All 11 Lord Callanan contributions to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023

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Tue 21st Feb 2023
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Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Tue 4th Jul 2023
Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Thu 20th Jul 2023
Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the public expect the essential services that they pay for to be there when they need them. This Bill aims to maintain a reasonable balance between the ability of workers to strike and the rights and freedoms of the public to access essential services during those strikes.

The latest ONS data shows there were 843,000 working days lost because of labour disputes in December 2022. This brings the number of strike days lost between June and December to nearly 2.5 million, which is the highest since 1989. Industrial action is disruptive for everyone: for those who rely on those essential services to get to work or care for their families, for the NHS trying to get the backlog down, and for schools trying to recover lost learning after the pandemic. It also, of course, vitally impacts on our local businesses, whose sales and productivity suffer.

While we are pleased that voluntary derogations were eventually agreed for the strike action in health sectors in December 2022 and early this year, I am afraid that is not guaranteed to be the case for future action or in all sectors. Indeed, during the ambulance service strikes in December and January, some derogations were not agreed until immediately prior to the strike action, leaving employers with sometimes only hours, not days, to implement full contingency plans. This creates a great deal of uncertainty for everyone concerned, including the staff, the public, patients and their families. Further, there is no guarantee that where derogations have been agreed the required numbers of staff will not strike on the day itself. This can create uncertainty and inconsistency across the country, and unnecessary risk to patient safety.

While I would emphasise that the Government firmly believe that the ability to strike is important—it is rightly protected by law—the recent industrial action has highlighted the disproportionate impacts that strikes can have on the public. We need to be able to have confidence that when strikes occur, people’s lives and livelihoods are not put at undue risk, and so do the public; that is why this legislation is needed.

I turn now to the detail of the Bill, which establishes a legal mechanism to implement minimum service levels for periods of strike action affecting certain services. It achieves this by making amendments to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 that add obligations relating to minimum service levels to the list of requirements necessary for the union’s strike action to be protected from liability in tort.

The legislation will enable minimum service levels to be implemented in key sectors via regulations. The key sectors specified in the Bill are broadly the same set that were defined as important public services in the Trade Union Act 2016, which have long been recognised as important for society to function effectively. The six key sectors are health services, fire and rescue services, education services, transport services, the decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security. These are the right sectors, given the economic impacts of their potential disruption as well as the impacts on public safety and the ability of the public to go about their daily lives.

Regulations will be tailored to each relevant service to meet legitimate aims, such as safety, public health, access to work and to healthcare, among others. The Government believe it is only right that minimum service levels and the services they apply to are informed by consultations, as required by the Bill, and that there is parliamentary scrutiny of the regulations before they come into effect. This is why these regulations must be approved by both Houses of Parliament before they can be made.

The Bill and subsequent regulations are designed to enable employers to specify the workers required via a work notice in order to meet minimum service levels during strikes within those relevant sectors. Should a union notify an employer of strike action in accordance with existing rules, the Bill will allow the employer to issue a work notice to the union, seven days before the strike, specifying those workers needed to work during the strike and the work that they will need to carry out to secure the minimum level of service.

Work notices must not include more persons than are reasonably necessary to meet the minimum service level and employers must not have regard to whether a worker is or is not a member of a union when producing the work notice. Employers must consult the union on the number of workers to be identified in the work notice and the work to be undertaken, and have regard to any of their views before issuing that notice. Each employer and union must also adhere to data protection legislation regarding those work notices.

To enable a minimum service level to be achieved on a strike day and where a work notice has been issued, a trade union must take reasonable steps to ensure its members, when named on a work notice, comply with it and therefore do not participate in the strike. What is considered “reasonable” will to an extent depend on each specific situation and could include making it clear in its communications with members that, where members are named in a work notice and required to work on a particular day, they should attend work on that strike day. A union which fails to comply with this obligation could lose its protection against liability in tort.

Additionally, if an employee takes strike action despite being named on a work notice, they will lose their automatic protection against unfair dismissal for industrial action. While it is up to the employer, not the Government, as to whether disciplinary or legal action is taken in instances of non-compliance, these measures are necessary to enable employers to manage these situations in the same way as they would now with unauthorised absences or unprotected strike action.

The Bill ensures that minimum service levels align to existing law in respect of taking industrial action and associated legal protections. These provisions are needed to make minimum service levels effective where they apply. This legislation is not about sacking workers; it is about protecting people’s lives and livelihoods by enabling minimum service levels to be applied during strikes.

The Government have already released consultations on the minimum service levels for our blue-light ambulance and fire services and for rail services. These consultations ensure that the public and industry stakeholders, including employers, unions and their members, are all able to provide feedback on what the minimum service levels should be and how they are proposed to work.

Everyone wants to see an end to current strikes and we are doing all we can to negotiate fair and affordable pay settlements with the unions. But at the same time, we must act to protect the public for the future. This legislation is not about stopping or preventing strikes. It simply brings us into line with many other modern European countries, such as Spain and Italy, where minimum service levels are a common way to reduce the impact strikes can have on the public. However, we are not going so far as to ban strikes completely. We are taking a fair and reasonable approach by asking that, before a union takes strike action within a relevant service, they agree adequate voluntary arrangements of cover where they are necessary. Where this has not happened, we will introduce regulations to enable minimum service levels to be applied.

We are of course always mindful of and thankful for the contribution that public sector and other workers make to our country. But if trade unions continue to take disproportionate and potentially unsafe industrial action, we firmly believe that we need to take steps to protect the public. I beg to move.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions on what is, in the Government’s view, a very important Bill. There is clearly a wealth of expertise on this topic across the House, not least among the large number of ex-trade union general secretaries we seem to have on the Opposition Benches, who have all contributed well. Of course, I sense the strong feeling on this issue. As is usual in this House, we have had a thorough and engaging debate; most of the speeches have been thoughtful and I certainly listened with interest to what Members had to say.

I start, as many others did, by congratulating my noble friend Lady O’Neill on her excellent maiden speech. Unlike some others, she kept it relatively uncontroversial. It is a pleasure to see her in place today, and I am glad she has chosen this debate to make the first of what I am sure will be many well-informed contributions. I first met my noble friend during a visit to Cory’s Riverside Heat Network a few years ago and I am delighted, as an energy Minister, that we are welcoming someone with such a passion for energy. She has done some tremendous work as Bexley Council leader; she pioneered its decarbonisation vision and made Bexley a flagship Conservative borough. My noble friend and I have many things in common. We both have Irish parents: she has two and I have one. We both started our careers in local government. Hers was considerably more successful than mine: she became a council leader, and I was one Conservative out of 66 councillors in Gateshead. So, she did much better than I did in that respect. Congratulations to her on an excellent maiden speech.

I will do my best to respond to as many as possible of the contributions made and issues raised, but as always, time is limited and I apologise in advance if I do not have enough time to address everybody’s contribution. Let me start with concerns about the design of the Bill, raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Grady, Lady Donaghy, Lady Whitaker, Lady Jones and Lady Kennedy, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lords, Lord Strasburger, Lord Monks, Lord Prentis, Lord Whitty, Lord Fox and Lord Collins, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, my noble friend Lord Balfe and probably some others I have missed. I maintain that it is right that the detail of specific services and minimum service levels be set out in secondary legislation—that is not something for primary legislation. As a number of Members have observed, the Government published consultations on establishing MSLs in ambulance services and fire and rescue services on 9 February. Yesterday, we published a consultation on minimum service levels for rail.

It is entirely proper and legitimate for the Government to enable employers, employees, trade unions and their members and, most of all, of course, the public, who are affected by all of this, to contribute to the consultations. We had a lot of contributions from so-called vested interests, but we did not have much on behalf of the great British public. So, they will all be able to contribute and the Government will seek approval from both Houses of Parliament before any regulations come into force. I can also confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, that we would expect to engage ACAS as part of the consultation process.

When it comes to the sectors included in the Bill—mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Grady, Lady O’Neill and Lady Randerson, as well as my noble friends Lady Browning, Lord Dobbs and Lord Greenhalgh—as I said in my introduction, the key sectors covered are broadly the same set that were listed as important public services in the Trade Union Act 2016 and which have long been recognised as important because of the far-reaching consequences for members of the public who are not involved in any way in that dispute.

As many other Members have done, I pay tribute to what I thought was a very moving speech by my noble friend Lady Browning. It was a heartfelt contribution, explaining personally how people have to live with the increased anxiety of not being able to get an ambulance during a strike. They have had to adjust their lives accordingly. I totally agreed with her contribution. It demonstrates the disproportionate impact that strikes can have on the public and why, therefore, this legislation is needed, especially for health services. As she said, minimum service levels aim to relieve that mindset. It is therefore only right that these sectors are included within the scope of the legislation.

Many people have been left worrying about whether an ambulance will be there when they need it. The rail strikes have left people unable to access their work, their healthcare and, in many cases, their education. Some people have probably been unable to access their church services, led by the right reverend Prelate, although we would need to consult further on whether that would be regarded as an essential service.

With regard to the specific transport services, as raised by my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the Government have identified passenger rail as a priority to be consulted for implementation first. My noble friend Lord Leicester explained why, quoting the relevant statistics on the impact of rail strikes from the Centre for Economics and Business Research. The direct cost of all strikes and the indirect cost of worker absences due to rail strikes so far is at least £1.7 billion over the eight-month period to January 2023. The Opposition are very keen to talk about nurses and healthcare; I note that they are slightly less keen to talk about rail strikes. Cebr also says that

“unresolved industrial disputes are having an adverse impact on growth”

at a time when many forecasters expect the economy to be in recession.

Before minimum service levels are introduced in any other transport services, we would, of course, consult to ensure that all evidence and stakeholder views are fully considered. This would include employers and industry experts. Obviously, we recognise that each transport service is unique and consultation will be key to ensure that we get this right. As regards other services, I am happy to confirm to my noble friend Lord Balfe that the Government currently have no plans to implement minimum service levels on coffee or sweet shops.

I reassure the number of noble Lords who expressed concern about the powers in the Bill to amend primary legislation, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble Lords, Lord Strasburger, Lord Monks and Lord Whitty, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate. Before I turn to Clause 3, I want to be clear that proposed new Sections 234B and 234F contain no such Henry VIII powers. There is no intention or ability to use Henry VIII powers to set the minimum service levels. These powers are strictly limited to Clause 3, and the powers in this clause can be exercised only to make amendments that are necessary to give effect to the Bill; they are therefore truly consequential. It is a standard clause included in much legislation, with standard wording. Drafting includes the references to Acts passed later in the same Session for the simple reason that those Acts might have been drafted before this Bill becomes an Act, and therefore may not take it into account. That is the only reason.

Many noble Lords spoke in a greatly entertaining way about the international comparisons that the Government are using when referring to this legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, referred to this, as did the noble Lords, Lord Allan and Lord Strasburger. As I said in my introduction, most major European countries have some version of minimum service levels for their key public services. In fact, many countries go further. Some, such as the USA, Australia and Canada, go much further and ban strikes completely in some blue-light services. As noble Lords will know, the approach to setting minimum services levels differs from country to country, taking into account their different circumstances; but can we please not have some of the wild exaggerations that some noble Lords made about the consequences of this legislation. This is common across many other perfectly well-functioning liberal democracies.

Many Opposition Peers also accused the Government of focusing on legislating and not on resolving the disputes. We have always said that we wanted to reach an agreement. Ministers across government have been meeting with the trade unions to attempt to resolve these disputes where it is possible to do so and, crucially, where it is affordable to the taxpayer. In some cases, I am pleased to say that settlements are being reached. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, observed, just this afternoon, while we were in this Chamber, the Government have published a joint statement with the Royal College of Nursing announcing their agreement to enter a process of intensive talks. Both sides are committed to a fair and reasonable settlement.

There is no question that industrial action can have a disproportionate impact on everyone: on members of the public who rely on essential services to get to work or to care for their families; on the NHS trying to get the backlog down; on schools trying to recover the lost learning after the pandemic; and on local businesses whose sales and productivity suffer. We need to have confidence that, when workers strike, people’s lives and livelihoods are not put at risk. It is therefore necessary, in our view, to have the power to act if required.

A number of noble Lords were entirely reasonable to raise the devolved Administrations and their involvement. The noble Baronesses, Lady O’Grady, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Randerson, were right to mention this important issue. However, the plain fact is that industrial relations is a reserved matter. The Government have a duty to protect the lives and livelihood of their citizens across Great Britain. The disproportionate impacts that strikes can have on the public are no less severe on people in Scotland or Wales, and they have every right to expect the Government to act to ensure that they can continue to access vital public services during strikes. We obviously recognise that, in some cases, this will affect employers operating services which are devolved. The Government have published consultations on the application of MSLs for ambulance services, fire and rescue services, and rail services. As part of the development of MSLs in those areas, and the consultations that are legally required to inform these, we will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations on the geographical scope of the regulations.

A number of noble Lords suggested that this could be a vehicle for firing workers—a point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Whitaker, the noble Lords, Lord Strasburger, Lord Monks and Lord Hain, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. Let me once again assure them that this is misleading as to what this legislation will actually do. The Bill equips employers to manage instances where a worker takes strike action despite being named on a work notice for that particular day of strike action by removing the employee’s automatic protection against unfair dismissal for industrial action. It is at the discretion of the particular employer, not the Government, as to what, if any, disciplinary action is taken in these circumstances. We hope that employers are fair and reasonable, and take this sort of action only where it is necessary. It is no different from employers managing instances of non-compliance for any other unauthorised absence.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, the noble Lord, Lord Allan, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, all spoke of the use of “reasonable steps” in the Bill. There are a range of steps that trade unions could take, and what is considered reasonable will depend on each specific situation. First and foremost, a trade union should not call a union member identified in a work notice as required to work on a particular day out on strike that day. The trade union could also encourage those individual members to comply with the work notice, and make it clear in their general communication with members that where members are named in a work notice, and therefore required to work on a particular day, they should attend work on that strike day.

A number of noble Lords spoke about our international obligations and considered arguments on this point were made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blower and Lady O’Grady, and the noble Lord, Lord Allan. As we have said, the Government are confident that the Bill is compatible with our international obligations, including the European Convention on Human Rights. As all Ministers do, I had to sign a statement of compatibility before I introduced the Bill in this House and, as all Ministers do, I did that on legal advice. As the minimum service levels framework is developed, the Government will continue to uphold their international obligations, including those under the TCA.

I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lady Noakes speak passionately in her support of the Bill, and, in particular, about balancing the rights of the public with the rights of the ability of workers to strike. That is fundamentally what the Bill seeks to achieve. Other noble Lords spoke similarly on international labour obligations, including the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Grady and Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. Some have said that it is wrong for the Government to set minimum service levels via regulation, rather than via negotiation or independent arbitration. That point was also raised by the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Liddle.

We have consistently said that we hope we do not have to use the powers in the Bill and that, where possible, if unions can agree on voluntary arrangements where they are necessary, that is obviously better than having to legislate. Where we have to bring forward regulations, these will be subject to consultation and scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament. We think that it is fair and reasonable to enable employers, employees, trade unions and their members, and the public as a whole, to participate in the process of setting minimum service levels, and then for them to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before they are applied. This would not necessarily be the case if the minimum service level was simply agreed between the employer and the union.

It was right that the noble Lords, Lord Monks and Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, spoke passionately about the naming of individuals as part of the Bill. To be clear, the Bill enables employers to issue work notices to specify the workforce required to achieve the minimum service level for that strike period. Trade unions are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that members identified in the work notice comply with that notice. Therefore, the trade union needs to see the work notice and know which union members may be named to be able to take those reasonable steps. Individuals named on a work notice will be notified of this as regards themselves only; the work notice will not be a public document. In addition, there are no sanctions or consequences for individuals if the minimum service level is not then achieved.

The impact assessment for the legislation has now been published, as a number of noble Lords observed. Overall, we expect the legislation to be of net benefit to the economy. We have of course noted the RPC’s comments and will consider whether it is possible to revise the impact assessment to address them. Impact assessments will also be published for all subsequent regulations on minimum service levels. We believe that many of the concerns expressed by the RPC will be addressed when those are published.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady O’Grady and Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, expressed concerns that union members would be targeted individually and unfairly by employers in work notices. The Bill is clear that an employer must not have regard to whether a worker is a member of a union, or a particular union, when issuing a work notice. Nor does the Bill do anything to diminish other protections against discrimination, which, I hope, addresses the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sahota.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, suggested that the Bill enables unilateral variation of employment contracts. It is true that legislation made under the Bill will affect the relationship between some employers and some workers, and that they will be required to comply with it where applicable, but in that respect it is no different from most employment legislation. The Bill does not provide employers with powers to unilaterally vary employment contracts; it merely allows the giving of a work notice which adjusts the circumstances in which workers may lawfully go on strike. I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord that any of that is akin to unilateral variation.

Some noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Prentis, and my noble friend Lady Noakes, raised the existing life and limb law. Disproportionate impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the public still occur during strikes, despite Section 240 of the 1992 Act being in place. The aims of MSLs are to balance the ability to strike with the rights of the public to access the vital services they depend on during those strikes. The purpose of Section 240 is to allow for criminal prosecutions for those who intentionally and maliciously endanger life or cause serious injury to a person by going on strike. In my view, these are two fundamentally different aims, and, as my noble friend Lady Noakes flagged up, the right to access key services clearly goes beyond life and limb.

