“make or refuse the declaration asked for.”

That means that, under section 25, if any individual member of a trade union has a problem, the certification officer will, on receiving an application, investigate it. He will investigate it together with the applicant, and the trade union will be there to give its side of the story. We must remember that the existing legislation includes the words “reasonably practicable”. There could be a lot of reasons for a name or address being slightly different. There is a whole raft of legislation already in place relating to the matters covered in this Bill.

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4.15 pm

John Cryer: My hon. Friend will know that over the years, under Governments of both political complexions, there have been all sorts of reports on what are generally referred to as the burdens on business. In line with the suggestion from the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), does not my hon. Friend think it would be a good idea to have an assessment of the burdens on trade unions? I would not recommend someone such as Adrian Beecroft to conduct the review, but it would be a good idea to have some sort of report on those burdens, just so that we can set out the argument in objective terms, in contrast to this very subjective piece of legislation that is being rammed through Parliament.

Ian Lavery: Of course that should be the case, but I am not sure that the Opposition should ask the coalition Government even to try to be sympathetic to the trade union movement. I would be afraid of their response. I know that it would not be positive. Perhaps instead of taking away 90% of trade unionists’ facility time, they would take 95%. That is an example of the ways in which the trade unions have been attacked by the coalition Government.

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is making a compelling case for why this dreadful legislation should not make it to the statute book. Given his vast experience of trade unions, can he think of any scenario in which it would be in a union’s interest not to keep an updated membership list?

Ian Lavery: Speaking from vast experience, it is always in a trade union’s interest to maintain the best possible record of its members, for a whole raft of reasons. A good trade union does not stand on its hind legs every week screaming, “Strike, strike, strike!” A good trade union needs the correct names and addresses of its members, so that it can address all the problems that society currently faces. This is not just about strike action, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly). That is always a last resort. But I will tell you something, Mr Sheridan. I was on strike for a full year during the miners’ strike, and what a brilliant year it was! I was fighting not for myself but for the wider society, for jobs and for communities up and down the country. It gives people a lot of pleasure if they are taking action and suffering greatly for those reasons. My father and my four brothers were all on strike—my mother had a hell of a job—but we enjoyed it because we were fighting for others. That is what the trade union movement is about, and that is why I get terribly upset by the constant union-baiting from the Liberal Democrats and of course the Tories.

It is in everyone’s interest to keep accurate records. Under the measures that were introduced in 1992, trade unions have to have that information for balloting reasons, among others. They normally have to send a full membership list with the annual return form, the AR21, to the certification officer anyway. The problem was that whenever we tried to take any type of democratic industrial action, the employer would say to me as the local representative, “You’d better have the right names and addresses. If you haven’t, we’ll get an injunction. Then, under the law, the union will be liable for any loss to the company resulting from strike action.” At the same time, the employer obviously had a list of everybody’s

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names and addresses. A responsible employer has everyone’s name and address in order to pay them—some trade unionists might prefer to keep their identity private—so surely it should be incumbent on the employer to allow any change in name and address to be passed on to the relevant trade union so that the union can act in accordance with the law. Is that too much to ask? It is feasible, but it is a trap.

I was a representative at different levels of the union, and we would sometimes appear in front of the certification officer and often the High Court. If industrial action occurs, it might be said that somebody’s name has been spelt incorrectly or that somebody has died without people being aware of it in order to try to get that whole democratic process abolished. That is the problem with this legislation.

Many colleagues on both sides of the Committee might agree that bureaucracy is not always a dirty word. Since the Prime Minister got the keys to Downing street, the Government have promised to cut red tape. What have we seen? We have seen the Government making it easier for people to be hired and fired for no particular reason. They have gone to work with some zeal in attacking workers’ rights at every opportunity, and they have relaxed health and safety legislation. The unions have rightly opposed all those things, which they won in the first place.

I have said before that it is funny that the only area where the Government have sought to increase bureaucracy is in the administration of trade unions. This will not be for the last time either. Unfortunately, this coalition, with Liberal Democrat support, will continue to oppose and attack not just trade union members, but many of the most vulnerable people in society. That is what they are about. As I have said, I believe that at the ballot box they will reap what they have sown. That, by the way, is democracy.

This Bill is undoubtedly about ideology. It is a thinly veiled attack on a movement that the parties on the Government Benches despise. We could move on to deal with the duty to appoint an assurer, but at this point I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South and of course the shadow BIS Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who has highlighted another issue relating to another problem with these lists: they will allow organisations to increase blacklisting, which is already the scourge of the working class. Because of information being passed willy-nilly from employer to different secret organisations, some people are on blacklists. At the end of the day, these people and their families can suffer greatly for the rest of their lives.

That is a problem with the data. The new rules will mean that three new groups will have access to individual membership details—three new opportunities for data to escape into the public domain. Several organisations have raised a concern—I have already mentioned it—about the legality of that. The trade union movement and its individual organisations have a duty under the Data Protection Act to ensure that the information they hold on individual members is kept secure, but this new legislation when passed—not “if”, because it will be passed—will prevent that from happening. There will be a legal contradiction about who is right and it will be up for legal challenge.

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I think that in any other country, action such as this on the part of a democratically elected Government would be condemned as an attack on free trade unionism, and I think that that is exactly what is happening in this case. It is about time that the coalition Government sat back and paused, as they have in the past. It is time that they consulted others, got the legal position right, and then returned with reforms that actually meant something and changed something. I look forward very much indeed to the Minister’s response, which should take all of one minute.

Mr Anderson: It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Sheridan.

I intend to focus on clause 36 stand part. Let me begin by putting it on the record—in case anyone thinks that I am trying to hide it—that I am very much part of the trade union movement. I am a former national president of Unison, and a honorary life member of that union; I am a member of the Communication Workers Union, and a former proud member of the National Union of Mineworkers; and I was a member of the General Council of the TUC for six years. So I think that I may just have a little bit of an idea of what we are talking about, whereas other Members who are in the Chamber may not.

I was actively involved in the trade union movement for 40 years, and during that time I challenged very drastically some of the legislation that has been referred to today, including the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which the trade unions described at the time as a scabs’ charter. That was exactly what it was there for. It was there to help people to take on and undermine their own trade unions. It was a deliberate attempt by the Conservative party to undermine trade union legislation and trade union activity, and exactly the same thing is happening today. This Bill is part and parcel of that legislation. [Interruption.] It looks as though the Minister wants to intervene.

Tom Brake: I was just speculating on when the hon. Gentleman would actually refer to clause 36, given the absence of any reference to it so far. However, I am sure that the Chairman will intervene when he thinks that the hon. Gentleman is not addressing the issue.

The Temporary Chairman (Jim Sheridan): The Chair will decide what is in order.

Mr Anderson: That is par for the course in this debate, Mr Sheridan. The Government are trying to stifle debate, and they are doing that by pushing the Bill through Parliament in record time. They do not want to hear the truth. They do not want to hear the facts. There is a thread running through this debate. It is not about the clauses; it is not about the words on the paper; it is about a political fix. The Minister’s party is colluding with the Tory party in an attempt—a direct attempt, as we heard yesterday—to fix the people in this country so that their voices are dumbed down.

The 1992 Act created the office of commissioner for the rights of trade union members, or CROTUM. There was also a Scottish commissioner for the rights of trade union members, or SCROTUM. That is what the debate, and the Bill, are about. It is fitting in this context.

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That office was set up deliberately to encourage disgruntled trade union members to get out of their unions and undermine them.

The Minister said that I should return to the subject of the clause, and I shall do so now. Let me ask this: why are we here? This debate ought to be driven by the huge public concern that exists in this country about cash for questions, cronyism, dinners at No. 10 and the buying of favours. We ought to be discussing what was revealed yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann): the fact that private individuals pumped £250,000 into his constituency to try to prevent him from becoming Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw. We should be discussing those issues, rather than the minutiae of legislation that is already more than adequate.

As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), 40 million people have been registered on union lists in the last seven years, and there has not been one complaint. The people of this country are not concerned about what certification officers are getting up to; they are concerned about cronyism. They are concerned about the influence that Murdoch has, and the influence that private people have. They are concerned about people such as Asil Nadir and Michael Brown, who are languishing in jail while the Government parties keep money that they stole.

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is making a superb speech. If his constituency mailbag is anything like mine, he will have received hundreds of e-mails and letters about yesterday’s business. How many people in his constituency have raised concerns about the certification officer?

4.30 pm

Mr Anderson: Absolutely none; not one.

We heard earlier from our learned friend the Chairman of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee about the work it was doing to try to build a consensus across the House in addressing the points the people of this country are really worried about. That has been thrown out of the window, however, so that yesterday we discussed attacks on charities and organisations like the Royal British Legion and today we are talking about attacks on the trade union movement.

Stephen McPartland: Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to tell us how many unions have approached him with concerns about the certification officer and this part of the Bill?

Mr Anderson: No trade union has approached me about the certification officer, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said, the unions campaigned against legislation in the 1990s, but they have now accepted the reality of that legislation. They have put money aside time and again. Staff time is used up and people are employed to make sure the records are kept up to date. There is no reason to do what this part of the Bill is saying should be done, and what this part of the Bill is supposed to be about does not in any sense have anything to do with lobbying or people misusing lobbyists.

As we saw yet again today, the Prime Minister cannot stop himself: he has to attack the trade union movement, because that is part of the narrative—the big, bad trade

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union bosses who are controlling the Labour party, telling the leader what to do and telling us all what to do, and bankrolling us. That is absolute guff. The people being bankrolled are the Members sitting on the Government Benches, who are bankrolled by people who have no democratic right whatsoever and where there is no transparency about what they are doing. The truth is the agenda is very clear: big business is getting away with murder.

We have heard over the past few days that 1% of lobbyists could be caught by this Bill. What about the other 99% who are getting away with things? That is what the people of this country are worried about.

