Trade Union Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Glenn McKee, Anna Dickson, Committee Clerk s
† attended the Committee
The Chair: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing amendment 35, in clause 10, page 5, line 43, leave out from “unless” to the end of line 5 on page 6 and insert “it has been renewed”.
The amendment would define an opt-in notice as expired if on its expiry date it had not been renewed.
I wish to speak in support of amendments 34 and 35, which were tabled in my name and those of my hon. and right hon. Friends. This Government and the previous Government, which the Conservative party was part of, have made great play of their desire to get rid of red tape, but the Bill is full of red tape and this clause makes it extremely difficult for trade union members to contribute to political funds.
In all the evidence we heard last week on political funds, no one said that they were a problem or that there were any problems associated with them. Further than that, the thrust of the Bill and these clauses is all about the links to funding the Labour party. That is important from my point of view, but we must not forget that political funds are used for other campaigning measures. Two of the most prominent campaigns that I was involved in during my time working for a trade union were the campaign to stop needle injuries for clothing and textile workers and the campaign to promote recognition of the subtle signs of domestic violence taking place and causing people to lose days at work. Political funds are used for a much broader range of things than just helping to fund the Labour party, although obviously that is an area that I am very concerned about.
The clause is politically motivated. To limit the ability of a political party to raise funds legitimately through its affiliated trade unions is nothing less than scandalous. It goes against 100 years of common practice, where any changes in this area have historically been agreed between parties through cross-party talks. If this is what the Government want to do, then instead of just taking a sledgehammer to what has been common
As it stands, the opt-in works. Because it works, no one is calling for change—except the Government. There is no problem with the opt-in. When I administered part of a political fund in my previous life before entering Parliament, no one raised a problem with it. If people wanted to opt out after they had opted in, that simply was not a problem. They contacted us, and we opted them out. I have to say that very few people choose to opt out, and that is bearing in mind that members of trade unions are not just Labour party supporters—they vote Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP, and some even vote Conservative.
That said, let us look at the detail of the clause and the amendments. I firmly believe that the Government’s proposals are not workable; the thrust of the amendments is to make them workable. Our amendments are clear and straightforward and would extend the time limits to a more realistic timeframe. Almost 6 million people are members of trade unions in this country. It is absolutely ludicrous to think that unions could physically sign up, by paper, nearly 6 million people in three months. I do not know what resources the Government think trade unions have, but that is not a workable option. It is impossible. By default, the Government would not be giving the opportunity for trade union members to sign up, because it would be impossible for trade unions to make their full membership aware within the timescale set out in the Bill.
There are obviously issues around using electronic means to sign people up—we will come on to that in our consideration of later amendments, when I will go into more detail—but it would have a significant impact on the Bill if we were allowed to use e-means to sign people up. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth outlined, the Bill goes way beyond the Companies Act 2006. That Act covers political donations from companies, which the Conservative party gets most of its funding from. The amendments tabled by my hon. Friends would bring the Bill into line with existing legislation, in particular in relation to the 10-year ballot to decide if a trade union holds a political fund or not. Let us remember that trade unions do not have to hold political funds, although I think they all do.
The existing legislation, which has been there for many years, is very workable. It is a well trodden path, and there are no problems with it. The way to make the opt-in measures practicable is to have sensible time limits and link them to existing legislation. Even the Minister has said, with regard to the code of conduct, that these things work well. Let us simplify the Bill and bring it together with the existing legislation. The bureaucratic nature of the Bill at the moment means that it simply will not work in practice. Removing the time limits would make it a workable piece of legislation, although I would still disagree with it.
Legislation covering the operation of political funds should be fair and reasonable, to be in line with all international agreements covering the rights of trade unions, freedom of association and a union’s ability to engage in political debates. This is key: we must allow unions the freedom to engage in political debates. As it stands, the Bill will not do that, so I urge the Government
Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward. The clause represents nothing less than a cynical attempt by the Government to restrict the political rights of millions of working people in this country. The Government claim that trade union members will retain the right to opt in to political campaigns if they so wish, but in reality they know that this will effectively end trade unions’ ability to represent their members’ political aspirations.
Let us be clear from the outset: trade union political funds are not and never have been solely about donations to the Labour party. Indeed, a significant proportion of the TUC’s member unions—unions such as the Fire Brigades Union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the National Union of Teachers, the Public and Commercial Services Union, NASUWT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers—are not affiliated with and have no connection to the Labour party. There are, however, many millions of members across such unions.
Trade unions represent those members’ interests in the workplace. They negotiate wages, health and safety, conditions of service and various terms of employment. However, workers’ interests do not end in the workplace. They have family lives and interests outside of work. Workers care about the quality of their children’s education. They care about housing conditions, the quality of our health service, our public services and many other aspects of everyday life that cannot be negotiated with an employer. Trade union political funds exist for that very reason: to campaign on those topics and areas of interest.
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend makes an important point. USDAW’s “Freedom from Fear” campaign, for example, is about tackling the intimidation of and violence against shop workers, but it has nothing to do USDAW’s funding of the Labour party. It is a very important campaign that I have attended representations of. USDAW is concerned that it will fall within the scope of this measure, as a result of the legislation.
Every single trade union member is fully entitled to participate in the democratic processes of the union of which they are a member. The policies that the union may campaign on are democratically decided by those members through the trade union’s internal democratic structure. The Government, and their friends in places such as the Daily Mail, try to portray union political funds as personal gifts from people such as Len McCluskey, Dave Prentis or Sir Paul Kenny, designed to buy influence in the Labour party. I know all those individuals, and none of them has ever told me what to do. I maintain my independence from them. I listen to them closely and carefully, but I have never received an instruction from any one of them.
By contrast, the Conservative party, which last year alone received nearly £29 million in private donations from the rich and powerful, has no concept of the unfairness of this measure. I will compare and contrast, because the money siphoned into political campaigns and political parties such as the Labour party is very open and transparent in its transmission and its source.
Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this measure would cause a great imbalance between the influence of corporate donors and sponsors who wish to influence politicians or political parties and the influence of the ordinary person on political life and political campaigns? Ordinary working people, such as nurses, midwives and teachers, are often the backbone of society.
Ian Mearns: I could not agree more. This measure seeks to undermine the political armoury available to the ordinary citizenry of this country. By comparison, the Conservatives, the party of government, get their money from direct donations by large corporations and middle-ranking organisations. They siphon money into the Conservative party, but we do not know where the small donations come from—by small donations, I mean donations up to £7,500. People donating to the Conservative party via the United and Cecil club do not have to declare who they are if their donation is less than £7,500. That is not open or transparent. Another middle-ranking organisation that siphons money into the Conservative party in a similar way is the Midlands Industrial Council. Again, we do not know the origin of its donations under £7,500.
The millions of trade unionists who will potentially have their political voice stifled by this clause continue to donate to the Conservative party inadvertently. Every time they buy a Melton Mowbray pork pie or a Ginsters pasty or meat slice, they are making very small but regular donations to the Tory party. If they buy their clothes at Next, their car through Auto Trader, their bread from Warburtons or even indulge in an occasional Soreen malted loaf, they will be making a small donation to the Tory party. The clause aims to stifle direct donations to political parties and/or campaigns on one side, but no action is being taken on the other side, because that would not be in the interest of the party of government.
Trade union funds are the weekly pennies, tuppences, 10 pences and 20 pences contributed by millions of working people, and those funds are audited and regulated by the Government’s certification of trade unions. Every last penny has to be accounted for. The policies for which those funds campaign are not the whims of trade union barons; the funds are used to campaign and promote policies agreed by workers through their democratic organisations. I am trying to put on record the gross unfairness of the measures within this clause.
Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I indicated to Sir Alan that I wanted to speak on this group of amendments, to give a general overview of clause 10.
Our view is that the provisions in clause 10 are a democratic and constitutional outrage, for two reasons. Before I was elected, I was secretary of the Scottish National party trade union group, which has a total of 16,000 members from all trade unions. Some of them have decided not to contribute to the political fund of
First, it is important for our society that trade unions make a contribution to the political life of the country, and our society has been better for it. We should be looking at political funding arrangements across the board and in consultation with all parties, not just slipping in these measures as part of the Bill, which is why the SNP has tabled a new clause, which we will come to later.
Secondly, to return to the points made by the hon. Member for Gateshead about political funds being used for general campaigning, as it stands, clause 10 is clearly a way of preventing the trade union movement from engaging in such campaigning. It is important to mention some of the other organisations and campaigns that have received trade union funding. There have been health and safety campaigns, which are very important. HOPE not hate and other anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations have received the majority of their funding from trade unions. As the general secretary of the PCS trade union indicated, funding has gone to campaigns on public service provision and keeping public services in public hands.
The Minister for Skills (Nick Boles): You were not with us this morning, Sir Edward, but the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth gave a broad introduction to the provisions on the political fund, as well as addressing the amendments. I do not want to take long because we are trying to save time. The arguments made by the shadow Minister and other Members betray a strange lack of confidence in their appeal to union members. It seems to me odd to suggest that the only way they can secure the donations of union members is by somehow relying on the inertia that prevents a union member from exercising their opt-out.
The hon. Gentleman talked about pension contributions and auto-enrolment. One of the main reasons for introducing automatic enrolment into a pension is that it is pretty hard to persuade individual savers, particularly young people on relatively low wages with lots of other immediate demands on their cash, of the benefits of a pension that they are not going to receive until 40 or 50 years in the future. Yet we all know that, both in their direct personal interest and in the public interest, it is important that they save for a pension. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the appeal of the Labour party and its policies is so distant or vague that it is not possible to persuade individual union members that they have an immediate, direct and personal interest in ticking a box and opting in.
Chris Stephens: I would gently point out to the Minister that many trade unions currently have a system whereby members have to tick a box for the political fund. Indeed, my own trade union, Unison, gives the choice of ticking a box next to either the affiliated section, from which funds go to the Labour party; the general political fund section, which I happen to tick; or for no political fund arrangements at all. Some trade unions already offer the option through ticking a box, so why is the change necessary?
Nick Boles: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I think has made my argument for me. All that we are requiring is that every trade union member be asked to tick a box to contribute to a political fund, rather than being given an option to tick a box to get out of it. Since he is happy to do that and happy for others to do the same, it does not seem particularly onerous.
Amendments 34 and 35 deal with the opt-in renewal notices for political funds. It must be right that a member decides whether to contribute to a political fund and has an opportunity to renew their choice; the question is over what period. In this country, it seems that renewing political choices every five years is becoming a normal pattern, which is why we suggest five years in the Bill. We have provided that members can renew their opt-in at any time in the three months before a renewal date, reducing the burden on unions of different renewal dates for different members. The Bill also provides that members who have recently decided to contribute will not have to renew their opt-in again shortly afterwards. If a member opts in six months before a renewal date, they do not have to renew again at the next renewal point. Amendment 35 would undermine that provision, which is meant to help unions to manage the opt-in process.
Clause 10 creates a workable system of opt-in and renewal for trade unions with political funds. The amendments would work against their effectiveness for unions and their members, so I urge that amendment 34 be withdrawn.
Stephen Doughty: I am not seeking to press amendments 34 and 35 to a vote, but I want to be frank with the Committee: we know what the Government are up to. Most people out there in the country know what the Government are up to. The Government have a very presentable representative in the Minister, who comes across as a model of reasonableness and everything else, but he has some more sinister elements behind him—[ Interruption. ] Not here! I should clarify that I was not referring to the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Newton Abbot, who is equally as respectable. I am referring, of course, to the sinister elements hiding out in the Cabinet Office, the Treasury and elsewhere, who clearly intend to break the consensus on party funding in order to undermine the funding of the Labour party and political campaigns that might target the Government and their policies, while not opening their own funding arrangements to the same degree of scrutiny.
