Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:
‘(2G) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to services the provision of which is devolved wholly or partially to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government or Northern Ireland Executive.’
The amendment would ensure that the provisions of the Bill requiring 40% support for industrial action in certain public services would not apply to services devolved to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
Amendment 12, in clause 3, page 2, line 24, at end insert—
‘(2H) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to services provided by the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.’
The amendment would ensure that the provisions of the Bill requiring 40% support for industrial action in certain public services would not apply to services devolved to the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.
Amendment 77, in clause 3, page 2, line 28, at end insert—
‘(4) This section shall not apply to trade disputes in Scotland.’
Amendment 78, in clause 4, page 3, line 2, at end insert—
‘(3) This section shall not apply to trade disputes in Scotland.’
Amendment 79, in clause 5, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
‘(3) This section shall not apply to trade disputes in Scotland.’
Amendment 80, in clause 6, page 3, line 44, at end insert—
‘(3) This section does not apply in relation to industrial action in Scotland.’
Amendment 81, in clause 7, page 4, line 9, at end insert—
‘(3) This section shall not apply to trade disputes in Scotland.’
Amendment 82, in clause 8, page 4, line 24, at end insert—
‘(3) This section shall not apply to disputes in Scotland.’
Amendment 42, in clause 10, page 7, line 10, at end insert—
‘(5) None of the provisions of sections 84 and 85 shall apply to public sector employees in sectors or providing services which are wholly or partially devolved to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government or Northern Ireland Executive.’
The amendment would ensure that the provisions on contributions to political funds would not apply to employees in public services providing services which are devolved to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive.
Amendment 72, in clause 10, page 7, line 10, at end insert—
‘(6) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to employees of the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.’
The amendment would ensure that the provisions on contributions to political funds would not apply to employees in public services providing services which are devolved to the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.
Amendment 51, in clause 12, page 9, line 20, at end insert?
‘(13) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to facility time of the employees of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or the Northern Ireland Executive, or to public sector employers working for or providing services that are wholly or partially devolved to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government or Northern Ireland Executive.’
The amendment would ensure that the provisions on facility time would not apply to employees working for or providing public services which are devolved to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or the Northern Ireland Executive.
Amendment 73, in clause 12, page 9, line 20, at end insert?
‘(14) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to facility time of the employees of the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.’
The amendment would ensure that the provisions on facility time would not apply to employees working for or providing public services which are devolved to employees of the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.
Amendment 84, in clause 12, page 9, line 20, at end insert—
‘(13) The provisions in this section shall only apply with the consent of the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London and Local Authorities in England in their areas of responsibility.’
Amendment 85, in clause 13, page 10, line 44, at end insert—
‘(14) For the avoidance of doubt, the powers in this section shall only apply with the consent of the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London and Local Authorities in England in their areas of responsibility.’
Amendment 86, in clause 14, page 11, line 11, at end insert—
‘(4) This section and the Schedules it inserts shall not apply in Scotland.’
Amendment 87, in clause 15, page 12, line 23, at end insert—
‘(4) This section shall not apply in Scotland.’
Amendment 88, in clause 16, page 13, line 26, at end insert—
‘(5) This section and the Schedule it inserts shall not apply in Scotland.’
Amendment 89, in clause 17, page 14, line 43, at end insert—
‘(11) Trade union members resident in Scotland shall not be required through their union to contribute to a levy imposed by this section.’
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan, as we return to line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill. When we left, we were discussing the group of amendments about devolution and I was about to set out my case on amendment 11.
By setting balloting thresholds for the range of important services defined by the Bill, we need to be clear that this will impact on public policy areas that are wholly devolved. As a Welsh Member of Parliament, I am concerned that the Bill could breach the devolution settlement in Wales and in Scotland, as well as with regard to the increasing powers of local authorities in England, Mayors and the Mayor of London.
“It is clear…that significant elements of the Bill relate specifically to public services which in Wales are unambiguously devolved responsibilities. I therefore do not accept the suggestion that the Bill must be regarded as concerned exclusively with non-devolved issues…Policy on how to support, or ‘protect’, the delivery of devolved public services such as health, education and fire is…for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales. This includes the way the public sector bodies in such devolved services work with trade unions to ensure effective delivery of services to the public.”
