“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association, including the right to form and join trade unions”—

for the protection of their interests. This Bill puts a restriction on people’s rights, and I note that the briefing note sent to MPs from Liberty supports that view.

I wish to move now to a subject that has not been covered quite so much today. It is a sorry state of affairs that the Government cannot see the huge economic benefits of trade union membership and strong trade unions. Looking at the relationship between two major economic trends since the 1970s, namely declining union membership and a shrinking share of wages and salaries in national income, it becomes clear that the UK has paid a heavy economic price for years of labour market deregulation and anti-union policies. The UK is wages-led: it is wages, not profits, that drive growth in our economy. If profit shares go up, as has been the case for the past four decades, demand actually decreases. A 1% increase in the profit share leads to a 0.13% decrease in demand, which is a loss of £2.21 billion to the economy at today’s levels.

The role of trade unions in ensuring a successful economy must be recognised if the damaging decline in the portion of national income going to wages is to be reversed. It is for that reason that I will oppose this Bill this evening, and I urge Government Members to do the same.

9.8 pm

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): I draw Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. On behalf of working people across my constituency and across the country, I rise to oppose this sinister, shabby and shameful piece of legislation, which goes against the best of British traditions in terms of the role that the trade union movement has played, particularly in the past century, in our democracy and civic life. I also make an appeal to the decent Conservatives on the Government Benches—at least to the ones who have bothered to show up today. This Bill goes against the best traditions of the Conservative party. If its members believe in free markets, they must surely believe in free labour. Perhaps that is why, in 1948, Winston Churchill opposed attempts to politicise the attacks on party political funding and the funding of a Labour party. Perhaps that is also why, in 1984, Margaret Thatcher said that the Conservative party should tread with caution before behaving in such a partisan way.

In 1998, John Major’s Government said that they had no problem with the funding of political parties by trade unions. This Bill does two things: it attacks the freedoms and liberties of working people and it makes a partisan attack on the funding of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Any decent democrat in this Chamber should be ashamed of themselves if they vote it through.

Look at the difference between the rhetoric and the reality in the Bill. The Government say that they want to give trade unions more democratic legitimacy, but this is, in fact, about delegitimising trade unions, increasing the threshold they need in order to go on strike but

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resisting their modernising calls to introduce electronic ballots. There lies the hypocrisy. The Government pretend that commuters in Ilford North and across London will no longer be affected by tube strikes, but the transport unions do meet the threshold, so this is not an attack on tube drivers going on strike; it is an attack on midwives, dinnerladies and other low-paid public sector workers who have the temerity to take on this Government.

The Bill goes against the best traditions of the Conservative party, but it is just what we should expect from this Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who has sought to rig the Commons and pack the Lords with his special adviser Lobby fodder, who will vote but not speak in debates. This is the Prime Minister who gags civil society, presiding over a Government who would have police officers taking the names of people on the picket lines when they should be out arresting criminals. They are our bobbies on the beat, so maybe they should arrest the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills for wasting police time.

I want to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State on uniting the Labour party after a summer of vigorous debate. They think that this is purely about the funding of our party, but it is not; it is about values and belief in democracy, equality, collectivism and social justice. Those are the values of the real party of the workers, and that is why I oppose this Bill.

9.11 pm

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): It is important for me to speak in this debate, having been a Unite the union representative for 14 years in health. Trade unions are key social partners that play an important role in our society through effective democracy and by helping to ensure good employment practices, which directly promote economic competitiveness and social justice in wider society. Despite what some Members assert, the daily business of unions is not taken up with organising industrial action. They represent their members in many ways, ensuring healthy and safe workplaces, delivering learning opportunities and bargaining collectively to ensure that pay keeps pace with the cost of living, the benefits of which are also experienced by non-union members.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress reports that international evidence clearly indicates that where unions are able to negotiate collectively with employers, wages are fairer and, as a direct consequence, societies are more equal. Days lost to industrial action are down by 84% in Scotland since the Scottish National party came to power, lower than anywhere else in the UK. That has been built upon over time through true partnership and conciliation. However, the right to withdraw labour as a last resort is a fundamental human right and a hallmark of any free and democratic society. It is safeguarded by a wide range of international treaties, including the European social charter and the European convention on human rights.

There are profound concerns that the right to strike is being put at risk, as the new restrictions will make it so difficult to undertake efficient industrial action that it is, in effect, being legislated out of existence. The Bill would introduce a 50% turnout threshold in all industrial action ballots. In addition, for important public services

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it would also impose a requirement that 40% of the entire membership must vote in favour, which amounts to 80% of those voting on a 50% turnout. Under those measures, nearly half of all strikes since 1997 would now be illegal.

The Bill proposes restrictions on picketing activities, even though, as highlighted by civil rights groups, pickets are already more regulated than any other kind of protest. The certification officer will be given powers to investigate unions and access membership lists, even if no one has complained about the union’s activities. The SNP recognises that nobody wants strikes, but the way to avoid them is not to provoke confrontation—

Mr Speaker: Order. We are grateful to the hon. Lady. I call Melanie Onn.

9.14 pm

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I am speaking on behalf of Unison as a Unison member. Unison has over 1 million public sector workers, with low-paid, part- time women making up the majority of its membership. I welcome some of the comments I have heard from Conservative Members, particularly the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and the hon. Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Hazel Grove (William Wragg), who are clearly sensible, reasonable Conservatives. I hope they succeed in convincing some of their colleagues that with the measures in this Bill they are grossly overreaching themselves.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who is not in his place, seemed to have misunderstood some of the provisions in the Bill. He made the incorrect assumption that there is something along the lines of automatic registration for trade union membership or for political party membership as a result of that trade union membership. If someone opts in to a political fund, check-off happens when they have already signed up to be a member of a trade union, and there is automatic payment through their salary. It is important that somebody who is going to contribute to a debate understands the fundamentals of what they are talking about.

As we have heard, trade union members are cleaners, carers and drivers who simply want to get on with their jobs safely without fear of discrimination and to be rightly rewarded for it. This Bill singles those people out with armbands and authorisation documents. They are the people who care for our elderly, keep our streets clean, and mend our roads, and do not want to take industrial action—it is always the last resort. They have benefited from years of striving for rights and freedoms, and it is right that they should feel free to belong to a trade union without fear of reprisals or judgments against their character. This is now under threat through demonising them and suggesting they are prone to criminal behaviour by virtue of their trade union membership.

Many Conservative Members have lectured Labour Members on their own trade union backgrounds, and their support for and understanding of working people and their lives. Nearly all their comments have been predicated on, “I support trade unions, but”. It is perverse to claim to support trade unions with one breath and then to support this regressive Bill with

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another. It is already difficult to arrange a strike, with indicative ballots. My union has a 50-page document to guide people through the process of securing a ballot. I remind Conservative Members that the

Financial Times

says today that instead of restricting unions,

“more worker bargaining power would restore some overdue wage growth”.

