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Mr Jim Cunningham: I have been both a shop steward and the leader of a council, so I have seen this from both sides. Let me explode the myth: most good employers in big companies will say that facility time saves them

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money; they do not want hundreds of their employees disrupting the foreman when he is organising production. It is apparent that those on the Conservative Benches do not have any experience of industrial relations or employment practices.

Kevin Brennan: If it was felt there had been abuse in some areas, that could be dealt with, but to legislate to outlaw something of this kind is shocking. Yet that is, in effect, what the Government are doing.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The point is that under the law, a human resources director of a large company would still have to consult individuals. Through collective consultation, a lot of agreements can be made very quickly; the union can communicate with its members very quickly and negotiate with an HR director. With this legislation, an HR director will have to go round to every single employee. We are talking about the NHS, and councils that have several thousand employees. That will cost vast amounts of money, take vast amounts of time and leave the Government and those employees in a really peculiar situation in which they could be taken to judicial review.

Kevin Brennan: As ever, my hon. Friend brings his vast experience of these matters to bear in the debate.

Our amendment 9 would ensure that the ban on check-off arrangements would not apply to services that were wholly or partly devolved. In Committee, the Government introduced a new clause—it is now clause 14 of the Bill—to prevent all public sector employers from deducting union subscriptions via the payroll. The proposed ban is clearly designed to target union finances and to make it harder for individuals, including lower-paid workers, to access union representation in the workplace. Under the clause, the Government will be able to introduce regulations imposing a ban on check-off arrangements across the entire public sector.

The Government claim that that will save the taxpayer £6 million, but many unions already cover the cost of check-off services. There is a real risk that if the ban on check-off services comes into effect, the Government— and therefore the taxpayer—will actually incur costs, potentially including legal costs arising from the need to compensate trade union members for the loss of their contractual right to have their union subscription deducted at source.

The proposed ban on check-off arrangements has been introduced without consultation with employers, without engagement with the unions and without any proper assessment of its impact on employment relations. It was not in the Conservative party’s manifesto or in the Queen’s Speech, and there was no reference to it in any of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultations or the impact assessments that accompanied the Bill. I note the concern that has been expressed by Conservative Members on this matter in amendments that we will consider later today.

Kirsten Oswald: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when many organisations already make provision for payroll deductions for credit unions, charitable giving, cycle schemes and for many other purposes, it is an

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absolute farce for the Government to suggest that it places a burden on such organisations to make deductions for trade union subscriptions?

Kevin Brennan: I have to disagree with the hon. Lady: it is a tragedy rather than a farce that the Government are doing this. I understand the point that she makes.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend has already punched holes in the figure of £6 million and the calculations that underpin it. Does he agree that if the Government are to have any credibility, they should also publish an estimate of the extra costs that the taxpayer will be landed with as a result of the increasing unrest and decreasing co-operation that these ridiculous arrangements might engender in the public sector workforce?

Kevin Brennan: I do indeed. My hon. Friend represents an area that has many trade union members, and he is absolutely right. It is shocking that the Government have not published those figures. I hope that the Minister has deep pockets, because he might well have to dip into them when he finds out how much this policy is going to cost.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Some councils actually make money from check-off arrangements. One or two examples have been given to me of councils not only repaying the costs of check-off but getting extra funding that supports council services.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman is right. As I have said, he has put his finger on the matter in his amendment, which we will discuss later. His intervention now has drawn to my attention the point that the state should not be interfering in this kind of voluntary transaction, which is entered into freely by all the parties concerned and which is neither illegal nor immoral. What is wrong with an employer in the private or public sectors voluntarily agreeing to help to collect trade union subscriptions, as part of an attempt to maintain good relations with its employees, in exchange for an administrative payment? In what other field would a Conservative Government legislate to ban a simple, mutually beneficial transaction of this kind? The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on spotting that flaw, and the basic illiberalism, at the heart of this measure in the Bill.

Chris Stephens: I, too, disagree slightly with the shadow Minister: I do not think this is a tragedy; I think it is sinister. In a collective bargaining unit that had a staff association alongside a trade union, it would be permissible for the staff association subs, but not the trade union subs, to be collected from people’s salaries. Is that not biased?

Kevin Brennan: I am not going to escalate our dispute as to whether this is a farce, a tragedy or simply sinister, but the hon. Gentleman is right.

Tom Blenkinsop: In Committee, we raised this issue about other things that can be collected centrally by an HR department or the payroll. For example, some

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members of staff may be chartered accountants or nurses who pay for their qualifications on an annual basis through their payroll, and that would not be affected but their trade union membership of course would be.

Kevin Brennan: It is entirely appropriate from time to time for payroll to be used in this way. Often, members pay into a credit union through their payroll. These things should be encouraged; they are very good for industrial relations.

This ban was not included in the Conservative manifesto or the Queen’s Speech, and no reference was made to it in any of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultations or the Department’s impact assessment. As we have heard, there have been concerns among Government Members about this move as well. It is almost universally opposed, except by the TaxPayers Alliance, known colloquially as the tax-dodgers alliance, which gave evidence during the oral evidence stage.

In pressing ahead, the Government have failed to secure substantial employer support for their proposals, with many employers, particularly in local government and the health sector, having expressed concern that they could undermine positive industrial relations, which are vital for the delivery of quality public services. Is it any wonder that that is the case, given that employers and trade unions were not consulted? We believe these provisions are unnecessary and draconian, and I give notice that we may wish to press amendment 9 to a vote later—for some strange parliamentary reason, it does not come at this knife.

Rachael Maskell: Does my hon. Friend agree that this further complicates the situation in the health environment when people pay not only a levy for the industrial support of a trade union, but a professional levy that goes towards the professional support they have with their work?

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend highlights the lack of thought, consultation and proper scrutiny that has gone into this proposal. It is unravelling by the minute as hon. Members bring their expertise to bear on the implications that it has out there in the real world.

Let me draw attention to some of the other amendments in this group. The Scottish National party has tabled a raft of amendments, some of which were moved in Committee. I understand that the SNP may wish to divide the House on new clause 2, which is in the spirit of our new clauses 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Given the time available, if the SNP does that, we will support it in lieu of our new clauses—the same applies in respect of new clause 10. At this point, I should allow somebody else an opportunity.

Lucy Frazer: Trade unions play an important role in protecting the rights of employees: through their collective power, they have the ability to balance the scales against an employer, who invariably has greater economic and social power than the employees in its workforce. Last week, I met a few trade union officials from my constituency, and was struck by the passion and desire they have to do their job in representing others. But therein lies the crux of this legislation: it is a union’s job to represent its workforce, so its actions must represent their wishes.

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It is important that when a union has the power to bring a school, hospital or factory to a temporary standstill, its actions actually reflect the will of its members. I say that for three reasons.

Rachael Maskell rose

Lucy Frazer: I ask the hon. Lady to let me develop my argument a little further. First, those who suffer most in a strike are not the employees or employers but the public. The employees do not suffer, because any loss of income from the strike may well be covered by the union. The employers of the large concern do not suffer, because they will be paid their salary in any event. It is the public, and only the public, who suffer, first as the consumer and later, when the bill comes in, as the taxpayer. The public end up picking up the tab for both sides.

In the winter of discontent, the main victims of the low pay offensive in the public service were the old, the sick, the bereaved, children and the poor. It is not only this Government who have made the point that it is right that action by a trade union should reflect the mood of its members. The need for democratic accountability by the union was also recognised by the Labour Government. Their White Paper in 1998 entitled “Fairness at Work” specifically drew attention to the need for accountability:

“Laws on picketing, on ballots before industrial action and for increasing democratic accountability in trade unions have all helped to improve employment relations. They will stay.”

It is for that reason that it is right that these measures, which are right as a matter of principle, should apply to the whole of the UK .

3.45 pm

Tom Blenkinsop: That legislation was brought in during Baroness Thatcher’s period of Government. Is the hon. and learned Lady saying that she was wrong, incorrect or flawed in any way for bringing in that legislation?

Lucy Frazer: The legislation that we have at any time must reflect the position of the country at the time. This is the place in which we find ourselves, and this is the Bill that is right for the moment.

Several hon. Members rose

Lucy Frazer: I will not give way, as I wish to press on.

I was not a member of the Bill Committee, but I have read some of the submissions on this issue from the unions. The Fire Brigades Union said that it had met the thresholds in its recent ballots. Such unions, which are already ensuring an effective turnout, need not be concerned about this proposed legislation. Furthermore, they do not need to be concerned about the provisions as they currently stand, unamended in the Bill. Indeed, where it is right that action should be taken—it is clear that this method of negotiation is needed—they should be confident that their members will make every effort to vote for it.

These measures are meant to ensure that, where there is not such support, the interests of the public are protected and weighed into the balance. In one intervention in this debate, it was suggested that the thresholds have

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been met in transport. In fact, the bus drivers strike earlier this year took place at the behest of a turnout of 21%, inconveniencing all the workers who were attempting to get to work. Transport for London reported that there were 6.5 million passengers in London who needed to make alternative arrangements.

James Cartlidge: I am sure my hon. and learned Friend will agree that those people will be among the most vulnerable and lowest paid in the city who rely entirely on that transport system.

Lucy Frazer: That is absolutely right. When there are strikes, the people who suffer are the low paid workers who have to get alternative childcare, whose hospital appointments are affected and who cannot get to work.

Several hon. Members rose

Lucy Frazer: I will not give way, as I want to continue.

Although it may be possible to increase methods of voting, we need to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in place. New clause 5 suggests that electronic means should be provided as is determined by the unions. In an area potentially rife with practical concerns, we need to be sure that there will be no issue with the amendments before they are allowed. If the unions have the power to bring major industries to a standstill, they need to exercise that power responsibly and democratically. It is essential that any ballot is seen to be conducted fairly and transparently. If there is any risk, or perceived flaw in the ballot, the legitimacy of the ballot may be in question. The vote that is taken by the union members—

Chris Stephens: Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?

