|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Baroness Hamwee: I am quite happy to reconfirm that I know how bad my amendment is, but I do not think that that is the whole issue. Clause 1(1)(b), for example, states that a complaint can be made if the complainant,
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am not sure why the exact wording was chosen, but the wording seems to provide that flexibility. Surely the point is to serve notice on the most relevant person; either the owner or the occupier may be the most relevant person on whom to serve any number of notices. The relevant person is the one who is causing the nuisance, which takes us back to points and issues that we covered earlier. The issue is the relevancy of those involved and we should focus on that. I think that that is why the alternative wording has been provided. I may be wrong about that, but it seems a sensible way to proceed.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, whom I saw by chance yesterday, asked me to deal with his objections to the Bill when read for a second time, the first time around, on 22nd May, at cols. 871 to 873 of the Official Report. These were, I think, the four objections that the noble Lord had in mind: that 2001 had the lowest stoppage of all days lost in industrial disputes since 1920; that the facts did not bear out the claim that there is a new problem of the industrial sector; that the Employment Relations Act 1999 was working rather well; and that a review was due to start in June. As your Lordships' House is the only forum in which a debate such as this may now take place, in accordance with the courtesies of this House and in the interests of constructive debate, I propose to deal with the request now at the outset.
The points taken will be dealt with broadly in my speech. However, so that the noble Lord may respond, at this stage may it be said that 2002 had more than 1.5 million days lost in all industrial disputes, occasioned in the main by disruption of public services; that that was the highest annual figure over the past 12 years; and that the percentage of working days lost on disruption of public services, as specified in Clause 3(2) of the Bill, in 1993 and 1995, was over 70 per cent of all working days lost. As to the new review in June, nothing has been seen or heard of that. In this context, the Employment Relations Act 1999 does not appear to have been working at all.
In the debate on the Loyal Address, I took the broad point that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, had given no reasoned justification for government inaction or for government opposition to the principle of the Bill. As appears at Committee stage, on 26th June, certain misconceptions were removed as a result of discussion between the noble Lord and myself. The noble Lord will also know that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, took the view that pursuit of an approach entailing partnership was the way forward to try to end the need to strike. That was on 18th April. The noble Lord will also know that PPP and PFI policies were the very cause of the disruption of these public services in 2002 and that that threat remains.
There is an interest to declare. I am glad to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in his place because, after his publication of A Giant's Strength, about 35 years ago I set up a committee of Conservative lawyersseveral of them sit and others
There was then absolutely no need for provision to be made in a Bill such as this. The surge of militancy to set up a unicameral workers' state had by then abated only to return to bedevil this administration by resort to disruption of our public services, to oppose government policy on partnership and to unseat the government. Those are not my words: those are the words those people use. Such disruption has become a matter of most serious concern to the public, having now become an all but acceptable disorder of life which is wholly unacceptable.
The Government have evinced a sort of Neronic attitude of ineptitude and inaction to this challenge to their very authority. As yet no political party has either proposed any effective remedial action or any amendment to the framework of law. So, at no one's behest, this Bill was drafted, prompted by interest, as ever, as one of the boys in the backroom of politics. The Bill only proscribes disruption of public services designated as such by Parliament, only at the instigation of a trade union, whether in furtherance or contemplation of a trade dispute, a dispute with government, an inter-union dispute or for any other reason, and only as a last resort if Professor Brown's silken thread of voluntary conciliation has either been declined or has failed.
Arbitration is ordained only as a means of resolution, only as a last resort for such disputes. Proportionate disruption may be granted by the High Court if sought. Enforcement is only by the High Court and only against trade unions by sequestration and trade union officials.
The individual entitlement of the rank and file membership to withdraw or withhold their labour under extant law is preserved. Albeit that the advisory opinion of the joint committee has not been sought, the Bill is asserted to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights as a proportionate provision.
The limited concept of the Bill was not borrowed from the 1996 Green Paper, which was not confined to public services and rejected mandatory arbitration. It is not borrowed from the other countries referred to in Annex 2 of that Green Paper. There is no need for us to take lessons from abroad or from any senior fellow of a Brussels think tank writing in the newspapers.