9.17 pm

Harry Harpham (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I stand here as a proud trade unionist and member of Unite and the GMB. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the register.

The right to strike is one of the fundamental rights on which civil society is based. It encapsulates the rights of freedom of assembly and protest for which generations of men and women have fought and struggled. The establishment and defence of these rights is one of the most vital threads in our national story. By introducing this Bill, the Secretary of State has reminded us that that struggle is not confined to the history books. If the measures laid out in it are enacted, it will be an unprecedented blow to our civil liberties. It is a nakedly ideological attack on basic freedoms by Conservative Ministers whose aim is to silence opposition and secure political advantage. Reading the Bill, one might think that Britain was paralysed by industrial unrest, with strikes threatening to bring the economy to a grinding halt. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the past five years, there has been a ninefold reduction in the number of days lost to industrial action since the 1980s.

Strikes are a symptom of poor industrial relations, not a cause. They are entered into only as a last resort, as I know from personal experience as a former miner forced on to the picket line in 1984 to defend jobs and communities against a Tory Government and National Coal Board determined to destroy both the industry and my union. I know the turmoil, the pain and the financial hardship that strikes can cause for those engaged in them. This is the price we pay for living in a free society, and compared with the alternative, it is a price worth paying.

Everyone knows there is no love lost between the Tory party and the trade union movement, but for the Government to play politics with some of the basic rights of those who have a difference of opinion with them, just because they can, is, frankly, an abuse of power. British industrial relations law is already among the most comprehensive and most restrictive in Europe. This Bill seeks to refashion that framework into a set of shackles, leaving unions unable to perform the functions for which they exist.

This Bill has been described as illiberal, pernicious, ridiculous, ludicrous and absurd. It represents nothing more or less than the curtailment of the civil rights of trade union members and the Government silencing those who oppose them. Britain’s low strike rate shows that the current legal framework allows principles to be put into practice. I urge Conservative Members to think very carefully before they cast that aside for political gain.

9.20 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, would like to declare that I am a proud trade unionist and a member of Unite.

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To be perfectly honest, I am very disappointed that we have to have this debate. As others have noted, the ability to form a union and carry out industrial action are basic rights in a democratic society. I am very concerned that the Government have introduced a Bill that seeks to undermine such fundamental rights.

As a trade unionist, I know that, if passed, this Bill will make it much more difficult for workers to raise concerns over safety, working conditions and pay. I am particularly concerned about the impact it will have on women in the workplace. We already know that women are systematically discriminated against in the labour market. Women already comprise the majority of those on the minimum wage and are more likely to be in insecure and low-paid jobs such as catering, cleaning and clerical work. Women are, on average, paid less than men and are more likely to be in in-work poverty.

It is also important to remember that women have borne a higher share of the burden of this Government’s austerity policies than men. Women have already suffered more from welfare cuts and pay freezes, and I am concerned that this Bill will make those inequalities much worse. The Government seem to be in denial about that. The Bill’s impact assessment totally fails to account for the disproportionate effect the Bill will have on women workers. The reality is that trade unions are one of the best tools in the struggle for gender equality, and attacks on union rights will damage the struggle for equality in the workplace.

Indeed, Government statistics on trade union membership have found that women workers who are in a trade union have a pay premium of 30%. That is no surprise when one remembers that the very purpose of much industrial action is to achieve gender equality in the workplace. If the Government restrict the rights of workers to organise, that will clearly have a negative effect on the struggle for pay equality.

Unionised workplaces are also more likely to have good policies on flexible working and maternity pay, as well as better support for those returning to work after pregnancy. By making it harder for workers to organise at work, this Bill will have a negative impact on all those areas, leading to further discrimination against women in work.

The Bill’s new strike ballot threshold will also affect women more than men.

Wes Streeting: On the increased threshold, I am sure my hon. Friend is as concerned as I am that it is not being made easier for workers to cast their votes through electronic balloting. Why does she think the Government will not agree to it?

Kate Osamor: I totally agree with my hon. Friend.

The Bill’s higher ballot threshold for essential services will disproportionately affect women, as they are much more likely to be employed in those sectors. Research by the TUC suggests that nearly three quarters—73%—of the trade union members working in important public services are women. Do the Government not understand that reducing the rights of those women at work will only increase the gender pay gap and worsen discrimination in the workplace?

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This is a regressive Bill that threatens to undermine basic civil rights and reverse progress in achieving workplace equality. I urge Members on both sides of the House who do not want to see that progress reversed to vote against the Bill.

Mr Speaker: Now that, after a short flight, the exotic bird has returned to its nest, I call Mr Boris Johnson.

9.24 pm

Boris Johnson (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con): You are very kind, Mr Speaker. What the Bill in fact offers, contrary to what we have heard from Opposition Members, is a set of protections for two sets of working people: those who utterly depend on public services for their everyday lives and those who work in public services and find that they are often engaged in pointless, costly strike action because of the actions of a politically motivated minority.

I agree with everything in the Bill as proposed. It cannot be right that it is still possible to have a strike on the basis of a ballot that took place many months or, indeed, years ago. It is still technically possible to have a strike without a fresh ballot upon the removal of guards from the underground, a piece of modernisation that took place in the 1990s. It is utterly wrong that public workers should be subject to intimidation— sometimes reduced to tears—on the picket line or elsewhere. It is high time that that code of practice was put into law. Clauses 2 and 3 take us furthest and offer the greatest hope.

Ian Lavery rose—

Boris Johnson: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way.

Some kind of disruptive industrial action, bad enough to wreck one’s day, can take place on the basis of a tiny number of the workforce. To take a by no means untypical example, a strike was recently mooted upon the dismissal of an employee who had consistently failed to turn up for work, and a ballot was held by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. Fifty-four people were balloted. Of those, only 14 could be bothered to vote. Five voted for a strike and nine for action short of a strike. Yet, as a result of the vote—26% of the relevant electorate—people’s lives were disrupted during that day. People did not turn up to work. The London economy suffered. There was disruption.

Mr Skinner rose—

Boris Johnson: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Skinner: A member of the Bullingdon club, intimidating people.

Boris Johnson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the extra minute.

As a result of intimidatory behaviour, we have seen strikes triggered by a tiny minority that have caused far worse disruption, inconveniencing and causing misery for millions—[Interruption.]

Mr Skinner rose—

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Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has the floor.

Boris Johnson: Only 24% of London bus drivers decided to vote in the dispute in 2014, yet there were two one-day strikes. The 2014 strikes over ticket office closures were triggered by a ballot that attracted only 40% interest and in which only 30% of the relevant workforce voted yes.

To those who say that we politicians have no cause to set thresholds, let me remind you that in America, the land of the free, 39 states have banned strikes by mass transit workers.

Mr Anderson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is being his normal, generous self. In his two jobs, how many people in Uxbridge did not vote for him and how many in London did not vote for him? How can he condemn anybody else?