The SNP inquired as to why I had photos of Margaret Thatcher and the former Leader of the House and Member for Richmond (Yorks) on my desk. In Cabinet minutes from 1984, the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, said that
Those are important points that exemplify how extraordinary the Government’s move is. It moves away from that consensus. They can of course impose their will on us, as they have a majority in the House, but that is not one of the principles of the democracy in which we operate. I hope the Minister will go back to those more sinister elements outside this room and urge them to rethink the measure. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘(3) The first renewal date—
(a) for a trade union in relation to which a political resolution is in force on the commencement date, is the date falling five years and three months after that date;
(b) for any other trade union, is the date falling five years and three months after the first date following the commencement date on which the union passes a political resolution.”
This amendment is intended to improve the drafting as regards the “first renewal date”, and in particular to make it fit better with section 93(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (amalgamations) where that section applies.
The amendment would make the first renewal date for a union‘s political fund established before the Bill comes into force 10 years and three months rather than five years and three months.
The amendment would make the first renewal date for a union‘s political fund established after the Bill comes into force 10 years and three months rather than five years and three months after the ballot.
The amendment would make all renewal dates for unions’ political funds after the first renewal date 10 years rather than five years.
Nick Boles: Amendment 91 is a minor amendment to clause 10 that fixes the first renewal of an opt-in to a political fund so that it is three months and five years after the date of the political resolution. The language is more precise than the current drafting, which refers to the date that a political fund is established or the date of a ballot. The revised wording also reflects the language used in the provisions of the 1992 Act dealing with amalgamations. To be clear, this is a technical point and there is no change in policy. It should make it easier for unions to understand and apply the law in this area.
Amendment 96 deals with how the new opt-in provisions apply to the amalgamation of the unions. It fixes the first renewal date where two or more unions join together.
I now turn to Opposition amendments 36, 37 and 38, which would replace the opt-in renewal date from five to 10 years. Our aim is to promote greater transparency for union members. We want members to make an active choice based on a recent and up-to-date decision. We do not believe it is right that a union member makes the decision to opt in to a political fund and is not asked to do so again for as long as 10 years. That could not be judged a recent active choice.
Chris Stephens: During consultations on the Bill, did anyone object to having a trade union ballot in 10 years and want one every five years? What is the purpose of that? I would have thought that 10 years, which is two electoral cycles, would be sufficient.
Nick Boles: I certainly accept that there can be different, legitimate views on this question. As I said in response to the previous debate, given that our system seems to be moving towards regular five-year cycles of political decision making, we felt that it was, if nothing else, neat to have a five-year cycle of decision making about contributions towards political funds.
A five-year renewal date balances the need for unions to have certainty about how much income they have for political activities against the need to ensure that a member’s decision to contribute remains current and relevant. We are also taking steps to remove the burden of different renewal dates on unions, and ensuring that future renewal dates are kept the same for all members of any union. We are therefore allowing for a five-year renewal notice to take place any time in the three months before the renewal date. The Bill also provides that where members who opt in during the six-month period before the five-year renewal, they should not have to renew their opt-in again at the renewal date. That prevents, for example, new members who have made a recent decision to contribute to a fund from having to renew their opt-in again very soon after.
Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): Were we to move to a system of contracting-in to the political levy with five-year renewals, what is the case for retaining the political fund ballot every 10 years? Will the Minister do away with that?
Nick Boles: We have no plans to change that. If the hon. Lady wants to table proposals at the next stage in the House, I will be happy to engage with that question. Since she has not done so, I am not in a position to engage with it directly now—I am not sure it would be entirely in order to do so, although it is a perfectly legitimate question for her to raise.
Stephen Doughty: I do not have a lot to say about Government amendments 91 and 96, because we fundamentally oppose the principle of the clause and all associated measures, and intend to vote against it when we come to that point.
As the Minister has pointed out, Opposition amendments 36, 37 and 38 go with the status quo, sticking with the 10 years and three months provision as it is. That is obviously a matter for debate, although I am not sure that the Minister is making a strong argument. He certainly did not adequately respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West about who has requested the change.
Stephen Doughty: No, I am not aware of that. The point that has been made consistently to me by the unions and others who would be affected is that, of course, people can opt out at any point. The idea that people make political choices only at a fixed point every so many years is wrong. People can change their political affiliations and views about political campaigns their union might be engaged in or running—whether they were well run or had a good purpose—and that might cause them to decide at some point to decide to opt out of the fund. Obviously, I hope they do not but that is a choice they can make. They can do that, unlike shareholders in corporations, who cannot opt out once their company is making donations to the Conservative party, for example—let alone the examples given by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, which horrified me. I am a fan of Soreen malt loaf and had no idea that I was unwittingly contributing to the Conservative party through that. The Government are fond of declaratory statements on ballots; perhaps there should be one on every malt loaf, saying, “Be aware that you are giving to the Tories.”
Ian Mearns: I used to be rather fond of Soreen malt loaf, until I discovered the awful truth. I think it could have a public health warning: “Eating Soreen malt loaf could be detrimental to your health service.” [ Interruption. ]
As I said, I do not have a lot to say about the Government amendments, which are technical and in the spirit of the Government’s intentions, which we oppose; but I would like to test our amendment 36, on keeping the relevant period at 10 years, in a vote.
The amendment would make the first renewal date for a union‘s political fund established before the Bill comes into force 10 years and three months rather than five years and three months.
The amendment would allow opt-in, renewal and withdrawal notices to be given via electronic communications.
‘(1) Trade union members shall be permitted to vote by electronic means for the purposes of Part V of the 1992 Act (Industrial Action) with effect from the commencement date for sections 2 and 3.
(2) In this section “electronic means” means such electronic means, including means of secure voting electronically in the workplace, as is, or are determined by the union and, in a case in which section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union, confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section, before the opening day of the ballot as meeting the required standard.
(3) 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 (2), the means of voting in the ballot shall also include postal voting where determined by the union and, in a case in which section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union, confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section as being reasonably necessary to ensure that the required standard is satisfied.
(4) For the purpose of subsections (2) and (3), a 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.
(5) In relation to the ballots referred to in subsection (1):
(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
(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.
(6) Where in any proceedings an employer claims, or will claim, that a union has failed to comply with any requirement referred to in section 226 of the 1992 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 (5)(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 (5)(b).
(7) Any provision of the Act shall be disapplied to the extent necessary to give effect to this section.”
The new clause would permit electronic voting in ballots for industrial action.
‘(1) The provisions in section [new clause 2] apply to ballots and elections for the purposes of Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamation or transfer) of the 1992 Act.
(2) The electronic means adopted for the purposes of subsection (1) must also be capable of allowing union members to vote in ballots and elections for the purposes of Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamating or transfer) of the 1992 Act.”
The new clause would permit electronic voting in union elections and ballots other than those for industrial action..
‘(1) Trade union members shall be permitted to vote in person at their place of work by means of a secure workplace ballot for the purposes of Part V of the 1992 Act (Industrial Action) with effect from the commencement date for sections 2 and 3.
(2) In this section “secure 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. These may, but are not required to, include electronic means and, in a case in which section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union to ensure that the required standard is satisfied, confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section, before the opening day of the ballot as meeting the required standard.
(3) For the purpose of subsection (2), a workplace ballot satisfies “the required standard” if, so far as reasonably practicable:
(a) those entitled to vote have an opportunity to do so;
(b) those entitled to vote can do so in privacy;
(c) votes cast are secret; and
(d) the risk of any unfairness or malpractice is minimised.
(4) In relation to the ballots referred to in subsection (1):
(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 1992 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.
(5) Where in any proceedings an employer claims, or will claim, that a union has failed to comply with any requirement referred to in section 226 of the 1992 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 (5)(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 (5)(b).
(6) Any provision of the Act shall be disapplied to the extent necessary to give effect to this section.”
The new clause would permit secure workplace ballots for industrial action. These can involve electronic or non-electronic means.
‘(1) The provisions in section [NC4] shall apply to ballots and elections for the purposes of Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamation or transfer) of the 1992 Act.
(2) The arrangements adopted for the purposes of subsection (1) shall allow union members to vote in workplace ballots for the purposes of Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamating or transfer) of the 1992 Act.”
The new clause would permit secure workplace ballots in union elections and ballots other than those for industrial action.
‘(1) Voting in a ballot or election carried out to meet the requirements of the 1992 Act as amended can be carried out by postal ballot, electronic means, secure workplace ballot or a combination of these methods.
(2) The combination of methods is to be determined by the union and, in a case in which section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union, confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section, before the opening day of the ballot.”
‘(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):
(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
(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.”
I want to outline the rationale for tabling the amendment and new clauses. I think it will help the Committee if I make it clear that amendment 39 relates to the use of electronic methods under clause 10, but the new clauses are about matters we have already discussed on balloting, and other related matters such as the extension of the provisions to other ballots, and combination ballots.
Throughout the oral evidence and our line-by-line consideration of the measure, the Minister has sought to dress up the Trade Union Bill as modernisation, but the Government’s continued refusal to introduce e-balloting and secure workplace balloting demonstrates that they are not serious about modernisation. The Government seem more hellbent on legislating to try to ensure they are a relic of our industrial past.
The nature of our country’s economy now—and it is likely to be in decades to come—is such that the insatiable pace of technological progress must be embraced. As a modern progressive, I am entirely comfortable with that. Indeed, recent figures from Ofcom show that to be the case in households across the UK, with 83% of people now having access to broadband and 66% of households owning a smartphone. I listened with great interest in the Chamber yesterday to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, who we know is one of the sinister architects of the Bill, sitting in the shadows of the Cabinet Office. He extolled with great alacrity the benefits of the Government Digital Service and the digitisation of Government services. He gave specific examples, such as the online sell-off of shares in Lloyds, which the Government are disposing of.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who asked the Minister for the Cabinet Office a question yesterday, that there are things left wanting in the progress of the Government Digital Service. The fact is, however, that the Government seem very willing to move ahead with online and electronic systems in other areas for what are often complex legal or financial services. Clearly, high levels of security and assuredness are required when citizens are taking part in those processes.
The case for an online option in balloting grows stronger still: e-balloting can be safe and secure, much like online banking. As we heard during the oral evidence sessions, e-balloting is already used for a variety of purposes by organisations in both the public and private sector, such as J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Lloyd’s of London, Chevron and, of course, the Conservative party, which recently selected its London mayoral candidate using e-balloting.
Our new clauses contain safeguards to ensure safety. Under each of those, the balloting process, whether electronic or secure workplace balloting, would be overseen by an independent scrutineer. Before the ballot is run, the scrutineer would confirm that the proposed method of voting met the required standard. The standard requires that: all members who are entitled to vote must have an opportunity to do so; votes must be cast in secret; and the risk of any unfairness or malpractice is minimised. That required standard is the same as the one set out in section 54 of the Employment Relations Act 2004.
The new clauses would allow unions to use postal ballots alongside electronic or secure workplace voting if they believed it necessary to ensure everyone has the chance to vote. That would ensure that members who may be absent from work due to sick leave or maternity, paternity or adoption leave can vote. The new clauses would also allow unions to provide members with a choice of voting methods, including postal and electronic balloting and secure workplace balloting. We call that a combination ballot, where a maximum number of means are used to ensure maximum participation in and engagement with the democratic process the Government say they are so keen to support.
The new clauses place duties on employers to co-operate with the union and the scrutineer during a ballot or election, mirroring duties that already apply to employers during statutory recognition ballots held under schedule A1 to the 1992 Act. For example, employers should ensure that firewalls do not prevent union emails from reaching members and that websites are not blocked. It is common practice in workplaces holding elections to staff associations or information and consultation forums for employers to work with balloting agencies to ensure that firewalls do not block email communications.
Safe places should also be provided for voting free from surveillance by management. That is important, given the concerns we have heard about blacklisting and issues of data protection and sensitivity that would certainly apply when it comes to secure workplace balloting. Employers would also be under a duty to ensure that union members can vote free from interference or constraint. That mirrors an existing duty on unions and is therefore even-handed. If an employer failed to comply with those duties—for example, by intercepting members’ voting papers or emails relating to the ballot—the union would have a complete defence from any legal challenges that it had failed to run the ballot properly.
