise to support the amendments in the names of my hon. Friends and myself and those of the official Opposition.
There has been much discussion today about whether the Bill has been badly or incompetently drafted, but we should not be taken in by that diversion. This is a Bill that is drafted very specifically to achieve a very specific aim: to extinguish the right to strike and to stop key workers from speaking out.
Trade unions have been given no opportunity to feed into any pre-legislative scrutiny. There has been no consultation with any of the impacted sectors and no impact assessments have been published, as highlighted by the Regulatory Policy Committee, and it is no wonder. The Bill will undoubtedly breach the Human Rights Act, the European convention on human rights, International Labour Organisation conventions and various other statutes. It gives the Secretary of State sweeping authoritarian powers to set minimum service levels by regulation in six sectors, the contours of which are undefined, and it grants the Secretary of State sweeping authoritarian powers to amend, repeal or revoke provisions in primary legislation, including Acts of the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament, as we have heard today. Worse still, it strips away employment rights. Any worker identified in a work notice who refuses to work as directed will be without unfair dismissal protections, meaning they can be sacked immediately, without notice. But it does not stop there. The Bill also says that the relevant trade union must “take reasonable steps” to ensure that its members comply, but, again, “reasonable steps” are not defined; they are at the whim of the Secretary of State.
Staggeringly, the consequence of not taking those undefined reasonable steps is that the strike would be unlawful and unofficial and all workers taking strike action would be without unfair dismissal protection and could all be sacked at the whim of the Secretary of State.
When we legislate in Parliament, we do not legislate for the good; we legislate for the bad. We have to interpret how this legislation could be used by a bad employer, and one way it could be used by bad employers is specifying individual workers who we know are trade union activists to be forced to break the strike. The Government will say that there is a responsibility and that the employer had no regard to whether someone was a union member. We had 20 years of blacklisting taking place with Governments refusing to acknowledge it. We know what bad employers will do: they will target trade unionists and ensure they are sacked, and when the union defends the trade unionists, they will come for the trade union itself.
My right hon. Friend is 100% right. The problem with blacklisting was that it was done very much under the radar; we had Government institutions going behind legislation. This piece of legislation, however, would unashamedly carry out similar practices in broad daylight, with the full sanction of the Secretary of State and his Prime Minister.
This is an authoritarian and undemocratic Bill. The proposed amendments that I am supporting today are therefore designed simply to enhance parliamentary scrutiny, to constrain the unreasonable powers of the Secretary of State and to protect workers and trade unions, in particular by making co-operation with work notices voluntary on the part of employees, by providing that a failure to comply with the work notice will not mean a breach of contract or provide grounds for dismissal or detriment, and by limiting the reasonable steps that a trade union must take.
This despotic Bill not only represents a fundamental attack on workers’ rights, but dangerously divides a nation, demoralising and threatening to sack the very workforce who have tried to hold our country together over the last two difficult years. These amendments are the bare minimum necessary to take the dangerous edges off this very dangerous piece of legislation—but, frankly, this piece of legislation needs to be thrown in the bin.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey.
I rise to speak in favour of amendments 80, 84, 97, 20, 83, 93, 85, 95, 92, new clause 1 and all amendments tabled by the Opposition Front Bench. I am absolutely delighted to declare that I am a member of Unite and the GMB.
I start by congratulating members of the Fire Brigades Union on their resounding strike ballot today, which really was democracy in action, and expressing solidarity with all the workers in dispute this week. This is a pernicious Bill designed to target the very same workers who, as a nation, we clapped from our doorsteps not so long ago in gratitude for their heroics during the pandemic—the same key workers who, let us not forget, are being forced to use food banks in vast numbers because their work does not pay.
The old chestnut that work pays is becoming a bigger fallacy than some hon. Members’ tax returns. Nurses, firefighters, teachers and other public sector workers are all targeted in this Bill, prohibited from striking and risking dismissal if they resist. Let us be clear: these public sector workers are being forced into industrial action in the first place by a Government who have overseen 12 years of real-terms pay cuts, the erosion of job security and pensions and the destruction of our public services. I note that the Prime Minister said today, after finally sacking his party chairman, that he
“will take whatever steps are necessary to restore the integrity back into politics”.
