UK Government should remove Scotland from Trades Union Bill, says Holyrood Committee

18.01.2016

The UK Government should remove Scotland from the reach of the Trades Union Bill to avoid damaging industrial relations north of the border, says a Holyrood committee report published today.

And if the UK Government is not willing to amend its Bill, the Scottish Government should use any means available to encourage the lodging and agreement of amendments in the House of Lords to achieve that outcome.

Holyrood’s Devolution Committee further reports that, should this process fail, then as a minimum, regulation-making powers should be conferred upon Scottish Ministers in relation to ‘facility time’ and ‘check-off’.  These issues relate directly to public services in Scotland, such as local authorities, the NHS and Police Scotland, all of which are devolved matters.

Devolution (Further Powers) Committee Convener, Bruce Crawford MSP said:

“There is widespread opposition to this legislation in Scotland, and a clear majority of the committee rejects the general principles of the UK Government’s Trades Union Bill.

“We recognise the UK Government wishes to pass this Bill despite there being no real evidence to support its position.  It is unlikely, therefore, to heed our call to halt the legislative process in the UK Parliament, so that the Bill does not become law in any part of the UK.

“That being the case, the Committee recommends the UK Government removes Scotland from the territorial extent of the Bill, through amendments in the House of Lords at Committee or Report Stage.  Without these amendments, Jeremy Hunt will, in practice, have regulation-making power over industrial relations in the NHS in Scotland.”    

Mr Crawford added:

“We echo the comments made to us in evidence by CoSLA’s Human Resources Spokesperson, Conservative Councillor Billy Hendry. He described the Trades Union Bill as an “unnecessary and unjustified imposition, which could ultimately lead to more industrial unrest across Scotland” and, worryingly, to a breakdown in partnership working across the public sector.”

The next step will be for the Scottish Parliament as a whole to debate the report as a matter of urgency, so that Holyrood’s view is made clear to the UK Government before the Bill completes its passage in the UK Parliament.

Background information

  • Figures provided by the Scottish Government have indicated that, since May 2007, industrial disputes in Scotland have decreased by 84 per cent and that the Scottish trend in days lost to industrial disputes is the lowest of all the UK nations.  The Committee believes that the Trade Union Bill, if enacted, has the potential to damage industrial relations in Scotland and, as these figures show, there is no evidence that a Bill of this nature is required in Scotland.
  • The Committee notes the conclusions of UK Government’s own Regulatory Policy Committee that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Impact Assessment on the Bill was “not fit for purpose” and that there is insufficient evidence to support the UK Government’s estimate of a 65 per cent reduction in work stoppages. In general, the Regulatory Policy Committee said that the UK Government’s Impact Assessment “lacks evidence to support many of the quoted figures”.
  • The Committee notes the UK Government’s view that “no legislative consent motions are required because the subject-matter of the Bill is not devolved to the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament”.
  • Regardless of whether or not legislative consent provisions apply to this Bill, the Committee is deeply disappointed at the lack of consultation on the impact of the Bill with major public sector employers in Scotland and with other organisations more widely. Of the total 544,700 people employed in the public sector in Scotland (21 per cent of the workforce in Scotland), 89.5 per cent are accounted for by employment in the devolved public sector, with the Scottish Government employing 17,100 FTE staff (as at Qrt3 2015).  As such, their views as major employers with responsibility for industrial relations should have been taken into account by the UK Government.
  •  Alex Johnstone MSP dissented from the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations. 
  •  The full Scottish Parliament is expected to debate the Committee’s report before the end of January 2016.