Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register and congratulate my noble friend Lady Bray and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, on joining us. I have known them both for some years and know they will make a distinguished contribution.

The points I have to make are about transport and somewhat technical, so the Minister may need to write to me rather than answer. They have so far identified 424 transport instruments that will be affected by the Bill, but no one is actually sure that that is the correct final number.

My first point is about safety legislation and regulation, which have developed to support the incredibly high levels of safety enjoyed by passengers and crew aboard UK-registered commercial aircraft. I remind noble Lords that the last fatal crash in the United Kingdom involving a passenger plane on the UK register was in 1990. There is a threat to the cohesiveness of this complex web of aviation regulations if some parts are inadvertently or thoughtlessly removed, possibly just because they are overlooked or forgotten. Safety regulation should always be amended in an evolutionary way, not by this slash and burn approach.

My second point concerns legislation which is relied on by the aviation industry in a secondary sense. Passengers with reduced mobility, environmental problems, security and consumer protections are all covered by mature and complex, often overlapping, regulation, and they are at risk should the Bill become law, with the supporting jurisprudence falling. There are also fatigue-related parts of the specific mobile worker working time directive which could be lost inadvertently.

Thirdly, there is a matter of confidence in the legislative process. People live in the confidence of a mature and effective safety system, which means that the hazard they face is near zero. Much of this legislation is secured by international agreement, some of it under EU law and some of it under other parts of the law. But, with this sunset clause approach, there is a danger that some of it will be discarded without thought, and the work to generate new legislation is, frankly, a distraction. We ought to leave this legislation where it is.

Finally, I draw attention to the fact that, in November 2022, the DfT briefed the DfT industry engagement forum on aviation safety on the Bill. At this cross-industry safety body, even the DfT made clear that its preference was for the maintenance of the sitting arrangements. It emphasised that it was finding it impossible to impress on people higher up in government that this was the officials’ policy: so officials in charge of safety are apparently being ignored. At an appropriate time, I will be looking for support to amend the Bill to look after the safeguarding provisions of safety legislation. I hope the Minister will make that unnecessary by bringing forward an amendment to exempt them.

Employment Rights Legislation

Lord Balfe Excerpts
Wednesday 1st February 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Noble Lords are confused: just because there is an item of retained of EU law, it does not mean it is necessarily still valid for the UK. It has been a very useful exercise to go back through the history books to find out about some of this stuff. Much of it is no longer applicable—some of it refers to sugar prices in the 1970s. My favourite bit is a regulation referring to the movement of reindeer between Denmark and Sweden. I am sure noble Lords do not believe that this is something we should retain on our statute book.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, does the Minister realise that many people are a bit worried that the end product might be the relaxation of some of the standards they have got used to, and that he could end this concern very easily by saying that whatever is changed, it will not worsen the protection currently in place?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I say to my noble friend that we have made it clear that we have no intention of weakening workers’ rights. I know this is a common refrain from the Opposition but let me repeat: UK standards did not depend on EU law. Let me give noble Lords an example. UK workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual leave, compared with the EU requirement of four weeks. We provide a year of maternity leave, with the option to convert parental leave to enable parents to share care. The EU minimum maternity leave is 14 weeks. Our standards are far in excess of those provided by the EU.

REUL Bill: Trade Unions and Workers’ Rights

Lord Balfe Excerpts
Monday 23rd January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with trade unions concerning changes to workers’ rights proposed in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is responsible for labour relations and works closely with trade unions. Engagement is essential for developing and delivering our policies and, during the pandemic, helped to support jobs and keep workers safe. For example, the unions and business worked together to help to deliver a package of economic support through the job protection retention scheme, which protected millions of jobs.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his reply but it is not an Answer to the Question, which was whether the Government had discussed this proposed legislation with the trade union movement, 2 million of whom vote for the party on this side of the House. Does he agree that it would be a good idea to talk to the trade union movement about this? Until that has happened, would it not be a good idea for those parts of the legislation that provide for worker protection not to be revoked without further representation?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We engage with the trade unions regularly. There have been a number of meetings in recent weeks, particularly about strike action, but the retained EU law Bill is not about workers’ rights; it is about retained EU legislation and the consequences that will flow from that. However, there will be a full opportunity to debate that in the House in the near future.