Well, I cannot help but find that pledge laughable as I stand here speaking out against this Government’s Bill, which will see key workers lose their protection from unfair dismissal and trade unions sued for upholding workers’ rights.
It is clear that the Government are trying to fast-track the legislation through Parliament without proper scrutiny. The Bill lacks detail, and I note that the TUC has submitted a freedom of information request to ascertain why it has been published without an impact assessment. It is a further insult to our key public sector workers that this bonfire of workers’ rights is unfolding just as the Government are laying the groundwork for another bonfire—one of financial regulations, through the Financial Services and Markets Bill.
The Prime Minister speaks about restoring integrity, yet here he is presiding over the empowerment of speculators and lifting the bankers’ bonus cap as our key workers lose their right to strike. It is beyond shameful. I have sponsored 25 amendments aimed at protecting the right of workers to take industrial action, and at neutralising this appalling Bill, which attacks our fundamental right to strike. I support Labour’s amendments to safeguard protections against unfair dismissal, and further amendments that would require the Government to submit the legislation to greater parliamentary scrutiny, including by forcing the publication of assessments of how the Bill would impact on individual workers, equalities, employers and unions.
I am deeply opposed to the Bill, which further curtails the right to strike and other trade union activities. I fully support the rights of workers to take industrial action. I voted against this dreadful Bill on Second Reading, and I will continue to oppose it in this place and out on the streets with the public, who also oppose it. We can and must do better than this dreadful, divisive and potentially unlawful Bill.
I rise to speak in support of the amendments that protect democracy, our devolved Parliaments, our human rights, our workers’ rights, our compliance with international law and, fundamentally, our freedom. Those aspects are laid out in new clause 1 and amendments 92, 93, 80, 27, 83, 84, 20, 8, 40, 94, 4 and 1, among others. I declare my proud membership of Unite the Union, the GMB and Unison.
It is clear that the public do not need protecting from public sector unions. The workers and the public—ordinary people—need protecting from this Government. The only fit end for this appallingly vague, skeletal and frighteningly broad Bill is the scrapheap. It should be withdrawn or, if not, voted against in its entirety. At the very least, the amendments and new clauses are needed to minimise the immediate and potential harm that this “sack the workers” and anti-trade union Bill will cause.
The Conservative party has already demonstrated its readiness to trample on legal principles and the democratic and human rights of people in the UK. Through the Bill, as it stands, the Government are seeking to bypass democracy in this House, which is why amendments 80, 27 and 40, among others, are needed. The Government are also seeking to circumvent the established autonomy of the UK’s devolved Governments without even assessing the impact of those actions. That is why amendment 28 and others are vital.
It is essential that the amendments and new clauses force the Secretary of State of to seek the approval of Parliament to amend or add to the legislation. In fact, the Bill’s provisions are so wide and vague that it would set a precedent in allowing the Government to amend or revoke, in private, any legislation that they do not like, against any set of people they disagree with, or simply on a whim to make a political point. The Bill is also a mass assault on the rights of millions of working-class people, no matter where they live, and on the unions that enable them to organise and act together to improve their working conditions and living standards.
Nothing in this Bill as it stands requires so-called minimum service levels to be realistic, let alone appropriate, and nothing in it ensures that those levels do not exceed actual day-to-day levels of work on non-strike days. That has to change. That is why amendments 94 and 39 are needed. There is nothing to prevent the Government and employers from using the Bill to prevent union officials from effectively representing their members during disputes or to stop the Government from bankrupting unions by requiring them to police their members on behalf of the employers exploiting them, imposing financial penalties for the slightest failure.
