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House of Lords

Wednesday, 10 February 2016.

3 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Personal, Social and Health Education


3.06 pm

Asked by Baroness Massey of Darwen

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they propose to take to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic education compulsory within the curriculum.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): My Lords, this Government want to prepare all young people to succeed in modern Britain. High-quality teaching of PSHE is central to that and we expect all schools to teach it. After careful consideration, we believe that it is not the availability but the quality of PSHE teaching that is the most pressing issue. We have now asked leading head teachers and practitioners to produce an action plan for improving PSHE. We shall continue to keep the status of the subject under review and work with these experts to identify further steps that we can take to ensure that all pupils receive high-quality, age-appropriate PSHE and sex and relationship education.

Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab): I thank the noble Baroness for her response. I have just received a letter to Neil Carmichael from Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, which states, as the noble Baroness has stated, the importance of PSHE. This is in response to a letter from four chairs of committees—education, health, home affairs and business, innovation and skills—all supporting the view that PSHE should be compulsory. To quote a brief paragraph—

Noble Lords: Question!

Baroness Massey of Darwen: The question is coming up. Does the Minister agree that the following is important?

“PHSE is a crucial part of preparing young people for life. It can provide them with knowledge and confidence to make decisions which will affect their health, wellbeing and relationships, now and in the future. It can help develop the skills and attributes needed to secure employment, and can help protect young people from abuse in many forms.”

When will the Government start listening to such eminent people and when will they respond to these concerns and stop making excuses to disadvantage young people?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: We certainly agree that PSHE is important but what we are most concerned about is the variability in teaching of the subject. That is the most pressing problem, so we want to focus our

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efforts on ensuring that all children have access to high-quality teaching. However, we do not believe that this will be achieved simply by statute, which is why we are engaging with head teachers to ensure that we can provide all schools with the information that they need to teach high-quality PSHE.

Lord Fowler (Con): My Lords, when there is so much pressure on treating patients in the health service even without industrial action, is it not sensible to have a policy that prevents disease in the first place? Surely good sex and relationship education has an important part to play in achieving better health. It is very urgent that the Government take action on this, even given what the Secretary of State is saying.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: My noble friend will be aware that sex and relationship education is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools as part of the national curriculum, and indeed many primary schools choose to teach it. We are absolutely clear that both sex and relationship education and PSHE are important, which is why we are working with organisations such as the PSHE Association and leading head teachers to ensure that all schools have access to best practice in this area.

Lord Storey (LD): I am delighted that the Minister believes that PSHE should be of high quality and that an age-appropriate action plan is being put together. I am also delighted to hear her say that all students should access PSHE, as that presumably means that all schools will be teaching it, which is a victory for common sense and a victory for the noble Baroness, Lady Massey.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I am always happy to see a victory for the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. As I said, this is an important area. We are pulling together a group of head teachers who will be producing an action plan and publishing a comprehensive toolkit which will help schools plan and develop their curriculum and access learning and impact, and set out how PSHE can be part of a broad offer to all pupils and parents.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (CB): My Lords, the police are dealing daily with more incidents of domestic violence and child abuse, and social workers are overwhelmed with case loads where there is harm in the family. Does the Minister not agree that PSHE classes present an excellent forum to give young people an increased awareness of how to protect themselves and indeed how to respect each other? As programmes have already been prepared by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and the NSPCC, we would not be starting from scratch.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I agree with the noble Baroness. PSHE can be a very important element of a young person’s education. It can help them develop resilience and manage risks but also focus on the skills and attributes that can help them lead fulfilling lives. It is extremely important, and there is a lot of good

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practice in evidence out there which we want to help bring together to make sure all schools are delivering high quality.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): My Lords, the letter which the Secretary of State issued today, after some delay, amounted to an announcement that she had nothing to announce. Why is it that when a range of organisations as diverse as Barnado’s, the Royal College of Nursing, the NSPCC and the National Union of Teachers all express support for the recommendations of the Education Select Committee, the Government believe that they have a monopoly of wisdom on this crucial issue?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: That is not the case at all. In fact, we did announce something today, which is that the variability in PSHE is unacceptable. We want to focus on improving teaching. It cannot be right that 40% of teaching of PSHE is less than good. We want to focus on that and make sure that all young people get access to the high-quality teaching in this area that they need.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, although I agree with all that the Minister has said in response to the questions, is it not the case that engaging parents—making sure that what is taught in schools relates to and engages parents as much as possible—is also important to any government action which may be forthcoming in the future?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: Yes, it is absolutely right that parents need to be involved, as do head teachers, which is why, as I say, we are bringing together a group in order to help to develop a comprehensive array of guidance, tools and best practice for schools to use in this area.

Lord O'Shaughnessy (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for raising this important issue, although as somebody who is involved in running schools, I am slightly wary of compelling them to do more things given how much there is already in the curriculum. I would draw my noble friend’s attention to one thing with this working group. In the PSHE Association scheme of work, which is the basis for much PSHE teaching in schools, there is no mention that I could find of character. Yet the DfE has made the development of good character the fifth pillar of its activity. Can I make sure that there is proper representation on this working group for organisations that are concerned with how schools can develop good character among pupils?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: Yes, and I can quote from the letter from the Secretary of State:

“I want PSHE to be at the heart of a whole-school ethos that is about developing the character of young people”.

I hope that that reassures the noble Lord.

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Foreign Workers: Engineers


3.14 pm

Asked by Lord Soley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the ability of British manufacturers to recruit engineers from overseas who are suitably qualified.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, where no suitable resident worker is available companies may recruit non-EEA engineers to graduate-level roles using the tier 2 skilled work route. Where there is a shortage of applicants, engineering roles are prioritised under the tier 2 limit and employers are not required to advertise the positions before recruiting non-EEA nationals.

Lord Soley (Lab): Will the Minister agree to review the way tier 2 is working? It is seriously bad news for small—particularly high-tech—companies which want to recruit overseas but cannot build up a base of experience and have no knowledge of why they get refused. They then have to apply again and often lose the person they need. It is doing a lot of damage to us overseas. If the Minister will not agree to review it, will he at least be prepared to see some representatives of that industry who I could happily to bring to see him to explain why they find it damaging to both productivity and British reputation overseas?

Lord Bates: The tier 2 limit is kept under review by the Migration Advisory Committee, which is an independent committee. It produced a report on tier 2, making a number of recommendations that we are still considering. The key point is that we want to build a more sustainable workforce where the skills needed by engineers—in technology and those areas—are in the resident labour market and do not require people to recruit employees from outside the EEA area.

Lord Harrison (Lab): Would a modern Brunel and Pugin be excluded from the current employment applications?

Lord Bates: I do not know about that—obviously, the measure was not in place at that time or for their nationality. What I do know at this time is that we are investing heavily in science skills in this country. We have new science A-levels, new university technical colleges, a new science and technology baccalaureate and the number of apprenticeships in science and manufacturing is up 74%. I think that that would be welcomed on all sides of the House and by Brunel and Pugin, if they were around.

Earl Attlee (Con): My Lords, the standing of a professional engineer in Germany is much higher than in the UK. What are the Minister and the Government doing to enhance the social standing of professional engineers in the UK?

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Lord Bates: My noble friend is absolutely right. We need to do more. We talk a lot about raising productivity. We talk about raising skills. We aspire to be a high-skills, high-wage economy. Engineering and manufacturing in the modern world will be a critical part of that. That is why we need to raise their standing. That means raising the quality of apprenticeships. We set this out in English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision, which talked about introducing degree-level apprenticeships in these areas. However, there is much more to be done to ensure that science and technology engineers have the status in our society that they deserve.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): My Lords, given the wish to have a much higher level of aspiring engineers from our own country, can the Minister tell us how successful we are as far as women engineers are concerned? Are their training and skills at the levels they should be in our own profession?

Lord Bates: I would never say that they are at the right level; we need to do more. However, I think there are many role models and examples of women who have succeeded in the worlds of science and engineering and we need to point to them. We should also encourage more science students to take up the degree-level qualifications required by our growing employment sector.

Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD): Does the Minister really think that it is sensible to persist with a net immigration target that actually hinders manufacturers and other businesses from bringing in specially trained staff from overseas, while at the same time freezing in real terms support for further education to train the people we need here at home? What projections have the Government made on the impact that this will have on our competitiveness in the global market?

Lord Bates: I do not accept the premise of the question, which is that we are not investing. We are introducing the apprentice levy. We are introducing the immigration skills surcharge. The number of apprenticeships has gone up from 1.5 million to 3 million and that of science and technology apprenticeships by 74%. We are investing £200 million in universities’ science and engineering capital funds. We are doing all those things in the expectation that industry will not then go out shopping for employees overseas but will actually use the talent we have grown here at home.

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, according to EngineeringUK, Britain needs to recruit 1.8 million engineers by 2022 just to stand still. Yesterday, the Government told us during Committee on the Immigration Bill that no decisions had been made on the rate and scope of their proposed new immigration skills charge on recruitment from outside the EU—which means, of course, that this House is being denied information on precisely what it is being asked to agree to. Are the Government actually considering applying the skills charge—which could be £1,000 per year—to expanding and successful firms which, due to

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severe recruitment difficulties, can fill all their vacancies for highly skilled engineers only by recruiting from outside the EU?

Lord Bates: First, to the noble Lord’s charge that we are somehow denying the House information, the report produced by the Migration Advisory Committee was received on 19 January; it is now 10 February. The Government have a duty to consult on and consider the findings of the report before we make further decisions. I come back to the central point: we cannot keep saying that we need to bridge the skills gap and raise productivity levels in this country and then create a loophole whereby people can avoid recruiting perfectly qualified and able people in this country and go overseas to recruit them instead. That is not good for Britain in the long term, it is not sustainable, and that is what we want to change.

Baroness Wolf of Dulwich (CB): My Lords, over the past 15 years there has been an enormous increase in the number of engineering undergraduates in British universities, yet we seem to have made remarkably little progress in bridging the skills gap. In fact, engineering graduates have a higher than average unemployment rate six months after graduation. Are the Government acting to investigate and explain why this enormous increase in investment in engineering in universities appears to be having so little impact in the labour market?

Lord Bates: We certainly are in contact with the universities, and there is ongoing dialogue between the Department for Education, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the engineering and manufacturing organisations. We need to tackle that, but we argue that the way to do so is to ensure that those graduates coming out of British universities, having invested their energy and time in this country, are among the first in the queue to be considered for the jobs and opportunities open to them.

Vanguard Submarine Replacement


3.22 pm

Asked by Lord West of Spithead

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the planned timescale from start of fabrication to commissioning of the first Successor Vanguard replacement submarine, and how much will have been spent on designs, long lead and other items of the total programme, including upgrade to Faslane Naval Base, by April.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, I regret that I must withhold planned build times, as they relate to the formation of government policy. Although the department will consider a number of planning assumptions for build times when conducting concept and assessment studies on projects, build times are not confirmed until projects are approved. Information

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on the annual spend on the programme is updated each year in the successor annual report to Parliament, which is due to be published this year.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that rather disappointing Answer. If one digs around in all the documentation that has been produced, it is quite clear that the build time for the first successor submarine will be something like twice as long as it was for the first of the Vanguard class. There was no real answer on the costs but, again, one has from open source the fact that almost £4 billion has either been spent or is committed to be spent already.

I know that the noble Earl understands how crucial the replacement of the submarines and the maintenance of the deterrent are to the security of our nation, yet the decision which has to be made in the other place is being delayed and delayed. It could have been made at any time since last November. I know that it is fun to watch Labour wriggling in anguish, and that having cartoons such as that in the Times, with pictures of Spitfires and Fokkers—I hasten to add that that is a type of aeroplane, in case people get confused—is very amusing, but this is too important for scoring party-political points. The British public, for whom I have great respect, understand that and will not be impressed.

