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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, in Committee, my noble friend Lord Lucas asked the Minister not only whether people could be prohibited from doing a particular function but also whether they could be directed to do a particular function. As I recall, the answer was that, yes, they could.
Therefore, we have the bizarre prospect that, in the event of Tube drivers going on strike and their services being urgently required, the only group of people in the whole land who could not be directed to drive Tube trains would be Tube drivers. Lorry drivers or main line rail drivers could be directed to drive them. That strikes me as a provision in the Bill that could be envisaged and useful, but is being denied to the administration of the day.
I find that particularly strange. When we considered this issue in Committee I asked the Minister whether, during the recent firemen's strike, the Government had envisaged or at least considered bringing forward legislation that would make such strikes illegal. I did not receive an answer. It has been reported that the Government did consider whether such provisions should or could be brought forward, and made that known to the Fire Brigades Union.
In the light of those circumstances, it seems irresponsible for the one power that could be so useful in extremis to be denied to the administration. I urge the Government to accept the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Buscombe.
Lord Monson: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 seek to rectify an anomaly whose possible unintended consequences were well pointed out in Committee when we discussed this issue at considerable length. However, Amendment No. 84 addresses a totally different topic. It is obvious that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has done a vast amount of research on this Bill and it is clear that he feels that, under the Bill, the Minister could by regulation increase the maximum sentence for a given offence from, say, three months to 14 years. I hope that the noble Baroness can reassure us that that is not in fact the case. If not, we shall certainly have to come back to it at the next stage.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I still have the same problems that I had in Committee about the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. We have an exclusion that has lasted for more than 80 years, through some very perilous times. Indeed, her quotation of statistics from the Second World War does not support her argument. When the nation faced its greatest peril, we retained the freedom to withdraw labour as one of the basic freedoms in a free society. There is also the difficulty I mentioned in Committee; that in the past
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governments have found that you cannot coerce people to work. Often they have got into even deeper water when they have tried to do so.
I have mentioned before that, not in an emergency situation but in a broader context, the Government should look at no strike agreements in certain industries in order to underpin public service. But I do not see that as a part of emergency powers, rather as a more sensible approach to industrial relations in certain sectors.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with the last comments of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Since the 1920 Act has been in force, governments have had to use emergency powers on 14 occasions, notwithstanding the limitation of the no strike action provision. Each occasion has been one in response to industrial action. It is perfectly possible to do what needs to be done to respond to an emergency and yet continue to allow people the freedom we have in this country to withdraw labour where it is within their right to do so. I hear, too, what the noble Lord has said about no strike agreements, but that is a matter outwith the Bill. However, I understand why he raised the point.
We do not agree with the amendments and the Government cannot support them. Allowing the use of emergency powers to prohibit strikes would risk straying into the realm of political interference rather than emergency response. The Government have made it very clear that emergency powers are to be used as a mechanism for dealing with the most serious threats to human welfare, the environment and security only, and only in a responsible and proportionate manner. We have deliberately crafted the Bill to avoid the possibility of powers being used for political purposes.
Allowing the prohibition of strike action would weaken that position and open up the possibility of the powers being used for the wrong reasons. The Government and Parliament have made very clear throughout the passage of the Bill that that is something that must be avoided at all costs.
The right to withdraw labour within the law is, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, a fundamental right that should be protected even during emergencies. Of course I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, have said about that matter.
Deliberate endangerment of human life or property, or causing illness or injury, are matters for criminal law, be it in normal times or in the midst of emergencies. Existing industrial relations law ensures that those who wilfully and maliciously go on strike where they know, or have reasonable cause to believe, that the probable consequence of doing so will be to endanger human life or cause serious bodily injury, or to expose valuable property to destruction or serious injury, commit an offence. This places a very real limit on the potential effects of industrial action.
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This reflects the Government's position, as set out in the Bill, that existing legislation should always be used where it will be effective. We come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, which was echoed by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, in relation to the 1911 incident. In fact, in the end, people used the legislation that was already in being.
The Government accept that industrial action may have a disruptive effect on services. The Bill ensures that they can act to mitigate the worst effects of a particularly disruptive strike without resorting to its prohibition. The legislation it replaces contains an identical prohibition and has been used effectively for just such purposes.
The Government believe that as long as industrial disputes remain within the law they are matters for employees and employers. The emphasis must be on their resolution. The Government taking sides and interfering in a draconian manner would be likely only to inflame the situation.
As to Amendment No. 82, I have responded already to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. We believe that the amendment is unnecessary. Its effects are already achieved in the current drafting of the Bill. However, I thank the noble Lord for raising these issues. I understand the care that he has given to these matters and the importance that he attaches to them.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am not going to respond to it because the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, whose amendment it is, has not sought to speak to it and does not invite me so to do. If the noble Lord, Lord Monson, or any other noble Lord, had spoken to it, I would of course have responded in full. If the noble Lord did speak to it, I apologise to him. I do not recall him doing so.
Amendment No. 84 deals with emergency regulations. These can be made only for the purpose of preventing, controlling or mitigating an aspect or effect of the emergency. They must be needed urgently, existing legislation must be insufficientso, if there is already legislation that can cover the emergency, these regulations should not be used but that legislation should beand they must be in due proportion to the aspect or the effect of the emergency that they are aimed at. These tests apply to any attempt temporarily to amend existing legislation using emergency powers.
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It is difficult to envisage situations where these tests might be reasonably considered to be met in relation to extending penalties set out in the existing legislation. There may however be occasions where it may be more important to deter certain activities than it perhaps is in times of normality. For example, during a major fuel shortage hoax calls may result in ambulances and fire engines being sent to non-existent incidents, wasting limited fuel resources that may be necessary to respond to real emergencies. It may be necessary and proportionate in those circumstances to increase the penalties for such offences in order to increase the deterrent effect and to reflect the increased seriousness of the offence. That is why we say that it would be appropriate to deal with the matter as we have drafted it.
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