Many have commented on the almost ludicrous nature of how we are legislating today. We are about to legislate to penalise a union for not taking reasonable steps to ensure it instructs its members to break a strike, yet we do not know those sanctions, or what “reasonable steps” are. We do not know what the implications are for the union itself, yet we are legislating tonight to give a free hand to the Minister. That cannot be right in any democratic forum.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, to which I hope the Government are listening. The Bill is manifestly unjust and must not become law. That is why amendments 93 and 92 are needed. The Government are not just showing their contempt for the UK’s legal and democratic principles with this Bill. As it stands, the Secretary of State can ignore the UK’s international legal and treaty obligations on the treatment of workers and allow the sacking of workers simply for exercising their internationally recognised right to withdraw their labour, with nothing to protect certain workers and union officials from being targeted by bad bosses. Time and again, this Government bring forward legislation without an impact assessment. Where is the impact assessment? Where is the equality impact assessment? That is why new clause 1 and amendments 4, 83 and 84 are needed.
The harm this Bill does to the rights of our people is obvious, but it also does huge harm to the UK’s international standing, making this country yet again an outlier among so-called developed nations in its readiness to disregard international law and agreements. The Bill is clearly unfit and is designed to break the will of the unions and demoralise workers. These amendments and new clauses will not actually make the Bill fit, but the proposed changes will at least mitigate some of the dangers it evidently poses. I urge the Committee to support them.
As workers rise in opposition to this Bill, to defend their rights and to say enough is enough, and as industrial action increases as a direct result of this Bill, I urge all hon. and right hon. Members to do the decent thing and to stand with them not only here in Parliament, but on the picket line. On
I refer the Committee to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; I am a proud member of the Communication Workers Union and Unite the union.
I am appalled by the introduction of the Bill, but I cannot say that I am surprised by it. Historically, the Conservatives have taken every opportunity afforded to them in government to attack and curtail the rights of trade unions to represent hard-working people at their places of employment. Whether in the Industrial Relations Act 1971 under Heath or the raft of draconian anti-trade union laws introduced under Thatcher, the Conservatives have demonstrated again and again that they are fundamentally opposed to any notion of workers having a voice or a right to negotiate pay and conditions at their workplace. To attack the fundamental rights of workers to withdraw their labour is an act not of strength or leadership from the Government, but of downright cowardice.
Key workers across the UK, who are struggling to make ends meet after years of hard work and sacrifice, are now exercising their democratic right to demand better pay and conditions after 13 years of miserable Conservative Governments. Any sensible, sincere and serious Government would be doing everything in their power to ensure that agreement could be reached, so that workers could receive what they are owed and the public did not have to endure disruption any longer than necessary. It is the Government who are failing to provide the most minimum of service levels, not our public sector workers.
As a lifelong trade unionist, I know first hand the vital work done by trade unions throughout our society. I stood in solidarity with all the university workers who went out to protect their pensions. I stood in solidarity with BT workers, rail workers, Royal Mail workers and all the strike workers who have stood up for their rights to better pay and conditions under 13 years of miserable Tory Governments.
The Minister muttered earlier that the Government were passing the Bill to save lives, but if they want to save lives, they should fill the 47,000 nursing vacancies, as the nurses are crying out for them to do; they should fill the vacancies for the doctors who are needed in the NHS; they should fill the vacancies in the police, where cuts have cost lives, and are costing lives, because policing cannot happen in the way that it should; and they should back the firefighters, who are delivering an excellent service despite the cuts that Conservative Governments have forced on them. If I want a better life for myself, it is equally the right of every single working-class person in the country to stand up for their rights and to make sure that their children do not go hungry. Children should be fed in school and at home—free meals should be provided for everyone at primary school level.
Equally, we must realise that the cost of living crisis created by the Government is forcing people to go out on strike. The poll carried out by YouGov—a name we have heard a few times this week—for Sky News today shows that despite the increase in the number of strikes, there is huge public support for workers, because they are ordinary working people who are suffering. Children and working people are suffering, and the cost of living crisis is crippling families’ take home pay. That is their fundamental right. This Government are failing to provide the minimum service levels that our public sector needs and deserves.
The work of trade unions is much more fundamental than that. It is about ensuring that people have a voice and can act and hold their employers to account, whether that be on working conditions, health and safety matters or pay and conditions. It is about fairness, justice and democracy at work. The Bill represents an outright attack on these values, and it should be rejected by every person in this Chamber and everyone who will be voting later today. Who would believe that workers would be treated with the utmost disrespect after this 13 years of Tory rule?
