“it will feed into the labour market by increasing endemic low pay and insecure terms and conditions of employment among non-unionised workers.”

Even the Chancellor is now persuaded that low pay is a problem that we have to grapple with, so we must wonder why the Government are so keen to introduce this Bill. If they were serious about looking at the relationships between employees and their representatives, they would focus on how to engage and involve employees and unions in increasing productivity, through fairer and supportive rights for workers. If we look at the current levels of industrial action, as summarised by the Library, we see that it is difficult to fathom what reasons, other than ideological ones, the Government can possibly have for seeking to make these changes. The Government sell themselves as being interested in productivity and business, but these proposals run entirely contrary to that ethos. The Bill introduces unnecessary new and complex bureaucracy: it will increase costs for unions and employers, as legal disputes develop; and it undermines social justice. If this Bill is passed, and I sincerely hope that it is not—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I call Richard Fuller.

6.54 pm

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald). I am delighted to have been able to sit through this debate, because once one gets over the bluster and extreme rhetoric one sees that points have been made by Members on both sides that will be helpful to the Minister in examining the Bill in detail as he takes it into Committee. We have heard about the Bill’s importance for union leadership, for union members and, most importantly, for the public as a whole, but I come to this House with a background in business, so I wish to make a couple of comments from its perspective.

The issues that affect people in a strike come from a breakdown in a partnership between those who operate businesses and the people who work within them. The most important criterion for business is that private sector businesses have benefited tremendously from a 30-year consensus on the way in which industrial relations have operated in this country. It is therefore important for business to hear from this House today that that consensus, on both sides of the House, both today and in the months ahead, is continuing as far as it can.

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Secondly, it is important to point out the difference between what has occurred during that period of consensus in the private sector and what has happened in the public sector. In the last four years of the last millennium—1996 to 1999—there were 199,000 days lost from private sector strikes, compared with 278,000 from public sector strikes. In the past four years—2010 to 2014—the number for the private sector had more than halved, to 74,000, whereas the figure for the public sector had more than doubled, to 573,000. Something in this consensus is working in the private sector but not working so well in the public sector. A particular issue is that in three of the past five years one area of the public sector, education, accounted for more than 50% of public sector strikes.

I ask the Minister to consider some specific points. First, on the issue of the 40% additional threshold, I am pleased that the Government are looking at consultation, but the points made about the ability of the union leadership to control and minimise wildcat strikes do carry quite a weight. It would be interesting for the Minister to consider whether the notice period of 14 days before strike action will achieve most of the goals that are seen as required for that 40% threshold. May I encourage the Minister to include in clause 6(1), on information to the certification officer, a provision about the outcome of the industrial action? That information is useful for members, too. If they are asked to go on strike, they should know what the consequence of the strike was—what they achieved by it—so they can see whether such action is playing a good role.

There are extensive new roles for the certification officer, and business would like to be assured that this will not lead to additional disclosure requirements on business in the future. An industrial dispute still has two sides; one may be out on strike but the other side is dealing with that strike. We are placing information requirements on the trade union, but will there be a need for any similar information requirements on or disclosure by business?

Finally, on privacy and free speech, will the ministerial team listen carefully to the points that have been made, because we do not want trade unionists going about their business in towns across the country inadvertently finding themselves criminalised? I am sure that that, on its own, would undermine the consensus. I hope the Minister will examine those points carefully in Committee.

6.58 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): This is a Bill of naked discrimination against the trade unions, designed to cut the funding of the Labour party severely and, thus, to entrench the Tory party in power, as well as to make it almost impossible to strike in certain industrial sectors. However, it is worth quoting the stated purposes of the Bill, which the Government pretend are their motives. The first is to

“pursue our ambition to become the most prosperous major economy in the world by 2030”.

That is beyond satire. The truth is that after seven years of austerity following the great crash wages are still 6% below pre-crash levels, productivity is flat, the FTSE 100 companies are not investing and household debt is now tipping £2 trillion. The idea that after this Bill we will be overtaking Germany and the United States in the next 15 years is ludicrous.

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The Government’s second “reason” for this Bill is to

“ensure hardworking people are not disrupted by little-supported strike action”.

The best answer to that was that given by The Times commentator, Philip Collins, on the day the Bill was presented, on 15 July. He said:

“Strike action, fox hunting, the BBC, Europe, migrant benefits. The Tory ability to identify things that are not problems, then attack them.”

The truth is that the number of days lost to strike action now is less than one tenth of what it was in the 1980s. Of far greater importance to the state of the economy is the chronic underinvestment in skills. This Bill, while obnoxious, is utterly irrelevant to the key problems of this country. The tube workers aside, only teachers and firefighters have caused any real national concern since 2010, and even they normally did so only one day at a time. Even the resistance of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers to plans for keeping the underground open all night are not that unreasonable. Night shifts are unsociable, unhealthy and potentially dangerous as they lead to over-tiredness. But the central point here is not acknowledged in the Bill. The Government seem to believe that whenever a strike occurs, it is always the fault of the workers irrespective of what the employer has done.

It is true that most employers are probably decent and reasonable, but there are a distinct minority of them who are intransigent and who behave thoroughly unreasonably and badly. To penalise and intimidate workers in such cases, when it is the employer who has overwhelmingly caused the breakdown in industrial relations, is wholly unfair and wrong. The last thing that the workers want to do is to go on strike, but when they have genuine, reasonable and pressing demands over such essential issues such as job losses, safety problems and pay, and those demands are swept to one side, as they often are, with little or no negotiation, they have no alternative but to take industrial action. To blame and penalise them and not bad management, as the Tory party and its pals in the media automatically do, is a total charade. The conditions for industrial action are prohibitive. The net effect of all these measures is to make it impossible to strike.

7.2 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I was there in the 1980s, studying at the London School of Economics—the so-called hotbed of socialism. I had the T-shirt that proclaimed, “The LSE is revolting”. Today, we see that those on the left are at it again. They love a revolution, but this time they could not even convince their Front-Bench Members—well, they are on the Front Bench now—to follow them. Saturday’s leadership election result underlined the fact that the policies of Labour’s new Front-Bench team are a clear threat not only to our national security but to our economic recovery. With the increase in union influence that will inevitably follow, this Trade Union Bill will be more relevant than ever before, and I commend the foresight of those Ministers who drafted it.

I understand that unions have an important role to play in the workplace for their regular members. That was clearly evident in Bosley, following a pretty tragic explosion on 17 July at Wood Treatment Ltd. Four people lost their lives and two others are still recovering from severe burns. Our thoughts and prayers continue

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to be with them and their families and friends. The response from the emergency services has been professional and courageous. The local council has been proactive, which is greatly appreciated by many. The response from the community in Bosley and across Macclesfield has been absolutely top drawer, with more than £150,000 raised for those affected by the incident. It would be wrong if I did not also recognise the important work of the GMB in providing advice and support to those who have sadly lost their jobs. It has been greatly appreciated. The support underlines the good work that many unions are able to do on behalf of their members. The reforms before us will help and support regular union members who come up against the worst excesses of those on the left who put firebrand politics first.

We on the Conservative Benches pledged in our manifesto to tackle this issue, and I am pleased that the Conservative Government have put this Bill before the House so speedily. Clause 2 introduces a 50% voting threshold, which is essential to ensure that a small vocal minority is not able to exert undue influence in often quite tense industrial disputes. It is right that there is a second test, particularly in the more essential public services. Disproportionate disruption can be caused to people who have no say in the calling of that strike. It is important that we ensure that the rights of those who use the service—the public—are taken into account just as much as those who are calling the strike, particularly given the recent tube strikes. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) talked about inconvenience of the strike, but the truth was that there was massive disruption that cost tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds. Such things need to be borne in the mind and dealt with, which is what this Bill seeks to do.

We need to look at minimum service levels. I understand that the Government are looking at the experiences in Italy and Spain, and I encourage them to take that matter forward. It is positive too that we are looking to end the ban on using agency workers. We must ensure that public services are provided for those who have paid for them—the taxpayer. This Bill will help to take our economy forward, and for that reason it has my full support this evening.

7.6 pm

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I declare my interest as a member of Unite the union. The Bill exposes the Government’s self-appointed title as the workers’ party and their claim to be the party for working people as little more than empty rhetoric devised by the spin doctors at Tory HQ. It is a total misnomer to claim to be the party for working people while simultaneously steamrolling over those very workers’ democratic rights and civil liberties.

Last year, Pope Francis said:

“Trade unions have been an essential force for social progress, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism.”

The trade union movement in the UK, independent of the Labour party and with the Labour party, is responsible for the fundamental gains of working people, many of which we now take for granted, including the weekend, maternity leave, the national health service and the national minimum wage.

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The role of trade unions in society as a counterweight to the pressures of capital is essential for the protection of decent standards of living as well as a driver of economic growth. That was true in the 19th century and the 20th century and it is true now.

The Government are carrying out this attack on trade unions not for practical reasons supported by evidence, but out of their ideological commitment to fighting the battles of generations past and to pursuing their mission to weaken and destroy the labour and trade union movement. Let us make no mistake about it, the purpose of requiring union members to opt in to political funds is to attack and damage the finances of the Labour party so as to make the Conservative party’s financial advantage even greater than it already is. If this Bill passes, it would break a long-standing consensus in British politics that the Government should not introduce partisan legislation unfairly to disadvantage other political parties. Here in this House in 1948 Winston Churchill cautioned against taking such steps. He said:

“It has become a well-established custom that matters affecting the interests of rival parties should not be settled by the imposition of the will of one side over the other, but by an agreement reached either between the leaders of the main parties or by conferences under the impartial guidance of Mr. Speaker.”—[Official Report, 16 February 1948; Vol. 447, c. 859.]

Even Margaret Thatcher, a Prime Minister whose term was defined by her opposition to the trade union movement, considered the proposals such as the ones set out in this Bill to be too extreme. She said that

“legislation on this subject, which would affect the funding of the Labour party, would create great unease and should not be entered into lightly.”

She was not wrong. This Bill will create great unease and for once in my life I find myself in total agreement with Mrs T.

These proposals are so unreasonable and extreme that they will undoubtedly raise the serious prospect of legal challenge. The interference of the state in the affairs of trade unions is counter to article 11 of the European convention on human rights. We are signatories to the European social charter and as a nation we agreed in article 5 that our national laws would not restrict the freedom of workers to form and join organisations for the protection of their economic and social interests. The Bill directly contravenes our country’s commitment under the charter.

Our rights were not handed down from above; they were fought for tooth and nail, often against Conservative Governments. Government Members should be aware that those rights will not be given up easily. If the Government continue with their authoritarian plan to abuse their time in office by attacking our democratic rights, they would be wise to remember that for every action there is a reaction. I hope that wiser counsel from their Back Benches will prevail in bringing their Front Benchers back from the brink.

This is a vindictive Bill that is designed not to address a social, moral or economic priority, but to fundamentally damage political opposition. It is more than a step too far. If the Government do not reconsider—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Chris Philp.