Lucy Frazer: I am about to finish.

The vote taken by the union will not garner public support and public trust that the representation of the unions demands, and it is for that reason that we should pass clauses 2 and 3 without amendment at this stage.

Ian Lavery: This is a Bill that nobody has asked for and that nobody wants. Even the latest polls in the national press show that the general public are opposed to this union-bashing Bill—this gagging Bill part two. It was the deputy chairman of the Conservative party who said it was about time that we stopped bashing the trade unions. Let us be completely clear on this issue. It is undoubtedly a ferocious, full-frontal attack on the 6 million-plus members of the trade union movement. I take exception to some comments that have been made, not by everybody on the Government Benches but certainly by a number who seem to want to distinguish between trade union members and ordinary people. The trade union members that I know and mix with are more than ordinary people; they are absolutely fantastic individuals who go the extra mile to try to help colleagues at every opportunity.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): A good friend of mine, a local community activist in my constituency, is very proud of her roots. Her mum is Evelyn Allard, one of the Dagenham women who took industrial action in pursuit of equal pay. Does my hon.

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Friend agree that under this Bill the employer might have prevented such an action from even starting, let alone succeeding, and the Bill will therefore have a particular impact on women?

Ian Lavery: There is no doubt about that. I fully concur with my hon. Friend about the impact this will have on women in particular. Whether we like it or not, the Bill will have a disproportionately negative impact on women in the workplace.

Getting back to these ordinary people, trade union members are taxpayers. They want their children to get to school in the morning, to counter the argument made by a number of Members on the Government Benches. Do people think that trade union members do not have children?

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the tone of this debate is very similar to that on working tax credits? How do Conservative Members think they can make the case for working people if they are going to be ideologically driven on the subject of working people? It does not make sense.

Ian Lavery: I fully agree and hope to develop that point.

This is the gagging Bill, part 2. It is about disarming any dissent, particularly in the public sector. When we look at the thresholds, the ballot provisions, the measures on agency workers and all the new clauses and amendments, we begin to see the big picture. The Bill is about criminalising working people and eradicating any resistance, particularly in the public sector and particularly with regard to women. Why are the Government bashing low-paid people in the public sector, imposing pay restraints on them and coming up with crazy ideas about stripping tax credits from hard-working, low-paid people? They do not want to give those people the right to fight back. That is what the Bill is about. It is about eradicating that dissent while the Conservative Government keep their foot firmly on the necks of the low paid who are struggling even to make ends meet.

Mr Anderson: My hon. Friend is right about the way that people are being treated at work, but the other disgraceful thing about the Bill is that it is a clear attempt to break the relationship between the trade union movement and this party. It is about undermining this party, which represents the people he is talking about, so it is not only the trade unions that will be affected but every man and woman in this country. If this party is less strong, the Conservatives will continue to discriminate against working people.

4 pm

Ian Lavery: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the Bill’s provisions on opting in to, rather than out of, the political fund. There has for many years been a gentlemen’s agreement that political funding should be decided on a cross-party basis. Many Conservative Members would agree that this is not the type of Bill into which they should insert a clause which would so greatly restrict the finances of an opposing

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party that it would struggle to fight a general election. As well as tackling the issue of dissent, the Bill is an attempt to ensure that the Opposition do not even have the finances to fight. It is about the Conservatives believing that they have the right to rule—not govern, but rule, and that is quite different.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. I cannot help reflecting on the comments of the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), who said that legislation should be appropriate to the time. We are in a time when industrial action in this country is at an all-time low. What problem to do with industrial action is the Bill trying to sort out?

Ian Lavery: We are in a time when more than a million people, most of them in work, are claiming family tax credits, and more than a million people who are in work and have families need to use food banks. I mentioned gagging and eradicating dissent. The Bill is about keeping people quiet.

James Cartlidge: The hon. Gentleman has slightly widened the debate, with tax credits and so on. He talks about us putting our foot on the neck of the poor. Does he think we are doing that by delivering the record lowest number of workless households that this country has ever seen?

Ian Lavery: That comment would give me the opportunity, if the Deputy Speaker were to allow it, to diversify my contribution. The Conservative Government have increased to record levels zero-hour contracts, lower-paid work and the number of apprentices, but before Mr Deputy Speaker chastises me, I will move on from that immediately because it is nothing to do with the Bill.

Lucy Frazer: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that 788,000 days were lost last year in strike action, at a time when every party in this House says that productivity is key?

Ian Lavery: If that is the figure, so be it, but in every case industrial action would have been taken through the legal process and as a last resort by individuals who need to take strike action to make their voice heard. We have the most restrictive anti-trade union legislation in the western world, and to take a day’s action or any other type of action, workers have to go through all the hoops set out in legislation.

Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer) commented on statistics and days and hours lost. My hon. Friend will recall from Committee that the hours lost in the provision of transport in London were for reasons other than industrial action. The overwhelming majority of time lost is due to breakdowns, signal failure, overcrowding, leaves on the line and so on. Industrial action has accounted for barely 2% or 3% in most of the past 10 years. Is that not the fact that we are dealing with today?

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Ian Lavery: I fully accept that. If we want to talk about productivity, we need to look at that, instead of trying to highlight something that is not really a problem.

Rachael Maskell: Days have been lost through industrial action because the negotiators, whether that is the Mayor of London or the Secretary of State for Health, refused to come to the negotiating table, refused to talk to the trade unions, and have been spoiling for a strike, as we are seeing now over the junior doctors contract. Surely the Bill should be about improved industrial relations which give a voice to working people, as opposed to crushing that voice.

Ian Lavery: I entirely agree. As I said earlier, does anybody want this Bill? Has anybody asked for it? Even some of the major Tory party donors have said it is purely union-bashing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said, and he was absolutely right, that is what Tories do. [Interruption.]

Tom Blenkinsop: The Minister just said that the Tories voted for it at the last election. You did not declare that as a policy prior to the last election. You also did not declare the NHS Act or the changes to the tax credits. If you are so proud of this planned legislation, why did you not declare it before the general election?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. First of all, I am not responsible. I want to clear that up. [Interruption.] No, “you” refers to me. Mr Blenkinsop, you were wrong: it is not me. It may be those on the Government Benches, but you said “you”. Secondly, we need to speak about the amendment. I have allowed some latitude, Mr Lavery, because you have been tempted away, and I know that you want to get back to where you were.

Ian Lavery: That is absolutely correct, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think the reason my hon. Friend spoke in the way he did is that Government Front Benchers were having a separate conversation and not listening to a single word he was saying. That is not unusual.

This Bill is simply here to do three things: to restrict the right to organise, to restrict the right to collective bargaining, and to restrict the right to strike action. I did not serve on the Bill Committee, but I listened to many of the arguments in the evidence sessions, which were quite enlightening. I think the Minister himself would say that the Government found it extremely difficult to get anybody who had a clue what the Bill was about to speak for them at the evidence sessions. One of their witnesses, the chief executive of 2020Health, spoke about facility time. Facility time is a huge issue in this Bill, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) said. He asked my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) whether it is right that Government Ministers can intervene to dictate on facility time in Scotland and Wales. I would ask whether it is right that Government Ministers can intervene in facility time in any workplace anywhere in the UK. The answer, quite simply, is that it is not right: they should keep out of the workplace with regard to the likes of facility time.

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Tom Blenkinsop: The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) pointed out that that self-same witness had no idea what life and limb cover was, nor did she know that it has been in existence since at least the early ’80s, if not the late ’70s, as a TUC agreement with the emergency services to make sure that there was always cover in the event of an emergency. The fact that witnesses called by the Government had no idea about long-term existing legislation shows how poor this Bill is and how poor the Minister’s work on it has been.

Ian Lavery: This individual, who runs a private health organisation the length and breadth of the UK, was asked if she had read the Bill. She said, “Not really.” She was then asked, “Have you read most of the Bill?” “Not really.” “Do you understand what facility time is?” “Not really. What is facility time?” She did not even understand life and limb cover, which is integral to trade union law, whereby if there is a problem that is a life and limb issue, trade union representatives will break off industrial action to ensure that people are safe. And, let me say, she was the best witness we had.

Andy McDonald: Does my hon. Friend agree that the existence of facility time is beneficial to the good running of any public authority or business, and that eroding it will cause immense difficulties in terms of productivity if union representation cannot be provided for union members in the workplace?

Ian Lavery: Absolutely. Many, many papers have been presented by professors, doctors and other experts with regard to facility time. There have been many battles on industrial relations problems over many, many years—decades and decades—resulting in a decent industrial relations policy that allows for facility time. Facility time could involve, for example, discussions on health and safety, avoidance of industrial disputes or avoidance of the progression of court cases. It is not about people sitting in an office on the telephone organising disputes—quite the opposite; it is about trying to avoid these disputes.

Catherine West: When I was a council leader employing thousands of staff, facility time was given to cope with all the casework as a result of the then Government forcing cuts on local government that led to many redundancies. We had to triple the amount of casework time, which was crucial in ensuring that that terrible period of redundancy was managed in a humane way that helped people.

Ian Lavery: I agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments. If the Government start to decide how much, or how little, facility time individuals should have, there will be a breakdown in communication between the trade unions, the workforce and, indeed, the employers. In local government and the NHS, facility time is much valued and to the benefit of the general public.

If we applied the 40% and 50% thresholds to members of the coalition Cabinet prior to the election, not one of them would have been elected. We have to be fair and consistent with regard to thresholds. The average turnout for the police and crime commissioner elections was 17%, but nobody is saying that we should not listen to anything they have to say. The Government themselves were elected by only 24% of the electorate, but not

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many people are saying—although a lot of people are wishing it—that they should not have the right to govern. Fairness should prevail.