Industrial Action

Lord Balfe Excerpts
Wednesday 11th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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As I said in response to earlier questions, we do not desire or wish to sack any public sector workers in any sectors. We are in the business of increasing the number of public sector workers, not sacking them.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my entry in the register of interests. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill say:

“This Bill and subsequent regulations are designed to enable employers to require enough workers to work so as to ensure minimum service levels”.


How will they make them work? I am the president of BALPA, the pilots’ union. We have an understanding with all the airlines that any pilot who feels unfit to fly the plane can declare themselves as such. What about a train driver? Will you say to them, “You’ve got to drive this train, however you feel” or will there be a back-up? Frankly, this legislation is just not thought through. What are the sanctions? You cannot direct people to do this without having some sanctions.

Much has been made of Europe. The European Trade Union Institute, the holding body for the international trade union movement, has fact sheets on 48 countries in Europe. Britain comes well down the list on flexibility of labour. Although a number of countries supposedly have agreements, they do not appear to be enforced. How much study has the Minister done?

My next brief point is that we are taking a chance, are we not? You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. I see here shades of 1972: the dockers in Pentonville prison and a Government completely out of control who then ask the country—as Ted Heath did—“Who runs Britain?” and they say, “Not you, mate.” For the first time in modern history, the Labour Party has committed itself to doing something, which is to repeal this if it becomes an Act. I actually believe the Labour Party, because the Bill is so ridiculous that it could not stand on the statute book anyway. Does the Minister wish to provide us with an autumn of fun and games—because that is when this will stretch on to—or would he like to advise his department to go back to the drawing board and see whether this is a sensible way of solving a problem which probably does not exist?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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There were a huge number of questions in my noble friend’s statement. He asked me for examples of other European countries, which I am happy to provide to him. In Spain, France and Belgium, there are statutory minimum service levels in the ambulance and fire services. Many other European countries have statutory bans on border service workers striking at all. He raised the spectre of people going to prison, but that is not the case. There is no element of criminality involved in this. This is not the criminal law; it is the civil law. He asked me how it would work in practice. When a minimum service level is set, an employer will issue enough work notices to sufficient workers to ensure that the key sectors are covered in order to provide those minimum service levels.

Prime Minister: Trade Unions

Lord Balfe Excerpts
Monday 19th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans the Prime Minister has to meet representatives of the Trades Union Congress, as well as individual trade unions, in the light of the current economic situation.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is responsible for labour relations and works closely with trade unions. Engagement is essential to developing and delivering our policies, and during the pandemic it helped to support jobs and to keep workers safe. For example, the unions and business worked together to help deliver a package of economic support through the job retention scheme that has protected millions of jobs.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, can the Minister request his colleagues to make clear what the basis is for the Government’s current policy, which comes across as rather dismissive and uncaring in view of the rapid rise of inflation? Can I ask him to encourage the Government, in view of the sharp rise in inflation since the last pay review body reports, to ask the pay review bodies to reconvene and bring forward in January proposals for an interim settlement that takes account of the recent rapid rise in inflation and of staffing levels, such as the 600-midwife shortfall reported to me by the Royal College of Midwives this morning?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question but, as he knows, the Government have said that they will accept the recommendations from the independent pay review bodies in full. We certainly hope that the trade unions will call off the actions that are causing so much misery to billions of people all over the country.

Workforce: Trades Union Congress

Lord Balfe Excerpts
Wednesday 19th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe
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To ask His Majesty’s Government when the Prime Minister expects to meet representatives of the Trades Union Congress to discuss problems facing the workforce in the United Kingdom; and what measures they intend to take to alleviate those problems.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my entry in the register as president of a TUC-affiliated union.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is responsible for labour relations and works closely with trade unions. Positive engagement is essential to developing and delivering our policies, and during the pandemic it helped to support jobs and keep workers safe. That engagement is ongoing and remains largely positive.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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I do not think I can thank the Minister for that Answer because the Question was about when the Prime Minister was going to meet representatives of the trade union movement. I have come back from the Trades Union Congress at the beginning of this week, where there was dismay that a Government who are looking to build back better and make use of the resources of the British labour force are apparently treating the trade unions with something that approaches disdain and proposing to bring forward legislation that will do nothing whatever to improve industrial relations. So I ask the Minister to answer the Question: does he know when the Prime Minister will meet the TUC, and, if not, will he get on to Downing Street and advise them that they should?