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7.10 pm

Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow that thoughtful speech from the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), particularly as he quoted Margaret Thatcher with approval.

The history of trade unions is an honourable one, arising in the late 19th century, when workers were suffering from widespread oppression. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, trade unions performed vital functions. It is worth remembering, of course, that many of those functions are now fulfilled by Parliament; it has legislated for a national minimum wage, provision for sickness and holiday payments, protection against unfair dismissal and so on. Therefore, many of the injustices that trade unions quite rightly fought against at the outset have now been dealt with by Parliament. I want to emphasise that the right to strike and the right for trade unions to operate are in no way threatened by the Bill. The right to strike will still exist, as it absolutely should.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) both asked the question, “What is the purpose of this legislation?” Its principal purpose is to protect people who suffer when strikes take place. Let me quote a lady from Stoke-on-Trent who runs a hairdressing salon and has a child:

“It isn’t fair on parents, who could be missing out on a day’s pay by not working when teachers strike.”

Strikes have a profound effect on other members of society, which is why it is appropriate to put in place a reasonable threshold before strike action can be taken. For example, exactly a year ago Unison’s NHS staff voted for strike action on a turnout of 16% and with 11% of the membership voting in favour. I do not think that mandate is strong enough to merit inconveniencing tens of thousands of patients and potentially having operations postponed.

Furthermore, since 2008 there have been 26 strikes on the London underground—I am a London MP, and I have lived in this city all my life. Anyone who claims that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers does not strike lightly has not tried to travel in this city during one of those 26 strikes. I point out that 19 of those strikes would not have happened under this legislation.

Catherine West: But does the hon. Gentleman accept that those strikes have tripled since the Tories took over in London in 2008? It is an absolute disgrace that the Mayor of London has never sat down and met the trade unions and treated them as though they were equal partners or human beings in the same race.

Chris Philp: I think that it is very unfortunate that the RMT has chosen to be so confrontational. As my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) pointed out earlier, even his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, met RMT officials only once, and he insulted them in the meeting.

Questions were asked earlier about the mandate for this legislation. I remind those Members who oppose the Bill that a YouGov poll conducted only four weeks ago found that 53% of Londoners are in favour of these measures and only 26% are opposed. Moreover, I challenge

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the assertion made by some Opposition Members that union activity does not stoke excessive strike action. It is instructive to compare days lost due to strike action in the private sector, where union membership is relatively low, with days lost in the public sector, where union membership is more widespread. We find that last year the number was 40 times higher in the public sector than it was in the private sector, despite the fact that terms and conditions—pay, holidays and so on—are, if anything, slightly better in the public sector.

I would like briefly to address the issue of facility time. The TaxPayers Alliance—[Interruption]which clearly commands widespread support on the Opposition Benches, has calculated that the effective subsidy to unions from the public purse as a result of facility time is £108 million every year. The unions do not necessarily need that money—they have plenty of money to make political donations with—and it is not reasonable for the public purse to fund what is often party political activity.

In conclusion, I think that the Bill is a reasonable, moderate measure that will protect people from the often very disruptive effects of strike action.

7.15 pm

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and to the fact that I am a member of the GMB and Unison.

This Bill is illegal, illiberal and illiterate: illegal because it contravenes international standards; illiberal because it takes a hatchet to civil liberties; and illiterate because it is badly drafted and will leave the law in a mess, creating uncertainty and cost not only for trade unions, but for employers. The reason it is so badly drafted is that it is a crudely partisan measure that the Conservative party is seeking to rush through for purely political ends.

Why are we debating the Bill today? Is there any urgency for these provisions, or any demand resulting from the parliamentary timetable? No, there is not. We all know why we are here today. We are here today because the Government deliberately timetabled the Bill’s Second Reading to coincide with the first full day of the Trades Union Congress, when those MPs who are proud trade unionists, as I am, would have been in Brighton talking with working people about the issues that really matter, such as low pay, zero-hours contracts, inequality and insecurity at work. Instead, we are here to discuss this shabby, shameful Bill. That shows the Government’s contempt not only for trade unions, but for democracy.

The Bill was published on 16 July. Consultations were scheduled to take place over the summer recess and closed only five days ago. This debate was scheduled for today even though the Bill is incomplete and the Government have accepted that it will require many amendments. The clearest example of that is on the deduction of union subscriptions. On 6 August the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General announced the Government’s intention

“to abolish the practice of checkoff across all public sector organisations”.

He announced that those changes would be in the Bill, so where are they? Where are the proposals and the draft clauses? They are nowhere to be seen. There is neither a timetable for publication of those clauses, nor a commitment

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to any period of consultation. The Bill is a disgraceful attack on the right of employers and unions to freely negotiate arrangements that best secure constructive industrial relations.

Before being elected to this House, I was a director of a significant private sector employer, responsible for industrial relations with around 1,000 members of staff. We recognised a trade union to represent our staff, to collectively bargain on their behalf, to represent their interests and to ensure that we could discuss with them any changes necessary for the continued success of the business in the best interests of staff. To do that, we had check-off and facility time in place. As we have heard from many Members today, deductions from payroll are a common way for employers to help employees with regular payments. Many Members make payments to charity through our payroll and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. It is good enough for them, but it seems that it will not be good enough for trade union members. Check-off arrangements worked for us as an employer and for our staff, and it was freely agreed. Many employers in both the private and public sectors feel the same.

I will finish with a point about devolution and the inadequacies of the Bill. The Bill deals with public services that are devolved to Wales, including the way public sector bodies work with trade unions to ensure effective delivery of services to the public, including my constituents in Cardiff Central. Therefore, I ask the Secretary of State to heed the warning from my Labour colleague, the First Minister of Wales, that there are necessary and critically important changes that must be made to the Bill. But I would go further. It is an unnecessary, dangerous and flawed Bill.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jo Stevens: I will not give way.

I urge the Government to listen not only to me and to my colleagues on the Opposition Benches, but to the business community, civil liberties organisations, respected academics, trade unions and, most importantly, the public—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Mr Alan Mak.

7.19 pm

Mr Alan Mak (Havant) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate on reforming and modernising our trade unions and helping to secure Britain’s economic recovery.

Trade unions have an incredibly important and constructive role to play in terms of industrial relations, helping their members, and as a part of wider civil society. For generations, trade unions have played an important role at the heart of their communities and in many workplaces, offering services from education and training to legal and financial assistance. For that reason, there are trade union members in all parts of the House, including my own.

However, trade unions are also powerful, well-funded organisations that must accept that power, wealth and influence come with responsibility and accountability. We must therefore balance their rights with those of

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working people, communities and businesses that have the right to expect that the services they rely on day in, day out are not disrupted at short notice by strikes supported by only a small proportion of union members. Similarly, there must be clear and positive mandates for any disruptive union action, as well as reform of trade union practices such as funding, picketing and use of facility time. This Bill sets out those necessary reforms.

Equally importantly, these Government reforms strengthen Britain’s economic competitiveness on the world stage. Britain is in a global race for success, engaged in a big fight not only with established economies in Europe and north America but fast-growing economies in Asia, Latin America and Africa. To build a strong and growing economy and, in turn, a more prosperous and fair society, we need employers that are open for business, schools and colleges that are not closed by strikes, and transport systems that let our commuters, visitors and shoppers go about their business.

Last-minute strikes and poor trade union practices hurt Britain’s productivity and growth at home and hinder our competitiveness abroad. The reforms in this Bill are welcome, beginning with reform of balloting for strikes. Strikes should only ever be a last resort and held as a result of a clear, positive decision. I therefore welcome the measures in the Bill to provide more clarity and democracy. The Bill will improve trade union practices and increase transparency. I particularly commend three measures: first, time-limited mandates, which will improve clarity and democratic legitimacy; secondly, the requirement for a clear description of the planned industrial action, which is fair and reasonable; and thirdly, the proposal for a new, transparent opt-in system for political subscriptions, which is welcome.

A poll by the Federation of Small Businesses found that last year’s strike action on the London underground cost about £600 million in lost hours, lost business, and lost productivity. Across Britain this year, we have again seen the shut-down of the London underground, strikes on ferries in western Scotland, strikes on trains on the First Great Western network, and strikes on buses in Cardiff, with future strikes potentially affecting the rugby world cup.

Oliver Dowden: Does my hon. Friend agree that often it is not trade union members in general who cause these strikes to happen, but a very small, politically motivated number of union organisers, and that is why it is right to have the threshold in the Bill?

Mr Mak: I thank my hon. Friend for his positive intervention; I completely agree. It is members of trade unions, who are working people, that the Bill seeks to protect.

The cost of this last-minute, poorly supported industrial action is substantial. It hurts our economy at home and hinders our competitiveness on the world stage. If we are to run and win the global race for success in an increasingly competitive global market, we need our shops and businesses to be open, generating wealth; we need our students and apprentices at school or college learning and developing the skills to win; and we need our workers and communities on the move, not stuck at home. We simply cannot afford the lost wealth that poorly supported strikes cause.

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Trade unions have a constructive role to play, but like all organisations they must modernise, move with the times, and accept that with power and influence comes the need for more accountability and more transparency.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): Can the hon. Gentleman give some recent examples of “last-minute” industrial action?

Mr Mak: Anyone who has used the London underground will know that the trade unions strike on a whim and compromise the ability of shoppers, businesses and investors to go about their business. That is why it is right that the Bill brings in measures to make sure that that can never happen in future.

This Bill balances the rights of trade unions with those of working people, commuters and businesses. It also creates a new framework of industrial relations that allows Britain to grow at home and makes sure our economy is strong while competing and succeeding on the world stage. The Bill deserves the support of the whole House, and I commend it to all hon. Members.

7.24 pm

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Over the course of history, the workplace has been the scene of many grave injustices: slavery, child labour, squalid and dangerous working conditions, and desperately low pay. A lot of that has been eradicated, although sadly not for all in the United Kingdom.

Even in the modern workplace, there still exists an imbalance of power between the employer, who can decide, often unilaterally, on terms, conditions and pay, and the employee, who is dependent on the employer for work. Individuals who want to negotiate with their employer to improve their lot may not have direct access to them or fear recriminations if they approach them alone. That is well known in this House, as it should be. In a world where there is always someone else available to do a job, potentially for less money, this power structure can lead to poor pay, unsafe conditions, discrimination, and exploitation.

In the UK, a lot of the bad things have been got rid of because of what the unions and other campaigning organisations have done. Even so, only a short time ago we were legislating against modern-day slavery. We have made changes in this House in relation to employment tribunals and unfair dismissals. The reintroduction of charges on individuals who want to claim for unfair dismissal has reduced the number of such claims by 70%.

Andy McDonald: Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that successive Conservative Members have praised trade unions and extolled their virtues and their value, and in the next breath said that they want to restrict their freedoms and abilities to function as trade unions? Does he find that that rings hollow?