There have been many discussions about how e-balloting would provide for a much bigger turnout. That is what the Conservative Government want, and I agree: we want more people to participate in the ballot, hence the threshold issue. It is terribly unfair to suggest that e-balloting is not a secure way to ballot individuals, because it is.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has been talking about the time we are in. It is pretty clear, as I understand it from what Labour Front Benchers are saying, that we are in a time of increased militant union activism. The shadow Chancellor has said:

“We will support all demonstrations in Parliament or on the picket line. We will be with you at every stage.”

Can the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) not see that what we are trying to do is to protect the public through increased accountability and transparency?

Ian Lavery: I do not recognise the words of the hon. Gentleman, who usually addresses issues in a much more productive way.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): On protecting the public, we ought to remember that when we fought in this place to ban hunting with dogs, it was the Tories—not trade unionists—who let the protesters on to the Floor of this House. When Conservative Members talk about freedom of speech, perhaps they should remember some of their own past activities.

Ian Lavery: That is a fair point, well made by my hon. Friend.

There are lot of examples of e-balloting, including its use in mayoral elections and by the Central Arbitration Committee. I am a great believer in balloting in the workplace and, indeed, in a hybrid of both methods, to make sure that people actually get involved in such important ballots.

Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab): What kind of society are we moving towards when, under the proposed 50% and 40% threshold rule, a strike would be illegal even if 79% of the votes cast were in favour of strike action?

Ian Lavery: That is absolutely correct and spot on.

I will very briefly mention one other issue. The Conservatives are suggesting something that happens nowhere else in society—that those who do not cast a vote will be classified as voting no. That is outrageous and horrendous. It is undemocratic. It is against International Labour Organisation conventions and against European Court of Human Rights decisions. That will— I repeat, will—be challenged.

I end by simply saying that, in my view, there is no place in today’s society for this unbelievably brutal attack on hard-working men and women in the workplace. I predict one thing: that when ordinary people are

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pressurised too much, there will be a reaction. I predict from the Floor of the House of Commons that there will be civil disobedience because bad laws need to be changed.

James Cartlidge: I will speak primarily to amendments 15, 16 and 21, tabled by the Scottish National party, which relate to the clauses on thresholds and the termination of the ballot mandate. My understanding is that if they were added to the Bill, they would, in effect, be completely redundant because they would require the provisions to be agreed by all the devolved authorities and, interestingly, by the Mayor of London, who I expect would very strongly agree.

It was a privilege to serve on the Public Bill Committee, my first as a Member of Parliament. I can genuinely say that I, for one, have a great admiration for the union movement. As a new MP, I found it stimulating and interesting to cross-examine the five most powerful union leaders. I went up to them afterwards and shook their hands. In fact, Sir Paul Kenny, perhaps sensing my inexperience in these matters, asked me whether I would like to come and join him on a picket line to find out what it was like. I am not sure which picket line he was referring to—perhaps the Chief Whip’s—so I declined it on that occasion.

Kevin Brennan: You have made that illegal, haven’t you?

James Cartlidge: Well, he gave me an invitation.

I must confess that there are many parts of the Bill on which I would not have been an expert had I not sat on the Public Bill Committee, but many members of the public think the same. If we were to talk about parts of the Bill to people who were not au fait with the details of unions or who were not themselves unionised, they would not necessarily be familiar with or see its significance. I do not say that with any disrespect to such issues, which I recognise are important to many Opposition Members.

For most members of the public, the key issue is the threshold. This is about the large strikes that, although relatively small in number, have had a massive impact, such as the London tube strikes. I would say to the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), who made a very impassioned speech, that if he wants to see fury and people considering civil unrest, he should go and watch London commuters trying to fight their way on to a bus because the tube was out of action because of a ballot on lower than the threshold we will require.

David Rutley: Too often, we hear Labour Members talk about the inconvenience of a strike. In fact, a strike can cause major disruption. Surely we should focus on that. We need clear accountability to ensure that such disruption is minimised wherever possible.

James Cartlidge: My hon. Friend puts his point very well.

I would remind the House that when we took evidence, we heard from Roy Rickhuss—I hope I have pronounced that correctly—the general secretary of the Community trade union. He is of course very busy, at this very difficult time, with the steel industry. When asked about thresholds, he said that

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“it is about having proper industrial relations and having a partnership approach. I do believe a threshold of 50% plus one is fair and reasonable, because that is what we have—that is our democracy.––[Official Report, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 13 October 2015; c. 26-27, Q66.]

Mr Anderson: The hon. Gentleman has commented a few times about the fury of commuters. I understand that completely; we are commuters as well. If the provision goes through and the Bill is enacted, and a strike then takes place legitimately, is he really saying that that the people he represents will no longer be furious?

James Cartlidge: No, I am not saying that. If the strike took place with the strong support that has to be achieved under these provisions, the public would at least understand that it had full consent. They are angry about the strikes—we heard about them in evidence given to us by bus companies, rail companies and others—in which, on relatively small turnouts, massive disruption has been caused to millions of people.

Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill does not ban or prohibit strikes, but ensures that the hundreds of thousands or even millions of people who are affected by strikes in vital public services can be reassured that there is a genuine mandate for such action?

4.15 pm

James Cartlidge: My hon. Friend puts it extremely well.

I finish with this point. The hon. Member for Wansbeck asked what support there was for the Bill. We have heard from the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, bus companies, rail companies and, above all, the people who use the services. Even Len McCluskey issued a letter to the Committee supporting the 50% threshold. I accept that that was with e-balloting, but there is strong principled support across the country for changes on thresholds. I will leave it there.

Ian Lavery rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Has the hon. Gentleman given way or finished? We need to get this right.

James Cartlidge: I am happy to take this point.

Ian Lavery: I need to clarify the point about Len McCluskey. Unite the union suggested that discussions should take place. It wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting that thresholds would be irrelevant if the Government introduced e-balloting in the workplace. That was the precondition.

James Cartlidge: I thought it was fair to give way to the hon. Gentleman, given that I had mentioned him a couple of times, but the best person to take those points forward is the Minister. On that point, I am happy to conclude.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): On Second Reading, I asked a question to which I have had no answer to date. Quite simply, what problem is this proposed legislation designed to solve? What calamity

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do we have in our land in the field of industrial relations that means that the Government of the day must prioritise this legislation? I cannot find any. The average worker in the United Kingdom goes on strike for one day every 15 years. It is therefore ridiculous that this matter should be the priority of the Government.

I believe that the only reason the Bill is before us, with so few Government Members listening to the debate, is purely ideological. I do not say that all Members or all strands of the Conservative party are against trade unions, but there most definitely is a strand that is very unempathetic to trade unions and that sees the ability of people to combine together in the workforce to prosecute their interests as an impediment on the rights of employers to make their profits and run their enterprises as they see fit. There is a hostile attitude to trade unions. That, unfortunately for the working people of this country, is the strand within the Tory party that is in the ascendency and in the driving seat in respect of this legislation.

It is a great irony, is it not, that to introduce this legislation, the Conservative party will have to have an unprecedented degree of state interference in the affairs of private enterprise? There will have to be state regulation of trade unions that is more akin to a totalitarian than a democratic regime.

I support the SNP amendments that would require consent from the local and devolved authorities in the United Kingdom for the provisions of the Bill to be implemented. In parallel with this discussion, we have been having a debate on the Scotland Bill about the competences and authorities that should go to the Scottish Parliament. In fact, we argued that this entire area should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament simply because it would mean that proposals such as this Bill would never see the light of day. However, we know that there is not a majority in this House for devolving these powers and I want it to be clear that we are not arguing for that today.

What we are arguing for goes to the heart of the debate in this country about who runs public services. It has been the will of this Parliament that many of our public services should be devolved to local and devolved administrations. It is therefore not right for this Parliament to hinder the ability of the managers of those services to deliver them by interfering and setting requirements on the most important resource that is available to them: the workforce. Just because the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has a problem managing relations on the London underground, the rest of country should not have to suffer.

A series of amendments seek consent on each of the major provisions in the Bill. I will speak about some of those measures, but I will try not to repeat what has already been said by my hon. Friends, much of which I completely agree with. A number of mechanisms in the Bill are designed to make it harder for a trade union to win a ballot to go on strike—let us be clear about that objective. However, Conservative Members are mistaken if they think that that will make a problem go away.

It seems that among the authors of this Bill there is great ignorance about the process of managing industry. Often, if a concern or dispute arises among the workforce, and members go to their trade union and the union decides to do something, that can be a way of resolving a dispute or problem to the benefit of the industry or

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service concerned. The additional measures in the Bill will make it harder for unions to go on strike, but that will let problems fester and dysfunction continue, which will not benefit the trade, industry or service in which the dispute is taking place. When a union eventually passes those hurdles and gets a mandate for a strike, that strike will be bigger, longer and more vicious than it ought to have been had the matter been attended to at an earlier stage. I contend that measures that the Government think are about making it harder for unions to take strike action will have a deleterious effect on industrial relations and make it harder for the management of public or private services to deliver and get the consent of their workforce.

Given the way that the issue is being discussed, it seems that Conservative Members conceive of facility time as some sort of stipend whereby union officials spend all day organising strike action and trying to bring industry to its knees. It is nothing of the kind, and if those Members had worked in a public service for one day, they would understand that often, union stewards and officials play an extremely constructive role at local level in the delivery of that industry or service. In many ways, their role can be described as that of a welfare officer, and officials often help out individual employees who may have problems with management or at work, but who may also just have personal problems that are affecting their work.

