Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I do not think that I need say more than that I have added my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lester. In Committee we gave an undertaking that we would look again at the relevant section to make the situation absolutely clear regarding single sex clubs. Therefore, I am happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill moved Amendment No. 3:

Nothing in section 29A shall render unlawful—
(a) the provision of separate facilities or services, or the separate use of facilities or services, for men and women, if the facilities or services are provided for, or are likely to be used by two or more persons at the same time, and—
(i) the facilities or services are such, or those persons are such, that male users are likely to suffer serious embarrassment at the presence of a woman, or
(ii) the facilities or services are such that a user is likely to be in a state of undress and a male user might reasonably object to the presence of a female user; or
(iii) the facilities or services are such that physical contact between the user and any other person is likely, and that other person might reasonably object if the user were a woman; or
(b) the provision of facilities or services restricted to men, or of separate facilities or services, or the separate use of facilities or services for men and women, if—
(i) the association exists for the purposes of an organised religion, and
(ii) such restrictions or use are maintained so as to comply with the doctrines of that religion or avoid offending the religious susceptibilities of a substantial number of its followers."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 3 seeks to write into the Bill exceptions which seek to match the exceptions already in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which apply to Section 29 of that Act which concerns the provision of goods, services and facilities to the public. The exceptions are

22 May 2002 : Column 863

of a similar kind and are similarly worded to those in the proposed new Section 29AA. I shall give your Lordships the relevant cross-references. The analogy with the first part of the proposed new Section 29AA concerns Section 35(1)(i) and (ii) and Section 35(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act. That is what I call the "Turkish bath" exception. Where men and women are going to undress in front of each other and suffer personal embarrassment and so on, there is an exception, provided always that there are separate but equal facilities.

There is an even more obscure provision in proposed Clause 29AA(b), which has an analogy with Section 35(1)(b) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. It deals with bodies about which I know nothing; small religious study groups that for religious dogmatic reasons, good or bad, decide to have only women or only men reading Biblical texts or carrying out various religious activities. It aims to preserve freedom of association and freedom of religion and religious practices in legitimate areas where there should be exceptions. I hope that the critics of our work such as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, will appreciate that I am doing my best to strike a fair balance in the exceptions between the principle of equality and other principles which have to be recognised, including personal privacy and freedom of religion. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I rise to accept it.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, everyone wants to know the Government's view. We think it is a good idea.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Elton: My Lords, Amendment No. 4 has been formally spoken to. If it is accepted, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 5.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 3, leave out lines 1 to 12.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Public Services (Disruption) Bill [HL]

8.52 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Noble Lords will no doubt recall that it was the late Lady Castle of Blackburn—that spirited, courageous innovator—whose design, In Place of Strife, first proposed mandatory procedures which were subsumed in the Industrial Relations Act 1971, administered by the National Industrial Relations Court, a branch of the High Court, and within their limited remit worked to the satisfaction of both trade

22 May 2002 : Column 864

unions and employers. It is sad that we should be deprived of Lady Castle's contribution, which would assuredly have enhanced our debate.

The Bill, drafted and tabled at no one's behest, is but a tentative response to a matter of current concern, as expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of my party, who both said earlier this year that something had to be done to contain disruption of our public services occasioned by industrial action at the behest of trade unions. The Times reported on 22nd April that the Prime Minister also said that he was ready to don the mantle of my noble friend Lady Thatcher by confronting trade unions and doctors' organisations over health reform.

Health is one of the proposed designated services under Clause 3(2), as defined by the Standard Industrial Classification referred to in the Written Answer of 24th April, for which I am much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. According to the figures of the Office for National Statistics for 2000, out of a total of 499,000 working days lost, 122,000—more than a fifth—were lost through disruption of the health and social services by industrial action.

I am not a statistician and statistics can be misleading. They give only a broad guide to trend and dimension. Classification has changed from time to time, and privatisation has blurred the distinction between private and public sectors. But the Written Answer of 24th April was not before the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Public services, as identified by the Standard Industrial Classification supplied by the Registrar General of the Office for National Statistics, are embodied as designated services under Clause 3(2), as I said. It is not understood why there should be a problem with definition.