Kevin Barron: It rings very hollow.

The Government would have us believe that they are impartial in passing legislation relating to the balance between employer and employee, but they are not impartial at all. In fact, in their capacity as an employer they have a significant vested interest in undermining the actions

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and the future of trade unions. The state is a huge employer, and over 54% of public sector employees belong to a trade union. We should not be surprised that in some parts of this Bill the Government are looking particularly to attack public sector trade unions, because trade unionism now stands more in the public sector than in the private sector.

Over the past five years, the relationship between the Government and a number of public sector unions has been particularly difficult. It is called austerity. It is called having your income limited, perhaps when you have a partner and children at home and have to try to keep their heads above water. It is about being called “difficult” when perhaps some of your neighbours who work in the private sector are able to carry on getting their income increased and looking after themselves. That is why there is disgruntlement. I genuinely believe that this Bill is about the Government acting as an employer, not as somebody who is impartial to industrial relations in this country, to attack the public sector and its workforce.

There is little evidence—in fact, there is an overwhelming lack of evidence—that change in this area is needed. The Secretary of State mentioned the Carr review, which was set up in April 2014 and reported in October 2014. It looked at issues of intimidation. Frankly, it was right to do so. However, it found little evidence of intimidation. Nevertheless, on the basis of that report the Government have decided to introduce this legislation. The review said:

“I have reached the conclusion that it will simply not be possible for the review to put together a substantial enough body of evidence from which to provide a sound basis for making recommendations for change”.

Yet here we are, a few months later, with the Government attempting to legislate in this area. It is absolutely ridiculous.

Individually and cumulatively, these proposals will fundamentally damage the capacity of unions to organise strikes. Many of these are not needed, but having the right to go on strike is an important tool on the table when you are sat down negotiating on behalf of members. I did it in the coal industry for many years before I came here. I understand why trade unionism was right, and my father and his father understood it as well—it is because people used to get killed down the pits on a daily basis until the unions came in and fought for members. This Bill undermines that.

7.30 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Within a few months of starting as a foreman in a motor factory in the early 1980s, I managed to cause a walk-out. It only lasted half an hour and I subsequently discovered that it was a part of choreography between the management and the unions to settle a particular dispute. I think they settled on my shift as the one in which to do it because I was probably the most naive of the factory foremen.

I tell that story to show how far we have come since then in relationships between management and unions. I can think of one instance in my own constituency just a few years ago when an hon. Member, whose name I will not mention, helped to sort out a strike action that could have been very damaging. I understand the great importance of that kind of work.

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I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). There is a real need to protect the interests of the public and to ensure that they are as little inconvenienced as possible. I pay tribute to the Fire Brigades Union, which in my experience has always ensured, even when involved in ongoing strike action, that it is done in a responsible manner. That was particularly the case when the fire brigade had to attend a devastating and tragic fire—it led to the deaths of two people—in my constituency last October. It put all its concerns aside to attend to the needs of those who were in great difficulty.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has said that he has worked in industry as a foreman. Surely he agrees that it is far better in the private sector when major companies are prepared to deal with trade unions and give them time to go about their trade union duties. Does he agree that that is more enlightened employment than the stone-age stuff we are getting from the Government?

Jeremy Lefroy: I absolutely agree that it is extremely important to have time to conduct those duties in a responsible manner, but it is also extremely important to protect the interests of the public, particularly those who have to get to work and who need childcare. On the other hand, I do not think that we as a Parliament or a Government should be looking to interfere in the running of trade unions in some of the ways set out in the Bill.

I will mention three or four of those areas. First, I cannot see what the problem is with check-off, provided that the cost of it is paid for. The Staffordshire County Council representatives who operate check-off tell me that the union pays 2% for it, which is probably more than it costs the council to operate it. The same applies in other public services. I have no problem with that and I ask the Government to look again at the issue and perhaps not introduce that proposal.

I do not see the problem with electronic voting, either. It will eventually be introduced, and if we are to ask for higher turnouts, electronic voting is a must. I will not go into the picket line issues, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden has already addressed them more eloquently than I ever could.

Finally, on the political fund, I believe that the right way forward is proper reform of political funding across the board. It is very difficult to do that without a comprehensive solution. I know it was tried in the last Parliament and it did not work, but I urge the Government and the Opposition to sit down and try to sort it out once and for all.

7.34 pm

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate on a Bill that has, at its heart, substantial and ill-considered threats to some of our most fundamental freedoms.

As the SNP’s spokesperson on fair work and employment, I rise to speak against this Bill, which does nothing to promote the concept of fair work in employment. It goes to the heart of destroying many rights that were long fought-for by our foremothers and forefathers. Were they to be lost, it would certainly take a very long time to regain them.

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The SNP Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, Roseanna Cunningham, said recently:

“Scotland is historically viewed as the birthplace of workers’ rights”.

The approach we take in Scotland is fundamentally respectful, acknowledging the overwhelming prevalence and importance of negotiation in trade union activity. That negotiation contributes to improved employment practice and improved outcomes for both the workforce and employers. I am not the first, and I will not be the last, to say this today, but the contrast could not be greater between the respectful and constructive approach taken in Scotland and in other parts of the UK and the draconian, intrusive, discriminatory, impractical and unnecessary measures the Tory Government have laid before us today.

Tony Benn once said:

“I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demoralise them.”

This Bill does both of those things and simultaneously undermines our place in the world as a progressive, democratic family of nations. Slowly but surely, this Tory Government are chipping away at our fundamental civil liberties and human rights.

James Heappey: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Hannah Bardell: No, I will not: I want to make some progress.

This Bill undermines a number of basic, fundamental human rights. As we all know, this Tory Government also seek to remove the Human Rights Act from the statute book altogether. As with their targets on child poverty, they will remove any aspirational standards that enable us to be a forward-thinking and progressive society.

This Tory Government are not just ideologically driven, but ruthlessly politically opportunistic. They claim to believe in a smaller state in relation to providing public services, but are happy for it to have a very long arm to interfere in the lives of its citizens, especially those who are less powerful or less fortunate.

The history of trade union legislation is probably the most politicised area of legislation. Liberty, one of the UK’s leading civil liberties and human rights organisations, has said of the Bill:

“Ideological motivations of any Government are part and parcel of politics but should not imperil the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals. Yet this relatively short Bill has the potential to cause significant damage to fair and effective industrial relations in this country—and would set a dangerous precedent for the wider curtailment of freedom of assembly and association.”

In essence, this Bill is about restrictions on fundamental freedoms. It introduces increased restrictions on the abilities of trade unions to ballot for strike action; reduces the amount of paid facility time; requires trade unions to become certified by the UK Government for legal protection; and introduces new investigatory powers against trade unions. The Bill introduces measures requiring a 50% threshold and 40% turnout for all ballots declaring strike action. That is the same undemocratic practice that the Conservatives used in the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum.

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This Bill is a fundamental attack on human rights and civil liberties, and a reminder that the Tories fear the trade union movement. This Government want to take away some of our most fundamental and basic rights, while shrinking the space for us to debate and protest. The SNP—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

7.38 pm

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell).

I was brought up by parents who were trade union stewards, one for the then National and Local Government Officers’ Association and the other for the NASUWT. Like many of my Conservative colleagues, I am supportive of trade unions and what they do—I certainly feel that from a family perspective. The hon. Lady referred to the Bill as draconian and an ill-considered threat to our public freedoms. I have spent hours listening to the debate while simultaneously reading the Bill, and I cannot find in it anything that matches some of the rhetoric we have heard today.

This Bill gives added legitimacy and transparency not only to the public, but to trade unions. If transparency and legitimacy increase, surely trade unions will find it a much easier sell to both the public and their members and, indeed, to the employers they are seeking to persuade that their action should be taken seriously. To that extent, I welcome the new minimum threshold. Again, when it is met, one would assume that employers will actually take the threat seriously and the chances of resolution will be increased. When it is not met, however, the public can be reassured, as taxpayers who in many respects fund public services, that their lives will not be disrupted as a result. I am so minded by personal experience: when the National Union of Teachers was on strike in 2012, that had an impact on me as a parent. I certainly remember that the turnout was 27% of all members, so the impact on children and parents—my constituents—seemed completely disproportionate to the number who voted in favour of the strike.

On legitimacy, looking at the current labour market, a four-month limitation seems entirely proportionate with how labour and mobility change. That will make union legislation in tune with the current labour market and, again, it increases legitimacy. I also believe that opting in—members having to make a conscious decision to join a union—makes absolute sense. In every other walk of life, we would expect our constituents to have to join up to a party, not become members by default. On transparency, it can only be a good thing for members to have more clarity and information, so that they know what they are striking for. I echo the points made earlier about having the right balance on reporting information. It is important to show how much public money is being given to permit union activities, and that those activities are completely and correctly identified. I believe that will be addressed in Committee.

The Bill is ultimately sensible. It brings the legislation up to speed with the current employment market and increases legitimacy and transparency. All hon. Members who believe in such factors in relation to strikes should surely welcome the Bill.

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7.42 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and declare that I am proud to be a trade union member. I am a member of Unite and of the Trade Union Group. I am delighted to show solidarity with the more than 6 million people who are part of the UK’s largest voluntary organisation—the trade unions.

I do not share the analysis of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) about the nature of the Bill, which attacks fundamental civil liberties and the democratic rights of trade union members. I believe that it is politically motivated. It will deepen the UK’s anti-trade union laws, which are the most restrictive in the western world. The changes will worsen industrial relations and push us further down the path to a more confrontational labour-relations policy. I abhor the thought that it could potentially criminalise firefighters, nurses, teachers and other workers who are simply trying to defend a fair and safer workplace.

The Government are demanding a democratic standard in relation to balloting not sought by any other organisation, or by many Members of the House. I was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s responses in the opening statements. If the Government want to enhance workplace democracy, I ask them to engage with trade unions on the introduction of e-balloting and secure workplace ballots, which would help to increase participation and turnout in trade union ballots.

Ian Lavery: Will my hon. Friend explain the benefits of e-balloting and workplace ballots?

Grahame M. Morris: There is a contradiction in the Government’s position. E-balloting is accepted for the first stages of the election for the Conservative party mayoral candidate—it is secure enough for that—and for secure workplace balloting on recognition agreements, which is enshrined in legislation, but e-balloting is not accepted in the Bill.

Stephen Doughty: Is my hon. Friend aware that e-balloting is also used for the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the National Trust, the Magistrates Association, the Countryside Alliance and the Royal College of Surgeons?

Grahame M. Morris: Absolutely. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. A plethora of organisations —[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am desperate to hear the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot hear him because there are too many conversations or too many interruptions. Whichever it is, I call Grahame M. Morris.

Grahame M. Morris: I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend’s point was excellent and well made. In modern times, e-balloting is an accepted method of improving participation.