Jo Stevens: When giving evidence to the Bill Committee, the general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, John Hannett, said that trade unions are problem solvers rather than problem causers. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Tommy Sheppard: I agree wholeheartedly and my experience all my working life, as both employer and employee, indicates that that is exactly the case. Facility time can be a good thing for management and industry, and for getting things done.

If a local authority, health board or whatever has a check-off facility that has been voluntarily agreed with its workers to deduct a payroll subscription for a union, how can it be okay for that to be outlawed and criminalised, when the same facility can be used by the National Trust or any charity or insurance scheme that wishes? That is frankly ridiculous and punitive in the extreme, and it belies the fact that the Bill, despite its title, is an anti-trade union Bill. Hopefully we will get an explanation for that when the Minister winds up the debate. If this is about money and the cost to the public sector, I am sure that unions will be happy to negotiate paying. As the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) remarked earlier, local authorities and others may be able to make money out of providing a service for payroll check-off.

Time is short and I know that other Members want to speak. I say simply that if the amendment is voted down and we do not agree to the consent of the London Mayor, Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, or whoever is delivering the service being required for this provision to be implemented, and that the Government will force services to do whatever they want, even if that does not make sense locally, will we not be entering into uncharted

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territory? The Government will effectively be declaring that they are prepared to go to war with the devolved Administrations and local authorities in this country, which they have said should be responsible for the delivery of those services.

As I have said so many times, this is one of the things in the Conservatives’ manifesto that I do not think they ever expected they would have to implement. They do not have a mandate for this, and I ask them, even at this eleventh hour, to pull back.

Mr Anderson: I am proud to declare my interests in relation to the trade union movement. I am glad that the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) has returned to his place, because he talked about intimidation in workplace ballots. I refer him to the last two workplace ballots run by the National Union of Mineworkers in 1981 and 1983, in very tense times. There was an 80% turnout in both ballots on taking national strike action to fight pit closures. In both ballots, more than two thirds of the members said no. Where was the proof of intimidation there?

The hon. Gentleman also claimed that my party wants to go back to workplace ballots only, but that is completely untrue. We do not want these changes, but if we have to have them, let us be serious about them. We have tabled amendments to keep workplace ballots, but we have also said, “Let’s have electronic voting.”

It is clear that this Bill is about bias. It is about blocking people like me from having the opportunity to go through the trade union movement and get the skill, the confidence, the training and the support from a trade union to become part of the political movement that the trade unions gave birth to, so that I can come in here and challenge people such as the hon. Gentleman who want to destroy the things that I believe in and he hates. That is what this Bill is about—nothing more, nothing less.

Who wants this Bill? When I was canvassing in Blaydon during the election, not one person said to me, “We want to tighten trade union legislation.” More pertinently, before the debate today, not one person asked me to support the Bill. But 431 people have written to me directly to ask me to oppose it. The employers do not want it, the workers do not want it and it is clear that the public do not want it. If this Bill is forced through, we will see more industrial unrest, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) said. Disputes will not end, victimisation in the workplace will not end, health and safety abuses at work will not end, discrimination will not end and exploitation will not end.

Frustrated workers will not stand back, no matter what the legislation says. We will end up with workers being forced to break rotten laws. If that happens, I would say to members of my party and other MPs of conscience that we should stand four-square behind those workers. This Bill is nothing more than an attempt to undermine democracy. The Conservatives are even abusing the memories of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher—and I cannot believe I am saying that.

The Minister for Skills (Nick Boles): We have heard fierce argument in Committee and today from those who would seek to exclude some areas of Great Britain from the reach of the Bill, or who would seek to allow coverage in those areas only with the consent of the

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bodies to which certain other responsibilities have been devolved. Nothing in the Bill need cut across the positive relationships that we have heard about between unions and Government in Scotland and Wales.

There is nothing to stop union representatives using paid facility time to fulfil their union duties to help represent working people. All the Bill does in relation to facility time is introduce measures that have already been introduced in the civil service, and union duties are still admirably and adequately fulfilled in the civil service.

It is important for the productivity and prosperity of Great Britain as a whole that arrangements pertaining to employment matters apply consistently across the whole country. Employers do not see boundaries when engaging staff. Many employers have employees in all three countries, in London and in various English authorities. Having different employment laws applying would produce a complex situation, involving much confusion and cost for business.

Jonathan Edwards: As the Minister will be aware, this Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland because these issues are devolved. Is he aware of the comments by Dr Stephen Farry, the Minister in Northern Ireland? He said:

“I do not believe that there is a case for winding back the clock in terms of trade union reform or that such regression would also be supported by the Executive and the Assembly.”

Is it seriously a surprise to the Minister that that Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales agree with those points?

Nick Boles: I am sorry we were not able to hear from the hon. Gentleman directly, because I am sure he has much to contribute. He will be aware there is a particular historical record in Northern Ireland, which is why, quite a long time ago, employment law was devolved to Northern Ireland. That historical record, I am glad to say, does not apply elsewhere in Great Britain. This is why employment and industrial relations law are clearly reserved matters under the Scottish and Welsh devolution settlements. It is entirely in order for the Government to propose that the Bill applies to the whole of Great Britain and does not require the consent of the devolved Governments or any local authorities.

4.30 pm

Let me turn to the detail of the various amendments on ballot thresholds, information, mandates, and consent by devolved authorities. Commuters and families all over Great Britain suffer disruption when the workers in a local transport provider or school go on strike. By increasing the democratic mandate, the Bill will not stop strikes—it may not even lead to many fewer strikes—but it will reassure members of the public that strikes are happening on the basis of strong democratic mandates, and that their lives are not being disrupted for no purpose.

Christian Matheson: Several private bus companies in Chester have recently withdrawn rural services, which is inconveniencing commuters in Chester. Why are the Government not legislating to stop them doing that?

Nick Boles: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that those people have alternative services, and where they do have alternatives we are not proposing to introduce

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the higher mandate. We are producing the higher mandate when a service is effectively a monopoly in the life of consumers, and they have no other possibility they can arrange at short notice.

On the certification officer, it is entirely reasonable for a union regulator to mirror the geographical extent of unions themselves. It would be very disruptive to have a single union subject to different regulatory arrangements in Scotland than in the rest of Great Britain—or, worse, for a union to be subject to no regulation at all in Scotland or Wales, but subject in parts of England. It is worth noting that the 1992 Act already provides, under section 254, that the certification officer may appoint an assistant certification officer for Scotland, and may delegate to that assistant certification officer such functions as he thinks appropriate in relation to unions based in Scotland.

Chris Stephens: The Minister talks about unions being organised on a geographical basis. Does that mean that the Educational Institute of Scotland will be exempt from the Bill?

Nick Boles: The hon. Gentleman, with whom I have had very lively and enjoyable debates in Committee, knows that the provisions in the Bill apply under the devolution settlement throughout Great Britain and to all institutions, including those active only within Scotland.

In conclusion on these amendments, Parliament has put in place proper procedures for considering what should be reserved to Westminster and what should be devolved to other Administrations. Debates took place in this Chamber only yesterday on what should be devolved and what should be reserved to Westminster. Employment and industrial relations law is reserved.

Turning to other balloting methods proposed in amendments tabled by Opposition parties, it is vital that union members, employers and the public have the utmost confidence in ballot processes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) argued so clearly. Without that, the integrity of the whole system would be called into question; members would not use it, unions would not rely on it, and employers and the public would not trust it. That is not in anyone’s interests.

As I said in Committee, and as the Prime Minister has said, we have no objections in principle to the introduction of e-balloting. I expect that in some time—maybe in five or 10 years—the practical objections I am about to outline will have been overcome. It is simply a matter of time and human ingenuity. However, there are practical objections, and the Opposition cannot just dismiss them. The onus is on them, in proposing new forms of voting, to show that the objections can be overcome.

The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy received evidence from the Open Rights Group, and I quoted that evidence on Second Reading. This February, Jim Killock, its executive director, gave an interview to The Guardian, in which he said of online balloting:

“This is a very hard problem to solve and so far nobody has managed it. Accountability in most software systems means a clear audit trail of who did what, which of course would violate the basic question of secrecy…You have the complexity of making sure that internet systems are secure, that the voting equipment can be trusted despite being attached to the internet, and that every voter’s machine is not being tampered with. Given the vast

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numbers of machines that are infected by criminally controlled malware and the temptation for someone to interfere in an election, internet voting is a bad idea.”

I am not aware that the gentleman quoted is a Conservative or that he supports the Government. [Interruption.] Instead of shouting at me, Opposition Members should reflect on the objections raised and work with us to try to overcome them. We are absolutely open to discussing these practical objections, and to working with the Opposition parties and anyone else in society to overcome them.

Richard Fuller: My hon. Friend has spoken about problems with processes, but we are talking about some of the most venerable institutions in our country: trade unions. At this early stage of the Parliament, with five years of important discussions to have with trade unions across the country on wages, terms and conditions, productivity and efficiencies, does he want to say to trade union leaders that the Government do not trust them to run a ballot?

Nick Boles: I want to say to trade union leaders that when they can overcome the objections listed not by me, but by experts from groups such as the Open Rights Group, the Government will be happy to work with them to implement new forms of balloting. Until then, however, we remain to be persuaded.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon is right that there is no requirement for primary legislation to introduce new forms of balloting. It can be done under powers in section 54 of the Employment Relations Act 2004. On that basis, I urge the House to reject the amendments.

Chris Stephens: I thank Members who have contributed to this debate. I have been struck by three things. I say gently to the Minister and the Conservatives—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

Chris Stephens: I am summing up, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I am going to stop you in a second, so you need to say whether you want to withdraw the amendment.

