Amendment 18A

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 2:25 pm on 23rd March 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Hendy:

Moved by Lord Hendy

18A: The Schedule, page 3, line 31, at end insert—“(5) Regulations may not prohibit or enable the prohibition of participation in, or any activity in connection with, a strike or other industrial action; or create an offence.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is intended to ensure that the regulations do not breach Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights by permitting the penalisation of individuals for exercising their right to strike.

Photo of Lord Hendy Lord Hendy Labour

My Lords, I shall speak to three of the amendments in this group; they bring into discussion matters of international legal obligation. Amendment 18A deals with protection against the excessive use of the regulations.

I ought to begin by reiterating something the noble Lord, Lord Allan, mentioned earlier, which is that we are dealing here with fundamental human rights. The right to strike is a fundamental human right. It has been held to be a right protected by Article 11 of the European convention in a series of cases, beginning with Unison v the United Kingdom. It is protected not only by Article 11 but by many other international treaties ratified by the UK. In fact, it is protected in many national constitutions; more than 80 protect the right to strike. Of course, it is not unlimited and there are always restrictions in one way or another, but its fundamental nature is that it is a human right.

So too is the right to bargain collectively, which was held by the European Court of Human Rights to be an essential element of Article 11 in the case Demir and Baykara v Turkey. The significance of that is that the right to strike is fundamental to the right to bargain collectively—in other words, to the protection of workers’ living standards. As was said 70 or so years ago, collective bargaining without the right to strike is effectively collective begging.

The right to strike has been lawful in the UK since at least the Trade Disputes Act 1906. There is no further justification, after the many Acts restricting that right since 1980, for yet further restrictions or limitations on the capacity of workers to defend their living standards. In particular, the European Court of Human Rights guarantees through Article 11 that strikers shall not be penalised for taking part in a strike. There are many cases to that effect, notably Danilenkov v Russia and Ognevenko V Russia.

The purpose of my Amendment 18A, given the breadth of the power to make regulations in this Bill, is to clarify that the Government will not use that power to impose an obligation not to exercise the right to strike or to penalise strikers specifically by creating a criminal offence. If that is what the Government intend or merely contemplate, the noble Lord will no doubt say so. If that is not what the Government intend, then Amendment 18A will cause no inconvenience.

Turning to Amendment 18B, as I have mentioned, the United Kingdom has ratified numerous treaties protecting the right to strike, in particular the International Labour Organization Convention 87 and Article 6, paragraph 4 of the European Social Charter 1961, which is a charter of the Council of Europe. Reference is also made in the amendment to the trade and co-operation agreement of 2020.

The significance of the trade and co-operation agreement is that it requires that the parties to the agreement—the states of the European Union on the one side, and the United Kingdom on the other—will not regress from such standards. Article 387 requires that there be no regression in a manner which affects trade. I imagine the Minister will say that these provisions do not affect it; that may be a moot point. Beyond that, in paragraph 2 of Article 399, there is a commitment by the parties to

“respecting, promoting and effectively implementing” the core labour standards. Those include ILO Convention 87 and Article 6, paragraph 4 of the European Social Charter.

We know, because the Minister mentioned it, that legal advice was taken on the standing of this Bill, which was presumably the basis on which the noble Lord was able to make the statement on the face of the Bill that it complies with the European convention. Quite understandably, the legal advice is not publicly available. However, I wonder whether it focused sufficiently on paragraph 2 of Article 399: the obligation to respect, promote and effectively implement those core labour standards in the Bill. My view, for what it is worth, is that this Bill will infringe those standards because it exceeds the limits the ILO imposes on minimum service levels. Of course, others will take a different view. However, as I endeavoured to say on the last occasion, there is a precautionary principle here. If there is a risk that we may be in breach of our international legal obligations, we should not take that risk.

My Amendment 36C would make the proposed minimum service levels conform to those ILO standards and hence to the trade and co-operation agreement. At this point it might be useful if I indicate what the relevant ILO standards are for minimum service levels. It has been said on occasion by those speaking on behalf of the Government that the ILO has accepted minimum service levels, but the problem is that the Bill does not conform to the ILO’s minimum service level requirements.