This is a continuation of a raft of constitutional work that has been done over the past three years: the alternative vote referendum Bill, Lords reform, the packing out of the Lords, the boundary review, the attempts to impose city mayors. They have been introduced for one reason alone: to tip the balance of power in favour of the coalition parties at the 2015 general election. It is a deliberate ploy, and people can see through it and see it for what it is. The Government want to put this Bill in place quickly so that from 8 May next year there will be a year when trade unions and civic society are banned from speaking, because the Government want to try to make people forget the mess they have got this country into and the things they have done such as introducing tuition fees and the bedroom tax, and not responding positively to the Robin Hood tax campaign. They want a vacuum in that year so no one can challenge them. The people of this country will not have that, and I am convinced that if this Bill becomes law there will be a lot of people who are prepared to stand up and break that law.

Lady Hermon: Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the inconsistency in the Government’s approach? A Bill relating to Northern Ireland is going through that will continue the anonymity of donations to political parties in Northern Ireland, but this Bill, which is about the transparency of all sorts of things, is putting huge burdens on charities and trade unions. In Northern Ireland, however, we do not know how much, if anything, any of the parties represented in this House are contributing across Northern Ireland.

Mr Anderson: As the hon. Lady will know, I serve on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and I have been involved in the pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill. The way it has passed through this House is a model of how to handle legislation. We went to Northern Ireland, we met people over there, we brought people to this House, and we talked about the implications of the measures. We talked literally about life and death matters, because people are frightened. They say, “If I’m exposed as supporting this political party, my life could be at risk.” That is a model of how to deal with a Bill, but it is the exact opposite of what has happened with this Bill—what has happened here is an absolute disgrace.

Inconsistency is a problem. I have mentioned a number of times that no one seems to think it is an issue. Three organisations that ought to know whether or not the current arrangements are working are the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the certification officer and ACAS, and they all say they have had no complaints.

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We have heard this is part and parcel of a modernisation process. What about the Government’s system of one-in, two-out regulation? Regulations will be involved in implementing this measure, as will costs to the taxpayer, when we employ assessors and investigators. What does that do? I hope that the Minister will tell us how many regulations she thinks might be needed to put this in place and which regulations she will take out to cover for it.

It is clear from our discussions that there are two reasons why this measure is going to be pushed through. First, it will make it very much harder for unions to have democratically effective industrial action—that is clear. Secondly, as has been reported by Liberal Democrat Lord Tyler—this was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey)—it is about having an impact on the ability of trade unions to fund the political party they choose to fund. It is dead clear that that is what it is about. People are not stupid. Government Members expect the public of this country to be treated like fools, but people are not fools and they can see through this; the Bill is about “transparency”—there is a lot of transparency going on at this time. People know exactly what is happening.

Why should this “transparency” apply only to people who support the Labour party? Why are we not talking about whether it is right and proper that we can see what makes up the Labour party’s political fund? When are we going to see the same from the other parties? When are they going to cough up? When are they going to show us where their money comes from? We can see why they would not want to do that.

This measure is just like yesterday’s in that it is about Government Members trying to shrink away from accountability—the accountability that applies to those such as the TUC, the trade union movement, the Royal British Legion, the Robin Hood tax campaign and the National Union of Students. This is the accountability that people demand of us and that they will want to demand of us coming up to an election, and it is right that they should do so. It is the mark of a civilised society that we stand up and are accountable. Sometimes when we stand up we are found wanting and people get rid of us. Sometimes when we stand up we are not found wanting but they still get rid of us. That is called democracy and we should not be frightened of it. Clearly, Government Members are frightened to stand up and be made accountable.

Andrew Gwynne: Do the current regulations governing the trade union movement, which were so eloquently set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), not mean that few organisations are as transparent and open as the trade unions in the United Kingdom?

Mr Anderson: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, as there is absolutely no doubt about what he says. I do not think that any Government Member has said that it is not the case. The one Government Member who made a serious contribution was the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who spoke about whether this measure should be more restrictive. Although I would not agree with his view, he was making the point that we have something in place. He

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was asking whether we could make it tougher, but even he accepted the fact that the certification officer was saying, “There isn’t a problem.” The numbers that have been cited clearly show that there is no problem.

The TUC was right to say that this measure is part and parcel of a package that is attacking free speech: it is limiting criticism of the Government or Government policies; it is threatening the legality of the TUC to do its business through its congress; it is preventing the TUC from having a national demonstration in the lead-up to any elections; and it is preventing campaigning. As the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) said, it also raises particular issues in places such as Northern Ireland and has implications there. So, if nothing else, we should be saying, “This is not on.”

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne asked the Leader of the House, when he was still here, why he will not do the same as he did when he was Secretary of State for Health—pause and reflect.

Ian Murray: Or resign.

Mr Anderson: He could resign—that is a good idea.

I am clear that the Government will not pause and reflect because they want to ram this measure through. There is a timetable involved. The Conservative party has decided that 7 May 2015 will be the date of the next general election, so 8 May 2014 is the day when campaigning stops, when criticism stops, when the charities have to shut up and when the trade unions have to watch what they are doing. We will get through the process of the Bill going to the Lords and coming back here just before Christmas. It will then be banged on the head and the Queen will put the stamp on it before 8 May 2014, so that Government Members can try to hide from their liability for the state they have got this country into. It is not on. This measure is not needed and it should be withdrawn. I will be supporting the very moderate amendments that have been tabled by Labour’s Front-Bench team, but it must be said that we are being led by the coalition, which is doing this for no other reason than self-interest, just as was the case on other constitutional matters. They are trying it on in this way and if the measure gets through it will be a disgrace for democracy in this country.

Jo Swinson: We have had a wide-ranging debate this afternoon on this string of amendments. At some points it might have resembled more of a part 3 stand part debate, but we have certainly discussed clause 36 stand part and the amendments, and I hope to address the points that have been made.

It is important that union activity and decisions reflect the will of members. Knowing who their members are and being able to engage them is fundamental to unions’ democratic accountability.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Jo Swinson: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, we are almost four hours into the debate and I want to make a little progress. I will then be happy to take some interventions, particularly from Members who have not been able to be in the Chamber for the whole debate.

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Unions are already required to keep an accurate and up-to-date list of their members. Indeed, many hon. Members from all parties have talked about how that is an important requirement and how it is in the interests of members. Many unions serve a large and diverse membership across different employers, job types and regions, and of course we all know that unions can take action that may have widespread consequences beyond the immediate members of the organisations. That is why it is reasonable that the Government should examine the formal requirements for the unions’ responsibility to keep their membership records accurate and up to date and that unions should be able visibly to demonstrate that they know who their members are and that they can communicate with them.

Of course, accurate membership records are essential to ensuring proper democratic representation and, of course, they are important for administrative efficiency, particularly when a postal vote is necessary. Good membership records make that process much easier. Of course, members need to be confident that the activity their union undertakes is representative of the view and wishes of its members generally. For example, if there has been a low turnout in a postal ballot on general executive positions, members should be confident that that is because some people are choosing not to vote and not because they have in some way been disfranchised. As union activity can also affect everybody’s daily lives, it is important that the general public can have confidence that the unions’ actions are also based on a representative view of their members.

This is a relatively modest measure to give such confidence and assurance. I agree that membership lists are important, a point that has been made by many Members. As unions are already undertaking activity to try to ensure that the lists are up to date, it should not be a particularly onerous obligation to demonstrate that they have procedures in place to keep those lists up to date.

Kelvin Hopkins: Labour Members have made the point that the certification officer ensures that trade unions keep their records up to date. I spent 23 years of my life working in the trade union movement. They are the most rigorously democratic and the best administered organisations that I have ever seen. The hon. Lady ought to recognise that.

Jo Swinson: I certainly recognise that trade unions play an important part in our national life, both in the workplace and more widely, and that they are a positive force in our communities. I also recognise that there is already significant regulation in place. That said, however, there is a requirement to keep lists of members accurate and up to date, but the certification officer does not have the full powers to ensure that that happens except when they are responding to a particular complaint. That is the very narrow issue that these clauses, and particularly clause 36, are designed to address.

Before I take further interventions, let me mention the impact assessment. A full impact assessment was published, submitted to the Regulatory Policy Committee and made available on gov.uk from 3 September. It was informed by evidence collected during targeted consultation over the summer. I apologise to the Committee that that was not placed in the Vote Office when it should have

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been, due to an oversight. It should have been there last week, of course. The situation has been rectified—that was done shortly after the issue was raised in the House. For the benefit of the Committee, let me cite the impact assessment. Using the best estimate figures that have been put together, the assessment identifies that the combined annual total cost of producing the membership audit certificates across all 166 unions will be £461,225—less than half a million pounds and, as has already been mentioned, about 6p per union member. At present, the certification officer can investigate only in response to a complaint from a union member. Clause 36 and the subsequent clauses are therefore an appropriate way to give union members and the general public greater confidence that the list is representative.

4.45 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I am listening carefully as the Minister sets out her stall and I noted that she agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) about the effectiveness of the current processes. What problem is she trying to solve, and what is the evidence that there is a problem?

Jo Swinson: It is has been interesting that various hon. Members have highlighted some of the difficulties faced by unions when trying to keep large lists up to date, given the extent of churn. We recognise that considerable efforts are made, but that is a difficulty, so we want to reassure the public, union members and others in workplaces that proper processes are in place to make that happen. We are trying to plug a specific gap—

Andrew Gwynne: Will the Minister give way?

Jo Swinson: I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands why I wish to finish my response to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) before I give way again.

Our modest and reasonable measure is a specific response to that gap, but it has given rise to a bit of hyperbole throughout the debate.

Andrew Gwynne: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but in what I can describe only as her rather waffling answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), she failed to identify exactly what the problem is and why the measures are required. Will she tell the Committee what evidence she has to show that there is a problem?

Jo Swinson: If that is how the hon. Gentleman describes my answer to his hon. Friend, I would be interested to hear how he would describe several of the speeches we heard during the debate.