It is evident that at every step of the way this Government have tried to denigrate the unions and the rights of the unions. There were remarks made from the Government Benches about trade unions bankrolling Labour Members, but let me remind the Minister: it is up to every union member whether they opt in or out of the political fund, and it is incumbent on unions to ballot their members on it. I say with great satisfaction that the vast majority have opted in so that political work and campaigning can happen.
I am proud to stand here as a trade unionist. If we are to do justice by people, we need an increase in nurses and doctors, and we need funding for schools so that teachers can properly provide the services they went into their careers to provide. There is an alternative to these minimum service levels. It is called a general election. If the Government really believe what they are doing is in the interests of the people of this country, they should call a general election and find out.
I speak as a proud trade unionist, a member of Unite the union and Unison, and as someone who appreciates and is grateful to all our public servants. I echo the case put forward by my right hon. Friend Angela Rayner and support the amendments put forward by Opposition Members. My view is simple: this draconian Bill is as anti-democratic as it is unethical. It is as unworkable as it is counterproductive. It is an admission by a Conservative Government who are out of ideas and fundamentally out of touch with the working people who are the backbone of our public services. We are witnessing the greatest strike disruption that this country has seen since 1990. It is not a mystery why: workers have faced the biggest squeeze in their wages since the Napoleonic era.
In the private sector, many employers have engaged in constructive negotiations to agree pay deals, but in the public sector the Government have refused to get around the table. They have decided to legislate rather than negotiate. It would cost £18 billion to provide proper, inflation-matching pay awards for public service staff. The Public Accounts Committee estimates that His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is owed an eye-watering £42 billion in unpaid taxes. Rather than bringing forward a Bill to restrict workers’ ability to fight for fair pay, perhaps Ministers could look into recovering that revenue to cover the cost of these fair wages. I understand that a former Cabinet member has some experience in this area and now has some time on his hands as well.
When the public look to our NHS or our schools or any of our public services, they see 13 years of Tory mismanagement. The staff working in those services are simply echoing the same concerns, because they too are members of the public. They are reliant on those services and they are feeling the cost of living crisis.
Today, after much consideration, firefighters have overwhelmingly, and democratically, voted to strike. This is a last resort for those members, but they have witnessed their pay being eaten away, some of them are having to use food banks, and their life-saving services have been cut by 30%. Fundamentally, this case underlines why this legislation is not about public safety. This Government’s cuts have been putting the public at risk every single day. Moreover, the FBU has already negotiated a major incident agreement with fire employers, proving once again that this Bill is a desperate attempt to restrict its ability to push for a fair wage.
Removing legal protections for strikers will not settle this or any other dispute. This Bill has one single purpose: to empower the Government to silence workers who might dare to speak out about the decaying state of our public services and to sack those who will not comply. This Bill will not resolve a single dispute or fix a single broken public service. It is just an assault on working people trying to defend their living conditions in a Conservative cost of living crisis. It is an utter injustice that the same Government Members who have defended lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses will not stand up for the hard-working nurses and firefighters in their constituencies who want to negotiate for fair pay.
The hon. Lady is making a fabulous, passionate speech. I am a former teacher and have taken strike action in the past over pay and conditions. Does she not think that when Government Members stand up for bankers and their bonuses but then talk about their hard-working, dedicated teachers or their hard-working NHS staff, it reeks of simple hypocrisy? They will not be taken seriously the next time they make such statements in this House.
I could not agree more with the hon. Member. Government Members must remember that these nurses, teachers and firefighters are themselves the general public who they claim are the ones feeling the pinch and who have the right to a decent service. They are the people who are striking now.
To finish, this Bill just shows, if ever proof were needed, that this is a Government whose every action is allowing the rich to get richer and the poor to become poorer.
I thank hon. Members on both sides of the Committee for their contributions.
Consistent with the contributions that have been made, this Government firmly believe that the ability to strike is an important element of industrial relations in the UK—it is rightly protected by law—and we understand that an element of disruption is likely with any strike. However, we need to maintain a reasonable balance between the ability of workers to strike and the rights of the public, who work hard and expect the essential services that they pay for to be there when they need them. We need to be able to have confidence that, when strikes occur, people’s lives and livelihoods are not put at undue risk.