It will not take more than a few minutes to read out what the International Labour Organization’s committee of experts said about minimum service levels. It said that

“the maintenance of minimum services in the event of a strike should only be possible in certain situations, namely: (i) in services the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population (or essential services ‘in the strict sense of the term’); (ii) 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 of the population; or (iii) in public services of fundamental importance.”

It said that minimum service levels

“must genuinely and exclusively be a minimum service, that is one which is limited to the operations which are strictly necessary to meet the basic needs of the population or the minimum requirements of the service, while maintaining the effectiveness of the pressure brought to bear; and … since this system restricts one of the essential means of pressure available to workers to defend their …

The Bill does not impose those requirements, and I submit that it should.

I will develop that last point and give one more sentence. The ILO recommends that:

“The workers and employers organizations concerned must be able to participate in determining the minimum services which should be ensured, and in the event of disagreement, legislation should provide that the matter be resolved by an independent body and not by the administrative authority.”

The Bill plainly flouts that because the ultimate arbiter of the minimum service level is of course the Minister—the administrative authority. For those reasons, I beg to move the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 2:30 pm, 23rd March 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hendy and to see the noble Lord, Lord Soames, in his place, because this group is about international law and a settlement that his grandfather had a great role in promoting, not just in this country or Europe but in the post-war world.

My noble friend Lord Hendy’s suite of amendments begins with his attempt to ensure that regulations would comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. I hope that the Minister will have no problem at all with that, because, in relation to this Bill—not some others in the current programme—the Government’s position is that the European convention is to be complied with. My noble friend’s Amendment 18A gets a little more specific in ensuring that Article 11 is complied with and people are not penalised for their trade union participation. It would give a more specific effect to what is clearly the Minister’s intention by giving a Section 19(1)(a) statement of compatibility under the Human Rights Act. I am grateful for that.

The Government’s current position and approach to international law is complex, if I can put it like that. Sometimes we are told that Bills definitely comply with this or that requirement of international law and sometimes we are told that the Government do not care about the ECHR and might even leave it if the Strasbourg court does not like us, and so on. In relation to this Bill, everything I have heard so far here, at Second Reading and in Committee, suggests that the Government want to comply not just with the European convention via our Human Rights Act but with international law more generally. I welcome that. However, the statement in the Bill, as required by Section 19 of the Human Rights Act, deals only with the European convention and, as we have heard from my noble friend—who is an expert; perhaps the leading expert there has ever been in labour law in this country—there are other equally important international agreements and conventions, not least the ILO, which is particularly important in this area of employees’ rights and trade union rights. If, as I suspect, the Minister is going to say that of course the Government want to comply with those conventions, he will have no problem at all with putting that commitment in the Bill.

Why should he agree to do this? Because it will mean that, assuming that this legislation passes, future Minister who have not actually taken the advice that he has, or made the promises he has made and the commitment in the Bill, will be bound, when they make regulations—which are easy to make by ministerial fiat—to the commitment that he has made in relation to human rights. It is also important to put these commitments in the Bill because it will make our courts the ultimate referees of whether future Ministers, when exercising these broad regulatory powers, are actually complying or not.

Photo of Lord Woodley Lord Woodley Labour

My Lords, I support this group of amendments. I first apologise for my non-attendance at Second Reading, having had a hospital appointment that I could not get out of, following my serious illness last year. Had I been there, I would have said that the Bill is vindictive, unnecessary and undemocratic, as well as unworkable and unsafe, and likely to be unlawful As it stands, it represents a grave threat to trade unionists, trade unions and trade unionism, and the fundamental right to collective action, as my noble friend Lord Hendy said.

Undermining the right to strike in the way the Bill does, and giving employers the power to compel striking workers to cross their own picket lines, would poison industrial relations across vast sectors of the economy. As my noble friends Lord Collins and Lord Cashman said earlier, the point was made by the Government’s own impact assessment on the Bill’s predecessor, the aborted transport strikes Bill, which admitted that industrial action short of strike, such as overtime bans and work to rule, would rapidly increase as a result. I am sure that none of us would want to see that happen.

My noble friends Lord Hendy and Lady Chakrabarti have made the main arguments for these amendments, but I would like to say a few words about the importance of keeping to our international obligations and our international standing. This is especially true as we were founding members of the International Labour Organization, a cornerstone of building a better world for working people. Many countries still look to the UK as an exemplar in human rights. It is also important that, in the light of Brexit, we are not seen to be on a race to the bottom, undermining workers’ rights in other countries, particularly as we have relationships and supply chains across Europe and beyond.