Boris Johnson: The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the concept of the quorum. We are seeing a tiny minority of workers taking decisions that inconvenience the lives of millions. He will know the huge economic cost of those decisions. He will also know that the European countries that have been alluded to constantly throughout this debate have all sorts of restrictions on the right to strike, not least in Spain—someone referred to Franco’s Spain earlier—which has minimum service requirements to this day, and Germany, which has a 75% threshold. That, he should frankly put in his pipe and smoke.

This is an excellent Bill—a serious, sensible Bill. It has been striking that not a single Labour Member has stood up during this debate to condemn the strikes that are caused by a tiny minority of the workforce. Not a single one of them has condemned it. That tells us all we need to know about the Labour party. It no longer speaks for the working people of this country.

9.29 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my membership of Unite.

Like many Members, I have had conversations with thousands—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has the right to be heard by both sides. He must and will be heard.

Daniel Zeichner: Like many Members—although I am not sure about the previous speaker—I have had thousands of conversations with constituents over the past year, including, in my city of Cambridge, at 30 or 40 hustings during the general election, and to my recollection not once were the issues addressed in the Bill raised, not even by my opponents, including those who tried to paint my employment by Unison for a dozen years as something of which I should be ashamed. Well, I am not. I saw thousands of people working in hospitals and town halls up and down the country giving up their time and often their careers to help their colleagues through the inevitable disputes that arise in workplaces. I am talking not about political disputes, but the day-to-day stuff that happens everywhere.

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Yes, sometimes they had facility time to do it, because pay-gradings, pensions, disciplinaries, the lot, take time to prepare for—that is why human resources allocates time to such matters. These people should be celebrated and praised, not denigrated.

I shall say a word about the provisions on political funds. In my job at Unison, I dealt with the political fund. Reading the Bill, I have a strong sense that those drafting it do not understand how the system works, and I urge Government Members to think through the unintended consequences. Thanks to previous Conservative legislation, unions have been forced to maintain political funds to carry out their mainstream functions. Unison’s predecessor union, the National and Local Government Officers’ Association, famously had to do that to campaign on behalf of its members just for public services—core union business. Yet the Bill muddles maintaining the political fund with links to the Labour party, and in attacking the latter muddies the waters still further.

The Bill will only add greater uncertainty to what can and cannot be done and, in my view, is likely to lead to greater politicisation, not less. I am not bothered about that, but Government Members might come to regret such a false move. They should also think hard about tearing up the long-held convention that we change the basis of financial support for political parties by agreement. The long battle involving Hayden Phillips is all too familiar to many of us, but Labour, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said, would not impose a solution without agreement. The Government are now doing exactly that, legislating to party advantage, meaning that the next Government will feel they have the right to do the same. The country deserves better than such tit-for-tat playground politics. This is a mean-spirited Bill. The Conservative party won the election and took the spoils, but with this Bill it reveals its weakness, not its strength.

9.32 pm

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): I declare an interest as a member of Unison. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Yes, and I am proud of it. As a former council leader, I know from experience that the role of trade unions has been nothing but positive and constructive, especially during this time of massive cuts in local government. The Government seem to have a morbid obsession with trade unions, a visceral hatred dressed up as a legislative virtue.

There is little, if any, evidence to back up the Government’s claim that trade unions are so disruptive that more legislation is needed, but it is the reserve clause—clause 13—that is particularly odd. It gives power to the Secretary of State or a Minister to determine whether a union rep, say in Carlisle, has had too much facility time off. Does the Secretary of State not have anything better to do than check what some union rep in Carlisle is doing? At a time when the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is devolving power and responsibilities to the city regions, the Business Secretary and his Ministers are personally checking how much time a shop steward spends undertaking their union duties. This is how ridiculous it is. Can Members imagine the German, French, Spanish or Italian equivalent of the Secretary of State, sitting in Berlin for example, deciding whether a shop steward in Düsseldorf or Stuttgart has time off for union duties? That is how ridiculous it

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is. That is the comparison to be made. Why is the Secretary of State wasting his time on petty legislation and score-settling?

Alan Johnson: Perhaps my hon. Friend will reflect on this. I tabled a question for the Secretary of State for Health, asking if he could tell me how many child and adolescent mental health in-patient facilities had closed. He referred me to NHS England. He does not know that, but he will know every fine detail of facility time throughout the NHS.

Peter Dowd: That is how petty this is. Should the Secretary of State not be spending his time and taxpayers’ money dealing with issues such as productivity or investment in infrastructure?

I came down from my constituency today with three trade union representatives from the private sector who were on full facility time. That is the action of a sensible, reasonable and enlightened business, as opposed to the petty, anally retentive and obsessive Government, with a Secretary of State who has nothing better to do with his time.

9.36 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): May I declare my current membership of the GMB and draw the attention of the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I, like so many Members on this side of the House, have nothing to hide about my relationship with, and support for, trade unions. Whether it is campaigning locally to defend community services in the steel industry, nationally to defend shop workers facing violence and to stand up for the rights of poorly paid musicians, or globally to fight for a Robin Hood tax and efforts to tackle global poverty, I have been proud to stand alongside trade unionists as a trade unionist for my whole political career.

This has been an extraordinary debate on an extraordinary Bill. What has been most extraordinary among the numerous speeches by Government Whips’ cronies, tying themselves in contortions trying to explain their workers, credentials, while supporting the Bill, not to mention a mare of a speech by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has been the ream of Government Members lining up to oppose significant sections of the Bill and urge their Government to think again.

The hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) urged a rethink on agency workers. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who had already told us that parts of the Bill were reminiscent of Franco, rightly spoke about the serious restrictions on freedom of association and the risk of judicial review. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg), in an excellent speech, said that he had concerns about the provisions on agency workers and facility time. He told us clearly that we must not erode fundamental rights and liberties. The hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), in another excellent speech, raised concerns over the new notice periods, the role of the certification officer, which is set to expand massively, and the risk of inadvertent criminalisation.

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The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), in yet another excellent speech, told us: “I cannot see what the problem is with check-off”.

He also pointed out that he cannot see the problem with electronic voting. He criticised the civil liberties aspects of the Bill and argued for a sensible, consensual and, if I may say so, Churchillian approach to political funding, which the Conservative party—at least, those on the Treasury Bench—seems to have abandoned.

We heard many excellent speeches from Opposition Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) said that this was a Bill not of high principle, but of low politics. There was an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) about the role of trade unions in standing up for the rights of ordinary workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) described the attack on basic civil liberties. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) spoke powerfully about the attacks on London’s workers under the Mayor. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) talked about her role working with trade unions.

There were excellent speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Harry Harpham), for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Bootle (Peter Dowd). My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) suggested a good new title for the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) gave an excellent speech and my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) spoke from her extensive experience as a workplace representative in the NHS about the importance of facility time.

We had excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) spoke—as did other Members—about the Bill’s potential contravention of International Labour Organisation conventions and of European and international law. My hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) put it in a nutshell when she described the Bill as “illegal, illiberal and illiterate”, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) spoke about the importance of the principle of the right to strike.