In truth, the Bill is a smokescreen to divert attention away from the Government’s policies of austerity and to limit the response of working people to object to the assault on their pay, pensions and working conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth

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Valley (Mr Campbell) and other hon. Members have made interesting comparisons with hedge funds, the banking system and the financial sector. Such organisations and institutions promoted the casino economy that brought Britain, and indeed the world, to the brink of financial disaster. Yet, they seem to be allowed to wield considerable and unfettered political influence, and there is no proposal for similar constraints or levels of transparency. Our recovery is being built on a private debt bubble, and as austerity fails to eradicate the deficit or to improve the income or living standards for ordinary people, it is more important than ever for them to have a trade union to represent their interests.

In addition to significant and unnecessary new burdens, trade unions will also be expected to pay a levy to fund the certification officers’ new role. As we heard from the Secretary of State, the role will be much more proactive. They will have new powers to impose financial penalties and to scrutinise how unions use their political funds and for what purposes. Several Members have talked about the diverse reasons for which funds are used, but I hope that Government Members would agree that HOPE not hate and Bite the Ballot, as well as voter registration and improving public services, are all laudable aims that political funds support.

Unions must secure the continued consent of members to maintain a political fund, but that happens already as there must be a separate ballot every 10 years. Other Members, including the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), have mentioned that. Winston Churchill said:

“It has become a well-established custom that matters affecting the interests of rival parties should not be settled by the imposition of the will of one side over the other, but by an agreement reached…between the leaders of the main parties”.—[Official Report, 16 February 1948; Vol. 447, c. 859-860.]

I ask all Members to vote against this most pernicious, partisan and overtly political Bill, which is one of the most objectionable that I have seen in my time in the House. I ask those with a genuine interest in enhancing workplace democracy and improving industrial relations to engage and work with trade unions, not to see them as an enemy. They aim to create safer, fairer workplaces for our constituents and address grievances in an amicable manner—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order.

7.48 pm

Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab): I would like to declare myself as a proud trade unionist all my working life. I am grateful for the support that I have received from the trade union movement.

I believe that this Bill is designed to restrict and undermine the role that trade unions play in our society by making it harder for working people to organise in the workplace. It seeks to do so by tying trade unions up in an excessive amount of red tape, by attacking facility time and by gagging them, thus curtailing their ability to speak out on behalf of working people.

It seems clear to me that, in putting forward this Bill, the Government fail to understand the value of trade unions’ contribution to working practices, health and safety, productivity and the economy. The Government say that the aims of this Bill are to enable the UK to pursue an ambition to become the most prosperous major economy in the world by 2030, and to ensure that hard-working people are not disrupted by strike action.

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I believe that, far from delivering those aims, the Bill is likely to work against them. Many colleagues have commented on the latter, so I will focus on the former.

Trade unions make a positive contribution to the lives of millions of working people in Britain: they champion the kind of fair, reasonable and safe working environments we all expect as the norm in a civilised society; they secure reasonable contracts of employment so that people can be healthy and productive in their workplaces; they promote equality so that people can be treated fairly regardless of race, religion, gender or politics; and they mediate between employers and employees when difficulties arise. Unions have been responsible for changes in legislation that have benefited all, regardless of union membership, such as the eight-hour day, paid holidays, equal pay for men and women—though we have a way to go on that one—and health and safety at work. This role of ensuring safe workplaces should not be underestimated. I recently met a nurse who told me why she joined a union more than 20 years ago. In her workplace, it had been common practice for nurses to mop up bodily fluids off the floor without wearing gloves. It was only the intervention of the union that led to this practice being stopped. She joined as a result and has never looked back.

I believe it is time for us to look for a more balanced and constructive approach to industrial relations in Britain, yet this Bill is an attack on the facility time of trade union representatives, which flies in the face of good industrial relations. The director general of the CBI said in 2009:

“Union reps constitute a major resource: there are approximately 2,000 workers who act as lay union representatives. We believe that modern representatives have lots to give their fellow employees and to the organisations that employ them.”

In addition, unions have always done useful work in providing training and skills improvement in the workplace. Earlier this year, I visited Vauxhall Motors’ plant in Ellesmere Port, where many of my constituents work. Vauxhall is a global success story. I saw at first hand the work done by Unite the union to develop education and training within the plant, upskilling the workforce and providing working people with the means to reach their potential. In Britain, we are seeing an increase in workplace insecurity, with the number of people on zero-hours contracts rising rapidly, and many of those on such contracts are employed in the health care and education sectors. It is highly unlikely they will receive skills training and education at work, which will add to the trend of ever decreasing pay and skills and the low-pay, low-skill economy, which as a nation we cannot afford.

If we want a more productive economy, the Government would do better to make investment in skills and technology a priority, rather than weakening the role of trade unions. The Bill is an unnecessary and vindictive attack on trade unions and undermines the democratic rights of working people, and I urge everybody in the House to vote against it.

7.52 pm

Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP): For the record, I am not, and never have been, a member of a trade union. I want to bring to the debate my perspective as a former council leader at Midlothian council, where I worked closely with the local trade unions. In that role, essentially working between the management and the

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unions, I saw the real benefits and genuine improvements, which we can never take away from, that trade unions can bring to their members and wider society.

I have always found that working together across disagreements and towards a common goal is the best way to achieve success, not the Dickensian-style sledgehammer proposed in the Bill. When even Conservative Members are referring to the Bill as “Franco-style”, we have to recognise that there is something seriously wrong. In Midlothian council, by working closely with our trade unions and negotiating between the unions and the management, and thanks to the SNP Administration, we were able to introduce a living wage—a genuine living wage, not the pretend one the Government are trying to palm off on people—within a few months of coming to office in May 2012.

That is not the only thing we managed. We worked closely with union representatives to deliver a non-compulsory redundancy policy that allowed further staff development. By doing so, we engaged the unions when it came to the difficult budget decisions necessary as a result of the Government’s austerity agenda. The Bill, by alienating trade unions and making it almost impossible for them to operate in a reasonable environment, would utterly threaten that approach and completely undermine the positive progress that is possible when people work together.

Only this afternoon, a group of scientists employed at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Midlothian had to take the unprecedented step of strike action. These are members of the Prospect trade union who felt there was no choice left other than to take strike action. These are not the kind of people many Government Members have talked about—they have painted a picture of bully picket lines and monstrous picket actions—but workers who have tried all other possible measures and felt they needed to take strike action for the first time in over 30 years.

Mr MacNeil: My hon. Friend is indeed giving a different perspective from the other side of the table from the trade unions. Does he agree that in Scotland this law is not needed or wanted and is in fact an alien law that will create difficulties rather than help?

Owen Thompson: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, many of the issues raised could be dealt with through general legislation rather than a specific trade union Bill.

James Heappey: On the SNP’s trade union group website, there is a page entitled “Labour’s Levy”. Can we agree that the SNP would support our move towards greater transparency on the political levy that funds political parties and trade unions?

Owen Thompson: Whatever views there might be on the political levy, the Bill is most certainly not the way to deal with it. Members are perfectly entitled to withdraw their support from the Labour party, as I know many SNP members have done, but the Bill is not the way to deal with that.

As I mentioned, the strikers this afternoon were not involved in the sort of wildcat or intimidating protests mentioned by Government Members, but simply workers

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with no other option. As others have pointed out, disorder is uncommon and can be dealt with by other means; there is no need for a specific trade union Bill. The Bill is absolutely wrong. I can think of no other way to put it. The Government need to take a step back, listen to the contributions of Opposition Members, think again and introduce something completely different that respects and moves the trade union movement forward, rather than using a sledgehammer to shut it down.

7.57 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I rise to oppose the Bill in the strongest terms on behalf of Plaid Cymru. As the son of a retired trade union shop steward and the representative of an area steeped in coal-mining history, I value the role the trade union movement has played in advancing the lives of working people since it was legalised in 1871. It should be remembered that a royal commission in 1867 advocated the legalisation of unions as it would benefit both employees and, crucially, employers. My party believes that instead of pursuing further draconian measures aimed at restricting trade union activity, a speedy inquiry on industrial relations and employee rights should be convened to look into the role trade unions should play in a modern economy and the challenges faced by working people, such as zero-hours contracts, low pay and the increasing lack of workplace rights.

If we are serious about creating a more socially just society, trade unions have a vital role to play. Instead of reducing their influence, I would like to see Government action to increase workplace democracy. In Germany, for instance, in an economy that has outperformed the UK’s over many decades and is more balanced both in terms of industrial sectors and geographical wealth, trade unions play a key economic role in formulating industrial strategy. In the German legal framework of co-determination, representatives also sit on company boards, giving workers a direct say on company strategy and the hiring of management. I would also add that Germany’s decentralist federal governance system has also greatly helped to distribute its economic success more evenly geographically, unlike in the UK.

The Bill has been labelled the biggest attack on trade union activity for 30 years and follows a long line of anti-trade union laws brought in by Conservative Governments, most of which were not overturned by Labour Governments between 1997 and 2010.

Chris Stephens: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that there are trade union traditions within many of the political parties, even the Conservative party, which has the equivalent of what can only be described as a “walk out”—a privilege denied to the trade union movement in this country?

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that well-made point. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his excellent speech as the spokesman for the SNP.

By my counting, there were 10 Acts between 1980 and 1996 that attacked the trade unions. The coalition Government, much to their shame, tied in a further assault on trade unions with the issue of trust in politics in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014.

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The Bill aims to make it more difficult to take industrial action by forcing unions to give further notice before striking, introducing even higher thresholds for successful strike ballots and further restricting the right to picket. I note from elsewhere—this is critical to how the Bill will work—that the Government are minded to allow employers to bring in agency workers in the event of a strike. They are consulting on that currently. The Bill will undermine facility time, which will reduce the ability of union officials to represent their members at work.

The UK has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the western world. It is a shame that an early priority for the new Government is to bring in another Bill at rapid speed, less than a week after three separate consultations on some of the measures in the Bill were completed. That raises the question of whether the consultations were valid exercises.

The Bill applies to Wales, Scotland and England. It does not apply to Northern Ireland, where employment law is a devolved issue. Regressive measures such as those in the Bill should make progressive politicians and individuals in Wales consider whether the responsibility for these issues should be devolved, instead of being held here in Westminster. I note that the Scottish Government are keen to press ahead with the devolution of employment rights. If these issues were devolved to Wales under a future Plaid Cymru Government, I suggest that there would be an alternative scenario to the one that we are faced with here today with this Bill—a scenario where the role of trade unions in the workplace and public life is enhanced, helping to shape economic and industrial strategy; one where trade unions play a pivotal role in the management structures of the public and private sectors; and one where the pay and conditions of employees are strengthened to resemble European norms.

8.1 pm

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): My dad came to this country from County Cork as an Irish navvy. He came here to dig roads. He joined the British Army to fight Hitler and after the war he went to work at London Underground, first as a train guard and then as a train driver. He was a proud member of the National Union of Railwaymen. Why? Because he wanted himself and his family to get on.