In our country, as yet the trade unions, old Labour, have always respected the rule of law when applied by the High Court as distinct from the national industrial relations court, which they did not likeit sent six dockers to prison, released by the Court of Appealand which fortunately no longer exists. There is no reason whatever to suppose that respect for law as ordained by Parliament and administered by the High Court would not be observed by the trade union movement which is, after all, an essential estate of the realm.
The Bill, applicable to disruption of public services only, could serve as a requisite safeguard for any government against "militancy of confrontation" which men such as Vic Feather and most trade union leaders could not then, and cannot now, abide. It is not an attack on old Labour. It is not an attack on the trade unions, albeit a criticism of new Labour for sheer ineptitude.
The aspect of home affairs warrants the immediate attention of this Government, albeit that the overriding concern, having prepared for war, is the wisdom of the need for war and the well-being of our forces as yet on standby.
Has not an urgent approach to be made now to the trade union movement to avoid the threat of massive disruption of our public services by certain public service unions, either to support a pay claim or to oppose government policy by collective industrial action? If such an approach were to be rejected, has not some effective action to be taken by Parliamentperhaps some such action as proposed by this Bill as a last resort?
During the passage of the Bill in this form last Sessionit lapsed on Prorogationthe noble Lord, Lord McNally, recognised the urgency of some such approach and the case for legislation, not as an exercise in confrontation but as an assertion of the authority of any government to govern.
About a year ago both right honourable gentlemen the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition said that something had to be done to stem the resurgent tide of militancy among the leadership of the public service unions, as was later identified in the leader in The Times on St Valentine's Day. Over last year disruption of our public services had a severe effect on the economy. I refer to the record of days lost. The people suffered intolerable hardship, inconvenience and expense all to no constructive purpose.
Unless and until the dispute between the leaders of these public service unions and the Government over PPP and PFI in the public services has been resolved, the threat of such disruption remains, and the deplorable state of our public services could be devastated within this very year.
But if something has to be done, as the right honourable gentlemen say, what is to be done to safeguard these vaunted aspirations to improve our public services? What is to happen this year or next year? Are we to drift towards 2 million working days lost and to drown in yet another whirlpool of misery and discontent? Will not the peoplethe noble Lord, Lord McNally, made this point some time agoone day demand, as he put it, the protection of governmentsome effective long-stop protectionunder the rule of law? Government is the business of government; it is not the legitimate aspiration or business of any trade union. Is it not for the Government to sort out their own symbiotic relationship with the trade union movement and with old and new Labour as an immediate priority?
What about the disruption of services in the North by RMT and ASLEF over Christmas over a pay dispute? That sort of thing should not be allowed to happen. We must get past that form of industrial action. A pay claim would be covered by the Bill without designation. Those claims would fall within the Bill as drafted.
In conclusion, the purpose of this speech is to justify the Bill only in principle, not the DIY drafting. Good heavens, I am not a draftsman. The Bill is exposed on its drafting to rigorous criticism and constructive amendmenta point fairly taken by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, as one of his objections with which I have not dealt. I beg to move.
Lord McNally: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, mentioned, he raised this specific topic twice last year, first in an Unstarred Question on 18th April, to which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster replied, and, secondly, on a Bill on 22nd May, to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, replied.
I think it is fair to say that on both occasions the replies from the Government Benches constituted exercises in complacency. International and historical statistics were produced to demonstrate that Britain was a haven of industrial peace; that there was no need for any forward planning and no need to worry; that the Government had accepted the bulk of the Conservative industrial relations reforms and that militant trade unionism was safely in its box. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, asked the House,
I support the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, introduced the Bill. Whether the Government's statistics on industrial disputes, historically or internationally, are favourable or unfavourable at the present time, is really irrelevant. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, identifieswe seek some sense of recognition and urgency on the part of the Government in this regardproblems with regard to the reform of our public services, the funding of our public services and the manner of settling disputes in our public services that are not fully covered by present legislation and that require government action to be resolved.