I will also take on board and consider the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about the Home Office guidance in the Manchester Arena tragedy and follow that up with him.

Finally, a number of noble Lords rightly raised the issue of the pressure that the cost of living is putting on people and our public services. That is why we have committed to halving inflation and growing the economy, and why we have provided £26 billion to support individuals and businesses. We are investing billions more in schools, the NHS and social care, and all that of course supports those who work in those services. The Government respect the vital work that public sector workers do on the front line to protect the lives of others—a point we have made a number of times and will continue to make.

Once again, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I reiterate what I said in my opening remarks: the Government support workers’ ability to strike; it is an important part of industrial relations that is rightly protected by law. The Bill seeks to maintain a balance between the ability to strike on the one hand, and on the other the public’s right not to be subjected to disproportionate impacts as they try to go about their daily lives and access essential public services. My noble friend Lord Patten was right when he said that striking the balance between the ability to strike and the right of the public to be safe and protected is difficult, but we believe that our approach is a proportionate way to provide this important balance. I am happy to confirm to him that the Government have no intention of banning the ability to strike. As my noble friend Lord Dobbs so eloquently put it, the Bill is intended to keep the country working.

To encourage further engagement with the Bill, links to the consultations will be circulated to participating Peers after this debate. In the meantime, I of course look forward to discussing the Bill further with Members in Committee. With that, I beg to move.

Bill read a second time.
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House, and that it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House that they consider the bill in the following order: Clause 1, Schedule, Clauses 2 to 6, Title.

Motion agreed.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this exciting—almost, in some respects—debate about the main issues we will discuss as the Bill progresses.

Let me start by addressing the point made by a number of noble Lords—including the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Fox and Lord Hendy—on the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Of course, we are grateful to the committee for its work, and, in the normal course of events, we will respond to the report in full. Let me say, before then, that this Government do consider that this Bill is compatible with the ECHR.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, pointed out, on the introduction of the Bill I made a statement under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act that the provisions of the Bill are compatible with convention rights. Indeed, I have to do so on all the Bills I introduce into this House, and I have been doing a lot of that recently. I say to the noble Baroness that this is a duty I take very seriously. I would not just wake up in the morning and sign a bit of paper. I respond to legal advice that I receive, as I do on every Bill, and I often go back and query that legal advice, because I take my duty to sign that statement seriously. I can tell the noble Baroness that I was happy to do so in this case, because I am confident that the Bill strikes the right balance between the ability to strike and the rights and freedoms of others.

It is a question of balance, and I am grateful for the comments from my noble friend Lord Henley, who is actually a member of the committee, in his helpful speech. As he pointed out, the report does not say that the Bill is not compatible with the ECHR. Regulations that set minimum service levels in specified services will, of course, need to be compatible with the ECHR, including Article 11, and the Government will ensure that they introduce regulations that are compatible. Obviously, failure to do so would result in a breach, and a court would be able to grant such remedy as it considers just and appropriate should a union or others take a matter to judicial review. I am sure there is a lot of thinking about that at present.

In response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about when the provisions would apply, and the issue of retrospectivity, I agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes. It will of course apply only to future action. After Royal Assent, we need to lay the appropriate regulations, which would need to be approved by both Houses before the legislation can come into force.

The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked me whether employers can discriminate against trade union members when issuing a work notice, I am happy to confirm to the noble Baroness that the Bill is clear that employers should have no regard to trade union membership when they are issuing work notices.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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My noble friend Lady Donaghy also raised the issue of recommendations that refer to trade union activities. The real fear here is that a bad employer could use a work notice to victimise and discriminate against not only union members, which, as the Minister says, is covered by the Bill, but against elected union workplace representatives. I wonder whether the Minister can give us reassurance that moves will be made to ensure that that cannot happen. It clearly cannot be right that an employer could victimise elected union representatives in the work notice. We hope it would never happen, but we cannot rely on hope.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think the noble Baroness was, in effect, asking me to consider amendment 4 from the JCHR, which is what the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, was referring to. I was about to come on to that. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, is getting slightly ahead of herself. There are in fact later amendments, Amendments 27 and 28, tabled by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that seek to achieve a similar effect to that recommended, and we are going to have a fuller debate on that in group 10. So, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, I will address those points in more detail when we get there.

To restate why this legislation is needed—because this has been a general debate—let me set on record the Government’s position that there needs to be a reasonable balance between the ability of workers to strike and the rights of the public, who work hard and expect their essential services, which they pay for through their taxes, to be there when they need them. The minimum service levels aim to restore this balance in order to protect the lives and livelihoods of the public from disproportionate impacts and results of strike action. This important protection should be afforded, in our view, to members of the public without delay, which is why we are opposed to the amendments seeking to delay the imposition of this legislation.

Amendment 1 seeks, in effect, to extend the impact that strikes can have on the wider public. It would ensure that strikes could continue for up to six months of the whole strike mandate period after the Bill comes into force without the relevant minimum service level being applied. Parties, including employers, unions and workers, will have sufficient notice of minimum service levels prior to their application via, for example, the consultation or parliamentary processes that will need to take place before those regulations come into force. So our view is that further notice is not necessary.

Amendment 50 seeks to delay commencement of all provisions of the Act, including the regulation-making powers, until two years after the day on which the Act is passed. My noble friend will be unsurprised to know that the Government do not support this amendment. Practically, the legislation will not take effect, as I have said, until the regulations are made to specify the relevant services that minimum service levels shall apply to and the levels of service that an employer can require its workers to provide in relation to strikes. This amendment would mean that the earliest point at which minimum service levels could be enforced in practice is two years after the Act is passed.

Amendment 51 would result in further delays that essentially duplicate the work and the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that has already been published, requiring yet another report before minimum service regulations are made. Again, we feel that this would be unnecessarily burdensome and serve no practical purpose, because these amendments would just delay the implementation of MSLs. I realise the Opposition would like to do that, but it is not the position of the Government. Therefore, we cannot accept these amendments, which, for no good reason or constructive purpose, would significantly extend the disproportionate impact that strikes can have on the wider public, on which lives and livelihoods depend. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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I completely support the Minister’s aspirations for the public to be able to conduct their lives without disruption. They want to be able to use transport and health services. But when the minimum service levels are decided by whoever it will be—we are unclear—will the Government be penalising those employers who do not provide them on non-strike days as well? I just wondered. We do not know what the minimum service levels will be. If 50% of the trains need to run, that would mean all signalpeople would have to work. I would like to be able to use the same Bill to have a go when I cannot get a train, the ambulance does not come or what have you, but it is the fault not of the strikers but of the organisations or institutions. Can the Minister extend this Bill so that I can use it to sue the people who do not deliver the services I need to live my life?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Baroness says that these regulations will be imposed by whoever feels like it. They will be imposed by this Parliament because we are consulting on minimum service levels in three areas that will be subject to regulations. Each sector is different, which is why we have laid some consultations on the regulations; we are interested in hearing views. Again, the noble Baroness is getting ahead of herself. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, has amendments in later groupings similar to what the noble Baroness wishes to bring about; perhaps if she restrains her enthusiasm, we will get to these points later.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I just want to pick up the point about consultation. The Bill talks about six sectors but the Minister keeps referring to three consultations. Those consultations do not cover all the people in the sector who are referred to in the Bill. Can the Minister give us an idea of who in those six sectors will be consulted and when? We have had three consultations on a narrow element; not everyone in transport or health has been consulted, for example. Can the Minister give us a timetable and an idea of who will be consulted and when?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Clearly, the answer to the noble Lord’s question is that anybody can respond to the consultation. We have issued three draft statutory instruments in three sectors; we are interested in hearing responses from trade unions, members of the public, et cetera.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Can I answer the noble Lord’s first question before he asks me another? If we choose to move ahead—if the Bill is passed and the powers are granted—and we think it sensible to impose minimum service levels in other sectors that are allowed by the Bill, again, we will publish a draft consultation and people can respond to that in due course. The noble Lord has another question.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I asked the Minister a specific question but I am afraid that he did not answer it. Do the three consultations that have been issued cover all the categories of worker within that sector, as mentioned in the Bill? If not, when will other people in that sector be consulted, and what will the timetable for the others be? My understanding is that not all transport workers have been consulted on that draft.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am sorry if the noble Lord finds this confusing. On the sectors where we have introduced draft regulations—let us take the example quoted by the noble Lord of rail services—those consultations are in rail services. If other transport workers, in relation to whom we have not yet chosen to introduce minimum service levels, wish to respond to that consultation in generality, of course they can do so. We will take their interests on board.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I hope that we will come back to this. I keep coming back to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, which always echo in my mind: policy and legislation. We have legislation but no idea what the policy is. The Government have committed to consult. There are six sectors that will be affected by this Bill. The Government have started consultation only in small parts of those sectors. For example, in transport, they have consulted only on passenger rail, not on freight rail or buses or any other element of the Bill. When are those elements going to be consulted? When are the Government going to start launching that?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am not quite sure what the noble Lord is saying. Is he saying that he wants us to introduce minimum service levels in all those sectors as well? If he does, I will take that comment back to the relevant Secretary of State; perhaps they will wish to introduce MSLs in those sectors as well. However, as the noble Lord has observed, the categories in the Bill are fairly widely drawn. In the short term, we, as a Government, have chosen to consult on regulations in those specific sectors. It may be that, in future, if Parliament grants us the powers, we will consult on additional regulations but, at the moment, we have no plans to do so. We have consulted on those three particular sectors.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Can the Minister explain why this approach to the legislation was adopted? I know why I object to it. I know why the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, objects to it. I have a view about the importance of primary legislation. When people’s rights and freedoms are being constrained in this way, there should be foreseeability; by the way, when the Minister answered earlier on Section 19(1)(a) and how seriously he takes the obligation to make a statement on compatibility—I believe him—he did not set out his reasoning as to how this is in accordance with law in terms of foreseeability.

Pragmatically, I just want to ask him this: why was this approach adopted rather than the approach of formulating the policy in each area first? Frankly, purpose-specific primary legislation should then be brought to deal with a minimum service agreement in one sector that could not have been achieved by consent.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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In some sectors, of course, some minimum service levels have been agreed by consent. We have said that, if that MSL is sufficient and we view it as adequate, we may choose not to regulate in those particular sectors.

With regard to Section 19(1)(a) statements, the Government do not comment on legal advice that they receive; that is a long-standing tradition for all parties in government. I can say only that I take my legal obligations seriously, as all Ministers do. I read the legal advice that I am given. If I have queries about it, I go back to the lawyers and ask them for further details. In this case, I was satisfied that the Bill’s provisions are compliant; therefore, as is my legal duty, I signed the declaration before the Bill was introduced to Parliament.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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We are going to return to these areas as we progress through the clauses.

I just want to return to my noble friend’s point; the Minister only sort of answered the question. This Government started off with a manifesto commitment and a pledge to introduce minimum service levels in transport. That has sort of disappeared. Now it is a broad power—so broad that we will have no idea of who will be captured by this primary legislation until we see secondary legislation, which we will not be able to amend or adjust in order to take other factors into account. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, is absolutely right about what we have heard across the House.

I come back to the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which states:

“The case has not been adequately made that there is a ‘pressing social need’ for imposing minimum service levels across the breadth of categories currently set out in the Bill. For example, the category of ‘education services’ is so broad that it might apply as much to private tutors and evening class teachers as to school teachers. Similarly, ‘transport services’ could include private taxi drivers.”


That is the point I am making: at what point will taxi drivers be next in line? The Government have these powers. We are giving them these powers. It comes back to Article 11. Surely, when we make laws, people ought to know how, or whether, they will affect them. We will not know that until a Secretary of State plants a statutory instrument; as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said, such instruments are not fair because we will not be able to amend them. In his report to this House, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, criticised this method as being fundamentally undemocratic because, as he said, these are not technical issues; they attach to fundamental human rights. That is the opinion across the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, what we are trying to probe here is why any category is within the ambit of the Bill and why they have been specified. We will come back to the specific amendments in the group, but the noble Lord asked a question worth remembering: is it proportionate and necessary to have the Bill, bearing in mind that we have arrangements for minimum service levels—we have called them a range of things and noble Lords have referred to them—and they work? The noble Lord referred to circumstances in which they have worked, so we come back to the question: what is the point of this Bill?

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, is absolutely right to ask—the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said this too in his contribution on the previous group—why the very narrow, specific group,

“decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel” ,

has been included, given that there has not been a dispute or action that would require the Bill being applied. Surely we legislate for a reason. This highlights the fact that, as was said by my noble friends Lady Chakrabarti and Lord Whitty—whose contribution was absolutely right—we are increasingly seeing this as a political issue. It is not about resolving industrial disputes and providing support; it has another agenda.

On fire and rescue services, the Joint Committee on Human Rights mentioned the 2004 Act, and the Civil Contingencies Act also comes into play, where there are legal obligations. The Government have to understand that they are raising minimum service levels at a time when people in the public sector are striking because they are so concerned about the failure to meet minimum service levels. That is what doctors and nurses are worried about. I have heard from many nurses, including Members of this House, who have made that point—who would never have considered going on strike, ever. They made it very clear that, when they were in service, they would not have gone on strike, but they understand that the difference between then and now is in how nurses are valued, seen and even respected. That is the difference now. I heard the chair of the Police Federation make exactly this point on television. On the police not being able to strike he said that, when that was introduced, they were told that they would be compensated; it would be recognised that they had that obligation to serve the community. They do not feel that now, after a 17% reduction in their real wages. That is what people are really concerned about.

We are probing the categories that have been included because it seems so arbitrary. It comes back to the question of who is being consulted and when. It is not the six categories; it is not a broad range of people, even though the powers in the Bill will cover those areas. What is the minimum service level for border security? I hope the Minister can answer that. Is it a two-mile queue at Dover? Is it a completely blocked M20? Is it my having to wait three hours at Luton Airport because there was not sufficient staff? What is the minimum service level in those categories?

As it moves through Committee, I think the Minister will struggle to justify why the Bill is being introduced. It is a terrible Bill that does not do what it—supposedly—intends to.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank all three speakers in this debate. Amendments 2, 5, 11 and 12 seek to alter the sectors and services that are within scope of having minimum service levels implemented. Amendment 2 would stop minimum service levels being applied to education services for those over the age of 16 and rescue services in relation to fire and rescue services. Amendments 5, 11 and 12 would each remove one of the identified sectors from the Bill.

Amendment 2 specifically seeks to align the meaning of “relevant services” with the definition of “important public services” in existing legislation. The practical effect of this would be that minimum service levels would not be able to be applied to education services provided for those who are over the age of 16 and services which constitute “rescue services” in the context of fire and rescue. I am really not sure how that could work in practice, bearing in mind that the same personnel often provide the same services.

Strike action in these sectors has the potential for far-reaching consequences for members of the public who are not in any way involved in a dispute. This applies equally to education services for those aged over 16, as well as fire and rescue services, which is why they have been included in the legislation. In my view, it would simply not be right for students who attend a sixth form or further education college or university to be automatically ruled out of scope of minimum service levels while pupils aged 16 and under are not. Their education is no less valuable or important.

Additionally, there should be the potential for employers in the fire and rescue services to consider rostering staff to provide minimum service levels in response to road traffic incidents or in flood responses. Bizarrely, the amendment seems to be intended to prevent that. If you have a number of firemen on duty, those same firemen will be responding to house fires as well as car accidents, for instance. I do not see how there can be a distinction.

Let me also highlight what the legal ambiguity of this amendment could lead to. Subsection (4) of new Section 234B, as currently drafted, lists the key sectors that MSLs can apply to. There would then be a conflict between that section and the existing Section 226(2E) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, over which the amendment would presumably seek to take precedence. On that basis, I therefore cannot support it. The Government will set out, via consultations, what services may be in scope of minimum service levels, just as the published consultations for fire, ambulance and rail services that we debated in the previous grouping have done.

On the remaining amendments, the key sectors outlined in the Bill stem broadly from the 1992 Act, as amended by the Trade Union Act 2016, as they have been long recognised as important for society to function effectively. As I have already said, strike action in these sectors has the potential for far-reaching consequences for the public. Fire and rescue services, as I said, routinely deal with emergency incidents that pose an immediate risk to the public, and strike action could impact on public safety. The Government take the same view that ensuring safety at nuclear sites is also of the highest importance, so it is right that nuclear decommissioning is within scope. Finally, without a permanent and skilled presence at the border, there is a significant risk to the security and prosperity of the UK. I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Collins: of course, many other countries, because of the way that their border security is structured, actually prohibit strikes completely in border services, so we are not going that far.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, will know better than I do that some policing services are already restricted from striking. But I do take on board his point about the other essential elements of the policing service that relate to that.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, can I just ask—

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Let me respond to the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, and then the noble Lord can come back. I will take on board the points of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, inquire for more details from the Home Office, and come back to him in writing. I will now take the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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No-one disputes what the Minister is saying in terms of the importance, particularly with emergency services, of that requirement. Can he tell us what assessment he made of the existing legislation, both the Civil Contingencies Act and the 2004 Act, in relation to this? What we are debating is why the Bill is necessary. It is not clear that the Minister has made the case.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I accept that the Labour Party does not believe that we have made the case; that is why we are having this debate. We picked the sectors because they were broadly in line with the 1992 Act, but of course there are good cases to be made for additional sectors, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, has intimated—

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Can the Minister answer the question?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We will take on board all of the requests for additional services to be included. Of course, we have considered the effects of existing legislation as well, but there is, apart from the bans in certain sectors, no other legislation in the UK at the moment indicating the provision of minimum service levels. We know that some minimum service levels are provided by agreement between unions in some areas, but not in others at the moment—

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Can I press the noble Lord? I think it is a fundamental point; he cannot just dismiss this with, “Oh, we did an assessment”. Tell us. The 2004 Act and the Civil Contingencies Act cover these areas. Why does he need this additional Bill in those particular sectors?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The Act does not cover minimum service levels in those sectors. I do not understand the point that the noble Lord is making. There are no minimum service level Acts in the UK at present; I think that in one of the contributions—it might have been the noble Lord’s—the point was made that MSL legislation does not apply in the UK at the moment. It is not something we have done previously, but we now consider that to be the case. I will take the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister. I think the two points that are emerging, that I would be grateful for assistance with from the Minister, go like this. The first is that on one level, these six areas are very broad—this was highlighted, in a way, by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. For example, “health services” is incredibly broad: everything from dental hygiene to ambulance services. Some of these things are potentially emergency blue-light services and some are not.