That is very important because we regularly hear examples from the Government about services. Most of them seem to relate to London—though, as I have said, we should give the Mayor of London the choice of how to handle these relationships. These examples do not relate to services in Wales, Scotland or elsewhere. I wonder why that is. Given that the devolved Governments have raised a series of concerns in their oral and written evidence, in letters and so on, will the Minister inform the Committee what discussions he and other Ministers in the Department and the Minister for the Cabinet Office have had with Ministers and officials in the devolved Administrations before the Bill was published and subsequent to their concerns being raised?
This is particularly important because the First Minister of Wales specifically pointed out the positive social partnerships that exist in Wales—we have heard similar evidence from Scotland—and the impact that that can have on the positive delivery of public services. The Minister need not accept just the word of the Welsh Government for this, welcome though that would be, as we also have research published by the Royal College of Nursing, which witnesses touched on in oral evidence. The research highlights the benefits of high-trust working relationships between managers and unions in the public sector. In that case, it was related to health in particular. I believe that the Bill and this clause seek to drive a false wedge between them.
We have already heard how Scottish Labour and local authorities run by Scottish Labour have made it very clear that they do not intend to implement the Bill. I have been made aware during the lunch break of a statement released by one of the Welsh councils, and I know that many share this position. I have a statement from Torfaen, a Labour-run authority. Councillor Anthony Hunt has tabled a resolution there, endorsed by the council, which says that the council
“resolves to oppose the introduction of the Trade Union Bill 2015, urges the Government to abandon the Bill and instead make a commitment to work in partnership with the trade union movement”.
There is dissension at many levels.
I refer the Committee to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. We also heard evidence from the Welsh Minister for Public Services about the firefighters’ dispute over pensions, in which a solution was reached and the Fire Brigades Union put off strike action in Wales. Is that not a good example of where Wales is doing things differently?
That is a perfect example, which exposes the different industrial relations policies that different Governments across these islands are pursuing and the benefits to the public of avoiding strike action, which is what the Government say that they want to do with the Bill. The example that my hon. Friend just gave stands in stark contrast to the testy relationship that appears to exist, as we heard in oral evidence, between the London fire brigade and the Fire Brigades Union, and the wider context of industrial relations in that city. Surely if the Government’s aim, as they keep repeating, is to reduce industrial action and disruption, particularly in crucial services such as fire, we want to do everything we can to build positive partnerships and come to resolutions, as was the case in Wales.
Amendment 12, in a similar vein to amendment 11, seeks to ensure that the Bill does not interfere with the ability of directly elected Mayors and local authorities in England to manage such services and decide how to manage their relationships with trade unions. It is consistent with the Government’s localism agenda. Amendments 42 and 72 relate to clause 10, on political party fund opt-ins, which we will discuss in due course. Briefly, amendment 42 would ensure that the opt-in requirements for trade union political funds would not apply to public sector employees working in sectors or providing services that are devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Governments. Amendment 72 would ensure that the proposed new opt-in requirements for union political funds did not apply to employees of the Mayor of London or local authorities in England. Again, as a point of principle, we believe that those bodies should be able to make their own decisions about how to manage their relationships with trade unions in those sectors and how those trade unions use their money.
On amendment 51 and 73, I draw the Committee’s attention to a letter dated 10 September 2015 from Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, to the Prime Minister, expressing his concerns about the Trade Union Bill. In the letter, the First Minister says:
“Similarly, it cannot be right for the UK Government—blind to policy priorities and devolved service delivery reforms in Wales—to specify how much union ‘facility time’ devolved public sector employers should allow. Nor am I convinced that the intention to end ‘check off’ arrangements for trade union subscriptions in the public sector is necessary or appropriate. The Welsh Government operates these arrangements as part of its approach to effective social partnership and is not seeking to change this.”
These are important policy decisions about relationships and the balance of responsibilities and rights. They are part of the crucial relationship between the Government and public bodies, and those who work in them. Frankly, the Welsh and Scottish Governments have a different approach, and they want to ensure that it is positive.
My hon. Friend outlines a coherent case. Although the Government maintain that they have the power to enact the Bill across the United Kingdom, it could in practice be enacted in very different ways in different parts of the United Kingdom. English citizens could end up with many fewer rights than their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Do we want English men and women to have fewer rights than their Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts?
That is a very important point. As I made clear when introducing our amendments, the Labour party believes in exempting all parts of the United Kingdom from the Bill and its provisions. It would be hugely problematic for there to be areas of complete disagreement and an imbalance among the different parts of the UK. That prompts a series of questions, and I hope the Minister can explain how the measure will work in practice, given that the devolved Governments and local authorities are already indicating that they do not wish to implement it.