Trade unions have a significant impact on the lives of people in our country. We want to ensure that their membership lists are up to date, and everyone has an interest in that being achieved. As hon. Members have said, we know that that can often be a challenging process, for good reasons, so we want to provide assurance that it will happen.

Clause 36 will give wide assurance that unions know how to contact their members so that their decisions will reflect what their members want. We do not want to

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change the vital and positive role that unions play in society, but we do want to give confidence in their accountability.

Under section 24 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, unions have to ensure that their lists of members’ names and postal addresses are accurate and up to date

“so far as is reasonably practicable”.

That section allows any union member to find out whether there is an entry relating to him or her and to see a copy of the information. Clause 36 builds on that by making unions give the certification officer an annual membership audit certificate alongside the annual return that they already submit. Clause 37 provides that a union with more than 10,000 members will have to appoint an independent assurer to produce the certificate, as well as setting out what is required for that process, but clause 36 states what smaller unions with fewer than 10,000 members will have to do. They will be able to have a union officer sign off the certificate with a statement that, to the best of their knowledge, the union has complied with its duties under section 24. I hope that the Committee will agree that that is a pretty light-touch approach and that the duty is not onerous in the slightest. Of course, we expect that smaller unions will have a less complicated register, so it is reasonable that a union officer would know the content well enough to be able to make such a statement.

As the clause is designed to give widespread assurance, all unions of any size will have to let anyone who asks to see their most recent certificate to do so, for which they may charge a reasonable amount, if they want. The certification officer will have to keep copies of all certificates and to allow the public to look at them. Subsections (3) and (4) allow a trade union to fulfil the new duty on behalf of its branches and require that federated unions comply with the new duty. Our aim is not to change what unions should already be doing to maintain their membership data, but to get them to provide assurance of what they are doing to their members and the public.

Katy Clark rose

Lady Hermon rose

Jo Swinson: I shall give way to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and then to the hon. Member for South Down.

Katy Clark: The Minister said that unions have some influence and she is trying to give assurance. Does she accept that trade unions and trade union members have very little power in society compared with many other organisations, such as multinationals and other vested interests? Does she not think it is inappropriate that she is focusing on this area rather than trying to give all of us more assurance that some of those other organisations which hold massive power in society are brought into check?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Lady raises a point that others have raised, which I will come to in my remarks about the regimes that are in place for different types of organisations. The trade unions have their particular

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tailored regime, which is appropriate. We would not necessarily want the same regime to apply to charities, trade unions and political parties. It is appropriate that we have systems in place that deal with those particular organisations.

I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for North Down—apologies for getting the constituency name wrong.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the Minister for putting me in my right place in North Down. She has given the impression in her contribution this afternoon that the clause is just a tidying-up operation. If it is that, what consultation have the Government had with the trade union movement? What efforts have been made to reassure the trade unions that this is just a small tidying-up operation?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Lady raises a reasonable point. We carried out a targeted consultation exercise over the summer. We issued a discussion paper, to which we received 42 responses. This goes to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery). Twenty-four of those responses were from trade unions, and a variety of employers, business organisations, and local and devolved Administrations also responded. It was important that we did that. I regularly meet the Trades Union Congress general secretary. I have met her to discuss issues surrounding the Bill and I am due to do so again. It is important to have that positive relationship.

As I am responding to the hon. Lady, I will respond to the point that she raised earlier in an intervention about an aspect of the terminology—“reasonable hours” as opposed to “reasonable time”. The terms mean the same thing and there is no legal difference, but the phrase “reasonable hours” is copied from what the certification officer already has to do in making available the union annual returns. In practice that will probably mean that they will be on the website, which will meet that requirement.

Lady Hermon rose

Jo Swinson: I will give way again to the hon. Lady, then I shall make progress as there are other groups of amendments that we will want to discuss.

Lady Hermon: I am enormously grateful to the Minister for taking a second intervention from me. May I make a plea to the Government about drafting such a Bill? It is very difficult to make it comprehensible for those who are not legally qualified. It is very poor drafting that clause 36 states:

“The Certification Officer must at all reasonable hours”,

and that when we turn the page to proposed new section 24ZE we see that an assurer

“has a right of access at all reasonable times”.

May we please have some consistency in drafting?

Jo Swinson: I have some sympathy with the point that the hon. Lady makes. Like her, I am not a lawyer—[Interruption.] I apologise. I am certainly not a lawyer; I am not sure what the hon. Lady’s background is. Legislation should be in plain English where possible, and that is something that I endeavour to advance

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within Government, but sometimes terms are taken from other pieces of legislation for very good reasons, to create consistency. I appreciate the point that she makes.

Several hon. Members rose

Jo Swinson: I said that I would make progress. I shall do that and then take some more interventions.

It is worth noting that there are also obligations on employers to provide information. If an employer has recognised a union, they are already required to provide the union with information that is relevant for collective bargaining and good industrial relations practice. We plan to provide guidance for employers in relation to the information that they hold that will assist unions with meeting their new obligations.

As has been outlined, there may be circumstances in which an employer has more information than the union on the names and addresses of employees who may be union members. For example, if a union member has their work address as a contact and the workplace moves, the member might forget to notify the union. Making sure that there is better guidance on how employers can assist unions to comply with all the requirements is an important part of what we are looking to do.

I have covered clause 36 in principle. Before I come to the specific amendments, I will give way to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran).

Mr Doran: Everything the Minister has mentioned so far could be done within the existing system and without applying this further layer of bureaucracy. Is she aware of the cost of accountants these days? For a union such as Unison, which has over 1 million members, auditing the membership would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. The figures in the impact assessment are laughable.

Jo Swinson: I hope that I can give the hon. Gentleman some reassurance. It is not a question of every single membership entry having to be audited; it is about the process the union has in place for doing so. The certificate needs to be provided to give assurance on that. He also said—a few Members mentioned this—that the proposed powers somehow exist already, but they are actually very narrowly drawn. The certification officer’s power to investigate a complaint by an individual member applies only to that individual’s membership record; it does not extend to other members in the organisation. Indeed, it does not give those who might not be a member of a trade union the ability to complain. Of course, a member might not know that there is a problem with their records. Indeed, if they are not receiving information from the union, they might not know when there is a ballot for a committee, for example.

I will turn now to the specific amendments and respond to some of the points that have been raised. Amendment 103 would remove the annual duty to provide a membership audit certificate. Instead, the certificate would need to be submitted only if a complaint were received by the certification officer and he thought that it was necessary. Amendment 121 would go along with amendment 103 by removing the duty to appoint an assurer. I do not think that the amendments are useful, because they stop the key policy objective. I agree that there is clearly a difference of opinion between

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1052

both sides of the Committee on the reasonableness of the measure, but that is why the Government do not support the amendments. The current arrangements just do not give that assurance, because they rely on members proactively checking the register. Even if they do check the register, they cannot see all of it and they do not know whether other names and addresses are up to date; neither do they know who should and should not be on the register.

Various Members have mentioned the difficulties of tracking membership. Indeed, the Engineering Employers Federation has commented that trade unions

“do not have a unified way of tracking membership and it remains difficult for them to do so”.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said that

“Unions have stated difficulties at times maintaining the addresses of members”.

Amendment 104 would allow for delaying the submission of a membership audit certificate if the union were appealing. I absolutely understand that unions do not want an assurer to send mistakenly or maliciously a qualified certificate to the certification officer without their knowing about it, but I believe that the amendment is unnecessary and hope to give some reassurance on why. The current drafting states that the assurer will send the copy of the membership audit certificate to the certification officer only after it is provided to the union, which means that the union will already have seen the certificate and had that opportunity to talk with the assurer. Of course, it is worth noting that it is the union that will appoint the assurer, and it has every ability within the agreement it makes in appointing an assurer to say that it would like the opportunity to see the certificate and comment before it is sent off.

John McDonnell: I think that most of us are still mystified about the objectives of the clause, so I will put one scenario to the Minister to test its purpose. The clause will enable someone who is not a trade union member—a member of the Conservative party, for example—to contest the membership list. This is about communications between the union and its members, so if the union in the run up to the next general election, say, sends out a letter to its members urging them to vote for the Labour party, the Conservative party member, who is not a member of a trade union, could contest the accuracy of the membership list and, in that way, undermine the trade union’s ability to communicate with its members. That is possible under this legislation, and it betrays its purpose.

Jo Swinson: The certificate that will have been issued, and which will be available for any member of the public to look at, will show that the union has a proper process in place for maintaining its membership list. That will give that assurance to anybody who looks at it. It of course will not give the details of the names and addresses of the union members, as some Members seem to have suggested; it will simply give that assurance.

Several hon. Members rose

Jo Swinson: I will make some progress, because many points were raised in the debate, but I will give way shortly.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1053

Amendment 106 would mean that an individual who wanted to see the membership audit certificate had to pay the union’s administrative costs. That is not necessary, because under the Bill a union providing the certificate can do so for free or for a reasonable charge, as it sees fit. The union can already obtain payment, so the amendment is not necessary. I urge hon. Members, vainly perhaps, to withdraw their amendments.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) raised specific questions about the certification officer asking for powers. He referred to FOI requests. The “one in, two out” measure will come from the general stock of measures that BIS undertakes, although a significant burden is not being imposed. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government would give the certification officer additional resources. Yes, we intend to do so; we anticipate that three members of staff will be needed to make sure the role can be properly carried out.

5 pm

I have to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who suggested that we should go significantly further in a whole range of ways. The issue is about giving confidence for the existing duty to keep membership lists up to date; it is not about political donations, funds or types of membership, as my hon. Friend suggested it should be. I reiterate that the current system is working well. There is a historically low level of industrial action at the moment, which is helpful.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) accused the Government of insulting the unions and failing to recognise the benefits that they bring. I want to be absolutely clear, as I have been in previous statements to the House, that I agree that unions play an important role in the workplace through training and representation. The media and a lot of the debate focus on industrial action, but that is not representative of the role that trade unions play. All the provision does is require an assurance that existing obligations to keep members’ names and addresses up to date are properly undertaken. It is a reasonable and modest change that is pretty hard to disagree with.