Employment Rights

Lord Balfe Excerpts
Tuesday 19th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We have said that we will legislate when parliamentary time allows. Many of the proposals are being taken forward in Private Members’ Bills that the Government support, and some do not require legislation or can be done through secondary legislation.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, it seems to me that we have come some way from when David Cameron asked me to do what I could in the House of Lords to help trade unions. When will we have an employment Bill? Does the Minister not think it a good idea to do a bit of love-bombing of the trade unions, to try to get them, as they always are, to work in the national interest alongside the Government? That will get us the best level of co-operation. They may be not highly unionised jobs but some areas are, particularly in the public services, and we need them on our side.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend did a good job of working with the trade unions, and of course we are willing to talk to and work with all those who are willing and prepared to work with us.

Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Lord Balfe Excerpts
Monday 18th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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From the report of the SLSC and the evidence of both employer and employee organisations, it is difficult not to believe that the two instruments we are considering are simply a political exercise to deflect from the failure of this Government to engage meaningfully with the organisations affected to resolve disputes. It is political gimmickry that does nothing to support our workers and good industrial relations.
Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, there is not a lot of competition on these Benches to speak, so I hope I shall be forgiven. We normally begin by making a declaration of interest. Mine is quite simple: I left school at 16 and I joined a trade union straight away. I have been in a TUC trade union ever since, and I am currently the president of BALPA, the pilots’ union. I have been the president of the British Dietetic Association. From being a branch official at the age of 16, I have in some way or other been an active trade unionist for longer than I have been an active politician.

I say that because I just cannot see the purpose of the regulations. They deal with an Act passed by a Conservative Government, the Employment Agencies Act 1973. They do not appear to have had the requisite consultation. I would not be surprised if, at judicial review, they did not manage to stand up. There could be a judicial review that the Government had not fulfilled what the regulations were meant to do. I have had briefings from UNISON, the TUC and the British Medical Association. When you get those three in one pot, you really have trouble, I will tell you—with the BMA, particularly.

My first question for the Minister is this. What has changed since 2015, other than that we have a different Prime Minister and that Prime Minister’s trade union envoy no longer seems to have much resonance around the Conservative Party? In 2015, this was dropped; it was not proceeded with. We have the impact assessment and the report of the scrutiny committee. I should like to read just a little into the record. The fact that the impact assessment of the department was

“unable to ‘robustly estimate the size’ of the policy’s impact because of a lack of evidence raises questions as to the effectiveness of the change proposed by the draft Regulations … The lack of robust evidence and the expected limited net benefit raise questions as to the practical effectiveness and benefit of the proposed”

repeal of Regulation 7. That is fairly clear; there is not much room for disagreement there.

I also ask a question about the Liability of Trade Unions in Proceedings in Tort (Increase of Limits in Damages) Order. When was the last case? It is fine to update it, but when I asked someone, they could not find anything in the past 10 years in the way of a case. My experience of attending TU governing bodies is that they spend a hell of a long time looking at complying with the law. If you were to be privileged to sit in on a BALPA meeting, you would find that before even the mildest industrial action is undertaken there is absolutely rigorous scrutiny of whether it fully complies with the law—there is no attempt to get round it. What are HMG trying to achieve, other than to annoy people? I do not think this legislation is draconian; I think it is pretty useless.

Where will you find signalmen to be recruited by, I do not know, Reed, to send them down to Cambridge station to work the signals? I do not think they are there. You will find plenty of doctors. Indeed, one of Addenbrooke’s biggest problems is that the doctors prefer to work through an agency because they get more money. Will you have the doctors all working for the agency? Of course not. The fact is that there is no great skill pool on the railways. If you go to my local station in Cambridge, you will see that there are signs in all the shop windows for baristas and people to work in the shops. There is no unemployment there to be mopped up by such people, even if they wanted to do it.

The average working person gets no pleasure out of crossing picket lines; it is not a natural thing to do. So I ask the Minister: does he really need this? What does he achieve? One-third of trade unionists vote for the Conservative Party. Why go around sticking unnecessary pins into them? We do not have a crisis. We do not have a major problem. We have a minor problem, and even that minor problem needs addressing in negotiation between the railway unions and the people who run the railways. There is a lot that could be improved there, but it is not going to be improved—sorry, Minister—by little bits of legislation such as this. This, I am afraid, is nearer to a dead letter than a live proposition.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, the critique by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, was absolutely stunning. Last month, the Minister told this House that it was “outdated” to talk about workers and bosses because apparently:

“We are all working together for the good of the country.”—[Official Report, 29/6/22; col. 645.]