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On the point about the Civil Contingencies Act, that is a very broad power to safeguard life in public emergencies. The regulation-making powers in that legislation would allow Ministers very quickly to create and enforce minimum service level agreements if the country was truly at risk.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We do not feel that the Civil Contingencies Act gives us the power to impose minimum service levels in the sectors that we have identified, which is why we are seeking this additional primary legislation, but I accept that there is a balance to be drawn. Noble Lords have seen two elements in the debate today between certain Members who do not want the legislation at all and do not believe in the principle of minimum service or safety levels, as it has been referred to—

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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It is not correct to say that we do not believe in minimum service levels or in protecting people—far from it. As my noble friend will say later, we have negotiated and achieved minimum service levels across the board. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, mentioned the fact that they have been achieved. We are asking whether this Bill damages the co-operation and support for those minimum service levels. We think it will; it will harm the situation.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I think that comes down to the essence of the political disagreement, and maybe I was not exposing myself correctly, but certainly the Opposition disagree with the minimum service levels legislation. I accept that in some areas the noble Lord might believe in minimum service levels but, as I have said, if voluntary negotiations are in place in certain sectors, that is preferable to the heavy hand of legislation, and we accept that. However, in the case of ambulances, some unions in some areas have agreed minimum service levels and others have not, so we think it is right to have the back-up of legislation in case we need to reach for it, but we hope that we do not need to use it.

As I was saying in response to the intervention by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, this is about the essential political balance and what services should be included. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, makes a good case that policing services should be included, and I will get him a full reply on that. That is the essential political judgment that the Government took when we were drafting this legislation about what services should be included, but I accept that there is political difference of opinion. Some people think they are too broadly drawn, some people think they are not widely enough drawn and some Members think additional services should be included. I can present only the legislation and view that the Government took on this at the time.

With that, I have concluded my remarks in response to the group, so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, will feel able to withdraw the amendment he moved on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their comments and speeches on this group. I think we are beginning to draw the lines a little more clearly. First, I am delighted that the Minister has come out as a bulwark against legal ambiguity. I will clean up our legal ambiguity by withdrawing Amendment 2 shortly, if he clears up his legal ambiguity by withdrawing the Bill.

Looking at the rest of the debate, I think I am beginning to see the problem, which is the difference between minimum service levels and emergency cover. Some of the services highlighted in this Bill are emergency services; they are services that you need in extremis. Some of them are in the Bill, and some of the ones that the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, mentioned are not. Some of them, particularly transport, are not generally services that you need in extremis. In that case, minimum service level is an appropriate term.

For the others, emergency cover is covered in the Civil Contingencies Act, and the trade union Acts of 1996 and 2002 are more appropriate. In reverting to the language of minimum service level when referring to services that are required in extremis, the Minister is accidentally or deliberately missing the point. I think we will come back to this on a number of occasions, so it would be helpful if the Minister can be persuaded to understand it, even if not to agree with it. On the basis of trying to bring us all together, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 2.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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It is my turn—the noble Baroness and I are a double act today, and it has been very good. I am glad we degrouped the amendments on these sectors to probe the Government on exactly what they intend, because today we heard a range of opinions that I never expected to hear. I am rather disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, is not here to respond, because we may have got a third view, different from that of the Minister, who has been clear about the intent of the Bill—

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I tried to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, but she had prior commitments; otherwise, she would have been here.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I hope—I plead with the Minister—that the noble Baroness reads the debate on this in Hansard. If questions arise, I hope he will encourage her to write to us, because we have heard something quite critical: a definition, for the health service, of who might be involved and the issues involved. We could understand what the Minister was saying on health. But of course he was focused on the fact that the voluntary agreements are what works. The noble Baroness, Lady Barran, was even more clear that the better way is the voluntary arrangements, the agreements in place and the good industrial relations, even when there are disagreements that lead to a dispute.

Now we come to transport, where there are obvious questions. Who is the real target of the Bill? One cannot help feeling that there is a target in it, and it is not any of the things we have heard about so far. Of course, the area where we know the Conservative Party had a manifesto commitment on was transport— passenger rail transport. Of course, that Bill did not proceed, and instead we have this omnibus piece of proposed legislation, which includes everything but with no detail, no definition of minimum standards and no proper scrutiny. Every committee that has examined this has criticised it because of that nature. This comes back my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti’s point about proportionality.

So let us focus. I will come on to Amendments 9 and 10, but let us deal with the first amendment. I will focus a bit on passenger rail, because we had a very bad red warning—is that what they call it?

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I will try to be brief to help the Minister. In a throwaway remark, I think, at Second Reading, he said, with his usual flair and panache, something like, “I notice that noble Lords opposite are very quick to invoke the nurses but not the railway workers”. But that was not quite the case, because a number of us, myself included, had happily invoked rail workers. I will not talk only about nurses. I have travelled on many trains up and down this country and I hugely admire rail workers, who are not just drivers but the people who look after us on our journeys. I have seen rail workers looking after people in distress on overcrowded trains in the heat and helping the infirm on and off trains. As a woman often travelling alone intercity late at night, I have been very grateful for there being somebody in that carriage, so I am very happy to invoke the rail workers.

The Minister said that as though that meant we were on weaker ground tactically—a bit more embarrassed about rail workers than, for example, health workers. It made me wonder whether this is not the real target of the legislation. If rail workers generally, or the RMT in particular—perhaps because the general secretary has a certain hairstyle—are the real target for this legislation, why can we not have targeted legislation that includes what the criteria are and what the service level agreement is? That would be better legislation.

My noble friends have pointed out the differences in the approaches of the three Ministers that we have heard so far. A life and limb test was offered in the context of healthcare. There was no test offered in the case of education, but some embarrassment and a real desire to never have to invoke this legislation at all. Is this difference of opinion a difference of policy and approach in the different departments or, to be more charitable to the Government, is it because these services are just too different and it is not appropriate for them all to be bundled into a single Bill to give sweeping powers to the indivisible Secretary of State to legislate by fiat?

Either way, whichever is true, it is not appropriate for legislation. I say once more to the Minister: if this is about rail services, there are ways to tackle that, with or without legislation, given the very influential role the Government have in relation to the private companies through contracts and so on. If this is supposed to be general emergency legislation, we need criteria suggesting that this is a proper emergency—not in healthcare but in getting teachers to do mandatory unpaid overtime in other areas. A real problem of inconsistency has been identified in the varying groups, and that is why I do not think they have been repetitive but a voyage of discovery about what may or may not be the real motivation and about the obvious weaknesses in the Bill.

Finally, if I may say so, the question posed by my noble friend Lord Hendy about whether a potential mandatory requirement for people to do voluntary unpaid work will—or might—feature, is within the vires of the Bill.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. First, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that he has me responding to this group. I tried to get the Transport Minister to take it but, unfortunately, she had a long-standing personal engagement and was not able to. I hope that he was grateful that I got the Health Minister and the Education Minister to respond to the other groups, because I thought it more appropriate in those circumstances, lest the Committee get bored hearing from me on all the subjects. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, observed, I was for a brief period six years ago a Transport Minister, but in aviation, not in rail. I have trouble recalling all of the things I did six years ago.

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Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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I understand why the Minister is not going to answer the question about local bus services and the bits that are and are not subsidised within one service, and I realise why he cannot give me a full answer now, but will there be a letter from the Government on that issue?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am happy to give the noble Baroness a letter, but I am not sure there is much doubt about it. Legislation is not dependent on whether the service is subsidised. Some rail services are heavily subsidised, and some are not. It is about providing the level of service to the public. There is no compulsion on employers to use a minimum service level if it has been set in their particular sector. It is probably quite unlikely that we would want to set minimum service levels in local bus services, but that is a decision for the Secretary of State if Parliament chooses to grant him the power.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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The Minister keeps repeating the mantra that it is up to employers. As I mentioned, the train operators have a unique relationship with the public and the Government. The Government contract them to provide the service, and I referred to the dispute handling clause within that contract. Will the Minister make clear to us whether in the consultation he has mentioned the Government will put pressure on the train operating companies even if they do not want these minimum service levels statutory powers and notices? Will the Government put pressure on them to use them?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am sorry if the noble Lord thinks I am repeating a mantra. I am answering the questions that are asked of me. People keep asking me the question, so I keep giving the same answer, which is the legal position that there is no legal obligation on employers to utilise a minimum service level. That remains the case. I am sorry if the noble Lord thinks that is a mantra, but that is the legal position. I was asked a question and I am answering it.

Let me answer the other part of the noble Lord’s question. Clearly, in the case of rail, the taxpayer puts in billions of pounds a year to subsidise the service, so my personal view is that the Secretary of State has every right to seek to manage the service properly and effectively. However, the decision to issue a work notice, if the minimum service level applies and is set by Parliament at a particular level, comes down to the employer.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Surely the special point about railways is that the Government are contractor as well as legislator. What is being probed by my noble friends is whether it is appropriate for the Government on the one hand to give lovely contracts to rail companies—who are practically profiteers, in my view, and are not passing on the revenue from increased rail fares every year to the workers or the service users—and on the other hand to compensate them for strike action within the contract, and for the Government then to impose the minimum service level agreement, which is effectively on the trade unions. Is that appropriate? Is it ethical? Is it constitutionally something that we want to see the Government of this country doing?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am not an expert in the rail industry but my understanding is that most of the train operating companies are owned by the taxpayer now through various takeovers, so in my view the Secretary of State has a duty to run the rail services. Taxpayers are very generous in the support they provide to the rail industry, and trade unions sometimes do not appreciate how much it is subsidised. In my view the Secretary of State has a right to intervene on behalf of the travelling public and the taxpayer. The legal position—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, might think it is a mantra—is that there is no legal obligation in the Bill on employers to utilise a minimum service level if one has been set in their area.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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The Minister’s answers have been interesting but they have concentrated about 90% on the railways, apart from a little dabble into the bus sector with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

Do we take it that Ministers are not really interested in the issues listed in Amendment 10:

“aviation services, airline services, airport services … car delivery services, road haulage services, parcel delivery services”—

even trams—and

“rail engineering ferry and waterway services”?

Are the Government not concerned about them? Are they not even going to try to come up with minimum service arrangements for them? Is it just really about the railway? I think that is what the Minister is saying.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am sorry if the noble Lord is disappointed. I answered the questions that were asked of me and most of them were about rail services. That is what we have issued the consultation on, which is why I was answering the questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked me about bus services so I answered that question. I do not know how the noble Lord computes that we are somehow uninterested in other sectors. This legislation will specify transport services as an appropriate power for the Secretary of State to designate minimum service levels for, but the only one that we have issued on transport services at the moment is on passenger rail. That does not mean we are not interested in other transport services.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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I asked the Minister about the trade and co-operation agreement. He did not refer to that. I do not know if he wishes to do so or if he thinks it is completely irrelevant.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I do not think it is irrelevant. We stand completely by the trade and co-operation agreement, but I am not sure how the EU would have a problem with minimum service level agreements, given how many other European countries, including Italy, France and Spain, have minimum service level agreements in place in their legislation. I am not sure how it could accuse us of undermining the TCA.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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I will not repeat what I said earlier today, but it is quite clear that the ILO in particular imposes conditions on minimum service levels that this Bill does not comply with. That is the difficulty for the Government.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. Both noble Lords on the Cross Benches have highlighted something that we all knew would happen—that this debate would beg a question about what we can expect from our public services. What is the minimum level of service?

As we have heard, a common theme—not just in debate on this Bill—is about how people who work in the public service are genuinely concerned about its future. That is not just in the health service, by the way; there are lots of examples of people’s expectations. To be cynical, people might look at the minimum level of service set for strike days and think, “I’ll have that”, in certain circumstances. But if you speak to fire brigade members and other public sector workers, they will all give you the same message: there is a lack of investment, and they are worried about safety and their communities. It is not simply about pay and conditions—but when it is about pay and conditions, it is also about the shortage of workers.

In a commercial outfit, if you were not able to recruit, I know what you would do: put the pay up, improve the conditions, advertise it. That is not what we do in the public sector. We have seen cut after cut. I have been reading the BMA brief, and of course the Health and Social Care Committee has made the same point in terms of staffing. It describes it as “the greatest workforce crisis” facing the NHS and social care. There is persistent understaffing that poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety.

That is what the public will note when they hear these debates. They will not hear the Health Minister’s comments about life and limb; what they will hear is why, when someone has a heart attack, they have to wait four hours for an ambulance or, when they are in accident and emergency, they are on a trolley for hours and hours. That is what this debate is about, unfortunately. People want to see what the genuine priorities of this Government are. They will not be fooled by this narrative that is going to be developed about whose side you are on—they will not be fooled. They want proper public services and I think the noble Lords are absolutely right to say, if you are going to talk about minimum service levels, talk about it on non-strike days: how do you improve it? That is what people will be focused on. I hope the Ministers will listen.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, it is my pleasure to reply on this group containing Amendments 13 and 18, grouped together as they both relate to levels of service on non-strike days. The Government do not support these amendments on the basis that they add unnecessary limitations to and delays in establishing the minimum service levels. Amendment 13 seeks to cap minimum service levels to the lowest service levels recorded for a relevant service during the 12 months before regulations are laid. It would require the Secretary of State to lay a report in both Houses before introducing regulations to evidence this condition.

Before responding generally on that amendment, let me first answer the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, regarding his correspondence with my noble friend Lord Sharpe. The noble Lord is correct to point out that one option within the consultation Minimum Service Levels for Fire and Rescue Services looks at staffing levels being geared to respond to specific risks, including a minimum standard to respond to a major incident. However, this is just one of five options outlined in the consultation, and I do not consider that my noble friend has prejudged that consultation. I know that he is very willing to engage further on minimum service levels for fire and rescue services with the noble Lord if that would be helpful.

Before I turn more directly to the amendments, I will take an intervention from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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My Lords, just on fire and rescue services, does the Minister recognise that at the root of many of the disputes is a concern about what the level of service and staffing is on every other day of the year? Take the fire service, for example: since 2010, it has lost 12,000 posts, nearly 20%; 50 fire stations have been closed. Those firefighters really care about that. Further, and very briefly, my concern about the reference to Grenfell is because I spoke to firefighters after Grenfell. They were brave, they were dedicated and in some cases they were broken by that experience. They put their lives on the line and they saw terrible things. Can the Minister understand how insulting it is to use that as an example in an initiative to weaken what we regard as fundamental workers’ rights? If that is a measure of the Government’s sensitivity in dealing with industrial relations, I really advise the Government that they are better off staying out of it, because it will make matters so much worse.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I readily concede to the noble Baroness that many public services are under pressure, despite the record sums that we are spending on them. Of course, there are pressures on many public services; I entirely accept that. I do not know the details of the fire and rescue services consultation, but I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, is very happy to continue to engage on that issue.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I am so sick of that line about the record amounts being spent on our public services when a lot of that money goes to private companies, which employ nurses and doctors because the Government have allowed our public services to be so understaffed. Please stop misrepresenting the situation.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Baroness is getting off the debate. I am very happy to debate these points with her another time, but I think I will stick to the amendments.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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It is the fact that we are spending record amounts on these services.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I appreciate that the noble Baroness has a different opinion on how the money is spent, and with whom. That is an unarguable fact. Perhaps we can save the debate for another occasion when we are not talking about this legislation.

Minimising what the minimum service level could be sets a significant legal restriction on the ability to achieve this balance and would likely result in the public continuing to suffer the disproportionate impacts that strikes can have. Let me again thank my noble friend Baroness Noakes for her contribution; she eloquently highlighted the potential perverse consequence of Amendment 13, and I totally agree with my noble friend.

The Government value employers, employees, trade unions and their members, and members of the public, who pay for many of these services, being able to participate in the process of setting minimum service levels through the consultations that are required by the legislation. This amendment would reduce the importance of that process, and in turn reduce the influence that these important groups have.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has left us, but it remains the case that any regulations that set minimum service levels in specified services will need to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 11. Should any regulations go beyond what is necessary to achieve the aims of setting minimum service levels, which resulted in a breach of the ECHR, a court would be able to grant such remedy as it considers just and appropriate, following a judicial review. Levels of staffing on non-strike days will no doubt be one of the factors that they may wish to consider. I hope that this reassures noble Lords that we will act in a way that is proportionate, and so that there are appropriate routes for stakeholders to challenge any MSLs that they believe have been set at too high a level.

