Clause 12 - NCA officers with operational powers: labour relations

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 29th January 2013.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I have a few brief questions on the clause, which, broadly speaking, I think is a reasonable one. Subsection (1) states:

“A person must not induce the Director General or any NCA officer designated under section 9 to withhold (or to continue to withhold) services as an NCA officer.”

Will the Minister clarify when he believes that that provision, and the other provisions under the clause, would be exercised by a future Home Secretary? For example, he will know that this very week the Police Federation is commencing a ballot of its members on whether they should have the right to request strike action. Whatever the result of that ballot, if in future, for example, someone from the Police Federation put a motion to the Police Federation conference that there should be a withdrawal of labour by persons covered by subsection (1), that motion was passed and went to the federation’s national executive committee, and then plans started to be made, at what stage does the Minister envisage the Home Secretary exercising powers under the Bill that would impact on labour relations?

It is a genuine question, because the provision is similar to that operational with regard to prison officers in the Prison Officers Association, which I exercised as a Minister: I took the Prison Officers Association to court when it threatened a strike, and an injunction was issued against it. In that case, we had 12 hours’ notice of the strike—it was a wildcat strike. We took the association to court and eventually its members went back to work because the association faced sequestration of its assets under other provisions.

At what stage, then, does the Minister envisage the Home Secretary potentially exercising any power under the clause? Would it be when initial discussions were taking place, when motions were passed or when actual action had been taken?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

The provisions are in the Bill because we believe that the threat to the citizens of the United Kingdom from serious and organised crime is, regrettably, constant, or at least never disappears: the threat ebbs and flows, but it is permanent and we do not want the NCA, as the law enforcement body tasked with trying to address serious and organised crime, to be subject to strikes. Obviously, we want to have a level of resilience that matches the scale of the threat and not to have the NCA be disabled by strike activity.

The Government’s approach has not been confrontational in any way. It will still be possible for NCA officers to belong to a trade union. If they find the functions of membership of a trade union attractive, they are entirely entitled to draw on those functions if they choose to become members.

We are seeking a voluntary agreement that NCA officers will not strike; I have confidence that they all join the NCA because they want to fight serious and organised crime. That will be done through consensus and negotiations rather than through legal obligation. Clause 12 is a backstop, because we regard protecting the public as being of paramount importance.

As to when the powers will be exercised—the reason for which I have just told the Committee—we hope that the reciprocal nature of the voluntary agreement will mean that it will not come to that point.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am trying to be helpful and to find out what happens if the Secretary of State ever exercises the powers, which I hope she will not have to. Subsection (1) states:

“A person must not induce the Director General”.

For future reference, what does inducing the director general mean?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

Were the statutory non-strike provisions in force, what constituted an inducement to strike would be determined by the particular circumstances of a given case. It would be inappropriate to speculate on what they might be, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the power would be exercised in a way that is wholly appropriate to the circumstances and designed to protect the public to the maximum degree.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I can but try. As one who has exercised such powers myself, I just wanted the Minister to give some indication. The power is an important one and  there may be occasions when he would wish to use the power. We have, for reasons I understand, not really had any clarity. I was attempting to the test the Minister as to what he regards as inducement to strike, so that we had clarity about any actions he subsequently takes.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.