Chris Stephens: Okay, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 2

Workplace ballots and ballots by electronic means

‘(1) Workplace ballots and balloting by electronic means, shall be permitted in the types of trade union ballots specified in subsection (2) with effect from the commencement date for sections 2 and 3 (Ballot thresholds for industrial action);

(2) The types of trade union ballots to which subsections (1) and (3) apply are those referred to in Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), V (industrial action), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamation or transfer).

(3) In relation to the ballots referred to in subsection (2)—

10 Nov 2015 : Column 300

(a) the employer shall be under a duty to co-operate generally in connection with the ballot with the union, which shall include not undertaking surveillance of, intercepting or otherwise interfering with any communications between the union and its members, and with any person appointed in accordance with section 226B of the Act (Appointment of Scrutineer); and

(b) every person who is entitled to vote in the ballot shall be permitted to do so without interference or constraint imposed by any employer of the union’s members, or any of its employees or any person its behalf.

(4) Where in any proceedings an employer claims, or will claim, that a union has failed to comply with any requirement referred to in subsection 226 of the Act (Requirement of ballot before action by trade union), the union will have a complete defence to those proceedings if the employer has failed to comply with any part of its duty under subsection (3)(a) or it, or any of its employees or any person on its behalf, has imposed any interference or constraint of a type referred to in subsection (3)(b).

(5) In this section—

(a) “Workplace ballot” means a ballot in which votes may be cast in the workplace by such means as is or are determined by the union. Such means of voting in the workplace determined by the union may, but are not required to, include electronic means; and

(b) “electronic means” means such electronic means as is or determined by the union and, in each case, where section 226B of the Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union, is confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section, before the opening day of the ballot as meeting the required standard.

(6) Where electronic means are determined by the union, and, if applicable, confirmed by the person appointed under section 226B of the Act as meeting the required standard as provided for in subsection (5), the means of voting in the ballot shall also include postal voting, or some means of voting in a workplace ballot other than electronic means, where determined by the union and, in a case in which section 226B of the Act imposes an obligation on the union (Appointment of Scrutineer), confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section as being reasonably necessary to ensure that the required standard is satisfied.

(7) For the purpose of subsections (5) and (6), a workplace ballot or means of electronic voting satisfies ‘the required standard’ for the ballot if, so far as reasonably practicable—

(a) those entitled to vote have an opportunity to do so;

(b) votes cast are secret; and

(c) the risk of any unfairness or malpractice is minimised.

(8) Any provision of the Act shall be disapplied to the extent necessary to give effect to this section.”—(Chris Stephens.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 268, Noes 301.

Division No. 117]

[

4.38 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

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

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Black, Mhairi

Blackford, Ian

Blackman, Kirsty

Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

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

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Douglas

Chapman, Jenny

Cherry, Joanna

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Julie

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

Day, Martyn

De Piero, Gloria

Docherty, Martin John

Donaldson, Stuart Blair

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Peter

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Foxcroft, Vicky

Gapes, Mike

Gethins, Stephen

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Grady, Patrick

Grant, Peter

Gray, Neil

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Greenwood, Margaret

Griffith, Nia

Haigh, Louise

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Carolyn

Hayes, Helen

Hayman, Sue

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mr Mark

Hendry, Drew

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

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

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Kerevan, George

Kerr, Calum

Khan, rh Sadiq

Kinnock, Stephen

Kyle, Peter

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Law, Chris

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Clive

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian C.

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

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, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGarry, Natalie

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McLaughlin, Anne

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Monaghan, Carol

Monaghan, Dr Paul

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morris, Grahame M.

Mulholland, Greg

Mullin, Roger

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

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

Powell, Lucy

Pugh, John

Rayner, Angela

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, rh Angus

Robinson, Gavin

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Ryan, rh Joan

Salmond, rh Alex

Saville Roberts, Liz

Shah, Naz

Shannon, Jim

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, rh Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thewliss, Alison

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Thomson, Michelle

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turley, Anna

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 Ayes:

Owen Thompson

and

Marion Fellows

NOES

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

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

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

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donelan, Michelle

Dorries, Nadine

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

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Mark

Foster, Kevin

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Glen, John

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, 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

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollingbery, George

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

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

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

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

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

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

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, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

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

Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie

Tugendhat, Tom

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, rh Jeremy

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Sarah Newton

and

Simon Kirby

Question accordingly negatived.

10 Nov 2015 : Column 301

10 Nov 2015 : Column 302

10 Nov 2015 : Column 303

10 Nov 2015 : Column 304

10 Nov 2015 : Column 305


Clause 9

Union supervision of picketing

Kevin Brennan: I beg to move amendment 6, page 4, line 31, leave out clause 9.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 38, page 5, line 6, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 10, page 5, leave out lines 7 to 19 and insert—

‘(3) A picket supervisor is required to show a constable a letter of authorisation only if—

(a) the constable provides documentary evidence that he or she is a constable;

(b) the constable provides his or her name, and the name of the police station to which he or she is attached; and

(c) the constable explains the reasons for the request to see the letter of authorisation.

(4) If a picket supervisor complies with a constable‘s request to produce a letter of authorisation, the police officer shall provide the picket supervisor with a written record of the request, the reasons for it, and an acknowledgment that the request was complied with.

(5) If a picket supervisor fails to comply with a constable‘s request to produce a letter of authorisation, the police officer shall provide the picket supervisor with a written record of the request, the reasons for it, and an acknowledgment that the request was not complied with.

(6) Information about the identity of a picket supervisor and any information relating to the production of a letter of authorisation shall be retained by the police only for the purposes of giving evidence in legal proceedings directly related to the picketing to which it is connected.

(7) For the avoidance of doubt neither a member of the public nor an employer shall be entitled to request a picket supervisor to produce a letter of authorisation.”

Amendment 39, page 5, line 7, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 40, page 5, line 10, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 41, page 5, line 15, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Government amendments 2 and 3.

Amendment 42, page 5, line 17, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 43, page 5, line 20, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 44, page 5, line 25, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

10 Nov 2015 : Column 306

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Government amendment 4.

New clause 1—Industrial action and agency workers

‘(1) Subject to subsection (3), an employment business shall not introduce or supply a work-seeker to a hirer to perform—

(a) the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action (“the first worker“), or

(b) the duties normally performed by any other worker employed by the hirer and who is assigned by the hirer to perform the duties normally performed by the first worker,

unless in either case the employment business does not, and has no reasonable grounds for knowing, that the first worker is taking part in a strike or other industrial action.

(2) Subject to subsection (3) an employer (“the hirer“) shall not procure an employment agency to supply a work-seeker to perform—

(a) the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action (“the first worker“), or

(b) the duties normally performed by any other worker employed by the hirer and who is assigned by the hirer to perform the duties normally performed by the first worker,

unless in either case the hirer does not, and has no reasonable grounds for knowing, that the first worker is taking part in a strike or other industrial action.

(3) Subsections (2) and (3) shall not apply if, in relation to the first workers, the strike or other industrial action in question is an unofficial strike or other unofficial industrial action for the purposes of section 237 of the 1992 Act.

(4) For the purposes of this section an “employment business” means an employment business as defined by the Employment Agencies Act 1973.

(5) Breach of the provisions of this section shall be actionable against both the employment business and the hirer for breach of statutory duty.

(6) For the avoidance of doubt, the duty in subsections (1) and (2) above are owed to—

(a) any worker who is taking part in the strike or industrial action; and

(b) any trade union of which such a worker is a member.”

New clause 3—Statements on Bills affecting Trade Union political funds

‘(1) A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before Second Reading of the Bill, if the Bill contains provisions which are likely to affect the machinery of Trade Union political funds—

(a) make a statement to the effect that the Bill has been introduced with the agreement of the leaders of all the political parties represented in the House of Commons, or

(b) make a statement to the effect that the Bill has been introduced without agreement of the leaders of all the political parties represented in the House of Commons as the case may be.

(2) The statement must be in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.”

New clause 4—Certification Officer

For subsections (2) to (4) of section 254 of the 1992 Act substitute—

‘(2) The Certification Officer shall be appointed by the Judicial Appointments Commission, and the person appointed shall have expertise in trade union law.

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(3) There shall be a Certification Officer for Scotland, equal in status to the Certification Officer in subsections (1) and (2) above.

(4) The Certification Officer for Scotland shall be appointed by the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, and the person appointed shall have expertise in trade union law.””

Amendment 27, page 5, line 31, leave out Clause 10.

Amendment 1, page 7, line 6, at end insert—

‘(2A) After section 85 of the 1992 Act insert—

“85A Payment of political funds directly to political parties

(1) The opt-in notice at section 84 of this Act must include a provision to permit the member of a trade union to direct the trade union to transfer the member’s political fund contributions directly to a UK political party rather than the trade union’s political fund.

(2) In this section a “UK political party” is a political party that is on the register of political parties in Great Britain and Northern Ireland maintained by the Electoral Commission.

(3) Where a trade union member indicates that his or her contributions should be transferred directly to a UK political party, the union must make the transfer within 31 days of receipt of the contributions from the member.””

This amendment would empower trade union members to direct their political fund contributions be paid directly to a political party rather than into a union’s political fund.

Amendment 28, page 7, line 11, leave out clause 11.

Amendment 37, page 8, line 17, clause 12, leave out “how many” and insert “the percentage”.

Amendment 25, page 8, line 19, leave out “total amount” and insert “the percentage”.

Amendment 26, page 8, line 29, at end insert

“and whether these are met in part or in full by a contribution from a trade union.”

Amendment 24, page 8, line 29, at end insert—

“(f) the percentage of relevant union officials whose facility time is met by a contribution from a trade union in whole or in part.”

Amendment 23, page 8, line 42, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c).

Amendment 11, page 9, line 32, clause 13, at end insert—

‘(1A) A minister shall not exercise powers under this section except to the extent that the exercise of these powers is compatible with treaty obligations.”