I say to the Minister: go and tell that to the 3.6 million kids in poverty. Go tell it to them.

The Minister even claimed that the trade unions were a “minority profession”, which “do not represent anybody”. So I ask him again whether this is now the Government’s official position: that 6 million trade unionists do not count. Is this the justification for hobbling trade unions which are fighting for better pay to offset rampant inflation? We are still waiting for the mythical employment Bill—much talked about, but never seen. I remember the Government’s crocodile tears at P&O’s use of agency staff to undermine trade union rights and drive down pay and conditions, yet here they are now, proposing to enshrine such despicable practices into law. I asked the Minister who has been consulted over these changes, and he replied that there had been no consultation—as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said—since 2015.

My noble friend is right. The economy has changed significantly over the past seven years: Brexit, Covid and now the cost of living crisis. It is “wholly inappropriate” to rely on a seven year-old consultation, especially given

“the wider economic and political context”.

Those are not my words but those of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, the REC, which represents agency firms—the employers—and of the TUC, representing trade unions. The REC even warned that these proposals leave employment agencies and their workers in an unfair moral position because of the pressure to break strikes. Let us stop pretending that this Government are on the side of working people, especially when they are slipping through major changes so underhandedly, with only a couple of hours of parliamentary debate.

Surely such a significant shift in workplace power deserves “proper parliamentary scrutiny”? Again, that is not just my opinion, but that of the REC and the TUC, which have both written to our Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, as the Minister mentioned, warning against these inflammatory changes being rushed through both Houses. The committee also expressed its concerns with the way the Government have introduced these statutory instruments, especially with their impact assessment—again, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said—which was delivered late and recognised as being of very poor quality, with a “lack of robust evidence”. Surely the Minister can see that these proposals deserve primary legislation, not sneaky SIs.

I ask the Minister: why this all-out war on trade unions, which risks breaching not just international conventions but even domestic law? Will he accept responsibility for poisoning industrial relations across this country as a result? I draw noble Lords’ attention to a contribution from the debate in the other place. The Conservative MP—yes, that is right, the Conservative MP—Alec Shelbrooke said:

“This agency worker measure was not in our manifesto, and it seems to have been done very quickly in reaction to what is going on in the public sector.”


After stating the obvious, that the private sector has

“quite a few unscrupulous employers”—

there is one for the record books—he hit the nail on the head:

“If people lose their ability to have an effect when they withdraw their labour, I am afraid they will effectively lose the ability to withdraw their labour.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/7/22; col. 93.]

Strikes: Cover by Agency Workers

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Tuesday 5th July 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We are confident that we are meeting all our international obligations. We are not interfering with the right to strike; workers still have the right to take strike action, provided they fulfil the legal tests required. We are confident in our legal advice on this.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, when these regulations are repealed, will the Government make sure that suitable points are put in place to safeguard worker and consumer safety? Some agencies have objected on the grounds that unqualified people might be drafted in to do these jobs. It is important that safety regulations are in place to look after consumers and workers, whether they are in trade unions or not.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I agree completely with my noble friend’s point. None of these regulations affects the existing safety provisions. Any staff who are drafted in will have to meet all the appropriate safety obligations that existing workers meet.

Trades Union Congress: Levelling Up

Lord Balfe Excerpts
Wednesday 29th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the Prime Minister last met with representatives of the Trades Union Congress to discuss how trade unionists can work with the Government to level up the economy and build back better.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the Prime Minister last had a meeting with the Trades Union Congress last December. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy works with trade unions, and positive relationships are essential to developing and delivering our policies. During the pandemic, engaging with the unions was important to our work supporting jobs and keeping workers safe. Continued engagement will support the Government’s ambitious levelling-up agenda.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. As he will know, of the 6 million-plus trade unionists, a third vote for the Conservative Party. Indeed, the Labour Party has recently told its members not to go near picket lines, so it has made its position pretty clear. Can the Minister say whether he would consider—since the basic values of many trade unionists are at least small “c” conservative—that it is now opportune for us to make a pitch to them to show that this Government represent many of their core values? We should encourage them to work with us, because we occasionally will go on a picket line.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I will take that as a statement from my noble friend himself rather than the Front Bench. The Labour Party may indeed have told its members not to sit on picket lines, but it did not make any difference at the end of the day. My noble friend makes a serious point of course. Our policies, with record low levels of unemployment and the highest ever minimum wage, are good for workers and we should be proud to say so.