Katy Clark: Does the hon. Lady not accept that there is a suspicion that the issue is about industrial action? If the assurer is to prepare for the audit and certification, surely that process could be challenged; it would be yet another matter that could be brought up in the context of an employer’s seeking an injunction to stop industrial action of some sort. Is she not simply creating more avenues for litigation?

Jo Swinson: The short answer is no. The longer one is that the case law is clear. As has been outlined in the past two or three years, small and inadvertent errors that would not have affected the outcome of a ballot are not grounds for an injunction, and it is right that that should continue.

Katy Clark rose—

Jo Swinson: I want to make progress, because we want to scrutinise other elements of the Bill today.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1054

My hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) made a powerful contribution. He mentioned that social pressure can be applied to make people go on strike; those at the workplace who are not members of a particular union may be affected by industrial action. They might be an example of those who would like reassurance about the updating processes for the membership lists.

The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) asked whether we would commit to publishing legal advice. As he will know from his time as a Minister, the convention is that the Government do not publish such advice. I am, of course, happy to give reassurance on his point. Clause 36 requires the provision of the certificate but will not contain information about individual members, so the article 8 right to privacy is not breached. I am sure that when we discuss the next group of amendments we will come to some of those human rights, privacy and confidentiality issues.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) said that data would be revealed in some way, but the confidentiality of members’ details will still be subject to data protection rules, the Human Rights Act and the obligations of confidentiality in clause 37.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said that the provisions would displace core union activity, but we should recognise that the changes are modest. Unions are already required to keep the register of names and addresses and of course we will work with unions and others to ensure that there is a smooth transition to the new system, supported by appropriate guidance.

Analogies with other membership organisations were raised by various Members. As I outlined to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, charities are regulated by the Charity Commission, which has widespread powers that focus on financial management because of the importance of donors and beneficiaries. The commission can carry out regular supervision and monitoring, including compliance visits. If a charity is under investigation, the commission can freeze assets and suspend or remove trustees. In the case of companies, the Companies Act provides the regulatory powers. The information has to include names and addresses and dates of membership, and fines and penalties are in place for non-compliance with these duties. The IOD and the CBI are lobbying organisations incorporated by royal charter, which means that the Privy Council is responsible for significant aspects of their internal control. I doubt that unions would think that those regulatory frameworks were appropriate to their unique status. Trade unions have a unique set of powers. They have rights and obligations—for example, the ability to take industrial action without financial liability for the consequences on those it affects. That is a special set of rights and it is therefore appropriate that they have a tailored set of regulations.

The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) said that it is hard to keep accurate records of a work force, particularly in sectors where they are very fluid, such as construction, where there is significant churn. I absolutely appreciate those points and agree with him. That is why it is important that good procedures are in place to provide assurance that the lists are up to date. That is qualified by the phrase,

“as far as reasonably practicable.”

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1055

We will take into account the difficulties that are encountered.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North made a thoughtful contribution in which he made good points about previous problems with great swings in policy direction from one Government to the next and the importance of trying to get agreement between the TUC and the CBI. There can often be common ground, as we find through the agreements on, say, the agency worker regulations or the way in which such organisations are able to work together through institutions such as the Low Pay Commission. He thinks that we are demonising trade unions, but I respectfully disagree. Many companies have very good relations with trade unions which play an important and welcome role. He over-eggs the impact that this measure will have.

I have dealt with the consultation issue raised by the hon. Member for Wansbeck. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) made a number of points that mainly echoed others that had already been made and that I think I have dealt with. I appreciate that I may not have satisfied every member of the Committee. None the less, I have set out why clause 36 should stand part of the Bill and the amendments should be rejected.

Ian Murray: Thank you, Mr Sheridan, for chairing this debate.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken—my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and my hon. Friends the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer). We also heard from two Government Members—the hon. Members for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland).

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Minister, but let me put on record that this is yet another case of a Liberal Democrat doing the Tories’ dirty work for them in this Chamber: again, that has been left to her. We are over four hours into this debate and we have yet to hear one bit of evidence for clause 36 being necessary or what problem it is trying to remedy. The Minister has said absolutely nothing about that. The TUC, the certification officer, ACAS and BIS officials are still to produce any evidence at all about the problem in the system that this clause is trying to remedy.

Before we test the will of the Committee on amendment 103, let me point out that Labour Members are saying clearly that if there is a problem, the Government should bring forward the evidence. The amendment would say to the certification officer that if a complaint is made by any third party and he decides that it is verifiable, he can then take the power, if he so wishes, to instigate action under the clause. That is a very modest change to a very draconian part of this ramshackle Bill.

Finally, I remind Members that we are not talking about trade unions in the round; we are talking about the people who deliver the mail, serve in the shops, teach our children, care for the sick, look after the elderly, clean our streets, assemble our cars and build our houses. The Liberal Democrats should remember that and come into the Lobby to vote for amendment 103.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1056

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 241, Noes 292.

Division No. 84]


5.10 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Blenkinsop


Nic Dakin


Afriyie, Adam

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

de Bois, Nick

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Robert Syms


Jenny Willott

Question accordingly negatived.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1057

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1058

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1059

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1060

Clause 37

Duty to appoint an assurer etc

Ian Murray: I beg to move amendment 107, page 39, line 7, at end add—

‘, and

(c) to have a duty of confidentiality to the trade union and its members; and

(d) to abide at all times by the trade union’s obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 to protect the information of members.’.

The Temporary Chair (Jim Sheridan): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 108, page 39, line 16, at end insert—

‘(3A) The conditions set out in an order under subsection (3)(a) shall include the qualifications, status and experience an assurer requires in order to qualify under that subsection.’.

Amendment 110, page 39, leave out lines 29 to 35 and insert—

‘(1) The appointment and removal of an assurer will be conducted as per the specification in section 49(1) and section 49(5) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.’.

Amendment 109, page 39, line 46, at end insert—

‘(e) The person has breached the confidentiality of the Trade Union, or

(f) The person is in breach of his statutory duty or the terms of his appointment, by reason of incapacity or for any other reason which in the reasonable opinion of the union justifies his removal, or

(g) There are any other reasonable circumstances where the continuation of the assurer would be deemed inappropriate.’.

Amendment 111, page 40, line 12, leave out from ‘opinion,’ to ‘for’ in line 14 and insert—

‘the trade union secured, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the entries in the register were accurate and up-to-date.’.

Amendment 112, page 40, line 19, at end insert—

‘(c) Whether, in the assurer’s opinion, the trade union has taken all reasonable steps to ensure their membership register is up to date taking into account—

(i) that the union should not be held responsible for inaccuracies in cases where, in the assurer’s opinion, an employer is not sharing timely and accurate details, and

(ii) any other aspects that, in the assurer’s opinion, have been out of the control of the trade union in the maintenance of the membership register.’.

Amendment 166, page 40, line 29, at end insert—

‘(4A) The Secretary of State will determine the definition of “satisfactory” and “not satisfactory” in this section and produce guidance for assurers.’.

Amendment 116, page 41, line 1, leave out from ‘union’s’ to ‘such’ in line 2 and insert ‘data controller’.

Amendment 115, page 41, line 4, at end insert—

‘(c) has the right to make a reasonable request to any employer for information that the assurer considers necessary for the performance of the assurer’s functions.’.

Amendment 117, page 41, line 4, at end insert—

‘() where this does not conflict with the union’s responsibilities as set down by the Information Commissioner.’.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1061

Amendment 119, page 41, line 25, at beginning insert—

‘(za) to comply with duties owed by him under the Data Protection Act 1998, and’.

Amendment 118, page 41, line 28, leave out ‘all reasonable steps’ and insert ‘all steps necessary’.

Amendment 120, page 41, leave out lines 34 to 39.

Clause stand part.

Ian Murray: I know you thoroughly enjoyed the debate on the previous group of amendments, Mr Sheridan, so it is great to see you in the Chair in this debate. I thank the Minister for her apology on the impact assessment. We had a committee meeting during the Division and decided to accept her apology, even if the impact assessment arrived in the Vote Office at 1.53 pm—we understand that that is the official time recorded.

Amendments 107, 116, 117, 119 and 120 address the concerns of trade unions, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, lawyers, trade unionists and organisations such as Liberty, which believe that clause 37 could result in the improper use of sensitive material and accidental disclosure. It also raises questions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) mentioned in his contribution on the previous group of amendments, about international law, specifically articles 8 and 11 of the European convention on human rights.

Amendments 107 and 119 place a legal duty and obligation to provide total confidentiality and an express statutory duty of that confidentiality for the assurer, in addition to the oblique references already in proposed section 24ZF. The assurer should therefore have a statutory duty of confidentiality to the union and, more importantly, the union’s membership. The amendments also ensure that the assurer agrees not to engage in conduct likely to lead to a breach of a union’s obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.

It should be noted that union membership is in the significant category of sensitive personal data. It is not known how far the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has consulted the Information Commissioner’s office on the Bill. There is a significant risk that the union might be held accountable for breaches by the assurer. Will the Minister address what discussions she has had with the Information Commissioner’s office on the new assurer position, and what its thoughts were on the ability of trade unions both to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 and be responsible as the data holder to an assurer who, by nature of the definition of the Bill, is independent from that data controller in terms of the trade union? The 1998 Act is clear and it may be worth considering this issue in detail, Mr Sheridan. When one overlays the Data Protection Act with the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, we can see how unnecessary the proposed changes are.

Andrew Gwynne: Is not my hon. Friend’s amendment is necessary to make it clear in the Bill that the assurer picks up the union’s responsibilities to protect its personal data?