Amendment 18 deals specifically with health services. It seeks to delay any implementation of minimum service levels in health services on strike days by first requiring the Government to establish appropriate staffing levels on non-strike days through primary legislation. As always, it was a pleasure for me and the noble Lord, Lord Markham, to meet yesterday with the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Kakkar, to discuss the amendment. I am grateful that both noble Lords took the time to explain their concerns. I bow to their superior knowledge of and service to the healthcare system, and for their contribution to the debate which, as ever, was constructive. Many of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, were discussed in the earlier grouping; I know that the noble Lord was listening so I will not repeat all the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Markham, but I am very happy to have further discussions with both noble Lords if they think there are outstanding issues that we have not sufficiently covered.

I would say that the responsibility for issuing work notices is with the employer, rather than the Secretary of State, precisely because individual employers know better what level of staffing is required to achieve minimum service levels. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, will be irritated but I also repeat and emphasise the point that there is no statutory duty in the Bill on an employer to issue a work notice.

As we discussed, however, strike action in some areas of health services can put lives at risk or cause serious harm to patients. In many cases, it has the potential for far-reaching consequences for members of the public who are not directly involved in the dispute. As the consultation for applying minimum service levels in the ambulance services sets out, the aim is to protect life and health, and it is only right that the implementation of minimum service levels, where required, is not unnecessarily delayed.

I will pick up the point on non-strike days. Responsibility for staffing levels, in the Government’s view, should remain with clinical and other leaders at a local level, responding to local needs and supported by guidelines and national and professional bodies and overseen and regulated in England by the Care Quality Commission. People have been unable to access work, healthcare and education and been left worrying whether an ambulance would even be there when they needed one. Businesses have also been severely impacted. It is the Government’s view that these amendments would only delay or disrupt our ability to act on the disproportionate impacts that strikes can have on the public. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will be able to withdraw Amendment 13.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
That is precisely what is wrong with this Bill and its imposition—I use that term because the noble Lord will no doubt repeat comments he has made before, and the noble Baroness the Minister has also said, “It is up to companies: there is no statutory obligation”. But he who pays the piper calls the tune. I am sure we will see Governments use these powers, whether through funding or other forms of coercion. No one will be fooled. I think it is dangerous for the Government; my advice to them is to stay out of industrial relations—it will only end in tears.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his helpful advice. I will be sure to pass it on to the Prime Minister.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Ted Heath would have done.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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He was slightly less successful than the current one.

Each amendment in this group seeks to add additional evidence-gathering or reporting requirements or scrutiny to the regulation-making powers in the Schedule to the Bill. Before addressing them, perhaps the Committee will permit me a moment to reply to the rather general points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. I am afraid that I fundamentally disagree with him. Recent strike action has demonstrated the disproportionate impacts strikes can have on the public, presumably including his parishioners. They have been unable to access work and healthcare or attend education classes and are worrying whether an ambulance will be there when they need it. Businesses are also crucially affected by industrial action; 23% of them could not operate fully due to industrial action in the UK in December and 2.4 million strike days were lost between June and December. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate does not believe his parishioners need protecting from these actions, but this Government certainly do.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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I have every concern for my parishioners and the members of the various parishes, schools and chaplaincies—everyone in my diocese, whether they are Anglican or otherwise. However, I do not believe that this legislation is taking us in the right direction or that passing it will create better ambulance, train or hospital services for the people in my diocese. We may disagree, but I assure the Minister that I speak on behalf of everyone in my diocese.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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They will also get to vote in democratic elections and make their feelings clear. By the very nature of the legislation, if a strike is taking place with no minimum services, given that this Bill imposes minimum services, his parishioners will get a better level of service once it goes through. However, we should have debated these points at Second Reading. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate could not be present then.

Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Allan, seeks to require the Secretary of State to lay a Statement before each House outlining how the regulations that set minimum service levels and specify the relevant services are both necessary and proportionate. As my noble friend Lady Noakes, who has had to go to the Financial Services and Markets Bill in Grand Committee, pointed out, this amendment adds unnecessary duplication. Sufficient checks and balances before the regulations can be made are already built into the legislation. This includes the need to carry out consultations and the requirement that regulations must be approved by both Houses before they can be made.

Key stakeholders, including employers, employees, members of the public—perhaps even churches—trade unions and their members are all encouraged to participate in the consultations and have their say in the setting of these minimum service levels before they come into effect. Parliament, including Select Committees, as they already have done, will have an opportunity to contribute to the consultation. Following the consultation, the Government will consider all representations and publish a response setting out the factors taken into account in determining the minimum service level to be specified in those regulations.

Subsequent regulations on MSL will be accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum which will outline the legal effect of the regulations, to address the complaints of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and its rationale and why they are necessary. Impact assessments will also be published alongside the regulations, which will then be subject to the affirmative procedure. We think this approach is appropriate; it is a common way for secondary legislation to be made.

Amendment 36, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, also requires the relevant Commons Select Committee to publish a report on how the Act will impact that sector before regulations are made. This will delay the implementation of minimum service levels—I suspect that is its intent—and extend the disproportionate impact that strikes can have on the public.

Amendment 36A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, would require the Government to lay draft regulations before each House of Parliament at least 28 days before the regulations are intended to be made, with an Explanatory Memorandum setting out factors taken into account in determining the MSL. These additional steps are, in our view, unnecessary and duplicative for the reasons that I have set out. The Government resist Amendments 16, 17, 20, 36 and 36A.

Amendments 38 and 39, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, would place limitations on the consultation provision, which the Government again resist. In the Government’s view, Amendment 39, as drafted, would not have the effect that noble Lords perhaps intended. In reality, it would require consultations to be published within a six-week window after the Act is passed, meaning that, by their very nature, future consultations after this period would then not be possible. Amendment 38 would prevent consultations taking place at all after the Bill has achieved Royal Assent. Both amendments would remove the ability to specify minimum service levels on an ongoing basis and, in our view, unduly limit our ability to respond appropriately as circumstances change—again, I suspect that this is the purpose of those who tabled the amendments. Key stakeholders are all encouraged to participate in the consultations to help shape the way MSLs operate. As I have made clear in previous responses, the Government have already published consultations on implementing minimum service levels in ambulance, fire and rescue, and rail services.

Amendment 40, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, would require the Secretary of State to lay a copy of a report in both Houses of Parliament, no later than six months after the Act is passed, setting out the findings of a review into the impact of the Act in regard to six key sectors. The noble Lord will be unsurprised to hear that I resist this amendment on the grounds that all the potential impacts of minimum service levels, including those on staffing, etc cetera, and the other factors the noble Lord mentions, will be considered as part of the process of making detailed regulations for those specified services. As I have set out on numerous occasions, these regulations will be accompanied by detailed impact assessments. We have also committed to conducting the usual review of the full impact of the Act within five years of the first secondary legislation coming into force. We believe that is a much more appropriate timescale to review the impacts.

I apologise to the Committee if I have spoken at length but there were a lot of amendments in this group. I hope I have been able to provide at least some reassurance on the consultation processes that we intend to undergo prior to making regulations, as is required by the Bill.

I was going to say that I hope noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments, but I see that some noble Lords are seeking to intervene.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I want to ask a question of the Minister, just to be clear in my own mind. The trade unions say that the Government do not need these powers to enforce minimum service level agreements because they are reasonable and negotiate voluntarily and will continue to do so—they say it is not necessary to legislate. The Government disagree with that and legislate. Then, when some of us say that there needs to be a transparent process and proper consultation because this is such grave legislation for trade union rights, the Minister responds by saying, “No, no—we do it anyway, so we don’t need to put that on the face of the Bill”. Is there not a contradiction at the heart of this argument? The Government will legislate only one way: for powers for the Secretary of State but never for scrutiny of the Secretary of State. How is that consistent with what the Government say to unions, who are saying do not legislate for this because reasonable agreements will be negotiated in any event?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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On a number of occasions, including the first day of Committee, I have made it clear that if voluntary arrangements are in place, which there are in some services, that is our preferred approach. However, it is the case in certain ambulance services that those voluntary arrangements were not agreed until literally the night before the strike action was due to take place, and indeed some trade unions then changed their minds about voluntary arrangements. We therefore think it is appropriate to have the back-up power. If they can be agreed, that is our preferred approach. The approach outlined by the noble Baroness is the normal process of consultation. If Parliament chooses to give the Government these powers—we will see the outcome of the debates in both Houses—then we will consider whether it is appropriate to make these regulations or not, given the circumstances in each case. Those regulations will then be further approved by Parliament.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I have two points. In answering the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the Minister used the ambulance service as an example of the Government having to use the power. I understood that it was the employer that used the power, and in the case of ambulance workers the Government are not the employer. Can the Minister perhaps square that language?

In a rather less difficult answer, in dismissing one of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the Minister said that the process of publishing information at parliamentary level would take too much time. It is on the record that a recent former Transport Secretary of State said that the Bill will not solve the current problems. What is the Government’s time target for this, given we know that the Minister thinks one of the amendments would take too much time? What is sufficient time? When do the Government expect the Bill to be in place, all other things being equal, and what is the hurry?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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On the noble Lord’s first question, as he well knows, it is the Government’s job—or duty, if we get the legislation through—to make the regulations, and then it will be at the discretion of employers whether they use the powers that are given to issue work notices. We have debated this many times.

With regard to the timetable, these things are beyond my authority level. It depends how quickly the Bill goes through Parliament, how many amendments there are, how long ping-pong takes, and the scheduling of the legislation by the usual channels. I hope we will get the legislation through as quickly as possible. Of course, I hope that we never need to use it, as I have said before, but we think it is appropriate that the power should be there as a backstop.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sorry to trouble the noble Lord a moment further, but could I invite him to express a view on the report of the Delegated Powers Committee? It points out that there is no detail in the Bill and criticises it for that. Does the noble Lord accept that criticism?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We will be responding in due course to the report from the Delegated Powers Committee. I entirely accept that this is a wide secondary-legislation-making power for the Government, but we think that it is appropriate in these circumstances.

With that, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, I am sorry the Minister did not feel comfortable accepting the amendments in this group, but I think it has been a helpful debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, both talked about the potential for inserting friction into industrial relations. These Benches very much agree that that may be the effect of these regulations, so we think it is right to insert a certain level of friction into the legislative process to try to head off what may be a very poor outcome.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who I understand is now in Grand Committee, talked about the measures as being “not draconian”, which is an interesting framing. However, the fact is that they impact on people’s fundamental rights. Whether it impacts one person, a thousand people or a hundred thousand people, the general principle is that one should be much more careful with any legislation that affects fundamental rights. My amendment was trying to make sure that we had a framework which reflected that.

There is an old maxim that if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In this Bill, the Government are granting themselves the power to create a hammer which will be offered to employers, but employers may prefer to meet their staff with other tools, such as cash or commitments to a negotiated settlement. In this debate, concerns have come out once more about what happens when the only tool you offer employers is the hammer and the potential knock-on effects of that.

It is right that we are testing whether the Government really will use those powers only in extremis, because “can’t” is often used when “won’t” is closer to the truth, until “won’t” becomes “will” and “can’t” is miraculously turned into “can”—as we have just seen with the recent move to settle the health disputes. That is another example of the Government saying that something is impossible—like minimum service levels are impossible—and then it becomes possible. I hope the Government will strengthen the Bill before Report to make sure that “can’t” really means “can’t” when it comes to negotiated minimum service levels. With that hope, and not yet entirely jaded by experience, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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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.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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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—

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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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.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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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.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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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.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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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?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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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.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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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.

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It is so much better to work with employees on a voluntary basis. This has been done in many cases during the recent spate of strike action, and it has worked well. The Bill would destroy that way of working.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I will now reply to the debate on Amendment 21, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, which have been grouped. These seek to limit how and when a work notice can be issued by an employer.

Amendment 21 seeks to place an additional and, in our view, burdensome requirement on employers in relation to issuing a work notice. Amendment 23 seeks to alter, fairly fundamentally, how a work notice operates. Both amendments would create unnecessary uncertainty for employers, unions and workers around their respective obligations for work notices.

Amendment 21 requires the employer to exhaust all options to prevent a strike before they issue a work notice. However, it is my submission that employers are already incentivised to avoid strike action due to the substantial cost and disruption that it causes them. If a trade union has given notice of a strike under Section 234A of the 1992 Act, which must happen before any work notice can be given, it seems reasonable for the employer to assume that the options to avoid a strike have, in fact, already been exhausted for the purposes of producing a work notice.

It is also not clear what the test would be for an employer to show that all the options had been exhausted to prevent a strike, creating significant uncertainty for employers and trade unions. The Bill does not prevent employers and unions continuing to negotiate to reach a settlement on the broader trade dispute and, we would hope, for the strikes to be called off. However, we know that negotiations can be complex and can cause uncertainty, so all parties, especially the public, need the fundamental reassurance that the minimum service will operate on a particular strike day. Therefore, the Government resist this amendment.

Amendment 23 seeks to alter how work notices are to operate by specifying that the work notice must identify only the number of persons required to work during a strike rather than actually naming them. There are a number of problems with this approach. First, trade unions are required under the legislation to take reasonable steps to ensure that members identified in the work notice comply with that notice. For that to be true, the trade union would need to see the work notice and to know which union members have been identified as required to work in order for it to take those reasonable steps to ensure that those members attend work rather than going on strike. Secondly, this amendment could lead to confusion between employers and workers about who exactly is required to work, particularly in instances where a large number of individuals are employed to deliver essentially the same duty—for instance, call handlers. There would no longer be workers

“identified in a work notice”

for the purposes of paragraph 8(3) in Part 2 of the Schedule. Consequently, the provision removing the automatic protection from unfair dismissal would presumably also not apply, and therefore cannot be accepted.

I reassure noble Lords that individuals named on a work notice will be notified of this as regards themselves only. They will not be issued with the work notice itself, and the work notice will not be a public document. Unions will be bound by data protection law in the usual way, and there will be no sanctions or consequences for individuals if the minimum service level is not then achieved.

Identifying individuals to work in advance of the strike day helps to provide clarity for workers, unions and employers about who exactly is required to work and the arrangements for that particular working day, as well as strike. Without this we believe it will cause confusion and would potentially lead to minimum service levels not being achieved, continuing the disproportionate impact strikes can have on the public, as well as potentially costly and unnecessary litigation between unions and employers.

Finally, let me pick up on the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady.

Lord Monks Portrait Lord Monks (Lab)
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Would the Minister accept that there is tremendous scope for victimisation in the provision that he is talking about, which this probing amendment is opening out? If the work notice is imposed on union officials—convenors, shop stewards, secretaries or whatever—they are in an extremely vulnerable position. They may have been doing the negotiation. They may have been regarded by the employer as awkward. All of a sudden they are put in the frame to say that you are coming into work, regardless of the role they may have played in the origins of the dispute. Is this not a victimisation permit for employers to use in all kinds of circumstances?

I worked in a place where the senior steward had been sacked and was victimised, and it is quite a common occurrence—other colleagues here will perhaps know more about that than me. It seems that the Government are giving a blank check to employers to take on individuals who are prominent in the union, and putting them in an impossible position of being summoned in by the employer at the same time as they may well have been leading the workers in the particular dispute that is taking place. What would the Minister say about that idea that he is giving a charter for victimisation?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I understand the noble Lord’s concerns but I do not believe he is justified in his worries. The Bill is clear that an employer must not have regard to whether a worker is or is not a member of a union when issuing a work notice. If an employee feels that they have been unfairly targeted then they can raise a grievance with their employer or ultimately take legal action to challenge whether the work notice complied with the law. That would then be a matter for the courts to decide.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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I have listened with great care to what I think has been an analytical destruction of the very heart of this Bill. If, as the noble Lord has already enunciated, the right to take action for unfair dismissal is automatically removed by this Bill, how on earth can an individual take a grievance?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I do not understand the point the noble Lord is making.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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I used to teach industrial relations a long time ago—I may be rusty. The purpose of unfair dismissal protection is that the employer cannot arbitrarily take away the right of a person to their employment unless they have good cause. If they have declined, and have taken a grievance following the notice they have been given, and unfair dismissal protection has been withdrawn, how can that grievance procedure be proposed and implemented?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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They lose their protection only if they do not comply with a work notice. The whole principle of this—as the noble Lord has studied industrial relations, he will understand—is that, for a strike to be lawful, effectively you are breaking the contract you have with your employer. If the strike is lawfully called, you are entitled for the purpose of industrial action to break that contract. This merely reinstates that contract between you and your employer. If a work notice is issued and you do not comply with it, it would be treated as an unauthorised absence. There is no intention to say that that will result in dismissal. I would have thought that that would be very much a last course. As I said at Second Reading, we do not believe it will result in people being dismissed. We believe people will comply with the regulations and the law, and that the Bill will have the effect that we intended.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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I am sorry but I did not quite understand the Minister. I can see that dismissal for refusing to comply with a work notice might be a matter of last resort for the employer, but we are dealing here with the potential for bad employers to take the opportunity to sack somebody, and they might sack somebody without notice. If they do that, there is no possibility at all of the worker taking up a grievance. I do understand what other legal avenues there might be for such a worker—I can visualise none.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I was responding to the point I was asked about, and I made the point that, under the Bill, it is clear that an employer must not have regard to whether a worker is or is not a member of a union when issuing the work notice. I was outlining procedures that they could then follow if that was the case. Ultimately, they could challenge it in court, and that would be a matter for the courts.