I want to turn to safe and secure workplace ballots. We have set out the issues clearly and concisely in our new clauses; I now want to go into the detail of this option. In addition to using electronic voting, workplace ballots should be permitted for statutory union elections and other ballots. Importantly, the 1992 Act already permits workplace ballots to be used for statutory recognition ballots, under schedule A1. Workplace ballots of this nature are secure and are overseen by the qualified independent persons or QIPs. The individuals and balloting agencies permitted to act as QIPs for statutory recognition ballots are generally the same as those that act as scrutineers in industrial action ballots and other statutory union elections and ballots.
Until March 2015, 233 ballots for statutory recognition had been held, 61 of which involved a combination ballot—very much like what we propose in our new clauses—including both workplace ballots and postal ballots for those absent from work when the ballot was taking place. Five ballots had been held on the basis of workplace-only voting and 157 postal-only ballots had also been organised. An analysis of Central Arbitration Committee reports indicates that turnout tends to be significantly higher, as one would expect, in ballots where all workers voted in the workplace, where average turnout was 88%, and in combination ballots, where the average turnout was 86.9%. The average turnout in postal-only ballots was 71.6%.
There is no evidence that individuals felt pressurised to vote in support of union recognition where workplace ballots took place. Workers voting in postal-only ballots were more likely to vote for union recognition than those voting in the workplace. In 66% of workplaces where there was a postal-only ballot, workers voted for statutory recognition, compared with 60% of workplaces using workplace-only voting and 56% of workplaces holding combination ballots. Nor is there any evidence that workers feel intimidated into voting a particular way where ballots take place in the workplace. It is important for the Committee to note that the CAC has received a total of only seven complaints of unfair practices by employers or unions during statutory recognition ballots since 2004, when new protections were introduced. Of the complaints that the CAC were asked to decide upon, five were made by unions and one by an employer, but none were upheld.
I can think of no organisation besides trade unions where technological change and progress is not merely discouraged, but prohibited by proscriptive legislation. Trade unions must be allowed to modernise and bring balloting into the 21st century. This would not only serve to boost turnout and participation—vital reason though that is, given the arbitrary thresholds the Government are introducing in this Bill, which are rarely used elsewhere in our democracy, not even in recent referendums—but improve trade union democracy. Not only that, but the use of postal-only ballots can unnecessarily extend the voting period, which can be detrimental to good industrial relations, as it prolongs the period of the dispute. The use of faster and more efficient balloting methods, such as e-balloting and secure workplace balloting, could assist in the earlier resolution of disputes, as ballots and subsequent negotiations would take place more quickly.
Just as the arguments for the introduction of e-balloting and secure workplace balloting for trade unions grow stronger by the day, the Tories’ unsubstantiated opposition
The Minister sought to rely on that evidence when he appeared before the Committee to argue that trade union ballots cannot be run safely online. However, the ORG’s evidence was based on a comparison between general election voting in polling stations and online voting. The ORG made no comment on the safety and security of wider forms of online voting. The Minister said in his evidence to the Committee:
“Frankly, internal elections in organisations to choose office-holders have to meet a much lower test than elections that involve the withdrawal of labour, the closure of services and great disruption to the public, so we are right to attach a higher level of demand”.––[Official Report, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 15 October 2015; c. 166, Q413.]
I find that rather staggering, because it is not clear to me why trade unions are the only organisations in the UK that are required by legislation to use postal-only ballots for elections and ballots. This suggests that the Government are more interested in interfering in the democratic decision making of trade unions, rather than being genuinely concerned about the safety of balloting systems.
Ian Mearns: My hon. Friend referred earlier to the fact that the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London was elected using a form of e-balloting. I wonder about the double-standard put forward by the governing party. They say it is perfectly legitimate for electronic voting to be used for one of the most important political positions in the country, but not for a potentially small industrial dispute in a remote part of the United Kingdom.
Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. If the Government were genuinely concerned about the levels of electronically based elections in the private sector, they would legislate to require all bodies to use postal-only ballots, and they would re-run the election for the candidate for Mayor of London using a postal-only ballot.
I simply cannot understand the Government’s argument, and nor can the public. On the one hand, the Government say that they want to increase participation, that we need to ensure that everybody has their say, and that strikes and actions must not take place without everybody’s consent. But they will not extend the most simple modern methods to allow people to participate in a democratic process, which is their right as established in many conventions—indeed, in this country’s historic laws and principles. The Government seek to deny unions the right to exercise that franchise. It simply does not make sense.
It certainly does not make sense, given that secure workplace balloting is already used, as I have described. Why can it not be extended to industrial action ballots
I turn briefly to the specifics of the amendments and new clauses. Amendment 39, which I have not touched on in detail so far, relates to the section on political funding. It is absurd and ludicrous that the Bill requires individuals or their authorised agents to deliver opt-in, renewal or withdrawal notices to the trade union head office or branch office personally or by post. The amendment would enable trade union members to renew their opt-in via email or online. Most trade unions are concerned that they will have just three months—we will come on to that issue—to sign members up to their political funds after the Bill comes into force. If members do not opt in within three months, they will no longer be considered valid contributors. That is unworkable and unreasonable, and in practice it will mean that many trade union members who want to pay into the union political fund will be prevented from doing so.
The provisions also fail to recognise that trade unions will be required to revise their rule book to comply. Many trade unions hold their rule-making conference once a year, every two years or, in some cases, every five years. It is therefore unreasonable for the Government to expect trade unions with a political fund to convene a special rule-making conference within three months to comply with the legislation. For many trade unions, it would be simply impossible to book venues and make the relevant logistical arrangements in time. The costs are likely to be astronomical, representatives might not be able to secure the time off to attend the conference and there might be problems with quorums and so on. Again, they will not be able to use electronic methods. People will have to hand in a hand-written notice to a head office or a branch office. Again, it reveals the Government’s true intent. If the Minister does not want the public and trade union members to believe that that is the intent behind the Bill, why does he not go some way towards a compromise and provide methods to encourage the maximum participation, both for opting in to political funds and for ballots?
I have detailed the new clauses. Briefly, for the Committee’s benefit, new clause 1 would permit trade unions to decide to use electronic voting for industrial action ballots. For example, union members would be able to vote online, on smartphones or via secure phone lines. They would also be able to vote electronically in workplaces using secure laptops or electronic booths. New clause 2 would permit unions to use electronic voting in other statutory elections and ballots, including the election of general secretaries, political fund ballots
This comprehensive set of amendments and new clauses is about bringing trade unions into the modern age, as the Government say they want to do, and being able to use modern methods that are already used elsewhere and are seen to be successful. Frankly, I cannot see any reason why the Government would wish to oppose them.
John Howell (Henley) (Con): I accept that electronic voting is gaining widespread political support, but I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of the evidence that was put to the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, particularly the evidence from the Open Rights Group. The Guardian commented:
“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.”
Stephen Doughty: On the basis of that argument, I have to ask whether the hon. Gentleman considers the election of his colleague, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London to be unsound in some way.
John Howell: I thought the hon. Gentleman would ask that question, so I thought of an answer. The answer is that I am not suggesting that anything at all was wrong with that election or, indeed, other elections that have used electronic voting, but I urge extreme caution where it is applied to elections that are enduring and on a statutory basis.
John Howell: I am grateful to the Minister. Part of it comes from my role as the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on design and innovation—it did a lot of work in this area before the election—at the time that the Speaker’s Commission was working, and part of it comes from an article in The Guardian. The Minister will appreciate that, as a lively reader of The Guardian, I pick up these things wherever I can. I can probably give him the exact date on which the article was published, if he wants to know that.
Chris Stephens: We are not talking about an election, though, but a ballot, which will be a binary choice. It will either be yes or no. What specifically would concern the hon. Gentleman about introducing electronic balloting in a case of industrial action or to confirm or otherwise the political fund arrangements of a trade union?
John Howell: I think there is a great deal of similarity between using electronic means for an election and for this sort of statutory balloting. The thing that most concerns me is that, as in the words of the Open Rights Group that I just quoted:
Stephen Doughty: I think that it is important to test this point. The hon. Gentleman is referring to decisions that have statutory implications, are regulated and so on, but these methods are also used by major financial institutions. For example, the Nationwide Building Society, the Yorkshire Building Society, J.P. Morgan and others—
Stephen Doughty: At their annual general meetings, which are often taking very serious and significant decisions, which are bound by the financial law set out by this House, those organisations are using these systems, so what is the problem? Why is this the only part of our democracy that is not able to use them?
Seema Kennedy: Sir Edward, I apologise. I am a relative novice, including on interventions. Are you aware that in the last year alone, online banking fraud has increased by 48%? Hon. Members are talking about the use of electronic methods in the financial and banking sector.
John Howell: Not at the moment. If we look at Barclays bank, for example, we see that the level of tolerance of this is phenomenal. It is frightening to see that; in fact, it makes one wish to change one’s account straightaway.
In answer to the question asked some time ago by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth about other organisations that use these methods, I fully accept, as I said at the beginning, that electronic balloting—electronic voting—is gaining wider and wider significance and acceptability. However, the organisations using these methods are approaching that in a systematic way. All I wanted to say at this point was that tremendous caution needs to be exercised. I shall finish again with the opinion of Mr Killock that
Dr Cameron: It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and to speak on clause 8. At the outset, I declare again my interests as a member of Unite the union and a former representative of Unite.
We are having a very interesting debate, but we must put it in the context of modern times. This is the way events are moving. It is what the public expect and want, and trade union members are very used to voting electronically or using electronic means in many realms of their lives. We therefore have to ensure that as a society and in this legislative process, we are modernising and it is in kilter with society.
I seek to question whether people’s opinion is based on evidence. Perhaps they are right to some degree to suggest caution, but is it based on evidence from such ballots having taken place in other realms, such as the candidate selection for Mayor of London, which has already been mentioned. However, there does not appear to be any evidence from these actual cases that anything untoward has happened. All of this, apart from being grounded in modern society and the way we live our lives, has to be grounded on an evidence-based approach rather than an opinion-based approach.
Our amendment advocates electronic and workplace balloting. Currently, all ballots and elections in trade unions must be conducted on a fully postal basis. Unlike major companies and other membership organisations, including political parties, trade union members have not been allowed to vote online. We cannot continue to leave trade union members behind; the system must be modernised. I was pleased to hear earlier that the Minister accepts electronic contact and communication in other areas relevant to the Bill.
The Government have consistently described the Bill as an attempt to modernise trade unions, but it does not appear that that is being allowed. We must seriously consider and take forward the use of electronic and workplace balloting. People are individuals for whom different options must be available. We all have preferences
Ian Mearns: One of the pleasures and privileges I have in the House is being Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. In the previous Parliament, from time to time we were presented with e-petitions from the official Government website. Of course, the Government accepted that those petitions had been signed in accordance with the rules and strictures, and that 100,000 online signatures were enough to secure a debate on a particular subject in either Westminster Hall or the main Chamber. Her Majesty’s Government accept the security of online petitioning; why not online balloting?
A 2014 Electoral Commission survey involving adults aged over 18 found that 42% of respondents felt that online voting would increase confidence in the way that elections are run in the UK by either “a lot” or “a little”, so there seems to be a level of public confidence. Those views were particularly prevalent among younger age groups. It is extremely important that younger people are able to engage in political parties, whether through joining those parties or though joining trade unions with political funds. I would like to see young people being encouraged to vote and make their voices heard. That way, methods such as postal voting, which might appeal more to other age groups, just as online voting appeals to the young, do not skew results towards certain sectors of society. Again, I emphasise the importance of personal choice for individuals in voting, as in every other aspect of our lives.