Amendment 51 would ensure that the new requirements to report on facility time would not apply to employees of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive or public sector employers working for or providing services that are partially or wholly devolved to those bodies. It would ensure that the Bill does not interfere with the ability of those Governments to manage those services and decide how they engage with their staff and determine their relationships with trade unions.
In the same vein, amendment 73 would ensure that the new reporting requirements did not apply to the facility time of employees of the Mayor of London or local authorities in England. Again, that is consistent with the Government’s localism agenda.
May I remind the shadow Minister of Dave Prentis’s evidence last week? I thought it was peculiar—perhaps the shadow Minister can enlighten us—that he said that, when it comes to check-off, it is not just about the devolved nations, but the new combined authorities. They will be allowed to do everything, but not talk to staff and trade unions about having check-off or not.
That is a very important point. I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing our attention to what the general secretary of Unison had to say on that matter. Unison represents a significant number of employees in local government across the UK and has exposed a very serious problem.
I want to ask the Minister some specific questions that I hope he will answer in his response to this part of the debate. I pressed him in the oral evidence session about the legal assessments that had been made in developing the Bill. Clearly, I do not expect him to share the detail of Government legal advice, but I would like to know, given the apparent paucity of consultation with devolved Governments across the UK and, it appears, with local government, what conversations took place. I am not asking the Minister to share the contents of the conversations, but can he tell us what conversations took place, given the huge implications of the Bill and the legal precedent for cases such as this ending up in the Supreme Court? What conversations took place? Did any take place? I sincerely hope that they did. Anything the Minister can share with the Committee would be very helpful.
I pushed the Minister on my second point in the oral evidence session. As we have heard from a vast number of legal experts, there is a serious risk of legal challenge to the Bill. One legal opinion can be challenged by another, but the reality is that that might be exactly where the Bill ends up: in the courts. Have the Government set aside funds to deal with legal proceedings that might result—it is inevitable, I believe—from the Bill’s proceeding in its present form?
Thirdly, I would like to know the Minister’s response to the apparent concerns of the Welsh and Scottish Governments, local government across England and local government in Wales and Scotland, and his response should they choose not to implement the Bill, because they believe that it breaches their settlement. Will he take legal proceedings against them to enforce the Bill? How much does he think that that will cost the taxpayer? Or will he just let them carry on? I am sure that he wants to enforce his Bill, but there will be a cost if there is resistance to it from the public bodies to which he is trying to apply it. Keith Ewing said very clearly that he thought that we were walking blindfold into a major constitutional crisis. I have great sympathy with that position.
Fourthly, given the nature of existing contractual arrangements in a whole series of public bodies that receive public funding, which refer to check-off, facility time, and to many other matters that are pertinent to the Bill, does the Minister propose that the measure will apply retrospectively, and that we would therefore have to unwind hundreds of thousands of contractual arrangements, particularly in the public sector across the UK? Will the Bill apply retrospectively? How does the Minister think that will impact? What estimate has he made of the cost, should any individual challenge that through the courts? I imagine that quite a significant number of individuals would want to challenge that if they believed that they had signed a contract in good faith with a public body that gave them certain rights. What estimate have the Minister and the Department made of the cost of that? How does he see the Bill being implemented?
Will he have a hit squad, which the Minister for the Cabinet Office talked about, going round local authorities and devolved Governments to check the texts of the contractual arrangements that they enter into? Will he go through every piece of paper signed by every public sector employee or by anyone who could vaguely be determined to have enjoyed some sort of public sector funding in their role? Will he interfere with every single one of those contracts? This is an extraordinarily heavy-handed approach from a Government who claim that they want to avoid regulation and interference—and that they are the Government of devolution and localism.