The Written Answer classifications embodied in Clause 3(2) show that the percentage of working days lost in public services out of all working days lost through collective action in 1996 was 91 per cent and in 2001, 83 per cent. That is the dimension; I am not interested in the accuracy of the figures, only the trend and the dimension, as a perspective in which the measure of current concern is seen. The right honourable Gentlemen said that something must be done, but neither has said what he proposes to do to contain disruption in public services.

Like most problems, it is not a new problem. The concept of the Bill, like most concepts, is not new. It could have materialised either in the form of the last step in a step-by-step approach or as envisaged in the Green Paper of November 1996, Command Paper 3470. On page 4 of the Green Paper, according to the Board of Trade statistics, in 1995 of the order of 75 per cent of all working days lost was in the public sector due to collective action.

The Bill proposes mandatory arbitration under Clause 1, applicable only to designated public services under subsections 3(2) and 3(3), which by amendment could be implemented by Order in Council. Employment is a reserved matter the Bill would apply to Scotland. Subsection 4(3) could be amended to

22 May 2002 : Column 865

bring the Bill into effect by Order in Council as suggested by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

The scheme of the Bill invokes the jurisdiction of the High Court. The arbitral award would be enforceable when made by order of the High Court, which under Clause 2 may sanction such industrial action if it is not "disproportionate" within the meaning of Clause 3(1). Unless sanctioned by the High Court, no designated public service may be disrupted by such action, as provided by Clause 2(1), a prohibition which is enforced by the High Court under Clause 2(2). This prohibition renders unlawful any such disruption of the public services by collective action at the behest of a trades union whether in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute with an employer or a political dispute with government on a matter of policy.

If any action is taken by government to be effective action, such action must be taken by primary legislation within a new framework of law, enforceable by the High Court. The principle, but not of this Bill, was discussed on 18th April when the Government were asked what action was being taken to contain disruption of public services. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who had worked at Downing Street as political adviser to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, during the "winter of discontent" serves as a tuning fork for today's debate. On that occasion he said that,

    "there is a case for exploring whether compulsory and binding arbitration, certainly in some industries, is the best way forward".

He later added:

    "The public want to see that the Government are aware that the storm clouds are gathering and they are not just waiting for the storm to break".—[Official Report, 18/4/02; cols. 1155-56.]

On that occasion, it was not possible to acknowledge the content of that remarkable speech, but I do so now.

My noble friend Lord Tebbit was of the opinion that if only the Government refrained from doing favours to their trade union financiers—I use his word and do not make it up—and repealed the human rights legislation, there would be no need for the Bill. That assumption was rebutted by my noble friend Lord Northesk, at col. 1158 of the Official Report of 18th April, in a well-reasoned argument.

The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, was of the opinion that the approach that was needed was "partnership allied to investment" and if we had that we would remove the need to strike and so render the Bill otiose. The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, went right off track to defend the trade union movement, an essential estate in our industrial society which assuredly was not under attack.

But what on earth is meant by "partnership allied to investment"? How does it remove the need to strike if policy is opposed by trades unions whose members are in the public services? Is not that the very cause, the fons et origo, of this disproportionate disruption with which we are all concerned? Is not that policy, without

22 May 2002 : Column 866

any specific commitment, but a catch-phrase devised by the political sorcerers as a kind of "placebo" for government in action?

Assuredly neither the anxiety of the public waiting for the storm clouds to break shall be allayed by that policy nor the intention of the Prime Minister to take effective steps to contain disruption of our public services could possibly be fulfilled by that proposal of policy. If the Bill were to commend itself in principle to be read for a second time, there would be a period of gestation in which amendments which afforded any effective constructive step would be welcome.

The Bill would permit "proportionate" industrial action, adjudged to be such, where, for example, a reduced or emergency service was left open to the public and substantial hardship and damage was not occasioned under Clause 3. And it would not affect the individual entitlement to withdraw or withhold labour.

It is common ground, is it not, that the constitutional entitlement of any government to govern on a matter of policy, subject to due parliamentary process, must be asserted and that some framework of law must now be introduced to protect the public and the economy from being taken hostage by disproportionate disruption of our public services?