Ian Murray: That is exactly the purpose of all our amendments to clause 37: to ensure that any independent person, as described in the Bill—whether the assurer,

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the certification officer’s staff, or an investigator that might be appointed by the certification officer—is covered by existing data protection law and the European convention on human rights. That was a timely intervention, as it is important to run through the schedules to the Data Protection Act and relate them directly to our amendments, and the overlaying of clause 37 and other clauses in part 3.

Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act lists the data protection principles in the following terms. I realise this is slightly technical, but it is worth running through them to ensure that we have got it absolutely right.

“Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless—

(a) at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met…”—

I will come back to that a little later, and, crucially, that—

“(b) in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met.”

It is a condition of schedule 2 that, because trade union membership is classed as sensitive personal data it has to have a category in schedule 3 too. Sensitive data includes trade union membership, so we have to take that category into account overriding schedule 2.

Interestingly, section 4 of schedule 1 to the Act states clearly that

“Personal data shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.”

This is a strong requirement of the Act and in this context trade unions must abide by that condition as a data controller. There is already a strong obligation on trade unions under the current legislation, the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992—I wish there was a shorter way of saying that—to keep membership lists up to date. We have discussed that at length this afternoon in terms of legislation already in place to deal with many of the issues that the Minister deems to be a problem that have to be dealt with in the Bill.

Appropriate technical and organisational measures should be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data, and against accidental loss, destruction of, or damage to, personal data. Accidental loss could be a significant hurdle when being processed by independent assurers or independent investigators appointed by the certification officer, and that is a key concern for many stakeholders. The responsibility for the data under the Data Protection Act lies with the data controller at the trade union. They will be responsible for the actions of independent bodies looking at that trade union’s membership list.

5.30 pm

That is a genuine concern, of which the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee stated in its recommendations:

“The Government must address these concerns during the course of proceedings on the Bill.”

I do not think they have, which is the reason for some of our amendments in this grouping. As we have said, trade union membership falls under “sensitive personal data”, which means personal data consisting of information about many aspects of a person, including—these are the important aspects for this Bill—their political opinions and whether they are a member of a trade union, within

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the meaning of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. The presumption is that because information about such matters could be used in a discriminatory fashion and is likely to be of a private nature, it needs to be treated with greater care than other personal data. The nature of those data is also a factor in deciding what security is appropriate in securing them. That is the purpose of amendments 116 and 117.

Julie Elliott: Does my hon. Friend agree that if our amendments dealing with this issue are not accepted, there is a danger that such sensitive information, as classified by the Data Protection Act, will become much more vulnerable?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend makes an incredibly good point. One of the key aspects of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act is to ensure that trade unions’ membership lists are up to date. The current categories are set out in sections 24(1) and (2) of the 1992 Act—my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) spoke about them a few hours ago—which contain provisions to ensure that anyone unhappy with their personal data being held by the trade union can apply to the certification officer for a ruling on whether those data should be held. There are therefore already strict rules about the data, which is right, given, say, blacklisting and whether data on trade union membership become an issue.

The purpose of amendments 116 and 117 is to restrict data collection in a trade union to collection from the data controller only. The data controller can subsequently obtain the required information from individual branches or sections, as mentioned in the Bill, but the responsibility for that must come from the data controller of the union, who has the legal obligations both under the Data Protection Act and their responsibilities to the Information Commissioner. Inquiries to other centres makes the job of the data controller near impossible. Trade unions manage their membership data carefully; that should be explicitly maintained in the Bill.

Such considerations have given rise to a fear that part 3, and clause 37 in particular, could result in a new scandal of people being blacklisted for being members of a trade union. That is the reasoning behind amendment 120, which would restrict disclosure of a member’s data to where the member had consented—that is, given explicit consent under the Data Protection Act—and the investigation of criminal proceedings. The list of other such circumstances set out in clause 37 is unhelpful in dealing with people’s data protection concerns and the blacklisting issues that might arise. Proposed new section 24ZG(3) of the 1992 Act, as set out in clause 37, is too widely drafted and creates other legal responsibilities that the data controller might not be able to meet.

In the last couple of years we have seen the increasing exposure of blacklisting activities in some sectors, in which individuals have concerns about joining a trade union for fear of victimisation at work and loss of employment. Increasing powers for state officials to access union membership records and addresses can only increase the deterrent against such activities. May I respectfully suggest to the Minister that, rather than increasing the regulation of trade unions through this Bill—which might increase the risk of blacklisting—the Government should take active steps to abide by the

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decision taken by this House back in February, after the Opposition day debate on blacklisting, to instigate an inquiry, release the information held by the Information Commissioner’s Office about the victims of blacklisting and look at a compensation package for those on the blacklists?

Andrew Gwynne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. Is not the nub of the issue—which I think he is coming to—that although the purpose of clause 37 is to increase transparency and confidence among the general public, it is likely to have the opposite effect for trade union members? If they felt that their personal data were at risk of falling into the wrong hands, that would have the opposite impact on union membership.

Ian Murray: It absolutely would. Given the evidence of blacklisting that has emerged over the past few years, particularly in relation to the inquiry by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, it would be perfectly reasonable to assume either that someone might not wish to join a trade union, or that an existing member might wish to leave, on the ground that their membership could affect their employment prospects. That matter has not been dealt with in the Bill, as a result of the slapdash way in which it has been put together and placed before the House.

The Data Protection Act imposes strict conditions for processing sensitive personal data. Anyone processing such data must satisfy one of more of the conditions for processing that apply specifically to such sensitive data, as well as one of the general conditions that apply in every case relating to non-sensitive data. It is arguable that the Bill does not satisfy those conditions, which merely emphasises how incompatible it is with the Data Protection Act.

The conditions in schedule 3 of the Act for processing sensitive personal data are as follows. First, it is necessary for the data subject to have

“given his explicit consent to the processing of the personal data.”

The members would therefore have to consent explicitly, meaning that the assurer would have to contact all the members on the membership list, should they require the data. That would surely be impractical and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) said earlier, a requirement that the assurer contact everyone to obtain their explicit consent would impose an onerous burden of cost and bureaucracy on the trade unions.

The second condition in the Act states that the processing should be

“necessary for the purposes of exercising or performing any right or obligation which is conferred or imposed by law on the data controller in connection with employment.”

Unless I am mistaken, however, the proposal in the Bill has nothing to do with employment law. The third condition states that the processing must be necessary

“(a) in order to protect the vital interests of the data subject or another person, in a case where—

(i) consent cannot be given by or on behalf of the data subject, or

(ii) the data controller cannot reasonably be expected to obtain the consent of the data subject”.

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That should not apply in the case of a trade union member. The processing must also be necessary

“in order to protect the vital interests of another person, in a case where consent by or on behalf of the data subject has been unreasonably withheld.”

I would imagine that, in relation to trade union membership, those conditions could be satisfied fairly easily. It is not clear that any of the proposed process is designed to protect the individual. It could therefore be argued that the Government have failed to tell us what problem they are trying to resolve, and what process they are trying to protect.

The fourth condition states that the processing must be carried out by a not-for-profit organisation and should not involve disclosing personal data to a third party unless the individual consents. Extra limitations apply to this condition, in that individual consents are required for disclosure to a third party. Will the Minister tell us whether the assurer or the certification officer are third parties? Would any investigator appointed by the certification officer be deemed to be a third party, given that they are deemed in the legislation to be independent? That would not be compatible with the responsibility of the data controller in the trade union.

In addition to those conditions in the Data Protection Act, regulations set out several other conditions for processing sensitive personal data. Their effect is to permit such processing for a range of other purposes—typically, those cases that are substantially in the public interest and that must necessarily be carried out without the explicit consent of the individual. The Government would have to put up a strong argument to convince us that checking a trade union’s membership list was substantially in the public interest, and I cannot see how the provisions in part 3 of the Bill can be deemed to be fulfil those conditions. It is difficult to construct a public interest test in relation to the annual membership list of a trade union. The nature of the consent required to satisfy the condition for processing sensitive data must be explicit. The Act particularly mentions the word “explicit”, yet it is not mentioned in the proposed new clause.

We have tabled amendment 108 to ensure that the assurer is a person of suitable calibre. The Secretary of State should explicitly set out regulations to ensure that the assurer can demonstrate a strong knowledge of and previous compliance with the Data Protection Act and other regulations relating to data protection. Our amendment 109 provides for the removal of an assurer if they are in breach of any of the confidentiality conditions, or if the trade union has any reason to believe that it would be inappropriate for them to remain in post. Amendment 118 would raise the bar on confidentiality, requiring the assurer to take “all steps necessary”, instead of the present “all reasonable steps”, to secure obligations under the Data Protection Act and other legislation.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): The inherent reason for legislation and regulation of trade unions seems to be that some of those unions donate money to the Labour party, but can my hon. Friend find any provisions within this Bill that impose similar regulations on organisations such as the United and Cecil Club or the Royal Automobile Club, which donate money to

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the Conservative party? Given that the RAC is a membership organisation, would it be covered by this legislation?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend makes an interesting observation. No, the RAC would not be covered by part 3, which deals exclusively with trade union membership. In our lengthy debate on the preceding group of amendments, we found that the Conservative party will not even tell us how many members it has, despite the fact that it could well be argued that it has a major vested interest in public opinion and how the laws of this country are determined. Should not the Conservative party therefore be obliged to tell us how many members it has and whether or not its membership lists are accurate? That seems to be falling on deaf ears with the Government. I pressed Members from across the Committee to provide a figure on Conservative party membership, but it has still to come forward.

Ian Mearns rose—

The Temporary Chairman (Jim Sheridan): Order. I remind the Committee that we must stick to debating clause 37; we seem to be wandering away from it.

Ian Murray: Thank you, Mr Sheridan. I shall certainly try not to wander off topic.

It is worth pondering the question of the compatibility of these provisions with the European convention on human rights. A vast number of organisations, including the well-respected organisation Liberty, have raised that issue. Liberty believes that part 3 should be removed in its entirety, and I could not agree more. It believes the proposals breach article 11 on freedom of assembly and association, which takes us back to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) who was worried about the impact of this part of the Bill on trade union members, and article 8. For many individuals, membership of a trade union is a deeply private choice.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that if there is a breach of the European convention, it would be open to trade union members to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights against the UK Government on the basis that their freedom of assembly had been denied?

