All I can say about legislation like this is that the Government should be careful what they wish for. This is possibly the most significant piece of trade union legislation introduced in this country for a century—right back to Taff Vale—because it strikes at the basic human right to strike. Because it is so significant, wise people in the House of Lords—I rarely say that—have tabled Lords amendment 2B. All they are saying to the Government is, “This is such a significant piece of legislation that you really do need to consult on its detail and implementation.” Without that detailed consultation, I think that a whole range of problems will be exhibited.
I will give one example from my constituency, which I have raised before. How can there be a minimum level of service for air traffic controllers? It does not exist. Therefore, in effect, the legislation means that constituents who are air traffic controllers will not have the right to strike any more. If that is what the Government want, they should be honest and explicit about that.
Again, the Government should be careful what they wish for. Individuals who are trade unionists will see the Bill as the withdrawal of their right to strike, because at any time an employer will be able to say to that individual, “You have got to work.” If that individual says, “Well, I want to go on strike,” they could be sacked, and they would have no protections left in law. That is an attack on the basic right to strike. What will those individuals do? Large numbers of them will not comply. Then what happens? It will escalate into an even more significant dispute.
The legislation also says to a trade union, completely contrary to three centuries of history, “You will be required to discipline your members for not working.” That basically means that the Government will cause conflict within that particular union, or across the trade union movement overall. Maybe that is what the Government are all about.
When the legislation was brought forward, I thought that the motivation for it was one of two things. The first possibility was that the Government were panicking because of the scale of industrial action taking place, not realising that the vast majority of those industrial disputes would, as always, be settled by negotiation. That is what has happened with most of them. If it was not panic, it was something more sinister. It was Ministers thinking, “Why waste this opportunity? Why not bring forward the legislation that we have wanted for generations to undermine the right to strike?”. If that was the Government’s motivation, I tell them that they cannot implement legislation, no matter how hard they try, if it goes against the grain of our history, which is to respect workers’ rights, because those have been fought for over generations.
The Bill will exacerbate the industrial relations climate in this country. The Government should at least accept the Lords amendments, because they go some way towards establishing a piece of legislation that may be seen as implementable through consultation and through the protection of rights. If they go ahead like this, I can see nothing but further conflict. That will undermine the commitment across the House to try to develop a growth economy again, rather than one held back by disputes, some of which have been engineered in recent times because of the cost of living crisis.