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House of Lords

Thursday, 19 November 2015.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Introduction: Lord Bruce of Bennachie

11.08 pm

The right honourable Sir Malcolm Gray Bruce, Knight, having been created Baron Bruce of Bennachie, of Torphins in the County of Aberdeen, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Baroness Rock

11.14 am

Kate Harriet Alexandra Rock, having been created Baroness Rock, of Stratton in the County of Dorset, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Feldman of Elstree and Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Police: Officer Offences


11.19 am

Asked by Baroness Doocey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many serving police officers in England and Wales have been convicted of offences of violence or dishonesty in the past 10 years.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, the Home Office does not currently hold data related to police officers convicted of certain categories of offences centrally. These are held at individual force level.

Baroness Doocey (LD): I thank the Minister for that response. I asked all police forces whether any of their officers who carry guns and Tasers have convictions for physical violence. Half the police forces were unable to answer; one police force said that it would require a PNC check on every officer in order to answer the question; and one police force said that the data it could provide may not be accurate because officers may not have reported the fact that they have had a conviction. Does the Minister share my concern that this appalling lack of data could have very serious consequences?

Lord Bates: I certainly do share the noble Baroness’s concern about that. The College of Policing, which was set up to raise standards in this very important area, has said that in all but the most exceptional circumstances it would not expect anybody with any conviction, except the most minor conviction perhaps committed in their youth, to be on the force. Therefore,

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the type of circumstances that the noble Baroness refers to should not arise. Of course, one issue is that, because of the particular legal entity of a police constable, it is a matter for the local constabulary to act upon that, and we very much hope that they will.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl): My Lords, is the Minister aware that when I joined the police service, many decades ago now, each applicant had to be fully vetted? As well as that, the applicant’s spouse and family were also vetted. I noticed recently that pass-holders on the Parliamentary Estate are also required to go through a similar strict vetting procedure. Does the Minister draw any conclusion from that?

Lord Bates: We draw the conclusion that that needs to be improved. We recognise that. That is one reason why the College of Policing has introduced a new code about how vetting is undertaken. At the moment, it is done on a constabulary by constabulary basis and there are differences. We want best practice across all constabularies. A new authorised, professional standard of vetting is being issued and is expected to be introduced across all the constabularies in the country.

Lord Marlesford (Con): Does my noble friend agree that conviction in open court for a criminal offence is a matter of public record? Will he therefore take steps to obtain the information which the noble Baroness asked for and publish it in Hansard, with the names of those concerned, the dates of conviction, the offences for which they were convicted and the sentences that they were given, as soon as possible?

Lord Bates: My noble friend is right to say that it is a matter of public record. What we are trying to do here in the wider sense is to have a central role for the College of Policing, which we have established, to raise standards across a whole raft of areas. It has now introduced a “struck off” list. Some 444 police officers have been struck off, and that is a matter of public record. We have also said that disciplinary hearings need in future to be held in public and to be chaired by an independent, legally qualified individual. These are all steps in the same direction that I think the noble Lord wants to go.

Lord Rosser (Lab): A recent freedom of information request asked how many officers and PCSOs had been convicted of criminal offences since 2012 and for the total number of serving officers with criminal convictions. What was surprising from the outcome of that FoI request was the number of police forces—nearly half—which declined to provide the information sought on grounds of cost or did not respond at all. Of course, the overwhelming majority of police officers are committed to their job and to serving their community and it is important to place that on the record, but since police and crime commissioners were meant to provide greater police accountability to the public, do not the Government find it surprising that PCCs would not have already obtained for themselves the information sought in the FoI request to which I have referred about their own force, including the policy on

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recruiting new officers with previous convictions and retaining in the service those convicted of offences while in the force? That clearly could not have been the case in respect of those PCCs for those forces which did not provide the figures sought.