The evidence is now, as it was then, that in those sectors of the economy where trade unions are organised, workers are more likely to be better paid, to enjoy better conditions and to have decent pensions; less likely to be discriminated against, bullied and unfairly sacked; and more likely to work in a safe workplace and to have their voice heard.

I have worked over the years with some outstanding employers. Jaguar Land Rover is but one example. At the Jaguar plant in my constituency, the leadership of the factory goes out of its way to praise the role that is played by trade unions. The trade unions have acted as an agent for change in the industry and have transformed the automotive sector into a world-beating sector of the economy.

I have also dealt with many bad employers. I remember the EMI agency factory that sacked three women—two because they were pregnant and the third because she had a sick child. We finally won the battle before the

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employment tribunal. The women walked back in the following day and were treated as heroines. I saw a woman workforce with their backs straightened. They had a sense at last that because they could stand together in their trade union, they could answer back, be treated with respect and enjoy dignity in the world of work.

Trade unions, quite simply, are a force for good. They are a force for liberty in the workplace and a force for liberty in a democratic society. Now, the so-called party for working people wants to weaken working people. It is part of a wider agenda. This is a Government that brook no opposition; that seek to curb independent critical voices such as charities and the BBC. Now, they want not only to weaken working people, but to bankrupt the Labour party with their proposals on party finance.

I was treasurer of the Labour party for six years. I exposed the scandal of secret loans. That led to the Hayden Phillips process, which discussed a new settlement on party finance. It was put to me at the time, “If we were to have a cap of £5,000, it would bankrupt the Conservative party.” I said that it would be downright immoral if we sought to pitch the new arrangements in a way that would break the Tory party. We now have a Tory Government that seem to have no such moral compass.

Mr Anderson: My hon. Friend is making a strong case. From his years of experience in the trade union movement, what does he think the change to the political funding relationship with the Labour party will do to help the people the Conservative party says the Bill is about—the people who want to go to work when there is a tube strike and the people who want to take their children to school when there is a teachers’ strike? What on earth will changing the legislation about political fund ballots do to help those people?

Jack Dromey: The great Jack Jones once said that working people have two ways to access power: their union card and their right to vote. Of course we organise first and foremost in the workplace, but this is also about the ability to influence legislation here in this House. The Government are determined to weaken both.

On industrial action, in 2002 I led a million-strong strike in local government. We put in place arrangements to ensure that not one example was found of, for example, people in care homes or looked-after children being put at risk. Why? Because workers always enter into sensible arrangements in the public interest to protect those whom they serve.

Christian Matheson: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He used to be my boss, and a very good boss he was too. In his many years as a trade union official, can he remember any instance of a strike that was entirely politically motivated?

Jack Dromey: The idea of cabals of shop stewards who pursue nakedly party political or political agendas is a myth peddled by the Conservative party.

Of course sometimes, for example with London Underground, there will be disruption, but one cannot in a free society shackle the right of working people to withdraw their labour. Ballots before industrial action? Absolutely. Sensible measures to get turnout up? Without hesitation. There can be workplace balloting and e-balloting.

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However, it is absolutely wrong to apply in this Bill a test that, were it to be applied in this place, would mean that very few people would come here.

Sue Hayman (Workington) (Lab): Clause 3 sets out the important public services for which 40% support will be required in ballots. Is my hon. Friend as surprised as I am that

“decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel”

is included in the list? Can he think of any instance when a strike at a nuclear decommissioning facility has put the public at risk?

Jack Dromey: No, and I dealt with the nuclear industry for 15 years. There were rarely disputes, there were very good dispute-resolution mechanisms and when there was the occasional dispute, workers and their trade unions went out of their way to protect vital and sensitive establishments.

I will deal with the other issues briefly in the time I have left. On picketing, I stood on a picket line in my constituency in 2011. Six careworkers from 10 to 22 years’ service faced being sacked by a Conservative council. Under the Bill, they would have had to report to and give their names to the police. As one of them said to me last week, “Jack, we’re not criminals.” As a police officer said to me last week in the west midlands, “Jack, this is not a police state.”

On agency workers, lasting damage would be done to industrial relations if workforces were divided in the way that is proposed. To cut back facility time would rob people of the ability to have a friend in the world of work that they can count on at a time of need.

Finally, to introduce the Bill on today of all days is a slap in the face that treats working people with contempt. This is arrogance that knows no bounds from a Government that are once again treating working people and trade unions as the enemy within.

8.8 pm

Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab): I refer Members to my registered interests. I am a proud trade unionist and secretary of the GMB group of MPs.

What has disappointed and surprised me in this debate is the clear lack of understanding that is displayed by Government Members of what it is like to be an employee who needs a trade union. If there is one thing that they understand, it is that the trade unions stand between the Government and their plans for wage cuts, privatisation and attacks on terms and conditions. That is what the Bill is all about.

The Bill is a natural development, because it comes from the party that, in the last Government, introduced a law to make people pay to attempt to assert their workplace rights. I am, of course, talking about employment tribunal fees. The last Government made people pay to assert their right not to be unfairly sacked; pay to assert their right to have their wages paid; pay to assert their right not to be subjected to racist discrimination, sexual harassment or discrimination in respect of their religion in the workplace. It is a natural development. The Government now seek to clamp down on political opposition and leave workers defenceless against pay cuts and attacks on hard-won terms and conditions.

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Chris Stephens: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that this is not just an attack against one political party and that many organisations have benefited from trade union political funds?

Richard Burgon: That is right. One example is the anti-racist organisation HOPE not hate that I have enjoyed campaigning with over many years. The Government who say that they are against red tape and regulation now want the biggest voluntary member group in our country to drown in red tape and bureaucracy—or “blue tape”, as it should indeed be called. What is this obsession with things that could be done electronically being done on paper? Do we want to live in a society where supervisors must be appointed for picket lines, wear a badge or armband, and have to give their names to the police in advance? That is in clause 9.

Ian Mearns: It is an attack not just on freedom of association but on freedom of speech. People have to give notice of what they are going to put on a blog or on Twitter. That is inventing the concept of secondary tweeting, for goodness’ sake. It is in the consultation document, and therefore can be enacted afterwards.

Richard Burgon: I agree that it is gravely concerning, and I will come on to that point. Indeed, clause 9 states that the police must be notified in advance of trade union plans to use the internet or social media. Do we want to live in a society where the result of a ballot can have 79% of votes in favour of strike action, but it would be illegal for that strike to go ahead? That is in clauses 2 and 3. Do we want a society where the Government seek to stop the funding of political campaigns they do not like, and even seek to cut off funding to the Opposition that is meant in a democratic society to hold the Government to account? That is in clauses 10 and 11. Do we want to live in a society with anti-trade union laws that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis)—a distinguished Conservative politician who was once tipped for leadership of the Conservative party—described as laws that would meet the approval of General Franco?

The Conservative party logo used to be the torch of freedom, but this Bill is the antithesis of freedom. It seems to many people in the country that the Conservative torch that they view as the torch of freedom is being extinguished by the Bill. I call on Members from across the House who believe in freedom, liberty and civil society to do the right thing and oppose this Bill.

8.12 pm

Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): I declare an interest in this debate as a proud member of my trade union Unite.

The freedom to speak out against injustice and to campaign for economic equality and the rights and freedoms of workers is underpinned by the European convention on human rights—rights that were bitterly fought for by the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors. The Government claim that they are forced to amend those rights, and we are led to believe that that is because the number of strikes called in recent years is a threat to our economic wellbeing. The total number of days lost in the 12 months preceding April 2015 was

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704,000, but before the House becomes hysterical about that, it is important to note that historically that figure was in the millions. In fact, we are experiencing an all-time low for strike action, and it is at its lowest level since before 1990. The simple truth is that workers do not take the decision to strike lightly, and they never have.

Is this Bill justified? The European convention clearly states in article 11 that a restriction on the right to strike would be judged by reference to whether it is

“necessary in a democratic society”.

With strike action at an all-time low. I see no legal justification for such savage stripping of fundamental democratic rights.

Let us leave human rights to one side for a moment and examine the next strand of the Government’s argument, which is that trade union activity and the right to collectively bargain poses an economic threat. That is simply not the case. Evidence provided by the New Economics Foundation recently concluded that as a wage-led economy, the UK’s prosperity depends on a substantial share of the national income going to wages. If we look at wage equality over the last four decades, we see that while many employers are equitable, a substantial number are not. Those employers share less of the profit that they generate with workers, and they do not alternatively invest that money in future industrial strategy. It is therefore critical that organisations that champion collective bargaining are able to represent their workers, and that those workers have the right to bargain collectively for their share in company and national revenue.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Rebecca Long Bailey: I apologise but I must make progress. I am conscious that a lot of Members wish to speak.

I stress that such rights are not simply to improve workers’ living standards, but to enable the functioning of the economy as a whole. If wages continue to fall in real terms that implies a shrinking of the market. That inhibits profit and growth, and results in a vast reduction in the amounts recoverable in taxes by the Treasury. Indeed, proponents of the competitive market—including those on the Government Benches—would do well to understand that intrinsic to its very existence is not just the supply and demand of labour, but the freedom of labour to move and organise. Members who are fans of the free market mantras of Milton Friedman and co. will no doubt notice a real contradiction in terms. On the one hand, the Government advocate freedom and deregulation of company activity in their promotion of free market ideologies, but when it comes to the activity of workers it is a completely different story.

It is clear that the arguments in favour of this Bill do not stack up. This Bill is a clear breach of the European convention and poses a real and present danger to our economic viability as a nation. I call on Members to reject this Bill today. Failure to do so will open an economic and democratic Pandora’s box that unleashes something so pernicious that we will not be able to close the lid again.

Several hon. Members rose

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Before I call the next speaker I am afraid that I must reduce the time limit to three minutes. I say to Members who have already spoken that interventions are preventing others from speaking later, and those who are hoping to speak are probably cutting into their own time. If interventions could be kept to a minimum, the Chamber would be grateful.

8.17 pm

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): I declare an interest as a proud member of the Unite union, and I draw attention to my relevant declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and I am a member of the trade union and Unite groups for Members of Parliament.

A fundamental principle is at stake in this Bill, which is the ability of working people to combine in the trade union movement for their collective benefit—a combining together that has brought higher wages, better working conditions and enhanced rights at work. The Secretary of State made a number of historical references in his opening speech. He quoted two Labour Prime Ministers—Harold Wilson and Clement Attlee—but he was somewhat selective in the history that he put before the House.

The fear of working people collecting together led to trade unions being illegal in this country for so long and to the Combination Acts, and only in 1871 was a limited right to picket peacefully introduced. The Conservative party’s history is to attack that right to collect together. The Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and tried to present the concept of having to opt in to the political levy as an act of modernisation. The Conservatives have tried that before. That is precisely what was in the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927, and it was regarded as a highly vindictive act after the general strike, which led—or at least contributed to—their election defeat in 1929.

