Sir Julian Lewis – rose
Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg: I must give up soon, but first I give way to my right hon. Friend.
Sir Julian Lewis: I appreciate how my right hon. Friend is trying to give helpful pointers to Government Front Benchers about ways in which the Bill could be improved. Does he agree with a point made to me by a regional representative of the TUC: that there is so little detail in the Bill that it gives Ministers too much discretion to decide what constitutes an adequate service level? That needs to be looked at again, especially because, where such legislation applies in European countries, the unions are involved in deciding what the minimum service levels are.
Mr Rees-Mogg: I think that the Bill should set out clearly what it is trying to achieve, so I will end with an appeal to the other place: I hope that their lordships will look at clause 3 with extreme care, that they will not be abashed by whatever majority comes from this House with respect to the Bill, and that they will amend the Bill to strengthen it, make it more effective and ensure that it achieves its objectives and sets out, in a good and proper constitutional way, what it is trying to achieve. That would be helpful to the Government, but it would also be good practice.
Sir Julian Lewis: I understand the thrust of my hon. Friend’s argument, and I agree with a lot of it. But does he agree that it might have a better chance of working if, when those minimum service levels are set for each industry, agreement can be reached with union representatives on what those minimum levels should be? Having reached that agreement, it would be far easier to implement the legislation.
Dr Kieran Mullan: The Government are committed to extensive consultation to set the minimum service levels, and that sets the spirit in which they want to reach the agreements. Agreements, and positive engagement with industry about them, are in place in Europe. As we have seen with the current strikes, it is not as if the will is not there to agree and recognise that there needs to be a degree of minimum service. As I have said, we have it in the police and it is part of legislation. I do not think it is right that we rely on voluntary agreements to secure others such as ambulance service workers. On principle, I do not think that it should purely be up to the negotiating process to decide that. We should aim for negotiation and for agreement, but not rely on voluntary agreements.