My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) spoke powerfully about the importance of ensuring the possibility of e-balloting and secure workplace balloting, and I will return to that point. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) spoke about her work and of the excellent work she has seen by Unite at the Vauxhall plant in her constituency. She also spoke powerfully about facility time. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) gave an excellent speech from his extraordinary wealth of experience and judgment on these matters. He painted a different approach to the one taken by some Conservative Members by describing trade unions as a force for good and for liberty in this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon)—with an excellent intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns)—mentioned the absurdity of the social media provisions

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proposed in the Government consultation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) spoke with powerful arguments about the role that trade unions play in driving productivity in our economy, and the role of good pay in doing that. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) gave an historical tour de force about the opt-in and industrial relations, and he spoke about the powerful issues around picketing and the complete impracticality of a number of provisions suggested by the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) spoke powerfully about the role of organisations such as HOPE not hate, which I have seen active in my constituency doing incredible work on electoral registration and tackling extremism. She said how that will be put at risk by provisions in the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) also exposed many of those absurdities. There were many excellent speeches by Scottish National party Members, including an excellent speech by the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), who spoke about the role of communication in industrial relations and finding constructive solutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) called out the funding provisions in the Bill for what they are.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, said that Disraeli would be turning in his grave, and Conservative Members would do well to look at their own provisions—even their great Margaret Thatcher did not go this far, and they should think carefully about what they are saying. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) made it clear that the Bill attacks what is, in his experience, the importance of working together to achieve agreement, which lies at the heart of good industrial relations. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) spoke of how the Bill could increase the threat of blacklisting, and he described the levies as a trade union tax and a potential breach of numerous legal conventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) spoke of his powerful personal experiences of being involved in strikes against injustice and the effect on his own family.

I am glad that we have the support of the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) because he spoke powerfully about how this Government claim that they seek to deregulate in every area except, it appears, the trade union movement, which they seem content to tie up in “blue tape”.

Many of us in the Chamber are, at times, prone to hyperbole and exaggeration, but this is not such an occasion. I have no hesitation in describing the Bill as one of the greatest threats to the activities of trade unions and ordinary working people up and down this country, and one of the greatest threats to hard-won and fundamental civil liberties in a generation. The Bill breaches long-established rights to strike, protest and take industrial action. It introduces pernicious measures and the potential for wide-ranging further restrictions and powers in secondary legislation that, as many hon. Members pointed out, we have yet to see.

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The provisions on social media are simply absurd. Why on earth would we want the police to spend time establishing whether trade union members have said things two or three weeks in advance of action? The police have to spend enough time tackling extremists and criminals who are using social media. Importantly—I am a Welsh MP—we have heard that the Bill breaches the devolution settlement with far-reaching consequences for relationships and public policy in wholly devolved areas such as health and education, whether in Wales or Scotland, let alone at the level of local authorities in England or London. The Bill potentially puts the Government in breach of international conventions and European law. It breaches established conventions on the funding of political parties and political campaigning.

Geraint Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that as the Bill is a fundamental attack on democracy, human rights and trade unions, it will boost Labour party membership by thousands more as people protest against this evil Bill?

Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend makes an important point and he echoes thousands of people who have expressed their opposition to the Bill today and in the past few weeks.

My noble Friends in the other place may be interested to note that the Bill breaches a Conservative manifesto commitment to make provisions regarding only essential public services. “Essential” is the word used in International Labour Organisation conventions, and it has a very narrow definition. Instead, the Bill talks about “important” public services and draws its provisions so wide that as yet unseen powers could apply to nearly every area of publicly funded activity. The House should not take my word for it or the word of those who have spoken today. Let us listen to the independent Regulatory Policy Committee, which described the Bill as not fit for purpose; to Amnesty, Liberty and the British Institute of Human Rights, which described it as a major attack on civil liberties; and to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, which said:

“We need to see more consultation and…engagement with, the workforce, rather than the introduction of mechanisms that reflect the industrial relations challenges of the 1980s.”

We should listen to recruiters who are fearful that their agency staff will be used as strike-breaking labour. The Recruitment Employment Federation said that it is “not convinced” by the Bill.

The Bill stands alone as a divisive and offensive piece of legislation, but when viewed alongside the Government’s wider agenda of scrapping the Human Rights Act, introducing fees denying women the chance to sue for equal pay, slashing legal aid, attempting to limit freedom of information and judicial review powers, disfranchising millions through ill-thought-out changes to electoral registration and the Act that has gagged charities and civil society organisations, it is deeply sinister and it should sound the alarm bell from town to town and city to city across this nation of hard-won liberties in the year we celebrate the anniversary of Magna Carta.

I return to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson). What problem does the Bill seek to solve? This is not a Bill designed to increase democracy, transparency or the legitimacy of industrial action or

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political funding. It is nothing more than a naked partisan attempt to prevent scrutiny of the Government and their agenda. Not since the 1970s have we seen such wide-ranging attempts to change industrial relations law, but today we see barely a hundredth of the level of industrial action of those days. The Bill seeks to solve a problem that simply does not exist. Instead, it seeks to drive a false wedge between Government, industry, employees and the public by restricting rights and, at worst, criminalising people making their views known about their pensions, pay, health and safety and many other issues.

If the Government are serious about democracy and increasing participation, why are they introducing so many barriers and restrictions while denying trade unions a debate about electronic balloting and secure workplace balloting? If the Government intend to proceed with the Bill, they must bring forward amendments to it. At the very least, if they are serious about improving democracy, they could introduce a statutory instrument on the powers in the 2004 Act.

The Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), said:

“When we bash the trade unions, the effect is not just to demonise militancy, but every trade union member, including doctors, nurses and teachers.”

Today, the Financial Times said:

“Britain does not have a problem with strikes”,

and that the Bill is

“out of proportion”

and contains

“alarming proposals”

that

“threaten basic rights.”

Will the Government listen to their Ministers, their Back Benchers, the voices of civil society, the Financial Times and so many others who have spoken out against the Bill? We will oppose the Bill every step of the way and we urge all those who care about our democracy and civil liberties to join us.

9.49 pm

The Minister for Skills (Nick Boles): This debate has not exactly been notable for its cross-party harmony. Speeches from the Labour Benches have at times sounded like an extended message from their sponsors.

I will start by acknowledging some important common ground between hon. Members in different parties. We all value the work of trade unions. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) talked powerfully about the role shop stewards can play, and have played in his own life, in helping to protect people from bullying in the workplace. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) quoted Pope Francis and I agree with every word that Pope Francis said. We applaud unions for helping people from ethnic minorities, such as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s father, to overcome prejudice in the workplace and unlock their potential. We admire them for the decades of campaigning that led to the passage of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the introduction of the national minimum wage. As Skills Minister, I would like to thank them for the work they do through Unionlearn to help thousands of working people to improve their

14 Sep 2015 : Column 868

skills. I agree with the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) that that is a great example of partnership between unions, Government and working people. I want to work with unions to ensure that as many union members as possible benefit from our investment in 3 million new apprenticeships over the next five years.