The Minister is well aware that, as part of the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, we made commitments to maintaining our current standards of workers’ rights—the non-regression clause mentioned earlier—and commitments to fundamental rights at work that are grounded in the ILO core conventions, including ILO Convention No. 87, the Convention on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, which the Bill clearly violates.

The report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights also cast numerous doubts over the Bill’s compliance with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the difficulty for trade unions to foresee its consequences, its insufficient protection against arbitrary interference with Article 11 rights, and the Government’s failure to provide evidence establishing a “pressing social need” for most of these changes.

If, as the Minister has said, the legislation does not breach our international obligations—if it did, it would be a serious matter that would be a source of great shame—why not include this commitment in the Bill itself as a safeguard, as my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti suggested? That is all that the amendments seek to do. Surely the only reason to oppose this would be that the Government knew that they were breaching their international obligations with the Bill as it stands, and that they do not really care. I very much hope that this is not the case, but the Minister has a chance today to clear this up by supporting the amendments, and I genuinely and sincerely urge him to take the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Labour 2:45 pm, 23rd March 2023

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 32B in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Collins, and to support my noble friend Lord Hendy’s amendments too. Amendment 32B is all about ensuring that regulations made as a result of the Bill’s provisions do not conflict with protections in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. There is a real concern about this; we have already heard several times that the impact assessment received a red rating from the RPC. Looking at that impact assessment, there is a question about whether the Bill would have an impact on trade and investment, and the answer given by the Government is no. That concerns many of us, as we know that the EU-UK TCA is our most important trade agreement with our closest trading partner.

I declare my interests in that, when the TCA was being negotiated, I was the general secretary of the TUC and a member of the steering committee of the European TUC. We had some very simple priorities on jobs, protecting workers’ rights and protecting the Good Friday agreement, so we were very keen to secure what we called a level-playing-field clause in that trading agreement to ensure that workers’ rights, conditions and jobs could not be undercut. That was really important to us; we worked really hard on it in the four years it took to secure the agreement. I met Monsieur Barnier a number of times, as well as David Frost—now the noble Lord, Lord Frost—and parliamentarians from the EU and the UK. Together, we campaigned for that clause to prevent unfair competition on the back of lowering labour standards. That was not an academic concern; there were real concerns that, in some quarters, the Brexit dividend was discussed as being one that would involve worsening workers’ rights, especially in respect of the working time directive, which put safe limits on working hours, paid holidays, rest breaks and equal treatment for agency and temporary workers.

At that time, we were also very conscious that several members of the Cabinet were co-authors of that now-infamous pamphlet Britannia Unchained, which specifically described opportunities to worsen workers’ rights. That level-playing-field clause is vital: it provides for non-regression and for no weakening of what are described by the ILO as “fundamental rights at work”, including

“health and safety standards … fair working conditions … information and consultation rights” and protections for the “restructuring of undertakings”. If the UK breaks that commitment, it would have an impact on trade and investment.

The EU can impose temporary remedies, including trade sanctions. Of course—I hope the Minister is aware—the ETUC, of which the TUC remains a member, can raise a complaint directly with the European Commission. That is why the recent European Commission report saying that it was monitoring very closely developments in respect of fundamental workers’ rights, including the right to withdraw labour, should be taken so seriously. It is not covered in the impact assessment, as I have said, but I think that the Minister at one point said—correct me if I am wrong—that he would consider looking at whether that impact assessment needed to be revised. If he is willing to consider that, this is a key area that is vital for trade, investment and jobs, and it would be worth looking at it again. I very much hope that he will consider this amendment in that light.

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business)

My Lords, I fully expect the Minister to stand up and tell us that none of these amendments, which have been put so well by noble Lords, is necessary. I expect him to say that there is no possibility of the Bill, once it becomes an Act, breaking or impairing our relationship with the international organisations that noble Lords have mentioned. I wonder how he will be able to say that, given the nature of the Bill.

