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Second Reading

Part of Trade Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 11th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Conservative 5:30 pm, 11th January 2016

My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what noble Lords have had to say today so far. Much has been said of the good done by unions, and I have witnessed some of that myself. But nothing that has been said today so far has done anything to address my concern about the effect on inoffensive and uninvolved members of the public whose efforts to get to and from work or education become severely hampered by industrial action.

The public sector strikes in 2011 closed 62% of England’s schools, and the NHS cancelled tens of thousands of operations. Yet the ballot of the teachers’ union ATL had only a 25% turnout, and UNISON’s was about the same. Polls indicate that a majority of the public strongly agree that strike action should be taken only as a last resort. That is why it is right to introduce, as the Bill proposes, a requirement for a turnout of at least 50% in strike ballots.

Neither has anything that has been said so far in this debate explained why it is reasonable that industrial action can take place based on an ageing mandate. The NUT strike in 2014 led to the full or part closure of almost 1,500 educational establishments across England on a ballot that was almost two years old. As a matter of fact, there was also an alleged voting turnout of just 20%. I am aware of several other incidences of strike action that occurred in the year to October 2014 in which the mandate was more than 18 months old, and one of them no less than three years old. The CBI says that placing time limits on ballot mandates is important to ensure that industrial action is limited to the original dispute and not extended to other matters. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that. It seems to me that that is why it is important that the Bill introduces a requirement that a ballot mandate must be no more than four months old.

I am also concerned that the number of days lost to industrial action in the public sector has doubled over 15 years, whereas in the private sector it has halved. Therefore, I am pleased that the Bill introduces a requirement that, if a strike is to take place in certain important public services, 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of strike action.

These are some of the issues that the Bill we are about to get into seeks to tackle. The public gave the Government a mandate at the general election, and the public are looking to the Government to fulfil that mandate.