Has there been a ministerial direction to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence authorising him to spend, so far, £4 billion, which will grow and grow, when he knows that a decision will be taken in the House of Commons about whether it should go ahead?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I have no wish to score party-political points on a matter as serious as this. The noble Lord may remember that Parliament voted in 2007 to support the programme to replace the Vanguard-class submarines. That authorised the investment in the programme, including the design work and the long leads. This is the stage we are at now. If we had not commenced the work when we did, it would not have been possible to design and construct the successor submarines before the Vanguard class left service. We are moving ahead with all speed. We are committed to a parliamentary vote because it is only right and proper to give the democratically elected Chamber of Parliament the opportunity to endorse the principle of the deterrent.

Lord Boyce (CB): My Lords, I thank the Minister for that confirmation of the Government’s commitment to the successor programme. There has been some badly informed talk by some people in positions of responsibility on the subject of the vulnerability of the successor to detection in the future. Does the Minister agree that such statements are totally speculative; show serious lack of understanding of anti-submarine warfare, the science of oceanography and the science of the impenetrability of water; and are probably being made with irresponsibly and wilfully misleading intent?

Earl Howe: My Lords, yes. To be effective, the nuclear deterrent has to be credible. We take the responsibility to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent extremely

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seriously. We continually assess all the threats and review them against the capability of our submarines to ensure their current and future operational effectiveness, including threats against cyber and unmanned vehicles. We are confident that the deterrent remains safe and secure and will be so in the future.

Baroness Seccombe (Con): My Lords, does the Minister consider that our national security would be at risk if the rest of the world knew that our submarines carried no nuclear armaments?

Earl Howe: My Lords, to state the obvious, a nuclear deterrent requires nuclear warheads. The Government were elected on a manifesto commitment to retain a nuclear deterrent, so having anything less than a nuclear warhead in our submarines would not offer a credible deterrent.

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, without doubt, there is a shortage of engineers to cope with the nuclear programme. Whenever it starts is relatively academic. What action is the MoD taking to recruit, incentivise and train young men and women to be the nuclear engineers of the future?

Earl Howe: My Lords, extensive work is going on across Government to incentivise people to enter the engineering profession. The noble Baroness is quite right. We are working not only within Government but with industry to ensure that the attractiveness of engineering, in the nuclear field in particular, can be shared and that people who enter the profession can look forward to a rewarding career throughout their lives.

Lord Touhig (Lab): My Lords, under this Government we have seen a reduction in the size of the Armed Forces. We have no aircraft carriers any longer. At the time when the Russians are increasing submarine patrols by 50%, we have no maritime patrol aircraft. On top of that, the Government want to extend the life of the Vanguard nuclear submarines. I would be less than honest if I did not admit that my party had some problems with defence too; noble Lords might have been reading about them in the newspapers. But there is one policy that does unite at least the two Front Benches in this House, so will the Minister put a simple question to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister and say: “Dave, pull your finger out and damn well get on with committing ourselves to replacing the Trident programme, because it is the first duty of any Government to protect our country”?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is being less than generous to the Government, who for the first time in a long time have increased the defence budget, with an extensive programme of equipment in train. However, the message that he sought to give is well taken. I tell him that we are proceeding apace with the successor programme. As I have already indicated, we have an assessment phase, the cost of which so far is £3.3 billion, as budgeted. That will go up to £3.9 billion in the design phase, including ordering essential long-lead

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items for the fourth submarine. I hope that the noble Lord will take away the message that we are not being slow off the mark.

Charities: Government Grants


3.30 pm

Asked by Lord Harries of Pentregarth

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they plan to implement their new policy restricting how government grants to charities may be used.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB): I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare a non-financial interest as chair of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Lord Bridges of Headley) (Con): My Lords, less than 7% of the £130 billion of grants paid each year goes to the non-profit sector. From 1 May, departments will be required to insert the clause in all new and renewed grant agreements unless Ministers decide, in exceptional circumstances, to qualify or remove the wording. Before 1 May, departments are encouraged to engage with any grant recipients who are likely to be affected by the clause. It will be for departments to employ existing financial controls and take appropriate action if they believe a clause to have been breached.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister of his Answer, but would he not agree that charities that are so often at the front line of meeting human need are in the best position to gauge the effect of government policies on those whom they are trying to help? Therefore, they have a duty to bring any concerns to bear to the Government. In the light of that, does the Minister agree with the compact signed by the Prime Minister in 2010 with civil society that the Government will,

“respect and uphold the independence of civil society organisations to deliver their mission, including their right to campaign, regardless of any relationship, financial or otherwise, which may exist.”?

Lord Bridges of Headley: First, I pay tribute to the work that the noble and right reverend Lord does in this area and all his contributions to this debate. I understand that there has been concern about this clause. I assure him, the House and charities that, of course, charities will be able to provide advice and guidance to government if it is part of the work that they are being paid to do. This clause aims to prevent taxpayers’ money being used to lobby politicians and government on all manner of other issues. The Government believe that the new clause is compatible with the compact and does not in any way prevent grant recipients from campaigning and lobbying, using their other funds. It simply requires clarity on what the grant funding can be used for.

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Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, the Government have adopted this policy following a lobbying campaign by the Institute of Economic Affairs, according to its 2014 accounts, funded by a source which it declines to disclose. Is it the Government’s intention that charities commissioned by the Government for their expertise will have their ability to influence government policy restricted, while charities funded by anonymous donors, such as tobacco companies, will not?

Lord Bridges of Headley: I slightly dispute the second point. I draw the noble Baroness’s attention to the fact that DCLG has used this clause in 56 contracts since February 2015. For example, the Church Urban Fund, which the noble and right reverend Lord will know, the LGA, Mencap and the Royal College of General Practitioners have all received grants under the new clause. Shelter, likewise, has received a grant, and is currently running its Power to Renters campaign. A number of noble Lords will no doubt have received communications from it as regards the housing Bill.

Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): My Lords, I declare an interest as having served on the Etherington review of fundraising by charities. Would my noble friend the Minister not agree that, given that individual donors in this country give some £8 billion a year to charities, they should be encouraged to give greater transparency and accountability for the funds that they use for lobbying rather than for good purposes?

Lord Bridges of Headley: I entirely agree with that. I pay tribute to the excellent work that charities do up and down the breadth of this country and to the considerable contribution that many millions of people make in time, energy and commitment. I point out to your Lordships that, obviously, this clause is aimed at the £130 billion paid out in grants annually. While we may be talking here about charities, we should not forget the £74 billion of grant funding that goes to local government, the £24 billion to ALBs and public corporations, the £8 billion to international recipients and the £4 billion to the private sector.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): Would the Minister agree that charities are and must be seen to be independent of government, regardless of their financial arrangements? Would he also agree that any perception that charities are being limited in what they can and cannot say about public policy issues because of their funding would be damaging to public trust in civil society?

Lord Bridges of Headley: Of course I agree with that, but I strongly believe that this clause does not do that. I point out that for a number of years government departments have included a provision that taxpayers’ money should not be used for political activity and this new clause simply clarifies what that means.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, on Tuesday last week we completed the Charities Bill. At 8.32 am on Saturday the Government announced this new policy. Did the Minister know about it on Tuesday when we completed it and would it not have

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been better to announce it then, when there could have been a debate on this important matter in Parliament, rather than issuing it by diktat?

Lord Bridges of Headley: On the first point, I assure the House that this actually goes much wider than just relating to charities. As I said, it relates to numerous other points. I would also draw your Lordships’ attention to that fact that this has existed in the DCLG and been piloted since February 2015. The DCLG has not received any complaints that it has hindered the work of those charities involved.

Noble Lords: Answer.

Lord Bridges of Headley: And no, I did not know about this at that point.

Lord Hay of Ballyore (DUP): My Lords, we have huge salaries being paid to senior charity staff right across the United Kingdom. Some of these staff are being paid more than the Prime Minister. How can that be justified at a time when many of these charities are struggling financially? Can I ask the Minister whether any of the money paid to charities from government grants goes towards salaries?

Lord Bridges of Headley: Part of the process that we are trying to ensure is that these grants are properly audited and that we know exactly where the money goes. Regarding the salaries that charities pay to their senior employees, that is obviously a matter for the charities, but I am sure that they will be noting the considerable public scrutiny that they are under—and rightly so.

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister accept that there is a world of difference between money going from government to a charity for project work and money that the charity earns by its own fundraising? Surely the fundraised money should be used for purposes not covered by what the Minister said, and charities should be free to spend their money for advocacy as they think fit.

Lord Bridges of Headley: That is exactly right and that is what they will continue to be able to do.

Faversham Oyster Fishery Company Bill [HL]

Faversham Oyster Fishery Company Bill [HL]

Second Reading

3.37 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That the Bill be read a second time.

Bill read a second time and referred to the Examiners.

Haberdashers’ Aske’s Charity Bill [HL]

Haberdashers’ Aske’s Charity Bill [HL]

Second Reading

3.37 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That the Bill be read a second time.

Bill read a second time and referred to the Examiners.

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New Southgate Cemetery Bill [HL]

New Southgate Cemetery Bill [HL]

Second Reading

3.37 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That the Bill be read a second time.

Bill read a second time and referred to the Examiners.

Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2016

Motion to Approve

3.38 pm

Moved by Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 17 December 2015 be approved.

Relevant document:14th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Considered in Grand Committee on Monday 8 February.

Motion agreed.

Infrastructure Planning (Onshore Wind Generating Stations) Order 2016

Motion to Approve

3.38 pm

Moved by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

That the draft order laid before the House on 14 January be approved.

Relevant documents:15th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 23rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on Monday 8 February.

Motion agreed.

Trade Union Bill

Bill Main Page

Committee (2nd Day)

3.39 pm

Relevant documents: 15th and 20th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Clause 4: Information to be included on voting paper

Amendment 23

Moved by Lord Collins of Highbury

23: Clause 4, page 2, line 32, leave out from “must” to end of line 34 and insert “state the trade dispute to which the proposed industrial action relates”

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Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, the amendments in this group were due to be debated on Monday night. I recognise that we have quite a few amendments and clauses to deal with in this composite group. The Minister has said that she is in listening mode. These amendments are designed to probe and query the reasons and justifications for these measures. Clauses 4 and 5 are definitely not in the Conservative Party manifesto, and it is arguable that Clause 6 is. We look forward to what the Minister has to say and to her answers to our questions.

As I have said in debates on other clauses, the Bill does very little for trade union members or to promote good industrial relations. What is does is place greater regulatory burdens on unions and hinder the speedy and amicable settlement of disputes. Today, we seek evidence to justify change and of whether alternatives were considered. Our concerns about these clauses are that the evidence on the problems is non-existent and the rationale for legislative measures does not stack up. We would also like the Government to be as expansive as they can be on what they intend to include in, and exclude from, secondary legislation. The Minister will need to explain the Government’s stated expectation of these measures and the millions of pounds of additional cost to trade union members and trade unions.

The impact assessment suggests that these measures and Clauses 7 and 8 are expected to reduce strikes by 5% and contribute £1.2 million to UK output. In a series of measures that are more likely to prolong disputes, that a pretty strong claim. Will the Minister outline how this will make such a difference and whether the measures are proportionate?

In relation to Clause 4, trade unions need to be clear about what they are asking their members to vote for so that they can make a fully informed decision, but there is no evidence that they are not clear under the current arrangements, or a jot of evidence that members or employers feel unable to grasp the issue in the ballot. Unions are required to ask members what type of industrial action they are willing to take part in; for example, strike action, action short of a strike, a work to rule and so on. The employer receives a copy of the voting paper.

Some employers to try to frustrate the ballot by legal challenge and injunctions and with threats and costs. Some firms can be very inventive, creating a web of different companies to demonstrate that the complex intercompany arrangements mean that multiple ballots need to take place. The management is not obliged to provide any data to help clarify the company delineations and the members concerned. That speaks to one of the problems with the Bill, which is about balance in measures on management and its responsibilities and requirements. When we tried to rebalance these measures, we were told they were out of scope and not to do with trade unions. Is this view shared by the Minister?

In another place, Nick Boles’s entire evidence base for Clause 4 was that he had two such ballots and did not understand what they meant, and that he felt the use of the words “redundancy” and “pay” was insufficient. This shows absolutely no understanding of the context in which staff are notified of redundancies, in keeping

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with statute, or how pay is negotiated. I know that the Minister has practical experience of this, and I hope that she can clarify his words today. I suspect that there were fewer unionised staff in Policy Exchange than there are in Tesco, which has a fully unionised and recognised workforce.

3.45 pm

The crux of this debate is what is meant by “reasonable detail”. Will the Minister please provide a few examples? What specifically needs to be given on the date? What would be acceptable and what would be unacceptable? Will the Minister consider that very specific detail may be against the management’s wishes? In those circumstances, would it still want the detail specified?

Our amendments in this group seek to rebalance the Bill. Perhaps I can set out how they would work in relation to these clauses. Amendment 23 suggests an alternative, practicable proposal that voting papers should simply outline the trade dispute to which the proposed industrial action relates. In the same vein, Amendment 24 adds that the voting paper should include a description of the trade dispute. These may be minor probing amendments, but what, in the Minister’s opinion, would be an ideal ballot paper? Would it be a 200-word essay, or would it be so complex, with so much information, that no one would be able to make a sensible decision?

Unions are already required to ask members on the ballot paper about the type of industrial action they are willing to take—that is, strike action or action short of a strike. Now the ballot paper must also include a statement alerting members that, if they take industrial action, it may breach their contract of employment, reminding them that they have no protection from dismissal if their action is unofficial; their right to such protection is limited to official action. This seems an appropriate amount of information and in no way misleads workers or members as to the purposes of the ballot, as the Minister will no doubt argue.

Amendments 25 and 26 delete new subsections (2D) and (2E) on the basis that they are too prescriptive and add next to nothing to the process—certainly not to the value of the content of the voting paper; in fact, they will serve to frustrate constructive employer-union negotiations. For example, in some disputes it would be difficult for the union to predict how employers would respond to strike action and how quickly they would be willing to negotiate a settlement. It would therefore be very difficult for unions to predict when they would plan industrial action and the form the action should take, making new subsections (2C) and (2D) futile.

Amendment 27 ensures that unions would not be required to comply with the new complex rules set out in the clause if they reach an agreement with the employer about the information that should be included on the voting paper. Again, that is a sensible way to find amicable settlements, with unions and employers agreeing together without interference from the state.

Amendment 28 establishes an alternative procedure whereby unions would be required to submit a copy of the voting paper to the scrutineer, who will evaluate the text, so avoiding the potential for legal challenge.

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This would mean an independent assessment of the content of the voting paper so that employers were not able to initiate, as I say, vexatious litigation.

Clause 4, on the information to be sent to members about the result of a ballot, will mean that unions are required to provide more detailed information on the outcome. This represents an additional burden that would particularly impact on smaller unions. Under Section 231 of the 1992 Act, trade unions are already required to inform members and relevant employers about the results. Unions have to follow quite a complex process and there have already been a number of challenges to that process. Case law is being established.

We also support Amendments 29, 30 and 31, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham. They would remove the requirement on unions to inform members and employers of whether the 50% turnout and 40% threshold has been met. Amendment 32 proposes that the unions should be required to take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure that all members who are entitled to vote in a ballot are informed of the result of the ballot. This would mean that unions would be expected to use the usual methods of communication, including websites, newsletters, notice boards, emails and so on.

Clause 5 appears to be another pointless measure which serves to add to the burden of unions, with little indication of what purpose or value it will generate. We have given notice of our intention to oppose Clause 6 on the provision of information to the Certification Officer, as we believe that this measure needs to be considered in tandem with the latest section on the massive extension of the role of the Certification Officer, a role that is turning the officer into a regulator, an investigator, judge and jury, shifting it away from serving and protecting the interests of members and towards employers and campaign groups at the direct expense of trade union members. Nick Boles rather gave the game away in Committee in the other place when he made the point that the Certification Officer was now going to play a role in industrial action. It would be better to defer this matter until it can be properly considered later in the Bill. Given the huge concerns, including profound human rights objections, the Government will need to do some persuading about the nature of the Certification Officer, what data are collected and how they are used.

Detailed examination of the impact assessment does not provide an evidence base for either the scale of the problem or the scope of the solution. The impact assessment is wrong on cost and on behaviour. The measures for regulations are piling up and there is no evaluation of the existing law or of the flaws or effectiveness of the arrangements. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Is this another round of gesture politics? It is clear that these measures will add cost burdens and bring about a huge extension of the scope of legal challenges, as well as the creation of open-ended opportunities to frustrate legitimate trade union activity.

Underlying that is a strong view that the Bill is flawed and that it does not account for management as a significant actor in the process; it only assists and encourages backward and poor management practices, which are a major and continuing source of our

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productivity and competitiveness gap with our major competitor countries. I hope our concerns are similarly shared by others around the Committee.

The Lord Speaker (Baroness D’Souza): My Lords, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 24 by reason of pre-emption.

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, perhaps I may add one point to the excellent summary given by my noble friend Lord Collins. I would like to make an analogy with the other big thing that is happening in our lives at the moment—the EU referendum. You have to think about what you want to get out of a negotiation and consider whether it is conducive to getting an acceptable outcome if you spell out every possible thing that you might want. It seems to me that there is a risk in the clause that the Government want to include because the unions would be almost obliged to put everything and the kitchen sink in the list of demands. This could be counterproductive and make it much more difficult for unions and employers to resolve disputes. Why? Because they might find it difficult to convince members that they should accept a settlement that does not deal with all the issues listed in the ballot paper. In some disputes, it will be difficult for the union to predict how employers will respond and how they will wish to negotiate the settlement.

It would be wise, therefore, for the Minister, in her response, perhaps to acknowledge some degree of validity in the idea that it is not always a good thing to put too much information in the question of dispute.

Lord Oates (LD): My Lords, I rise to speak specifically on the measures proposed in Clause 4 and the related amendments. Clause 4(1)(2B) states:

“The voting paper must include a reasonably detailed indication of the matter or matters in issue in the trade dispute to which the proposed industrial action relates”.

One might be tempted to ask what on earth that means. Evidence given to the Bill Committee in another place from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and others was critical of these measures on the grounds that they will be counterproductive and likely to cause worse industrial relations. Lawyers for both the trade union side and employers were worried about the litigation that would ensue.

What this wording means, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, set out, is that unions will seek to draw the nature of the dispute as widely as possible on the ballot paper to protect themselves from later legal challenge. By putting “the kitchen sink” on the ballot paper, they will, in the first place, probably confuse the membership more, which is the opposite of what this clause purports to—

The Lord Speaker: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, but could the noble Lord clarify which amendment he is speaking to?

Lord Oates: I am speaking to Amendment 23, which was moved to Clause 4.

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The most likely thing is that the clause will have the opposite effect to what is proposed by the Government as their motivation—although, I must say, some of us rather doubt their motivation at this stage. It would be much harder, as has been pointed out, for trade unions to settle disputes once they have put all these issues on the ballot paper because their members may, understandably, object to having voted in favour of action and the dispute being settled before all the issues on that ballot paper are achieved.

The Minister will know that BIS’s Code of Practice:Industrial Action Ballots and Notice to Employers states:

“The relevant required question …. should be simply expressed”.

It goes on to say that nothing which appears on the voting paper should be presented in such a way as to encourage a voter to answer one way rather than another. So I have some questions for the Minister. How does she see the requirement to be “reasonably detailed” fitting in with the requirement that any question is “simply expressed”? Does she not think it likely that a reasonably detailed explanation is more likely to be open to interpretation as encouraging a voter to vote one way or another? Given the Government’s concern that people taking part in a ballot should not be misled as to what they are voting for, does she perhaps see opportunities to extend this principle? Does she think it would be better if the general election ballot had provided a reasonable description of what the Conservative Party had in store for voters? Does she think that voters in the general election could have been told that the first actions of the Conservative Government, on winning an overall majority, would be to take thousands of pounds off millions of hard-pressed working people? That certainly came as a surprise to millions of those voters after the election. Of course she does not. I hear someone referring to the manifesto. The Minister will know that there is already provision for Members to be given information about the nature of a ballot. Again, the BIS code of practice states that unions should give information to their members, including the background to the ballot, the issues to which the dispute relates, and the nature and timing of industrial action that the union proposes to organise. Does the Minister not think that the trade unionists are capable of reading this information and deciding how to vote?

4 pm

It is not just trades unionists and, lawyers and professional bodies which think this clause is a recipe for litigation. Conservative advisers on employment relations share this view also. Tom Flanagan, a former adviser to the Conservative Party on employment law, who provided evidence to the Bill Committee in another place, also agrees. He helped to produce a 2008 paper for the Conservative Party which set out most of the changes relating to ballots which are in the Trade Union Bill.

In evidence to the Bill Committee in another place, Tom Flanagan said that the trade union changes that he had proposed were unable to proceed in the last Government, largely because of opposition from the Liberal Democrats. He is certainly right about that.

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While praising many of the provisions of the Bill, he went on to say that a reasonably detailed indication of the matter or matters in issue,

“is likely to be a step too far, in my view, and risks more legal challenges in endless satellite litigation”.

If the Government will not listen to us on this matter, will they perhaps listen to him and accept Amendment 23?

The measures set out in Clause 4 in particular demonstrate everything that is wrong with this Bill. They are unnecessary. The Government have produced no evidence of a compelling case. The provisions are a politically motivated attempt to tie the trades unions up in red tape. They are poorly drafted and will be a lawyers’ paradise. They will ensure that disputes are drawn as widely as possible and that they are as hard to resolve as imaginable. They will be entirely counter- productive to what I hope all Members of this House want to see—good industrial relations in this country. For those reasons I hope that the Minister will consider very carefully the amendments before us.

Lord Dykes (Non-Afl): My Lords, the other Liberal Democrat spokesman wants to come in, so I will be brief. I did not realise that she was going to stand at that moment. I apologise.

I very much support and endorse the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in his cluster of amendments, and the equally sagacious contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Oates, on these matters. Clause 4 is one of the areas where even the most objective supporter of the need for modernisation of procedures between trades unions and employers would say that there appears to be a dark intent behind them. It would cause unnecessary difficulties for unions in the normal pursuance of their functioning, including when trade disputes arise, allowing an unfair advantage to be built in on the employers’ side. Yet, while a large number of employers remain silent, the ones who have been consulted express grave reservations about this Bill.

I always like to assume good intentions on the part of any Government, so I assume that this Bill had been drafted by the normal team of parliamentary draftsmen on behalf of the Government, therefore within an objective capsule of content. But the tone and content are repeatedly suggestive of outside agencies, including maybe the IoD—I apologise in advance if I am getting that wrong and being unfair—and more likely the Institute of Economic Affairs and, even more sinister, the Centre for Policy Studies, giving their suggestions and ideas about these matters. A modest number of rather right-wing oriented business leaders in this country—most business leaders are not right wing, left wing or whatever, just sensible and pragmatic—who are more myopic about the subtleties of modern industrial relations and the good balance between employers and unions have also had their contributions registered and put into the machine and been redrafted by professional draftsmen.

In moral and practical terms, a Government elected by 24% of the electorate in the last general election should not be allowed to put such provocative ideas into Clause 4 and other clauses that we will debate after this. I hope that the Minister will once again think very carefully about the implications of pressing

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ahead with a poorly drafted, provocative and narrow-minded text, which will surely cause severe problems in industrial relations if it is allowed to pass. If it goes back to the other place I hope that they will also have second thoughts and that this will be carefully considered, not least by Members on the government side. I keep my promise now and allow the Lib Dem spokesman to speak.

Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD): I am grateful. My Lords, I do not want to detain the House because there is a lot to get through, but I want to make a very brief general point on Clauses 4 and 5. I am sure that every noble Lord would agree that we want legislation that will work. Our concern is that it should not tie either side up in legal knots on the information that they have to include on the ballot paper, or on the way trade unions communicate the result of the ballot.

Our concern is that the specificity of the requirements may lead to some kind of legal challenge by the employer or others, as my noble friend Lord Oates said. Surely we should have in legislation what any reasonable trade union member would expect to be told and what a reasonable trade union would expect to tell its members. That is why my Amendments 29 to 31 would enable the concept of “reasonable belief” to enter the equation, instead of specific legal questions, the contravention of which might result in a challenge. We also support Labour’s Amendment 32, which would inject that tone of reasonableness into the whole process of reporting the result of a ballot to union members.

Lord Pannick (CB): My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, just said that the legislation should contain what a reasonable trade unionist would expect to see on the ballot paper. For my part, I am having difficulty understanding the criticisms that have been made of Clause 4. There is some substance to them, but the clause is not “provocative and narrow-minded”, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, suggested. Surely, if one is to have a ballot that will be of vital legal significance in identifying whether the union and its members will be immune from legal action, it is perfectly reasonable to provide that the voting paper must give those who are voting basic information about what they are voting for.

Three items are mentioned in Clause 4. First, the voting paper must include an indication,

“of the matter or matters in issue in the trade dispute to which the proposed industrial action relates”.

That seems to me perfectly reasonable. The criticism may be justified in the words “reasonably detailed”. I understand the criticism of those words because there is a danger that they may lead to legal difficulties. If those words are removed, what is the objection to the person voting being told expressly and clearly the matters in dispute that he or she is being asked to vote on?

Secondly, where the voting paper,

“contains a question about taking part in industrial action short of a strike, the type or types of industrial action must be specified”.

What is wrong with that? It is a perfectly reasonable basic requirement. Thirdly,

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“the voting paper must indicate the period or periods within which the industrial action or … each type of industrial action is expected to take place”.

Again, the reasonable trade unionist who is being asked to vote surely needs to know the length of time for which the industrial action is going to take place. Concerns have been expressed that these provisions may lead the trade union to put in, as was said, the kitchen sink. I should have thought that any trade union that did that would be very badly advised indeed, because it would be likely to confuse the members and far less likely to satisfy the statutory thresholds.

I am particularly puzzled by Amendment 27, which would provide that these new provisions,

“do not apply to any ballot where there is an agreement between the employer and trade union”.

Surely that leaves out the interests of the employee. There may well be an agreement between the employer and trade union, but it may not work to the benefit of individual employees. Therefore, I think there is some force in some of the criticism, particularly of the language in new subsection (2B)—“reasonably detailed” —but the criticisms are very substantially overblown.

Lord Collins of Highbury: May I ask the noble Lord about that “reasonably detailed”? My noble friend referred to the kitchen sink, but a pay claim may have several items within it, perhaps as many as 20, some more important to some groups within a firm than to others. There is a balance to be struck. The trade union balances that in negotiations and often has to choose, but of course the trade union is representative of those employees; it is not an outside body. At the end of the day, it is those employees who have the vote.

My problem with “reasonably detailed” is what you leave in and what you leave out. When I was a trade union official and we faced the possibility of a legal case—the possibility that we would be challenged—the tendency was to say, “Let’s put in the kitchen sink to make sure that we do not get it wrong”.

Lord Pannick: That is precisely why I expressed my understanding and support for the suggestion that the words “reasonably detailed” are unnecessary and may well be counterproductive. I see the force of that criticism, but only that criticism. Let me add that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, was concerned that this would require the trade union to put in its demands; it would not. What it requires is that the voting paper must indicate the matter or matters at issue. If we take out “reasonably detailed”, I cannot see the objection to a ballot paper indicating—not setting out in detail, but indicating—the matter or matters in dispute. That seems perfectly reasonable.

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, I remind the House what unions are already required to do. They must ask members, on the ballot paper, about the type of industrial action that they are to take, whether it is a strike, an overtime ban or whatever. That has to be specified on the paper at the moment. The ballot paper must also indicate that there may be a breach of their employment contract. In my experience, all ballot papers have a statement of what the dispute is about, what people

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are voting about. They do not just say, “Will you go on strike?” out of the blue. In the postal ballot there is a statement saying what the dispute is about. My question to the Minister is: why do we need this? What is the problem that she is trying to solve?

I know what the effect will be. My learned friends—I exclude the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, from that description at the moment—will be poring over every ballot paper to see if it ticks all the boxes that the Government are trying to introduce. There will be an industrial dispute of some kind and disputes about the ballot paper. Members will say, “I don’t like that”, or employers will. I am not sure if it is a kitchen sink, Pandora’s box, or what the metaphor is, but it is a totally unnecessary bit of red tape.

4.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): My Lords, these clauses are about making sure that union members have clearer information on the voting paper about what action is proposed, when and why. They also ensure that members, and the certification officer, know about the outcome of the ballot. The increased clarity is an important part of our package of trade union reforms. In some sense having the right information defines everything we are about, and I think there is some common ground on this issue.I am grateful to the Lord Speaker for clarifying which amendments we are addressing. I will try to answer the points made amendment by amendment.

Noble Lords expressed concern about the new information that the Bill requires a trade union to provide on the voting paper. They want to keep the status quo, or at least reduce the amount of information that the Bill requires. There is also a worry about the risk to a union of a legal challenge for failing to comply with the requirements, and about increasing burdens and bureaucracy on trade unions. We do need some change because the law does not provide enough transparency.

In response to the noble Lords, Lord Lea of Crondall and Lord Oates, I say that it is more useful, for both the union members and the employer, if the voting paper is clear and transparent about what issues are in dispute. This will aid negotiations as they will be able to focus on exactly which aspects of—for example—pay remain unresolved. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, on this. The aim is to provide more certainty about the issues in dispute, thereby reducing the risk of legal challenge to the validity of the mandate, which would be costly for both parties, as other noble Lords have hinted.

We used the words “reasonably detailed indication” of the matter or matters at issue in the trade dispute, because if there is any more detail that a union could reasonably give on the voting paper then it has not complied with the requirement.

Lord Cormack (Con): I have listened very carefully. Would it not meet the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, if we said a “clear indication” rather than a “reasonably detailed” one?

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I thank my noble friend. That is certainly something we can look at.

I was asked for an example. In a trade dispute about pay, it would be reasonable to expect the union to state which year’s pay offer is in dispute, and which employees are covered by the offer. This may be done in some cases but in others it may not. I am concerned about a trade union simply stating the trade dispute, as proposed in Amendments 23 and 24. This would not ensure that the voting paper was sufficiently clear. Members need to know exactly what they are voting for—if there is a strike they lose money.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD): Is it not a reality that any ballot paper would have accompanying documents setting out the case for the vote. Surely that is where the detail should be, not on the ballot paper.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: We do need clarity. I have listened to what has been said in relation to the reasonably detailed indication. We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Oates and Lord Pannick, about what that might mean in practice. I would like to reflect on whether we have got that right. Probably what everybody wants is a balance, so that there is sufficient detail and members can make an informed decision without unnecessary burdens being put on unions by asking them to include a long and detailed account of the trade dispute.

I turn to Amendment 25. Terms such as “action short of a strike” are too wide. The type of industrial action proposed will depend on the circumstances of each dispute and the industry concerned. It is important that members know which type they are voting on because of the different impacts on people’s lives. I reassure noble Lords that we have considered that there might be a degree of uncertainty when a union is drawing up its plans about what action it might subsequently take. But it must surely have in mind a plan for such action. All we are asking is that that plan is made available to members.

I am concerned that Amendment 26 would mean that there was no requirement to provide any information on the voting paper about the timing of industrial action, which is a key point. We want to avoid the situation where a member might have made a different decision had he or she realised when the strike would take place. For example, Unite conducted a ballot where British Airways staff voted to strike, but it is not clear that they would have supported the strike action had they known they would have been called out for 12 days over Christmas. We want to avoid that sort of thing.

Lord Dykes: I will be brief. Coming back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, made earlier, and allowing for the fact that the example the Minister gave about the airline dispute over Christmas was a very esoteric example and not a generalised one, why can the Government not be more benevolent and consider that in the background and the immediate run-up to the ballot being launched there would have been plenty of explanation in the union’s communications to its paid-up members? Presumably, the intentions of the trade union and details of the dispute would have

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been reported in the press so that the public would be well-informed as well. Everybody would know about it. Why does the ballot paper itself have to be sullied with further extraneous detail of that kind?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Lord. Having the necessary information on the ballot paper is important. You cannot always rely on the press to give you all the information you need to know.

Lord Collins of Highbury: The Minister has referred to a specific case. One of the problems with the impact assessment is that it does not detail what the impact of these proposals will be, particularly in the private sector. The problem with the measures being proposed is that they seem to stem from specific actions in the public sector. But if she does take the British Airways situation, has she assessed what the unintended consequences could be of a union specifying such things in the ballot? She has failed to mention that in the private sector the vast majority of industrial action ballots result in speedy negotiations and a speedy settlement. The problem with putting this information on the ballot paper is that it becomes so specific and public before those speedy negotiations can take place.

I wonder what British Airways would think of the Minister’s proposal that Unite puts on an industrial action ballot, “We will close British Airways down over Christmas”. I wonder what British Airways would say to the Minister—because I know what it would think. Even before the result of the ballot is known and even before there is any suggestion of industrial action, most people will be cancelling their bookings, costing British Airways a substantial sum of money. Is that what she is proposing?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I think that the noble Lord makes the argument for the Bill: trying to bring in a greater degree of clarity. I have given an example, which I think is a good one. Perhaps I might proceed.

The approach proposed in Amendment 27, which puzzled the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, requires agreement with the employer and could result in too much time and effort being spent on trying to agree the wording on the voting paper, instead of trying to resolve the dispute. I think that this is common ground. Trade unions will generally want to maximise the possibility of achieving the proposed thresholds and to have clarity and certainty about who is entitled to vote, which is the subject of Amendments 29 and 30. I reassure noble Lords that the law already protects trade unions against challenge over insignificant breaches of the balloting rules.

For example, many of the provisions in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 on balloting are subject to a “reasonableness” requirement. A union cannot be held to account for trifling errors when it conducts a ballot. Sections 226A and 234A require that the lists and figures supplied in the ballot and strike notices must be,

“as accurate as is reasonably practicable in the light of the information in the possession of the union at the time when it complies”.

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Section 227 confers entitlement to vote,

“to all the members … who it is reasonable at the time of the ballot for the union to believe will be induced”,

to strike.

In addition, Section 232B provides that a union still complies with the requirements on balloting, even if it has made some error in the process, if,

“the failure is accidental and on a scale which is unlikely to affect the result”.

There is also the case of RMT v Serco, which established the margin of error on which trade unions can rely, thereby adding clarity and certainty around the statutory reasonableness requirement. All of this means that the obligations are not intended to be unduly onerous for unions.

Amendments 29 and 30 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, go further by allowing the union to import a “reasonable belief” into what is a trade dispute, so removing the current objective test to determine whether a matter constitutes a trade dispute. This would allow the issue to be opened up to uncertainty, according to what the union believed.

Amendment 31 addresses concerns about unions complying with the requirements to ballot those who are entitled to vote. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the fact that, in future, unions will have more certainty that those who are entitled to vote receive a postal ballot paper. This is because the previous Government introduced a requirement for unions to submit membership audit certificates. This enables unions to demonstrate that they are complying with their duty to keep membership records accurate and up-to-date.

Amendment 32 is duplicative. Section 231 of the 1992 Act already states:

“As soon as is reasonably practicable after the holding of the ballot, the trade union shall take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure that all persons entitled to vote”,

are told the result of the ballot. Members and employers will therefore know the number of votes cast and the numbers of individuals answering yes and no. It would not be fair to leave them to work out whether the thresholds were met, especially as the union will have calculated the result in order to know whether it has secured a mandate.

On Clause 6, I agree that it is not sensible under this amendment to go into too much detail on the Certification Officer, since we shall come to that on day 4. But this clause is important because timely provision of good quality information is a key component of ensuring effective regulation and it gives confidence to those affected by disputes. The need to provide such confidence is why annual returns—

Lord Oates: With regard to Clause 6, can the Minister tell us more about the regulatory impact? Under the coalition Government we introduced a rule of one regulation in, one out, and later we made that one in, two out. Which two regulations will be removed from trade unions as a result of this clause?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I shall look at what the noble Lord has said. The way one in, two out works is that where a new burden is brought in, equivalent

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burdens in pounds million are reduced. Obviously we produced an impact assessment for this and we shall be ensuring that when regulations are totted up, double the resulting amount is deregulated elsewhere. Under the system, one Bill is not linked with another but the totals are totted up. The noble Lord makes a good point about the importance of deregulation—and impact assessments are important for the same reason.

I have pretty well finished on this point, but the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the secondary legislation that the Government would be making in relation to these clauses. There is no power to make secondary legislation in respect of Clauses 4 to 8. The provisions are set out in the Bill, which is why it was right to take the trouble to spend a little time setting out what was intended.

We have had a constructive discussion. There is a little further work in terms of scrutiny on this particular section. I am grateful for the points that were made, particularly on the issue of reasonably detailed indication. I should like to reflect further and in the mean time I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

4.30 pm

Lord Collins of Highbury: I appreciate the Minister’s comments. It is important that she reflects fully on all aspects of this because the unintended consequences could be far worse than the Government expect. The impact assessment is incredibly poor in terms of assessing what effect these proposals could have, particularly on the private sector. But in the light of the Minister’s comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 23 withdrawn.

Amendments 24 to 28 not moved.

Clause 4 agreed.

Clause 5: Information to members etc about result of ballot

Amendments 29 to 32 not moved.

Clause 5 agreed.

Clause 6 agreed.

Clause 7: Two weeks’ notice to be given to employers of industrial action

Amendment 33

Moved by Baroness Donaghy

33: Clause 7, page 4, line 4, at end insert—

“( ) At the end of section 234A(4)(b) of the 1992 Act (notice to employers of industrial action) insert—

“, unless the employer and union have reached an agreement in respect of the industrial action, in which case the appropriate period is the period ending with the seventh day before the day, or before the first of the days, specified in the relevant notice.””

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Baroness Donaghy (Lab): My Lords, one of the difficulties about moving an amendment on employment relations in a Bill which some of us consider is not about employment relations is finding a context where employer and employee have a mutual relationship which works most of the time but occasionally breaks down—and the extent to which the state intends to help or hinder on those occasions.

A senior civil servant, who shall be nameless, was once asked, “Why is there always an anti-trade union Bill when the Conservative Party wins an election?”. The civil servant replied: “There are two reasons. First, it will delight the local Conservative associations and, secondly, it does not cost anything”—unlike building a motorway or lowering taxes. My Amendment 33 does not cost anything either. Its purpose is to highlight the importance of the relationship between the employer and the trade union and its members, and to recognise the benefits of mutuality in the timing of industrial action. Its objective is to give some flexibility in what can be a very fraught atmosphere.

The existing requirement of seven days’ notice of industrial action once a ballot mandate is achieved is not, in itself, a problem. It is extremely rare for employment relations to be so bad that the lines of communication between management and trade union are completely severed, and notice of intention to hold the ballot will already have been given. During the ballot period, the union will campaign for a successful outcome, and management will inform employees why industrial action is unnecessary. The seven days’ notice only kicks in when the ballot is successful from the trade union angle; it is not relevant if the ballot fails. The employer and union will then know where they stand. If the intention is to hold, say, a one-day demonstrative strike, it is in the interests of the employer to be allowed to agree the timing of the strike with the union—not because it will agree with the strike, but because it recognises the reality of the situation and wants to lance the boil as soon as possible. I am not arguing that two weeks’ notice, in isolation, is a bad thing, but in the context of the total package of this Bill, it is patronising. It is also damaging to take certain judgments away from management and unions in this situation.

The impact assessment talks about “contingency arrangements” and then goes on about,

“more cost effective contingency arrangements”.

I would be interested to know what these are and what the difference is between them. For instance, is it hiring agency staff to cover which, of course, is more expensive? I do not believe any respectable agency will get involved with this anyway. Will it be hiring people at 4 am from the car park near B&Q on the Old Kent Road—similar car parks are available—which is what the construction industry does? That would certainly be more cost effective as a contingency plan.

The impact assessment refers to both parties seeking,

“to reach a mutually acceptable”,

that word mutual,

“conclusion to the dispute without resorting to a ballot for industrial action”.

That is language I understand and anyone involved in employment relations understands. However, everything in this section of the Bill reveals a mindset that is just

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the opposite of good employment relations. This mindset wants to maximise bureaucracy for trade unions and make any strike open to legal challenge. It puts so much on the ballot paper that the exit strategy becomes impossible, takes away any flexibility to manage a difficult situation and implicitly encourages strike breaking. The TUC has said that the proposal for 14 days’ notice,

“is designed to reduce the momentum in union campaigns”.

My amendment would allow management and unions some control over events. It recognises that mutuality is important even in times of strife and keeps the channels of communication open. I hope the Minister feels able to support it.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: My Lords, I want to make to a couple of points on this group. Why it is necessary to change the notice? What is the significance? On the face of it you might say, “What is the difference between one or two weeks?”. In the context of our suspicion as to where the Government are coming from on this, I think there needs to be suitable due diligence to look at what really is necessary. The Committee ought to be reminded that it will not be one week. To give notice that you are going to have a ballot, to have a ballot and then to have another week or two after it to give notice for industrial action gives the employer quite a lot of notice already of what could happen.

I accept that the Government are changing the need for action within four weeks of the ballot, so if this was a quid pro quo for that requirement—I do not see the Government arguing that—that might be more understandable. With all the detail that is going to go on the ballot paper, if the date of the industrial action is specified on the ballot paper is that going to act as notice? Is that going to be adequate? Have the Government thought of that?

The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, recognises reality, and where there is agreement between an employer and the trade union it makes sense to recognise that and exclude it from this provision. We question the essential nature of this section of the Bill but we also understand that whether it is one or two weeks will not make a huge difference in the context of the notice that the employer already has of industrial action.

Lord Callanan (Con): My Lords, I listened carefully to the two speeches supporting this amendment. There has been a lot of talk about management on the one side and unions on the other and the context of balloting and industrial action but neither of them mentioned the people actually affected by the action—the commuters who want to go to work or the parents who want to take their children to school so they can work. Surely they have the right to at least two weeks’ notice to try to make alternative childcare arrangements, adjust their own employment arrangements or make alternative transport arrangements so as to go about their normal, lawful proceedings at the time. To give them two weeks’ notice is reasonable. Obviously, unions and management are important, but I ask noble Lords to bear in mind that other people are affected by action as well.

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Lord Collins of Highbury: The noble Lord has made a point about the time that this process takes, but we are focusing on industrial action ballots. Anyone listening to our debates would think that industrial relations were simply about industrial action ballots; of course, they are not. In the private and public sector, negotiations take place every year without the need for them. We now have a statutory framework for industrial action ballots that provides for time periods. With this additional proposed week, we now have one week’s notice to the employer that a ballot is taking place, at least two weeks for the ballot period, then the announcement of the ballot result, before giving a further two weeks’ notice. We end up with a period of balloting for industrial action of some five weeks: five weeks to create uncertainty for an enterprise.

Lord Callanan: I understand the point that the noble Lord is making, but that is five weeks’ notice that it might happen; there is only two weeks’ notice of the precise date when the action will take place.

Lord Collins of Highbury: As my noble friend pointed out, the rationale for the amendment has been changing while the Bill has been under consideration. Nick Boles in the other place said that the clause will give employers the last opportunity before industrial action takes place to reach a negotiated settlement. At least that is a positive approach. The purpose of industrial action is not inflicting pain, distress and disruption. Clearly, that happens; there are always consequences. Its purpose is in the negotiating process: to try to bring parties together. In the main, at the end of the day, whatever the strike, there is a settlement and an agreement. It is sad that, often, it is strike action or the threat of it that brings parties together. I wish it was not so.

The Minister—I know I keep mentioning this; she must regret it—was part of an industrial agreement with a trade union in Tesco, which has practised a very good partnership agreement. Through the practice of negotiations, it strives to avoid disruption to the enterprise. That partnership agreement recognises that the success of the enterprise is in everyone’s mutual interest—to come back to the word “mutuality”.

Nick Boles said that the extra week is to provide that opportunity so that negotiations can take place to reach a solution. I want to challenge that a bit. The impact assessment seems to be about something else. It suggests that it is about making arrangements for contingency plans. The Government have conducted a consultation, and published the results in the impact assessment, on the use of agency workers to cover duties normally performed by an employee of an organisation who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action, but there are no provisions in the Bill on the use of agency workers. Will that be included in the Bill on Report, or will we face another series of amendments that propose secondary legislation? As my noble friend pointed out, such action is likely to undermine industrial action and will give employers an incentive to engage at the local car park rather than in positive negotiations to reach a mutual settlement.

I support my noble friend Lady Donaghy’s amendment, which returns the notice period to seven days. Our Amendment 34 is basically another probing amendment.

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It states that, where a union has indicated a specific date for industrial action on the voting paper—as the noble Lord has mentioned—it is not then required to give the notice.

We are trying better to understand the intent of the Government and the consequences of these actions. I am keen to get a sense of the Minister’s thinking on why two weeks. What evidence have the Government considered which demonstrates that the current seven-day period is ineffective?

4.45 pm

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, for her amendments and for the contribution she made to industrial relations as chair of ACAS. I always listen very carefully to what she says because she knows so much about this important area. We also recognise the important part that negotiations play in reaching a resolution in disputes between unions and employers. One wants to avoid these where one can. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for reminding me of the good partnership we had between unions and management when I was at Tesco.

Serving notice of an intention to take industrial action is the last stage in the process before a union may actually take such action. This is when continuing dialogue between the parties becomes even more important. This is why we are moving from seven to 14 days, thereby providing a longer of period during which trade union and employer can discuss and strive to reach agreement on how best to resolve the dispute without recourse to industrial action. There is, of course, nothing to prevent a union and an employer continuing to negotiate after the notice has been served. Indeed, this happens already. Having a longer statutory notice period should not affect this.

We fully appreciate that a negotiated settlement is best for all concerned. It is better for the employer, the union and its members and—crucially—for the public. Those whose lives can be so affected should be confident that the law provides every opportunity to avoid such disruption.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, asked about ballot paper dates. My understanding is that we will not require unions, when balloting, to provide a specific date. It is an indication of the time period; it does not have to be a specific date.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: I thank the Minister for giving way. The point I was making was that, if unions put the date on the ballot paper, will that provide a defence that they have given notice?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: We will come back to that. In the mean time, I will deal with a different point. I have a serious concern about removing the notice and instead relying on the indicated period from the voting paper, as suggested in Amendment 34. An indication is a much vaguer concept. People must have notice of the days when industrial action will take place, or they cannot make the contingency plans that we have been discussing. These can, of course, help to reduce costs on both sides.

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The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, most eloquently made the point that strikes can have a wider effect and cause a huge amount of disruption—not only for businesses but for the public. The public need an appropriate amount of time to make contingency arrangements. My concern is that the noble Baroness’s amendment does not address this. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness has made some good and interesting points, on which I would like to reflect.

Finally, to return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, on whether a specific date on the voting paper would constitute notice, our answer is no.

Lord Collins of Highbury: Could the Minister give me a specific answer about the issue of contingency plans? The impact assessment talks about agency workers. If she is going to reassure the Committee that there is no intention to bring forward amendments or provide for secondary legislation, I shall be very happy.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I should like to look into that and revert, either under a later amendment or in writing, on the point that has been raised.

Baroness Donaghy: I thank the Minister for her response and echo what she said about taking every opportunity to avoid disruption. I thought that that was the purpose of my amendment—that employers and trade unions can take advantage of certain opportunities for two-way communication to accept the inevitable but minimise damage. I entirely sympathise with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, about disruption to the public. It is very difficult to have any strike action—you could argue that there was no point in such action—that does not disrupt anybody. We are all here hoping that we can avoid strike action. The suspicion that some of us have is that the purpose of the Bill is to prevent strike action. I am trying to find a small shaft of light to recognise that management and unions find themselves in a difficult position, after a clear mandate, and give them every opportunity of arranging the date so that it is mutually beneficial—if there is such a thing—during a period of strike action. In the light of the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.

Amendment 34 not moved.

Clause 7 agreed.

Clause 8: Expiry of mandate for industrial action four months after date of ballot

Amendment 35

Moved by Lord Collins of Highbury

35: Clause 8, page 4, line 14, leave out “four” and insert “twelve”

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Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, there are two clear issues to consider in relation to this clause. The first is whether there is a case for an expiry of mandate and about the timing. The second is the most extraordinary own goal and, I suspect, the most unwanted measure in this part of the Bill: the abandonment of the requirement for some sort of action within 28 days. The evidence is clear that most disputes settle within or around 28 days of a ballot result, with the requirement for some action to be taken by the end of that period. It makes no sense, particularly in the private sector, to prolong that to four months. It would create uncertainty in a system that we have operated for a substantial period to have a ballot and then the action described in that ballot, whether it is on the ballot paper or not, taking up to four months rather than 28 days.

Our concern over the proposals is helpfully explained by the impact assessment, which states:

“We have not been able to quantify how this time limit will affect the number of working days lost to strike action, since we do not have data to reliably estimate the number of strikes across the whole economy which occur more than 4 months after the result of a ballot”.

So the Government have no idea what the effects of this change will be for industrial relations. It also notes that under current law it is for the courts to determine,

“whether a ballot mandate is still valid and that includes assessing whether there has been a substantial interruption in the industrial action”.

It is important to note that there is no freedom at the moment for a union to invoke, simply out of the blue, a ballot result from years ago. That is not the current situation.

One point that the Government have raised in support of having a four-month time limit, to which they refer in passing in the impact assessment and which was raised in Committee in the Commons, is that staff turnover means that not exactly the same group of employees will be there one or two years on from the date of the ballot. If the Government use this line today, and the Minister picks it up, it is worth being aware that any statistics for staff turnover that they cite in making this point tend to be for all employees, including those in non-unionised workplaces, in which staff turnover is significantly higher. In unionised workplaces turnover is significantly lower. The most recent ONS data covering 2014 show that across union members, 92.5% have more than a year’s service in their job. So the argument that staff turnover after just four months should invalidate a ballot, irrespective of the views of the remainder of the workforce who voted in it, is weak.

The Government’s argument is that 12 months is too long to live with uncertainty. The simple fact is that the Bill is constantly creating longer periods of uncertainty. An unresolved dispute is an uncertainty. Talks and negotiations are far better than strike action. The four-month limit just provides for a prolonged series of processes that will keep that uncertainty. Attrition does not seem a modern approach to effective management and employee-employer relationships.

The Government are introducing a time a limit for ballot mandates in reaction to specific things, particularly in the public sector, but there is no relationship in this

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to real life and the real industrial relations situation in the economy as a whole. If the Bill becomes law, unions will no longer be required to start industrial action within the first four weeks. Where a dispute remains unresolved after four months, unions will have to ballot again. Again, this will create uncertainty. If there are difficult negotiations, why are we saying that we should take employers and unions up to the top of the hill again within four months? If this is the process that the Minister wants, we will end up with a situation in which unions will not be able to have a positive influence and will not be able to ensure that after people have been marched up to the top of the hill they can be marched down again.

We see evidence of that at the moment in the Government’s approach to industrial relations in the health service. They inflict a situation on people in which positions become entrenched. Industrial relations are about reaching amicable settlements. Negotiations are about bringing two parties together. Industrial action and the threat of it occasionally help to bring those two sides together. Some of the proposals in this Bill will have completely the opposite effect to what they are apparently intended to have.

The Government cite the basis for legislation on this as being due to the cases where unions have threatened strike action on ballots that took place over a year ago. I suspect I know the examples that the Minister will cite, but can she give me specific examples? How many are there beyond the four cases mentioned in the impact assessment? How many are there in the private sector and how many in the public sector? We need to know the evidence before we simply take on board these measures.

5 pm

The main focus of this proposal appears to be public sector disputes. Instead of worrying about four-month mandates and whether mandates have been exhausted, perhaps we should have more focus on negotiations. One of the main reasons for protracted disputes has been the Government’s refusal to negotiate. The TUC, in its statements on the Bill, believes that rather than imposing additional restrictions on workers’ abilities to strike, the Government should seek to engage in genuine negotiations—that is something that should happen, very importantly today, in the health service. Does the Minister agree that rather than imposing restrictions, she should be arguing for constructive negotiations? What efforts are the Government making to facilitate better union/employer relationships?

I come back to the point made by my noble friend: this is a Trade Union Bill. It can focus only on trade unions. Unfortunately, it cannot recognise that the reality of life is two sides negotiating and coming together. I believe this clause will create substantial legal and administrative costs for unions, which will be forced to reballot instead of working hard to seek a negotiated settlement. Unions estimate that they spend at least £1 per member on ballots, and the postage costs of member communications alone are substantial. The Government’s impact assessment states that familiarisation with the new balloting rules will cost unions more than £500,000 in the first instance. I suspect most of that will go to lawyers, who get heavily

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engaged in industrial relations. As many of us know, when you bring lawyers into a situation it ends up in prolonged difficulties, rather than mutually agreed negotiations.

In some cases, these proposals could create an incentive for employers to sit out a dispute rather than engage in genuine negotiations, so it could reward bad employers. Unions will perhaps feel pressurised to organise earlier industrial action to avoid the cost of reballoting. It could end up with unions ensuring that they tick the box and take the action to avoid coming into conflict with the law, adding to conflict rather than seeking mutually agreed settlements.

Amendment 35 extends the ballot mandate from four to 12 months. At present, unions are required to start industrial action within 28 days, but they can agree with employers to suspend proposed action to allow more time for negotiations. If talks break down, the union can take action. Will the Minister indicate why the Bill does not include an equivalent provision? If there is not that sort of provision, the consequence of these clauses will be to force industrial action, which is what we are seeking to avoid.

Amendments 36 and 37 probe the date by which the four-month period is due to begin. I know it is not a vital issue, but when would the four-month period start? Is it the date of the ballot? What is the date of the ballot? Is it the date it opens or the date it closes? I can see that these things will become critical when action needs to be taken at the end of a period, and then we will end up with legal challenges. It can make a significant difference to the period in which action may be taken. The beginning of the end of a ballot period is over two weeks, and you could end up with this uncertainty for a number of weeks.

The four-month limit in Clause 8 imposes a far shorter window. No action may be taken until a fortnight into the dispute, and after two months, if the dispute is ongoing, the union’s thoughts will inevitably turn to that ticking clock. It will be thinking that, before the end of the four months, instead of going to negotiations, perhaps it should better start preparing for the next industrial action ballot. So the period for negotiations is far shorter. At the end of the day, it is about what brings two sides together. There is no doubt that, in any negotiations, loss and costs are an important factor.

There is another way in which this clause might make industrial relations worse. Since it leaves the union with a short window in which to take action before it needs to reballot, it incentivises the union to take significant action to force the employer’s hand in a short period of time. Of course, balloting is an expensive process, especially when it has to be carried out by post, so unions will be keen to avoid this. For this reason, they will be under pressure from their members not to hold back in disputes. Have the Government really thought through all the consequences of these clauses, or are they simply a reaction to some of those four cases that I referred to earlier? The Minister has to give us the Government’s assessment of how the current deadlines affect a dispute; that would be useful to know. Why are the Government denying employers and unions the ability to agree to extend the deadline that they are imposing in Clause 8?

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Why not allow negotiations to take place? Surely this seems a logical and beneficial step for both sides of any dispute. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Handsworth (Lab): My Lords, my noble friend Lord Collins has drawn attention to the mandate and its expiry. In particular, he mentioned that a starting point of 28 days could possibly get up to about four months, depending on the circumstances and on the parties to the dispute and what action they may or may not take. The debate on this particular clause assumes that nothing changes during the period of notice. I think that that assumption is a luxurious one because I know of no dispute where nothing changes over three or four months.

What it really demands is a shift in objective. When you have a dispute, the issue is not about how long you maintain the dispute—either through statutory provisions or, indeed, bad personal relationships. The essence of the parties is, in fact, to try to find a solution to the dispute. What is depressing about this debate is that I have not heard the word “settlement” from either side—although primarily this is a government Bill. They took the initiative and are seeking to use their mandate to change the framework for the settlement of industrial disputes. But they have not used the word “settlement”. It is all about dates and the behaviour of one party or another.

I believe that if we are to construct an industrial relations framework that meets the modern demands of industry and, more importantly, society, we have to deal with it on a comprehensive basis—not just a piecemeal basis or saying how many months or days we mean. Nothing has been said about the instruments or the structures, and nothing has been said about arbitration or conciliation. Indeed, we will be told that negotiation is a matter for the parties. I understand that but we must have a Government who facilitate and persuade, because ultimately they are the Government and they have responsibility for maintaining not just law and order but an economy which is responsive to the ups and downs of consumers’ requirements, meeting all needs.

I trust that before very long the Minister will find some way of coming back to this House and indicating how we can have negotiations and discussions, even during the notice period. If the Bill is to be worthy of anything, it has to be tested on whether it reduces periods of industrial dispute time-wise and frequency- wise. That is the only way in which we can guarantee continuous growth in our economy and an improvement in the quality of life of all our citizens.

Lord Deben (Con): My Lords, I have listened to the debates on the last three amendments and have noticed a crucial fact. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, spoke of both sides of industry and the Government, and the noble Lord who spoke earlier talked about both sides of industry, but no one has spoken about the customers—the people who suffer because of a strike. I have sat through debates on trade union legislation ever since the Government of Edward Heath and what distresses me is that we still do not talk about the consumer or the customer—the person out there—upon whom both employer and employee depend for their future, their

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wages and their profits. I do not believe that strikes are about two sides; inevitably they are about three sets of people. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, admitted, a strike operates through pressure on the public. We also know that there are more strikes—at least more damaging strikes, as far as we can see—which attack the public as the mechanism for achieving their ends. If the railwaymen strike or the public sector strikes, it is the public against whom they are striking.

I make no comment about which of the two sides is more right than the other; there are appalling employers and there are pretty dreadful actions by trade unions. I am not in any way biased on this matter. As Members opposite know, I have had some significant concerns about this Bill and previous Bills, but I do think that somebody has to speak up for the customer. The amendment we are discussing suggests that it is acceptable to the customer to be told that a strike will take place based on a ballot that has taken place nine months before. To me, that seems unacceptable. Trade unions and employers should take seriously that they should not impose upon the public, upon whom they depend, that kind of, frankly, pretty random and arbitrary action.

5.15 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: I go back to Ted Heath and 1971 and 1972, as the noble Lord does. I think it is unnecessary to use over-the-top language such as “striking against the public”. Take the present dispute of junior hospital doctors. If you meet any of them, do they think that they are striking against the public? No, of course not. There is obviously a nuance—to put it mildly—between whether you are talking about the Secretary of State being the public or somebody else being the employer, or the issue of how many hours a week are being worked or whether you work on Saturdays and so on and so forth. It is not helpful to have this characterisation. Even though the metaphor of the two sides of industry is a well-known one, it is open to interpretation.

Lord Deben: It would obviously be unsuitable for me to make any comment whatsoever about the current strike, given my relationships. Therefore, I will keep away from that. However, I will take on very clearly the point that the noble Lord has made. One cannot possibly suggest that a railway strike is effective if it does not affect the railway passengers. To say, “I am striking but I do not mean to upset the passengers” is really a metaphor without meaning. The staff are striking because they do mean to upset the passengers, because that is the only way they think they can bring their case properly to the eyes of whichever British transport company is concerned. I do not in any way want to make the noble Lord unhappy, but one of the problems is that we pretend. We should not pretend: the purpose of a strike is to cause inconvenience in order that the management of whatever it is should give way.

Lord Collins of Highbury: I just want to correct the idea that nobody is concerned about the consequences of industrial action. Of course we are; all sides are very concerned. The evidence before us is that, in the

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day-to-day life of industrial relations, strikes are a matter of last resort. The evidence shows that most industrial action ballots result not in strike action but in speedier negotiations. In relation to this clause, does the noble Lord think it would help the process to have a continuous run of industrial action ballots if the negotiations have not been concluded within four months? The problem is that the negotiation period will move. It will not be four months and then a ballot; it will be before then. Will that help the speedy conclusion of negotiations?

Lord Deben: First, I did not accuse anybody of not caring about the passenger or the customer. I merely pointed out that in all the speeches I have heard from the other side nobody mentioned these people, so I cannot believe it is front-of-mind; I cannot believe that it is actually there. The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, whom I listened to with great care, and respect considerably, suggested that she had a suspicion about the nature of these proposals. The suspicion was that they were not really about improving industrial relations, but were in some way of a party-political kind. Of course, we can all have our suspicions. I have a suspicion that people who do not mention the customers or the passengers or the rest are not as interested in them as they are in the trades unions themselves—

Lord Oates: Would the noble Lord accept on this point that many of us are opposed to most of the measures in this Bill precisely because we think it will be entirely counterproductive to good industrial relations—that it will lead to more action and more problems to the public? It is for exactly that reason that we opposed this unnecessary Bill in the coalition, and we will continue to oppose it here.

Lord Deben: I fear I have to say to the noble Lord that I am much older than he is. I remember exactly that argument—exactly that case—demanding that we should not have ballots, that it would extend the time that it would take to get rid of industrial disputes, that it was unnecessary to have them by post, and that it was perfectly possible to do all these things in the old-fashioned way. The very party that presented those arguments would not dream—well, I hope it would not dream, even under the present circumstances—of abolishing those things, yet the arguments all the way through were exactly the same as we have now. That does not mean to say that this Bill is a good Bill, or that this Bill is right. What it does mean is that many reasonable, centrist politicians—and I am one of them—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Deben: If the noble Lords opposite do not think that, they had better have a few words with some of the Conservative associations in Britain. Simply speaking, it means that some of us who are reasonable and sensible about this do not immediately take for granted that every criticism of that sort may be true. That is the only position I am trying to put. I am asking some fundamental questions of the arguments that have been put forward opposite.

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Lord Oates: I cannot account for the arguments that other people made a long time ago; as the noble Lord rightly states, I was rather younger then than I am now. When noble Lords on these Benches were dealing with these matters and bringing in laws—whatever he says, they were were rules that I did not propose and never have—they were bringing them in to address a problem. This is a Bill that is a solution to a problem that is not there. If you look at the days lost to industrial action and the incredibly responsible behaviour of the trade unions during a period of unprecedented austerity, you will see that there is a difference. There was a big problem that they had to tackle, whereas this is a solution in search of a problem.

Lord Deben: I hoped that I was addressing this with a certain degree of care. I do not want to enter into the argument as to whether trade unions or employers have behaved in one way or another. I believe that industrial action from time to time is necessary. I have never disagreed with that. But it seems to me important—I think the party opposite agrees—that this should in fact be the last resort: you do not have industrial action unless you really need to have it. I hope that one of the reasons the party thinks that, although it has not referred to it, is that it inconveniences—and more than inconveniences—the public as a whole. It is not unreasonable to think seriously about some of the things that can be done to ensure that people are careful about this. That is on both sides; I do not suggest anything other than that.

It seems reasonable to say that you do not call a ballot unless you really need to have industrial action, and it is unlikely that the circumstances four months later or thereafter will be the same as when the ballot was held. That is the point that the noble Lord who spoke last put forward. I am afraid that that does not support his case; it supports my case. If there have been significant changes in those four months, it does not seem reasonable to rely on a ballot that took place in entirely different circumstances. You should have a ballot close to the point at which the industrial action is taken. I think that four months is rather a long time. A week is a long time in politics and four months is a long time in industrial relations. There are other things in the Bill that I am not very happy about, but this proposal seems perfectly reasonable.

Lord Collins of Highbury: The Bill removes the requirement to take industrial action within 28 days. Does the noble Lord think that that is correct? That is what it will do: take 28 days out and say four months. That will not aid the process. I accept what the noble Lord said about strikes being a matter of last resort and that they are to be avoided, but on industrial action ballots the Government should not try to interfere with industrial relations in the way they have. The fact is that the most leverage a union has on an employer is not the industrial action it takes, but the mandate achieved through industrial action ballots.

Lord Deben: I give way regularly because I much prefer debate in this House. I do not much like the system that we have where you put down your name to speak and then nobody ever interrupts you; I always

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thought that that is not of as much interest and I am all in favour of changing it. I have given way, but I will not be led astray on to other issues. The issue I put forward is very simple: it does not seem sensible to rely on a ballot that took place more than four months ago to take industrial action, given that the change in circumstances may well be considerable, as the noble Lord said. That is why I would like to hear more about the customer and the fact that we ought to rely on a system where people know, with some immediacy, what the question is, vote on it and then take action.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Deben that strikes are, on the whole, to be avoided. The question is whether Clause 8, which I am talking about, not the Bill as a whole, assists in the removal of strike action or industrial action. The union has a very strong mandate once it succeeds in a ballot, assuming that that is how things develop. Therefore, it is important that the time given by that is not unnecessarily restricted. If progress is to be made in eliminating the need for a strike, it will be at its best after the union gets a mandate to have industrial action, if it is necessary. This is a critical period for the success of negotiations. One can see that negotiations sometimes take some time. They may progress rather slowly, but if they progress at all they are worth taking. I think very much of the customers, passengers or whatever affected by strike action. That is something the Bill should aim to reduce. Therefore, once a mandate has been given by a ballot, it should be worked out so far as possible.

5.30 pm

It could be, of course, that negotiations come to a halt in these four months and the employer decides he is not going to do any more about it. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible that considerable progress may be made in these four months. Is it right to call an arbitrary halt to progress, if it is taking place, after four months? I suggest to my noble friend that it is worth considering whether this period should be subject to extension by agreement with the parties. If progress is good and the trade union is in the best possible position, having had a mandate from its members in accordance with these rules, is it right or wise arbitrarily to bring that period of probably the most effective time for negotiations to an end?

I agree with my noble friend that, of course, circumstances may be very different after four months. On the other hand, it is possible that they will be different in the sense of being more favourable to a settlement than they were at the beginning of the four months. Is it right, therefore, arbitrarily to throw that opportunity away? I suggest for consideration the possibility of the employer being able to extend the period if it looks as though that will ultimately reduce the necessity for a strike altogether.

I am also interested in the connection between new subsection (2D) inserted by Clause 4—the notice about the period—and the period in which the industrial action may take place, which comes under Clause 8. This being Committee, I strongly suggest to the Minister that that could be looked into. Very often, getting a ballot mandate has an effect during negotiations. The employer will not, I hope, be insensitive to that

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improvement. It is a very clear declaration of the attitude of the proper majority of the employees to the matters in dispute.

Lord Morris of Handsworth (Lab): My Lords, just for the record, I have been misquoted. I did not argue the case for four months; what I said is that my noble friend Lord Collins drew attention to the fact that the expiry date has drifted, or will drift, from 28 days up to four months. The record will show that.

Lord Jordan (Lab): My Lords, I apologise for being unable, through my own fault, to speak at Second Reading. I give general support to this group of amendments, and to Amendment 38 in particular. It is a positive amendment to a Bill that has little positive about it. It is designed to delay and decrease the likelihood of industrial action starting and gives an incentive to both sides to keep talking without disadvantage to either.

The Bill ought to have been about resolving disputes, not about organising them. My noble friend Lord Lea mentioned the junior doctors today on strike. They are not the usual suspects when we think about strikers. We have heard lots of statistics about the overwhelming number of workers who have never been on strike, and, for those who have, how it was, for them, once in a lifetime. There are times when people do things they do not want to do, believing that there is no other way. No workplace is immune to this dilemma; not even this Chamber. How many noble Lords did not want to vote against the Government on benefits cuts? But they did, believing there was no other way to answer a Government who were neither listening nor prepared to do the right thing. Every single day, in countless workplaces, decent men and women encounter petty but sometimes serious injustices. Most times they take it and carry on working. But there are times, as your Lordships know, when you have to take a stand. If laws are needed when the working relationship breaks down, they should help to repair that relationship. This Bill does not.

This amendment is a simple, small step to making a bad situation better. It provides a mutual opportunity for a second chance to resolve a dispute. This is a chance for second thoughts about finding a solution to what is, by then, an entrenched conflict. This is not only what businesses want; it is what customers, the consumers of their products, want. I urge support for this amendment. Let us test the Government’s ability to be sensible.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Ind Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as a retired member of Unite. I joined my first trade union in 1943 as a youth in training on the Post Office telephones, so I have a bit of experience that I can share with the noble Lord, Lord Deben.

I give support to these amendments and, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who spoke about consultation. That is always much better than confrontation. Throughout my life I have been involved in trade union activities. When I worked for the CEGB

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I was secretary of the local advisory council and a member of the regional and national advisory councils, so I have been around trade unionism for a very long time. I was always impressed at amendments that were put into the gas and electricity Bills at the time—I think they were moved by Mr Mikardo, who was then MP for Reading—which made provision for consultation. Since I took part in that consultation, I know that it works.

The power station in which I worked had previously been owned by the Wessex Electricity Company. It was not used to consultation. When the company was nationalised, and the law said that there should be consultation, it had to embark upon it. I helped it to do so. It was a long, hard job but in the end consultation does work. Certainly, in my time the people I represented never needed to go for strike action or go-slow action, because we had the patience to do so.

That is what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and these amendments are talking about: patience, consultation and understanding. The noble Lord, Lord Jordan, was general secretary of one of the trade unions to which I used to belong and knows his stuff as far as trade unionism is concerned. I just wanted to say those few words to support the idea that consultation works. This Bill is not consultation, it is confrontation and confrontation never works. It only causes disaster, both to the employers and the workers themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, had a lot of interruptions —I felt sorry for him, really, but he can take it; he has been around a long time. He was absolutely right to talk about the customer. The customer in this case is wronged by strike action. But he must not imagine that the customer is always against the striker. I can assure him that when we had the miners’ strikes in the 1970s, people were queuing up to accommodate the striking miners in their own homes. Indeed, according to the opinion polls, two-thirds of the public support the junior doctors. The public are not always against strikes, although they often are. But I support the amendments and I think that on the whole this is a very foolish Bill.

Baroness Burt of Solihull: My Lords, this group of Labour amendments, particularly Amendment 38, seeks to inject a further term of flexibility into the period of time before which a mandate might ultimately expire. Currently there is no ultimate time limit but, as has already been said, any reasonable trade union would wish to ensure that it still had the full support of its members before setting a date for strike action to take place. The problem with deadlines is that they up the ante. The pressure on both employers and trade unions is to achieve a resolution, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, indicated.

Amendment 35 seeks to substitute a 12-month mandate for the four months suggested by the Government. It is very difficult to know whether 12 months would be any more suitable because every trade union dispute is different. To me, 12 months feels too long—but what is the right period of time? Labour Amendment 38 addresses this in what seems a very reasonable way: the period of the mandate can be renewed every three months where the employer and the union have a mutual agreement to that effect. Again, this injects an

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important element of flexibility and would stop the race towards meeting the four-month deadline, which could result in a nuclear option being exercised by the trade union—or, indeed, the employer.

It seems somewhat ironic that this Government purport to want to devolve power and decision-making but here they are being prescriptive in a way that is very likely to exacerbate the breakdown in employer/trade union relations rather than enable the business of negotiation to proceed in a smooth way. Neither employers nor trade unions will benefit from the setting of an arbitrary four-month mandate. We want more “talk, talk” not “walk, walk”, particularly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and several other noble Lords have mentioned, the customer is going to be disadvantaged.

5.45 pm

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, we have discussed at length the problems that are caused by old ballot mandates. For public credibility we must move away from having an indefinite period, with or without the agreement of the employer. As an example, the NASUWT took industrial action on 17 October 2013 based on a mandate secured in November 2011, almost two years earlier. The PCS held a strike on 15 October 2014 based on a mandate from March 2013.

My noble friend Lord Deben made the important point about the three sets of people affected. He rightly emphasised the customer—the passenger, in my first example—and the public, who are affected as a result of disruption on an out-of-date mandate. That is why Clause 8 specifies that a ballot mandate must have an expiry date. This means that there will no longer be a prolonged period of uncertainty. That will benefit everyone.

In deciding how long a mandate should last, we have sought to provide a balance. On the one hand we have removed the uncertainty that can hang over employers’ heads for years. On the other hand we have provided a reasonable amount of time for constructive negotiations. The question then is what period would be appropriate to deliver that balance.

We have proposed four months. I have listened carefully and with great interest to the arguments put forward by noble Lords on all sides of the House. I have heard some good arguments for a period of longer than four months. Some are resistant to that. Nevertheless I remain concerned that a period of 12 months would tip the balance far too far in favour of unions, to the detriment of others. That would mean that employers would still have the threat of a strike hanging over them for a considerable length of time. That does not help to create a stable and certain environment for business. Nor is it good for union members. They need certainty about the period during which they may be asked to take industrial action, particularly given the consequential effect on their pay and their families.

Another important point on which my noble friend Lord Deben also touched is that people’s views about a dispute can change over time. It is only right that the union checks back with its members to see whether they still support the industrial action. This is why I have a concern about Amendments 38 and 39.

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They suggest that the union and employer could agree between themselves to extend the mandate, either indefinitely or for, say, three months, without reballoting members to see whether they agree. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay commented on this. Such a rolling and continuing mandate would also affect the wider public, and we should think about that in the balance as well.

Finally, in relation to Amendment 36, I am pleased to assure the House that it is not necessary to make it clear that the four-month time period begins on the last day of voting. The date of the ballot is already defined in Section 246 of the 1992 Act as the last day of voting in the ballot.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked why we should remove the 28-day initial action period. It is no longer necessary—I think that he came to this conclusion himself—because the ballot mandate will be limited to four months and this will increase the time available for dialogue so that strike action is averted where possible. We want strikes to be a matter of last resort. I hope that I have understood his point correctly.

Lord Collins of Highbury: Just for clarity, the purpose of the 28 days is to ensure—whatever the rights and wrongs—that industrial action ballots are a matter of last resort. My point was that industrial action ballots, as the noble and learned Lord noted, themselves become the leverage. They strengthen the union’s position. Unions were quite quick to learn that the bad old days did not produce results. The reforms—and I shall call them reforms—ensured that mandates were far more secure. They have more authority and are, therefore, far more effective. My problem with the proposition in this clause is that they become a regular thing. By removing the 28 days, they are no longer the precursor to industrial action, while inserting every four months leads to the situation where unions will have to get their members to vote for the mandate not just at the end of four months but clearly before that. This will prolong the uncertainty and make matters worse.

I come back to the point that this is about how we support two sides in negotiations. I am not ignoring the impact of disputes, but at the end of the day what will stop a dispute is the two sides reaching an agreement. The current situation is far better, and I fear that the proposals in this clause will potentially lead to uncertainty for a much longer period. The noble and learned Lord made the extremely good point that the strike ballot mandate can become an important element in reaching an agreement. Is it not then appropriate and sensible that the two sides, instead of being forced to come apart again and ballot, can agree mutually to extend that period so that the focus is on negotiations rather than on a strike?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I thank the noble Lord for his measured response. I agree with the point that was made about trade unions doing good things. It was good to see the noble Lord, Lord Jordan, joining the debate and reminding us of all the workers who never go on strike and to hear the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, talking about the importance of consultation.

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We discussed some of the positives about unions in our very good curtain-raising debate last November, which I certainly found extremely useful for getting me into the subject.

We still need to tackle the question of out-of-date ballots, however, which can lead to industrial action long after people have made up their minds. That is a problem we are seeking to address in this legislation and in this clause. However, this has been an important debate this evening, and I would like to take some time to reflect on the points that have been made. The length of the mandate and extension by agreement seem to be the two things that have come through in the discussion.

Lord Collins of Highbury: It is important, before we come back to these issues, to note that when we make legislation, it should be evidence-based. I know that we have these four cases that are often quoted, and the impact assessment, but has the Minister’s department properly examined what goes on in the private sector? Is there a difference between the private sector and the public sector? What is the norm for industrial action ballots? I think the vast majority of industrial action ballots in the private sector result in negotiations without industrial action. If that is the case, could the department do a proper assessment? The unintended consequence of this measure could be that the process of negotiations is interrupted, to have a strike ballot to ensure that the negotiations continue. Strike ballots are not a neutral process: they are about members winding themselves up and saying, “We have a strong case and we’re not going to resist it”. The constant referral to a strike ballot will, in my opinion, harden views not soften them. It will not aid negotiations.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I have listened to what has been said and, as your Lordships know, have already wound up. We have some information on what has happened in the private sector and I am very happy to have a conversation with the noble Lord before we get to the next stage. We also have some very good examples, mainly in the public sector, as the noble Lord says, where these out-of-date strike ballots have been enormously damaging. That remains the case, but of course we can talk further. My door is always open, as I have said so many times.

Lord Collins of Highbury: I assume the Minister is asking me to withdraw my amendment, but I repeat that this is an issue we will have to come back to. As we have heard in this debate, there is a consensus across the board, from all sides, that we have to be careful here not to hinder the process of negotiation. We need to ensure that it is supported. However, in the light of the assurances about having further discussions, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 35 withdrawn.

Amendments 36 to 40 not moved.

Clause 8 agreed.

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Clause 9: Union supervision of picketing

Amendment 41

Moved by Lord Stoneham of Droxford

41: Clause 9, page 4, leave out lines 36 to 38 and insert—

“(1) In order to facilitate a picket under section 220, a trade union may choose to take the actions specified in subsections (2) to (8).

(1A) Failure to take actions specified in subsections (2) to (8) does not make any picket conducted under section 220 unlawful.”

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: My Lords, I emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that strikes are not happy situations. They are very much the last resort, they are obviously unpopular with customers and they are often a sign of failure. In these situations, you can get examples of relations breaking down and intimidation. That is part of what is a pressured relationship and part of tough negotiations. Intimidation itself is unacceptable, but there are various strains of it that you have to accept in tough negotiations and in a pressurised situation. There will be that sort of experience.

I have experience of picketing from both sides of industry. In my youth, I helped organise pickets in the railway industry. As I got older and became a manager in a very difficult industry—the print industry—I had to deal with pickets at my gate, once with a two-week dispute with a print union and then again with a 12-week dispute with journalists. Both occasions were harrowing and very sad experiences that caused damage to relationships which took a long time to overcome, although I am glad to say we did overcome it.

I have a number of points to make. Orderly picketing requires the commitment and co-operation of unions. It is often not understood that unions play a very important role not only in managing relationships in industry but in containing conflict when it breaks out. Orderly picketing is very important. We are not these days, I am glad to say, talking about the sort of pickets that we had at Wapping, at Eddie Shah’s Messenger Group or at the Saltley coke works during the miners’ strike. We now have a very clear definition of what peaceful picketing is, backed up by a code of practice, because it is very difficult to define and order relationships when they have broken down. That is what we have had for nearly 25 years, and we have to ask ourselves whether what is being proposed is better than what we have after the progress we have made. That is open to question: in fact I think that the road we are going down will be very damaging.

6 pm

I remind the House that the definition of peaceful picketing allows picketing at a place of work only by employees who work or have worked there and that there are strict limits and guidance on the number of pickets and how they should behave. That is largely defined in the code. What we are doing here is turning aspects of the code into a statutory requirement. We have to ask whether that is going to be beneficial. The Government have already had certain second thoughts on aspects of this in the Commons. I do not know

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where the idea that you could give 14 days’ notice of using social media and how you were going to use it came from, but it was pretty idiotic. I am glad that has gone. Similarly, the idea of having arm-bands for all the pickets.

Let us remember when we had problems with picketing. I have some experience of it. The criminal law is available when there is genuine intimidation, aggressive behaviour or trespass, but if you use it, it can inflame matters. That is why having a code of practice is so much better particularly when, at the end of the day, it is about resolving a dispute and getting both sides round the table and back at work. The more pickets are inflamed, the more difficult that is to do and the more bitterness ensues.

In this country we recognise that we have a right to protest peacefully and picketing is a form of that—a way of putting your case. If you define the statutory rights of picketing too closely, there is a very strong argument that you could deter responsible trade union activists from taking part in the picket line to try to keep discipline and control. We know there is a danger of the state monitoring of union activists if the police are overinvolved. But there is a more important issue about the police. They do not like getting involved in these sorts of disputes and prefer to keep aside unless they are really needed. I think they believe that their involvement should be the exception, not the rule.

I go back to my point about the voluntary code combined with a clear definition of picketing being better than trying to make more clauses of the voluntary code statutory. I know we will go back to the old argument as to whether we should have “may or “must”. The Minister and I have had discussions before where we were arguing for “must” and she was arguing for “may”. I am going down the route of “may” rather than “must” this time to make the point that maintaining the voluntary code is very important.

I go back to the question: what proof is there that we need to go down this route? In the last few weeks, I have read the Carr report, which I think the Government have tried to base quite a lot of evidence on. I read it very carefully. It is a very odd report because its terms of reference changed half-way through, mainly because the lawyer involved was concerned that just before the general election was a very political time to carry it out. I have also looked at the consultation we have had on intimidation. The evidence in both those reports is pretty weak.

The Carr report makes it absolutely clear that, if there is outrageous behaviour, the criminal law can follow up and deal with issues if necessary. Often the actions are on both sides. The employer can provoke the situation and individuals—people in the picket line or those driving through or crossing it—can be equally abusive. The situation is very difficult to contain and control and that is why the unions are very important in this process and their co-operation is vital. In many of the disputes in the Carr report the unions have lost control. This is due to inexperience. In one case it was because there were very difficult racial issues involved. That is why having a clear legal definition of how peaceful picketing can happen, combined with the code is very important.

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I want to ask the Minister three questions. First, does she accept that the co-operation of the established unions in maintaining order on picket lines is critical and, therefore, it is worth trying to keep that co-operation? Secondly, is she not concerned that further legal action will encourage unions to distance themselves from the work they currently do in controlling the existence and behaviour of pickets? Thirdly, what is the degree of the problem, given that we know that disputes are down? Inevitably, there are examples of difficulty on picket lines. It is not surprising with human nature being what it is, and individuals in a very emotional state, that you will get problems from time to time. What convinces her that the voluntary code combined with a clear legal definition of peaceful picketing is not adequate to maintain good relationships? Does this really warrant a completely new approach, which could undermine all the good work and progress we have made in industrial relations over the last 25 years since those horrendous examples of picketing we had in the 1980s and early 1990s?

Public support in disputes is always very important: we are seeing that with the doctors’ dispute at the moment. People underestimate the degree to which the unions have to work to keep that public support. That is why they do not want, any more than anybody else, violence, intimidation or misbehaviour on picket lines. That is why they put a lot of resources into making sure that the behaviour is, on the whole, acceptable and in the public interest. I beg to move.

Lord Monks: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham. I ask the same question about this and about certain other aspects of the Bill. What is the problem? If you ask the police whether picketing is high on their list of concerns, the answer will be no. They are not bothered beyond turning up, having a word with the pickets, seeing that things are okay and saying that if there is any trouble they will be back. That is it. If there is any trouble, they are back. That is the way I have known pickets working over the years in a decent relationship with the police: a wise word, a kind word, a firm word, just to make sure that people know what they are doing and what they can do.

The code of practice is a good guide in many ways. It has a bit of flexibility. For example, the normal maximum that the law aims for is six pickets. If there happen to be seven there and the police turn up, would they make a big issue of it? They would not. It would be different if there were a lot more. So I say we should stick to the code of practice—it has been found to be rather successful. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, said: a picket can be a difficult exercise for a union, especially when tempers are running high and little things inflame because they are set down rigidly in concrete in the statute law of the United Kingdom. I think that really is doing the wrong thing.