We come back to its skeletal nature and the answer which nobody seems to know to the question “What is a minimum service level?” Until we know, we do not know whether the Bill breaks any agreements that we have with organisations in this country or around the world. I refer your Lordships to our previous debate in Committee, in which we discussed correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, in which he represented the issues around the fire and rescue services. I remind noble Lords that, after I prompted him on why the consultation had raised the issue of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Manchester Arena bombing, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Callanan—said that one thing the consultation sought to probe was that the minimum service level would include the ability to cope with issues on that scale. He did not disagree with me when I came back and said that that implied that 100% of the fire and rescue services in an area would need to have been named in the work order under a minimum service level. In effect, that would ban striking.

In the event of such a minimum service level, that calls into question our relationships with the ILO, the EU under the TCA and others, because it is a de facto ban on striking. It may or may not upset those relationships, but I want the Minister to be able to say what minimum service level is being modelled when he tells us that we do not need to worry.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

My Lords, I sometimes wonder when I listen to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, whether I need to bother replying to these debates, because he has written my speeches before I get up. For the benefit of the House, I will go through this anyway.

Amendments 18A, 18B, 32B and 36C all relate to the UK’s international obligations. Before I deal with the amendments in detail, it is worth reiterating, as I have previously and as we debated last time round with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that the Government firmly believe that the Bill is compatible with our convention rights and complies with all international conventions that the UK is signed up to. I signed a statement to that effect.

Amendment 18A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, looks to ensure that the Bill does not prevent people from taking strike action and cannot be used to create an offence. I oppose this amendment because its effect would be to prevent any minimum service levels from being implemented at all. He will understand my reservations, given how the Bill is drafted in respect of the operation of work notices and where an employee would lose their automatic protection from unfair dismissal for industrial action if they participated in a strike while being named on a work notice. To be clear, our Bill does not prohibit strikes or other industrial action, but it does enable employers to continue to deliver a minimum service level to their users and stakeholders during and notwithstanding that action.

The Bill is about balancing the ability to strike with the rights and freedoms of others. Preventing minimum service levels being implemented does not strike a balance; it would merely maintain the current disproportionate impacts that strikes can have on the public—although I expect that that is a cause of legitimate disagreement between us.

Amendment 18B would ensure that the regulations did not compromise our obligations under the trade and co-operation agreement. However, given the reiteration I made earlier, we believe that this amendment is duplicative and unnecessary. The Government remain committed to our international obligation and respect the process of the respective governing bodies in providing any rulings that are required concerning compliance. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, has a desire for relevant international conventions and treaties, and their associated governing bodies, to have a greater role in respect to minimum service levels in Great Britain. But my argument here is that incorporating decisions by supervisory committees into domestic primary legislation, as this amendment seeks to do, goes way too far.

Amendment 32B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, seeks similarly to prevent minimum service regulations being made where they could be said to be within scope of the trade and co-operation agreement and other international obligations. As I stated at the outset, the Government firmly believe that we are entitled to bring forward this legislation—many other European countries already have similar legislation—which I remain satisfied is compatible with all the international conventions the UK is signed up to. The noble Baroness will, of course, be aware that there are existing mechanisms for monitoring adherence to the trade and co-operation agreement—if indeed there are concerns from EU member states or the European Commission, although I do not believe there will be.

In any case, I am surprised if anybody thinks that ensuring that the public are able to access some level of service in key sectors, including emergency services, during strike action goes to the heart of the TCA, not least because many EU member states already have minimum service level arrangements in place. Indeed, in some of the services we have mentioned, some member states ban strike action completely in those areas. As drafted—and perhaps not intentionally—this amendment would prevent minimum service levels regulations being made at all, which, given that is the purpose of the Bill, we clearly cannot accept.

Finally, on Amendment 36C from the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and to respond to the points the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, made, as I have stated previously, the Government firmly believe that the Bill is compliant with convention rights and international conventions. The Bill also enables regulations to be made in a way that is compliant with the convention rights, and on making those regulations, Secretaries of State will need to carefully consider the relevant articles of the ECHR, alongside international conventions, if they choose to suggest minimum service regulations to Parliament. So they will also have to make similar statements.

