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I want to confirm that safety considerations have always been the Governments primary concern and motivation behind these provisions, and that is why we welcomed the substance of the noble Earls amendment. We have tabled the amendment as it its now drafted to resolve any uncertainties resulting from generic terms such as staff, but in substance the amendment reflects the proposals of the noble Earl. It redefines industrial action as,
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, earlier in the debate I used the word chinkette of light. This is a great flash of sunlight from the noble Lord. One is always tempted on occasions such as this to refer to sinners that repenteth and all the rest of it. What I must do is say thank you to the noble Lord. What I am even more impressed by is that the amendment was moved on my behalf by my noble friend Lord Bridgeman on my Front Bench, without even putting forward the argument. He just said, I beg to move, and the Minister was so moved by that one line that he agreed to it. All I can say is thank you very much indeed.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment, or something similar to it, was moved in Committee and it has changed only marginally since then in that we have been advised that we cannot include the Armed Forces in this Bill, even though they are in the same position as the Prison Service and the police. We have therefore excluded them from consideration at this time. However, the principle remains the same: where an independent review body makes a recommendation on pay for either the Prison Service or police, it should be a requirement that, if the
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The three servicesthe Armed Forces, the Prison Service and the policeare all the subjects, or will be by the time this legislation goes through, of mandatory no-strike agreements. Therefore, there is an onus on the Government to ensure that their interests, which are held by the independent review bodies, are protected. The review bodies already have a clear remit as to what they have to take into account in coming to their decisions. That includes affordability, as defined by their funding departments. The Minister will recall that last year the Government staged the implementation of a pay review. This was the first time that they had not followed the review bodys recommendations. We argue that the consequence of short-changing members of these vital services is very serious indeed. The actions last year resulted in the threatened prison officers strike later this month, and the highly unusual police march on Parliament. The Government need to put themselves in a position of explaining their actions to Members of Parliament and having those actions approved by them by a formal resolution. I beg to move.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I will speak specifically about police pay and assure the noble Baroness that we will be supporting this amendment. Independent arbiters, as we have heard, awarded a 2.5 per cent pay award and the Home Secretary can have been left in no doubt about the anger of police officers on the day of their massively successful, well-ordered and well-mannered protest march on 23 January 2008. It was attended by 25,000 off-duty officers. We know that the Police Federation has gone to judicial review; we await the outcome of that.
The office of constable is a protected one and has been for almost 100 years since police officers accepted a no-strike clause. How that office has been badly used by the Home Secretarys decision to override years of clear understanding on all sides that an agreement made by an independent body should be binding. It always was and it always should be. When I was a member of the Police Negotiating Board, some years ago in the time of the previous Government and this one, we all worked hard to maintain that position. It is desperately sad for me to see how this long-standing agreement has been completely overturned without any consultation and absolutely no real understanding of the views of front-line police officers who, day to day, give their services to protect us all.
This is what a number of them have told me: they have expressed sheer disgust and outrage at the Home Secretarys decision not to award a full amount immediately. They mention the amount that MPs pay themselves; fat cats in the City, about whom we heard some lively questions put to the Minister today at Question Time; and the restrictions on their private life when they are off duty. Effectively, a police officer is always on duty. Officers do lots of horrible work. They are hands-on at accidents, deaths and assaults on themselves and others. They really do not feel that
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The appointment of a pay review body has been used over and again to take the sting out of an industrial conflict. It has very often been the price that the Government or a state body have paid for seeing an end to industrial conflict. They ought not in our view to undermine those provisions. That is why we support the amendment.[Official Report, 10/3/08; col. 1367.]
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, one cannot take away somebodys right to do something and then not put in place binding arbitration. My noble friend Lady Hanham mentioned the disturbing sight of the police demonstrating. That sight terrified me because it brings the forces of law into political play. That is very dangerous. One of the reasons for the 1688 glorious revolution was the fear of standing armies. That is the flipside of the coin when police or soldiery take political action. For that reason, above all, with the police, the Prison Service and the Army, the Government ought to accept binding arbitration. If they are not going to accept binding arbitration, they should explain to the House of Commons why they have not done so. To think otherwise is extremely dangerous.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I declare an interest as the former president of the Police Superintendents Association and a recipient of police pay and a police pension. I have every sympathy with the amendment and agree entirely with the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. It gives me no pleasure to say this because I am a government Peer. Having said that, the amendment seems to be a matter for resolution in the House of Commons, not this House. For that reason alone, I shall abstain. I would have voted for the amendment. It is a financial matter and should properly be dealt with in the other place. I shall abstain on this basis, but I agree entirely that the Government have not taken the high ground on this. The right to strike was taken away, quite rightly, in 1919. The police are in a special position as are the other services. We should value that and honour independent arbitration. For that reason, I shall abstain.