Ian Mearns: The hon. Lady has highlighted the fact that voting by post is becoming quite cumbersome and difficult. In Gateshead, there are fewer post boxes than there used to be and fewer daily collections. The Government really need to think about online voting, which would give trade unionists the right to take part in the important internal democracy of the trade union movement.
Dr Cameron: Hear, hear. I agree with that well-made point. We are in a modern age and have to keep up with the times. That includes looking at all the options. All the evidence—not opinion—appears to show that the safety of online voting has not been undermined. It should be considered seriously.
Workplace ballots should be permitted for statutory union elections and ballots. The 1992 Act already permits workplace ballots to be used for statutory recognition ballots, under schedule Al. Workplace ballots of that nature are secure and overseen by qualified independent persons. The procedure exists to give people choice. Fundamentally, that is what we need to do in this age. The public and society expect to have a choice of postal, workplace or electronic voting. They expect us to consider that seriously and rationally when we discuss these important issues.
According to the TUC, there is no evidence that workers feel intimidated into voting a particular way, particularly when ballots take place in the workplace. There has been a total of seven complaints about unfair practices by employers or unions during statutory recognition ballots since 2004, when new protections were introduced. Five of those complaints were made by unions and one by an employer, but none of the complaints was upheld. The Government indicate that electronic voting is not safe or that there should be caution. However, thousands of private sector, voluntary and political organisations use electronic voting every year. Electoral Reform Services alone manages more than 2,000 secure online ballots annually.
Chris Stephens: Surely that is the point. These e-ballots are independently scrutinised. The trade union is not running the ballot; it is appointing an independent scrutineer to carry out the ballot on its behalf. I hope that will persuade others on this issue.
Dr Cameron: That is another well-made point. The report by Electoral Reform Services indicates that online voting is no less secure than postal balloting and that there are risks associated with both. Essentially, there will be a level of risk in any balloting process.
In conclusion, we are in a modern age and we want to engage people from all aspects of society. We must give people choice that is in line with their everyday lives. Yes, there has to be an element of caution, but that has to be evidence-based, not based on opinion. We have good evidence that electronic voting is already working in many spheres of our lives. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Julie Elliott: I will try to be brief. Amendment 39 addresses electronic communications in regard to political funds. Electronic communication is essential in order to hit the Bill’s deadlines. As I have said before, there are almost 6 million trade union members in this country, and to communicate effectively with that number of people, and to get them to participate in a ballot, purely through the post is unrealistic.
The Bill says “either personally” and several other things. I am not sure whether the Government understand the way in which trade union branches are organised. Small workplace branches at the end of the street or in a place of work are few and far between. I have been a member of various branches in my several decades as a member of three different trade unions. At certain times I have been a member of a workplace branch, a branch particular to Sunderland, as I am at the moment, and, for many years of my career, a national branch based in London. Are the Government suggesting that travelling to the other end of the country is a reasonable thing to expect someone to do?
In evidence last week the Government showed a misunderstanding of who trade unions represent. Quite a number of trade union members are retired, because people do not stop being a trade union member when they retire. By virtue of being a retired member of society, such people are on a very limited income. In fact, many members that trade unions represent are on very small incomes. Do we really expect those people to be left seriously out of pocket when fulfilling their legitimate right to take part in a ballot to decide whether they want a political fund?
Moving on, electronic communication is absolutely common working practice in 2015. In every other arena, this Government want people to communicate electronically. I sat in a Committee Room for many weeks during the proceedings of the Welfare Reform Bill of 2012, in which the then Government introduced online applications for universal credit and discussed them for many other benefits. The Government therefore think electronically is a reasonable way to communicate sensitive personal information, the secure transmission of which leads to people getting the money that they need to live on, but they do not deem electronic communication acceptable for the communication of whether someone wants to contribute to a political fund. A debate was held just yesterday about registering to vote, which involves incredibly sensitive information such as national insurance numbers and dates of birth, but the Government view the electronic transmission of such information as acceptable.
We have also talked about the acceptance of online banking in this country. The hon. Member for Henley did not take my intervention, but regarding the 48% increase in banking fraud, I wonder what figure that is a percentage of. I think the hon. Gentleman was a tax adviser in his former life, and most tax returns—what more sensitive information is there than a tax return?—are done online. It is unbelievable to say that electronic communication is not widely accepted, is insecure and does not transmit information that is far more sensitive than a trade union member’s indication of whether they want their union to have a political fund.
Moving on to e-balloting, ballots and getting them right are absolutely key. As has been said previously in Committee, the balloting process is crucial. Everyone wants the result as quickly as possible, and an accurate result is essential for all sides to feel that procedures have been adhered to properly. In the evidence sessions, Opposition Members explored the fact that internal political ballots take place all the time, including for the Conservative mayoral candidacy in London. I also have much experience in secure workplace balloting, which is commonplace for recognition voting under right to recognition legislation. It is up to trade unions, their members and employers to decide in which format they want a ballot to take place, which varies enormously depending on whether the workplace is nine-to-five with people sitting at computers all day or a shift-pattern, industrial workplace. The range of balloting arrangements is enormous, but certification officers are always happy with such arrangements, and there are few challenges.
Secure workplace balloting is less disruptive and is over much more quickly than the methods proposed in the Bill. Let us not forget that trade union members could be taking part in a ballot that could affect their income. Many trade union members are low-paid workers, so the decision to lose a day’s pay is a significant decision that they would not take lightly. From the employer’s side, the quicker that it gets a result and thus a conclusion to what will have been by that point protracted negotiations will be to the benefit of all. I really cannot see why the Government are so opposed to e-balloting or secure workplace balloting.
Surely the aim of any part of the Bill is to get the maximum participation possible. That is what it should encourage, in line with the compliance measures for thresholds earlier in the Bill. On the one hand, the Bill seems to say, “We absolutely want almost everybody to
Chris Stephens: The article was about my thoughts on the first 10 weeks of Parliament. The headline was “Bizarre, Surreal, Orwellian”, which I think sums up quite nicely some of the arguments we hear from the supporters of the Bill, who talk about modernisation but will deny trade union members the right to use e-balloting.
I hope the Minister will explain why, in response to every written question I have asked him, a written answer comes back with a link to a website. If it is okay for him to do that to me, it is acceptable for a trade union to email its members with a link to a ballot paper. It is independently scrutinised. Companies such as Electoral Reform Services and MyVoice have been able to do that, and there have been no concerns about those ballots.
Nick Boles: Before getting into the meat of this, I start by emphasising how important line-by-line deliberation on the Bill is. We have been, and still are, very keen that every Opposition Member—it is particularly important for Opposition Members—can exploit that opportunity. We also, however, have a timetable agreed by the usual channels, and I am keen that all parts of the Bill, all amendments to it and all new clauses receive the same level of scrutiny, so that nobody can claim the Government somehow prevented the Bill from receiving that scrutiny. As a result, I will not deliver the more detailed response that had been prepared. My response will relate to the amendment and all the new clauses in this group, so that we can make some progress.
Where we started from in drafting the Bill was, in a very sense, very simple. We started by suggesting that all the new decisions we were asking union members to take should be communicated according to the existing methods provided in the legislation. It may have been naive of us to think that position would be unchallenged, but it was for no more sinister—the word used by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth—reasons than that. We were simply reflecting existing provisions in the Bill.
Since the Bill was published, there has been a great deal of debate in public, in evidence sessions and now in Committee about the question of alternative methods of voting—in particular, e-balloting. From the very first time that was raised, the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and I have made it clear that we have no objection in principle to online voting or e-balloting, as it is sometimes called. Indeed, I would go further: it would be extraordinary if, in 20 years’ time, most elections
It is incredibly important to acknowledge that the Open Rights Group, which gave evidence to the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy that only reported in January this year, is not some Tory front organisation. These people are genuinely concerned about a genuine question at hand—the legitimacy, safety and security of voting. It is important that the Opposition do not dismiss those objections out of hand by plucking out examples of very different decisions and transactions. Specifically, the particular matter when it comes to voting is the need to ensure that the system that captures the data does not allow the person casting the vote to be identified. That does not apply to banking transactions. Once someone is inside the secure system, it is fine for any part of that system to know their identity; indeed, it is critical that the system should know their identity, so that the money is transferred out of and into the right account.
With voting, the system needs to be anonymous, to preserve the individual’s privacy and secrecy; but it must also be able to guarantee the identity of the individual—that they are indeed the voter claiming that vote. It must be accountable, to guard against malpractice and fraud.
Ian Mearns: I am very grateful to the Minister, but even with the traditional form of voting in a general or local election in this country, it is still quite easily possible for the returning officer to identify the way in which a particular voter has voted; because when they go to a polling station they are given a ballot paper on which there is a number. There is a counterfoil on which the individual identifying letters and numbers from the register are put down, which has the same number on it, and the person puts their ballot in the box. At a later stage the returning officer could, if they were so minded, identify the number, check back and see who cast that ballot.
Nick Boles: That may well be the case, and of course there are also problems with postal ballots; but pointing to problems of fraud and malpractice in other traditional voting systems does not necessarily give support to a move to an entirely uncharted voting system.
There is only one—I think I will put it in layman’s language—respectable democracy, which we would all admire, that uses online voting for elections. That is Estonia, and the reason it can do it is that they have identity cards there. It is much easier to see how a system could work in such a situation, but the Conservative party and, indeed, many Members in the Labour party, resisted identity cards as a profoundly un-British step, because we do not want anyone to march up to us and
We are not willing to make piecemeal or rushed decisions about possible ways of overcoming the practical objections that have been identified to online voting, e-balloting or online communication. However, we have been clear about our position on the principle. We are willing to go through those arguments in later stages of the Bill. I assure the Committee that there is at least as much interest in the question in the other place, where there will also be an opportunity for scrutiny of the Bill.
I have no doubt that at some future time the practical objections that I have outlined will be overcome. It is a matter of time and human ingenuity. I have no doubt that we will get there, and we are happy to work with all members of the Opposition, and all groups outside Parliament, to ensure that eventually we do get there. However, at this point I urge the Committee to resist the amendment.
Stephen Doughty: I hope the Minister will respond to a point on which he has not responded: the issue of secure workplace balloting. It already happens and is seen as a secure method for other elections, yet he seems to be ruling that out as well. Perhaps he did not mean to, and perhaps he will come to that. I do not know whether he wants to intervene on me now, but I would like to hear what he has to say.
Nick Boles: The hon. Gentleman is right, and I glided over that because I was trying to avoid getting bogged down in a long speech. I am actually less persuaded about that than I am about the principle of online voting in the future, once the practical objections have been overcome. That is because I believe that the process that is in place that allows workplace balloting for union recognition votes is an extremely laborious one, in terms of the qualified party, or whatever it is called, and everything else. I would have thought that the idea that people will have to go through that process any time they want to hold a strike ballot is far worse than sending people postal ballots.
Secondly, there is this idea that the problem of potential intimidation in workplace ballots does not exist with union recognition, but I do not think it is an absolutely equivalent situation. In a decision on trade union recognition, all employees are deciding whether to vote to accept the presence of a trade union in the workplace. The employer can observe who is voting, but not whether they want to join a trade union. That contrasts with industrial action ballots, in which those entitled to cast a vote are, by definition, members of a trade union and may not want to be observed by their employer participating in the ballot. It is hard to see how there can be workplace balloting without enabling the employer to work out who in their workforce is promoting industrial action. I am actually less persuaded of the merits of that argument.
Stephen Doughty: I appreciate the Minister’s clarification, but I do not believe it stacks up. As we have made clear, there is a lot of support for our amendment from the trade unions that the Bill will affect, because they are entirely satisfied that the secure methods we have set
Chris Stephens: I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving way. Can he confirm that those organisations are doing that because they believe the turnout will be a lot higher if alternative methods of voting are used?
