Previous Section Index Home Page


‘Part 6

REPEALS RELATING TO SECTION (Right not to be excluded or expelled from union: repeal)
Short Title and chapterExtent of repeal

    Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (c. 52)

    Sections 174 to 177.’.


John McDonnell: I shall briefly speak on new clause 4. I am conscious of the time; there is important business to discuss, as I said earlier. The new clause seeks to provide— [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Would hon. Members who are not planning to listen or take part in the debate please leave the Chamber quietly and let us get on with it?

John McDonnell: First, I pay tribute to the Public and Commercial Services Union. The new clause had its genesis in a conference of PCS environmental representatives last year. They discussed the role that they could play in tackling climate change, and the significant role of workplace representatives. The new clause therefore seeks to provide the right in law to time off work for trade union representatives who serve as environmental representatives. It would ensure reasonable
4 Nov 2008 : Column 188
time off to promote environmentally sustainable practices at work, carry out environmental audits, consult on environmental policies and carry out environmental risk assessments. It would also allow time off for training for environmental workplace representatives.

The law currently entitles trade union representatives to reasonable time off to fulfil trade union responsibilities regarding industrial relations and health and safety matters. That is covered by the ACAS code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities. Trade unions are working in partnership with employers to play a greater role, particularly with regard to raising awareness of environmental issues, and to develop company policies on green workplace initiatives and practices. I give the example of PCS, which has a range of environmental representatives working in various Government Departments. Those representatives are increasingly active in developing policies to tackle climate change, prevent carbon emissions and improve the environmental standards in their workplaces. They have also established a national green forum.

Why is the issue important? Half of carbon emissions are work related. Businesses and other organisations therefore have a critical role to play in reducing emissions. Staff at all levels need to be involved. The collective action of employees, working with employers, can lead to changes in policy and individual behaviour. To date, many employers have been slow to implement carbon reduction policies and wider environmental measures. Policy statements may well have been produced, but they have not yet been translated into practical action. The Labour Research Department found that one in nine employers had comprehensive measures on energy efficiency in place. More than half did not provide any training on environmental issues, and fewer than a quarter had environmental management plans in place.

Trade unions are now developing their role to work with employers to ensure that they develop environmentally sustainable policies and practices within individual companies and organisations, and green—environmental—representatives from trade unions can play an important role in constructing and developing a practical agenda for implementation in the workplace. Staff are willing to get involved. A recent survey demonstrated their willingness to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and their feeling that employers are not doing enough and employees need more support from employers to develop those policies. In the House, two early-day motions on that issue have been tabled over the past two years, and the last one received the support of more than 102 Members.

We have ministerial support, too, for the unique role that trade unions can play. The Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), said:

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who was formerly responsible for such environmental matters, said that he had seen


4 Nov 2008 : Column 189

And, he said that he hoped that we could

Employers themselves have welcomed the development of worker partnership on environmental policies. Mark Gregory, the resources director at Legal & General, made a specific commitment on employee partnership, saying:

Similarly, we have examples from VCA, the vehicle certification agency, and a range of other employment organisations that value the role of environmental reps working within their organisation to tackle and develop environmental policies.

The TUC, and individual unions such as Connect, the National Union of Teachers, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and the Public and Commercial Services Union, have all invested resources in training members to gain the expertise to contribute to tackling carbon emissions in this way. The Climate Change Bill, which we debated last month, set challenging targets on carbon emissions—an 80 per cent. cut by 2050. We all know how difficult that will be to reach, so we all need to fulfil our responsibilities and pull together.

The new clause would recognise the enthusiasm among the work force for tackling that challenge. Trade unions are eager to play their role, and the new clause would enable their representatives to have the resources and facilities to do so actively and in full. The Government need to recognise that—not dampen the enthusiasm of those who have become involved in such work through the trade unions—and respond constructively. On that basis, I urge the Government to consider the new clause for inclusion if not in this legislation, then in some subsequent Bill. It would enable people to use trade union facilities to develop their role as environmental representatives and to achieve environmental sustainability.