Lord Bates: One role of the PCC is to have exactly that conversation with the chief constable in their area and to make sure that they are aware. When I looked into the detail of those freedom of information requests—which, on face, cause me as much distress as I am sure they cause the noble Lord—I found that in many cases, while there was a conviction for a current officer, that was countered by the fact that they were still undergoing gross misconduct procedures or appealing a particular decision. That was one of the reasons why those figures came out, but those conversations should be going on as a routine matter between PCCs and chief constables to maintain public confidence.

Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Freedom of Information Act has been important in eliciting information on this question and many others? Will he give the House an assurance that the Government will not weaken that Act?

Lord Bates: Certainly for individual forces there can be a great cost of that. That is one of the reason why we need better systems of central reporting. For example, from next year the annual data return will collect misconduct and conviction numbers. That can be done centrally and therefore there will not be a greater need for freedom of information requests. That will be better all round.

Lord Blair of Boughton (CB): My Lords, I think that this is actually a problem of recording rather than having convicted officers still in the force. The reason for that is that they will have been charged in a police station and that fact will have gone to the professional standards department and the chief constable. If they are convicted, they will be put on a discipline hearing, which has the power to dismiss if someone has been convicted of an offence. The problem is not that we will have lots of people wandering around wearing blue uniforms who have been convicted of violence and dishonesty but that we do not know how many have been convicted. That is still a problem, but it is not the same as the hideous idea that there are lots of people with serious convictions inside the police service.

Lord Bates: On that point the noble Lord is absolutely right. The number who have been struck off, which I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was 444 out of 127,000 serving police officers. It is absolutely right that the vast majority behave to the highest possible standards of integrity.

Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords, is there a national policy not to charge police drivers with killing people on the roads? I believe there has not been a single

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conviction of a police driver for killing other people—be they pedestrians, cyclists or people in other cars—for the past 10 years or so.

Lord Bates: Whenever there is a fatality where the police come into contact with the public and those tragic circumstances happen, it is a mandatory requirement that that is reported to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and investigated. I am not sure of the actual numbers, but I will be happy to look into the issue and write to the noble Lord.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Funding


11.27 am

Asked by Baroness Helic

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the current level of funding of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is sufficient for the department to fulfil its mission of promoting the United Kingdom’s interests overseas and supporting United Kingdom citizens and businesses globally.

The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to play a leading role in delivering the Government’s ambitious international agenda. The Government are committed to eliminating the deficit. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has played its part and will continue to do so. Since 2010, the FCO has cut its operating costs by more than £100 million while flexing its network to meet new opportunities and challenges. We have opened or upgraded 18 diplomatic missions, increasing our presence in the fastest-growing economies.

Baroness Helic (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his Answer. The terrible attacks in Istanbul, Beirut and Paris remind us that security is the most valuable currency of our times. From the Middle East to Asia and Europe we face challenges that cannot be resolved by aid or military deployments. Although hard power is sometimes necessary, these problems require diplomatic solutions, yet the Foreign Office has been at risk of being stripped to the bone. The department protects British interests in 168 countries with far fewer staff than Sheffield City Council. Its diplomatic network is the same size as that of France—

Noble Lords: A question!

Baroness Helic: Certainly. I fully understand that we have to meet our financial obligations, but I respectfully ask the noble Earl whether, as we wait for the national security strategy—no doubt with more tasks for the Foreign Office—he can assure the House that the FCO will be funded in the current spending review?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, we all have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lady Helic and her work on the preventing sexual violence initiative. She is quite right to draw attention to the national security strategy, but perhaps the best way of answering

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her is to quote my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when considering the picture of diplomacy, which cannot be neglected and will not be. He said on Monday:

“The National Security Strategy that we are publishing next week will give Britain the resources it needs to increase both its hard and soft power and build the relationships that can project and enhance our influence in the world”.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, it is a truism that development works best in a climate of security. Do the Government recognise the interrelationship, as demonstrated by Syria, between the military budget, the foreign affairs budget and the development budget? To reduce the FCO budget, as they are doing, not only harms our development effort but leads to a substantial decline in FCO morale.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has mentioned the ODA budget. We have an excellent record of leveraging the ODA for the broader priorities of Her Majesty’s Government, not just the important role of poverty alleviation but the other areas to which the noble Lord has drawn attention.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, when the Ukraine crisis broke out, the FCO really felt its lack of expertise on Russia. If the FCO’s staff is cut further, expertise to analyse what is happening at the moment in countries in other very sensitive areas such as Central Asia, the North Caucasus and the Middle East will be in short supply. Do the Government take that into account when considering whether they can further cut the FCO both at home and abroad?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I always take careful note of what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has to say, due to his previous role in the department. Just to go into the number of posts, yes we have fewer posts than we had 10 years ago. However, since 2010 we have not closed any sovereign posts and we have opened or upgraded 18 posts under the network shift programme and strategic reprioritisation exercises, as well as deploying around 300 extra front-line staff in more than 30 countries.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): Has my noble friend noted that we are now actually spending less on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is the spearhead of our overseas influence, than we are expending on, for instance, one individual experimental programme for reducing carbon—namely, the carbon capture and storage system at £1 billion—which so far has produced very few results? Is it not time for some rebalancing?

The Earl of Courtown: My noble friend is an expert on both subjects, while I try my best at them. I should say that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has scrutinised the FCO budgets closely and has tried to identify further efficiencies which can be delivered through reductions in running costs, travel and staff costs and by reviewing our support for arm’s-length bodies.

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab): My Lords, given the importance of diplomatic efforts for the reasons that have been explained by other noble Lords, will the Government give a clear guarantee that whatever the level of cuts in the Budget to be announced by the Chancellor later in this Session, the Government will bring to the House an opportunity to debate the strategy behind the implementation of those cuts to the Foreign Office budget, and in particular to look at what opportunities there are to work more closely with the European External Action Service, which now has diplomatic offices in many of the countries where we are represented as well?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, not long ago we had an interesting debate on the responsibility to protect, to which I was able to respond from this Dispatch Box. It is up to noble Lords to put down debates on this subject at any time, and I am sure that the noble Lord will attempt to do so.

Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not just about the amount of the allocation but about the efficiency with which the money is spent? Will he join me in welcoming the comments made by many businessmen, both from SMEs and from large businesses, about the dramatic change since 2010 in the FCO’s ability to help exporters abroad?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. Perhaps I should underline the facts about the good work being done by UKTI. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has helped to deliver some £37.6 billion-worth of business wins for UK industry. We also have the GREAT campaign, which emphasises that this country is a great place to visit, a great place in which to study and a great place to do business in.

Lord Green of Deddington (CB): My Lords—

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con): My Lords—

Lord Hughes of Woodside (Lab): My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Bench!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, I think we are going to move on to the next Question, but it was the turn of the Cross Benches.

Drones: Risks to Passenger Aircraft


11.35 am

Asked by Lord Glentoran

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to manage the risks posed to passenger aircraft by drones flown by private individuals.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport and Home Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, the Government are working with the CAA to develop a comprehensive education campaign on drone safety, and are talking to airports and the manufacturers and retailers of drones about the steps that can be taken to minimise the likelihood of negligent airspace incursions.

Lord Glentoran (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. It seems to me to be pretty positive. Having flown around with my own pilot’s licence in the various spaces we have in the country, I see that they are already very overcrowded. Privately owned drones, if not strictly controlled shortly, are almost certain to bring some other disaster into our airspace.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend raises an important point about safety and that is why the Government have also undertaken to launch a specific public dialogue on the issue of the use of drones, particularly in the leisure area. We will also be consulting next year specifically on proposals for registration, licensing and tracking of drones. My noble friend is right to point out the increased number. If we compare 2014 to current-year statistics, we have seen possible incidents going up from 10 to 64, so with the increasing use of drones, the safety issue is very important.