A patient public has suffered far too much for far too long and to no great advantage to any trades union or to any government. I do not regard this as a political matter, although its resolution depends upon political action and on an undertaking to table amendments for clarification, as suggested by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Campbell of Alloway.)

9.8 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has pursued this matter with the doggedness of which we all know him to be capable. He has had a Starred Question and a debate on an Unstarred Question and now he is promoting a Bill. I am not sure how far the Bill will progress, but, as he indicated when quoting my remarks from the Unstarred Question debate, I think he is on to something that the Government should take seriously. It will not be sufficient to say that something must be done. We are already seeing the odd cloud in the sky suggesting the prospect of a gathering storm. There is evidence that a new breed of leader is coming to power in the trade union movement—people who seem to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing about industrial militancy.

As the noble Lord said, I was in Downing Street from 1976 to 1979 as political adviser to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. That time was probably the high water mark of trade union power. The influence that trade unions had, the dialogue that they had with government and the access that they had to senior Ministers were greater during that period than at any time in our history, and it was not all bad or negative.

22 May 2002 : Column 867

Union leaders such as the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, and Jack Jones made a major contribution to seeing us through economic crises that raised the question of whether Britain was governable. Of course, it all ended in the hubris of the winter of discontent and, when the Conservative government came to power, with the challenge to elected government that went beyond industrial disputes, using secondary picketing for political ends.

As a Member of another place, I voted against the original Bill produced by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. Looking back, I have probably come to the same conclusion as the Government. They did not try to repeal it when they got back to power. The lesson of the 1970s and 1980s was learnt and we have had a period of industrial calm, which has gone along with a period of considerable prosperity.

The danger is that the idea that strike action is acceptable in public services such as the Tube, the railways, the fire brigade and schools is creeping back into discussions. We have to face up to the challenge of industrial relations that amount in a way to secondary picketing. If a teacher goes on strike, it is not the director of education who is inconvenienced, but the working mum who does not know who is going to look after her children if the school is closed. As anyone who lives in or around London knows, if the Tube drivers go on strike, it is not the bosses at London Underground who are put through misery, but hundreds and thousands of London commuters. That is unacceptable.

There is a dilemma. Here I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, because deep in my psyche I believe that one of the bulwarks of a democracy is a free trade union movement. It is no accident that wherever tyranny, whether of right or left, has raised its head, the trade unions have been among the first institutions to be attacked.

The right to withdraw labour is strong within our system. During one recent dispute, an instant poll conducted by a television news programme asked whether the right to strike should be banned. The majority came out against. The British people realise that that is a fundamental freedom. The question is how best to promote the modernisation of our trade union movement that has taken place over the past 20 years and its rethinking of the role of unions and how they serve their members. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, rightly said, there is nothing new under the sun.

In the early 1980s, the now departed Social Democratic Party—the SDP—promoted the idea, under the noble Lord, Lord Owen, of pendulum arbitration backed by law. That is not simply a matter of legislating against the trade unions. It would be prudent for the trade unions, particularly those in the public services, to think of ways of building into our system a means of getting social justice for their members that does not involve punishing the public at large. There is a limit to the public's patience. The British people are slow to anger but they do not like to see power being abused. In some recent disputes,

22 May 2002 : Column 868

particularly that involving the Tube, power has been abused. The idea that not liking a certain system of privatisation or code of safety allows one to bring the whole service to a halt and to hurt hundreds of thousands of people is simply not acceptable.

The approach of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, deserves more than a dead bat from the Minister. We no longer have a Minister of Labour. I am not sure where responsibility for industrial relations rests these days; we have come a long way. It is 38 years since Ray Gunter emerged from Downing Street and said, "I've got the bed of nails", which was the old Ministry of Labour. There is still a role for government in promoting a different approach to industrial relations—they should not to allow us to slip back into bad old ways. As I said in the speech to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, referred, in the end the loser will be the trade union movement itself.

I hope that I shall be permitted one last heresy. On the death of Lady Castle, I thought about the pain that the labour movement would have been spared if it had had the wisdom to follow her In Place of Strife. I know that that did not carry entirely with my later employer, the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. The chance to anticipate legislation and to be constructive about industrial relations was missed. It was left to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and other Conservative Ministers to put through the industrial relations reforms that were needed.