Amendment 12, page 10, line 37, at end insert—

‘(9A) The regulations may require an employer to take any steps under this section except to the extent that these steps are incompatible with treaty obligations.”

Amendment 13, page 10, line 45, at end insert—

“(d) (1B) “treaty obligations” means treaties of (a) the Council of Europe and (b) the International Labour Organisation, which are in force and which have been ratified by the United Kingdom.”

Amendment 5, page 11, line 12, clause 14, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) Subject to subsection (2A), an employer is a relevant public sector employer if the employer is a public authority specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made by a Minister of the Crown.

(2A) An employer is not a relevant public sector employer so far as trade union subscription deductions are concerned where there exists an agreement between the employer and a trade union which provides for—

(a) the remittance by the employer to the trade union of those deductions, and

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(b) the making of a payment by the trade union to the employer in respect of that remittance.”

Amendment 36, page 11, line 37, at end insert—

‘(8) The regulations may require an employer to take any steps under this section except to the extent that these steps are incompatible with treaty obligations, where ‘treaty obligations’ means treaties of (a) the Council of Europe and (b) the International Labour Organisation, which are in force and which have been ratified by the United Kingdom.“”

Amendment 35, page 12, line 8, at end insert—

‘(4) A minister shall not exercise powers under this section except to the extent that the exercise of these powers is compatible with treaty obligations.”

Kevin Brennan: I must say I thought we won the last debate, but somehow or other we lost the vote. As Disraeli said, perhaps a majority is its own repartee, but perhaps things will be different when these matters are discussed in another place.

Amendment 6 would delete clause 9 and leave picketing arrangements as they currently stand. Picketing activities are already heavily regulated in the UK by an extensive range of civil and criminal laws. Unions must comply with the requirements for peaceful pickets contained in section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 and operate in accordance with the accompanying code of practice. The Conservative Government have failed to demonstrate why the picketing provisions in the Bill are necessary or justified. The Government’s own Regulatory Policy Committee concluded that the BIS impact assessments on picketing restrictions were not fit for purpose.

The Government have made some minor concessions, which I will come on to later, but these new provisions go far beyond what is fair or necessary. In fact they were described by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) as Franco-style and I think that is an appropriate description by a Conservative Member.

The clause will introduce a new restriction on picketing activities by trade unions and their members, and failure to comply with these over-prescriptive requirements will expose trade unions to legal challenges. Employers will be able to apply to court for an injunction preventing, or imposing restrictions on, a picket or even for damages for failing to wear an armband on a picket line.

Over the summer, the Government ran a very short consultation. It was utterly insufficient given the scale of the Bill’s proposed changes. The Government sought to rely on evidence gathered during the Carr review, even though the Government’s own impact assessment confirmed that

“this evidence could not be substantiated”.

Carr decided he was unable to make evidence-based proposals or recommendations for change as originally instructed

“due to the increasingly political environment within which [he] was operating coupled with the lack of a significant enough body of evidence to support any recommendations for change”.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend see the irony in the supposed party of free marketeers intervening in an agreement between two other parties?

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Kevin Brennan: Yes, I do. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come to that point when we discuss some of the later amendments. For the moment, I shall talk about the picketing provisions.

The BIS consultation document also acknowledged that most pickets conform to the guidance set out in the code of practice. The Regulatory Performance Committee’s review of the Government’s impact assessment also found that

“there is little evidence presented that there will be any significant benefits arising from the proposal”.

Liberty’s briefing for today’s debate states:

“In the absence of any evidence that these changes are needed, these bureaucratic proposals can only be construed as an attempt to create a situation whereby individuals and unions are set up to make mistakes, subjecting them to legal action and making strike action even more expensive and risky than it already is.”

Chris Stephens: Does the shadow Minister share my concern, which was also mentioned in evidence to the Bill Committee, that the proposed new picketing arrangements could result in the increased blacklisting of trade union activists?

Kevin Brennan: There is every likelihood of that happening, as was clearly revealed in the evidence given to the Committee.

The current UK law provides sufficient safeguards, including provisions for the police to crack down on illegality and breaches of the peace, but all the while protecting the rights of trade union members to engage in peaceful picketing at the entrance to their workplace. These measures are not only unnecessary; they are an affront to democracy, which is why our amendment would remove them from the Bill altogether by deleting clause 9.

I said earlier that the Government had introduced some minor changes as a result of the consultation. Their amendments in this group are the result of significant scrutiny and pressure from my hon. Friends in Committee. The Government have now decided to reverse their position on the plans to introduce even tighter restrictions on union pickets and protests that they proposed in their consultation over the summer. They have also granted minor concessions in amendments 2, 3 and 4 that loosen the requirements relating to letters and picket supervisors.

Trade unions will not now be required to publish picket and protest plans 14 days in advance, detailing where, when and how they plan to protest and whether they propose to use Twitter and Facebook accounts as part of their campaign. It is extraordinary that that was ever proposed; it is a ludicrous proposal. Also, the Government will not now introduce new criminal offences on picket lines or direct local authorities to use antisocial behaviour provisions against union members participating in pickets and protests. Those minor concessions do not go nearly far enough, however. The Bill still contains many draconian measures that will violate the civil liberties of trade unions and their members. Clause 9 will still impose significant new restrictions on the ability of trade unions and their members to picket and protest peacefully, thereby undermining their civil liberties.

Ian Mearns: Perhaps it is regrettable that, having consulted on the matter, the Government have now withdrawn their proposal to outlaw secondary or wildcat

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tweeting.

[

Laughter.

]

Does my hon. Friend also agree that the evidence from the Police Federation and the National Police Chiefs Council made it clear that even the police do not want this legislation?

Kevin Brennan: Indeed; the fact that they did not want it was clear from the evidence of the Police Federation in particular. Satire is a powerful tool, and even when the Government make proposals that are apparently beyond satire, my hon. Friend manages to make a good point with his remark about wildcat tweeting.

Picketing will now be lawful only if unions appoint a picket supervisor and notify the police of their name and contact details. The supervisors will be required to carry a letter of authorisation which must be shown to the employers or their representatives on demand. It is also astonishing that they will still be required to wear armbands to identify themselves. Sara Ogilvie of Liberty said the following during the oral evidence sessions:

“The thought that we would require a person in 2015 to wear an armband and carry a letter of authorisation at the behest of the state in order to exercise their rights does not seem right.”––[Official Report, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 13 October 2015; c.58, Q157.]

She was understating it. Any person with a feeling for freedom and liberty would feel uneasy at these provisions. They smack of a political culture alien to that which, whatever our political differences in this place, is normally shared across parties in this country. Why do trade unions engaged in a lawful trade dispute deserve to be singled out for what I can only describe as un-British treatment?

5 pm

I know that many right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches will be encouraged by their Whips to hold their noses and support clause 9, in the party interest, against some of their better instincts, but I have to say this to them: in terms of freedom and liberty, you can hold your nose all you like, but it still stinks.

Jo Stevens: Does my hon. Friend agree that this Bill in effect creates two tiers of civil liberties and human rights in this country? One tier has much higher restrictions for trade union members and the other tier is for the rest of the population.

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. Why is it only trade unions that are being singled out in this way? I think we explored some of the reasons earlier in this afternoon’s debate.

New clause 1, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and his colleagues, is similar to the new clause 12 we tabled in Committee. It would insert in the Bill a ban on the supply of agency workers during industrial action. As we know, the Government are planning to remove the ban on agencies knowingly supplying agency workers to replace striking workers. Kate Shoesmith, the head of policy at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, which has nearly 3,500 corporate members, has said:

“We are not convinced that putting agencies and temporary workers into the middle of difficult industrial relations situations is a good idea for agencies, workers or their clients.”

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The CIPD, the professional body for HR, which has about 140,000 members, warned that the Government’s plans to reform trade union laws are “an outdated response”, given the challenges employers face today.

Rachael Maskell: In the dispute at Northampton hospital, the pathologists were locked out of the lab and the trust brought in agency workers. That escalated risk to such an extent that samples were not able to be used for testing. Is it not the case that agency workers can make things far worse rather than better?

Kevin Brennan: They can make matters far worse. When we look at this proposal alongside clause 7, it becomes clear that the introduction of an extended notice period is there to give the employer additional time to organise agency workers to undermine the industrial action, as well as to be able to prepare for legal challenges. My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head: this is bad for safety and bad for service users, and bad because it could serve to prolong industrial action unnecessarily. It will also be bad for the general public. Conservative Members ought to care about the fact that it will also be bad for social cohesion in this country. Presumably, as a next step the Government will be getting the Department for Work and Pensions to sanction the unemployed for refusing to act as strike breakers.

Christian Matheson: Has my hon. Friend also considered that in the long term the resentment that will be caused in the business affected will also mean that those actions will be bad for business?

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. He knows well, and Conservative Members ought to know, that the festering resentment that would arise as a result of this kind of approach to industrial relations would last for many years, and in some communities would never be forgotten.

The TUC is firmly opposed to this proposal, which in its opinion will breach international law. The International Labour Organisation’s freedom of association committee has confirmed that

“the hiring of workers to break a strike in a sector which cannot be regarded as an essential sector in the strict sense of the term...constitutes a serious violation of freedom of association”.

New clause 1 would insert in the Bill a ban on the supply of agency workers during strikes, and we will therefore support it if it is pushed to a vote tonight. I also want to press amendment 6 to a Division—the lead amendment in this group, which is in my name and the names of my hon. Friends.

Let me say a few brief words about amendment 5, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). It would allow check-off if employers and unions agreed that they wanted it, provided that the unions paid for the service. I understand why the hon. Gentleman would table such an amendment, as it seems to reflect some of the basic values that I thought were supposed to be in the DNA of his political party. When one party is willing by agreement to provide a service to another party in exchange for payment, the state should not interfere unless the service forms some kind of criminal or immoral activity.