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, is the Minister aware that there have been near misses recently, and are the Government considering total exclusion zones for drones in the take-off and landing flight paths of major airports?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Again, I can say to the noble Lord that this is an important issue. It is on the Government’s radar—to use an aviation analogy—and, for example, Sussex Police is carrying out a specific pilot around Gatwick Airport, addressing the very points raised by the noble Lord.

Baroness Randerson (LD): My Lords, the Government’s response to the EU Committee’s report on drones referred to ongoing discussions on the wider use of geofencing. The Committee recommended that the Government should look at mandatory geofencing. Have they considered this and what conclusion have they come to?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The noble Baroness refers to a very positive debate we had in this House. As I have already outlined, the Government will be introducing a public dialogue very shortly on this issue, which will be across the country, including in Scotland and Wales. In addition, there will be a full public consultation in which the point she raises will also feature. We hope to conclude that public consultation by the middle to end of next year.

Lord Geddes (Con): My Lords—

Lord Rosser (Lab): I do not share the view already expressed that the Minister’s response was positive. The Civil Aviation Authority is warning that drones being flown as high as 2,000 feet are putting passenger

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aircraft in danger. It has now issued safety guidelines known as the drone code to discourage hobbyists from using their equipment in areas where large aircraft are present. Frankly that seems a pretty tepid response if it reflects the Government’s approach. First, the potential dangers of drones to passenger aircraft have been known for a few years and, secondly, six incidents involving drones at or close to airports were reported between May 2014 and March this year. Do we have to wait for a major incident to occur before meaningful action is taken? How can the potential risk to passenger aircraft be said to have been addressed when there appears to be so little effective control over who can acquire and fly a drone, and where?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I look forward to the day when the noble Lord says I have made a positive remark from this Dispatch Box. That remains a personal ambition. I am sure that that is not the case, I say to the Opposition Chief Whip. The noble Lord is fully aware, I am sure, that the Air Navigation Order 2009 lays out specific measures for operators, covering issues of safety and security. Equally, as I have already said, it is right that we look at this evolving area, particularly over the fact that drones available for leisure activity are more widespread. The noble Lord talked about the negative response. The CAA has launched a particular campaign for small operators, which is entitled You Have Control: Be Safe, Be Legal, which the Government support. I have already alluded to the public dialogue and the consultation that I am sure will yield positive results.

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): My Lords—

Lord Geddes: My Lords, I will try again, since I have been on my feet once. Could my noble friend advise when a model aeroplane becomes a drone?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: We would have various technical responses to that. If a model aeroplane is operated by a particular individual and controlled through a remote control device, it falls within the definition of a drone. As I said earlier, it is important, with the evolving nature of this industry—in particular the availability of small drone aircraft from your high street—that the Government consult widely on this.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, given the need to reduce the deficit, which has already been referred to this morning, would my noble friend care to suggest to the Chancellor that there might be a useful new tax base here?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I am sure that my noble friend speaks from great experience and my right honourable friend will have taken note of his helpful suggestion.

Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords, is this not a worldwide—or at least a European—problem, because the Americans can pinpoint bombing in Syria by controlling a drone from somewhere in the States? Who are the CAA and the Government talking to outside the UK? Surely it is much more than a UK problem.

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: This should not be looked upon just as a problem. There are benefits to be had from the expansion of drones, for example in agriculture and in parcel delivery. Also, with the tragic, sad events we saw over the weekend, there is an increasing need to look at drone technology when it comes to surveillance. In that regard we are looking at this not just nationally; as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, it is also being looked at across the EU and with our international partners.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): Is my noble friend aware that you can buy these gadgets in the basement department of Selfridges? No doubt plenty will be given for Christmas. Surely the lesson from this is that we had better get on with proper controls PDQ.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend makes a very valid point. As I said, the leisure element of this particular expansion of drones is readily available. I am sure that many people will be getting Christmas presents from not just Selfridges but other stores that now host this—just to ensure that there is a level playing field here from the Government. The serious point is that this is an evolving area. We need to ensure that we consult widely and put the right measures in place.