In this Bill, and in his previous actions, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has highlighted a real and present danger to industrial relations. The warning signs are there. Certain trade unions and certain trade union leaders are willing to use the power that public service gives them to hurt the public in order to further political and industrial ends. That is as unacceptable today as it was in the late 1970s. The Government would be well advised to take notice of those warning clouds and to use the initiative offered by the noble Lord as a spur to ensure that the trade union movement anticipates the problem and is willing to address it. As I said, if it does not and if the British public see such abuse and the Government are unwilling to address that abuse, they will find a government who will.

9.18 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Campbell on securing this Second Reading debate and thank him for the customary lucidity and attention to detail of his explanation of its purpose and provisions. I think it appropriate too at this stage to make the point that we should not underestimate the wealth and breadth of my noble friend's experience and expertise in this field. On a previous occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, rightly referred to the fact that industrial relations—in the public services and more generally—have over the years been an area of policy in which my noble friend specialised and took a keen and active interest.

22 May 2002 : Column 869

As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, this Second Reading debate follows my noble friend's Unstarred Question on the matter a month or so ago. I do not propose to rehearse the substance of those arguments but I stress a point that I made on that occasion; namely, that we on these Benches are wholly and wholeheartedly committed to the ideals of the public services. As my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith said only yesterday:

    "Poor public services are not fair. They hit the vulnerable the hardest".

Therefore, although we may disagree about the method to be used, all of us are under an obligation to secure improved service delivery for the public. My noble friend's Bill is aimed at a specific area where progress can be made to that end.

It is also important to put on the record two substantive and significant conclusions, if not points of agreement of all sides of the House, that I believe emanated from our previous debate. First, irrespective of whether the proposition of my noble friend can be seen as a natural progression from previous legislation in this field, the context into which it is being introduced is significantly distinct from conditions that may have prevailed in former times. At its simplest, this can be characterised by the perception that our citizens now have rights to essential services which should not be lightly or, to use the phrasing on the face of my noble friend's Bill, "excessively" or "disproportionately" removed or interfered with.

As Janet Daley puts it in today's Daily Telegraph:

    "Services should be tailored to people's individual needs, not to government directives. Flexibility and choice are what we have come to expect".

Moreover, it is significant—I have no hesitation in reitering this point—that the Government accede to this analysis in the report of the Performance and Innovation Unit entitled, Reforming Our Public Services: Principles into Practice. I repeat a passage from page eight of the report that I have cited previously:

    "Public services . . . have to be refocused round the needs of the patients, the pupils, the passengers and the general public rather than the problems of those who provide the services".

I turn to the second point to emanate from the previous debate. Given that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, at col. 1153 of Hansard on 18th April,

    "rumblings of discontent can be heard throughout the public sector",

the debate that my noble friend has initiated, and is carrying through with this Bill today, is both necessary and timely. I need not labour the point by citing current examples—the previous debate achieved that purpose well enough. Rather, I can do no better than quote the noble Lord, Lord McNally, directly. Quite simply, in the words of the noble Lord during the previous debate, the issue to be addressed is,

    "how we can build a system of industrial relations within our public services which gives the freedom of trade unions but also recognises the rights of the wider community".—[Official Report, 18/4/02; col. 1156.]

22 May 2002 : Column 870

In other words, what the noble Lord defined tonight as a gathering storm.

Moreover, as my noble friend has made plain, a particular theme of the Prime Minister's period in office has been to emphasise the need for reform in, and a restructuring of, the essential services as a mechanism to guarantee improved delivery to the public. I hope that I do not misrepresent my noble friend's purpose if I suggest that, in terms, this is what his Bill is seeking to do. Therefore, it follows logically that, to this extent, the case for it is made. It may well not be the only solution to the problem, but it is none the less a solution.

I turn to the Bill. Happily my noble friend's exposition of his purpose has been precise. Accordingly, I do not need to enunciate each clause of the Bill in turn. However, I offer this summary, principally to ensure that I have correctly understood the intention: the right to strike of unions designated by an order made by the Secretary of State will be subject to the adjudication of the High Court as to whether the proposed industrial action would be excessive or disproportionate as the means to resolve the dispute. In essence it is a commendably simple and straightforward proposition. It is also striking that, at its heart, there is an acknowledgement of the passage into law of the Human Rights Act; in other words, it is in tune with the Prime Minister's obeisance to the principle that the grant of rights carries with it attendant responsibilities.