Lord Dear: My Lords, in 1919 the Police Act of that year removed the right to strike from the police. One of the reasons for doing that was that the police had indeed gone on strike in various places, notably London and Liverpool, but in a number of other urban areas as well. This country was faced with the vision and reality of troops with fixed bayonets going onto the streets of Liverpool and a warship sailing up the Mersey and training its guns on the rioters on the shore in Liverpool. That is the sort of horror story that the 1919 Act sought to remove. We have moved very fast away from that to a position where the police serve this country loyally and steadfastly, despite the fact that their pay and allowances have oscillated over the years.
In 1979 the Lord Edmund-Davies review, looking at the parlous state then of police pay and allowances, brought in for the first time the concept of a basket of
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The Governments action on this last occasion drove a coach and four straight through all those principles of trust, respect and support, which a uniformed service has had and needs to have in the Government of this country. The police feel deeply let down and believe that they have been thrown to one side. I am sorry to give marginal percentage points, but the 1.9 per cent sits very uncomfortably with the 2.5 per cent that was given to police support staff. So, in this philosophical way, you have police officers walking on the streets with civilian police support officers who are getting more money because they have the right to strike. The principle speaks for itself. I warmly and wholeheartedly support the amendment.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, first, perhaps I may say how I much welcome the cameo appearance of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, on this Bill. Clearly, I welcome the opportunity to debate this matter again, which we last debated in Committee. I also pay tribute to the outstanding work of the police, the prison officers and the Armed Forces, although for the reasons stated by the noble Baroness, her amendment is limited to police and prison officers and does not refer to the Armed Forces.
Yes, these very key workers deserve a fair and effective pay system mechanism, which serves them and the taxpayer well. That is very simply the Governments position. Although the focus of the amendment and the debate is on the police and prison officers, they are not alone in having independent pay machinery which makes recommendations to Ministers. I emphasise the words, recommendations to Ministers. This process has been developed over more than 35 years and has for a number of workforces, including groups without the right to take industrial action, stood the test of time and has been seen to deliver a fair and effective mechanism for determining pay awards.
However, it has always been clear that the Government retain discretion on whether to implement those recommendations. Both this Government and previous
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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, those people all have the right to industrial action. That is the difference. It is as simple and as clear as that. I am delighted when the present Government use the Conservative Government to pray in aid for their errors. On occasions, my Government made just as many errors as the present one. There is no need to pray in aid their errors.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not know whether I am praying in aid their errors or not. I am just pointing out that I find it a little puzzling that the Conservative Front Bench is moving this amendment. I fear that it is rather playing politics in this area.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I very much fear that. I would caution that party against it. Of course, the noble Earl is right that some of the pay groups I have mentioned are not subject to restrictions on taking industrial action. That is one distinction. But, none the less, I seek to demonstrate that the party opposite has not been reluctant to stage pay awards in the light of recommendations made by independent review bodies. The fact is that the noble Earl might have given me just one or two more seconds to list the times that pay awards were staged in relation to the Armed Forces Pay Review Bodyin 1984, 1990, 1994 and 1996. The previous Government deferred an Armed Forces Pay Review Body recommendation once and in 1993 a pay limit was imposed. I could go on.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, we were told by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that this was a binding arbitration and that there was an award of 2.5 per cent, but that the Government were prepared to pay only 1.9 per cent. Was there ever a situation when the Conservative Government failed to abide by a binding arbitration?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I think that it is for them to answer that particular point. I am simply seeking to demonstrate to your Lordships' House that Governments of different complexions have found it necessary sometimes to stage awards where wider considerations have come into force.
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Obviously we have considered the amendment and the impact that it would have. Our conclusion is that the Government have an established responsibility for managing public finances. We do not think that it is appropriate to subject to parliamentary approval the Governments discretion to regulate an important factor in those finances. Parliament already has the overriding oversight of departmental expenditure, which we think gets the balance right. But, at the end of the day, the Government must reserve the discretion to make the final decision, which is why we cannot support the noble Baronesss amendment.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I cannot say that I am totally surprised at the Ministers response. I am equally not totally surprised at the fact that he has tried to invoke the Government of some 10 years ago. We have had quite a lot of this Government and, probably, we can rely now on their history on legislation. I have nothing more to say on this amendment.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, inspiration has reached me in response to the interesting intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. I am reliably informed that in 1990 the then Home Secretary decided not to accept certain aspects of a recommendation of the Police Arbitration Tribunal.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as I was saying before the Minister made that point, it is under this Government that this legislation is being put into place and it is their actions with which we are dealing today. These two bodies cannot strike. There is a review body, which always has access to information before it makes its recommendations. If the Government seek to change that, as the Minister says, they have discretion. In the light of what they have done, we say that that discretion is too great. Therefore, it should be controlled and made responsible to Parliament. I do not accept the Ministers reply and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
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