Ian Murray: That is essentially what Liberty is pointing out in its contribution, which I think is a valid and strong one. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) when we debated clause 36 that this is probably what the Government want to do—they want to wrap trade unions up in their own membership lists and taking legal action about them, as well as having to deal with the assurer and certification officer, rather than getting on with the job that their members pay their membership fees for, which is to represent them in the workplace. Both those issues are valid and might be a consequence of this part of the Bill.

I was saying that for many individuals, membership of a trade union is a deeply private choice—one that they wish to keep confidential for perfectly legitimate reasons, whether they be about blacklisting or otherwise.

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Part 3 and clause 37 in particular open up the possibility that these confidential matters could be made public. For example, Liberty referred to a recent case in which Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs decided to suspend its dispute with Equity about providing personal information relating to its members. Wide-ranging powers for the certification officer are, according to Liberty’s lawyers, incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

On the power to request other documents, Liberty states:

“The documents of which the CO, authorised persons and inspectors can order production is very wide; it will potentially include matters such as…private correspondence between a union and its members (e.g. about a member’s affiliation to a political fund; membership of an internal section of a union combating discrimination; communications about internal grievances within an employer) and…internal union communications with its membership, such as membership campaigns and industrial action.”

These are all matters that an individual would understandably want to keep private, but the Government proposals will open these up to bodies and individuals who have no duty of confidentiality to the trade union itself, which legally holds the data.

Additionally, future employees may be put off from joining a trade union, as we have already heard this evening, in the knowledge that the union could be required to provide their membership register to a Government body for “any good reason”, which appears in the Bill. That emphasises the point about blacklisting and the strong arguments over freedom of association and trade union membership.

There are three tests for determining whether an interference with the rights in article 11 is justified. This precedent was set in The Sunday Timesv. the UK case. It is justified first where the interference corresponds to a pressing social need; secondly, according to whether it is

“proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued”;

and, thirdly, according to whether the reasons given by the national authority to justify it are “relevant and sufficient”. Liberty believes that the changes proposed in part 3 do not pass those tests and that clause 37 does little or nothing to provide reassurance, and it is the driver of our amendment.

5.45 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Given the seriousness of the duty that is imposed on assurers, I wonder what penalty might be incurred by an assurer who deliberately or negligently failed to observe his responsibilities in respect of confidentiality.

Ian Murray: Under the Bill as it stands, the assurer can be removed, but owing to the weakness of the provisions relating to data protection, it is not clear whether he can be automatically removed if he does not abide by the Data Protection Act. Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer that question. Our amendments are intended to give trade unions the power to remove an independent assurer if they feel that he is causing a trade union data controller to be in breach of his duties.

Let me now deal with the question of whether clause 37 is compliant with article 11. The first issues that emerged from the Sunday Times v. United Kingdom case were “legitimate aim” and “pressing social need”. The Government’s discussion paper states:

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“at present complaints to the Certification Officer (CO) about the register can only be made by trade union members and no-one else. In addition, members only have a right to see whether and how their own details are recorded. This means it is difficult for members to make a complaint in relation to the accuracy of the membership register as a whole.”

Liberty rightly argues that that is not a legitimate aim, as the position is already adequately covered by current legislation, and

“the independent scrutineer”

—for whom the Bill also provides—

“is required to examine the entirety of register of their own volition and report any issues to the union.”

That brings us back to the arguments relating to clause 36. Again, these provisions already exist in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. The same reasoning lies behind amendment 110, which aligns clause 37 and provision for the appointment and removal of assurers—which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe)—with the obligations conferred on scrutineers by section 49(1) of the Act. Any individual challenge to the regulator must involve investigation of the accuracy of the register as a whole, not just the member’s own incorrect entry. The current framework in section 24 of the Act allows for that.

Andrew Gwynne: Does not the scenario that my hon. Friend is setting out throw yet another potential problem into the mix? Would it not start to undermine the perceived neutrality of certification officers by dragging them into industrial disputes from which they have so far been excluded?

Ian Murray: That is a legitimate point. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was present during the last debate, but I can tell him that the certification officer figures are pretty stark. There have been 10 determinations since 1987, none in the last eight years and six between 2000 and 2004, of which five were dismissed and the sixth did not even constitute a formal determination. A new, erroneous part of the Bill could easily cause a certification officer to be dragged into a position that affected his neutrality—which, incidentally, trade unions and their members respect. Unions and certification officers work closely together, and certification officers are always keen to make the point that they are not opposed to each other, but share the aim of ensuring that unions operate correctly and within the law.

Let me now deal with the proportionality issue that arose from the case relating to article 11 of the European convention on human rights. Liberty states that the current regime satisfies the requirement that scrutiny be undertaken to ensure public confidence in the status of any register, and that the current measures to undertake that scrutiny are proportionate.

The increased powers of the certification officer are also disproportionate. First, it may invoke its increased powers if it thinks there is good reason to do so. That is very broadly drawn, and what constitutes a good reason in any case? Might it be a vexatious claim from a national newspaper to the certification officer to have a look at a particular membership list? That was the driver behind our amendment 103 to the previous clause, which the Government have just rejected.

Secondly, the certification officer can view not only the register, but any other document that may be relevant

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to determining whether there is a breach of section 24(1) of the 1992 Act and it can require people to give explanations.

Thirdly and ultimately, under clause 37 as currently written, the certification officer does not owe a duty of confidentiality to the union. The addition of a third-party inspector would be particularly intrusive and that inspector owes a duty of confidentiality only to the certification officer, not the union.

Liberty rightly concluded:

“These measures clearly go beyond what is necessary and proportionate to achieve any legitimate aim behind the proposals, if indeed there is one at all, and as such constitute a breach of Article 11 of the Convention.”

There is, indeed, a compelling argument to be made that clause 37 breaches article 11. The justification for that claim arises from the fact that there is already legislation in place to deal with many of these issues.

Amendments 111, 112, 166 and 115 are intended to clarify the need for a trade union to take “all reasonable steps” to ensure membership lists are accurate. We discussed some of that language in our debate on the amendments to clause 36. This is completely consistent with obligations under the 1992 Act to take all reasonable steps. That language and responsibility should be reflected in clause 37. There will be an inconsistency of language if we remove the reference to taking reasonable steps in the 1992 Act and replace it with language that is more stringent on the trade unions.

The primary responsibility for the alterations to any membership list lies with the individual. That is already set out in section 24(1) of the Act. However, all too often a union member may move house, change jobs or even pass away and those details will not be passed on to the union membership officer for recording in a timely fashion. In some circumstances, it cannot be reasonable for a trade union to be held wholly responsible for every part of a membership list. People can take a complaint to the certification officer resulting in an in-depth investigation at great cost to both the public purse and the trade unions, when the 1992 Act clearly states that the responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of an individual’s data on a trade union membership list lies with the individual, not the union. If the union has taken “all reasonable steps” to make sure that list is accurate, such a matter should not fall within the remit of this Bill.

It should be the case that the assurer can make a determination that the union has, in so far as is reasonably practicable, ensured the entries in the membership register are accurate. That is what amendments 111 and 112 would achieve. They would give the assurer the power to qualify the membership audit certificate to say that information from employers or members has not come forward in a timely fashion and the union has taken all steps to ensure the information is accurate.

The issuing of any membership certificate will be based on information for just a snapshot in time of that particular moment and day. We have learned from the—late—impact assessment that about 9% or 10% of trade union membership flows in or out of a trade union at any given period. For a major trade union, that amounts to an awful lot of people to keep track of. If a union has taken “all reasonable steps” to ensure their

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membership list is accurate, it should be taken into account that the list will only be a snapshot of a particular moment in time. It should be possible to clearly state on the audit certificate that any inaccuracies are not the fault of the trade union and therefore the audit certificate is issued with that qualification. The clause as currently drafted would not allow for that.

Importantly, for that process to operate correctly the employers also have a duty of responsibility to the trade union membership audit certification process. Amendment 115 would give the assurer the right to access reasonable information from employers if it was determined that that information would be necessary for the performance of the assurer in determining the accuracy of a membership list. It would also allow for access to data that may satisfy the assurer that the trade union has taken all reasonable steps in compiling the membership register. Many unions have indicated that a lack of information from employers provided in an efficient manner is the main cause of the vast majority of inaccuracies in their membership lists. Giving the assurer the powers to make reasonable requests to employers for information means that there can be confidence that membership registers are indeed accurate. If anything comes out of this process and this bad part of the Bill, it might be that the assurer, as an independent person, could help the trade unions with some of those relationships with the employers, to ensure that the data coming from the employers make the lists that trade unions have far more accurate.

Ian Mearns: One wonders what thought is driving the Government to ask trade unions to do what the Bill requires. I cannot for one moment see a situation where the Government would ask for the same accuracy in electoral lists held by returning officers in particular areas at any given time. It would be almost impossible to provide. The amount of bureaucracy and administration required to keep such lists up to date would be beyond the financial capability of most local authorities.

Ian Murray: That is a good comparison to make, because I would bet that every one of the 166 trade unions registered with the certification officer in this country has far better membership records than any electoral register held by an electoral office. That is not a criticism of the valuation joint boards or local councils; it is simply because people are transient and move in and out all the time, so it is impossible to keep a 100% accurate record. I would guess that the trade union membership lists are far more accurate than such electoral registers.