I have a final question for the Minister. We heard from the Scottish and Welsh Governments that they are reserving their position on whether a legislative consent motion is required for the Bill. Perhaps not all members of the Committee are familiar with legislative consent motions—LCMs—but they can be seen regularly on the Table in the House when the UK Government seek to legislate for matters that are partially or fully devolved for some practical reason. If the legislation makes sense, the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive can give permission to the UK Government to do that. There are many circumstances in which that is appropriate. However, on this occasion they clearly do not believe there is a clear case for that. I would like to know what the Minister would do, should the Welsh and Scottish Governments withhold legislative consent. What discussion has the Minister had with UK Government Law Officers about the Government’s approach and, again, what would be the costs to the public purse? I suggest that the Minister makes ready a tidy little pot of money to deal with all the legal proceedings that will emanate from the Bill if it goes ahead in its current form. That will really put paid to the suggestion that the Bill will benefit the taxpayer. It will cost the taxpayer a lot of money.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Alan. As we have heard in eloquent speeches from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, and the hon. Member for Glasgow South West, amendment 90 and the rest of the amendments in this group aim to limit the geographical extent of the Bill. In the oral evidence sessions last week, we heard evidence from Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training in the Scottish Government, and Leighton Andrews, the Minister for Public Services in the Welsh Government, about the collaborative relationship that these Administrations have with trade unions. That is, of course, laudable. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill that need cut across the positive relationships—the partnerships, as they describe them—between unions and Government in Scotland and Wales, any more than it will cut across the partnership and the positive relationship that we have with unions in relation to English matters.
The Bill is about ensuring that industrial action can go ahead only with a strong, democratic and recent mandate. It is about increasing transparency and accountability, both in strike ballots and in political funds. It is about protecting non-striking workers from intimidation and ensuring that unions take proper responsibility for picket lines. It is about securing transparency and value for money for the taxpayer. It is about creating an appropriate regulatory environment for unions. To me, these all seem to be reasonable objectives. How can we not want to apply these benefits uniformly across Great Britain?
Mike Emmott, senior policy adviser at the CIPD, who in general does not support the measures in the Bill, nevertheless put it eloquently when he told this Committee last week that it was appropriate for the Bill measures to be dealt with on a Great Britain-wide basis. He said:
“It is going to be quite odd for employers dealing with different rules applying in different jurisdictions, where there may be issues that go across the whole of the UK.”––[Official Report, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 13 October 2015; c. 36, Q90.]
The Bill seeks to ensure that when the lives of commuters or patients or parents of school-age children are disrupted by strike action, that action is supported by a significant proportion of union members. In particular, we are seeking to protect the users of important public services from highly disruptive strike action that is driven by a small minority on the basis of an outdated ballot. The provisions of the Bill apply to the whole of Great Britain: to England, Scotland and Wales, to London, and to English local authorities. This is because all the provisions in the Bill relate to employment and industrial relations law, all of which are clearly reserved matters under the devolution settlements with Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, employment and industrial relations are transferred matters; therefore, respecting the agreement that was properly reached with Northern Ireland, the Bill’s provisions do not apply there.
On that basis—that this is indeed a reserved matter—it is entirely in order for the Government to propose that the Bill applies to the whole of Great Britain. There are strong, practical reasons why employment law should apply across the whole of Great Britain. Under the devolution settlements with Scotland and Wales, Parliament devolved some responsibilities, while some remain reserved. Again, certain responsibilities are being devolved to local authorities in England and to the Mayor of London. None of the responsibilities that are devolved include employment law or industrial relations, so devolved matters are simply not at play.
The shadow Minister asked a number of detailed questions, which I will try to answer as best I can. Obviously contacts take place between officials in every Department here in London and officials in the devolved Administrations. I am not going to provide a running commentary or a list of them, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, in response to letters that the First Minister of Wales wrote to the Prime Minister on 9 September, the Prime Minister replied on 2 October. In response to letters from Roseanna Cunningham on 7 August and 9 September, she and I had a reasonably lengthy phone conversation on 8 October. I am always happy to speak to them and to discuss any concerns they may have.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth said that there had been suggestions by members of the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and other local authorities that they might refuse to comply with the provisions in the Bill should it become law. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that it is quite remarkable to compare the number of times you hear people threatening not to obey a law in prospect—when it is being considered by Parliament and when there is some chance of affecting the outcome of Parliament’s deliberations—and the number of times when those duly constituted public authorities actually refuse to obey the law of the land and put themselves in breach. Let us cross that bridge when we come to it. I do not anticipate those rather wild and lurid threats being carried out—they are, after all, being made by institutions and individuals who oppose the Government politically and oppose the measures. They are, of course, entitled to use, in rhetoric, whatever arguments they like, but ultimately what they do is what will count.
Similarly, the number of times when it might be claimed that a legislative consent motion is required is very different from the number of times when it is actually required. When it is required is determined by the devolution settlement and by whether a matter is reserved or not. As Ms Cunningham herself has admitted, it is absolutely clear that, currently, employment law and industrial relations a reserved matters. There is absolutely no question about the full right of the UK Parliament to make laws that affect the whole of Great Britain on those matters.