I will make a little progress and then bring the hon. Member in, although I might cover his point in my next comments.
To respond to some of the points made in the debate, particularly on scrutiny and process, clearly the consultations offer plenty of opportunities for hon. Members, their constituents, employers and unions to play a role in shaping minimum service levels before regulations are made, and both Houses will be able to provide additional scrutiny.
A lot of the remarks made this evening have focused on safety, but section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides workers with the means to contest the adequacy of safety arrangements and withdraw their labour—they can walk away. Given that, can the Minister explain to the Committee which statute would take precedence: the Employment Rights Act 1996 or this Bill?
I think it is quite clear. I was interested in the comments of my hon. Friend Laura Farris when she talked about the International Labour Organisation and its specifying of minimum service levels. It has stated that they do apply to essential services but could also apply to other services, such as education and railway workers. We think the legislation is consistent with international law and the International Labour Organisation.
I will give way one last time; then I want to make some progress.
I am sorry, Minister, but that really does not address the point I made. There is an inalienable right under the Employment Rights Act 1996 for people to withdraw their labour. It is nothing to do with the International Labour Organisation. We are going to have two UK statutes that are in direct conflict with each other; which one will prevail—that Act or this legislation?
I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to confirm that point, but we absolutely believe that this legislation is lawful and compatible with human rights legislation and international obligations.
My right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg made a typically insightful and thoughtful speech that no doubt provoked thinking on both sides of the Committee. He talked about the Henry VIII powers in the legislation, but I reassure him that they are restricted only to genuinely consequential amendments. I do not believe they are as wide ranging as he set out.
My hon. Friend Dr Mullan was absolutely right—this was also reflected in the contribution of my hon. Friend Anna Firth—that we are not anti-union, but we are pro-protecting the public.
I will make some progress, if I can. I may come back to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury speaks with great authority on these matters and, as I said, pointed out clearly that the ILO says that as a general principle MSLs are not restricted to essential services, as some Members have claimed, and can cover other elements such as education and railway workers. She also said quite rightly that from their speeches the Opposition seem to want the country to grind to a halt.
It is irresponsible for a Minister to come to this House, when there is a clear conflict in the law that needs to be interpreted, without that interpretation and just to say that he is going to write to us. That is irresponsible. Will he now define to us what reasonable steps he expects a union to take to comply with the legislation as it is and to instruct its members to go to work during a strike? What are those reasonable steps?
That would be for a court to decide—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Of course it would be for a court to decide, because the only action that can be taken against a union can be by the employer in the courts. A union would then define what the reasonable steps would be. I will move on.
I will make some progress, if I can—
No, I will not.
On the other points, the impact assessment will be available shortly. It is fair to say that we see the Bill as having a net benefit to the economy. Individual impact assessments will support secondary legislation.
To respond to Angela Rayner, we do not believe that the Bill reduces requirements for employers to adhere to health and safety and equality legislation. It is compatible with convention rights and international obligations—
No, I am making some progress.
The Bill does not target union members, as clearly stated in proposed new section 234C(6) on page 4 of the Bill. In terms of devolution, we believe that minimum service levels are necessary across Great Britain, but we are of course keen to engage with the devolved Governments through consultation.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The Welsh Government and the Scottish Government have already made it crystal clear that they oppose this legislation; why is the Minister seeking to ram it though at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons and completely ride roughshod over the devolution settlement?
This legislation is subject to parliamentary scrutiny. This is the Parliament of the United Kingdom: it has every right to legislate. We believe this is needed across Great Britain, and industrial relations are clearly reserved to this Parliament.
No, I will move on.
As we have made clear, we hope not to use the powers in the Bill if adequate voluntary agreements are in place where they are necessary. However, we cannot continue to rely on existing legislation or voluntary arrangements to help protect the lives and livelihoods of the people we represent. The public and workers reasonably expect the Government to intervene to protect people’s lives and livelihoods, and that is what we are doing by ensuring that essential services continue, even while workers are exercising their right to strike.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.