Stephen Doughty: I believe that is the case, because those organisations have the evidence for it. It was submitted in written evidence by a number of unions and in evidence to the consultations run by BIS. They made clear their experience of using those types of balloting methods and said that they feel secure with them. They also said that there is a very low incidence of claims of fraud or problems. As I said, none of the claims that were made—I think there have been only seven—was upheld.
Ian Mearns: Does my hon. Friend agree that the different forms of voting in a particular ballot are not mutually exclusive? Members of a union, prior to a ballot taking place, could easily inform the union about the way they would prefer to participate in the ballot. If, because of the reasons outlined by the Minister, they do not want to be seen to be voting in person in a secure workplace ballot, they would have the right to vote by post if they wished to do so.
Stephen Doughty: That is indeed the case. That is the very purpose of new clause 6, which would allow for so-called combination ballots. One, all or a combination of the different methods available could be used, depending on the practical circumstances of the organisation or union. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central set out clearly the different structures of the ways in which unions operate and the methods they might choose. Of course, employers are set up in many different ways. There are dispersed workforces and ones with a couple of out facilities. We need as many methods as possible to ensure the maximum participation.
This comes back to a very simple issue. If the Government are serious about increasing participation, democracy and the legitimacy of union engagement and decision making in society, most Committee members—and, I hope, the Minister, too—in their heart of hearts know, whatever they feel about the trade union movement, the Labour party and these issues in general, that this is not right. It will essentially prevent people in this country—we heard from the TUC that one in 10 people in this country may want to participate in such decision-making processes—from exercising their rights in the most sensible way possible. It will deny them the right to take part in decision making, and that cannot be right, given this House’s history of extending suffrage and the methods of voting, especially in this year, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. I do not say that lightly: this is simply not right, and the Government are refusing to contemplate these matters.
I accept that there are arguments about how to make these methods secure—nobody is denying that—but we have examples of where they are used already. They are used in many other parts of public life. They are used, for example, by law firms. King & Wood Mallesons holds online votes for members’ resolutions, board directorships, adoption processes and partners. I am sure it would want to ensure that the people taking part in those votes could not be identified either, yet it managed to use these methods. Pinsent Masons is currently holding an online election for its managing partner. Chevron had an online directors’ election for its May 2015 pension plan decision. Those are all serious, regulated matters, with serious implications if things are done incorrectly or if there is fraud or a lack of security.
Shell held six online elections in 2014-15, including its employee staff forum and member-nominated director elections. Then there is JP Morgan, Lloyds, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds of London, British Airways—the list goes on and on. The Government are relying very heavily on one piece of evidence, which I do not believe is categorical. Is the Minister really saying that this cannot be done? We have in this country an organisation called Electoral Reform Services, which provides excellent, secure, anonymous, efficient voting systems for many of the organisations I have mentioned and for many other political decision-making processes. Its staff are the experts. If the Government want to be serious, I am sure that they would sit down with the Government, address their concerns—for example, the Minister raised anonymity—and find a practical solution.
The Minister says that Estonia is the only place where electronic voting is used, but that is simply not the case. The United States uses electronic voting booths in a number of elections in a number of states. That is obviously not as far as we would like to go, but it would certainly address concerns about secure workplace balloting using electronic or non-electronic means. If the United States can do that in general, state and local elections, why are we not considering it or, preferably, going further? The Minister says there is no objection in principle, that it would be extraordinary if, in 20 years, it was not being used and that he is willing to go through the arguments, so I say to him: why not now? It is clear that this can be done; indeed, it is already being done, including in trade unions in the case of secure workplace balloting.
If the Government are really serious, they will consider our new clauses and return to this issue on Report and in the other place, and we can reach a solution that would remove a lot of the fear and concern about the sinister aspects of the Bill. People will see that the Government are at least serious about increasing participation. Committee members know that this is not right and that there should be a solution—indeed, it is intriguing that Government Members are not trying to intervene.
We will come to the new clauses in due course and bear in mind what happens now, but I want to test the principle relating to the opt-in by pushing amendment 39 to a vote. Let us see where the Committee sits and whether it might change its mind.
This is a drafting amendment linked to amendment 93.
The amendment would remove the transitional provision which prevents unions three months after commencement of the provisions from collecting monies from members for political funds unless they have made a choice to contribute.
The amendment would extend the transitional provision from three months to 10 years after which unions would be unable to collect monies from members for the political fund unless they had made a choice to contribute.
Nick Boles: Amendment 92 is a drafting amendment linked to amendment 93, which deals with the withdrawal of an opt-in during the three-month transition period. The Bill provides that, during the three months after commencement, members who are already contributing to a political fund will be treated as having opted in under the new system. That will allow unions to continue to deduct political contributions from those members for three months. At the end of that period, unless members have chosen to contribute under the new arrangements, they will no longer be able to contribute.
Amendment 93 makes it clear that a notice to withdraw during the transition period will take effect at the end of the month after it is served, which will ensure that members who no longer wish to contribute can stop doing so during the time of transition. This is a minor amendment to ensure that notice to withdraw an opt-in from members who are already contributing will be in line with the new provisions.
Amendments 40 and 41 seek to remove the three-month transition period between the old and the new opt-in arrangements for political funds. Amendment 40 would replace “three months” with “ten years”, which would mean that the new opt-in system would not apply to those who already contribute for a whole decade. Members
Amendment 41, on the other hand, would mean that all current contributions ceased on the day that clause 10 came into effect. A union would not be able to collect any funds until a member had actively opted in, which would be very extreme. Our transitional period strikes a balance. The purpose of the three-month transitional provision is to give unions and members a reasonable period to move to the new arrangements. We do not seek for contributions to cease from day one. Unions will still be able to collect funds for three months and members will have three months to put their new opt-ins in place.
Stephen Doughty: I intend to be brief. I do not have a lot to say about Government amendments 92 and 93, which, as the Minister pointed out, are minor. Given that we oppose the principle of this clause and what the Government are trying to do, I do not feel the need to say much more.
I want to speak briefly to amendment 40 on extending the transitional period. We will likely return to this issue on Report or in the other place. It is out of the ordinary for the Government to introduce such a short transitional period for extremely major measures that affect the funding and operations of trade unions’ political funds and other matters. We heard in oral evidence, and probably on Second Reading, that England has had two years to prepare for the introduction of the 5p plastic bag tax, so why, in such major legislation, are we being given only three months?
Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Minister says that 10 years is far too extreme, but amendment 40 is a probing amendment. Will he explain the reasoning, so that if we return to this issue, we can understand the Government’s full intent? What justification is there for a three-month transitional period? What other example is there of such major legislation allowing only three months to transition? Again, this looks like a deliberate attempt to frustrate legitimate adherence to the law by trade unions and other organisations. This is just another pile on top of a whole bunch of sinister regulations. The Government would not dream of doing this to any other part of business or to anyone else, claiming as they do to be the party of deregulation. There is one standard for the trade unions and one part of our civil society and another standard for others, including the Government and their own provisions—we have heard about plastic bags. I would like the Minister to explain that point, to which we will undoubtedly return at a later stage.
‘(4) During the period of three months beginning with the commencement date (“the transitional period”), the member is treated as a contributor to the fund for the purposes of the 1992 Act (as amended by this Act).
This is subject to subsection (5).
(5) If during the first two months of the transitional period the member gives an exemption notice as mentioned in section 84(1) of the 1992 Act, as it had effect immediately before the commencement date, subsection (4) ceases to apply to the member at the end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which the notice is given.”—(Nick Boles.)
The existing transitional provision, in subsection (4) of clause 10, treats union members who on the commencement date had not opted out of contributing as having opted in under the new provisions, for a period of three months. The amendment enables such people to opt out of contributing during this period.
The amendment would raise the threshold for providing details of items of political expenditure in a union’s annual return to the Certification Officer from £2,000 to £100,000.
The amendment would require a union’s annual return on political expenditure to the Certification Officer to report the overall amount of expenditure.
Stephen Doughty: I do not intend to detain the Committee long on this clause, but it concerns an important matter. Despite what the Minister might think, trade unions play a vital role in a dynamic British economy and are an integral stitch in the treasured patchwork of society. Whether they are standing up for workers’ jobs in Redcar or trying to save British steel making, trade unions are more important now than ever before. They play a pivotal role right across the UK in the work of organisations such as HOPE not hate,
One might conclude that clause 11 on its own sounds reasonable and simply ensures increased transparency. However, alongside the changes the Government made in the previous Parliament in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014—we call it the gagging Act—it forms part of a wider attack on our democracy. The 2014 Act has hit charities and campaigners hard, limiting their right to fight for important causes while allowing professional lobbyists and their funding to escape scrutiny. Expert organisations that have a vital contribution to make have been left unsure whether they are allowed to speak out, use funds and so on. The Government should not be afraid of criticism or lively debate. As I have said before, the Trade Union Bill is simply a dodgy sequel to the gagging Act.
Clause 11 provides the certification officer with new, wide-ranging powers to investigate how unions’ political funds are used and where the money goes. If the clause is accepted, a union will be required as part of its annual return to report to the certification officer on how all the expenditure from its political fund has been used, who it was paid to and for what purpose. The categories of spending include contributions to or the payment of expenses for a political party, provision of services or property for use by or on behalf of any political party, funding of a ballot by a union in connection with election to political office, the funding of conferences or meetings by or on behalf of a political party and party political electioneering material or products.
This clause, alongside so many other measures, will simply create significant new administrative burdens for trade unions, wrapping them further up in the blue tape that we have mentioned many times previously. It will also enable the Government to monitor how trade unions spend their resources and will invite additional public scrutiny, as political fund expenditure is likely to be published on the certification officer’s website alongside a union’s annual membership return. Therefore, will the rules apply to not only unions, but employers associations?
I want the Minister to explain the clause’s purpose, because much of the information is already out there in the public domain. I have referred to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests before, and it is clear where donations have been made. Trade union money is extremely transparent. The Labour party reports on it and the Electoral Commission looks at it. To comply with the other Acts that I have referred to, trade unions often make what they are spending very clear. USDAW’s “Freedom from Fear” campaign was captured by that last year because it was in the long period running up to a general election. I want to understand the real purpose behind the clause.
Let me turn to amendment 44. The new requirement to report to the certification officer on political fund expenditure will apply to unions spending more than £2,000 a year from a political fund. Clause 11, which will insert new section 32ZB(3) in the 1992 Act, will permit the Government to increase, but not to reduce, the threshold through regulations. Again, as with so many other examples in the Bill, we have not seen those regulations. Amendment 44 would increase the minimum threshold over which unions are required to report on
Amendment 45 would provide that unions report only on the overall amount of expenditure in any one year to any one organisation, rather than in extreme detail on the purposes of each individual contribution. The amendment highlights how the Government’s proposals mean that political expenditure by unions will be subject to much higher levels of scrutiny than that of other political donors. Again, the question is: why this rule for one but not for others? If the Government were producing a wide set of changes to political party funding transparency or to political funding in general—changes that applied, for example, to corporate donors and others—and if the unions were part of that, I think the public would understand more, but they are not doing that. This is a pernicious measure designed specifically to target trade unions.
Amendment 98 would remove the Government’s power to increase the minimum threshold over which unions are required to report on items of political expenditure from £2,000. Given that we have not seen the regulations and that this is one of the “Trust us, we’re the Government” clauses of the Bill, I want to understand whether—and, if so, when—they plan to increase the threshold, because the power could be used to compound even further the effects of this discriminatory clause, which affects only trade unions and not other political donors.
Julie Elliott: I have two brief points to make, because I know we are short of time. I want to speak in support of our amendments. The proposals in the clause are over-bureaucratic and, quite frankly, over-intrusive into the workings of trade unions.
The money raised in political funds is the most regulated money in politics anywhere in the world. It is transparent. If anyone looks at trade unions’ returns, they will see where the money has come from and where it is spent. To get to the level of declaring exactly what under £2,000 is spent on is absolutely ridiculous. Trade unions make other declarations and people make declarations about where trade union money is spent, and that links into the political funds. It is not just the political funds that have to make declarations; the Electoral Commission also gets spending declarations from trade unions.