Mr. Djanogly: Looking at new clause 4, I wonder whether its promoters actually understand the meaning of work. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) seems to suggest that trade union members should be given special treatment, and that, where they take on more responsibilities, they should make excuses not to do their normal work in order to fulfil them. We find that unacceptable. Moreover, I received a letter dated 28 October 2008 from a Chris Baugh, the assistant general-secretary of PCS, in which he said that PCS had tabled an amendment to the Bill. I must say that I did not know that unions could table amendments in this place. Would the hon. Gentleman, who, presumably, is the PCS mouthpiece for this purpose, care to enlighten the House on the process that one must go through to become a workplace environmental rep?

John McDonnell: Can we just take one step back to respond to that statement? I outlined how a trade union was acting constructively to tackle an agenda that the whole House has supported, namely climate change, and preparing for consideration by Members an amendment that we might wish to promote to ensure that the union was able to do so. I am the chair of the parliamentary PCS group, which is an all-party group. We promote the
4 Nov 2008 : Column 190
union’s views with which we obviously agree, and we consult unions. A number of Members from all parts of the House are members of various trade union groups, as I am, and, on an all-party basis, they listen to the views of the unions and, if they agree with them, bring them before the House. I thought that we should encourage organisations outside the House to engage constructively in the development of legislation. On that basis, I promote the new clause.

Mr. Djanogly: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s clarification of the position regarding the letter, but it is still pretty unsatisfactory to hear that unions are talking about suggesting amendments to legislation in this place.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): On that point, my hon. Friend knows that more than 90 per cent. of the funding of the modern Labour party comes from unions, so it is perhaps not surprising that they think they own those representatives who sit in this place.

Mr. Djanogly: Yes. Perhaps the payroll has become so big that they now think they can—[ Interruption.]

John McDonnell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that allegations are being made that may relate to me personally. The allegation is that I have promoted a new clause on the basis of some financial link-up between the Labour party and PCS. That trade union is not affiliated to the Labour party, and the PCS parliamentary group is an all-party group.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the House could moderate its language a little. I am sure that the remarks were not directed directly at the hon. Gentleman. These really are not matters for the Chair; they are matters for debate.

Mr. Djanogly: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We will return to the new clause.

Ian Stewart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Djanogly: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall make some little progress.

We need to look at whether appointments to the position would be handed down from the trade union headquarters, or whether members would be encouraged to volunteer. If it was the latter, which I suspect it would be, would trade unions advertise the fact that the role would be in addition to an employee’s usual duties, or would they promote the idea that the employer would be so pleased to have the employee acting as the union’s green policeman that he or she would be given time off?

Ian Stewart: The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated his lack of understanding of the real world and, in particular, of industrial relations—once more. Does he not accept that plenty of voluntary organisations send suggested amendments to Bills to the Conservative party as well as to other parties? And, does he not accept that enshrined in law, now, is an arrangement whereby health and safety representatives are allowed reasonable time off to carry out their duties? What is the difference?

Mr. Djanogly: I shall come to the difference in my later comments.


4 Nov 2008 : Column 191

There are several problems with the new clause. First, every business should be involved with environmentally sound practices, but we fail to see why employees who have trade union membership should have time off work for environmental issues when their colleagues at the next workstation simply have to get on with their work. Secondly, we do not appreciate the way in which the new clause attempts to unionise environmental issues in the workplace. “Workplace environmental reps” smacks of Orwellian, Big Brother tactics by unions. By bringing the issue within their remit, they seem to be attempting to secure preferential treatment for their members and, at the same time, to give their union a point of leverage over the business. Finally, we fail to see why the actions in proposed new section 43A(2) to the Employment Act 2002 would be better carried out by a trade union than by a company. If the proposal is for the workplace environmental rep to be there to oversee the company’s own efforts, the new clause needs redrafting.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): The Conservative party gave its support to the Climate Change Bill, which spelt out that the direction of change would specifically include the setting of annual carbon budgets, and that at some stage they would have to be translated into sectoral and company targets, so will the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to explain to the House the role that Conservative Members expect trade unions in a workplace to play in constructing the carbon budgets that the company seeks to introduce?