I appreciate that the Minister would not do anything other than defend the Bill as an entirely reserved matter, but does he accept that its provisions will have significant consequences for matters that are wholly or partially devolved to a series of Administrations around the UK? Yes or no?
No, I do not accept that. The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that minor changes in how individual employees pay a subscription to a particular membership organisation is a challenge to the ability of the devolved Administrations—the Scottish or Welsh Governments—to run their national health service or their schools. That seems ludicrous to me. It is, of course, a matter of employment law and it will, therefore, apply to people who work in public services that are, themselves, devolved, but the idea that it will prevent or interrupt the policies of those Governments towards their public services is to overstate the case.
Stephen Doughty rose—
I am happy to give way to the hon. Lady, but I do not want to have an endless ping-pong session with the hon. Gentleman at this point.
“We feel that some of the proposals outlined in the Trade Union Bill could have a detrimental effect on this relationship”— with trade unions—
“and potentially lead to unnecessarily challenging industrial relations in future…strike action in the NHS in Wales over the last decade has been minimal, despite significant organisational change and the introduction of significant changes to terms and conditions, so we do not believe that any additional measures to protect the public from strikes are necessarily required.”
Will the Minister comment on that?
Yes. In a sense, the answer is the same. Everybody is entitled to say exactly what they think. I encourage it, I welcome it and we will always listen to any representations. We disagree. We believe that those people are overstating the case and that, when the Bill becomes law and the provisions are implemented—in Scotland and Wales as well as in England—it will not interrupt those very positive industrial relations, it will not interrupt those partnerships, and it certainly will not interrupt their ability to run their public services as they see fit.
There is a difference between employment law and industrial relations and how they impact on public services. I am curious about the Minister’s comment about the provision of public services, because political parties say how they will deal with industrial relations in public services as part of their manifesto commitments, whether for Scottish, Welsh or any other elections. Surely, those mandates have to be respected.
We respect mandates, as I hope the hon. Gentleman will respect ours. I draw his attention to another example. The national minimum wage affects every single person who works anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is a reserved matter. It is something that this Parliament sets. I have not heard objections from the Scottish Minister—the very same Scottish Minister—saying that this is an egregious intrusion into Scottish matters and that somehow it is appalling that there is a national minimum wage. It is simply the case that we live in a system where some matters are reserved to the national—the United Kingdom—Parliament and other matters are devolved. The content of employment law and industrial relations is a reserved matter.
Stephen Doughty rose—
To be fair, Sir Alan, I asked the Minister a number of questions. He has not answered the major question about whether the legislation applies retrospectively to contractual arrangements in the public sector in the devolved Administrations and across local government in England and elsewhere, and about what he believes the consequences will be. He makes out that this is all some slightly trifling matter that is not going to cause problems. Often, facility time, check-off and whatever else are written into contractual provisions and exist in arrangements that are made by devolved Administrations with their employees about their contracts. Will the legislation apply retrospectively, and what does the Minister believe will be the impact on the ability of Administrations to make contractual arrangements, as they have done before? Or is he admitting that the Bill interferes with their ability to do that?
On the effect of the provisions on existing contracts, we have asked whether they are acceptable by international obligations and we are absolutely assured that they are. Again, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the national minimum wage. Its introduction had an impact on existing contracts, some of which therefore had to be revised to reflect it. This legislation will have no greater impact—in fact, rather less so—on existing contracts. We are confident that any effect it will have is entirely consistent with all the relevant legal framework.
This is seriously the last time, because the hon. Gentleman has many that new clauses he wants to get to and I am just trying to help.
The Minister has been most kind, so I will ask just this question. The cost to public bodies of reissuing new statements of particulars and contracts could be considerable. Will the Government provide finances to the public bodies in that position?
Sir Alan, you know as well as I do that if I were even to dare tiptoe on to the question of the financial settlement with devolved Administrations, there is literally a device implanted in my brain that would explode and decapitate me. I am not going to go there, however much pleasure it might give Opposition Members. [ Interruption. ] However, if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to the Chancellor—or to me and I can pass on the request—I will, of course, reply to his question.
If there are no further requests for interventions, I will conclude. The amendments in this group seek to use the Bill as a mechanism to carve out different arrangements in employment law and industrial relations for Scotland, Wales, London and English local authorities. Parliament has already determined that these matters are reserved. The amendments are an attempt to extend devolution by the back door and that is why we cannot accept them. I ask hon. Members not to press the amendments.