A candidate who gets support from a trade union over a certain amount of money has to declare that to the commission. Election returns to returning officers throughout the country will also clearly state when trade unions have spent money on specific campaigns. What the clause asks for is already in the public domain, so I think it is nothing but politically motivated.
Ian Mearns: As my hon. Friend stated, information on all the funds that go directly from trade unions to political parties for campaigning is already open and transparent. What this clause does is put a fetter on trade unions’ other political spending for campaigns that will be imposed on no other part of civil society.
Julie Elliott: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. As I have said, there is no reason for this clause other than political motivation. If the Conservative party in government wants to look at how political parties are funded, I urge it to use the system of all-party talks that has worked for decades.
Nick Boles: I will try to reassure Opposition Members on a few points. They seem to be suggesting that this is somehow an egregious singling out of trade unions to require a level of transparency that does not apply to anyone else.
First, let me assure the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth that employers associations will be covered by the provisions in clause 11. Even more importantly, companies are already required to declare the details of spending on political activity above £2,000 per annum and have been for a long time. To require the same of trade unions therefore does not seem unfair or unreasonable.
There is currently inconsistency in the level of detail provided in union returns on political expenditure. Some unions are transparent and provide detailed information in their annual returns to the certification officer. We want the example of those unions that provide clear information to be followed by all. That is why we propose that where political expenditure is more than £2,000 per annum, expenditure should be broken down to detail the different items of spending. An equivalent provision applies to companies.
Jo Stevens: It seems implicit from what the Minister has just said that the Government believe that some trade unions are not being transparent in their declarations. Is there any evidence to back up that assertion?
Nick Boles: We want to ensure that all unions are declaring everything above £2,000, which is what the provision states, and currently not all unions do so. Amendments 44 and 45 would undermine the transparency that the clause seeks to achieve.
Let me turn to amendment 98. We propose that the Secretary of State may make regulations to increase the amount from £2,000. That will ensure the legislation is future-proofed. The regulations will not allow the amount to be decreased, which would make the provisions more onerous; it can only be increased. I am a little puzzled by the shadow Minister’s concerns, because all that would do is change the level of granularity required in trade unions’ declarations to reflect either inflation or changing circumstances in society. I therefore him urge hon. Members not to press their amendments.
(b) the total amount spent by an employer in a specified period on paying relevant union officials for facility time.”.
“and whether these are met in part or in full by a contribution from a trade union”.
“(f) a reasonable estimate of the cost savings to the employer of the arrangements relating to facility time in the relevant specified period; and
(g) a statement agreed by the employers and the relevant unions of the value of the arrangements relating to facility time.”.
“(f) the percentage of relevant union officials whose facility time is met by a contribution from a trade union in whole or in part”.
‘(12) No regulations under this section shall be made unless a draft of them has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”.
The amendment would change the regulation-making power from the negative to the affirmative procedure, requiring approval by both Houses of Parliament before regulations could come into force.
Dr Cameron: Our amendments relate to transparency and proportionality and ensuring that proportions are reported statistically, rather than in raw statistics, which may lead to the misinterpretation of what is reported. That is their basic aim.
Facility time is extremely important, as we have discussed. In regard to concerns about patient safety, facility time facilitates agreement. It means that management and the staff side can agree the times of meetings and ensures that they are not adjourned and repeatedly moved because people do not have time to attend. That reduces the impact on the workforce and disruption to the organisation.
I will be brief. Amendment 106 would require employers to report annually on the percentage, rather than the total number, of employees who are union officials. The amendment would avoid misrepresentation and highlight that union officials represent a very small proportion of the total public sector workforce.
Amendment 108 would require public sector employers to report annually on whether unions have contributed towards the costs of facilities and on the number of union officials employed by any public authority.
Amendment 107 would require public sector employers to report annually on the percentage of spending that is invested in trade union facilities, rather than on the total amount spent on union facilities. The aim of the amendment is to highlight the proportion of total spending invested by public authorities in trade union facilities. It is very low and represents significant value for money for business and workers.
Partnership arrangements between public sector employers and unions create significant benefits for everybody, including the wider public. The importance of such arrangements lies in the fact that they are creating safer working environments for employees, and that means that fewer days are lost to sickness and occupational injuries. They also mean that meetings are scheduled so that disputes can be resolved extremely quickly.
Stephen Doughty: The Government have an air of greater relaxation now that they realise they have their full team here. I will comment not just on my amendments in the group, but also on those of the SNP and on clause 12 more generally.
The proposals in clause 12 have the fingerprints of Lord Maude of Horsham all over them, because they mirror the measures implemented in Whitehall Departments by the Cabinet Office in 2012-13. Departments were expected to carry out more detailed monitoring and reporting of facility time, to report quarterly to the Cabinet Office, and to publish annually how much was spent on facility time. The Cabinet Office issued a guide figure for spending on facility time; in the first year, it was 0.1% of the pay bill. That included all facility time, time for health and safety representatives, and time for union learning representatives, who I believe we heard elsewhere had been funded, in fact, by the Government.
I will endeavour not to touch too much upon the arguments that will be made in response to Government new clause 11, which I know we will come to in due course, regarding check-off. But in tabling new clause 12, the Government are seeking to go much, much further than the measures they have already introduced, as it would provide the Government with the power to require all public sector employers—hospitals, schools and many more—to publish information each year on the amount of funds used for trade union facilities. This information would include the number of union officials employed, or the number of union officials within specified categories, for example shop stewards, health and safety representatives and union learning representatives; the amount of money that the employer spends on facility time, including what percentage of the total pay bill it constitutes; the amount of facility time spent on specific duties or activities, including health and safety, and accompanying members in grievance and disciplinary hearings; and information relating to facilities provided by the employer in connection with facility time, for example office space and the use of phone lines.
It is important to remind the Committee—as the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow has just done—what facility time is and why it is so vital. Facility time is the amount of time that workplace representatives, shop stewards, learning representatives, and health and safety representatives can spend representing their members in the public sector. These are people who do hard graft on the front line to protect their members’ interests effectively, for example by raising safety standards or promoting access to skills and training, and, of course, accompanying individuals to grievance and disciplinary hearings, which is crucial.
The benefits of facility time are clear, and not just for the employees but for the employers. I have experienced that myself. I worked at one point for Oxfam, which had a trade union representative who was able to use facility time, for example, to work with me—I was a manager at the time—in dealing with redundancy processes and other matters, to ensure that they were carried out to the benefit of both the employer and the employees, and so that everybody was satisfied.
Workplaces that have good facility time are likely to have better family-friendly policies and more effective equality policies, and indeed they are also likely to be safer workplaces. These workplaces also had lower voluntary exit rates, which led to an estimated saving in recruitment costs for employers of between £22 million and £43 million per annum. Negotiations between employers and unions can also facilitate innovation and change in furtherance of mutual objectives, and trade unions can also play a positive role in promoting skills, upskilling and training in workplaces, which I am sure the Government would wish to see increasing.
Also, where organisations face difficult economic conditions, or indeed the challenges that we face in the public sector with the type of changes and cuts that the Government have brought in, union representatives can develop fair processes for managing redundancies and restructuring. Clearly, there have been many examples of that in both the public sector and the private sector,
Ian Mearns: Another role that trade union officials can play is a welfare role. Many good employers are very good at looking after the welfare of their employees, but there are occasions when an individual will want to keep a welfare concern confidential from their employer, because they are concerned that the employer’s esteem for them could be damaged by it. In those circumstances, the care that the union can provide, in terms of looking after the welfare of the individual member, can be good for the employee and union member, and also good in the long term for the employer.
Stephen Doughty: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I believe that business, the public sector and society are mutually dependent—I am sure my hon. Friends agree with that—and that all succeed when individual workers succeed and feel supported, and vice versa. The MacLeod report, which was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and endorsed by the Prime Minister, suggested that managers should listen to concerns expressed by employees and their representatives, and concluded that addressing those concerns would increase levels of employee engagement, thereby helping to deliver sustainable economic growth—and, I am sure, efficiencies in the public sector.
Similarly, research by ACAS found that trade union representatives play an important role in improving workforce engagement and morale, by helping ensure that employees’ concerns about their working conditions are listened to and addressed. In turn, that can improve productivity, service quality and ultimately—a crucial point for the Government—the financial performance of organisations. All of those mutual benefits and many more could be at risk if the Government’s proposals on facility time are implemented in their current form.
I am pleased that other Governments across the UK have a different view from that of the Westminster Government. As we heard, the Welsh Government realise the value of such benefits. Their relations with trade unions are based much more on a partnership approach—the Scottish Government take a similar approach—rather than being provocateurs, which seems to be the position that some of the Minister’s colleagues have comfortably slipped into.
The proposed restrictions on facility time could damage constructive employment relations and undermine effective joint working between employers and unions in public services. The proposals also risk damaging the devolution settlement—we had a lengthy debate on that the other day—and could be subject to serious legal challenge. They are not a model for modern industrial relations, which is why we will oppose the clause.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments tabled by the SNP, and if they are pressed to a Division they will certainly get our support. The amendments represent a more useful and effective way of looking at facility time, and we agree with many of the concerns the SNP has raised.
Amendment 46 would mean that public sector employers would be required to publish only the number of union officials employed and the total amount invested in facility time, rather than more detailed breakdowns of
Amendment 50 concerns the process by which any regulations are agreed. We need to ensure maximum scrutiny of any regulations on this matter. We have already seen the Government attempt to sneak in all sorts of things through the back door with the Bill: they have not published regulations or brought out the responses to consultations, which should have happened before we were in Committee. Amendment 50 would ensure that future regulations requiring public sector employers to publish information on facility time would have to be debated in both Houses. The Government currently plan to use the negative procedure for such regulations, so there would be no debate unless the regulations were prayed against. Given the rushed nature of the consultation, and of parts of the current scrutiny process, I am sure many people outside this place would agree that any future regulations deserve much more adequate scrutiny so that we can get to the bottom of what the Government are trying to do.
Jo Stevens: The proposals on facility time illustrate the lack of understanding we have seen from the Government about how trade unions operate and the benefits they deliver, not just for their members but for employers. There has been precious little evidence given for the attack on facility time in the Bill, as we saw when unevidenced assertions were presented by the witness from the TaxPayers Alliance last week.
I will talk about two aspects relating to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend. My first point is a general one about facility time, in the health service in particular. In 2007, the then Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform looked at the issue as a precursor to revising the ACAS code of practice on facility time for union reps. If the Minister had compiled a report such as that one before the Bill was drafted, he would have found that union reps make a significant contribution to increasing productivity, making their workplaces safer, reducing the costs of recruitment and helping business to become more responsive to change, by helping staff acquire new skills in addition to updating those they already have. That report showed tens of millions of pounds of savings to employers and the Exchequer by reducing the number of employment tribunal cases, although I will admit that the Government have done a pretty good job on that by introducing tribunal fees and pricing people out of access to justice. The report also showed the benefits to society worth hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of reducing working days lost due to workplace injury and work-related illness. Follow-up research by the TUC pointed to overall productivity gains worth between £4 billion and £12 billion to the UK economy.
More recent research carried out for the Royal College of Nursing by the University of Warwick and Cass Business School backed up the 2007 report. The analysis found that work carried out by trade union representatives in NHS organisations was estimated to save the health service at least £100 million a year. In times of such
“The health service can ill-afford further damage to staff morale, or to squander even more money on recruitment costs. The trade union bill is bad for staff, employers and most importantly it is bad for patients.”