Finally, I wish to deal with the rather unusual terminology used in clause 37. The word “satisfactory” appears in the proposed new section 24ZD(3) whereas the term “not satisfactory” appears in the proposed subsection (4). The use of that incredibly strange terminology could result in a lack of consistency and direction for assurers. It only fuels the fire in terms of us thinking that that this proposed piece of legislation is designed either to create additional casework or additional case law as some of these issues are taken through the courts, or to keep trade unions busy in the courts trying to justify what is “satisfactory” and what is “not satisfactory”.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines satisfactory as either

“satisfying demands, expectations, or requirements; adequate”

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or “atoning” for one’s sins. I hope that the Liberal Democrat Minister will satisfactorily atone for her sins before the next general election—[Interruption.] I would be more than satisfied if she atones for her sins by accepting our amendments on this part of the Bill or, indeed, deletes the clause altogether.

Just how badly this Bill is drafted is shown by the fact that it contains such wide definitions of a term that relates to its fundamental objective in terms of the production of a membership audit certificate. Will the Minister, or indeed the Secretary of State, be determining by guidance what “satisfactory” and what “not satisfactory” means in this context? Will the definitions of and guidance on those two terms have them as exact polar opposites? It is important that that is made clear.

I would term this entire clause 37 as not satisfactory, in sympathy with what is not a very satisfactory Bill. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the Data Protection Act, the significant and real concerns about blacklisting, and the responses from lawyers from Liberty and various other organisations about the inadequacies of this clause in respect of the European convention on human rights. I ask hon. Members to support our amendments.

Ian Lavery: Like most people in the Chamber, I am unaware of why we need assurers. The certification officer, under the trade union and labour relations—TULR—regulations, clearly states that when a trade union submits its annual accounts, its AR21, it must also submit a copy of the names and addresses of the membership. I am puzzled—discombobulated, perhaps—by the fact that the Government are suggesting that we need somebody in the middle to ensure that that happens, because if a union does not submit its membership with its AR21, it is in big trouble with the certification officer.

6 pm

I might be corrected on this, but—perhaps because he has not been consulted—the certification officer’s website does not refer to whether many trade unions are submitting their accounts under the AR21 without submitting the names and addresses. Why on earth—please, somebody tell me why—are we now looking to operate with someone called an assurer? I am assured already, Mr Sheridan. I worked in the trade union movement and greatly disliked all the regulations heaped on the unions by the Conservative Government, but, as with everything else, we had to forge ahead. We adhered to the law.

I am puzzled. I am concerned about the fact that trade unions must amend their rulebooks to provide for the appointment and removal of an assurer. Who are those assurers? Their job is simply to make sure that the union, as far as practicable, can provide what the Bill requires in terms of the names and addresses of members. For fear of repeating myself, I am just desperate for an answer. There is no need for it.

Nic Dakin: Is my hon. Friend as perplexed as I am that this is the second clause to contain a solution looking for a problem?

Ian Lavery: Of course it is. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

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What qualifications will the assurers—classed as independent under these provisions—need? What will make them qualified? Will it be that they are thoroughly decent people who dislike certain things or like other things? We should remember that it will be incumbent on the trade union to do this under its rulebook.

Ian Mearns: My hon. Friend is asking about the requirements of the job specification and person specification for an assurer. It seems to me that they must include the spite and vindictiveness reflected in the Government’s attitude to trade unions as seen in the Bill.

Ian Lavery: Although I fully agree with my hon. Friend, there are probably better ways of doing it. I fear that again I am repeating myself, but everything the assurer is supposed to do is carried out under the TULR regulations.

Julie Elliott: In my trade union, the rulebook can be changed only by a change of rule motion to congress, and a rule change congress is held every two years. Has my hon. Friend any idea how my trade union—the GMB, one of the biggest trade unions—could comply by making the change to the rulebook under the restrictions the Bill will place on it for the 12 months prior to a general election?

Ian Lavery: It is up to a trade union and its membership to decide what they want in that union’s rules. It should not be for Government diktat to insist what an independent trade union should and should not have in its rulebook—surely that is undemocratic. Under the democratic process, what should and should not be in a union’s rulebook is decided at conferences following discussions among delegates from the regions, not by the coalition Government. My hon. Friend raises an interesting point because if the Bill is passed, must the 166 trade unions on the certification officer’s website immediately call conferences so that they can adhere to the new legislation? What will happen if they do not?

Ian Murray: As always, my hon. Friend is making a fantastic contribution, but if he reads several of the qualifications in the impact assessment, he will see that the strange thing is that the vast majority of the unions— 120 or more—will self-certify their membership audit certificates because they are so small.

Ian Lavery: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, but it makes us ask why on earth the clauses are being proposed in the first place.

Why are we having assurers and who are they likely to be? With their position layered between the trade union movement and the certification officer, will they be legally qualified? Will they be lawyers or, as is likely, accountants, or will they just be thoroughly decent people? Will they simply be independent people? Could they be people in this House? We need to examine this extra layer of bureaucracy. There is no need for it whatsoever, but if we must have these assurers, who on earth will they be?

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is right that we need more clarity from the Minister about the role of the assurer and who the Government expect will take

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that on. Is that not why Labour Front Benchers were right to table amendment 109, which proposes conditions under which an assurer may not be reappointed, thus allowing a union to terminate any contract with them? That could address the situation of an assurer who worked for a law firm that was advising an employer with which the union was in dispute, because that person would clearly have a conflict of interest between their union role and that of advising the employer.

Ian Lavery: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and although we have only started to scratch the surface, the proposal is getting worse by the minute.

Paul Flynn: I am following my hon. Friend’s speech with interest. I share his puzzlement, but there might be a plausible explanation of why the role is being created. We know that great hordes of Tory and Lib Dem Members will be unemployed after the 2015 election, so this might well be a job creation programme to allow them to become assurers.

Ian Lavery: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, although he puts it somewhat differently than I would.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) referred to how the appointment of a duly appointed assurer could be terminated. Amendment 119 is simple. Under proposed new section 24ZC(3) an assurer’s appointment can be terminated if

“(a) a resolution has been passed at a general meeting of the trade union appointing somebody else instead or providing expressly that the person is not to be re-appointed”—

whatever that means—or

“(b) the person has given notice to the union in writing of the person’s unwillingness to be re-appointed”


“(c) the person is not qualified for the appointment in accordance with section 24ZB”.

If he is not qualified, how can he be sacked? He should not have the job in the first place. This is an outrage. It just needs some common sense to row back from these provisions.

Steve McCabe: On page 4 of the Government’s publication, “Reducing Regulation Made Simple”, the Government promise to free civil society groups from “unnecessarily burdensome regulation” so that they can “innovate, diversify and grow”. Shall we get the Minister a copy before we make any further progress on the Bill?

Ian Lavery: That would be helpful; it could be part of the consultation process, which has been sadly lacking for this Bill.

The fourth way of getting rid of a duly appointed assurer is if

“(d) the person has ceased to act as an assurer by reason of incapacity.”

That is fair enough. However, Opposition amendment 109 sets out additional conditions under which an assurer may not be re-appointed, to allow a union to terminate the appointment of an assurer if

“(e) The person has breached the confidentiality of the Trade Union, or

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(f) The person is in breach of his statutory duty or the terms of his appointment, by reason of incapacity or for any other reason which in the reasonable opinion of the union justifies his removal, or

(g) There are any other reasonable circumstances where the continuation of the assurer would be deemed inappropriate.”

That is fair. If a trade union has complied with the legislation and appointed an assurer, it should be up to the trade union to get rid of the assurer in those circumstances.

I could speak all day on the amendments—[Hon. Members: “Go on!”]—but others wish to speak. The Bill is totally flawed. I have no confidence in the clause, but it could have been worse if the assurer were appointed by someone else. If the assurer had been imposed on trade unions, that would have presented a bigger difficulty. Perhaps someone can tell me what would happen if the trade unions change their rulebooks, which in my view they should not need to do. They should not be dictated to by Government legislation.

The rulebook governs the trade union. It is the Bible of that trade union. What happens if, once the Bill is passed, Lenny McCluskey rings me up and says, “Mr Lavery, would you be an assurer for Unite?”? Would I be within my rights to say, “Of course I would”? Am I independent? Could I say, “Lenny, how much will you pay us?”? That is how daft the clause is. Where is the independence? Is anyone who was elected democratically by the rulebook of a union subject to challenge by the Secretary of State if they become an assurer? Do they have to be accepted by someone in Government to validate their independence, or can the unions pick who they want, pay them what they want, get what they want and submit what they would normally send in for the AR21?

6.15 pm

Another problem is if these people are not independent. Are these assurers—what a name; surely whoever wrote this could have come up with a better one—there to “assure” the certification officer that what the trade unions say is correct? Good grief! This must be one of the worst-written Bills ever to come before the House. Government Members are embarrassed about it. That is why we have not seen a soul on their Benches today. It is unbelievable that they have wheeled out the Liberal Democrats to speak on this Bill. Sometimes people never learn. Well, let us see what happens.

There is huge potential for an increase in blacklisting. Adding this extra layer of bureaucracy will mean that the assurer will have powers under the Data Protection Act, together with the certification officer, to go to a trade union within reasonable hours and demand to see the names, addresses and other details of its members. We already have the problem of blacklisting in the trade union movement, which at least the Liberal Democrats have accepted, because the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has said that he understands that there has been a problem and that if we have evidence that blacklisting is continuing he is prepared to do something about it. Fair game, but we all understand that it still takes place.

Blacklisting is a scourge on society. It means that ordinary, hard-working people find themselves unemployed. The construction industry is a great example of this. People finish a job and apply for one elsewhere with a different company, but find that there are these secret

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organisations. Who is to say that the chairman of one of those organisations—we will not know who they are, because the organisations are secret—is not an assurer for one of the major trade unions?

Andrew Gwynne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the impact of blacklisting on ordinary working people. It is something that we should all be concerned about. Is that not also why it was right for Opposition Front Benchers to table amendment 117, which would make it clear that a union should not have to provide information when doing so would compromise its obligations to protect members’ personal data under the Data Protection Act? That is absolutely crucial, and it is the least that the Government should concede today.