11.42 am

Asked by Baroness Seccombe

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of last week’s employment statistics, what progress they are making towards their manifesto commitment of achieving full employment in Britain.

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Altmann) (Con): My Lords, we are making excellent progress towards full employment, with the latest figures showing 31.2 million people in work—a record high, and more than 2 million higher than in 2010. The employment rate of 73.7% is also a record high. There are 735,000 vacancies in the economy—also near the record high.

Baroness Seccombe (Con): That is such good news, but no one can fail to be moved by the plight of a young person receiving repeated rejections. Will my noble friend the Minister tell the House how the mentoring initiatives are progressing in trying to get these people into work?

Baroness Altmann: My Lords, in Jobcentre Plus we have across the country a network of trained and dedicated work coaches. They are transforming the relationship we have with claimants, and, in turn, the relationship they have with the labour market. Since the 2010 election, youth unemployment has fallen by 285,000 to its lowest level since early 2006.

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, while welcoming the increase in the quantity of jobs, I put it to the Minister that when the full employment White

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Paper was published in the middle years of the 20th century, the assumption was that the jobs created would be adequately paid, secure and long term. Only a small proportion of the jobs created in recent years have been of that nature. What is the Government’s strategy to improve the quality of employment, and what contribution do they consider the trade unions can make to that strategy?

Baroness Altmann: I am not entirely sure what figures the noble Lord is referring to, but since 2010 around two-thirds of the rise in employment has been in managerial, professional and associate professional occupations, which generally command a higher wage.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (CB): My Lords, we know that the poorest families are often working families. While I welcome the Government’s statistics, would it not be useful to know how many of the jobs are part-time—following the noble Lord’s question—how many of them pay a living wage, and what hope there is of these families reaching a point where they are self-sufficient?

Baroness Altmann: My Lords, those are indeed important issues but over the year, and since 2010, the majority of employment growth has come from full-time work—up by more than 1.5 million posts since 2010.

Lord Wrigglesworth (LD): My Lords, encouraging though those national figures are—

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords—

Lord Skelmersdale (Con): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, it is the turn of the Lib Dems.

Lord Wrigglesworth: My Lords, encouraging though those national figures are, does the noble Baroness accept that they mask massive disparities between different regions of this country, in particular between the north and south? What are the Government doing about that?

Baroness Altmann: My Lords, there have indeed been concerns about disparities but they are reducing significantly. The plans for the northern powerhouse will make a difference. The latest figures from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG show that the Midlands and the north led a broad rise in demand for permanent staff, with salaries rising as well.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): What evidence do the Government have that docking £30 a week from half a million disabled people in the work-related activity group will act as a work incentive and help close the disability employment gap?

Baroness Altmann: It is indeed the aim of this Government to halve the disability employment gap. The reforms to the employment and support allowance are designed to ensure that we have the right incentives

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in place to help people in the work-related activity group, of whom 61% do want to move into work, to do so.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, many years ago, when I was taught economics, I was taught to define my terms. Will my noble friend explain whether the 2% to 3% unemployment rate which was valid in the 1980s still constitutes full employment?

Baroness Altmann: My Lords, there is no recognised definition of full employment as far as the economics profession is concerned. The Government’s measure of full employment will be released in the first progress report on the full employment Bill.

Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords—

Baroness Corston (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Manzoor (LD): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal: We will go to the Lib Dems but, if the contribution is brief, we can get another Labour Peer in.

Baroness Manzoor: My Lords, in education, girls outperform boys in GCSEs, A-levels and graduate studies. However, across 90% of all sectors there remains a pay gap for women working full-time, particularly for those working in the finance and insurance industry. What are the Government doing to address this gap?