10 Nov 2015 : Column 312

Check-off is a voluntary agreement by an employer to collect through its pay roll the union subscription of trade union members who are its employees. Despite what the Government seem to think, that is not a criminal or an immoral activity. Why on earth would a Conservative Government think it is right for the state to proscribe a voluntary agreement between an employer and an employee where a payment for that service is involved? I completely understand why the hon. Gentleman has tabled his amendment.

What is wrong with an employer, in whatever sector, voluntarily agreeing, as part of an attempt to maintain good relations with employees, to help collect the trade union subscription in exchange for an administrative payment? How on earth is it the responsibility of Government, particularly a Conservative Government, to introduce a provision of this kind?

Jeremy Lefroy: The hon. Gentleman has anticipated the remarks that I would have made had I caught Mr Deputy Speaker’s eye. Does he agree that many employers in both the private and the public sectors have said how convenient, positive and mutually beneficial this arrangement is and how they do not see any downside to it whatsoever?

Kevin Brennan: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is as baffled as I am as to why the Government are going down this road. It really is quite an extraordinary provision in the Bill. Can anyone on the Government Benches answer this: in what other sphere would a Conservative Government legislate to ban a simple, mutually beneficial transaction?

Several hon. Members rose

Kevin Brennan: I am waiting for an intervention from a Government Member. Not even the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) can manage an intervention.

Several hon. Members rose

Kevin Brennan: Whom shall I choose from the Labour Benches? I shall choose my neighbour first.

Stephen Doughty: There is also the absurdity that there are many other similar arrangements in place for charitable giving, cycle-to-work schemes or childcare schemes. It seems extraordinarily discriminatory to be acting in this way with regard to these voluntary arrangements for trade union subscriptions.

Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and gives further power to the point that I am making and the point that the hon. Member for Stafford is trying to make by virtue of his amendment.

Dawn Butler: I noted that nobody on the Government Benches could help my hon. Friend with his question. The only reason I could think of for such a ban is to try to destroy the trade union movement.

Kevin Brennan: Well, I am quite shocked by that accusation from my hon. Friend. On a serious note, there are many colleagues on the Government Benches who are members of trade unions. It was not so long ago that my old union, the National Union of Teachers, used to sponsor Conservative Members of Parliament.

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I will give hon. Members some benefit of the doubt here. I will actually believe for a moment that the majority of Conservative Members do not want to destroy the trade union movement, because they are democrats and we live in a democratic society. What conclusion could somebody looking at this proposal draw, other than that it exists to inflict damage in an illiberal and absolutely inappropriate manner on voluntary trade union associations and employees’ voluntary agreements with their employers?

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I know that in a former life the hon. Gentleman was a teacher, and he is making a very didactic case for his point of view. He is obviously a born-again libertarian. Is not the corollary of his argument that it is for individuals with free information to decide whether they wish to make a contribution to a trade union? That is the spirit of the Bill, rather than an element of compulsion.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman is talking my language. I absolutely agree with that proposition, but has he read the clause? Does he understand what it means? Has he read the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Stafford? The Government are banning any opportunity for an individual to enter into an agreement with an employer, and banning the employer from entering into such an agreement with its workforce, even in exchange for ready money. That service is not being given away, but its provision will be banned even when employees are paying for it. I was a teacher, and I was not trying to be didactic; I was trying to tease out a reaction, and obviously I got one from him. He should have a closer look at what his Government are actually doing and what he is actually voting for. A majority may be the best repartee, as Disraeli said, but I do not think Disraeli would have thought that this fitted with the principles of a one nation Conservative party.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to a fellow Cardiff Catholic. He may recall that similar predictions of the death of the trade union movement, of which I am a huge fan and supporter on this side of the House, were made when earlier legislation was passed—for example, in the early 1980s. The trade unions came through; they survived and blossomed. Why does the hon. Gentleman think this Bill sounds the death knell for trade unions, when in 13 years of Labour Government there was no repeal of previous legislation?

Kevin Brennan: I am glad that trade unions are strongly supported in the Hoare house, but the hon. Gentleman should read the provision and then the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stafford, which seeks to tease out the fact that this measure is particularly illiberal.

Several hon. Members rose

Kevin Brennan: Before I give way to hon. Friends, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Huntingdon because he is usually paid by the word.

Mr Djanogly: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have now looked at amendment 5, and in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), who made the point that an individual may want to

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contract with his employer, I point out that the measure talks about the trade union contracting on behalf of employers, which is a rather different point.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman does not understand that trade unions are democratic organisations. They do things on behalf of their members because they are elected and chosen to do so as democratic, voluntary organisations. There is no attack on the individual, and unusually for him his intervention is specious.

Steve Rotheram: Does my hon. Friend remember the Prime Minister’s promise of a bonfire of red tape? Does he believe that this measure makes arrangements more or less bureaucratic for employers and trade unions?

Kevin Brennan: The so-called one regulation in, one regulation out rule—[Interruption.] Oh, it’s two out, is it? The rule is not being followed in the case of trade unions. Clearly, regulation of trade unions is not considered to be regulation at all, when in fact it is an extraordinary piece of regulation.

Paula Sherriff: Does my hon. Friend agree that this move to end check-off discriminates against trade unions, as the ban is unlikely to extend to other payroll deductions, including those for charity payments, pensions and cycle-to-work schemes?

Kevin Brennan: Indeed. Other hon. Members have made that point and my hon. Friend is right to emphasise it.

5.15 pm

Clive Efford: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Kevin Brennan: I will give way one last time, then I will try to conclude so that other hon. Members can speak.

Clive Efford: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The intervention from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) gives away how the Conservatives are prepared to dance on a pinhead in order to support the Bill. To suggest that an employer would be better off to contract with each employee individually to collect their union dues, rather than to do so collectively through the trade unions, is barmy.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) referred to our Catholic backgrounds, and my hon. Friend makes a veiled reference to St Thomas Aquinas when he refers to dancing on a pinhead. That is absolutely what the Government are doing—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend may not have known that he was doing so. His theological education is slightly lacking. The Government are dancing on a pinhead to try to justify an unjustifiable provision.

Given that no Conservative Member can understand why the Government would want to ban a simple mutually beneficial voluntary transaction which involves payment for a service by one party and its representatives to another, I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford on his amendment. In its basic decency it has unmasked a fundamental illiberalism at the heart of the Bill.

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Rachael Maskell: Many of the arrangements are contractual, so removing them would cost the employer a significant amount, estimated to be around £6 million.

Kevin Brennan: So much for the party of business, imposing costs on businesses that have entered into voluntary agreements.

I hope the hon. Member for Stafford will seek to divide the House on his amendment, which is thoughtful and moderate, rather like the hon. Gentleman himself.


Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): The Trade Union Bill was my first experience of sitting on a Public Bill Committee. Our sessions were lively and often educational, like the previous speech. The bit about St Thomas Aquinas was greatly enjoyed in all parts of the House.

As a former public sector worker myself for 17 years, I know what it is like to cross a picket line. I enjoyed questioning union greats, including Len McCluskey. Today those on the Conservative Benches have been called Dickensian, Stalinist and draconian, but many of us firmly believe that trade unions are valuable institutions in British society. It is vital that they represent accurately the views of their members. This Bill aims to ensure that hard-working people are not disrupted by under-supported strike action, but it is the human rights considerations that run through the Bill that have been of particular interest to me.

The rights of workers to make their voices heard are, of course, important, and striking is an important last resort. We recognise that it is part of the armoury of trade union law. Article 11 of the European convention on human rights provides to everyone

“the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests”.

It is, however, important to recognise that article 11 is a qualified right.

Ian Lavery: Is the hon. Lady aware of the letter that the Prime Minister sent to Ministers only days ago—it was sneaked out—on the change to the ministerial code, informing Ministers that they can now ignore international law? Does that have anything to do with this issue?

Victoria Prentis: I am not aware of that letter, although I am aware that there is a debate on the issue. I am talking about the European convention on human rights. There is no proposal from the Government to renege on that at any time in the future, as far as I am aware.

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): The hon. Lady talks a great deal about human rights and the European convention. Can she help me by telling me where article 11 talks about armbands and letters of authority?

Victoria Prentis: I would like, with your leave, Mr Deputy Speaker, to finish my point and come on to armbands later.

Article 11 allows for proportionate restrictions on the exercise of—[Interruption.] I am referring to article 11(2), which states:

“No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society”.

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The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly acknowledged, as recently as last year, that it is legitimate under article 11 for the Government to legislate to impose conditions on the right to strike where there is evidence that that is justified.

The Court has also acknowledged that the Government have a wide margin of appreciation in deciding how to legislate. Clause 9, as we have heard, introduces a set of requirements on the supervision of picketing, following some sensible concessions that were made by the Minister following the consultation period. The picket supervisor will have to wear a badge, armband or other item to ensure that they are easy to identify. This is hardly onerous.

Jo Stevens: The hon. Lady referred to article 11(2), which sets out the circumstances in which the right of freedom of association can be interfered with, including the protection of national security and the prevention of serious crime. All we have heard Conservative Members talk about is the “temporary inconvenience” that strikes cause. I am afraid that that is not listed in article 11(2).

Victoria Prentis: I do not believe that the wearing of a badge or armband, or some other means of identification, is onerous in the way that the hon. Lady suggests. In fact, it is something that unions widely do already as part of the code on picketing, which actually says that everybody should wear an armband.

I must admit that in Committee I was somewhat bemused by this part of the argument and the briefs provided by Amnesty International and Liberty in the evidence that was given. Both are excellent human rights organisations that undertake extremely important work around the world dealing with executions and torture, yet the wearing of an armband by one person so that they are identifiable during a strike presents them with a big issue. I do not agree. We are not asking everybody taking part in a strike to wear an armband, but simply asking the organiser of a particular event to do so in order to identify themselves.