I want to briefly mention the health and safety representatives and the impact of the Bill on their valuable work. There is, of course, a legal duty on employers to give health and safety representatives as much paid time off as they need to undertake their duties. That is laid down in regulations and it is absolute. The regulations do not say that an employer can decide to restrict that time. If a representative needs it, they need it, and that will vary from week to week, but the Bill says that any public sector employer who has at least one health and safety representative will have to record and publish all the time taken and the facilities provided. That is bureaucratic and pointless, and will just mean that employers and union representatives will have to spend a significant amount of time on paperwork.
Even more dangerous is the proposal to allow Ministers to restrict the rights to time off given to union health and safety representatives by amending the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. All they have to do is introduce new regulations. The proposal is extremely vindictive and underhand, sneaking in the right to do this, by statutory instrument, into a much wider Bill. At no time have the Government given any justification for that proposal.
Union health and safety reps save hundreds of lives and prevent tens of thousands of injuries and illnesses to working people. Workplaces with union health and safety reps and joint health and safety committees have half the serious injury rates of those without. Any reasonable employer welcomes the presence of health and safety representatives, including almost all those in the public sector. That is why this proposal will not save money or remove bureaucracy—nor, more importantly, will it improve safety in workplaces. It has the potential to do the opposite.
Before coming to this House, I represented many people who had suffered the death of a family member in workplaces without health and safety reps, I ask the Minister, please, to seriously consider the proposal.
Chris Stephens: I wish to speak in favour of my party’s amendments. First, information gathering has to be consistent, and information has to be presented in a consistent fashion. Our real fear about the clause is that it is deliberately designed to ensure that the information presented puts the trade union movement in a bad light. It is the percentage in each of the subsections that should apply, because that is the most relevant and consistent measure. The statistics need to be clear so that people really understand what the cost to employers is in percentage terms.
As the hon. Member for Cardiff Central indicated, part of the debate has been shaped by the TaxPayers Alliance, using freedom of information legislation. Part of the problem with that is that the answer often depends on what questions are asked and how they are asked. It is ironic that that organisation has flourished at a cost to the taxpayer through its use of FOIs.
We also think it important that information should indicate where the trade unions have provided a contribution. For example, I was active in one trade union and I know that it paid the full salary of people who were on its national executive committee. Unions do make a contribution; they pay their employers for access to offices, telephones and the like. If this is an assault on facility time, we need to be clear about the damage that it will do—health and safety checks not being complied with, interfering with the great work that the learning reps are doing already—and it seems to be without any support across the public sector. It also impacts on some of the constitutional debate that we had earlier. There will of course be a debate on the clause later, and I ask hon. Members to support the SNP amendments.
Nick Boles: I apologise again for arriving late, due to a misunderstanding about the time at which we had been requested to return. We will try to make as rapid progress as possible to make up for it.
The Chair: Order. On that point, it is the convention—I have been in the House for many years—that when the Chair says 15 minutes from the last Division, he normally means 15 minutes from the start of the Division. I do not want to embarrass anyone, but just so we know where we stand in future.
There is less difference between the Government and the Opposition than Opposition Members have tried to make out. They have made an eloquent defence of union learning representatives, health and safety representatives and other union officials who perform union duties in the workplace. No one on the Government Benches disagrees with the value that such people add to their workplaces or the extent to which they can help ensure that workplaces are safe, while also offering opportunities for people to advance and progress.
If you listened only to the speeches of Opposition Members, Sir Edward, you would have concluded that somehow we were banning facility time. All we are seeking to ensure, however, is that there is transparency about facility time. Conservative Members, previously in coalition and now as a Government on our own, passionately believe in the power of transparency to lead to good decisions. Transparency gives the public who pay our salaries and those of everyone in the public sector—the public should truly be referred to as the employers in the public sector—an ability to make a reasonable judgment about whether public sector bodies are managing their money well. The public are absolutely
Nick Boles: No, I am not, because clause 13 does not ban facility time. It would take a reserve power—one that we would not like to use and would only use reluctantly—to cap the amount that can be spent on facility time, which is a very different thing from banning it altogether.
Stephen Doughty: I wanted to ask a similar question. I am incredulous that the Minister is asking us to believe that he is introducing a reserve power, which is very wide ranging, without the intention of using it, in particular given what we know about what happens in Whitehall Departments. They want to get as much information on the table so that the Government can then step in and cap things. Is that not what the Government are trying to do?
Nick Boles: I understand that the hon. Gentleman will always think the worst of us and that I am probably not going to be able to persuade him otherwise. If we wanted to do that, however, why are we not introducing a cap now? We have a figure based on the civil service—we introduced transparency on facility time, which produced a substantial drop in the amount of public money spent on facility time—and we could perfectly well introduce a cap now. We even probably have the votes for it, but we are not doing so, and the reason why we are not doing so is that we do not want to go there. We do not want to have to resort to that. We want transparency to do the work that Conservative Members have consistently always believed that transparency does.
It is getting late, so I shall turn to the detail of the amendments. The Government want to promote transparency and public scrutiny of facility time, and encourage public sector employers to moderate the amount of taxpayers’ money they spend on such time in the light of that scrutiny. At a time of fiscal consolidation, it is unacceptable for taxpayers’ money to be spent on facility time without proper monitoring and controls.
Amendment 46 seeks to limit the range of publishable information to two figures: the total number of union representatives and the total cost of facility time. The Government resist those limitations. We have already seen the success of the reforms to facility time in the civil service. The percentage of the civil service pay bill spent on facility time has fallen by three quarters, representing a saving for taxpayers to date of more than £52 million. I have not heard reports of a lack of access to learning representatives or health and safety representatives in civil service workplaces. All employers whose spending on facility time is funded by taxpayers should be held to the same scrutiny. Taxpayers deserve that.
It is particularly important to monitor the amount of time spent on trade union activities, for which there is no legal right to paid time off work. I repeat: trade union activities are different from trade union duties. We all accept the not only legitimate but socially important and economically valuable role of trade union duties, but that is different from trade union activities. Public sector employers and the taxpayers who pay them must be able to distinguish between such activities and business or employee-facing trade union duties, for which there is a legal right to paid time off work.
We also consider that the percentage of public sector employers’ pay bill that is for facility time should not be omitted. Simply providing a total cost would not allow benchmarking against other public sector employers or the private sector, and would be almost meaningless on its own. The publication of the cost of union representatives’ use of their employers’ facilities should not be left out either. It can include the provision of telephones, photocopiers and dedicated office space. All public sector employers need to ensure that such use, to which there is no general legal right, is appropriate and represents value for taxpayers’ money.
Amendment 74 seeks to expand the range of information that relevant public sector employers are required to publish. They would have to estimate and publish the cost savings made from their existing facility time arrangements. They would also have to agree with relevant unions and publish a statement of the value of those arrangements. We recognise that union representatives play important roles in the workplace, which include dealing with disputes locally and effectively, helping to keep workplaces safe and meeting employees’ learning needs. We also recognise that many union representatives give their own time in addition to facility time to support their colleagues both individually and collectively, but where facility time is publicly funded, employers and unions must ensure it is spent as efficiently as possible.
The Government are confident that our proposals will deliver efficiency savings. A reduction in spending on facility time across the wider public sector to levels similar to the civil service currently would deliver estimated savings of around £150 million annually—£150 million that could be spent on employing more nurses, on schools and on better serving the people who elect us to this place.
Stephen Doughty: Given that the Minister wants to publish costs, why is he not willing to accept our amendment, which would ensure that the economic value provided by facility time is also made clear? If he does not want to introduce this cap but wants all the information and the facts out there, what could be wrong with our amendments?
Nick Boles: I have absolutely no objection to any employer trying to estimate such figures and publishing them. The difficulty is that the cost of facility time is a fact that will already be in the system of any employer. Employers know who they employ. They know how much employees are paid and therefore how much their time is worth, as well as what time they are spending on their job and on union duties and activities. The hon. Gentleman is asking employers to project or estimate values, because that value is not captured. Nobody is paying for it, and there is no customer putting a price
Ian Mearns: I cannot help feeling that in the past couple of minutes the Minister has encapsulated what an awful lot of people have thought about the Conservative party for an awful long time: they know the cost of everything, but the value of very little.
Nick Boles: I said this right at the start and will repeat it: I work incredibly closely with Unionlearn. Last night, after the House rose, I was at an event with the person who runs Unionlearn. It is a terrific organisation. It is absolutely integral to our plans to increase the number of people with access to apprenticeships. I do not need anyone to tell me how valuable that work is, but I do not believe that it is necessarily a good use of public sector organisations’ time to be producing reports estimating that value. Just make the argument; they are making the argument very well. As I say, the restrictions on facility time in the civil service have not produced great reports of a lack of availability of health and safety or union learning advice in the civil service. They have just brought a welcome reduction in the amount of money spent on the less justifiable union activities that are not protected by the law and do not produce the kind of value that the hon. Gentleman argues we should appreciate.
Chris Stephens: The Minister mentioned two figures: first a £52 million saving and then a £150 million target saving, which I think alarmed many of us on the Opposition Benches. Will he break down those figures for the Committee and explain how they were arrived at?
Nick Boles: I would be very happy to ask the Cabinet Office to circulate that information. The £150 million is an estimate of what saving might be achieved if the wider public sector made the same sort of journey that the civil service has made since the introduction of transparency on facility time.
On amendment 50, the Government consider that the negative resolution procedure is appropriate and would provide the appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny. The regulations in question will impose publication requirements on different categories of relevant public sector employer. For example, the Secretary of State for Health will make regulations imposing publication requirements on NHS employers.
The negative resolution process is also appropriate for the power to add a body that is not a public authority but is to be treated as such for the purposes of the publication requirements. The power will not be used to bring into scope private or voluntary sector providers of contracted-out public services. Nor is it our intention to apply the publication requirements to private individuals, companies, partnerships or the like.
Subsection (9) of clause 12 will enable the power to be used only where the body has functions of a public nature and is funded wholly or partly from public
Stephen Doughty: May I ask a very specific question? The Minister just said that the Secretary of State for Health would make regulations relating to facility time in the health service. Does not that expose the problem with the devolution settlement that we have described in the debates on earlier measures? Is the Minister suggesting that the Secretary of State for Health will make regulations that affect facility time in the health services of Scotland and Wales, which are wholly devolved and under the control of Health Ministers in those countries?
Nick Boles: Yes, because, of course, health policy and the management of the NHS in those countries will remain, as part of the devolution settlements, in the control of the Governments of those devolved—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman has made his point; I disagree with it. There is no question on that point.
On amendment 106, the aim of the publication requirements is to provide transparency to the taxpayers who fund the arrangements. The information published must therefore be relevant and accessible and lend itself to comparison across categories of public sector employers. Publishing the total number of union representatives is simpler for employers and accessible to the public. It is completely reasonable to assume that, where an employer values its representatives, it will know who they are and therefore their number. If taxpayers require comparison on a percentage basis to consider the publication fully, they can scrutinise the publication of the percentage of the total paybill that is spent on facility time. That figure will give a clear indication of how much resource in the organisation is used for facility time, which will provide comparison between organisations of different sizes.
Amendment 107 would replace the requirement to publish the total amount spent by an employer on facility time with the percentage of the total cost of facility time to the employer, including that funded by the trade unions. Amendment 108 would add that information to the publication requirements, but without also requiring the removal of the requirement to publish the total amount spent on facility time.
Together with the reserve powers in clause 13, the publication requirements deliver our manifesto commitment to tighten the rules on taxpayer-funded paid facility time. Where taxpayers fund facility time, as they do in the public sector, they deserve to have transparency about how much it costs. Providing the total cost will allow them to scrutinise spending, at both an employer level and a national or sector-wide level.
I now move on to amendment 109. Facility time covers a wide variety of trade union duties and activities, from employer-facing duties, such as collective bargaining or representing a member in a grievance hearing, to union-facing activities, such as voting in a union election or attending a union conference. It is unlikely that taxpayers would be surprised to learn that trade unions
Nick Boles: If I have information to give the hon. Lady now, I will do so before I reach the end of this speech, but if I do not, I will write to the Committee before our next meeting so that the matter can be raised if there are further questions.