I was going to go back to the point from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, but I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, wants to intervene.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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In order to reassure me on the issue of names becoming public, the Minister said that names would not be made public and—I assume this is what he meant—would remain private between the employer and the employee. I just want to tease out how this will actually work. Apart from the fact that the person concerned would turn up at work on that day and so it would no longer be private, how would trade unions and other workers be able to challenge any of this legally? How would they challenge the overall balance of the decision-making of the employer and the fairness in the way in which all this has been carried out, particularly if someone were to end up losing their job as a result of the whole process? How would there be any legal assurance about this if the whole thing is cloaked in mystery?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Let me outline the procedure for the benefit of the noble Baroness. The work notice will not be a public document. The Bill makes it clear that current data protection legislation applies, while allowing the employer to provide the work notice to a trade union so that the Bill can be effective. Under the Bill, trade unions are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that their members who are identified in the work notice comply with that work notice. The trade union therefore of course needs to see the work notice and to know which union members may be named, in order to enable it to take those reasonable steps. Unions will otherwise be bound by data protection law in the usual way. Additionally, while those named on a work notice will be notified about that regarding themselves only, they will not be issued the work notice itself. Naming individuals to work in advance of the strike day helps to provide clarity to the workers, to unions and to employers regarding arrangements for that working day as well as the strike.

If the Committee will now permit me to move on and answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, that may provide some clarity on the Government’s thinking in this respect. The first question the noble Baroness asked was whether Secretaries of State have a say in who is identified in a work notice. Fundamentally, the work notice is a matter for the employer, so there is no way that Secretaries of State can influence who is identified on a work notice.

Secondly, the noble Baroness asked whether a worker would be in breach of a work notice if they were sick on the relevant strike day. Workers should of course be supported if they are unwell and cannot work, and it remains the case that if a worker is too unwell to work, they are not obliged to work under a work notice. I hope that provides the clarity the Committee is seeking on this point, and I therefore hope that the noble Lord can withdraw his amendment.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, this debate has revealed—or rather, not revealed—more than I expected. I am grateful to the Minister for imaginatively making things up as he goes along, which is what this seems to be. We have a Bill in which none of the details is included, and we are relying on the Minister to flesh out from the Dispatch Box how the Bill will work. [Interruption.] I am not talking about what the Bill is, but how it will work.

At least two misapprehensions are driving that interpretation of how the Bill will work—not what it says in law, but what it will do. The first is that the nature of the service sectors the Bill has identified is such that they are politicised. The Minister’s description of the interplay between employer and employee is an unrestrained free-market description, but we know—and this is why I was talking in the last group about using the current dispute as a model—that this is not a pure-play employee/employer relationship. There are three parties in this dispute, and the third party is the Government. By experience, behind the scenes and sometimes in front of the scenes, the Government have been part of the process of progression of these disputes, and in the end, they have been the arbiter of whether or not they were settled. So the Minister’s description of the nature of the dispute in which these minimum service levels and work orders would be used is an inaccurate model for us to consider.

The Minister speaks of the unions and the workforce as if they are two separate entities. We have to understand what the Minister thinks a union is. In large part, the union is the workforce, so keeping the work order secret from the workers by giving it to the union is an interesting concept.

The second misapprehension is that the Minister is expecting the union to oversee the work order, which is a list of names. We know from the Bill, because it specifically says so, that the names on that list could and should be either union members or non-union members. How does the union deal with the non-union members? Is it fair for the non-union members to have their names on the union’s list? These are the sort of practical details we do not have to hand because we do not have a description of work orders and minimum service levels. That is the problem the Minister is having to deal with and is working very hard to do so.

I will look very hard at Hansard because I find it very difficult to understand how the Minister sees the unions and the workforce operating independently in a workplace. Leaving that to one side, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 21.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I will speak very briefly to this group of amendments; I will make no attempt to emulate the speeches from either the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, or the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, who have great experience in the union movement.

In the Bill, there is a specific requirement for the unions “to take reasonable steps” to implement work orders. On these Benches, there is still no understanding of what “reasonable steps” actually means and what legal jeopardy unions would be in if they did, or did not do, particular activities. However, I characterise this collection of amendments as causing the employers to take reasonable steps not to victimise members of the union as a result of this legislation. Therefore, it adds a mirror to the reasonable steps that the unions have to observe, so that the employers should similarly observe the same steps—and I support the spirit in which the amendments have been delivered.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, mentioned private sector deliverers. Having read the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Markham, my reading is that he rules providers such as Amazon out of the remit of this legislation. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm whether my interpretation is correct. I credit the noble Lord, Lord Markham, with coming to your Lordships’ House and participating in Committee. We had no such benefit of a Transport Minister, and we still do not know the position of private sector suppliers of services in the transport industry. While we seem to have an explicit ruling out of private sector deliverers in the health service, we have no such ruling out in the transport sector. Will the Minister, in responding to or confirming my interpretation of the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Markham, also tell us whether the similar and other deliverers of private sector services, which are crucial to the railway industry, will be included in the remit of the Bill, or, as in the health service, not included?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate: the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Hendy, Lord Woodley and Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady.

Amendments 22 and 24 to 31 all relate to placing additional requirements on the process of issuing our famous work notice. It is the view of the Government that the current requirements in the Bill strike the right balance between the views and perspectives of employers and unions to enable a reasonable and fair work notice to be issued. The Bill explicitly requires that employers must consult a relevant trade union, and have regard to their views, before issuing a work notice. Additionally, work notices must not include more persons than are reasonably necessary to meet the minimum service level and employers, as I said earlier, must not have regard to whether a worker is or is not a member of a trade union when producing that work notice.

I respond, first, to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, who waxed lyrical about Amazon warehouses. While it is possible for a private business to be in the scope of minimum service level regulations, if they provide a relevant service as specified within the regulations, I am happy to reassure the noble Baroness that the Government have no plans or intentions to apply minimum service levels to Amazon.

Amendment 22 tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Hendy, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, would limit the issuing of work notices to recognised trade unions only. However, it is of course possible that strikes can be called by recognised and unrecognised trade unions, which can lead to disproportionate impacts on the public. It is therefore our view that MSLs must be able to be applied where a union, recognised or not, provides a strike notice to an employer.

I move on to Amendments 24 to 31 from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady. Amendment 24 looks to ensure that employers cannot name more persons than necessary to secure the minimum level of service. However, it is already recognised that employers should not roster more people than are needed to achieve a minimum service level, so that some workers can continue to take strike action if they wish to—that is the whole principle of the Bill. That is why the Bill already requires employers not to identify more persons than are reasonably necessary. This enables the employer some limited flexibility in providing for contingency to respond on the day to any operational incidents, sickness or other types of absence. In our view, the existing approach strikes the right balance and provides sufficient safeguards for workers. To go further would limit or eliminate an employer’s flexibility, which could then mean that minimum service levels—the whole point of the legislation—would not be achieved.

Amendments 25 and 26 both look to ensure that each individual is able to go on strike for at least part of the period of the strike, notwithstanding any work notice. The Government resist these amendments for three reasons. First, the number of days on a strike notice could be substantial across both short and long periods for which the union has a mandate to strike. It is therefore reasonable that some workers may need to work more than 50% of those strike days, especially if their colleagues are off sick, on leave or attending training. Secondly, these amendments would cap the minimum service level and reduce the influence of the consultation, and those who respond to it, in the setting of the minimum service level. Thirdly, Amendment 26 appears to prevent any work notice being given where there is only one day given on a strike notice, which therefore creates a loophole which could be exploited—that may have been the purpose of the amendment.

Amendments 27 and 28 look to require the employer to ignore a person’s trade union activities or use of trade union services in deciding whether to identify a person in a work notice. However, we believe the Bill already sufficiently protects against any discrimination regarding a worker’s union status when employers are preparing their work notices. The trade union activity or services that a union member may have been involved in are connected to whether they are a union member, which, as we have already said, the employer must not have regard to.

Additionally, existing legislation—Section 146 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992—already provides a remedy for workers who are discriminated against on union grounds, and that section will continue to be applicable here. Therefore, we believe the amendment is duplicative in nature.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My noble friend Lord Woodley raised the issue of a health and safety rep, who does not necessarily have to be a union rep or even a union member but may well be victimised because of their activity in protecting workers. Will the Minister ensure that is explicitly addressed?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - -

I do not accept the word “victimised”. A work notice effectively says that somebody has to fulfil their whole working contract as normal, whereby they come into work and get paid for it. That is not victimisation in any conventional sense of the word.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister raises Section 146 of the 1992 Act, which protects against detriment on union grounds, as he rightly says. But “union grounds” means either union membership or union activity, and Section 151 is the same protection against dismissal on grounds of union membership or union activity. Can the Minister explain why only union membership is protected in this Bill and not union activity?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - -

It is because, as we already said, Section 146 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act already provides a remedy for workers who are discriminated against on union grounds. That section will remain applicable here, as I said earlier.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise for intervening again. The point is that Sections 146 and 151 specify membership and activities, whereas this Bill protects against discrimination on the grounds of union membership alone. If the same protection against union activity is required in Sections 146 and 151, it should be required here as well. The obvious implication, if you were arguing a case in court, is that that protection is not given under this Bill, otherwise it would have been included.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
- Hansard - -

I will seek further legal advice. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if the provision already exists in other applicable legislation, there is no need to duplicate that provision in another statute. I will certainly check that with the lawyers for the noble Lord.

Amendment 29 seeks to require the employers to be satisfied that the work notice does not identify more people than reasonably necessary before giving a work notice. However, as we set out in new Section 234C(5), the employer is already required to not identify more persons in the work notice than are reasonably necessary for the purposes of providing MSLs.

Amendment 30, meanwhile, seeks to require the employer to assess the equality implications of the work notice. Again, in our view, this is not necessary. The Bill does nothing to reduce the existing obligations of employers under the Equality Act 2010. As I said, there is an existing legal provision that continues to apply. There is no need to restate it.

Finally, Amendment 31 seeks to require the employer to assess the health and safety implications of the work notice and consult health and safety representatives. The Government’s view is that the current requirements in the Bill strike the right balance between the views and perspectives of employers and unions to enable a reasonable and fair work notice to be issued. As I have said, the Bill explicitly requires that employers must consult the relevant trade union and have regard to its views before issuing a work notice.

Adding any further steps or requirements to this process will result in disproportionate and costly burdens for employers and could result in delays to the issuing of a work notice by the employer and therefore delays to minimum service levels being applied. I fully accept that this may well be the purpose of the amendment, but I hope the Opposition understand why the Government cannot accept it. Additionally, when drawing up work notices, employers must still adhere to the relevant requirements set out in existing health and safety law. That is unchanged by this legislation.

For these reasons, the Government resist these amendments.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister—I think—for that response. Many of us raising legitimate concerns about this Bill are quite disturbed that the argument for naming individuals seems to be that you have to name individual workers so that they can be threatened with the sack and that it is necessary to share those names with employers so that they can be required to take reasonable steps or face significant sanctions, including seeing the entire workforce stripped of protection against unfair dismissal.

The whole basis of this Bill seems to be born of a “command and control” school of management where you order people to work rather than seek agreement, which I think most modern management is about. That is why it is particularly frustrating for those of us who are critics of the Bill, because we know that where minimum service levels are genuinely needed for safety issues and made by agreement, whether or not those agreements have been made at the last minute—so be it; that is often the case—they are much more likely to work effectively than anything proposed in this Bill.

I could make a number of points. I thank the Minister for his point about Amazon, but I feel I have now heard very confusing messages across this Dispatch Box from him and the noble Lord, Lord Markham, so I will want to come back and clarify that.

At some point I would like an opportunity to explain more clearly the real concerns in the trade union movement about victimisation and derecognition. They are not being brought up to put obstacles in the way of this Bill. They are born of real-life experience, both of trade union officers representing shop stewards, convenors and reps who have been victimised and of many of our families who have been through this. The penalty of victimisation is so high—to have your livelihood removed is massive. I would like to pursue this area in other ways if possible, because I am sure we can convince the Minister of the sincerity of that concern and the need for genuine protection.

It is confusing why there are specific references to not selecting people on the basis of trade union membership but not extending that to those who hold trade union office and lay leadership positions.

I could go on, but I will leave the Minister with one last question. I have yet to meet a reasonable employer who wants this Bill. I have had plenty queueing up to tell me that it is wrong, immoral or maybe just unworkable and will make matters worse from a pragmatic perspective. Can the Minister tell us of a single employer or group of employers batting for this Bill? I have yet to meet one. I beg leave to withdraw.

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Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 41 in my name and the names of my noble friend Lord Collins and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and support the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Hendy.

Many of us agree that one of the most disturbing features of the Bill is that it hands employers powers to name individual workers in a work notice and potentially force them to work against their will, through a strike, without their individual consent or the agreement of their union—or face the sack. Many employers in the public and private sectors have told us very clearly that they do not want this authoritarian power because it would sour industrial relations. If the Bill is enacted, they fear that they would come under undue political pressure to exercise that power. The publication of WhatsApp messages, as I mentioned previously, between the then Health and Education Ministers revealed that at the very same time as they were publicly praising, clapping and thanking key workers for their efforts during the pandemic, privately they were describing those same workers and their unions—unions are made up of workers—with contempt.

The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has often sought to reassure us by saying that he hopes the powers will never be used and that there would be no undue pressure. However, I am sure that he would agree—I might even get a smile out of him—that if Gavin Williamson was Education Minister today, on the evidence of those WhatsApp messages, he would be straining at the leash to ensure that academy schools pulled that trigger. That is the fear.

The Government have continually cited France, Italy and Spain as countries that also provide minimum service levels. However, unlike in the UK, in each of these countries the right to strike is a constitutional right. Perhaps the noble Lord can also confirm which of these countries, if any, have provided a blanket power to remove protection against dismissal for individually named striking workers? I submitted a Written Question on this subject, but the response I received did not answer the Question. What is more, it took 15 days rather than the expected 10 not to answer my Question. In fact, the answer, as we have heard, is zero. None of those countries does that.

Can the Minister also explain and justify a gaping hole in the consultations issued on the Bill so far? Those consultations failed to ask whether respondents agree with the Government that it is acceptable to sack individual firefighters, ambulance staff and rail workers if, for example, for reasons of conscience they do not comply with the work notice. Could it possibly be that this is not in the consultation because Ministers know that they will not get the answer that they want? Most fair-minded people find the idea of such sackings abhorrent. The sacking of individually named workers who refuse to comply would be catastrophic for workers’ rights, staff morale and industrial relations in this country. I remind the Minister that NHS job vacancies currently stand at over 133,000 and that 17% of newly qualified teachers leave within two years.

Not so long ago, following a public outcry about what happened at P&O, Government Ministers condemned its scandalous behaviour, and rightly so. Ministers said then—I quote from the 24 January government press release—that unscrupulous employers

“must not use threats of dismissal to pressurise employees into accepting new terms”.

But the Bill provides powers to do exactly that: to pressurise key workers into accepting terms under threat of the sack. These key workers’ heroic work through the pandemic has earned the public’s respect and gratitude. One firefighter was moved to write a letter about his experiences. He says that he has been proud to work for the service for 15 years, including being deployed to Nepal following the devastating earthquakes in 2015; that he and his colleagues have a can-do attitude and have provided emergency cover voluntarily when needed through industrial action; and that they entered the service because they want to help people. He warns against this legislation and says that it is unnecessary, given that arrangements for emergency cover are already in place, and says that Ministers

“can’t simply legislate away the depth of anger and frustration we feel about how we’ve been treated. The Bill could lead to individual workers like me being sacked for taking part in legal and democratically decided industrial action over issues which are genuinely of concern to society in general.”

Taking the power to sack workers whose names are chosen unilaterally by employers, as sanctioned by Ministers, is understandably perceived as deeply provocative. If this firefighter refused to comply with the work notice, does the Minister really imagine that his colleagues would stand by and let him be sacked? Some argue that the Bill is intended to be provocative but, if so, that would be foolish. The provision to sack workers flies in the face of all industrial relations common sense and any sense of human decency.

I know that we are covering the same ground, but it is not just named individuals who could be vulnerable to the sack, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights made clear in its report:

“We find it hard to see how it is compliant with Article 11 ECHR to expose any participant in industrial action to the risk of dismissal simply because a trade union fails to take unspecified ‘reasonable steps’ required in respect of those subject to a work notice.”


I will not go on, but I look forward to the Minister's response—or, better still, an indication that this Government will remove that right to sack striking workers from the Bill.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. At the risk of provoking further interventions, I will start by replying to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I do not know the legal definition of victimisation, but her understanding of it is clearly different from mine. I would define it as something like “subjecting an individual to degrading, unfair treatment”. In effect, a work notice says to an employee, “You fulfil your contract, as has been previously agreed, as normal. You come into work, do your normal contracted job and get paid for it.” In any definition that I understand, that is not victimisation. Obviously she has an alternative view, but I do not believe that it would come under the definition.

I will directly address the point by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady. I have said it before and will say it again: this legislation is not about sacking key workers. Let me be very clear about that. She inquired about the outline of the Bill: it is about protecting the lives and livelihoods of the public by enabling minimum service levels to be applied on a strike day. If people comply with the legislation, then there is no question of anybody being sacked on the basis of it.

This group of amendments seeks to ensure that no detrimental action could be taken by an employer against persons who are named on, but then fail to comply with, a work notice. There would be no consequences for participating in a strike despite being named on a work notice. The whole intention of these amendments is not to achieve a balance between the ability to strike and the rights and freedoms of the rest of us to go about our normal daily business—to get an ambulance, to attend the health service or to have a firefighter come to put out a fire in my property. This is about ensuring that strike action can continue with no consequence whatever and with no regard as to whether a minimum service level will be achieved. That fundamentally cannot be accepted by the Government.

For a minimum service level to be achieved, it strikes me as obvious that enough people need to attend work and therefore workers need to be appropriately incentivised to do that. The legislation achieves this by removing the automatic protection from unfair dismissal where employees participate in strike action despite being named on a work notice. While it is at the discretion of employers rather than the Government as to what, if any, action is then taken against employees in those circumstances, we think it vital that the Bill equips employers to manage instances of non-compliance, just as they would in any other case of unauthorised absence, to enable them to achieve that minimum service level. As my noble friend Lady Noakes observed, employees retain all their existing protections against discrimination—a very good point that further reinforces why these amendments are not required.

Overall, we believe that the approach in this legislation is fair and reasonable and ensures that there is the balance, which we have talked about so often, between the ability to strike and the rights and freedoms of everyone else to go about their daily business and use essential public services. Removing the ability for there to be any consequences whatever for failing to comply with a work notice would likely lead to strikes being more disruptive, as we have seen, when compared with the level of service that employers would be able to provide by applying a minimum service level that allows for these consequences.

Finally, there is a point of detail. Amendments 32 and 32A, if implemented, would cause a significant legal conflict with Part 2 of the Schedule, which makes amendments to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 to make clear that there is no automatic protection from unfair dismissal for an employee who is identified in a valid work notice but participates in the strike contrary to that work notice.

In conclusion, I resist these amendments on the grounds that they seek to sustain or increase the disproportionate impact that strikes in these key areas can have on the public as a continuation of the status quo, a continuation of the public being disproportionately impacted by strikes and a continuation of lives and livelihoods being put at risk by those strikes. Therefore, I cannot accept these amendments.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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With each group of amendments that passes, I get the impression that the area of carpet between me and the Minister is getting larger. The differences are getting larger rather than smaller, which is disappointing because sometimes in Committee they can be narrowed, but I do not get that sense. In describing the change in a person’s contract so that on one day they are able to strike with legal protections and on the next day that contract is unilaterally changed, I do not have to use the word “victimisation”. I can use some other word, perhaps “unfair” or “wrong”. That is the fundamental difference between me and the Minister, and that is what is causing the carpet to expand. Acknowledging that this was a probing amendment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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If I can elaborate even further, it is not necessarily the issue of being counterintuitive or not; if there is a voluntary agreement, both parties enter into that voluntary agreement with good faith. So if, as we have discussed many times before, safety is genuinely at risk and there are life and limb agreements, unions and employers work incredibly closely together to secure the consent of individual workers, and issue them with what we call exemptions to go across that picket line. That can all happen. But as soon as you introduce the law and remove that requirement for agreement, why is it our responsibility to make this work? It is not our responsibility; it is the employer’s responsibility. You cannot have it both ways. If we are going to have a voluntary agreement, we will do our best to honour and make that voluntary agreement work. If the state intervenes and dictates to workers under threat of dismissal, it simply will not work.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed to the debate.

It should go without saying that, to achieve a minimum service level, employers, employees and trade unions all have a part to play, and the Bill makes clear what those respective roles are. As many Members have quoted, unions are required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that the union members named in the work notice comply with the notice. If they do not, they will lose protection from legal claims.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, I say that there are a range of steps that trade unions could take, and what is considered reasonable can depend, as my noble friend Lady Noakes made clear, on each specific situation. First and foremost, a trade union should not call a union member identified in a work notice as required to work on a particular day out on strike that day. The trade union could also encourage those individual members to comply with the work notice and make it clear in its general communication with workers that, where members are named in a work notice and therefore required to work on a particular day, they should work on that particular strike day.

Before turning to the individual amendments, I will respond to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about what would happen if a number of the workforce are sick on the day of the strike. As I indicated to the noble Lord from a sedentary position, the responsibility of the unions is to take “reasonable steps”, as it says in the Bill. If union members named in a work notice are off sick, it is not the responsibility of the trade unions to find other members to take their place; it is the responsibility of employers to ensure that enough work notices are issued to fulfil that minimum service level.

Amendments 34 and 34A seek to diminish the responsibility of unions to take reasonable steps to ensure that their members who are named on a work notice actually attend work rather than participating in strike action. These amendments would remove any obligation on the trade unions to notify their members of the need to comply with a work notice and not to take part in the strike, which, in my view, would reduce the likelihood that a minimum service level will be maintained or achieved. Therefore, the Government are unable to accept them.

Amendment 33 goes further and seeks to ensure that unions have no responsibility whatever for ensuring that their members comply if they have been named on a work notice. It also ensures that there are no consequences for failing to meet that responsibility. I submit that that is an attempt to disrupt the balance between the ability to strike and the rights and freedoms of others, and therefore the Government cannot accept the amendment.

If a union member does not cross a picket line when identified on a work notice, this will of course negatively affect the employer’s ability to achieve the minimum service level at all. The picket line is usually a critical place for a union to exercise persuasion over its members, and we have seen some egregious examples of that. However, the Bill and the achievement of minimum service levels would be substantially undermined if the union’s obligations did not extend to picketing, and therefore we cannot accept Amendment 35.

The responsibility of the union to take reasonable steps is a continuing one, because the impact on the public is the same if a minimum service level is not achieved, whether or not that results from picketing activities. Therefore, the Government cannot accept these amendments, which would significantly reduce the responsibilities of trade unions. Our view, which is reflected in the legislation, is that they need to play their part in ensuring that essential services continue during strikes. As always, we encourage unions to act responsibly and to fulfil their statutory duty that will be established by the Bill if it becomes law. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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The simple fact is that the Minister tries to keep repeating a narrative that the Government are on the side of the public and, somehow, the Opposition are not. Actually, that is not the case, and, as I said before, the public will not be fooled.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Markham is here, because we had a discussion about the six sectors. There was a manifesto commitment on transport, but then that disappeared, especially when an impact assessment said that the law would not work and would prolong disputes, with greater impact on the public, so it is not worth doing. Now, we have had discussion about six sectors, a number of which have very strong voluntary agreements that work. Employers have told us that where people volunteer to do something, against their conscience, which is what we are talking about, it will be more effective. In the health service, NHS Providers is telling us that that is what it wants to do: it wants to ensure that people volunteer and that there are proper cover arrangements. What we are moving to here is compulsion, penalties and dismissal. It will have the complete opposite effect to what the Minister has said.

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Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, at the risk of saying what I said earlier, if this amendment is not accepted by the Government, that presents a problem to the whole House as to what is to be done about Bills that do not conform to the elementary requirements of various committees, where detail is not published in the Bills but reserved to regulations. That problem will have to be confronted if the Government are not prepared to accept this very modest amendment, as my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti put it.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. To start with the question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the Government’s response to the reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, the Constitution Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I am happy to confirm that I expect to be able to respond to those reports before Report.

This amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, requires indicative minimum service levels to be set out before regulations can be made for that service. The Government recognise the importance of relevant parties having sight of a minimum service level before it is applied. That is why Secretaries of State must consult on minimum service level regulations and why Parliament will have an opportunity to contribute to the consultation and scrutinise those regulations, which are subject to the affirmative procedure, as I have said before.

The effect of this amendment is superfluous, given that all parties will be able to know the proposed minimum service levels once regulations are laid in the usual way. This approach ensures that the implementation of MSL is not significantly delayed, thereby not extending the disproportionate impact that strikes can have on the public. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, will understand, if not agree, why the Government cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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In light of those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment so that we can move on to the next group, where we will have a much more comprehensive debate.

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My noble friend Lady Donaghy said, “Gis a power”. I will keep repeating that; it is really quite useful, because it sums up where this Government have reached. They have run out of ideas and policies; they now just want to resort to narrative that they think will have appeal. I think they have even got that wrong, because I do not think the public will follow the narrative the Minister keeps repeating today. I think the people know who is responsible and how they want it resolved. We have seen it resolved in the health service and elsewhere. Our concern here is that this is an unacceptable power grab.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, as I set out in the previous group, which the noble Lord, Lord Fox, described as the amuse-bouche grouping, there are already sufficient checks and balances built into the legislation before any regulations can be made. These include the need to carry out consultations with key stakeholders, including employers, employees, relevant trade unions and their members, who are all encouraged to participate in the consultations—we have some of the regulations out for consultation at the moment—and have their say in setting minimum service levels before they come into effect.

Parliament, including Select Committees, will also have an opportunity to contribute to the consultation and scrutinise the regulations. The Government firmly believe that this is the right approach. It ensures that a wide range of views can be gathered. Parliament can scrutinise regulations without significantly delaying the implementation of MSLs and therefore extending the disproportionate impact that strikes can have on the public.

Amendments 42 to 48 all seek to amend the provisions to make consequential amendments. The Government resist these amendments on the grounds that Clause 3 is a fairly standard clause, used regularly in primary legislation. Let me explain to the Committee what it is for. The power to amend primary legislation within the clause is a standard power with standard wording. Perhaps it will be helpful to give some examples of where it is on the statute book already. It is in Section 182 of the Health and Care Act 2022, Section 47 of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020, Section 23 of the Bus Services Act 2017—I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is not here to hear that—and Section 66 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017. This power is not unique to legislation introduced under a Conservative Government. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that Section 51 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 also includes the same power. Additionally, the report, The Legislative Process: the Delegation of Powers, published by the Lords Select Committee on the Constitution in 2018, states:

“Delegating power to make provision for minor and technical matters is a necessary part of the legislative process … Delegated legislation, which is subject to less parliamentary scrutiny, should only be used to fill in the details.”


That is exactly what this power is intended for.

I remind noble Lords that the DPRRC did not draw attention to or raise concerns about this delegated power in its report published on 2 February. I know that it did on others, but it did not with this one. The power may be used only to make amendments to other legislation that are genuinely consequential on this Bill. It is there purely to ensure that the legal provisions within this Bill can be maintained after they have received Royal Assent. Therefore, the Committee will understand why I cannot support these amendments.

Amendment 48 seeks to remove the power for the Secretary of State to make consequential amendments to primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd. The Government again resist this amendment on the grounds that the provisions of this Act will extend to England and Wales and Scotland. Employment rights and duties and industrial relations are reserved in respect of Scotland and Wales. Therefore, it is right that the Secretary of State has the power to make consequential amendments to primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd, if required to ensure that the new legal framework operates in a coherent way across the entirety of Great Britain.

The disproportionate impacts that strikes can have are no less severe on people in Scotland or Wales than they are in England. They have every right to expect the Government to act to ensure that they can continue to access vital public services during strikes. The Government will of course engage with the devolved Administrations as appropriate. I have met devolved Ministers to discuss the Bill. Obviously, we will engage further if any consequential amendments are required to Acts of the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly. As this clause is completely standard and has been introduced in several pieces of legislation, including by a previous Labour Government, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw or not move their unnecessary amendments.

Turning to Amendments 45 and 46, I believe that the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is to delay the commencement of regulations providing for minimum services until the Government have assessed the Bill’s impact on recruitment and retention in the public and private sectors, and the impact on those with protected characteristics. However, the amendments as drafted are to Clause 3, which provides a power to the Secretary of State to make consequential provision. Therefore, the amendments would delay commencement of regulations which make consequential amendments to other legislation.

Speaking to what I believe is the intended purpose of the amendment, I say that the Government resist it. As I have already set out in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, the Secretary of State must consult on regulations, and they must be approved by both Houses before they can be made.

Impact assessments will be published for all subsequent regulations on minimum service levels and will, as always, contain a public sector equality duty assessment. I also draw noble Lords’ attention to the already published impact assessments for the Bill and currently ongoing consultations on establishing minimum service levels in ambulance, fire and rescue, and rail services, all of which contain public sector equality duty assessments. I hope that I have convinced noble Lords to withdraw and not move their amendments.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the debate on this group. I am particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for painting a picture of King Henry VIII strutting across the Field of the Cloth of Gold on a pair of stilts.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
As the noble Lord said, this amendment seeks not to prolong, delay or frustrate but to ensure that Parliament has proper oversight and that there is proper consultation with all those involved before the statutory legislation and the statutory instruments are laid. I support the amendment.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise for keeping the House waiting for the start of the debate; the previous business finished much earlier than everyone expected.

I am grateful to those who have contributed to this debate, although clearly we have repeated a lot of what was discussed in previous debates. The House will be unsurprised to hear that my position is similar to what it was in Committee. As I did then, I resist this amendment relating to consultation requirements, parliamentary scrutiny and assessment of impacts of the legislation.

As I made clear in Committee, it is my firm view that sufficient checks and balances are already built into the legislation before regulations can be made. This includes the need to carry out consultations—indeed, we are undergoing consultations at the moment on some draft regulations—which, of course, relevant parliamentary committees are able to and almost certainly will contribute to, as well as the requirement that regulations must be approved by both Houses before they can be made. Impact assessments will also be published for all subsequent regulations on minimum service levels.

Key stakeholders, including employers, employees, members of the public, trade unions and their members are all encouraged to participate in the consultations—some of which, as I said, are live even now—and have their say in the setting of the appropriate minimum service levels, and all that will happen before the minimum service levels come into effect, and only then if they have been approved by Parliament.

I am therefore of the view that this approach is both appropriate and in line with the normal way in which secondary legislation is made. As such, the Government believe that the amendment adds unnecessary duplication into the process, and therefore I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their support for this amendment. The Minister is right that much of this debate has been had before in Committee. He is also right when he describes this as the normal way. I am afraid it has become the normal way that this Government operate to shunt as much power as possible to the Secretary of State and marginalise Parliament as often and as broadly as they can. This is a highly skeletal Bill—it is almost impossible to get one that is smaller. For that reason, I would like to test the will of the House.

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Moved by
2: The Schedule, page 4, line 23, leave out from “to” to end of line 24 and insert—
“(a) whether the person is or is not a member of a trade union,(b) whether the person has or has not—(i) taken part in the activities of a trade union, or(ii) made use of services made available to the person by a trade union by virtue of the person’s membership of the union, or(c) whether or not—(i) a matter has been raised on the person’s behalf (with or without the person’s consent), or(ii) the person has consented to the raising of a matter on the person’s behalf,by a trade union of which the person is a member.(6A) In subsection (6) “a trade union” includes—(a) a particular trade union, and(b) a particular branch or section of a particular trade union.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for additional matters that an employer must not have regard to in deciding whether to identify a person in a work notice.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 2 in my name. The House will know that the Government were clear at the introduction of the Bill that employers must not have regard to a person’s trade union status when producing a work notice. Employers should identify the workers who are best placed and most appropriate for each role, so that that minimum service level can be achieved. In our view, a person’s trade union status has no place in this process.

I thank the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its report on the Bill and for its feedback, as well as feedback from the debates in Committee on protections from trade union discrimination in relation to work notices—including from the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, who was particularly vocal on this point. I hope the noble Lord will agree that this amendment addresses his concerns in full.

Through this amendment, employers must not have regard to whether a person has or has not taken part in trade union activities, made use of their services or had issues raised by a trade union on their behalf. Employers must also not have regard to whether a person is part of a particular trade union or a particular branch or section of a trade union. This also ensures a greater level of consistency with existing sections within the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, such as Sections 146 and 152.

As I said in Committee, the activity or services that a trade union member may have been involved in are connected to whether they are a trade union member, and therefore, even under the clause as it stood, an employer must not have regard to such matters when producing a work notice. While I still believe this to be true, I hope that the amendment provides further reassurance to the House, in addition to trade unions and workers, putting the issue of trade union discrimination in relation to work notices beyond doubt. I beg to move.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, very briefly, it is appreciated that the Minister has done this and that the Government have understood that there was ambiguity. In a sense, it is a shame that the Minister has not taken all our advice, but we thank the Government for taking this particular piece.

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Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that we appreciate what this amendment will do.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, noble Lords have broadly welcomed this and clearly want to move on to another section, so I do not think I have any points to raise in response.

Amendment 2 agreed.
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I ask the Minister to think very carefully about the long-term consequences of this way of approaching industrial relations. It is not sound.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for his constructive engagement on this matter. He wrote to us about it and has had a reply, so he knows the Government’s position. We believe that the current drafting of the legislation strikes the right balance so that, while employers have the statutory discretion to issue a work notice, they also have to consider any other existing legal duties that they may have—for instance, contractual, tort or public law duties. My concern is that the amendment would enable employers to act without due consideration to such duties, as it effectively seeks to remove any legal consequences for not issuing a work notice.

The decision to issue a work notice should be objective but, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Allan, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, have said, the amendment would then enable subjective, and potentially political, factors to influence that decision.

It would be likely—and I suspect this is the intention of the movers—to lead to many fewer work notices being given where they were needed, leading to minimum service levels not being met in more cases, but the reason for this legislation is that the Government do not believe that is in the best interests of service users or the public. I therefore maintain the position that I took in Committee and resist the amendment on that basis. I hope the noble and learned Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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It is disappointing that the Government will not put in the Bill what the position is. The word “may” is too ambiguous. I am afraid we may be back to the kind of thing that happened 50 years ago, as we are seeing a large number of disputes go to a successor—the ordinary courts, this time—to the National Industrial Relations Court, and that was not a happy outcome for anyone. But the Government have taken their stand. I do not wish to press this to a Division and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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If the union is found not to have taken a reasonable step, as my noble friend Lord Collins spelled out, the consequences are that the strike will be unlawful and anybody participating in it will have no protection at all against unfair dismissal. The union will be exposed to a claim for damages; if it does not comply with the injunction or payment of damages, it will be at risk of proceedings for contempt of court. New Section 234E is wholly objectionable and I hope that all Members of the House will join me in opposing it.
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Before I address the terms of the amendments, I will first address the frankly ridiculous exaggerations from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, that the UK is some kind of international parasite or outlier in considering this legislation—

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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They said “pariah”.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My apologies—I thank the noble Baroness. I meant “pariah”. In terms of being an international outlier, many other countries have minimum service levels. I will give the House some examples. In the USA, ambulance workers are in most circumstances prohibited from taking any action; it is the same in Australia; in Canada, there is variation by province; Spain and France have statutory minimum service levels in ambulance services; Belgium has statutory MSLs. All these requirements are laid down in law.

In the USA, Australia and Canada, for fire services action is prohibited completely by law. Nobody in the UK is suggesting that we go that far. I accept that noble Lords opposite will not mind the example of the USA, but, last time I looked, Australia and Canada both had centre-left Governments. Yet they ban strike action completely in fire services. So the UK is not an international outlier in considering these MSLs. Spain, France and Belgium have statutory MSLs in fire services. I have no idea who is in government in Belgium at the moment—there is normally some sort of 20-party coalition—but nevertheless these are not hard-right Governments with complete freedom of action against workers. It is not unusual in international terms to consider MSLs.

Lord Reid of Cardowan Portrait Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for answering an allegation that was not made by my noble friend. His point was that we were an outlier or pariah not because we had minimum service levels but because we were the only country with minimum service levels that was applying the sorts of terms and conditions that are objected to in the proposed amendments. That is quite a different thing from the argument about minimum service levels.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I do not think it is a different thing at all. If action is prohibited completely, as it is in the three countries I mentioned—let us take, for example, fire services—there is no provision for workers to take any strike action at all. If they do so, they are in breach of their contracts—presumably they can be dismissed, in those countries. I think the comparison is completely valid.

I turn to the amendments. To achieve a minimum service level, employers, employees and trade unions all have a part to play, in our view, and the Bill makes it clear what those respective roles are. The amendments in this group would remove key parts of the legislation, which we believe are necessary to make it effective, and I suspect that is the aim of those who tabled them. As such, I take the same position as I did in Committee and resist these amendments.

Amendment 4 seeks to remove the consequences for an employee who participates in strike action while being identified in a work notice. The approach taken is both fair and proportionate. It enables employers to manage instances of non-compliance with a work notice in exactly the same way that they would manage any other unauthorised absence. I repeat the point for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Collins: this is not about sacking workers, nurses or anyone else. An employee loses their automatic protection from unfair dismissal for industrial action if they participated in a strike contrary to a work notice, as indeed they would lose their unfair dismissal rights if they participated in any other form of strike action that was not in accordance with the law, just as failing to attend work without a valid reason does not necessarily mean that they will be dismissed. It simply enables employers to pursue disciplinary action if they believe it is appropriate, but it is ultimately at their discretion whether or not to do so.

Amendment 4 also provides that individuals identified in a work notice are not subject to the work notice unless they have been given a copy of it, and the employer must prove that the individual has received it. However, under the current drafting, employees lose their automatic unfair dismissal protection for going on strike in contravention of a work notice only if the employer notifies them that they are required to work under a work notice and of the work that they must carry out. I believe that this additional requirement is both unnecessary and duplicative; it could also be inappropriate as workers could be given a work notice which identifies thousands of other workers.

Amendment 5 seeks to ensure that unions have no responsibility for ensuring that their members do not participate in strike action and attend work instead if they have been named on a work notice. It also ensures that there are no consequences for failing to meet that responsibility. I suspect this is an attempt to disrupt the balance between the ability to strike and the rights and freedoms of others to go about their lawful business, which is ultimately at the heart of the Bill.

If employees are not incentivised to attend work on a strike day when they have been identified on work notice, or if a trade union has no responsibility to ensure that its members comply, the effectiveness of this legislation will be severely undermined. I suspect noble Lords opposite know that their amendments will do exactly that, and I am sure it is therefore no surprise to them that I cannot support them on this occasion. Given the direct disruption that these amendments will have on the ability of the public to go about their normal, lawful business, I ask noble Lords—without too much optimism—to feel free to not press their amendments.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O’Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that response, but Amendment 4 is about the individual freedoms, dignity and livelihoods of workers. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to make a few brief points. Of course, the noble and learned Lord is absolutely right that defining and managing service levels is a devolved matter. It is how you manage and define them. So when it comes to defining minimum service levels, who has responsibility? It is not the Government. It is actually going to be the responsibility of the devolved institutions and devolved Governments. Let me say this: this is not about devolving employment rights. Employment rights are in a single market and they are clearly defined. This is about service levels. We had debates in Committee about how to define service levels on non-strike days. The devolved Governments are going to be responsible for that, and that is the democratic accountability. That is why it is really important that we support these amendments.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, Amendments 6 and 7 relate, as has been said, to the devolved Governments. Amendment 6 seeks to remove the power for the Secretary of State to make consequential amendments to primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd Cymru. This amendment was previously tabled in Committee, and no one will be surprised to know that the Government’s position remains unchanged.

As I have previously stated, the powers in Clause 3 can be exercised only to make amendments that are necessary to give effect to the Bill; they are therefore truly consequential. Employment rights and duties and industrial relations are reserved in respect of Scotland and Wales. It is therefore right that the Secretary of State has the power to make consequential amendments to primary legislation made by the Scottish Parliament or Senedd Cymru, if required, to ensure that the new legal framework operates in a coherent way across the whole of Great Britain. As always, the Government will engage with the devolved Governments as appropriate should consequential amendments be required to Acts of the Scottish Parliament or the Senedd Cymru.

Amendment 7, meanwhile, seeks to limit the territorial application of this Act to England. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, tabled a similar amendment in Committee, and the Government continue to resist this change for the same reasons that I set out then.

As has been said numerous times in this debate, once regulations for minimum service levels are in force for a specified service, if a trade union gives notice of strike action, it is then the employer’s decision whether to issue a work notice ahead of the strike, specifying the workforce required to achieve the minimum service level for that strike period. If the employer is the Scottish Government or the Welsh Senedd, it is their decision whether or not they use this legislation. Of course, we hope that all employers will want to do so where needed —as was said in relation to the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, employers must consider any contractual, public law or other legal duties that they have—but the Bill does not contain a statutory requirement to do so. No one is forcing them to use this legislation.

We will, as we have done throughout this legislation, continue to engage with the devolved Governments as part of the development of minimum service levels in those areas and the consultations that would be required that are informing these decisions. The Government have a duty to protect the lives and livelihoods of citizens across Great Britain. The disproportionate impacts that strikes can have on the public are no less severe in Scotland or Wales, and the people there have every right to expect the Government to act to ensure that they can continue to access vital public services, which they pay for, during strike action.

I hope—again, perhaps without too much optimism—that noble Lords will therefore feel able not to press their amendments.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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My Lords, I considered whether to press both amendments to a Division, but it seems to me that the critical one is Amendment 7. If the Act is not applicable to England, Amendment 6 is, in effect, consequential and falls away. I therefore intend to withdraw Amendment 6 but will ask to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 7.

There are two fundamental reasons for that. First, it is essential that we do not undermine devolution. The devolution Acts give the responsibility for services to the devolved Governments. If the devolved Governments fail to deliver those services, they can be booted out at the next election. That is democracy, which I had hoped this Government believed in.

Secondly, the argument that the Minister has put forward—that the Governments in Wales and Scotland are the employers and can themselves determine whether the notices should or should not be given—is misconceived. As I sought to say, they are not the employers. The employers are the trusts and the local authorities. Probably wrongly, I did not press Amendment 5, but the Government now have to bear the consequence.

If they had agreed to my amendment, the point the Minister made might be a good one—but they did not. The consequence is that it is not up to the Governments of Scotland and Wales. They will have interests and points to make, just as no doubt the UK Government will have to the English authorities. But, ultimately, it will be for the employers. Therefore, this is an outright interference in the running of services in Wales and Scotland. They are at the heart of devolution. This, if anything, proves that what this Government want to do is undermine devolution and thus weaken the union. I will therefore press Amendment 7 in due course, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I will not detain the House for too long. I am very grateful to the Public Bill Office and the clerks for advising me on these consequential amendments which arise from the amendments carried by the House on Report. I am grateful for these technical amendments to be approved by the House. It does not particularly change my view on the overall impact of the Bill, but I am hopeful that the Government will focus on achieving settlements, particularly in the health service, where we have seen some progress. I do not see that the Bill, even as amended, will improve the situation but I hope noble Lords will consider these technical amendments and send the Bill back as speedily as possible. I beg to move.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments are intended to tidy the Bill, following the votes to amend the Bill on Report. They intend to remove from the Bill references to Section 234E, which was removed due to the passing of Amendment 5.

By convention, the Government do not oppose these amendments as we have a duty to send to the other place Bills that are internally consistent. However, I make it clear that the Government fully expect these topics to be revisited following the consideration of these amendments in the other place, which would result ultimately in them being reconsidered here also.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I note the Minister’s comments. I hope that when they return here, we will have the same level of scrutiny, because this is a bad Bill with certain consequences which will not improve industrial relations in this country—in fact, it will make them worse. It will not achieve the objectives the Government set out; it will have the completely opposite effect. Bearing those comments in mind, I welcome the Minister’s commitment to agree to these amendments.

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Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the scrutiny of the Bill. We had an extremely thorough and, perhaps at times, slightly repetitive debate, but that is the nature of the parliamentary process. I am grateful to everyone who engaged in that process. In particular, I thank my Whip, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, who, as usual, has kept us all in order. Thankfully, nobody fell asleep during this one, so we were all spared her wrath on this occasion.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1A.

1A: Because it is not appropriate to restrict application of the Bill to England only.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House I will also speak to Motion B. I will speak to both the Motions to not insist on these amendments and to resist Motions A1 and B1, which are amendments in lieu tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Fox.

I am delighted to be in the Chamber again following the consideration of this House’s amendments to the Bill in the other place. Although there was a thorough debate of these amendments and those we will look at next, they have been thoroughly rejected by the other place, which has resolved against amendments that would either delay implementation of the Bill or prevent it from achieving any of its policy objectives.

I recognise that this is a topic that Members of both Houses are passionate about and I agree with my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business, that we have had a robust debate on it. However, I point out to the House that the other place resolved against these amendments by significant majorities of 61 and 55 respectively, which are significantly larger than the majorities of 24 and 31 that amended the Bill in the first place. That is also the case for the amendments that we will discuss in the next group. The elected Chamber has therefore given the Bill and the amendments made here its due consideration and Members there have made the position of their House very clear.

The House will be delighted to know that I do not intend to repeat the debate and the arguments that we have heard on the detail of the Bill here; the Government have already clearly set out their intentions and perspective here, which are reflected in the reasons for disagreement that have come back to us. The Government’s position, and that of the elected Chamber, is clear and I can confirm that the Government have no plans to concede on these issues given the ongoing industrial disputes that show the need for this Bill now more than ever. I therefore ask that noble Lords respect the clear wishes of the other place and, while of course I am always grateful for noble Lords’ insight, passion and expertise on this matter, I hope that this House does not insist on these amendments.

I will now address the amendments in lieu that have been tabled. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for his Motion A1, which seeks to limit the application of this Bill to England only, unless the Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru agree by resolution for it to apply in those nations. The noble and learned Lord submitted a similar amendment on Report and the Government continue to resist this change for the reasons that I set out then.

First, it is a statutory discretion for the employer as to whether to issue a work notice, taking into account any other legal requirements that the employer may have. However, more fundamentally, the purpose and substance of the Bill is to regulate employment rights and duties and industrial relations. This is a reserved matter, so the consent of devolved Parliaments for this legislation is rightly not required. To add in a requirement for this, as the amendment seeks to do, would create significant inconsistency with wider employment law and I suggest that it would also disturb the careful balance of the UK’s devolution settlement. We will of course, as we have throughout the passage of the Bill, continue to seek to engage with the devolved Governments as part of the development of minimum service levels in those areas.

Finally, Motion B1, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, relates to additional consultation requirements, assessment of impacts of the legislation and parliamentary scrutiny. As has been made clear to this House many times, sufficient checks and balances are already built into the legislation before regulations can be made. Motion B1 would delay implementation of minimum service levels for an indefinite period and thus extend the disproportionate impact that strikes can have on the public. I am afraid that the Government simply cannot accept that.

This Government recognise the significant role that the UK Parliament has played in scrutinising instruments. New Section 234F already ensures that the regulations will receive the appropriate level of scrutiny by both Houses and are subject to usual processes for consultation. I therefore urge this House not to amend the Bill in such a way that would cause significant delay to implementing minimum service levels, use up precious parliamentary time to duplicate parliamentary procedures and set some unhelpful precedents for future legislation. For all those reasons, the Government resist Motions A1 and B1 and I hope that noble Lords will agree not to press them. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd
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Moved by

At end insert “and do propose Amendment 1B in lieu—

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, I was so enjoying the debate on Motion A1 that I failed to stand up and speak to Motion B1 in my name. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for not providing him with sufficient up-to-date quotations, but he seemed to manage. We have spent so much time on the Bill together that we probably know how each other thinks.

We are in familiar territory, and indeed were too with Motion A1, because this is a long-repeated trope of this Government. They seek to override not only the devolved authorities but our own Parliament here. Bill after Bill has measures that take powers that should rightfully be vested in Parliament and lodge them firmly with the Executive, with very little or negligible recourse. This amendment seeks to regain that balance.

We have had similar discussions many times. I will not go over all these, but I will remind the House very briefly why, in this case, it is very important. The centrepiece of this legislation is a system of predetermined minimum service levels which may be used by employers to determine the minimum manning levels in the event of a strike. If a strike is called, specific work orders have to be or may be issued, requiring named individuals to ignore the strike and go to work. If they do not, as the Bill stands, they can be sacked.

The scale of the minimum service level is key. The nearer it is to 100% of normal service, the smaller the number of people who can legitimately and legally strike becomes—to the point that it becomes almost zero, or zero, and strikes are banned. This is not an abstract argument: if you look at certain areas of emergency care or issues such as rail track signalling, it is clear that a very high level of presenteeism will be required to run those services. In effect, those people on that work order will therefore have their right to strike banned. Speaking as a Liberal, I say that this is a libertarian issue that we find very important.

The setting of these minimum services levels is a vital part of how this Bill will operate. As the Minister has said, some non-binding consultation is under way but as things stand, to all intents and purposes the scale of the minimum service levels is the Secretary of State’s decision and theirs alone. We find that unacceptable.

The Commons declined our last amendment on the grounds that there is “adequate consultation”. We think that there is not and would like to ask the Commons to revisit that process. This amendment would require that consultation takes place and is reviewed by a committee of each House of Parliament prior to regulations being made. That consultation would be more formal and set out in some detail compared to the informal and ad hoc nature of the consultation that is going on. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, when he was quoting me, those consulted will include the relevant unions, employers and other interested parties and would include an assessment of the impact on the rights of those workers.

The Minister talked about time and how this would wrap up the process into indefinite time. I remind your Lordships that the original Bill from which this Bill is generated started about a year ago. That Bill of course referred to what was in the Conservative Party manifesto, unlike this one, which has been broadened way beyond the scope of what was in the manifesto. The Government have shown themselves very adept at setting up time for such things to be debated, yesterday being an example. I am sure that time is not the issue—“won’t” rather than “can’t” is what we are dealing with here.

In short, we seek through this Motion to regularise the consultation process and give a mandatory role for Parliament that is far more than we see. With most Governments, this might not be controversial but with this one there has been a pattern and it is systematic, so here we seek to reassert the role of parliamentary democracy. My noble friend talked about there being the potential for a constitutional crisis around the treatment of government and the devolved authorities, I think we are already heading in the same direction with the treatment by this Government of our Parliament.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all those who have contributed. The House will be pleased to know that I do not intend to detain noble Lords for very long. We have debated these matters extensively on a number of occasions in a very rigorous manner, so I do not intend to repeat all the arguments. But, let me just say very briefly, particularly in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, that we are certain that the minimum service levels are a reserved matter. They are reserved because they obviously apply only when there are strikes, which fall within employment rights and industrial relations. This is clearly a reserved matter under each of the devolution settlements for Scotland and Wales. Put another way, the Bill amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the subject of which is specifically reserved under each of these settlements. I always hesitate to disagree with distinguished lawyers on matters of law but I am afraid that we just have a different opinion on this.

I addressed the points from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, in my opening remarks and will not repeat that. I acknowledge all those who have spoken. I understand the strength of opinion in the House on this but once again I point the House towards the other place—the elected place—and the clear will it has expressed on these matters. I urge the House not to prolong this matter unnecessarily and, while it looks as though we are going to vote on the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I am grateful that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, indicated that he would not be dividing the House.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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I beg the House’s leave to withdraw my Motion.

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Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2A.

2A: Because the Bill already contains adequate consultation requirements.
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Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 4 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 4A.

4A: Because in order for the legislation to be effective, it is necessary for there to be consequences for an employee who fails to comply with a work notice.
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, in moving Motion C, with the leave of the House, I will also speak to Motion D.

Motions C and D in my name cover this House’s Amendments 4, 5, 6 and 7, which removed key parts of the legislation that are necessary to make it effective and to ensure that minimum service levels can in fact be achieved. It is therefore unsurprising that the other place resolved against these amendments with, I remind the House once again, larger majorities than those that amended the Bill in this House. The Government continue to maintain that the approach taken by this legislation is fair and proportionate. To achieve a minimum service level, employers, workers and trade unions all have their part to play.

Motion C and the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, proposed in lieu of Lords Amendment 4, deal with the consequences of non-compliance with a work notice. As I have said previously, the approach taken by this legislation is fair and proportionate. It enables employers to manage instances of non-compliance in exactly the same way that they would with any other unauthorised absence.

As I have made clear on a number of occasions, an employee losing their automatic protection from unfair dismissal for industrial action, if they participated in a strike contrary to a work notice, does not automatically mean that they will be dismissed—just as failing to attend work without a valid reason normally does not mean that they will be dismissed. It simply enables employers to pursue disciplinary action if they believe it is appropriate, but it is ultimately at the discretion of the employer. I believe that this is the right approach to ensure that minimum service levels will be achieved, while protecting workers in a way that aligns with existing legislation. On that basis, I resist the amendment proposed in lieu.

On Motion D, which covers the role of trade unions, it appears in the amendment proposed in lieu of Lords Amendment 5 that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, accepts that there may be a role for unions to play in ensuring that minimum service levels can be met. However, I strongly believe that it cannot be at the discretion of a trade union as to whether and how it advises and encourages its members to comply with work notices. There must be some consequences if they do not take reasonable steps. On that basis, the Government therefore resist this amendment.

I have noted the feedback from the House, including in the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Government are willing to consider whether there may be a case for providing further details on what “reasonable steps” are and what it means for trade unions. What we cannot do, however, is accept an amendment such as the one proposed. Without a responsibility for unions to ensure that their members comply, and without any incentives for employees to attend work on a strike day when they have been identified in a work notice, the effectiveness of this legislation is, I am afraid, severely undermined—and I suspect that is the purpose of the amendments.

I cannot therefore accept a continuation of the risk to lives and livelihoods as a result of the disproportionate impact of these strikes. I therefore ask that the House supports Motions C and D to address this, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will not move their respective Motions C1 and D1. I beg to move.

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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, we have once again had a reasonably full debate on these matters, so the House will be relieved that I will keep my response brief. We have largely covered many of these points before, so we do not need to repeat them.

Briefly, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, I restate the view of the Government that this Bill is not about sacking workers, and nor is it about forced labour, which is a frankly ridiculous exaggeration. It simply equips employers to manage instances of non-compliance with a work notice. That is exactly the same situation as any other strike action that is not protected under existing legislation.

To be clear, under the original drafting of the Bill an employee who went on strike contrary to being named on a work notice would lose their automatic protection from unfair dismissal only provided that they were notified in advance of the requirement for them to work and that they must comply with the work notice. We expect employees to be told if they are required to work and, in that case, what work they are required to do. In such circumstances, it is reasonable for an employer to consider, if it wishes, disciplinary action if an individual none the less chooses to continue to strike, thereby putting the public at risk. It is at the discretion of the employer as to what, if any, disciplinary action is taken in these circumstances. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, the Government expect employers to be fair and reasonable and to take this action only where it is necessary.

Unions must have a role to play in minimum service levels, otherwise they would be able to induce people to strike as normal and take steps to undermine minimum service levels being achieved. That directly counters the objectives of this policy. The consequences of a union failing to play that role are consistent with any other failures by a union to comply with any other existing law.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, as I said in my opening speech the Government are willing to consider whether there is a case to provide further detail on what reasonable steps are, what this means for trade unions and how they might fulfil those obligations.

I stress to this House that Motions C1 and D1 would continue the prolonged and disproportionate impact of strike action on the public. With this legislation, the Government are taking a fair and proportionate approach to balance the fundamental ability of unions and their members to strike, on the one hand, with the need for the wider public to access some of the key services that they expect and pay for, on the other. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Grady, do not push their amendments. I commend the government Motions to the House.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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I wish to test the opinion of the House.

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Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That this House do not insist on its Amendments 5, 6 and 7, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 5A, 6A and 7A.

5A: Because the amendment would remove the requirement for a union to take reasonable steps to ensure that members comply with a work notice in order for strike action to be protected, and this would reduce the impact of the legislation.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2B to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2C.

2C: Because the Bill already contains adequate provision for consultation and parliamentary control of regulations made under it.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, in moving Motion A, with the leave of the House, I will speak also to Motions B and C.

The Bill returns to us once again from the other place. That House has been consistently very clear, for the second time now, that it is firm in its position on the remaining three amendments. When we were last here, this House asked the Commons to reconsider its position and, unsurprisingly, it has reached exactly the same conclusion as it did previously. Indeed, it has done so by greater majorities than before and, in some cases, by the greatest majority that we have so far seen on the Bill. Therefore, I propose Motions to accept the Commons position on the Bill and give way to the elected House.

We have discussed these amendments in detail throughout the Bill’s passage. The Government’s position remains that they cannot accept amendments which would delay the implementation of this much-needed legislation or, indeed, render it entirely inoperable. The Government have been clear in both Houses that they are willing to consider providing clarity on the nature of the “reasonable steps” which unions are expected to take to fulfil their obligations under the Bill. This is a significant issue, which I know a number of Members of this House have raised throughout the Bill’s passage. However, as yet, we have not had any indication that this would be widely supported.

Amendment 2D significantly expands on previous versions of Lords Amendment 2 in a way that will not, I believe, add to the effectiveness of the regulations. The Government have already undertaken public consultations on their intentions to bring forward minimum service levels for passenger rail services, ambulance services and fire and rescue services. We will bring forward regulations for approval in Parliament in due course. This is an entirely reasonable legislative approach enabling the Government to consider all relevant factors, including our international obligations, while at the same time ensuring that minimum service levels are introduced in good time.

I remind the House that, as the Government have made clear through the passage of the Bill, employees will lose their automatic unfair dismissal protection for going on strike in contravention of a work notice only if they receive notification from the employer that they are required to work under a work notice and notification of the work that they must carry out. Finally, impact assessments will be published alongside the final regulations.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will acknowledge that the effect of his amendment would be to delay significantly the implementation of minimum service levels, given the additional and lengthy consultation and parliamentary requirements; I heavily suspect that that is probably its purpose. On behalf of the Government, I must therefore resist it today. I hope that the noble Lord will not feel the need to put it to a vote.

This amendment remains unnecessary and would delay the implementation of this vital legislation, which is designed to protect the public from the disproportionate impacts of the ongoing strike action. I therefore ask noble Lords to support the Government’s Motions on the Order Paper today. I beg to move.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Moved by
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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the amendment, as set out so thoroughly and excellently by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I have very little to say; I will make just three points.

First, noble Lords who have been observing will remember that on a number of occasions I have proposed amendments that try to give Parliament more say on what is going on. Having got to where we are, I am happy to subsume that objective within the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has set forward, but it remains an important and missing element in the Bill. We should not forget that.

The noble Lord also set a lot of store by the recent ILO announcement. He is right to do so, but this amendment is necessary with or without it. The announcement makes it clear to us on these Benches that the Commons should be given another chance to reassess the Bill in the light of the details coming in from the ILO.

Finally, the Minister talks about delay. The first iteration of this Bill was drafted and laid before Parliament about a year ago. If the Government really are that breathless about getting this on the statute book, they could have moved a little quicker. This is about politics, not actually doing anything real out there. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, is right in that concern. Because of that, we will certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Collins, if he chooses to put this to a vote.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, as I said in my opening remarks, we have had a very similar debate a number of times, so I can keep my response brief. I have responded to these points previously, but I will make one point on the ILO report in response to the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Pannick and Lord Fox.

The ILO did not say that this legislation did not comply with the convention; it simply said that it should and that we should ensure that it does. In my view it does, as our response to the Parliamentary Question rightly said. I have made the point many times in this House that the ILO has been clear over many years that minimum service levels can be appropriate in public services of fundamental public importance. That is why many other countries in Europe and around the world that are signatories to the ILO have had minimum service levels in place for many years. The Liberal Democrats and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, normally urge us to go the way of Europe and follow what EU countries are doing. In this case, we are doing precisely that.

I therefore hope, although without a great deal of optimism, that noble Lords will cede to the wishes of the elected House and agree to the Government’s Motions, which would then bring this Bill’s passage to a close.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I will take the unusual but reasonable step of pressing this, for one good reason. The Minister talks about the ILO not saying that the Bill is non-compliant. Part of the problem is that no one knows what this law means. Trade unions do not know what reasonable steps they need to take to protect the right to strike. We heard the Minister confirm that workers who receive a work notice will lose protection from dismissal.

The Minister talks about the ILO and minimum service levels in Europe. Nobody is against minimum service levels. They are essential, but in every European country they work because they are agreed by voluntary agreement and because people consent. As soon as you remove that consent, you are in trouble. That is why employers are so against what the Government are arguing.

I know that it might feel a bit repetitive, but the ILO report is new and the Commons needs to consider it. I plead with all noble Lords: please support my Motion. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

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Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 4B to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 4C.

4C: Because in order for the legislation to be effective, it is necessary for there to be consequences for an employee who fails to comply with a work notice.
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That this House do not insist on its Amendments 5B, 5C and 5D to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 5E.

5E: Because amendment 5B would remove the requirement for a union to take reasonable steps to ensure that members comply with a work notice in order for strike action to be protected, and this would reduce the impact of the legislation, and amendments 5C and 5D are consequential on amendment 5B.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2D to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2E.

2E: Because the Bill already contains adequate provision for consultation and parliamentary control of regulations made under it.
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the House will be pleased to know that I can again be brief, as we have debated this Bill and the remaining issue at length on a number of occasions. The other place has again considered the Bill, as requested by this House. The House will be unsurprised to hear that it has come to the same conclusion as previously, again with a significant majority. This is now the third time that the other place has made its will clear, and I therefore hope that noble Lords will take that into account today.

Noble Lords last sent the Bill back to the other place with the justification that the International Labour Organization had issued new information. As my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business, noted in the debate there earlier this week, this is ground which has already been well covered by both Houses. I therefore hope that knowing that the other place has considered the issue again, and voted with that in mind, will give noble Lords the confidence that this issue has now been extensively scrutinised.

The Minister in the other place also explained that the Government will provide clarity in respect of the reasonable steps which a union must take to be compliant with the legislation. I know that this has been a concern for the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in our previous debates. I am therefore pleased to confirm that the Government will bring forward a statutory code of practice on the reasonable steps which a union must take. We will do that using existing powers under Section 203 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. That code will be subject to statutory consultation, including with ACAS, and will of course need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. This consultation will provide an opportunity for trade unions, employers and any other interested parties to contribute to providing practical guidance on the steps that a union must take to make the code as practicable, durable and effective as possible.

I hope these steps go some way to reassuring the House that the Government’s plans for minimum service levels are within our international obligations and that we will provide clarity where that is required. I hope therefore that this House will now feel able to allow this legislation to pass to Royal Assent. I beg to move.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, in form, this skeleton legislation with its Henry VIII powers defies every legislative principle, as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Select Committee on the Constitution have reported. As to content, the less said the better. Although the Government’s impact assessment was held by the Regulatory Policy Committee to be not fit for purpose, it contains the revealing analysis that, far from obviating the disruption that strikes inevitably cause, the Bill

“could mean a general increase in tension between unions and employers. This may result in more adverse impacts in the long term, such as an increased frequency of strikes for each dispute”.

No doubt that is part of the reason why employers, as well as trade unions, have opposed the Bill.

This House tried to redeem the Bill with amendments to protect workers from unfair dismissal and unions from damages and injunctions, as required by international law, but the Government’s majority in the other place rejected them. This House, in its latest modest amendment, sought to mitigate the Bill’s excesses by requiring consultation before regulations were made, but even this was rejected by the other place on Monday.

The fact is that the Bill abridges the right to strike, a right established by many international treaties to which the UK adheres. A letter written by the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation to the Secretary of State the day before yesterday sums it up. She said:

“It is clear that the Bill introduces provisions which weaken or reduce existing law in relation to the protection of the fundamental right to strike and which do not respect or implement ILO Convention 87”.


The Joint Committee on Human Rights said the same thing. The letter points out the specific respects in which the Bill fails to meet ILO conditions for permissible MSL legislation. Among its list of non-compliances, the letter points to the absence in the Bill of: any requirement for trade union and employer dialogue in the setting of MSLs; any obligation on the employer to negotiate an agreement with the trade union about service levels; and any independent adjudication mechanism in the event of a failure to agree.

Your Lordships’ amendment would have gone a long way to rectify these non-compliances without such remedial action. As ETUC points out, the UK will not only be in breach of ILO Convention 87 and paragraph 4 of Article 6 of the European Social Charter, but it will also violate Articles 387 and 399 of the trade and co-operation agreement. However, the Government have a problem with consultation with the social partners. Just a week ago, the High Court held that the purpose of the statutory obligation to consult before making regulations under the Employment Agencies Act was that:

“Parliament can then proceed on the basis that the case for the measure has been tested with interested parties in the sector and that their views and interests have been taken into consideration in fashioning the draft regulations which are laid before it”.


The Government’s failure to consult was, the court held,

“so unfair as to be unlawful and, indeed, irrational”.

Less than a month ago, the relevant ILO committee told

“the Government to provide information to and facilitate the dialogue between and with the social partners with a view to … improve consultation of the social partners on legislation of relevance to them”.

Of course I accept that the undertaking by the noble Lord to introduce a code of practice imports a duty to consult, but such consultation is apparently limited solely to the issue of reasonable steps. It does not require the social dialogue that compliance with international law does. In truth, as was said by Mick Whitley MP in the other place,

“no number of amendments could ever salvage this Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/7/23; col. 721.]

That is why the Labour Party is committed to repealing it.

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Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Collins, and I completely associate myself with their critical process and legal analysis of this Bill. From the outset, this was a political Bill and I make no apology at the end of this process for making a political comment.

It may have escaped your Lordships’ notice, but there are three by-elections going on today across different parts of the country. In knocking on those doors, the number one or number two concern of the people in those houses in those communities is the delivery of the health service in this country. I refer to this Bill and the challenge that this Government have in dealing with the industrial disputes going on within the health service. It is quite clear that this Bill will do nothing to bring those disputes to an end and, if it is deployed, it would exacerbate them. Those people answering their doors and talking to politicians as they are being canvassed would love to have a minimum service level every day of the week. The Government need to solve this industrial issue as well as the service delivery within the health service, and this Bill when it becomes an Act will do nothing towards doing that.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all three noble Lords who have contributed to today’s debate. The Government always listen carefully to the views of this House.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, I have seen the letter from the European TUC, which I read with interest. I am sure the noble Lord will accept that it is hardly an impartial referee on these matters. It is also fair to say that it had nothing new to say. We have been over all this ground many times before and have provided explanations of the type it has sought.

It is also fair to point out that, in our view, this legislation is compatible with the ILO convention, and I am sure the noble Lord will accept that there are many other ILO states that already have minimum service levels as part of their domestic legislation. We will, of course, ensure that any secondary legislation is also in compliance with all our international obligations.

I can also confirm in response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the Government will launch a consultation on the draft code this summer, following consultation with ACAS. The code will be put to both Houses for approval in line with the procedure set out in Section 204 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act, and we will consult for an appropriate period.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Can the noble Lord be more explicit? We are just about to go into the Summer Recess. August is a month when many people take holidays. I hope that he will be able to confirm, as with the previous statutory codes, that the public consultation will start in September and run for 12 weeks at least.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am afraid I cannot confirm that for the noble Lord. No final decisions have been taken yet, but it is our intention to get on with this as quickly as possible, so we will consult over the summer. We will leave an adequate period for responses to that consultation and then, as I said, the code will have to be approved by both Houses.

I understand the Opposition’s principled objection to this Bill. Taking on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I suppose all legislation is political. We are a political House at the end of the day. We are all party politicians, so it should not be a great surprise to find that legislation is also political.

We have thoroughly debated this matter now on many different occasions. The House has asked the Commons to think again on a number of occasions; they have done so and have responded. I appreciate that noble Lords opposite do not like the outcome, but it is what it is. In our view, this is a vital piece of legislation that will give the public confidence that, when workers strike—which they are fully entitled to do—lives and livelihoods are not put at undue risk.

I hope the House, despite the reservations of noble Lords opposite, will now let this legislation pass to Royal Assent.

Motion A agreed.