Interestingly, when he quoted Clement Attlee the Secretary of State did not mention that it was Attlee’s Labour Government in 1946 that reversed that necessity to opt in to the political levy, because that was regarded as taking away power and balancing it too far from workers in the workplace. Let us not present something that has been a previous historical failure as an act of modernisation in 2015. This Bill is based on two fundamental flaws.

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that local government and public services are completely devolved to Wales, and that therefore the measures in the Bill and the check-off could not possible apply in Wales?

Nick Thomas-Symonds: My hon. Friend is right to say that the Government have failed to take into account the views and positions of the devolved parts of the United Kingdom—and that is not all that they have failed to take into account.

Striking is not a first resort, it is a last resort, but unfortunately the Bill is based on that misconception. My father was on strike when I was born, in the steel strike of 1980. Conservative Members have no idea about the hardship caused to the families of strikers when they go out on strike. That is why it is always a last resort.

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The Bill is also based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law as it stands. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in clause 9, which is the new set of requirements in relation to picketing. Conservative Members really must have little faith in the police and their ability to identify people on a picket line, given the number of requirements to be introduced. At the moment, only six people can picket at a time, but apparently not only will the picket supervisor’s name be required, but they must have a letter to show to a police constable or

“any other person who reasonably asks to see it.”

I am not sure who that would be. Hopefully it will be the Secretary of State, because if he attended a picket line, he might be a bit better informed about this part of the Bill. In addition, the picket supervisor must be readily contactable at short notice and, worst of all,

“wear a badge, armband or other item that readily identifies the picket supervisor as such.”

What an absolute shame. It is a badge of shame that the Tory party is trying to attach to the trade union movement.

The Bill, the employment tribunal fees and the attack on the Human Rights Act are a combined attack on working people by a Government who have given up the mantle of one nation.

8.21 pm

Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): I direct the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a proud member of the GMB and Unite trade unions and a board director of HOPE not hate. As a former trade union officer and a proud trade union MP, I am disgusted that the Government are prepared to undermine a vital component of British public life for the sake of narrow political self-interest. Let us be in no doubt that that is precisely what we are seeing here today. The Bill is not a measured approach to industrial relations; it is a vicious and unprovoked assault on the labour movement. What problem are the Secretary of State and the Prime Minster trying to fix? Have I missed a tsunami of strikes or an outbreak of trade union militancy? The answer is no.

As many of my colleagues have touched on the specific impact on industrial relations, I wish to talk about some of the wider ramifications of this legislation, in particular its impact on an issue that is close to my own heart—the vital work of challenging political extremism in British society and the role that the trade union movement has played, and continues to play, in that. It is pertinent to raise that issue now, because today marks Rosh Hashanah, when the Jewish community celebrates our new year. But for many Jews, this year’s festivities are tinged with trepidation. A recent survey showed that six out of 10 are afraid to visit a synagogue on high holy days, for fear of violence and abuse.

Those fears are not unfounded. In the latest hate crime figures released by the Metropolitan police, the number of such offences against Jews in London had increased by 93% in the last 12 months, a trend confirmed by the statistics from the Community Security Trust. Those awful figures were mirrored by increases in hate crime across society, not least in the Muslim community which saw a 70% spike.

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Wes Streeting: As someone who has campaigned with organisations such as HOPE not hate, is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am that the Bill will damage funding for those organisations and their vital anti-racist, anti-fascist activity?

Ruth Smeeth: I agree. There are few organisations that challenge the political fallout of those hates and fears, and I had the privilege of working for the best one—HOPE not hate. I am sure that both sides of the House would agree that the politics of hate and fear have no place in this House. But, if it were not for the work of my colleagues we may well have seen a neo-fascist British National party MP in 2010. We built broad community campaigns in areas as diverse as Barking and Dagenham, Burnley, Keighley and my city, Stoke-on-Trent, to oppose the politics of hate and celebrate the politics of hope—and we won. But the reality is that we would not have won without the financial and organisational support of the trade union movement.

Since long before the battle of Cable Street, trade unions in this country have played a part in supporting community cohesion alongside their traditional role as workplace advocates. In recent years, they have put their money, time and people on the front line to challenge extremists. It was the trade union movement that led the campaign to unseat Nick Griffin from the European Parliament. It was trade unionists who stood up to the English Defence League in Tower Hamlets and it was trade unionists who worked with faith leaders in Woolwich when Fusilier Lee Rigby was brutally murdered.

Under this legislation, all of that work is under threat. That is compounded by the horrendous gagging Act, and the resultant chill factor is unacceptable. Clause 10 would place severe restrictions on trade unions’ ability to raise and maintain their political funds, because every restriction placed on trade union support for the Labour party applies equally to the wider community campaigns that the movement undertakes.

As I have said, today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and while I wish the House “L’shana tova”, I hope that the Secretary of State will take the opportunity of a clean start at the beginning of the year to think again and stop this abhorrent and unnecessary attack on the trade union and labour movements.

8.25 pm

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): I draw the attention of the House to my declaration of interests, which includes membership of the GMB and Unite trade unions. For 15 years, I was an official with Unite, which gives me much more experience than some Conservative Members in dealing with industrial relations. That included dealing with some of the best managements in the country, such as at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port. Twice I worked with local management to save that plant by winning new models for the workers to build—something at which they are excelling now. That was achieved by consent and on a partnership basis. I saw no evidence from any management I worked with of a desire within British industry to bring in such legislation.

Some of the proposals in the Bill are so bizarre that I cannot help but wonder if they were put in just so that they could be removed at a later point in the Bill’s

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passage to give a false impression of just how reasonable the Government are. Other hon. Members have mentioned the armbands provision and the provision on tweeting during industrial action. If I as a member of a trade union and a Member of Parliament tweet in support of an industrial dispute, would I face prosecution?

Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend might be guilty of wildcat tweeting—[Laughter.]

Christian Matheson: That would be a terrible crime, and I would not wish to be accused of such a grave offence.

The Bill would be bad for the economy, because trade unions—yes, working with management—help to spread the wealth that the country creates. The richest countries are not the ones with the 1% wealthiest elite, but the ones with the highest average wages. The country with the highest average wages will win every time, but that runs contrary to Conservative philosophy.

I remember Prime Minister’s questions just before the summer recess when the Prime Minister criticised tube drivers in London because they were well paid and did not need to go on strike. Well, they are well paid because they are members of a trade union.

The Bill is about power. It is about removing power from any form of organised opposition to the Conservatives’ dominance. They know that individual people are stronger when they stand together and therefore opposition to the Conservatives will be weakened by removing that collectivism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) explained so eloquently. The Government realise this. In typically cynical and dishonest fashion, they cloak the Bill in the claim of protecting the public when in fact it does the opposite: it makes families and ordinary people much more insecure by taking away one of the few avenues of protection they have in their economic and working lives.

There is a sinister and dangerous authoritarianism to the Government’s actions. Attacking the funding of the Labour party, as the Bill clearly and deliberately does, breaks many long-standing political conventions. It is part of a pattern that other hon. Members have identified: the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 taking away the ability of charities and unions to campaign in a general election, but not big businesses and newspapers; allowing local communities to decide on whether to have fracking in their local communities, but then, if they decide against it, the Government driving it through anyway; and the Human Rights Act 1998, which so many Conservative Members want to abolish, despite it being one of the few pieces of legislation that protects the rights of individuals against the state.

We live in a pluralistic democracy at present, but that pluralism and democracy will be eroded yet again in a manner that is sinister and troubling. Trade unions are an essential part of any democratic civil society and that is presumably why this unpleasant, authoritarian Government are attacking them tonight.

8.29 pm

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): I rise to oppose the Bill. It is being a member of the Unite trade union and the daughter of former trade union shop stewards that underpins my advocacy of workers’ rights.

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The Bill is deeply damaging to workers’ rights and is just the latest example of how out of touch the Government are with the hard-working people of this country. The Bill denies the important role that trade unions provide in protecting and enhancing workers’ rights. As the Scottish National party’s spokesperson for equalities, women and children, I, along with colleagues across the Opposition Benches, recognise the important role that trade unions play in collective bargaining power that has benefited many women across my constituency to obtain fair pay for fair work in the recent equal pay dispute.

The SNP strongly opposes the proposed reforms, because they will erode democracy in the workplace. The Bill would restrict the power of devolved Administrations, local governments and other public bodies to determine their own industrial relations. Do Members on the Government Benches not see that good employment practices are key to economic competitiveness and social justice? Workers across the UK deserve the right to strike. It is an important outlet to promote social justice and improve employment conditions. The reforms would not allow social justice in the workplace to be pursued.

The UK Government’s Trade Union Bill starts from the false premise that unions are bad and that our activities should be curtailed. The Scottish Government have actively sought to promote the very constructive role that unions play in the workplace, the wider economy and civil society.

I echo the sentiments of trade unions that rightly criticise the Bill for allowing

“businesses to behave badly by undermining the right to strike”.

Trade unions helped to establish the Equality Act 2010, protecting thousands of individuals from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexuality. Those protections in the workplace allow those with additional needs or physical barriers to make a significant contribution to the workplace. Perhaps the Government should consider the hypocritical rhetoric of helping people back into work on one hand, while gradually eroding the role of trade unions in the workplace on the other.

I close by reiterating the fundamental point outlined in article 11 of the European convention on human rights, which provides the qualified right to

“freedom of peaceful assembly…and to join trade unions for the protection of…interests”.

Are the measures in the Bill necessary in a democratic society? I place the burden on the Government to justify them as proportional, and I implore the House to oppose this arbitrary Bill.

8.32 pm

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I am proud and delighted to point Members to my declaration of interests. I joined the National Union of Mineworkers on 3 April 1969. Since then I have been a branch, regional and national trade union representative, president of the biggest trade union in Britain and a member of the general council of the TUC, so unlike Conservative Members I might know what I am talking about on this issue. I am really glad that the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), is here. I ask him to look into the naming of Bills in this House, because this Bill should really be called the

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“Deliberate Emasculation of Organised Labour and Abuse of Parliamentary Powers for Party Political Advantage Bill”.

Conservative Members do not understand the real world of work. They speak today as if every trade union member will be going to work tomorrow looking to create a strike and to bring people out time and time again. Trade unions talk to employers, and sit down with workers every day to deal with disciplinaries and grievances. They resolve disputes. They work through redundancies and reorganisations, and represent people at social security payment tribunals and industrial tribunals—genuine partnership. They develop policy on the national minimum wage and so on. They played a hugely important role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, and in the devolution programme across this country. They have also been involved in resisting, and why should they not when they are resisting job cuts, industrial decimation, attacks on individual members of staff, community devastation or discrimination driven mostly by a Government who want to have the upper hand?