Mr. Djanogly: I am sure that trade unions can make constructive comments and talk with management and other third parties about how they think the workplace should be improved environmentally; that does not mean that we should legislate for time off.

I received a letter from the PCS in the run-up to today’s debate. It saw the role of the workplace environmental rep as

I am still somewhat confused: what will the reps do that a company should not be doing anyway to bring itself in line with the Climate Change Bill? In these times of economic uncertainty, we must be careful in respect of the fundamental necessities. Continued employment, economic growth, financial stability and so on are all factors that must line up alongside the environment when we strike the balance. We support responsible, environmentally sound business practice, but we also support business efficiency and businesses’ freedom of choice on how best to reach their overall environmental targets. That is why we oppose the new clause.

I turn to clause 19, which deals with trade unions’ right to exclude people because they are members of certain political parties.

7.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not sure that we are dealing with clause 19 at the moment.

Mr. Djanogly: Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I come back in at a later stage of the debate?


4 Nov 2008 : Column 192

Tony Lloyd: I do not mean to be unkind, but I can help the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly)—I think he was referring to new clause 6, which stands in my name and those of other hon. Members.

A principle lies behind the new clause and the associated amendments, and in their original formulation of the Bill the Government seemed to accept it. It is that there is a reality not only to the concept of freedom of association, but to that of the freedom not to associate. That concept is accepted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which some years back expelled members with a pro-hunting agenda who had infiltrated it. It is also accepted by Churches; it would be inconceivable for people to be able to join a Church if they did not subscribe to its views. Furthermore, the concept is accepted by all political parties; mine has certainly sought to expel those whose aims are incompatible with its own. In that context, it is right and proper that the concepts of freedom of association and freedom not to associate should be exercisable by our trade unions.

The British National party is very much the subject of the new clause and amendments. The party itself makes it clear in its own articles of association that it will not accept certain people as members. For example, it does not accept the ethnically Asian or those who are of African or Caribbean origin. The BNP itself accepts that the freedom not to associate is legitimate. I would not normally ever pray the BNP in aid, but it is worth recognising that although it prohibits certain people from membership, it does not respect that principle in the context of the trade union movement.

In a BNP members’ bulletin, a party representative wrote that any BNP member who was not a union member should join one, and that:

It later warned:

The BNP is clear that it wants to infiltrate the trade union movement, not for the sake of membership of a democratic organisation whose objectives are the advancement of its members, but to subvert the union—as Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, said on the radio this very day—or to use it as a cash cow to finance BNP activities, or possibly those of its members.

Mike Penning: We have to be very careful. The hon. Gentleman is talking specifically about the BNP, but this is a catch-all new clause. Perhaps a party that we have not even heard of now will want to start an environmental campaign; under this new clause, it could easily be excluded. The BNP is abhorrent and horrid, but we are discussing a catch-all new clause that could catch any other political party in future.

Tony Lloyd: I shall not come to that point immediately, but if the hon. Gentleman bears with me I shall certainly address it towards the end of my remarks, because it is important.

Those who know the background to the judgment that has led to the Bill will regard what I am about to say as a little long-winded. However, it is important to
4 Nov 2008 : Column 193
place on record the fact that the background to this whole situation is a decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which is controversial among some Conservative Members, although not among Labour ones. The Court sat in judgment on a case between ASLEF and Jay Lee, a BNP member who was expelled from the union.

Industrial tribunals in the United Kingdom had held that the union had behaved unlawfully in expelling Mr. Lee. The Court, however, stated that:


Next Section Index Home Page