Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:16 pm on 20th July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 5:16 pm, 20th July 2022

My Lords, I add my words of appreciation for my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. I am a fairly new Member of this House, of only nine years, but he has been a constant presence throughout those nine years and always a source of wisdom. Whenever he gets up, he says something that is worth listening to. That cannot be said of many people, probably including me. We all wish him well in his retirement and he will be missed. That is often said about people, but it is certainly true of my noble and learned friend.

I welcome the Bill. It presents a very interesting contrast with the debate that we held the other night on a couple of nonsensical statutory instruments. It is a response to an action by employers that was just not acceptable, and this is exactly the right one. We need to get the Government behind good employment practice. I am not saying that the Bill is perfect, but I am saying that the driving force behind it is what I like to see when Governments deal with trade unions. As I have often said, I am president of the airline pilots union. The laws of the air are somehow a lot stronger than those of the sea, probably because aircraft are very expensive things and aeroplane technicians tend to talk to each other much more and get things organised. The Bill, I believe, is the product of a Government who have shown they care.

Clearly, we have to look at foreign workers, but I do not look at foreign workers, I look at workers—who are working to increase the prosperity of this country. My family were foreign workers; they all came from Ireland. They spent years contributing to the tax base of this country through working in this country—in the case of my father, working in the National Health Service. I have never looked at people and said, “Oh, they are foreign; they are not British, they deserve something different”. They do not: all workers deserve the same level of respect, and I am sure this Bill will carry that through. It is a way to deal with the problems and it shows what can be done.

I will make one mention of the briefing we got from the British Ports Association, which says that it is inappropriate to co-opt harbour authorities into the regulation or enforcement of port users’ employment practices. I happen to disagree, but if the Minister tends to agree, let me give her a very easy solution. We have a precedent in the certification officer for trade unions, who certifies all the trade union practices in legislation. Let us have a certification officer for port workers and let the port owners pay the levy to finance it. It is quite simple. If they do not want to do that, we can provide an alternative; the Government can provide a certification officer to ensure that these regulations, when they are passed, are implemented. Let us see what the port authorities have to say about that. It is the best way forward and would work things out.

I close by thanking the Minister and her department for the draft. I am sure it will achieve a small amount of debate in Committee but, when I read it, I thought, “At last we have something that reflects the attitude to trade unionism that I have always wanted to see from these Benches”.