This pathetic excuse for a Government does not have the statesmanship or the nous to understand that forcing their will on others in such a partisan way is simply wrong. Dressing it up as an extension of democracy is a joke. We all know that this is bad law made by political pygmies, and bad laws must be resisted. History teaches us that, if nothing else. The people of Selma, Alabama showed us that, the people of South Africa showed us that, the people in the shipyards at Gdansk showed us that, and the people of this country who threw out the poll tax showed us that. People outside this House will take action to defend themselves against these disgraceful attacks and it is wrong to use the law of the land in this duplicitous way.

The Bill attempts to build on the disgraceful lobbying Act, the gerrymandering of constituency boundaries and the attacks on voter registration. It is an act of a weak, spiteful Government and it will be resisted and ultimately defeated. If people have to break a bad law to stop it, then so be it.

8.35 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): It is sad that there are so few Tories here tonight when they are destroying the rights of trade unionists and democracy itself. Who are trade unionists? They are simply working people—6.5 million of them—with an insurance policy for tough times. There are not a lot of strikes at the moment, but this Bill will provoke more and more. In fact, only one in five ballots leads to a strike, and the statistics over previous years show that the average trade unionist will strike only one day in 15 years. There is no problem to be solved; this is an ideologically driven attack on people’s rights to democracy and collectively to stand up for their rights at work.

We have seen problems with productivity and exports in industry. Exports of goods are now down to the lowest level since 2010. We want co-operation and collaboration to boost productivity, not a recipe for further conflict, but instead we see a Bill that will provoke people on the streets, quite rightly, to stand up for their rights. That will be an ugly affair that we do not want to see.

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We have heard that the Bill is in breach of article 11 of the European convention on human rights. Russian television approached me to talk about it, partly because I am a member of the Council of Europe, as it was thought to be such an appalling abuse of people’s rights. We have heard about democracy and the fact that abstentions would count as no votes; we would not expect that of a totalitarian regime or a dictatorship. We have heard from the Mayor of London, who chose to confuse a quorum, which involves turnout, with people not participating at all being counted as voting no. That is either mischievous or stupid.

Intimidation will now occur, and there will be surveillance of social media. Where are we going with this? We see attacks on trade unionists in undeveloped democracies, such as Colombia, and we saw them in pre-war Germany. This is reaching an awful level and we should all resist it vehemently. Agency workers will now be seen as scabs and not as trustworthy parts of the community. We have seen division between nations, with Wales and Scotland not being consulted, between management and workers and between workers themselves.

Aneurin Bevan said that poverty and property—by which he meant the Tories, of course—come into conflict in times of austerity, and that the Tories would respond by taking away democracy. This is another step towards eliminating our democratic rights, alongside the gerrymandering we will see in the boundary changes and the individual registration changes. This is a horrible time for Britain. People will resist the Bill and the Tories should think twice about moving forward with such an awful bit of legislation.

8.38 pm

Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (SNP): I would like to make it clear at the outset that I am proud of my previous membership of a trade union, but I am certainly not financed or sponsored by one. I come to the Chamber to speak today because it is right to oppose this ideological attack on workers, a Bill that will have widespread ramifications for workers’ ability to organise and take industrial action, which we on the Scottish National party Benches view as deeply pernicious. It can be no coincidence that any increase in public sector strike action coincides with Tory-imposed austerity on public sector services and the restriction of access to justice with the implementation of tribunal fees, especially for women. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has heard the Tories’ poisonous rhetoric towards trade unions that this Bill should seek to undermine workers’ rights. If anybody had yet to see through the Tories’ claim to be the “party of working people”, the Bill exposes that claim as the ridiculous and ludicrous lie that it is.

Trade unions are the very fabric of this society: we may not always like what they have to say or always agree with them, but they perform a vital role in protecting workers and strengthening their voice. We should protect their right to strike with every breath we have. It is important in matters such as pay, work and employment conditions that unions are the first point of support and advice to people across all types of professions. In attacking the trade unions, the UK Government are actively undermining their support and attacking the ability of workers to stand up for their own rights. Amnesty International has said this Bill is a major

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attack on civil liberties. In looking at the potential impact of it, I would rather place my trust in Amnesty International than in the Conservative party.

This measure effectively treats abstentions as no votes, which warps the democratic process. Indeed, the 40% rule will be familiar to people in my Glasgow East constituency and in Scotland, as the same trick that saw the ’79 devolution referendum overturned—with the abstention of even the dead yet to be removed from the electoral register counting as a no vote.

The hypocrisy is clear, with this coming from a majority Government who received the votes of just a quarter of the total electorate earlier this year. For his part, the Business Secretary received almost 54% of the vote in his constituency, but just 38% of the local electorate actively voted for him. Would he say that he did not win a decisive mandate in that election? It is utterly inexcusable that he seeks to hold trade union democracy to a completely different standard.

This Bill will damage workers’ rights and impose undemocratic and hypocritical restrictions on the right to strike. Rather than de-legitimising last-resort industrial action, this Government should be working with trade unions and employers to create a better environment. That would be a far more ambitious and constructive approach to take if this Bill really were about progress.

8.41 pm

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): I declare my membership of Unite and refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

This Bill, the so-called Trade Union Bill, is in reality a threat to all our rights at work. The Conservatives claim to be the “party of working people”, yet with this Bill they have committed the biggest attack on workers’ rights in 30 years. No party can claim to be representative of workers when they attack the workers’ very own institutions—the trade unions.

In the short time available, I want to focus specifically on the Bill’s proposals for facility time and speak on the basis of my recent experience as an NHS employee and as a workplace rep for Unite in the NHS. For many years as a workplace rep and a clinical scientist, I struggled by on no facility time at all. I was trained by my trade union in negotiation skills, representation, health and safety and learning at work, and this training was frequently called upon by my employers to represent members in grievances and disciplinary hearings, to negotiate pay and working conditions, to consult over workplace restructuring or job losses and to promote learning new skills and training at work.

I believe that all those activities were beneficial to both my employer and the workers; and I know that they were infinitely preferable to my employer, who found it far more efficient and cost-effective to consult me as an elected representative of the workforce rather than having to consult each individual member of staff over every proposed change. Eventually, I was able to negotiate some part-time facility time, as it was recognised that there was a real need for union reps to be available to bring their skills, knowledge and experience to the workplace and to partnership working. There was also a real need for NHS trusts, like my own, that were seeking foundation trust status to be able to demonstrate

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good industrial relations with staff. That could not be done without giving union reps reasonable time to perform their duties in the workplace.

I worked with management over many issues, including the complete overhaul of pay structures and terms and conditions in the NHS, known as “Agenda For Change”. We worked tirelessly with management to influence and implement these new measures, which could not have been achieved without adequate facility time for representatives. Facility time is not a drain on the public purse.

Harry Harpham (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that the TUC estimates that union workplace representatives contribute to overall productivity gains that are worth between £4 billion and £12 billion. Does she agree that measures that have had such a positive effect on productivity should be welcomed and, indeed, promoted?

Liz McInnes: I thank my hon. Friend. I was hoping to be able to make that very point myself. He has given me another minute!

Facility time is not a drain on the public purse; in fact, it is linked to increased productivity, which, as we all know, is crucial to the delivery of high-quality and cost-effective care in the NHS. There is a huge economic case for retaining the current arrangements. Capping facility time is an attempt to solve a problem that simply does not exist.

The Royal College of Nursing, which opposes the Bill, commissioned independent research. The resulting report shows that only 1.5% of public sector health care workplaces have a full-time union representative, and that those representatives are representing huge workforces consisting of some 2,500 people. They are dealing with employment issues every day, resolving conflicts before they escalate. The report also gives substantial evidence of close working between union reps and management, with managers reporting a high level of trust in their union colleagues.

The facility time proposals appear to have been drawn up by people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I call for the provisions in this Bill to be rejected.

Jack Dromey: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is probably widely known that I am a former deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union and of Unite, but, for the avoidance of any doubt, I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, of which I am very proud.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which is on the record.

8.46 pm

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I, too, draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and to my membership of Unite.

It seems to me that the Bill is an attempt to create easy headlines about the way in which the Government are clamping down on unions, playing to a rhetoric that is based not on fact but on prejudice—and boy, have we

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heard plenty of prejudice from the Government Benches today. It is a prejudice that is rooted in the outdated and offensive view that trade unions are the enemy within. Every one of us in this place will have constituents who are members of trade unions. They are not revolutionaries; they are not radicals; they are ordinary men and women who want to organise themselves collectively to strive for better working conditions.

I have been in this place for only a few months, but many Members with great experience have already told me about the contributions that trade unions have made in their constituencies. Today, several Members—including my hon. Friends the Members for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) and for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood)—have pointed out that Unite, in conjunction with the management at Vauxhall, enabled the Ellesmere Port plant in my constituency to stay open, thus helping to secure thousands of jobs in the local economy and throughout the country. It is clear that trade unions can play a vital role, so why are enclaves of radicalism such as the British Medical Association, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing and the Society of Authors being attacked in this way?

Many individuals do not wish their employers to know that they belong to a union, because, sadly, victimisation of trade union members is still commonplace. Surely, in a free society, trade unions should be able to guarantee to their members that this information will not be disclosed except under the most stringent conditions. The age-old entitlement of lawyers to observe client confidentiality is threatened by the Bill, which puts trade union membership on a par with the activities of criminals and terrorists. Whatever happened to privacy and confidentiality?

But the Bill is not done with offending principles of natural justice. The cumulative impact of the new proposals would mean that the certification officer was responsible for making a complaint, investigating it, reaching a decision, and setting a punishment. Most bizarrely, the Bill allows any member of a union to enforce an order from the certification officer rather than the certification officer doing so himself. That is an outrageous outsourcing of justice, enabling private individuals to enforce state orders for their own ends. There appears to be no requirement for the union member to have any particular interest in the order. It is like saying to a Tesco Clubcard member, “You can collect a fine imposed by the Office of Fair Trading.” What perceived problem is that provision intended to deal with? Is the certification officer not capable of enforcing his own orders? The Bill imposes a whole new layer of bureaucracy and burdens on trade unions. Whatever happened to the red tape challenge?

I had plenty more to say, but my time is very limited. Let me end by saying that there is absolutely nothing in the Bill that we can commend. There is nothing in it to tackle the industrial relations challenges that we face, and nothing to protect centuries-old principles of justice and confidentiality. Instead, we have been presented with a cynical and pernicious Bill that should be consigned to the dark recesses of prejudice whence it came.

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8.49 pm

Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab): Like many hon. Friends here tonight, I am proud to declare an interest as a long-standing trade unionist. I would run through the list, but I would probably run out of time as I only have three minutes. One of them is the National Union of Journalists, on whose ethics council I served and which stands up for the basic freedoms necessary for a healthy, functioning democracy.

It is through that prism that I look at the Bill, which cannot be considered in isolation, but must be seen in the context of so many other proposals from this and the previous Government. The list is depressing. Other members have mentioned the gagging Act but, as a former BBC journalist, I am also alarmed to see public broadcasting under attack in favour of its politicised, corporate-owned and Conservative-supporting rivals.