Every 30 years or so, however, public institutions need to be modernised, to become more transparent, more accountable and more responsive. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) made the very important point that the biggest threat facing unions is not from the Bill or anything that this House might pass, but from a loss of public trust. It is modernisation that will help them regain it.

The Bill will give union members more information about what unions are doing with their money. It will ensure that diverting a union member’s hard-earned cash to a political cause is done only with their explicit assent. I agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth). I cannot think of a better cause than HOPE not hate and I have no doubt that union members will willingly opt in to political funds that make HOPE not hate one of their main causes. The Bill will also ask unions to form a direct relationship with individual members as customers of their services by ending the practice of check-off.

The core purpose of the Bill, however, is bigger than that. The purpose is to strike a fairer balance between the rights of unions and their responsibilities towards the rest of society, especially other working people. It asks union leaders to weigh the costs and benefits of calling a strike ballot carefully and to make sure they win the arguments for action convincingly. It ensures that in future unions will only be able to disrupt other people’s lives if their cause has broad support. In British society, we all depend on public services in our daily lives. Parents rely on schools to be open. They cannot put their children into another one if their school is closed by a strike. Patients rely on hospitals to be open. They cannot go elsewhere for the appointment they have waited for anxiously. People rely on trains and buses to get them to work on time. They cannot use another train or bus company if their local service has been shut down by a strike. As the Mayor of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) pointed out, most of the people travelling on public transport are paid much less and work much longer hours than those people driving it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) argued so powerfully, it is only reasonable to reassure his constituents, my constituents and those of every hon. Member that a strike that forces them to take a day off or to pay for expensive childcare, that makes them late for work or that makes them miss a long-awaited check-up was the result of a recent vote by a decent proportion of union members and not a vote taken several years ago in which only a small minority supported strike action. I have an example of that: the National Union of Teachers strike in 2014 that closed 1,500 schools and colleges was on a two-year-old ballot in which turnout was 27%. That was recent, it caused huge disruption and it was not democratic.

I would now like to answer some of the points made during the debate. The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), who I welcome

14 Sep 2015 : Column 869

to her place, suggested that the Bill gives the Government powers to add new sectors to the ballot provisions by secondary legislation. That is not the case. There is a power to restrict within the existing sectors those groups of employees to whom the threshold should apply and we have consulted on which groups of employers within those six sectors it should apply to, but there is no power to expand it further.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) raised some concerns about the picketing code, and those concerns were reflected in other speeches, too. I am a little puzzled by those concerns because the clauses in the Bill on picketing were taken directly, word for word, from the code on picketing, a statutory code that has existed since 1992, which the previous Labour Government made no attempt to amend and which no union has ever written to me to ask me to amend. The code talks about registering a supervisor and about picket supervisors wearing armbands or other identifiers. I am happy to discuss the detail of that code, but there is nothing in the Bill that was not already known.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) raised the question of e-balloting, and he is right that there is no in-principle objection to the idea of voting online. The objection is practical. In January 2015, the Open Rights Group—I think that it believes in open rights—gave evidence to your Commission on Digital Democracy, Mr Speaker, in which it said:

“Voting is a uniquely difficult question for computer science: the system must verify your eligibility to vote; know whether you have already voted; and allow for audits and recounts. Yet it must always preserve your anonymity and privacy. Currently, there are no practical solutions to this highly complex problem and existing systems are unacceptably flawed.”

If the Opposition can find a practical solution, I look forward to hearing it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) made an important point, with which I entirely agree. In asking public sector bodies to measure the amount of money spent on facility time, we must distinguish between union duties, on which it is entirely proper for union members and union representatives to work, and union activities, in which case it might not be so proper for them to be paid while doing them.

Our debates in this place focus on the issues in the Order Paper but on some days they also reveal the deepest shifts in the political landscape. In the speeches from the Opposition, we have heard the last rites being read for Labour as a party of the modern world. This once great movement has become a left-wing sect in thrall to union leaders who have become ever more extreme while their membership declines. It falls to us as Conservatives to stand up for working people in every part of this great nation. It is this Conservative Government who are investing in apprenticeships, creating millions of jobs and ensuring that work always pays. It is this Conservative Government who are giving pay rises to millions of working people by introducing the national living wage. This Trade Union Bill will modernise trade unions to the benefit of everyone in society.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

14 Sep 2015 : Column 870

The House divided:

Ayes 317, Noes 284.

Division No. 70]

[

10 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Borwick, Victoria

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Cartlidge, James

Cash, Sir William

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Chris

Davies, David T. C.

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donelan, Michelle

Double, Steve

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hermon, Lady

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Mathias, Dr Tania

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Morton, Wendy

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pow, Rebecca

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Raab, Mr Dominic

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Royston

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thomas, Derek

Throup, Maggie

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Tredinnick, David

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

George Hollingbery

and

Margot James

NOES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ahmed-Sheikh, Ms Tasmina

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Arkless, Richard

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bardell, Hannah

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Benn, rh Hilary

Betts, Mr Clive

Black, Mhairi

Blackford, Ian

Blackman, Kirsty

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blomfield, Paul

Boswell, Philip

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brake, rh Tom

Brennan, Kevin

Brock, Deidre

Brown, Alan

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burgon, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Butler, Dawn

Byrne, rh Liam

Cadbury, Ruth

Cameron, Dr Lisa

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Douglas

Chapman, Jenny

Cherry, Joanna

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Cooper, Julie

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cowan, Ronnie

Cox, Jo

Coyle, Neil

Crausby, Mr David

Crawley, Angela

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Docherty, Martin John

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donaldson, Stuart

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Fellows, Marion

Ferrier, Margaret

Field, rh Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Foxcroft, Vicky

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gethins, Stephen

Gibson, Patricia

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Grady, Patrick

Grant, Peter

Gray, Neil

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Greenwood, Margaret

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Haigh, Louise

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harpham, Harry

Harris, Carolyn

Hayes, Helen

Hayman, Sue

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Hendry, Drew

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Dame Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollern, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huq, Dr Rupa

Hussain, Imran

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Kerevan, George

Kerr, Calum

Khan, rh Sadiq

Kinnock, Stephen

Kyle, Peter

Lamb, rh Norman

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Law, Chris

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Clive

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian C.

Lynch, Holly

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

Matheson, Christian

Mc Nally, John

McCabe, Steve

McCaig, Callum

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonald, Stewart Malcolm

McDonald, Stuart C.

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGarry, Natalie

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McKinnell, Catherine

McLaughlin, Anne

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Monaghan, Carol

Monaghan, Dr Paul

Morden, Jessica

Morris, Grahame M.