I highlight that this amendment seeks to restrict minimum service levels so that they can be made only where they are necessary to provide protection for the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population. While the protection of life and health are indeed important aims of minimum service levels in areas such as healthcare—

Photo of Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Labour

I apologise to the Minister—it took me a while to find this on my system. He referred to minimum service levels being common in other European countries. I submitted a Written Question on this, to which the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, replied:

“The Government does not believe that direct comparisons with other European countries are particularly helpful because of the different administrative and legal frameworks governing industrial action.”

The Minister will also be aware that the overwhelming majority of the other countries in Europe that are cited provide for negotiated minimum service levels, not state diktat.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) 3:00 pm, 23rd March 2023

I did not say that they were particularly common, just that they exist in some European member states. Of course, provisions, agreements, labour relations, laws, relations with trade unions, et cetera, are different in other member states. The example I cited last time was border service provisions; many member states prohibit, in effect, strikes by border service personnel because those services are delivered by police, army or military services. The arrangements are different in other member states, but that goes to my point that we are entitled to do what we believe appropriate for the United Kingdom. However, similar provisions—albeit in different circumstances—exist in other member states of the European Union and other democracies worldwide. Noble Lords will remember from the previous Committee day the reasons we have given for believing that the six sectors in the Bill are correct.

The amendment would incorporate into domestic law decisions of supervisory committees of the ILO. These committees’ conclusions and recommendations are non-binding; they are intended only to guide the actions of national authorities. The only body with explicit competence to interpret ILO conventions is the International Court of Justice. I highlight to the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, that the ILO supervisory committee has stated that minimum service levels can be made in services

“which are not essential … but where the extent and duration of a strike might be such as to result in an acute national crisis endangering the normal living conditions of the population … and … in public services of fundamental importance.”

We do not believe that we are in contravention of our ILO duties. The amendment does not provide for minimum service levels in those circumstances, and I am therefore puzzled as to why the noble Lord did not include them in it, given that they were referenced previously in Committee and today.

I hope that, with these reassurances, I have been able to persuade noble Lords to withdraw and not move their amendments in this group.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

My Lords, I have two quick questions about the Minister’s answer to my noble friend Lord Hendy. First, I think I understood from his answer that he thinks that Amendment 18A would drive a coach and horses through minimum service level agreements. This may be an argument about “prohibit” or “prohibition”, because my understanding of the Bill as drafted is that, where a minimum service level agreement is imposed by regulations, that will remove some of the existing protections in trade union law. The Minister clearly wants that to be the case, but surely he is not suggesting that, for example, regulations should be able to impose criminal or civil penalties on workers. If that is not his intention, could something like Amendment 18A not be welcomed to make sure that regulations could not create that level of penalisation in the Bill? If regulations cannot criminalise workers, it is important that that is on the face of the regulation-making power.

Secondly, on the ILO as opposed to the ECHR, I think I heard the Minister say that the only body competent to determine compliance with the ILO is the International Court of Justice. That is hardly taking back control, and it is completely inconsistent with this Government’s permanent position on the Strasbourg court and the ECHR. What would be wrong with a domestic court having the ability to scrutinise whether or not regulations made by a future Secretary of State comply with the ILO conventions?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I will deal with the noble Baroness’s two questions. First, the reason I opposed Amendment 18A from the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, is that we believe it would effectively kill the Bill—indeed, this may be the noble Lord’s intention. This is because where a person is named on a work notice, they are effectively prohibited from striking for the day that they are identified to work; they would lose their automatic protection from unfair dismissal for industrial action if they did participate in the strike. This means that regulations for minimum service levels could not be made within the current drafting of the Bill. They would enable the prohibition of participation in a strike, and therefore the minimum service level could not be implemented—thus killing the Bill. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, would be very happy if that were the case, but noble Lords will also understand that that is why the Government oppose the amendment.

Supervisory committees of the ILO are not entitled to interfere in UK law. There are conventions that we are signed up to, but the only way to interpret the decisions of the ILO is through the provisions of the ICJ. I am not a legal expert, but I can get legal clarification that it is possible for the ECHR to take into account the rulings of the ILO when adjudicating the relevant provisions in the ECHR.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour

Please forgive me; I do not mean to be difficult, but these are very important points and I do not think I made myself clear in the way I put the questions to the Minister. I will try just one more time.