I sincerely hope that the Minister will not be complacent tonight. The firefighters' dispute remains unresolved. The threat of militant action on the Tube remains. In trade union after trade unionthe Fire Brigades Union, RMT and AMICUSthe way to
We ask the Government to recognise that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has made some suggestions in the Bill but I am sure that if the Government want to look for friendlier fire, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, could be quickly brought into action. He could set out options for compulsory and binding arbitration, pendulum arbitration and no strike agreements tied to long-term contracts. Many ideas have been floated for 20 years and more, as well as more radical solutions such as opening up trade unions to easier civil action for damage caused to third parties.
But preferable to any programme of sanctions should be a genuine dialogue between the Government and both sides of industry to emphasise that the benefits of co-operation far outweigh old-style militancy and confrontation. It really would be a tragedy if, having come so far, some of those old confrontational ideas returned to the forefront of our trade union movement. I hope and wish the new general secretary of the TUC well, and hope that he continues to lead the whole trade union movement in building a 21st century role for trade unions, and not a backward-looking one. Neither the economy nor the public services can afford to see new resources for sharp end services swallowed up by inflationary wage demands.
Today's edition of The Sun reports on a panic in the Government that the resources put into the NUSno, not the NUS, although that may happen next Mondayinto the NHS are not going into service delivery. That is the real problem about the way in which the Government have handled the welcome pumping of public expenditure into public services. That has left an inflated expectation in the public services of the money now available for wage increases. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asked Ministers before Christmas if 40 per cent was the norm in public services. He asked whether there was in fact a norm for wage settlements in the public services. Will we find out that it is nearer 16 per cent than 3 per cent?
It is part of the problem that the Government have approached the matter in a piecemeal and complacent way, which has given militancy its opportunity. There is no longer a feeling that the Government wish to engage in a broader dialogue with the TUC and the CBI on these matters. I may be a trifle old-fashioned, but I believe that there were many merits in the old NEDCNeddyapproach of getting industry involved in these matters and contributing to the solutions.
It is even difficult to find out who in government takes responsibility for these matters. I always remember Ray Gunter describing the job of industrial relations in the old Labour Ministry as a "bed of nails". Now it is left as some minor responsibility, presumably as part of the portfolio of Mr Andrew Smith, the Secretary of State for
Do the Government have any coherent view of how we will deal with those issues? That is the main point. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, asked when the Government review of the 1999 Act would be completed. Perhaps the Minister will tell us that in his reply. The last time he was asked, he told us that it was starting its work last June, so it has been going on for a good half year. Is it a purely internal review, or is it taking evidence from the TUC, the CBI and from elsewhere? When and how will it publish its findings?
At the heart of the matter is the concern about the Government's attitude to the industrial action that causes most damage to the public rather than to the employer. That is what the public do not understand. There is a kind of secondary picketing that was not touched by the Thatcher reforms. Tube strikes do damage not the managers of London Tube but hundreds of thousands of commuters. Teachers' strikes do damage not directors of education but children, mums and parents who are trying to manage their families. Of course, the striking firefighters do not damage the fire authorities but endanger the public at large.
Without wanting to remove the right to strike, we must get into our framework of industrial relations some way of avoiding the innocent general public being dragged into the firing line of disputes. That is something that the Government have neglected to do. On the part of new Labour, there has been none of what I would describe as post-Thatcherite thinking on industrial relations. The Government are simply willing to take the benefits of the Thatcher legislation and let sleeping dogs lie. Unfortunately, the dogs are waking up and beginning to bark. What is needed from the Government is some sense of urgency and the holistic approach that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, recommended in a debate last year.
The Government have promised the public services £40 billion of new spending but have apparently omitted to negotiate any kind of deal for improvement of service or delivery as a price for that new expenditure. In a debate on 18th April, the noble Lord, Lord MacDonald of Tradeston, set out Government aims in terms of public services. He said that they were based on four principles:
If we are to put the kind of money that the Government have promised into health, education and transport, we want that money to get through to the sharp end. If it is used to increase pay, that pay must be justified by productivity and the rest. Surely, all that should have been taken together. The Government should not have been taken by surprise, as they undoubtedly were, by the growth of new militancy in the trade union movement.