Mullin, Roger

Murray, Ian

Newlands, Gavin

Nicolson, John

O'Hara, Brendan

Onn, Melanie

Onwurah, Chi

Osamor, Kate

Oswald, Kirsten

Owen, Albert

Paterson, Steven

Pearce, Teresa

Pennycook, Matthew

Perkins, Toby

Phillips, Jess

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Rayner, Angela

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Ryan, rh Joan

Salmond, rh Alex

Saville Roberts, Liz

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheppard, Tommy

Sherriff, Paula

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Siddiq, Tulip

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Andy

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Cat

Smith, Jeff

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smyth, Karin

Spellar, rh Mr John

Starmer, Keir

Stephens, Chris

Stevens, Jo

Streeting, Wes

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thewliss, Alison

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thompson, Owen

Thomson, Michelle

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turley, Anna

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

Weir, Mike

West, Catherine

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Whitford, Dr Philippa

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Wilson, Corri

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodcock, John

Wright, Mr Iain

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Noes:

Nic Dakin

and

Tom Blenkinsop

Question accordingly agreed to.

14 Sep 2015 : Column 871

14 Sep 2015 : Column 872

14 Sep 2015 : Column 873

14 Sep 2015 : Column 874

Bill read a Second time.

Trade Union Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Trade Union Bill:

Committal

1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 27 October 2015.

3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

4. Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

Trade Union Bill (Money)

Queen’s Recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Trade Union Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

14 Sep 2015 : Column 875

Trade Union Bill (Ways And Means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Trade Union Bill, it is expedient to authorise:

(1) the charging of a levy payable to the Certification Officer by trade unions and employers’ associations; and

(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Terms and Conditions of Employment

That the draft National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 23 June, be approved.—(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

That the draft Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Risk of Being Drawn into Terrorism) (Guidance) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 16 July, be approved.—(Guy Opperman.)

Question agreed to.

Business of the House (15 September)

Ordered,

That, at the sitting on Tuesday 15 September, the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of the motion in the name of Secretary Patrick McLoughlin relating to High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill: Instruction (No. 4) not later than 90 minutes after the start of proceedings on that motion; such questions shall include the questions on any amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Guy Opperman.)

Human Rights (Joint Committee)

Motion made,

That Fiona Bruce, Ms Karen Buck, Ms Harriet Harman, Jeremy Lefroy, Mark Pritchard and Amanda Solloway be members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.—(Mr Alan Campbell, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)

Hon. Members: Object.

14 Sep 2015 : Column 876

British Airways (Pensions Uprating)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Guy Opperman.)

Mr Speaker: Order. Will those Members leaving the Chamber who, unaccountably, do not wish to hear the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), please do so quickly and quietly? That would be appreciated.

10.17 pm

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue, which affects a substantial number of British Airways pensioners. There are two matters. One, regarding discretionary payments, is sub judice. The other arises in relation to British Airways pensions. Obviously, I shall not be discussing the matter that is before the courts. The focus of this debate is the decision by the trustees of BA’s pension schemes to increase pensions by the consumer prices index rather than the retail prices index, as had been the case previously, following the emergency Budget in summer of 2010 which switched the increase in state benefits from RPI to CPI.

The change affects approximately 95,000 pensioners across two schemes: the airways pension scheme and the new airways pension scheme. I am grateful to Association of British Airways Pensioners and its representative, Captain Mike Post, to my constituent, Mr Len Jones, and to Nikki Jones of Unite—in which connection I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—for the briefing for this debate. I am sorry not to have had the benefit of any contact from British Airways.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on obtaining this Adjournment debate. She may be interested to know that several of my constituents are affected by these developments, and I hope that she will address the issue I have been contacted about: the inequity of the position in which they find themselves because of BA’s behaviour. Once again, I hope she will reflect that and that we will hear from the Minister in a positive way.

Kate Green: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her intervention and I hope to do justice to the concerns of her constituents, my constituents and indeed, as is very evident from the turnout for this debate, those of right hon. and hon. Members from right across the House. I had intended to mention a number of the hon. Members who have approached me about this evening’s debate, but I can see that so many are interested and so I will curtail that part of my speech.

As I have indicated, on 31 March 2014 there were 95,486 pensioners in two separate BA pension schemes—28,144 in APS and 67,342 in NAPS. The matter before us tonight therefore affects a substantial number of people, some on very modest pensions—the average pension in APS is about £14,000 per annum and in NAPS it is about £12,000 per annum—and has what Captain Post has described as a “complex history”, going back to 1948, when APS was established. That scheme contained several unique features, including a unilateral trustee power of amendment and a no-worsening clause.

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Six trustees were appointed by the employer and six were elected by the members. Amendments required two thirds of trustees to ratify them; employer approval was not required.

In 1973, in return for substantial increases in contributions, members were invited to transfer to APS part 6 to enjoy unlimited inflation protection. In 1984, APS closed to new entrants, pending privatisation of BA, and NAPS was established.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The interest here in the House gives an indication of the interest among our constituents, too. Does the hon. Lady agree that given BA’s financial position with its pension scheme, with liabilities of £29.2 billion and assets of £29.3 billion, a move to de-risking would have made more sense and may have provided a greater surplus for the company and for the pension?

Kate Green: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I shall be developing that point further in my speech.

As I say, in 1984, pending privatisation, APS was closed and NAPS was established. BA went to considerable trouble at that time to inform existing APS pensioners of their options. I have here a copy of a staff newsletter from January 1984, which my constituent Mr Jones, an APS pensioner, has given to me. The newsletter, which includes a personal statement from Colin Marshall, then chief executive of BA, describes the details of the new scheme compared with the existing APS. It explains that APS pensioners can either choose to join NAPS, and receive a cash payment or extra pensionable years if they choose to do so, or to remain in the existing scheme. It states that the two schemes will be independent of one another, will not subsidise one another and will each be governed by their own scheme rules. It then describes the differences between the two schemes in relation to contribution rates, pension age, pensionable pay and, crucially for this debate, index linking.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate and on being appointed to the shadow Cabinet today. Many of my constituents are affected by this issue. Will she join me in calling on BA to play fair with those pensioners, be it in respect of those from 1984 or those from 2015?

Kate Green: I thank the hon. Gentleman and I very much hope that, seeing the strength of feeling around the House tonight, BA most certainly will realise that it must play fair.

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on her new appointment today. Does she agree that as BA was controlled by the Conservative Government in 1984, when the undertaking was given, it is reasonable for BA pensioners, of whom I have a lot in my constituency, to expect some support from the current Conservative Government in order to ensure that undertakings given should be honoured? As she said, many of these people are on low incomes.

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Kate Green: It is for Government—I am talking about any Government as this is not a party political matter—to honour commitments to these pensioners, and I will outline their obligations in this regard.

In relation to index linking, let me quote from the newsletter of January 1984. It says that the new scheme NAPS

“will be index linked in line with the cost of living index, up to a maximum of 5% in any one year. But it will not offer unlimited ‘inflation proofing’ like the present scheme”—

which is APS.

“If the rise in the cost of living index is below 5%, the pension will be raised by the actual amount, as it is under the existing scheme.”

Clearly, there is no specific reference there to which cost of living index was meant. But ABAP argues that it must have meant the retail prices index because the consumer prices index was not then in existence. Up to that point, it had indeed been the practice of the trustees to increase pensions in line with the annual review orders, which had adopted the RPI.

In any event, NAPS was set up, with approximately half of existing APS pensioners electing to move to the new scheme and the rest remaining in the APS. This must have disappointed BA, because Marshall openly acknowledged the existing scheme was an expensive one for the employer, though he also stated quite categorically that there would be no pressure on existing pensioners to move to the new scheme.

In 1996, a new attempt was made by BA to persuade APS members to transfer to NAPS. Interestingly, pensioners were told that their pension increase would be “broadly in line with RPI.” Then, in 1999 and 2000, attempts were made to merge the schemes, but that was overwhelmingly opposed by members, and the initial decision to do so was reversed by the trustees.

Meanwhile, a number of other changes to the trust deed governing the APS did take place, the most important being to replace so-called rule 13A with rule 34 in February 1986. This change, which was taken by an inquorate meeting of the trustees, dealt with the ability of trustees under rule 13A to pay augmented pensions, provided that BA gave the trustees the necessary funding to do so within four weeks.

Rule 34, which later became clause 24, did away with the requirement for BA to fund such increases if in effect the actuary agreed the fund was in surplus. Apparently, the reason was to bring APS in line with NAPS. Despite the fact that this decision was taken at a meeting of the trustees that was not quorate, the company used the power obtained at that meeting to order a further £330 million to be paid from the emerging surplus without being required to provide the funding. As a result, BA enjoyed a substantial contribution holiday from 1999 to 2003.

The pattern of poor governance—between 1986 and 1990 at least 11 trust deed and rule amendments were made without a quorum of trustees being present according to ABAP, and the chair of trustees was frequently absent—is the backdrop to the situation in summer 2010 when we come to the emergency Budget. Following the Chancellor’s decision to increase state benefits in line with CPI rather than RPI, the trustees announced that they too would abandon RPI as the index by which pensions were uprated and switch to the CPI. In its

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results statement on 25 Feb 2011, BA acknowledged that there would be a long-term gap of 0.5% between the two indices, amounting to £770 million. The benefit of this saving would accrue to BA’s Spanish shareholders.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate. I speak on behalf of British Airways APS pensioners in my constituency. What action can we take as individual Members of Parliament to urge British Airways to honour its clearly stated and express promise to pay RPI on these pensions every year? It is clear that CPI was not even invented when the original promise was made.

Kate Green: It is rare for so many Members to stay so late at night for an Adjournment debate on such a specialist subject. I very much hope that our presence here will be one of those steps that we can take collectively to put that pressure on British Airways.

Throughout the life of the pension schemes there had been regular revaluations of the pension fund, which consistently showed the APS to be in surplus, in contrast to the NAPS. In the triennial valuation that took place in 2012, one of the assumptions—it must in law have been agreed by British Airways—was stated to be that to allow for discretionary increases, pension increases were assumed to increase linearly from CPI in 2013 to RPI from 2023 onwards. ABAP argues that this demonstrates that British Airways has effectively recognised all along the force of its claim for RPI increases—it is the discretionary increases that are subject to the separate legal action.

In 2013 approximately 300 APS pensioners complained to the pensions ombudsman about the switch to CPI, while 25 pensioners launched action in the county courts claiming lost pension increases since CPI had been used to uprate their pensions in 2011. BA retaliated by elevating those cases to a test case in the High Court, the costs of which forced the claimants to withdraw their cases.

The result of all this is that British Airways pensioners today feel extremely and understandably aggrieved. They point to inquorate decisions, broken promises and, most recently, the removal of the independent chair of trustees by the company. Moreover, the willingness to consider the interests of shareholders ahead of pensioners creates a deep worry that British Airways’ long-term agenda might be to close its final salary schemes, to the benefit of shareholders. While they recognise, of course, that British Airways is now an independent company and no longer state-owned, they feel strongly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) has suggested, that the Government have a responsibility to ensure that undertakings given before privatisation of the company and in connection with it are honoured.

Several hon. Members rose

Kate Green: If hon. Members will forgive me, I will not give way, because time is tight and I have several questions to put to the Minister.

What discussions have Ministers had with British Airways since the emergency Budget? What is the Minister’s view of British Airways’ high-handed—some might say bullying—behaviour? What steps are the Government taking to ensure satisfactory governance of pension

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schemes, including the British Airways schemes, in the light of this history of inquorate decisions, the recent firing by the company of the chair of trustees, repeated non-attendance at trustee meetings by a previous chair and the interests of the company apparently being put before those of the pensioners?

Can the Minister explain the inconsistency in approach to uprating pensions in line with RPI or CPI in state and ex-nationalised bodies? The BBC, the National Coal Board, the Lloyds Bank part of Lloyds TSB and the Bank of England all continue to uprate pensions by RPI, but British Airways does not, and neither apparently does the TSB side of the former Lloyds TSB.

Does the Minister recognise that the Government have a moral responsibility to ensure that promises made at the time of the privatisation of former state bodies are honoured? Does he agree that it would be right to infer that the commitment to uprating given to pensioners in 1984 referred to RPI, since that was the index in existence at the time, the index that trustees had in effect been applying to increases previously, and the index used to arrive at the fund valuation in 2012?

Most importantly, what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the broken promises, the governance failures and the betrayal of British Airways pensioners on public confidence in pensions regulation and pensions policy? In 2007 the noble Baroness Altmann gave a talk to ABAP called, “How safe is your pension?” She talked about the integrity of pension promises and expressed her concern that people had been lied to about the security of their pensions by Government.

The noble Baroness is now the Pensions Minister. She has been writing to APS pensioners recently stating that it is inappropriate for Ministers to comment on the running of a private pension scheme. Surely that is not correct, when it is the scheme of a former state-owned company, and when the Minister herself has pointed in the past to pensions security being Government business. Does the Minister here this evening now agree that it is the Government’s business to ensure that undertakings given by what was at the time a Government-controlled company as part of a Government privatisation programme are properly honoured? Will he assure the House tonight that he will take steps to put pressure on British Airways to ensure that this is done in the case of the APS pensioners?

10.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Shailesh Vara): May I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on her promotion to the shadow Cabinet, which I am sure will bring her much excitement, as well as much busyness? I also congratulate her on securing this debate. It is clear from this evening’s turnout, on both sides of the political divide, that this is certainly a popular issue, and one that affects many people, and therefore many Members of Parliament, in a wide variety of constituencies.

I trust that the hon. Lady, and colleagues throughout the Chamber, will appreciate that it is not appropriate for a Minister to comment on the running of individual schemes or individual trustee decisions. Moreover, I hope she will appreciate that it is not appropriate for me to comment on matters that are subject to ongoing legal

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proceedings, as is the case here. She will be aware, as will other Members, that the case brought by British Airways against the trustees is scheduled for a hearing for 25 days in February next year.