Rachael Maskell rose

Victoria Prentis: I am going to finish, if I may.

This seems to be an entirely reasonable and, more importantly, proportionate measure. There is a clear public interest in ensuring that trade unions take responsibility for the conduct of the pickets that they organise. It is only fair that the rights of those who belong to unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers, including those in my constituency, who rely on key public services.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I must declare an interest as a member of Unite the union and a proud union representative for 14 years.

Our proposals in new clauses 1, 3 and 4 and amendments 27, 28, 37, 25, 26, 24, 23, 11, 12, 13, 36 and 35 cover a variety of areas in the Bill that pose particular difficulties for public sector workers, focusing on agency workers and political funds. New clause 1 attempts to retain within primary legislation the ban on the supply of agency workers during strikes. Legislation banning the use of agency workers to break strikes has been in

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place in the UK since 1973. That position is in line with the majority of other European countries, which also prohibit or severely restrict the use of agency workers during industrial disputes. Removing that ban would be regressive and it would have significant implications for all workers.

Public opinion polls also indicate that such changes are not supported by the majority of the general public. The SNP therefore supports new clause 1, which aims to retain in primary legislation the ban on the supply of agency workers during strikes. Although the Bill does not specifically include provisions for that measure to be repealed, the Government have been consulting on draft legislation that would allow that to happen. Adopting our proposal would therefore be a failsafe against that occurring in future.

Chris Stephens: Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the difficulty is that the current penalty for an employer who hires agency workers to break strikes is very weak indeed? We need primary legislation to stop that practice.

Dr Cameron: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is also extremely important with regard to safety, including that of the public, which I will come on to discuss.

Repealing the existing prohibition on hiring agency staff to replace workers participating in industrial action fundamentally undermines the right to strike. It reduces the impact of strike action and upsets the power balance between workers and employers. It has also been argued that it is relatively ineffective with regard to dispute resolution, as it serves only to prolong the dispute, delay resolution and embitter industrial relations.

At a time when we are trying to encourage the living wage, the measure is also likely to drag down pay and working conditions for workers right across the country. It could have adverse implications for the agency workers themselves, as it would place them in a stressful environment.

Introducing inexperienced workers to take on the role of the permanent workforce in a workplace with which they are not familiar also has significant implications for health and safety and for the quality of services. That will impact both on those workers and on the public at large, who may utilise those services.

Those matters appear to be of particular concern to the public. A recent YouGov poll found that 65% of those surveyed were against bringing in temporary agency workers to break public sector strikes, and more than half said they thought it would worsen services and have a negative impact on safety. Only 8% indicated that they believe that hiring agency workers during strikes would improve services.

Unlike the UK Government, the SNP believes in a modern and progressive approach to industrial relations and to trade unionism, which is at the very heart of being able to achieve fair work. We recognise that no one wants strikes, but the way to avoid them is not to promote confrontation by legislating them out of existence. The right way is to pursue a relationship, in partnership with both workers and employers, based on respect and co-operation.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): Would it not be better for this Government to value the work of our public sector workers in particular, rather than to undermine the role they play by bringing in agency workers to break strikes?

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Dr Cameron: I agree with my hon. Friend. Workers who feel valued are much more likely to increase productivity and boost the economy.

New clause 3 would provide that, before the Government could introduce a Bill that would affect trade union political funds, they must first publish a statement specifying whether the Bill was being introduced with or without the agreement of all political parties represented in the House of Commons. The aim is to encourage the Government to seek political consensus with other political parties before introducing legislation that interferes with the ability of unions to engage politically.

Unions that wish to contribute to political parties or to engage in certain political activities, as defined by section 72 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, must establish a political fund. Before doing that, unions are legally required to ballot their members on whether they agree to the union maintaining a political fund through a political fund resolution.

Clause 10 will restrict unions’ right to freedom of association and their ability to engage in political debates. The provisions will place huge administrative burdens on unions, and may reduce the level of contributions raised, as has been the case in Northern Ireland. Currently, union members have the right to opt out of their subscriptions being used for political fund purposes, and they are not required to renew their opt-in. The proposals in clause 10 exceed the duties that apply to companies when making political donations. It is widely known that opt-in processes reduce participation. Amendment 27 seeks to remove clause 10 from the Bill completely, as it will undermine unions’ freedom of association.

5.30 pm

Amendment 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell), would give union members the right to direct their union to pay donations straight to a UK political party of their choice, rather than contributing to a union’s political fund. We oppose the amendment as it assumes the union’s role is simply to act as a conduit for political donations. All individuals have the right to decide to donate to a political party of their choice. Unions cannot be required by law to associate them with any political parties whose values or objectives are not consistent with those of the union.

Tom Blenkinsop: Depending on the union, unions can have several political funds. For example, Unison does, which goes back to agreements made when the National Union of Public Employees and the National and Local Government Officers Association amalgamated.

Ian Mearns: Don’t forget COHSE.

Tom Blenkinsop: They amalgamated with the Confederation of Health Service Employees, as my hon. Friend says. The legislation does not recognise internal agreements that have been reached over decades.

Dr Cameron: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I would add that we heard testimony from witnesses in the Public Bill Committee on the very good work that unions contribute in terms of political donations to campaigns.

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Amendments 11 to 13 to clause 13 attempt to limit the ability of Ministers to use their powers under the Bill where such powers are in breach of treaty obligations by stating that the powers cannot be used unless they are “compatible with treaty obligations” arising from the Council of Europe and the ILO. The cap on facility time will reduce the capacity of trade unions to represent their members and resolve disputes in the workplace before they escalate. According to the TUC, there is a risk that the proposal for a cap could conflict with EU law protecting the rights of health and safety reps to have paid time off for their duties and training; the rights of union representatives to have paid time off and office facilities during consultations on collective redundancies and outsourcing; TUPE rights; and even rights under general information and consultation arrangements covered by the information and consultation of employees regulations.

Amendments 35 and 36 also attempt to limit the ability of Ministers to use their powers under the Bill where such powers are in breach of treaty obligations by stating that the powers cannot be used unless they are “compatible with treaty obligations” arising from the Council of Europe and the ILO. Clause 14 will prevent all public sector employees from deducting union subscriptions via payroll. That will make it harder for individuals, including lower-paid workers, to access union representation in the workplace. The TUC is concerned that clause 14 will apply only to trade unions, not to staff associations. That suggests that the Government want to make it harder for people to join trade unions and to access the benefits of trade union membership, including effective representation in the workplace and specialist advice on employment rights, health and safety, and other work-related issues.

Under clause 14, the Government will be able to introduce regulations imposing a ban on check-off arrangements across the entire public sector. In particular, the plans to impose changes to collective agreements voluntarily made by employers and unions do not comply with ILO standards. Minister Roseanna Cunningham made it clear during the evidence sessions that the Scottish Government do not support the proposed ban on check-off arrangements. In recent weeks, more than 50 local authorities, NHS employers and employer organisations have criticised the Government’s plans to ban check-off arrangements in the public sector.

The Government claim that the proposal will save taxpayers up to £6 million. However, many unions already cover the cost of check-off services, as has been said. In some cases, fees charged by public sector employers for check-off provision generate a net gain. Another great concern that was raised in Committee was that legal challenges to the Government could cost the public purse.

Amendment 5, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), provides that the ban on check-off arrangements would not apply to public sector workplaces where the employer and the relevant unions had an agreement. We support that amendment.

In conclusion, this debate is about people, their lives, their pay, their conditions and their safety in their workplace. It deserves to be paid the utmost respect by Members in all parts of the Chamber.

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Ian Lavery: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to place it on the record that I am a member of Unite the union and the National Union of Mineworkers.

Mr Speaker: We are extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It falls to each Member to declare his or her interests as they see fit. We are deeply obliged to him.

Jeremy Lefroy: I rise to speak to amendment 5, which appears in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I do so with a heavy heart, because clause 14, to which the amendment relates, is entitled, “Prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector”. As a Conservative, I am not greatly in favour of prohibition in many instances and I certainly am not in this instance. The clause was not in the Bill on Second Reading so we did not debate it and I am disappointed that it has been brought forward. Because it has been brought forward, I will speak to my amendment.

When we introduce a prohibition, we must ask what the penalties will be. If a union and an employer decide that this kind of arrangement is so important and so difficult to unwind that they will continue using it, what will happen to them? Will the police be involved? Will the employer and the union be fined? If there is a prohibition, there must be some way of enforcing it. There is no sensible way of enforcing this kind of prohibition on what is a relatively sensible arrangement between an employer and a union.

Let us be clear that we are talking about an agreement between an employer and a union, not something that is imposed on either of them. It is a partnership. In my view, it is generally a positive one as it enables people to work together. Surely that is what all of us are here to encourage. Nobody is required to have such an arrangement.

If my amendment were accepted by the Government at some point, it would require the cost to be reimbursed, as it is in many arrangements up and down the country, including in my county of Staffordshire, where there is a perfectly good arrangement between Unison and Staffordshire County Council.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): I support amendment 5 because it is my understanding that local authorities and other such organisations would be able to charge a commercial rate to recover the costs.

Jeremy Lefroy: Yes, and they do. As I mentioned in an intervention on the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), some councils make a surplus from it that goes towards their services.

As has been pointed out, clause 14 singles out union subscriptions. There is no prohibition on other deductions for which there might not be compensation to the employer, such as deductions for season tickets, which have been mentioned, or professional fees. Even on my payslip as a Member of Parliament, the top deduction every month is £2 for the Members fund. There will be no prohibition on that deduction, unless the Members fund is a national union of Members of Parliament, which I do not think it is.