We should not be surprised by this, given that my noble friend has served with such distinction on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. But it underlines a significant aspect of the Bill; namely, its deference to principles of proportionality and equity. The sensitivities of all those involved in, or affected by, disputes in the essential services—the unions, the public and the employers, be they public or private—are attended to and respected. In other words, the construct of my noble friend's proposition is equitable both to the customers of the public services concerned and to the workforces and employers.

I confess that I have read the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on the Bill with interest. I am somewhat nonplussed by the committee's question, at paragraph 5, as to whether,

    "it is appropriate to leave the scope of the bill to be decided entirely by the Secretary of State".

As I read the Bill, any order issued by the Secretary of State under its terms will be subject to affirmative resolution and therefore will be exposed to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny by both Houses.

Also at paragraph 5, the committee makes the following recommendation:

    "The House may think it preferable to amend the bill to include a definition of 'public service' which lists at least some services while allowing an order to add to the list".

I have no criticism of that. I merely note in passing that all of us who participated in my noble friend's Unstarred Question on this matter were well seized of what he had in mind in using that term.

22 May 2002 : Column 871

Perhaps previous terminology gives rise to some confusion here. Certainly a broad spectrum of possible interpretations could be applied, ranging from "public sector" on the one hand, through to "public services" to "essential services" on the other. But I am certain that my noble friend will have thought extremely carefully about that point before deciding upon using the phrase "public services" on the face of the Bill.

Indeed, it occurs to me that, at many levels, the committee's concerns on that point are as much an issue about the way in which the context of public service has changed in recent times as anything else. None the less, if the concerns of the committee do pose difficulties, as my noble friend has so generously intimated, we can attend to them as of need during later stages of the Bill.

In conclusion, we warmly applaud my noble friend in his initiative. At the very least, we can hope that it will focus the mind of the Government on how they intend to address the matter. That is desirable in its own right. Not surprisingly, therefore, we look forward with keen anticipation to the response of the Minister. For our part, we on these Benches recognise that public service delivery stands at the very top of the political agenda—a point that I made in the Unstarred Question a month or so ago.

Throughout the life of this Parliament, and very probably for some time into the future, this will be a recurring theme that we shall need to revisit on a regular basis. Irrespective of whether my noble friend's proposal is the right way forward so far as concerns the specific aspect of the problem, we on these Benches have every intention of being engaged in this ongoing debate in a constructive and coherent way.

9.28 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is appropriate that I start with the usual disclaimer. The Government do not take a formal view for or against Private Members' Bills, and therefore we shall take no steps to oppose the Bill's progress through your Lordships' House.

Having said that, of course I commend the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, for his doggedness in pursuing this matter—pursuing it, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, in a number of Starred Questions over a period of time, in Written Questions and, of course, in an Unstarred Question just over a month ago. It is incumbent on me to give an indication as to our analysis of the problem which the noble Lord claims to identify and to look at whether the solutions proposed in the Bill are appropriate.

I start with the nature of the problem that is claimed to be before us. We have figures for industrial disputes in 2001—they come in calendar years. In the year 2001, 510,000 days were lost in industrial disputes. That is the seventh lowest figure since statistics started to be collected in 1891. We had 181 stoppages. That is the second lowest figure since those figures started to be collected in 1920.

I must ask the question: what is the problem being identified of industrial disputes in the public sector? Clearly, there are threats of disputes. There are new

22 May 2002 : Column 872

leaders of public sector trade unions who have been elected on the basis of threatening greater militancy. But the facts do not bear out the claim that there is a new problem of industrial disputes in the public sector.

The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, when he took part in the debate on the Unstarred Question last month, said that 20 years ago when he was responsible for these matters he did not take the view that special restrictions should be placed on industrial action in public services. If that were true then, how much more is it true now? He was talking at a time when disruption in the public services was many times greater than it is today.