Our call tonight is a comradely piece of advice to the Government to wake up to the fact that they cannot simply wait on events and be continually surprised. Each time they are surprised, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell emphasised, the general public have to pay the price for their lack of preparedness. In the long term, rather than giving a platform to the malcontents, they should find a way in which to produce, from good industrial relations, both benefits to the workers and benefits in terms of the public service to the public at large. That is how to bring in and embrace constructive trade unionism for the country's progress.
In that sense, I feel that the Bill deserves a Second Reading. The matter needs a whole lot more constructive thought and a dialogue between the Government, the trade union movement and the CBI to ensure that the massive increase in public expenditure to which the Government are committed is not lost in inflationary and non-productive pay increases or frittered away in other ways that leave us with poorer public services and a deteriorating industrial relations situation.
This is a sideshow debatewe know thatbut these issues will come back to centre stage. If Ministers show again tonight the complacency that they showed last spring, it will come to haunt them in the year ahead.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I, too, like the thrust of my noble friend's Bill and I compliment him on bringing it forward at this time. I hope that the Government will give it serious consideration. After all, its purpose is,
Noble Lords will have guessed from those opening remarks that my approach to my noble friend's Bill is entirely contemporaneous and, I hope, pragmatic. In normal times, one would with very few exceptions argue for free collective bargaining across the board. I still believe that that is the best principle to follow. My memories and experience of the intransigent mood of the early 1970s leads me to abide by that principle. However, these are somewhat extraordinary times and the Bill refers specifically to "public services".
We have, as has been said, already experienced the firemen's strike, which is, I hear, now threatening to flare up again. Valuable troops have been diverted from their military duties to man Green Goddessesthey did so superbly and effectively, as it so happened. However, that occasioned an entirely proper but grim warning from the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Michael Boyce, that the Army was being over-stretched at a critical time.
With all the talk of special measures to restrain the public in the event of a major terrorist attack of a chemical, biological or massively destructive nature, it is inconceivable that the principle of free collective bargaining would be allowed to operate in key public services in such circumstances. The circumstances would hardly be "free" for the public authorities concerned. The question is whether it would not be wise to anticipate such circumstances now, rather than to wait for the emergency to occur and legislate in haste. If we can judge by the media, we know that the Government are already making preparations for such emergencies. It is almost inconceivable that they are not contemplating some form of action in the sphere of employment relations. That is an inescapable question for the Government, which they should face up to and answer.
The Government must agree that some action is desirable and that the sort of disruptive action anticipated here is totally undesirable. My noble friend sought a remedy in the event of such disruptive action. If the Government do not like the proposed remedy, they are bound to tell us what they favour. Will they put their trust in the trade unions not to hold them and the public to ransom? Trade union leaders may pledge moderation but they will find that difficult to deliver when they are under pressure from their members.
It may be said that there are still imperfections in the Bill, in spite of my noble friend's speech. Personally, I have never known a government Bill that did not contain imperfections that were acknowledged by the government with a host of amendments. The Minister
My noble friend has done a service to the House and the country in seeking to concentrate the Government's mind on the issue of excessive and disruptive action in the context of public services. Those of us who use public services know from experience what a precarious state some of them are infor example, the railway system. It takes little deliberate disruptive action to throw such services into total confusion and chaos. Is it right to tolerate such an open-ended situation and simply wait until the next public service union takes advantage of that at a critical time? I am sure that the Government have that on their mind. A purpose of good law is surely to anticipate events. I urge the Government to give careful consideration to my noble friend's Bill.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I start by saying, as is proper in these circumstances, that the Government do not take a view on this or any other Private Members' Bill. We shall do nothing to oppose its passage through your Lordships' House, as we did nothing to oppose it when it passed through the House in the previous Session.
Having said that, it is only right that I should express my admiration for the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, both in introducing legislation and in instigating debate in the House on an issue which he thinks is of very great importance to this country, a view with which I agree. The last thing that I want to be accused ofand the last thing that I think I could be justly accused ofis complacency about industrial relations in this country, or indeed complacency about the issues raised by the Bill.