Including information that the trade union would need to calculate whether it pays for its own representatives does not improve transparency about what is happening with taxpayers’ money, because taxpayers are not funding the union’s contribution. If the trade unions want to supplement an employer’s publication by providing information of their own, we would welcome that move towards transparency. Our purpose is to ensure that taxpayers receive value for their money, and placing such a requirement on the trade unions would not meet that aim.
Chris Stephens: Surely it would benefit the taxpayer if public sector employers could demonstrate that trade unions made a contribution, whether to the office, to utilities or even, as I indicated, to the salaries of trade union reps who hold senior office in the trade union.
Nick Boles: I was very clear that we strongly encourage unions to make that information available where it is true. As the requirements on transparency for the taxpayer’s contribution to funding union duties and activities come through, I am sure unions will also want to present their contribution to those valuable roles, and they have every right to do so. However, it would not be right to place on taxpayers the requirement to prepare and publish that information. Ultimately, taxpayers do not pay that money to do the trade unions’ job of publication for them.
Finally—I hope this answers the question that the hon. Member for Cardiff Central asked about whether facility time has ever covered conference attendance—civil service transparency in the past few years showed that conference attendance by union officials was paid for by Departments in some cases. I will send the Committee the details of those cases, and I will circulate them to Members. There were cases of it in the past.
Nick Boles: And the beauty of transparency is that it will reveal all, and if there are no problems and if nothing is unjustified, the public will be reassured and I will be entirely delighted. On that basis, I ask the hon. Members to withdraw their amendment.
The Chair: Order. The House has now adjourned. I can go on all evening, but of course it is up to hon. Members, some of whom have very long journeys. You can speak for as long as you like, but it is up to you.
Stephen Doughty: Sir Edward, I do not intend to detain the Committee for very long at all. I hope we can come to a conclusion quickly. I am still intrigued by the cat that the Minister let slip out of the bag, which is that the Secretary of State for Health or perhaps the Secretary of State for Education might exercise the powers that we will discuss when we come to clause 13 to cap facility time. It would be helpful if the Minister wrote to the Committee before we debate clause 13 to indicate who will use the information contained in clause 12 and who will apply the powers in clause 13. The devolved Governments of the UK will take a keen interest in that, as will other members of the Committee. Will the Minister undertake to write to us to clarify that before we get to clause 13?
Stephen Doughty: Excellent. I do not intend to press our amendments to a vote at this stage, but we may well return to them later. However, there are serious implications. We must not forget what we have discussed and the benefit that facility time can provide.
Dr Cameron: I think it is quite startling for the Minister to say that he wishes for transparency and for the public to understand the proportionality of the measures, without agreeing that they should know the proportions and the percentages. That appears incongruous to me. It is important to have transparency, which is why the SNP wishes the public to know the full picture. We wish them to see what is contributed by unions and the percentage of time that is spent. As we all know, figures by themselves can look large or misleading, and people can read into them things that are not there. The public need to know the proportions.
The public have also raised in surveys their deep concern about safety issues. We take that seriously, and we feel that facility time must be encouraged. As I said, facility time is not something that unions often do without agreement from employers. Employers know that it is good value for money. They know that it means that disputes are brought to much speedier agreement, and that investing in their staff and in a safer workplace environment leads to learning and happier staff and fewer sick days, and is better for business.
The public are not asking for the measures. The devolved Governments are not asking for the measures. Certainly managers in business are not specifically requesting them. I find it extremely disingenuous of the
The amendment would remove safety representatives from the definition of union officials for the purposes of the publication requirements in relation to facility time.
The amendment would remove safety representatives from the definition of union officials for the purposes of the publication requirements in relation to facility time.
Chris Stephens: Amendment 110 would remove learning representatives and health and safety representatives from the information requirement. We return to the debate about what the problem is. Is it a pressing issue that people are concerned about use of public money, or is it just pandering to the agenda of the Taxpayers’ Alliance? Again, we have outlined the benefits of learning representatives to other employees, not just trade union members, and of safety representatives to ensuring safety at work. That is a serious issue on which we have advanced by leaps and bounds. Our amendment is clear: learning reps and health and safety reps should be taken out of the requirement to publish information.
Stephen Doughty: I will speak to amendments 47, 100, 48 and 102. It is important to consider who is covered by clause 12 so that we understand the sorts of roles that are affected. We have already had a lengthy debate on this subject, but it is important that the Committee knows that, for example, the Fire Brigades
We have just heard from the SNP about amendment 110, which would remove trade union learning and safety representatives from the definition to which facility time publication requirements will apply. Our amendments 47 and 48, in a similar vein, would remove health and safety representatives from the reporting requirements in relation to facility time.
As we have heard, trade union workplaces are safer workplaces, which is largely due to tens of thousands of union health and safety reps being trained to internationally recognised standards each year. Trade unions regularly raise safety concerns through health and safety committees and collective bargaining arrangements, which, fundamentally, leads to far fewer workplace accidents not only in professions such as the fire service, where obviously there is significant risk, but in many other workplaces too.
According to research commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry—the forefather, or foremother, of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—in 2007, by reducing time lost to occupational injuries and work-related illnesses, union safety reps save taxpayers between £181 million and £578 million every year at 2004 prices. We have just had an argument on transparency, and the Minister said that we cannot estimate some of these things, but this is a clear example of where his own Department has estimated such things, following serious research, to be worth a significant amount of money. I am sure the sum is even higher today.
Amendment 100 would remove trade union representatives in disciplinary and grievance procedures from the definition of union officials for the purposes of the requirements in relation to facility time, which would mean that public sector employers are not required to report on the amount of time that union officials spend accompanying members in grievance and disciplinary hearings each year. Fundamentally, the amendment aims to highlight the vital role played by union workplace representatives in representing members in formal procedures in the workplace.
We have already heard a number of relevant examples. ACAS research in 2008 found that managers see union representatives undertaking such work as having a crucial and positive role in the informal process of dispute resolution. The research found that union representatives often provide an early warning of potential problems and are a channel of communication between managers and employees. They are also seen as helping to monitor members involved in disciplinary or grievance issues. Within formal hearings, most managers found that union representatives help to ensure that issues are
I have already talked about amendments 47 and 48. Amendment 102, much like amendment 100, would remove trade union representatives in disciplinary and grievance procedures from the definition of union officials for the purposes of the requirements in relation to facility time, for the reasons that I have previously given. Those are important issues, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about them.
Nick Boles: Amendments 110, 47 and 48 are designed to limit the information published under our transparency regulations by excluding certain categories of trade union representative. I have already explained that the Government greatly value the work of learning representatives and health and safety representatives from trade unions. An employer must allow them as much paid time off work as is necessary or reasonable to perform their statutory functions, and we absolutely do not propose to change that rule. We simply want to ensure that the time that trade union representatives collectively spend on union duties and activities during working hours at taxpayers’ expense is justifiable and accountable, and that it represents value for money.
Clause 12 will enable Ministers to make regulations requiring public sector employers with one or more union representatives to publish information relating to facility time for those representatives. The information that employers could be required to publish includes the number of such representatives, such as learning and safety representatives, and how many of them spend a specified percentage of their time on their union role.
Reporting on facility time for learning and safety representatives is not new. The civil service has reported on paid time off for learning and safety representatives, together with general representatives, since 2013. The information on facility time that local authorities in England are required to publish includes the total number of staff who are union representatives, whether general, learning or safety representatives.
Amendments 47 and 48 are both designed to remove the requirement to exclude safety representatives from the information that is required to be published about facility time. Where an employer efficiently uses facility time for safety representatives, it is not unreasonable to expect the employer to know who those representatives are and how much of their time they spend on their union role. Where taxpayers fund the facility time of those representatives, they have the right to know how their money is being spent. We consider that all public sector employers should have to publish information about facility time for all types of union representatives, including safety representatives. They should not be required, as is proposed in amendments 47 and 48, to give taxpayers a less than full picture of their spending on facility time; they should be transparent about all of it.
Moving on to amendment 110, in the public sector paid facility time for a learning representative is in no way less of a cost to the taxpayer than paid facility time for a general representative or a safety representative. Not to include some costs of facility time based on the specialism of a particular representative would be misleading, and it would not deliver our intentions of giving taxpayers transparency about the facility time that they fund. Removing the requirement to publish information for specialist representatives, who are in a minority, would have a detrimental effect on the validity of the publication and be unlikely to save the employer significant time, if any.
Workers have a statutory right to be accompanied by a trade union official to a disciplinary or grievance hearing. That is a significant amount of trade union facility time, which is why we believe that it should be included in the publication requirements. Because we believe that that statutory right is right, and we have no intention of changing it, we want to understand the cost of the time that is involved in fulfilling it. Paid time off for a trade union official to attend such hearings is no less of a cost to taxpayers than any other category of paid time off for facility time, so there is no reason why it should be excluded from the publication requirements. Indeed, to exclude that cost would be misleading, because it would prevent taxpayers from ascertaining the true total cost of facility time in the public sector. Local authorities in England, and the civil service, have already agreed that that information should be published without exclusions for time spent attending such hearings. It would not be helpful transparency for some parts of the public sector to include some areas in their costs while others exclude them, because that would not allow taxpayers to make comparisons. I therefore ask hon. Members to withdraw the amendment.
Chris Stephens: We keep hitting a brick wall in terms of the Government’s attitude to this. They keep using the words “not justifiable”, but I believe that anyone undertaking duties as a safety rep or a learning rep is justifiable. What would be the issue on that basis?
Nick Boles: I have been trying to make progress, but I am stung by that remark. I have never claimed that the work of learning representatives and health and safety representatives is not justifiable—in fact, I have argued absolutely the opposite. If the hon. Gentleman believes that it is absolutely justifiable, why on earth does he oppose simply publishing the cost of it?
‘(13) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to facility time of the employees of an individual, a company, a partnership or any other body save a public authority”
Stephen Doughty: I do not intend to detain the Committee for long. The amendments are probing to understand fully what the Government mean by new section 172A(9), which is contained within the clause and would amend the 1992 Act. It would provide the Government with the power to extend the duty to publish information on facility time to an organisation that has
What sort of organisations—private and voluntary sector—will the new reporting requirements encompass? I see no reason why a private corporation should be brought into this part of the Bill. The definition of “wholly or partly” is left open. Voluntary sector organisations and private bodies that engage in Government contracts want to understand the Government’s intent. Is it the intention to encompass all sorts of organisations or only a specified few? Our amendments ask that question and we suggest even removing the section. Amendment 99 would ensure that the proposed new reporting requirements on union facilities would apply only to public authorities as clearly defined by our amendment. I hope the Minister can clarify. However, the amendments are probing and I do not intend to press for a Division.
Nick Boles: I thank the hon. Gentleman for explaining the purpose of the amendment. The explanatory notes to the clause give examples of relevant public sector employees. The clause contains a power to provide that a person or body that is not a public authority but has functions of a public nature and is funded wholly or partly from public funds is to be treated as a public authority for the purposes of subsection (2) and is therefore subject to the publication requirements.
The proposed new section deliberately does not define what is meant by a public authority, because that term has a commonly understood meaning. However, the boundaries of that term can be uncertain. Therefore, subsection (9) is designed to enable us to deal with any cases in which there could be uncertainty that a taxpayer-funded body is a public authority, such as an academy trust.
That is an important point, so I take the opportunity to place it on the record that it is absolutely not our intention to catch, for example, private or voluntary sector providers of contracted-out public services. Nor is it
Stephen Doughty: I thank the Minister for that clarification. I take it he means that, for example, a charity receiving a small grant—say £10,000—from the Government for a particular function would not be included in the legislation. Is that correct?
“(13) The provisions in this section shall only apply with the consent of the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London and Local Authorities in England in their areas of responsibility.”—(Chris Stephens.)