I turn to the analysis of this claimed problem. It is also the fact that trade union legislation, as described so graphically by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in the late 1970s is very different from the situation at the end of the first Parliament of the Labour Government. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, rightly said, we did not seek to overturn the whole panoply of industrial employment legislation which was introduced by a Conservative government. Instead we introduced the Employment Relations Act 1999. Those who were involved—as I was—in the passage of that Bill will recognise that it was an extremely hard-fought compromise between the wishes of the employers, as expressed by the CBI, and those of the trade unions, as expressed by the Trades Union Congress. The Act had an 80-page schedule—a detailed and definitive statement of the conditions in which disputes were permitted and the precautions which had to be gone through before they were permitted.

My preliminary view on that is that the provisions of the 1999 Act are working rather well. Even if that view is disputed—and there are those who dispute it—we have always undertaken that there would be a review of the 1999 Act. The review starts next month, in June of this year. The results of it will be made public. If there is any legislative action which needs to be taken, it is our intention that it will be taken in the course of this Parliament. So it cannot be said that the Government are indifferent to the issue of industrial disputes in the public or in the private sector.

Behind all this—and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was right to remind us—there is something fundamental about the right to strike. That applies to all people working in our society. We must have a fair system of rights and responsibilities. It is right for the Leader of the Opposition to remind us that the responsibilities of the public services are to their users—to the patients, the public sector travellers and to the school users. That must be balanced against the rights of those who work in public services. It will not be overcome by discrimination in the right to strike between public services and the rest.

I hesitate to spend too long looking at the Bill because, frankly, it is so full of difficulties that it would take too long to enumerate them. On the last occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said that he shuddered at the task of legislating to define a public service. Not only does the Bill not define a public service, it does not restrict its action to the public services. It covers not

22 May 2002 : Column 873

disruption in the public services but disruption of the public services. In other words, it is not confined to those who work in the public services but applies to all those who supply products or services to the public services and whose industrial action could affect their operation.

The Bill talks about withdrawal of the services of members at the instigation of a trade union. Therefore, it presumably applies to official strikes approved by a trade union but not to unofficial strikes—wildcat strikes. Can that be defended? It talks about "disproportionate action", which,

    "means collective industrial action excessive to resolution of a dispute".

What does that mean? Who is to define that?

It talks about mandatory arbitration by the Central Arbitration Committee. The whole basis of the Central Arbitration Committee is that its powers and activities are restricted in order to protect not only the rights of employees to strike but the rights of managers to manage. Compulsory, mandatory arbitration as proposed in the Bill would be an offence against employers' right to manage, as well as against employees' right to strike. There is no reference in the Bill to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, which is not mandatory and which relies for its effectiveness on not being mandatory. It would be interesting to know whether it would play any part in the thinking of the noble Lord.

So the Bill is profoundly defective in its detail, but it is also—I would say if I were not standing at the Dispatch Box and therefore formally neutral—profoundly wrong in its analysis of the problems and of the action that has been and is being taken to deal with the issues that it raises.

I ask the noble Lord, only in the interests of the time of the House, to consider whether it might not be wise not to press for a Second Reading. Of course, I can do no more than ask him; he is fully free to do so.

22 May 2002 : Column 874

9.38 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if I had been the slightest bit impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I might well have considered withdrawal. But I am not. He has totally failed to understand or analyse and has made so many criticisms that I do not have time tonight to deal with them, and I do not propose to do so. They will all be dealt with if the Bill is given a Second Reading.

The noble Lord produces some statistics and says that strikes are at a low level. But those are not the relevant statistics for anyone looking at the matter with an objective eye. He comes to the conclusion—it was a wonderful, bravura performance—that there is no problem. Ask any commuter whether there is a problem. For the Government to say from the Dispatch Box that there is no problem and try to support that with the type of performance produced by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh—I do not know, it takes the biscuit.

I shall make two points and then ask, respectfully, that the Bill be read a second time. The first point was taken up strongly by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I made the point, rightly, that this is not legislation against the trade union movement or anything of the kind. Secondly, the individual freedom to strike, withhold labour or withdraw labour is wholly preserved and in no way impinged upon. If the Bill is read a second time, there will be time to deal with it in detail and refute the criticisms made by the Minister. From the Government Front Bench, they say that there is no problem.

I respectfully ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

        House adjourned at nineteen minutes before ten o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page