In opposing clause 3 and speaking in support of our amendments, I wish I had the faith in the legal advice that the Minister seems to have in his lawyers. I remind the Government of the evidence that we heard last week from Professor Keith Ewing, professor of public law at King’s College, London, about the Bill being incompatible with settlements in Wales and Scotland, which is entirely contrary to the position that the Minister has just asserted. The Committee will recall that Professor Ewing said:
“The Government are walking, almost blindfolded, into a major constitutional crisis around the Bill. That constitutional crisis could be as explosive for this Government as the poll tax was for the Thatcher Government in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is a big, big problem, and I am not sure that people have really thought through the consequences.”––[Official Report, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 15 October 2015; c. 129, Q346.]
Not having thought through the consequences is a recurrent theme in the Bill. I appreciate that the Government seem to have struggled to give examples of good industrial relations in England. Almost every example of industrial action and dispute that they have referred to has involved employees in London, which I would suggest is a reflection on the Mayor of London rather than on current industrial law.
In Wales, the Welsh Labour Government have taken a very different approach and have a constructive industrial relations strategy at the heart of their policy making and their legislative programme. The Welsh Government understand the importance of constructive industrial relations to the economy and the public. As the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, said in his written statement on 9 September, the Bill
“has the potential to cause significant damage to the social and economic fabric of the UK.”
The Committee is well aware of the view of the First Minister and the Welsh Government that the Bill offends the devolution settlement. It intrudes into Welsh jurisdiction and devolved powers. Significant elements of the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth has pointed out, refer specifically to public services, which are unquestionably devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. They will require its legislative consent. The Committee has also heard evidence from the Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews, confirming this. Clause 3, which requires the additional 40% overall membership support threshold for industrial action, includes health services, education of those aged under 17 and fire services. Some devolved transport responsibilities such as highway maintenance may also be affected.
The Government will also be aware that all public bodies in Britain are required to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, but the duties in Wales and Scotland on this are much stronger. That raises an additional area of concern about the breach of the devolution settlement that the Bill presents in relation to public services.
Is the hon. Lady as surprised as I am that the Minister’s response appears somewhat flippant, as though he wishes to call the bluff of the devolved Governments and the councils? There is little recognition of possible legal repercussions, costs and contingencies for the public.
I absolutely agree, and that is a risk that the Government are taking. The Bill has significant equality implications, despite the suggestion otherwise in the equality impact assessment—which reads, frankly, as though it was written on the back of a fag packet. The Bill presents a real danger that decades of progress on equality in the workplace will be undermined through the erosion of trade union rights. We know that trade unions are one of the best protections from discriminatory treatment in the workplace, with trained officers and representatives who deal with a range of workplace issues, protecting equality of treatment and, in the process, saving employers from reputational damage and litigation. It is simply not acceptable or legitimate for the UK Government to impose the Bill on Wales.
We have heard that the First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister to set out his position and his concerns clearly and constructively. The Prime Minister’s response has been described by the Minister for Public Services as disappointing. I think he was being too polite. I would go further and describe it as inadequate. It failed to acknowledge any devolved interest whatever. We have heard from the Minister for Public Services that the Welsh Government are considering how they would seek to protect legitimate, devolved interests, including devolved public services, from the Bill, including tabling a legislative consent motion.
I go back to the comments of Professor Ewing from the beginning of my contribution. Do the Government really want to mire themselves in expensive, lengthy litigation with the Welsh Government over the Bill, played out in Supreme Court? Do the Government really want to suffer another embarrassing defeat as they did over the Agricultural Wages Board litigation with the Welsh Government?
The Bill was the subject of a debate in the Welsh Assembly last week. The Assembly Member for Pontypridd summed up the view of the Welsh Government by saying:
“We do not need this law in Wales and we do not want this law in Wales”— it sounds a bit like Dr Seuss, this—
“And I know that we will do all that we can to support all those who oppose this Bill and, if necessary, to challenge its legitimacy in the Supreme Court.”
The Government have been given a clear warning. By accepting our amendments to clause 3, the Government have the opportunity to save time, save face and save taxpayers’ money. Will they take it?
I want to respond briefly to a number of comments made by the Minister. Obviously, he maintained his position that this is a wholly reserved matter and claimed—shamefully—that this was about extending devolution by the back door. We on this side would contend that this is attempting to extinguish part of devolution by the back door. The Government have made that very clear.