I do understand that the Minister intends that once minimum service level agreements have been imposed by regulation, employees who breach work notices will lose their protection from dismissal. I understand that as the ultimate sanction against them in the Bill. But my understanding of Amendment 18A is that it is also trying to deal with things such as regulations being used to create new criminal offences or new civil penalties—things that are not just removing protection from dismissal. Is the Minister prepared to say, in Committee, that this is not the intention behind the regulation-making power? Accordingly, will he consider amendments at a later stage to that effect?

I was not suggesting that it is about the Strasbourg court adjudicating on the ILO. I was suggesting that in our domestic public law, our courts are normally capable of second-guessing the legality of regulations. If that is to be the case, will our courts be able to determine whether regulations comply with the ILO?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I am happy to give the noble Baroness the commitment she seeks. There is no intention to create any criminal offence within this Bill; it does not do that, and it is absolutely not our intention.

On her follow-up question, the provisions in the TCA relevant to minimum service levels include commitment to ILO conventions, non-regression and rebalancing. Enforcement mechanisms vary, depending on the particular provisions. For the non-regression clauses, enforcement mechanisms include consultation and escalation, involving panels of experts and potential rebalancing measures, all of which would take place at an international level and cannot bring any claims in the domestic courts. I hope that gives the noble Baroness the reassurance she is looking for.

Photo of Lord Hendy Lord Hendy Labour

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for the clarity of his answer, and to all noble Baronesses and Lords who participated in the debate. I will not do them the disservice of attempting to summarise their speeches.

Let me deal with two points arising from what the Minister has said. First, he asked whether my intention is to kill the Bill. It would certainly be my desire, but that is not the effect of these amendments, for sure. He says Amendment 18A and the other amendments would prevent minimum service levels being set. That is simply wrong, as a matter of law. There is nothing to prohibit the minimum service levels being set. What the amendments propose is that the minimum service levels be set in such a way that, first, they cannot penalise workers for going on strike—individual workers who are requisitioned to provide service under a work notice should not be penalised, in accordance with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights—and, secondly, they comply with the standards of the ILO and the European Social Charter.

That brings me to my second point, which is the importance of the ILO. I say this with the greatest respect, but I am not sure the Minister has quite understood the position of the ILO in the hierarchy of international law so far as the United Kingdom is concerned. Before I explain that, I will make one thing clear: the Minister read a passage from one of the supervisory bodies of the ILO—it was in fact the committee of experts—and suggested that I had not quoted it. I read that very passage on to the record earlier this afternoon; I think Homer might have nodded briefly and missed that. The Minister said that the decisions of the ILO are not binding. In one sense, of course, that is true. Britain was the first country in the world to ratify Convention 87, which is the most ratified of all the conventions of the ILO. It is an international treaty and we are bound by it, but I agree that it is not binding in domestic law.

Secondly, ILO conventions and their jurisprudence are taken into account by the European Court of Human Rights in interpreting the various articles of the European convention, particularly Article 11. If you want to know what Article 11 has to say about the right to strike, it is no good looking at the text of that article. What you have to look at are the decisions of the European court. Every one of them refers to the jurisprudence of the ILO and the European Social Charter in defining what permissible restrictions there may be on the right to strike.

The third reason the ILO is so crucial is because of the trade and co-operation agreement. This is the point I was endeavouring to communicate to the Minister, but I think I failed to do so. I read a few words from Article 399 of the trade and co-operation agreement, but let me read a sentence. Article 399(2) says that

“each Party commits to respecting, promoting and effectively implementing the internationally recognised core labour standards, as defined in the fundamental ILO Conventions”.

So we are bound by the fundamental ILO conventions. Article 399(5) makes specific reference to implementing the provisions of the ILO conventions ratified by the UK and the provisions of the European Social Charter ratified by the UK.

It is not a question of the ILO interfering in the domestic jurisdiction of British courts or the British Parliament. We have chosen to be bound by the provisions of the ILO—a choice that we repeated in 2021 when we ratified the TCA. The fact of the matter is that we do not comply with the requirements of the ILO in relation to minimum service levels, particularly—I mentioned this earlier, but the Minister did not deal with it—because the ILO requires that minimum service levels are set with the intervention or input of the social parties, particularly the trade unions, and that there should be a specified mechanism for resolving any disagreements. That is not what the Bill provides, so we may well be in breach. Having said all that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 18A withdrawn.

Amendments 18B to 20 not moved.