Kate Green: As I explained, there are two separate matters. I am not discussing the matter that is before the courts—it would be wholly inappropriate to do so in this House tonight—but raising a separate matter that is not the subject of litigation.

Mr Vara: The trust and British Airways—the whole organisation—have been the hon. Lady’s subject in this debate. Both are taking part in a debate concerning the trust that was originally set up in 1948. I think it is inappropriate to comment, because there is a huge overlap. She has been in the House for long enough to know, as have other Members, that in such a situation where there is pending litigation it is inappropriate and wrong for Ministers to comment. However, I can speak in a general way and, I hope, address some of the issues she has raised.

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): I understand that the Minister is unable to comment directly, but does he accept that the High Court has described BA’s behaviour as entirely unrealistic and unreasonable?

Mr Vara: My hon. Friend will be aware that the judiciary are completely independent of the Executive and, indeed, Parliament. It is not appropriate for me to comment on what the judiciary say because they are completely independent and entitled to say what they want in relation to court decisions.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vara: I will, but I have only 11 more minutes and hope that colleagues will be mindful of that.

Michael Tomlinson: I understand the comments that the Minister has made, but will he none the less accept the frustration felt by many people, including my constituents, at obtaining less than they had anticipated when saving for their retirement?

Mr Vara: I fully appreciate the frustration—indeed, anger—of people who were expecting something on their retirement but who will no longer receive it. I hope, however, that colleagues will recognise that the pension scheme was set up in 1948, at a time of nationalised industries when nationalisation was the norm, and we now live in a totally different climate with a totally different economy where the industry is not nationalised any more. We have to abide by the rules of the set-up of that pension scheme. As a trust, it is at arm’s-length from anything that the Government can do. People here who know trust law will appreciate that.

Legislation provides for a minimum level of indexation that applies to certain pensions. Currently, schemes must increase defined-benefit pensions that are in payment and were accrued between April 1997 and March 2006 by inflation capped at 5%. Pensions accrued from April 2006 onwards must be increased by inflation capped at

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2.5%. The exact measure of inflation is not defined in legislation. It is for the Secretary of State to make a judgment each year on the measure to be used from those available.

The rules of an occupational pension scheme may make more generous provision than is required in legislation, either regarding pre-1997 accruals or providing for increases above the level of the statutory minimum. However, these are matters for schemes and the trustees; the scheme will have met its obligations under pension law by paying the statutory minimum.

I understand that the APS rules provide for the rate of increase to be the same as those specified in orders issued under section 59 of the Social Security Pensions Act 1975, which provides for public sector pension increases. Every year, public service pension increases are set out in an order issued by Treasury Ministers under section 59, which requires the Treasury to provide the same level of increase as the additional state pension that is set out in the social security benefits uprating order made by the Secretary of State under the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

The legislation, however, does not specify a particular index as the appropriate measure of price increases. The increase in the general level of prices has always been a matter for the Secretary of State to decide every year, and to help him make that decision he will look at the various indices of price increases. However, he only has to choose a suitable index—he does not have to choose the index that gives the highest possible increase.

In the past, the Government used the retail prices index as the measure of inflation. However, as the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston has said, in 2010 the Government decided that the consumer prices index is a more appropriate measure of changes in the cost of living than the RPI for public service pensions, certain state pensions and benefits, and the statutory minimum increases for occupational pensions. Therefore, if the Secretary of State decides to use CPI as the measure of the general increase in prices, as is currently the case and has been since 2010, any scheme whose rules required increases under section 59 would find itself making increases on the same basis. I must emphasise that any payments in addition to that level will depend on scheme rules and the powers available to the trustees.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vara: I will, but it will have to be brief and it will have to be the last intervention.

James Berry: Does the Minister agree that, while there is little the Government can do in a private trust matter that is currently before the High Court, there is much that British Airways could do for its 28,000 pensioners on the APS scheme, including my constituents, by facing up to either the letter or the spirit of its responsibilities?

Mr Vara: I am sure that British Airways is keeping a watchful eye on the Chamber and has noted the presence of not only those who have had the opportunity to speak, but the many others who support them.

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Having explained the switch to CPI, I would like to return to the role of trustees in running pension schemes, including setting pension increases. I have explained that any increases above the statutory minimum are a matter for scheme rules and the trustees. In some cases, the increases will be at the discretion of the trustees; in others, the rate will be written into the rules. The House will appreciate, however, that in view of the issues in the ongoing High Court proceedings, I cannot comment on either the ambit or use of powers by the APS trustees.

Trustees of pension schemes are the same as those of any other trust, and much of what they do is governed by trust law. They have to act in line with the trust deed and scheme rules and they have to act impartially, prudently, responsibly and honestly, and in the best interests of beneficiaries. Those obligations apply regardless of whether trustees are nominated by the employer or by members. That means that trustees may have a potential conflict of interest, and the Pensions Regulator issues guidance on how trustees should manage them should they arise.

Trustees are also required, under pensions legislation, to undertake certain actions to ensure that the scheme is funded to meet its liabilities and that it can pay the right amount of benefits to the right people at the right time. Having set those parameters, the Government do not interfere in the running of individual schemes. Regulation of occupational schemes is undertaken by the Pensions Regulator. If it appears that trustees are not carrying out their duties correctly, the regulator may intervene. Alternatively, members may have recourse to the pensions ombudsman or the courts, which is the route being taken at present.

However, another party is involved: the sponsoring employer. The employer is ultimately responsible for putting enough money into the scheme to pay the benefits due under its rules, which is why it is essential

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for trustees and sponsoring employers to work together when agreeing the level of employer contributions—even more so if the scheme is in deficit and the employer has to pay in extra contributions to make good the shortfall. Inevitably, employers and trustees sometimes cannot resolve disputes, so it falls to the courts to determine the outcome. Sadly, that is the case here.

Kate Green: Will the Minister comment on the appropriate balance between the responsibility to the interests of the company and the trustees’ fiduciary responsibility to scheme members?

Mr Vara: It is a complex legal matter. There certainly are responsibilities, but they extend to trying to build a good working relationship with all concerned, as well as relationships that are in law. Having such a working relationship—it is not defined in law, but is common sense—is critical if we are to reach a proper solution. Sadly, that has not worked out in this instance, so we have this 25-day hearing, which is a significant amount of time. It is a very complex case about which much will clearly have to be said in due course. However, much has already been said.

I have but a few seconds in which to speak, so I simply say to the hon. Lady and colleagues that it is good to see so many Members in the Chamber for an Adjournment debate. Given that we were threatened with up to four votes, it is fortunate that we will all be able to get away this side of midnight. I commend the hon. Lady again for raising this matter. We await the result of the court case in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

10.47 pm

House adjourned.