An independent review of laws governing industrial disputes has been greatly scaled back after the QC in charge objected to recent ministerial announcements on the introduction of anti-strike laws.
Employment Law specialist Bruce Carr QC was asked by the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and the business secretary Vince Cable, to examine union laws and to make recommendations to stop intimidation by activists. He has now decided not to make any recommendations following what he describes as the “politicisation” of the issue. He issued the following statement today (6 August):
“I have now considered the evidence and information received by the Review over the past few months and I would firstly like to thank those organisations and individuals who have contributed to the Review so far.
"However, I have become increasingly concerned about the quantity and breadth of evidence that the Review has been able to obtain from both employers and trade unions relevant to its terms of reference. In addition, I am also concerned about the ability of the Review to operate in a progressively politicised environment in the run up to the general election and in circumstances in which the main parties will wish to legitimately set out their respective manifesto commitments and have already started to do so. Operating in such an environment is also likely to impact on the ability of the Review to obtain evidence in addition to that which it has already received.
"That being so, I have reached the conclusion that it will simply not be possible for the Review to put together a substantial enough body of evidence from which to provide a sound basis for making recommendations for change and therefore to deliver fully against its terms of reference. Any recommendations which might be put forward without the necessary factual underpinning would be capable of being construed as the Review making a political rather than an evidence based judgment, whichever direction such recommendations might take.
"As such I have agreed with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister for the Cabinet Office that the Review will produce a scaled-down report which reflects on the process of attempting to obtain evidence and which sets out the story as best we are able to tell it from the limited evidence which we have gathered, but will not make recommendations for change.
"I still intend to produce this Report by the early Autumn, as set out in my Opening Statement."
Carr first raised his concern that the review had been severely compromised last month, after Francis Maude announced a package of new laws to curb the rights of unions to take industrial action. The plans required union leaders to prove that half their members supported action and that a large proportion had voted. A strike could otherwise be ruled illegal
The plans also suggested that a future Conservative government would introduce a new criminal offence to stop picketing and would strengthen the code of practice on picketing by giving it statutory force. It is understood that Bruce Carr told ministers that this announcement cut across his review.
Commenting on Bruce Carr's decision, the Trades Union Congress (TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Bruce Carr has been cynically used by the government in a party political stunt for the Conservative Party.
“He is right to recognise this “politicisation”, so I am not surprised at his decision not to make any recommendations and to simply review the few submissions sent to him.
“But the politicisation is not new, it was built in from the start. Contrary to Nick Clegg’s assurance, employer behaviour such as blacklisting was not even mentioned in the terms of reference for the review. And now Mr Carr has found his work entirely pre-empted by a Conservative Party press release."
She concluded: “The Conservative Party should now repay to the taxpayer the costs of the enquiry.”