There are the devastating cuts to legal aid and the restrictions on judicial review, undermining the fundamental principle of universal access to the law. The snoopers charter is extending the power of the state to scrutinise us, while our powers to scrutinise the state are watered down by the freedom of information “review”. There is the plan to repeal the Human Rights Act, a great achievement of the last Labour Government. Perhaps most perniciously, there are the fundamental attacks on our democracy: more appointments to the other place, millions disfranchised, and boundaries fixed in favour of this Government’s own party. Quite simply, this Bill is part of the same agenda.

The rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression are all enshrined in the convention on human rights, and all are undermined by this Bill. This goes beyond anything proposed in the modern democratic era even by Conservative standards—and they can go quite low. In 1947, Churchill, hardly a militant socialist, acknowledged that

“the right of individual labouring men and women to adjust their wages and conditions by collective bargaining, including the right to strike”

were “pillars” of British life, but today’s Conservative party apparently wants to demolish those pillars. Those who seek justice at work will be tracked and treated like criminals, their social media monitored and their details shared with police. Those who protest will be forced to wear identifying marks and carry letters of authorisation.

Christian Matheson: It is sinister.

Clive Lewis: Yes, it is sinister.

This is an attack not just on workers’ rights, but on our most basic and fundamental human rights. As Liberty has said:

“Applied to any type of protest these proposals would be a mark of an authoritarian and controlling Government.”

Of course, this Bill does not only pick off individual trade unions; it also attacks the very existence of trade unions. Unsurprisingly, trade union political funding is at the centre of this attack, while the Tories’ millionaire donors are rewarded with seats in the other place.

Not only does this Bill have the wrong answers, but it is not even asking the right questions. It shows that the powerful now wish to hold the powerless to account.

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I did not come to this House just to give voice to the voiceless, but also to let them have their own voice, and tonight I shall vote to do exactly that.

8.52 pm

Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): Like many others, I am a proud member of my trade union and in my career as a barrister I acted for literally hundreds of trade unionists. When I was appointed as the Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service I joined the two staff trade unions to demonstrate to them my strength of feeling about trade unions. Over five difficult years they worked with me to resolve issues, rather than escalate them, which is a real asset in running a national public service such as the one that I was running. I pay tribute to them: that is what trade unionism is all about.

As other speakers have said, the right to join a trade union and the right of association and protest were won over a very long period. They are now entrenched in international law, not least article 11 of the European convention on human rights and the International Labour Organisation conventions. That means there are four rules that have to be applied to the restriction of trade union rights: first, the restriction must be necessary; secondly, it must be proportionate; thirdly, the Government bear the obligation of showing necessity and proportionality —the burden is on them; and, whatever else happens, the very essence must not be stripped away.

This Bill fails all four tests. The three clearest examples are: treating abstentions as no votes, which is clearly against the international standard and the international norm; putting greater restrictions on public services, a category drawn much more broadly than the international community would permit; and the unjustifiable restrictions on rights of protest both in picketing and away from picketing. So this is not only a blow for trade unions and trade unionism; it is also a blow for human rights and civil liberties, and that is why we must vote against it.

8.54 pm

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): I must confess that, earlier this afternoon, I was almost touched by some of the contributions from Conservative Members. I had not realised until then that they had such a passionate commitment to the trade unions in this country. Some of the stories of their personal and familial involvement in the industrial disputes of yore were almost touching. Then, of course, I realised that it was all a charade, a fabrication concocted by the Conservative public relations machine to mask the true intent of these proposals. No matter how many crocodile anecdotes and weasel words they come up with, the truth is that this is an anti-trade union Bill.

Why the requirement for 40%, we might ask. That is simply the result of a calculation by the Government that, when opinion is divided, a union will have to have participation levels of 80% or more. They rightly think that that will be very difficult to obtain, and of course they are doing nothing to improve participation through e-balloting or other contemporary mechanisms. This is simply a ploy to prevent people from going on strike.

Given the way in which the Government talk about check-off and facility agreements, anyone would think that those were statutory requirements from which employers needed to be freed. They are, however, voluntary

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arrangements that are freely entered into between employers and employees. If I am running a business, what right do this Government have to tell me how I should consult and involve my employees in that business? Then there is the four-month expiry of mandate clause. Let us be clear: that is nothing other than a licence for bad employers to sit it out and wait for the mandate to expire. They can watch the clock ticking down and in the meantime bring in agency labour to undermine the union that has gone on strike.

Every clause in the Bill has been designed to make it harder for ordinary people to organise themselves at work and to advance and defend their rights, and to make it harder for their national organisations to operate on their behalf. That is why Scottish National party Members oppose these proposals completely.

My final question is: why now? What great industrial crisis exists in Britain today that requires this Bill to be at the epicentre of the Government’s legislative programme? There is none. The truth is that this is not about making Britain better or about running things better; it is about satisfying a blood lust inside the Conservative party. These are the most vindictive, narrow-minded and reactionary proposals that we have seen in this House, and we should reject them completely.

8.57 pm

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): It has been a pleasure to listen to so many speeches today showing what trade unions really are. Rather than hearing ridiculous stereotypes about trade union barons or militants, we have heard about the millions of ordinary working people who elect their leaders and simply want a better, fairer life at work. I, too, must declare an interest in the debate. I am a proud trade union member, and I was a shop steward for years. And yes, I have been on strike. I was supported by my fellow trade unionists in all of that and in getting to this place, and I’ll tell you something: I am proud of all those things. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow working people to get a better deal for those who slog their guts out just to get by and get on. I was also proud to represent fellow members when they had a problem at work, and to make sure they knew their rights and got access to justice when they were wronged.

Of course that meant standing up to unscrupulous bosses, but that often meant fewer days lost to sickness, happier staff and a lower staff turnover. It also meant that we had productive negotiations when an issue arose. And yes, I was proud to stand on the picket line with the Remploy workers who were shamefully abandoned by the previous Government, and with low-paid women workers fighting against downgrades. As a trade unionist, I knew that taking strike action was a last resort, and not one that any of us wanted to take, but when all else fails, that is what is left. Without it, the bad bosses would not want to negotiate in the first place. Quite simply, it allows working people to have some power over their lives. Throughout our history, working people have had to fight for what we have. Nothing has ever been gifted to us. Trade unionists fought for an end to child labour, as well as for an eight-hour day, paid annual leave, and maternity and paternity pay.

Jack Dromey: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case for the voice of working people to be heard, not just in the workplace, but in the corridors of power.

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Does she agree therefore that it is fundamentally wrong that the Government should have an agenda that is designed, in effect, to bankrupt the Labour party and therefore break the voice of working people in Parliament?

Paula Sherriff: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and agree with everything he has just said.

The trade union movement also brought us the minimum wage and even the weekend, and the key to all that was an organised voice in politics. It is no secret that the affiliated trade unions have put many of us on these Benches, while Conservative Members rely on big businesses, corporations and wealthy individuals. For decades, there has been a consensus that any changes to political funding rules should be made on a cross-party basis. This Bill, like so many others, rips up the constitution in favour of a naked political attack. It is an attack on the ability of trade unions and their members to have a say in politics, just at the time when it has never been more important that working people have a voice.

At the moment, hundreds of thousands of working people pay just a few pence from the union subs to make their voices heard. I am talking about paramedics or cleaners, who do not have the luxury of a cosy dinner with the Chancellor; supermarket workers, who will not catch the Secretary of State in the veg aisle; and teaching assistants, who are not likely to bump into the Prime Minister on the street—indeed, we know that the last time someone did bump into him in west Yorkshire it did not end very well. Trade union members know whether their unions are affiliated to Labour and can opt out of making a contribution to the political fund, and every 10 years we are balloted on whether we want a political fund at all. There is no real wrong that this Bill is trying to right. It is not about high principle, just low politics.

I am not afraid to say that I am a working-class woman when there are too few in this House. I spent my life before I came here working on the front line of our public services, for the police, supporting victims of crime, and for our NHS, supporting all who needed care. When I walk around my constituency people say to me time and time again that they want to see more people like them in Parliament. I am not ashamed of the trade unions’ political work. They are part of our democracy, not a barrier to it. Working people in my constituency need a voice more than ever—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. I call Rachael Maskell.

9.2 pm

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am proud to declare that I am a trade unionist and was an official of Unite for 17 years before coming here. I rise to oppose this anti-trade union Bill. Should we be surprised by it, for have not the powerful always sought to take power from those people who get on and build our country? I refer to those people working in our services and in our public sector, and those who are in the engine room of driving up productivity and building our economy. The trade union movement has seen inequality throughout the past 200 years, and

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today men and women experience it daily. Against this adversary—against the crushing hand of bad employers or the state—men and women have organised, and nothing will stop their spirit in fighting for justice and making sure that they have better rights for the future.

This Bill sets out to rob these people of those basic human rights, making it almost impossible for workers to exercise their right to take action, as detailed ballots are already so difficult to implement. From talking to so many employers, particularly in the public sector, I know how they struggle to implement the current legislation on industrial ballots. One employer has 250 workplaces and has to know the jobs taking place in them and the grades involved. Obviously, as they do not know where their staff are, they struggle with the legislation. The Government are now introducing more bureaucracy for employers, wasting more of the employers’ resources. The advanced details that the Bill introduces deal with things such as the dispute plan, which interrupts industrial relations. That should be the subject we are debating today: how we create good industrial relations, and how we resolve the disputes and solve the real challenges facing workers at this time.

I wish to talk briefly about responsibility in industrial action. Last year, NHS staff raised a dispute about their pay, having experienced a 15% real-terms pay cut while managers had had an 11% pay increase over the past six years. The dispute was registered. Time and again, we wrote to the Secretary of State, asking him for a meeting. We had a string of solutions to offer, but he refused to meet us. He was spoiling for a ballot and industrial action when we could have resolved the issue around the table. Nine months later, after a day of action, he conceded. We have more days of strike action in the public sector, because the Government are using it as a tool against workers. But workers are responsible; they stand up for their rights and they always will. This piece of legislation should be ditched, so that it will not harm our members.

9.5 pm

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and declare that I, too, am a member of Unite the union and the GMB. I am also the daughter and grandaughter of two trade unionists. I am very well aware that I stand on the shoulders of giants from the generations that have gone before me and fought for my rights in the workplace—the rights for a weekend, for maternity pay and for sick pay. Those rights make workers more productive and happy. If those on the Government Benches are serious about protecting and growing our economy, they would take trade unions seriously as a partner and strengthen their rights, not remove them.

I am interested in seeing improvements to trade union rights in this country. Many colleagues have mentioned e-balloting. If we want more people to participate in a ballot, we should make it easier for them to do so.

The thresholds proposed in the Bill are a hypocrisy. Why should we apply a higher standard to working people who wish to organise unions in this country than we apply to ourselves? I would not be serving in this House today if I had been expected to meet the thresholds

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that have been proposed for our trade unions. It is an attack on civil liberties. As has been mentioned, article 11 of the European convention on human rights states: