When I was young newspapers used to publish long account of parliamentary speeches but this has long ceased to happen, instead we have the BBC Parliamentary Channel that few watch, except on special key or theatrical occasions.
I think it is worthwhile to publish in full Barry Gardiner's speech on government proposals to impose minimum service levels on strking public service workers. He pinpoints the weaknesses and dangers in the proposed legislation.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a proud union member.
The Bill is an affront to Parliament. It will not protect the public, it will worsen industrial relations and it will undermine the unity of the United Kingdom. It should be voted down tonight. There has been much heated argument about the provisions in the Bill. On all the moral and pragmatic arguments, I stand firmly on the side of working people and their right to withdraw their labour, and against what the Government seek to do in the Bill. However, I do not consider that those moral and pragmatic arguments are likely to change the minds—or more importantly the votes—of Conservative Members. I therefore want to put forward an argument against the Bill that I believe they both can and should accept: it is damaging to our constitution and to the Union.
The reason the Bill is so short is that it delegates to the Secretary of State the power to set out all the relevant law in regulations through statutory instruments—regulations which receive only the most minimal scrutiny in this place and cannot be amended. So it is the Secretary of State, not Parliament, who will make regulations to determine the levels of service in relation to strikes, who gets to define the nature of the services to be provided, the number of people who are to provide them, the time at which they are to be provided and the manner in which they are to be provided during a strike. Extraordinarily, the Bill also proposes that the Secretary of State should have the power by regulation to
“amend, repeal or revoke provision made by or under primary legislation” in this House. So statutes passed by Parliament can be amended by regulations drafted by the Minister without full parliamentary scrutiny. In a recent report by a Committee of the House of Lords, “Democracy Denied?”, their lordships state:
“A substantial groundswell of concern is developing about the shift in power from Parliament to ministers.”
This Bill is perhaps the most egregious example yet of a measure brought forward by an increasingly autocratic Executive to strip Parliament of its role in determining what, for many of us, is a critical area of employment and human rights.
It gets worse. The primary legislation that the Secretary of State can amend or repeal is defined to include an Act of the Senedd or the Scottish Parliament. That should set alarm bells ringing for all of us, nationalists and Unionists alike. What is being proposed is that the Secretary of State in Westminster should have the power by regulation to override devolved legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd—and to do so with minimal scrutiny in this House. If the Executive had intended to provoke constitutional outrage and call into question the very basis of the devolutionary settlements, they could not have designed a piece of legislation better guaranteed to do so.
That the Secretary of State in Whitehall should claim the power to legislate by regulation to interfere in devolved areas of government and to impose restrictions in different parts of this Union on the right to strike in transport, education, health and other public services in Scotland and Wales is more than unwarranted. It is more than inappropriate. It is a deliberate provocation and offence.
I call on all Conservative Members, if they care about the Union at all, to vote against this wrecking ball of a Bill, which will only provide succour to those voices seeking to destroy our constitutional settlement and our United Kingdom. Under the Bill, the employer has the unilateral right to identify in a work notice the individual workers required to operate the MSL. A worker who refuses to comply after having been requisitioned in this way will lose unfair dismissal protection.
The Government are thus authorising employers to do what not even a court in this country can do. Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992:
“No court shall…compel an employee to do any work or attend at any place for the doing of any work.”
However, once the union is notified of the identity of the workers to be requisitioned, the Bill requires the union to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that all its members identified in the work notice comply with it. It is ironic that, under the Bill, the same trade union may be required to discipline or expel— (cut off by Speaker).
Thanks for this posting, Martin, that I have forwarded to others under the heading, 'The Divine Right of Secretaries of State'.
I draw special attention here to:
"The reason the Bill is so short is that it delegates to the Secretary of State the power to set out all the relevant law in regulations through statutory instruments—regulations which receive only the most minimal scrutiny in this place and cannot be amended. So it is the Secretary of State, not Parliament, who will make regulations to determine the levels of service in relation to strikes, who gets to define the nature of the services to be provided, the number of people who are to provide them, the time at which they are to be provided and the manner in which they are to be provided during a strike...."
'Statutory Instrument' delegation of powers to Secretaries of State was brought in largely by the Blair Government in 1998, and part of its fallout is addressed by Glasgow U. Law Professor Dr David Webster. The 'moral' here is that through its application in oppressing minorities that have low public kudos bestowed upon them by way of smear stories, 'Statutory Instrument' makes the wider population vulnerable too.
A member of self-help carers network Carerwatch said to me wisely in the run-up to 2010 General: "What horrifies me most about what the Labour Party has done, and I say this as a Labour Party member of a non-party political organisation, is what the Tories might do with the structures laid down by a Labour Government."
Comment posted by Alan Wheatley, ex-Green Party and Green Left, ex-Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and now fairly active with Unite Community in Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
Post a Comment