The Minister is essentially saying to the Committee and to the public, “Trust me, it’s not devolved in any way: it’s all fine,” but we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central that the Government’s record on this is wobbly at best. They have already suffered serious defeats in the Supreme Court at great cost to the taxpayer. I would expect, at the very least, the Government to have taken the most precautionary and consultative approach before proceeding with matters of this seriousness. The Minister did not want to detail all the different meetings or give a running commentary. I gently suggest to the Committee that that was because not many meetings, if any, took place before the Bill was published. That is certainly the impression we have been left with by the Scottish and Welsh Governments, let alone local government in England.
The Minister was very hazy on his expectations of the impact of the Bill on existing contractual arrangements, either retrospectively or going forward. I hope that he and the Government have very deep pockets, because I sense that this is not an idle threat; there are real, serious legal objections to the Bill and its implications and I imagine that a number of the bodies that are raising these concerns will take action over this. It is for that reason that I give the Minister a chance to exempt himself from that cost and trouble to the taxpayer, by pressing amendments 11 and 12 to a vote.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman does that, I remind Members, in dealing with such amendments, that the mover wants to respond too, and that they will have the opportunity to have a more wide-ranging debate on matters that have been raised in the stand-part section of this consideration. I ask them to keep succinctly to the topic in hand, or we will not have time to deal with all the measures that concern us.
I am sorry to reduce the agricultural wages case to the level of Dr Seuss, but do you agree, Sir Alan, that within the agricultural wages case it was found, in principle, that although agriculture is a devolved matter—that matter was won by the Government—the wages aspect is not? It was because it was a mixed Bill that there was the result that there was. This is quite different. This is a Bill about industrial relations and trade unions. It is quite simple and obvious that this a reserved matter.
This has been an interesting debate about the group of amendments on the impacts on the devolved Administrations and other public bodies. It is interesting that some know better than others the effects that this will have on those bodies. I shall respond first to the shadow Minister’s gentle rebuke on the SNP’s amendments only applying to Scotland. He indicated that he respects our mandate on that and I agree with his point that the group of amendments seeks to enforce what has been referred to as the respect agenda. We hear from the UK Government that they respect the devolved Administrations and other public bodies, but with these amendments we want to ensure that that takes place.
Like the shadow Minister, the SNP opposes all of the Bill and will be voting for many of the amendments and against the clauses. We agree on his point about solidarity; we may have different approaches, but I assure him that we are in solidarity with all workers in the UK regarding the Bill, although there may be some differences in how we want to achieve that. I would go as far as to say that if the Bill were introduced in another nation state, we would oppose it and would be raising it in this Parliament, as we do with any abuses of workers’ rights across the world. There is no contradiction in supporting the consent amendments in this group and those that want to take workers out of it.
I turn to the hon. Member for Gateshead’s contribution about English workers having fewer rights. The general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, commented about that in his evidence, saying that that was one of the dangers that the Bill would introduce. The Minister seems to indicate that it is settled that employment law is reserved, but that is not the case. A new clause is being introduced to the Scotland Bill. I do not want to touch on the Scotland Bill too much, but a new clause is being inserted for debate, it will be put to the parliamentary test and the parliamentary verdict on that is yet to be given.
Nor have the Government taken into account the fact that Scotland has a different civil and criminal law and a different legal jurisdiction. That was also mentioned in the evidence from Thompsons Solicitors. Given that the Bill touches on criminalising certain behaviour, more consultation with the devolved Administrations is required. I certainly take the view that a legislative consent motion is needed, as is consent across the board in the public services.
The Minister asked me to write to him in relation to the costs to the public sector in terms of individual contracts. I wrote to his colleague in the Cabinet Office on this, and I am still waiting for a response. My concern is that some of the Bill relates to the agenda of the TaxPayers Alliance, which I believe is based on ignorance of the issues. It does not even take into consideration the fact that public services actually gain income from facility time and, indeed, from check-off. That is being ignored. It is very dangerous indeed to interfere with the collective bargaining units that exist across the UK, which is what the Bill seems to do.
Our view of the Bill is that it is ideologically driven. The Government seem to want to implement their ideology in all parts of the UK, even those where they have no mandate, and on that basis we intend to press amendment 90 to a Division. We will also want to press amendments 84 and 85 when we reach the relevant clauses.