Of course there are enormous problems. However, in the context of a Private Members' Bill, it is the duty of the Government's spokesman, first to examine the Bill and to consider whether it meets its set objectives, but, secondly, to examine whether the approach to the resolution of the problems identified by the noble Lords, Lord McNally, Lord Roberts and Lord Campbell, is the proper general approach.
When we last considered the Bill at Second Reading in May of last year, I quoted the figures for 2001 for days lost and for stoppages. It is legitimate for the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to say that the 2001 figures are no longer the most relevant ones and that we have to look at the figures for 2002, and that we must look at them in context. We do not have final figures for 2002. I cannot confirm the figure he gave. But we know that until the end of October 1.1 million days were lost in 137 stoppages for industrial disputes.
The point I want to make is that there is a huge difference between those figures and the average for the 1980s of 7.2 million days lost and the average for the 1970s of 12.7 million days lost. Without making any party point about the legislation passed over the past 20 yearssome by Conservative governments and some by Labour governmentsit cannot be said that legislation over, for example, the past 10 years has been of particular encouragement to employment disputes.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, pointed out that the majority of recent disputes have been in the public services. If 70 per cent of trade unions membership is in public sector unions, that is fairly axiomatic. There is no doubt that that will happen. The noble Lord asked me in particularthe noble Lord, Lord McNally also asked meabout the review of the Employment Relations Act 1999. We have carried on the review, as I said we would. We have been carrying out informal consultations. We shall shortly be publishing a public consultation document. If primary or secondary legislation appears to be required as a result of that consultation process, it is our intention that such legislation should be introduced in this Parliament.
Having said that, it is right that I should return to the substance of the Bill because that is what we are supposed to be debating. I made four points about the Bill last May. I am afraid that I must repeat them today because they seem to be such serious defects in the Bill that the kind of amendment introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, in Committee after 22nd May really is not adequate for the purpose.
First, the Bill is not about strikes in the public services; it is about disruption to public services. It therefore includes any industrial action that might affect public services, whether in the private or public sectors. It is almost impossible to imagine any industrial action that would not in some way affect the public sector, even if it is in the private sector, as almost all industry and services in this country are involved with the public sector as a customer or a supplier. So the Bill is far too widely drawn in that respect.
Secondly, the Bill is not just about strikes; it is about strikes at the instigation of a trade union. Therefore, it is only about official strikes and not wildcat or unofficial strikes. I am sure that that issue will be recognised as being a very serious defect because that makes it not just possible but likely that the provisions of the Bill would be evaded.
Thirdly, the Bill talks about disproportionate effects on the public. That is described as action that is excessive to the needs of a resolution of a dispute. That raises huge problems of definition. Most importantly, it leaves the courts to decide what are essentially economic or political issues and not legal issues. The
Fourthly, the Bill refers to mandatory arbitration by the Central Arbitration Committee. The whole point about the Central Arbitration Committee is that of course it protects employee's rights to strike, but it also protects an employers' right to manage. Turning the Central Arbitration Committee into the creature of a mandatory process would be a distortion of its work. There is no reference in the Bill to the work of ACAS. If any reference is made to ACAS, it will become clear that it is profoundly against compulsion.
I know that the Social Democratic Party played with a number of alternatives, such as pendulum resolution and so on, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in his wide-ranging but not entirely relevant speech last yearwhich was just as wide-ranging and just as irrelevant as his speech this yearmade those points. But really those alternatives are playing around with the resolution of industrial disputes and are not serious. Behind this issue must be the thoughts: yes, of course we must take action to improve industrial relations; and, yes, of course we must continue to take action to ensure that the public are protected. No one who has observed our response to the Fire Brigades dispute would be able to say that we have not taken effective action to protect the public. I was grateful for the tributes to those who manned the replacement services and the Green Goddesses. But the question must be: is the right approach in dealing with the undoubted problems which exist to criminalise industrial action by one part and not by another part of our workforce?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page