HL Deb 26 June 2002 vol 636 cc1430-3

7.35 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Campbell of Alloway.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Lyell) in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Interpretation]:

Lord Campbell of Alloway

moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 6, at end insert "defined as such in the Standard Industrial Classification issued by the Office of National Statistics The noble Lord said: As your Lordships will no doubt appreciate, this amendment is merely for clarification of definition, as suggested by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It has no bearing whatever on the principle of the Bill or the opposition of government, who are not inclined to entertain any such proposal. But I had the opportunity of having a word with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and explained that I wanted to put the Bill in its proper perspective, dealing with some errors that have crept in—and they are very few.

The first is the suggestion that the structure of the 1999 Act, which amended the consolidation Act of 1992, may not be readily amended to include statutory restriction proposed by this Bill, superimposed on extant law.

Secondly, the Bill is concerned only with containing disproportionate industrial action in the designated public services and only at the behest of the trade unions. It is not concerned with an individual right to strike or with wildcat strikes.

Thirdly, the Central Arbitration Committee is to be given mandatory powers only within this limited context by statute, and otherwise retains its present voluntary role.

The High Court exercises civil, not criminal, jurisdiction and enforces its orders only against trade unions or the officers of a trade union if they are in contempt of an order of the court.

Lastly, the suggestion appears in the Official Report that Lady Castle of Blackburn's In Place of Strife proposals were implemented by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. They were not, to my personal knowledge. They were operated by my noble friend Lord Carr of Hadley, whom I served at the time, under the Heath administration, in the days of Vic Feather in 1971. As the House would expect, these matters have been discussed with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. His position is respected and understood. This is not the occasion on which to renew our debate. I beg to move.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I support both amendments tabled by my noble friend, which are an appropriate accommodation of the comments of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. However, I do not think that they will change the Government's mindset on the Bill, even if they are accepted. That is a pity. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, told the House on Second Reading that the Government were reviewing the workings of their Employment Relations Act 1999. That review will take place against the favourable background of the industrial dispute figures for 2001, which the noble Lord also gave the House. He then asked: what is the problem being identified of industrial disputes in the public sector? Clearly, there are threats of disputes … But the facts do not bear out the claim that there is a new problem of industrial disputes in the public sector".—[Official Report, 22/5/02; cols. 871–72.] We must all wonder how long that statement will stand, as trade union disaffection with the Government and their policies grows—witness the RMT's withdrawal of support from the Deputy Prime Minister and 13 other Labour Members or the rumblings in the Communication Workers Union. That may be a foretaste of things to come.

Finally, the trouble with legislation in this area is that it is usually introduced just before or just after major conflict. There is much to be said for anticipating such conflicts well before they happen. That is the aim of the Bill. In line with the Performance and Innovation Unit report that my noble friend quoted on Second Reading, the Bill gives top priority to the customers of public services rather than to those who provide them. That is surely right.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I do not want to prolong the debate. Both the amendments tabled by my noble friend would improve and clarify the drafting in comparatively small ways. That is desirable. We all know the difficulties of pursuing a Private Member's Bill at this time of year, but that is no reason for not trying to improve the wording as much as possible. We also know the Government's view of the Bill, which was expressed clearly and in strong terms by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on Second Reading. As my noble friend Lord Roberts said, there are threats at the moment. I have no wish to trespass on the current problems of the Labour Party vis-à-vis the trade unions, but we have noticed some recent comments. The Bill is not irrelevant to those remarks.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and all those who have not spoken. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy for his support from the Back Benches. Back-Bench support for the Bill is very welcome, although he is also a member of the Front Bench.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 7, after "order" insert "made by statutory instrument The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment and its purpose is self-evident. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.36 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.47 to 8.36 p.m.]