Ian Lavery: That is a very important point, and it was discussed earlier. There is a legal contradiction in relation to a trade union’s obligations under the TULR regulations to adhere to the Data Protection Act, which protects members’ private and personal details from being released. The new legislation gives powers to the likes of the assurer. Who knows who these assurers will be and what they could do with that information? It is therefore very important that we look at this. These assurers could be anybody. It would be very difficult to know whether they are part of an organisation that assists in blacklisting. The confidentiality of people in the workplace is a live issue. Why add another layer of bureaucracy by having these assurers? It is absolute poppycock. It is nonsense. Whoever dreamt it up should be fired. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people are affected by blacklisting and the situation could get an awful lot worse if the Opposition amendments are not accepted. Like many others here, I am sure, I have spoken to people who were not even aware that they were on a blacklist but subsequently found out that, for years, the reason they had been unemployed, their kids had not had the best uniforms at school and they had been on benefits was that they had been on a blacklist. That seriously concerns me.

There is a huge problem with confidentiality and with conflict resulting from the legal interpretation of the Data Protection Act and the 1992 Act. We have to support the amendments and try to kick out this absolutely hopeless Bill.

Julie Elliott: It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), with whom I have worked in the trade union movement in my region for far too many years.

Clause 37 is all about the implications of appointing an assurer. As other Members have said, we have to draw to the Government’s attention the irony of the enormous added burden that the clause will impose on trade unions, given that we work in the most regulated part of the voluntary sector. The provision is absolutely unnecessary and is politically motivated. I had to say that before I turn to the two amendments I am most concerned about.

Why do people join trade unions? Sometimes it is because their friends join, and sometimes in their workplace it is just the done thing to join. Some people join to have an insurance policy in case they get into trouble or are picked on. Many join when they are first employed and want to maintain their membership as they get promoted up the ladder.

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In workplaces where the majority are in a trade union, there are no secrets. Everybody knows who is in the union and it is common for both the lowest paid and most senior members of staff to be in the trade union. When I was a lay rep, I negotiated on behalf of my members and the senior manager I was negotiating with was a member of my branch of my trade union. That is common when a workplace has a high density of union membership.

However, in other workplaces, people who rise up the ladder and become senior managers may not want their managerial colleagues or the work force to know that they are in a trade union. Do not think that it is just those at the bottom end who do not want people to know that they are in a trade union.

People are also at their most vulnerable when there is no recognition in a workplace. Sometimes their jobs are under threat. People get victimised out of the door because the management have found out that they are union members; I have seen that on numerous occasions as a union official. As we discuss the clause, we have to look at the real world and how things work in practice, rather than at what is, frankly, an academic diatribe.

Andrew Gwynne: In the real world, my hon. Friend, like me, will have received hundreds of e-mails and letters about part 2 of the Bill. At her recent advice surgeries, how many people have been saying, “Do you know what, Julie, we need to appoint an assurer to ensure openness and transparency in the trade unions”?

Julie Elliott: My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that not a single person has said that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck said, what does “assurer” even mean? It is such a nonsense of a description. As I said, we have to work in the real world. Good legislation needs to understand and relate to the real world, but nothing in clause 37 does, according to my knowledge and experience.

On amendment 112, let us look at the real world—the practicalities. This is about employers sharing information and accurate details with trade unions. Where there is a good relationship and a good recognition agreement, the unions work hand in hand with employers because if businesses do well, union members do well, and there is therefore complete transparency, openness and sharing of information. However, if that situation does not exist, that is not the case. The TULR regulations already set the requirements on the maintenance of the membership system. Various rulings have said that reasonable steps have to be taken to make sure that the membership records are accurate.

In my personal experience—that is where we can all draw our information from—bad employers will do anything to make trade union records wrong. That does not happen only in relation to membership checks for industrial action ballots, which are the most onerous and time-consuming things a trade union official will ever do. In can be a case of trying to get recognition in a company where members have been recruited. Usually it is when members in an unrecognised work force have problems that they go to a trade union. Time, energy and effort will have been spent recruiting the number of members to hit the threshold required to be able to apply for recognition. It is unbelievable the steps that employers will take to try to scupper those numbers. They will suddenly take on temporary workers. If the union is applying for recognition for a particular part of

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the work force, they will move people from one part of the company to another suddenly to boost the numbers so that the required percentage is not reached. The idea that employers of that mindset will share information about our members is ridiculous.

I would like to run through some of the things that we did when I was a trade union official to try to ensure that our membership records were as up to date as possible. A couple of times a year we sent out magazines to every single member of the trade union, and there was always a big advert saying, “If you move house, change jobs or change your telephone number, let us know.” It has become increasingly hard to keep membership records accurate. Historically people had land lines and did not change their telephone number; nowadays, a lot of people do not have land lines and mobile phone numbers can change quite frequently. There are an enormous number of inaccurate phone numbers in the records of trade unions, as there will be, I suggest, in any organisation. The situation is incredibly difficult. Any other mailing to members would have another advert or a paragraph saying, “If any of your details have changed please let us know.” We had branch audits where it would be a specific task in a certain branch to go through the membership records and physically talk to people about them. I do not think that trade unions could do any more to keep track of their members.

Another issue is that the world has changed. This goes back to my point about having to be practical; in my view, nothing in this clause is practical. Trade union workplace branches, which historically the unions were built on, virtually do not exist any more because the world of work has changed. People do not start work when they leave school and stay there until they retire. We do not have mass employers of thousands of people where people remain in their jobs and can gain promotion and go through the ranks in one company. That is not today’s world of work. In those days, it was quite straightforward to keep track of the membership.

All those things have made the situation more difficult. I hate the idea of what the clause proposes. It is saying that some random person on the street—the assurer, whoever this person is and from whatever background—could challenge what is happening and say, “You haven’t kept your membership records correct.” What is the level of leeway going to be? Where will reasonableness come into this?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is making a compelling case against the Bill. Given her vast experience of involvement in the trade union movement, is she able to think of any circumstances in which a trade union would think it was in its own interests not to keep accurate membership records?

Julie Elliott: No, absolutely not. Trade unions would welcome anything to help them keep more accurate records, because of the amount of time they spend trying to communicate with their members. That argument is a misnomer—it is ridiculous.

6.30 pm

On amendment 117, the issue that I am particularly concerned about—for the reasons I gave earlier about the vulnerability of people who join trade unions—relates

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to the Data Protection Act and the obligations on trade unions to keep information safe and secure and to not let anybody else access it. I would not like my personal information passed randomly to everybody and asunder. Some of my information is public, but my personal information, which my trade union has, should remain personal and be given only to the people I choose to give it to. The Bill’s proposals make that information vulnerable.

It has been suggested that the information could be dealt with by branches and lay reps, but that is ridiculous. They do not have the capacity. Usually, they are in full-time jobs and do their functions as a lay official in their spare time, above and beyond their working day. When will they get the time to fulfil this task? They simply do not have access to the same information as an official employed by a trade union to do that job. I am very concerned about that, because the data are sensitive and are classified as such by the Data Protection Act. They need to be treated as such. The clause lays the information wide open and this is the one area about which I think the Government need to think again.

I agree with all of our amendments, but I urge the Government to look again at amendments 112 and 117 in particular. I am really concerned that the clause has not been thought through and that it has not been written in a practical way that relates to the real world. If legislation is going to work, it has to do those things, and this Bill simply does not pass that test.

John McDonnell: I want to follow on from the excellent exposé by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) of the rationale for the concerns of the Opposition and others. To be frank, I thought that we had won this argument. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) has said, we had a debate on blacklisting several months ago, in which there was cross-party understanding of the vulnerability that people feel in the work force. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central has said, that vulnerability relates not only to blacklisting, but to victimisation.

I raised the issue in 1997 and in 2003. We got some legislation that was not effective and then I convened the first meeting of the Blacklist Support Group, which brought together in 2008 all those workers with blacklisting cases that they wanted to pursue. One of the breakthroughs for us was the raids undertaken by the Information Commissioner, under the Data Protection Act, that exposed the scale of blacklisting, with nearly 4,000 people on at least one list. People are anxious for us to ensure that any future legislation does not set up a system that could make them vulnerable again.

It could be argued that some of our amendments are a belt-and-braces approach, but this is about restoring confidence. The tragedy in the past—I do not mean to be hypercritical of any organisation by saying this—was that it was not just employers exchanging blacklist information. We now know that it was also coming from the police and security services and, actually, some renegade trade unionists, who passed information to employers who then went on to compile a blacklist. That is why, if we are to establish a new system that gives the certification officer a wide range of responsibilities and that appoints—in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery)—the bizarrely named

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assurer and inspectors, we need to ensure that there is a belt-and-braces approach so that they are properly tasked with abiding by the duty of confidentiality. That is why our amendments are so critical.

Amendment 107 states that it is important that the assurers

“have a duty of confidentiality to the trade union”.

It is critical that the trade union has confidence that those officers have such a duty. It is also critical, as amendment 108 sets out, that when those individuals are appointed, their qualifications are known and they are qualified to do the job. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck does get the job and the wage from Len McCluskey. I am sure that he is completely qualified to do the job. There needs to be some assurance that the people who are appointed are qualified to do the job. In addition, there must be a process by which assurers can be dismissed if they breach confidentiality. That is also dealt with in the Opposition amendments, which would assure people that their concerns about the use of this information for blacklisting and victimisation are taken seriously in the Bill.

I share the concerns about line 28 on page 41, which states that the duty of confidentiality involves taking “all reasonable steps”. That is not acceptable because it is not powerful enough. Amendment 118 would replace those words with “all necessary steps”. We must ensure that any action that is taken goes beyond reasonableness; it must be necessary and effective.

Further down page 41, the circumstances are set out in which a member’s name and address are permitted to be provided. The list includes the member’s consent, but that seems to be overridden by a range of other situations in which the certification officer may provide names and addresses.

Andrew Gwynne: I commend my hon. Friend for the work on blacklisting that he has done in Parliament. Is he as concerned as I am about proposed new section 24ZG(3)(d) to the Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which states: