Previous Section Home Page

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 281, in clause 113, page 85, line 11, after discipline', insert

otherwise than by an act in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute to which the Secretary of State is a party being a Minister falling within section 244(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.'.

No. 280, in page 85, line 18, at end insert

(3A) Where the relevant act or breach of duty under subsection (1) or subsection (3) above is done or committed as the case may be in contemplation of a trade dispute, the court shall

Column 334

not entertain an action for damages and the remedies available to the Secretary of State or other plaintiff shall be a declaration or an injunction.'.

Government amendment No. 217.

Amendment No. 279, in page 85, leave out lines 40 to 42. Government amendments Nos. 218 and 219.

11 pm

Mr. Lloyd : In Standing Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister undertook to consider further the possible effect of the prohibition on inducing industrial action in clause 113 on the eligibility of the unions concerned to hold a certificate of independence under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. We have always made it clear that we want independent, effective and responsible trade unions in the Prison Service and that there should be no bar to the ability of unions which represent prison staff to be granted certificates of independence provided that the usual criteria are met. Certification grants significant rights and we want the prison staff to have them.

However, on further investigation, it appeared that there was a risk that, as matters stand, the certification officer might reach the conclusion that clause 113 would limit the unions' freedom of action in a way that would call into question their entitlement to a certificate of independence. Amendment No. 217 eliminates that risk by requiring the certification officer to disregard clause 113 when deciding whether a union is entitled to a certificate of independence.

We also needed to consider the possibility that, because of the anomalous position under existing law, as declared in the rulings on the November injunctions, the certification officer may deem it necessary to delist the unions concerned and cancel their existing certificates of independence before the Bill comes into force. Amendment No. 216 deals with that situation by retrospectively overruling any such delisting or cancellation of a certificate. Therefore, I hope that the House will agree that the amendments honour the undertaking that my hon. Friend gave in Committee and I commend them to the House on that basis.

Mr. Michael : I am grateful to the Minister for responding to some of the fears that were expressed in Committee. It is quite clear, as we stressed at that stage, that an extremely untidy situation has arisen due to a rather opportunistic approach by the Government, which has left the prison officers, the Prison Governors Association and the unions involved in an extremely difficult position. Putting things right over registration is not sufficient.

I especially draw to the attention of the House amendment No. 281, which restores some fairness. The amendment effectively restores the right to take most industrial action. Without the amendment, representatives of prison officers would not enjoy any freedom to engage in collective action. The amendment says that industrial action is legal where the trade dispute is with the Secretary of State. That makes disputes between a union and the Prison Service legal, and with the addition of section 244(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, it makes it clear that, although the Secretary of State is not the direct employer, the dispute is still with him.

Section 244(2) of that Act goes on to say that the dispute is a valid one where a matter has been considered by a joint

Column 335

body--set up by clause 114--and would include discussions on pay and conditions, or is valid where it cannot be settled by negotiation. That covers other eventualities. The Bill makes the Secretary of State responsible for pay, but gives prison officers no negotiating rights. That is the heart of our objection to the unamended clauses. It gives the prison officers nothing in return.

It could be argued that when there are people who have special responsibilities--the police are in such a category and it may be argued that prison officers are as well--and therefore there are difficulties about taking specific forms of disruptive industrial action, there should be a guarantee against that. If that is desired, such people should be given something in return--for example, a right that guarantees fairness in any negotiations. The mechanism that has avoided disputes in the fire service is precisely such a case in point. At present--the Bill responds to a muddied situation that arose during the latter part of 1993--there is no such balance in the Bill. Clause 112, in tandem with clause 114, does not guarantee a fair negotiating process for pay and conditions. Prison officers will no longer have any real power in determining their pay and conditions. The net effect of the amendment would be to force the Secretary of State to be a registered party in any dispute ; it would not allow him to abdicate responsibility to the Prison Service and thus wash his hands of any dispute matters. It is extremely questionable whether the end result of the Government's amendment is legitimate in a variety ways as it stands. We urge the Government to accept our amendment. If they then wish to negotiate different arrangements that would guarantee continuity of management as well as fairness for those employed in the Prison Service, that is the way forward that they should take.

Earlier, we were concerned to hear the comments--made not only by the Prison Officers Association but by the Prison Governors Association--about the dangers in our prisons. We were also concerned about the number of occasions on which they made responsible comments about not only their own conditions but the adequacy of the Prison Service and the public interest. We are worried that, despite the amendment introduced by the Minister, there will still be constraints on that. It would not be in the public interest--never mind in the interest of those who serve in the Prison Service--for the Bill to proceed unamended. In order to be brief, I shall commend amendment No. 281. If it is not accepted by the Government, I call on my hon. Friends, and any hon. Members who want to see fairness between the employees and the Prison Service, to support the amendment in the Lobby.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Anyone who heard the Minister's speech introducing the amendments--we recognise that the speech was a concession to concerns expressed in Committee--will realise full well why prison officers feel so resentful about so many features of the Bill. The Minister said that the Government have so removed the normal trade union powers of the Prison Officers Association, and, indeed, the Prison Governors Association, that they risk not being recognised as a trade union at all. Therefore, tortuous procedures must be introduced in the Bill--in one case, retrospectively--to

Column 336

restore the formal status of the trade union to an organisation that has been deprived of powers that it has had for many years. I am not in favour of prison officers taking what is sometimes euphemistically called industrial action. Industrial action is a bad idea, and on many occasions I have put that case to prison officers. On many occasions, I have found ready agreement from them because they do not approve of it either. It is not in any sense a normal part of bargaining or negotiating for prison officers. If the powers, together with the other features of the Bill which they resent so much, were removed in such a way, it would be damaging to moral in the Prison Service, and no return is being offered by the Government.

Other features of the Bill assume that prison officers will come to the rescue when chaos arises in privatised prisons or privatised escort services, or take for granted the willingness and commitment of prison officers, although their traditional negotiating rights are removed without any alternative being offered. The way in which the Minister introduced the amendments--this was underlined by his words that the Government have stripped trade union rights from prison officers and had to go through a face-saving procedure to restore at least the minimum recognition to their organisation--is a mark of the unreasonable treatment of prison officers on whom we depend to contain extremely violent, extremely badly behaved and, in some cases, dangerous prisoners. Rather than taking that work for granted, we should recognise more properly the contribution that prison officers make to our society and not be quite so ready to remove the rights that they have traditionally enjoyed.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and to say that I hope that there will be support for amendment No. 281. Here we have a highly responsible trade union that has not taken national action in 55 years. I wonder why the Government are being so vindictive towards it, stripping away the rights of people who have acted extremely responsibly. I cannot do better than to quote the words of Lord Justice Woolf in his report on the Prison Service : "Members of the prison service as a whole, against heavy odds, have managed over a number of years to contain an almost impossible situation by showing immense dedication, courage and


Yet their reward from the Government is to have their rights taken away. As has been said, we so often have to rely on them. They are a safety valve. They can tell us what is happening in prisons. The only time that they have taken action has been when they have been concerned about conditions and about safety in prisons. Yet that has been totally ignored by the Government. I ask that the Government think again on this matter and that hon. Members support amendment No. 281.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) made clear, the Opposition are seeking in various ways to weaken the protection that clause 113 provides for the Prison Service against prison officers being induced to withhold their services or commit breaches of discipline. In view of the serious consequences that such behaviour can have, the House will not be surprised to know that I do not accept the

Column 337

amendments. The Prison Service is an essential part of the criminal justice system, and events in the service towards the end of last year

Mr. Michael : May I come right to the kernel of this issue ? There is no argument about the importance of the service, but what will the Minister give to balance those things that he is taking away and, in all fairness, to reward the prison officers ?

Mr. Lloyd : I thought that it was probably a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I will be coming to that point, since he made particular play of it.

Even the hon. Gentleman will agree that events in the Prison Service towards the end of last year demonstrated how intolerable the effects of disruption can be if key prison staff are involved in industrial action. The action that was planned by the Prison Officers Association for last November would have resulted in some 1,700 prisoners being locked out within only 72 hours. The prisoners would then have had to be placed in police cells, causing disruption to the police, the courts, prisoners, their families and legal advisers. In a short space of time, almost all the available police cell capacity would have been exhausted and the functioning of the criminal justice system as a whole seriously impaired.

Because the prisons and the prison officers who run them are so crucial to the criminal justice system, it is surely wrong for anyone to seek to bring them out on strike or to commit breaches of discipline.

Mrs. Ewing : Given the Minister's comments just now, is he rewarding the prison officers as a result of that by withdrawing from them their rights as individuals and as trade unionists ? Will he also reward them by privatising many of the facilities about which he has spoken ?

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Lady had some debates with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland a little earlier. Although I should very much like to follow her down that track, because I believe that we are not privatising but bringing in contracted management to do exactly what the Home Secretary wants in the way of improving prisons, I think that the House would wish me to proceed with the amendments that are under debate. My strong impression in the aftermath of last November's abortive action, and I have visited some 40 prisons, was that many prison officers were relieved that they did not have to choose in the end between the union and what they saw as their duty as prison officers. The Government want good relations with the Prison Officers Association, and we have it in many of our prisons.

I hope that the national executive will follow the good example of so many of the union branches and agree to start discussions on a range of issues important to prison officers and to the service--not least a fair and effective new mechanism for settling pay.

11.15 pm

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth was wrong to say that the Bill does not give prison officers anything. Clause 114 permits the establishment of pay determination arrangements negotiated with the POA. It is up to them to take up the invitation to discuss with us what arrangements they would like. I hope that the hon. Gentleman--I am sure that he has the best interests of the Prison Service and its officers in mind--will use his best offices to persuade the NEC to talk to the Prison Service

Column 338

management. Many of the branches talk constructively and effectively, and with benefit, to the Prison Service and to the officers and governors.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 113 --

Inducements to withhold services or to indiscipline

Amendment proposed : No. 281, in page 85, line 11, after discipline', insert

otherwise than by an act in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute to which the Secretary of State is a party being a Minister falling within section 244(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.'.--[ Mr. Michael. ]

Question put , That the amendment be made :

The House divided : Ayes 243, Noes 290.

Division No. 206] [11.16 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beith, Rt Hon A. J.

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F.

Benton, Joe

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blair, Tony

Boateng, Paul

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Burden, Richard

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Cann, Jamie

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Chisholm, Malcolm

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cox, Tom

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John

Dafis, Cynog

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Denham, John

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Eagle, Ms Angela

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Faulds, Andrew

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fisher, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foster, Don (Bath)

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Garrett, John

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hain, Peter

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Harvey, Nick

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hinchliffe, David

Hoey, Kate

Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Hoon, Geoffrey

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hutton, John

Next Section

  Home Page