Baroness Altmann: The latest figures show that the pay rate for women under 35 is now higher than that for men. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, and we will look at the fact that there is still a gender pay gap for older women.

Baroness Corston: My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that apprenticeships are included in the figures she has given to the House? If so, is she aware that apprenticeships are now commonly for a duration of six weeks and can be for skills such as wrapping vegetables, putting flowers into bundles for supermarkets, sweeping stable floors and working in a fish and chip shop? Surely, this demeans the word “apprenticeship” and is just a way of massaging unemployment figures.

Baroness Altmann: My Lords, the aim of the apprenticeship programme is to get young people ready for work. The types of work are not as important as the fact that they are in work.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.50 am

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That the debate on the motion in the name of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock set down for today shall be limited to 3 hours and that in the name of Viscount Hanworth to 2 hours.

Motion agreed.

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Northern Ireland: Political Agreement


11.50 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scotland Office (Lord Dunlop) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the agreement reached this week in the cross-party talks at Stormont. But first I would like to pay tribute to Peter Robinson, who announced this morning that he will soon be standing down as First Minister and leader of the DUP. Peter has been a central figure in Northern Ireland politics for over four decades. In his long and distinguished record of public service both in this House and the Assembly, he has championed the interests of Northern Ireland with unparalleled effectiveness, determination and dedication. Peter was key to the agreement reached this week and he can be rightly proud of his contribution. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement.

Last December, the Stormont House agreement was reached after 11 weeks of negotiations between the five largest Northern Ireland parties and the UK and Irish Governments. That agreement addressed some of the most difficult challenges facing Northern Ireland, including: the finances of the devolved Executive; welfare reform; flags and parades; the legacy of the past; and reform of the Assembly to make devolution work better. All of this was underpinned by a financial package from the UK Government that would give the Executive £2 billion in extra spending power.

In the Government’s view, the Stormont House agreement was, and remains, a good deal for Northern Ireland. By the summer, however, it was clear that implementation had stalled. There were strong differences of opinion within the Executive over the budget and the implementation of the welfare aspects of the agreement, and these were preventing other elements of the agreement going forward. We were facing a deadlock, which, left unresolved, would have made early Assembly elections more and more likely, with an ever-increasing risk that the collapse of devolution would follow. After all that has been achieved in Northern Ireland over recent years, a return to direct rule from Westminster would have been a severe setback, and it is an outcome which I have been striving to avoid.

In August, a second issue arose to threaten the stability and survival of devolution. The suspected involvement of members of the Provisional IRA in a murder in Belfast raised the spectre of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and its malign and unacceptable impact on society. Faced with these circumstances, we concluded it was necessary to convene a fresh round of cross-party talks with the five main Northern Ireland parties, and the Irish Government on matters for which they have responsibility, observing the well-established three-strand approach.

The talks began on 8 September and ran for 10 weeks. The objectives we set were twofold: first, to secure the implementation of the Stormont House agreement;

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and, secondly, to deal with continued paramilitary activity. I believe that the document published on Tuesday,

A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan

, makes real progress towards fulfilling both these objectives. Crucially, it tackles the two issues that have posed the greatest threat to the stability and survival of devolution in Northern Ireland.

First, on the Stormont House agreement, the new agreement will help give the Executive a stable and sustainable budget, assisted by further financial support of around £500 million from the UK Government. These funds are to help the Executive tackle issues unique to Northern Ireland. They include support for their programme of removing so-called peace walls and an additional £160 million to assist the Police Service of Northern Ireland in its efforts to combat the threat from dissident republican terrorists. The package also paves the way for completion of the devolution of corporation tax powers to the Northern Ireland Executive, something which could have a genuinely transformative effect on the Northern Ireland economy. The measures in the Stormont House agreement designed to address issues around flags and parades will now go ahead. There is also agreement on reforms to the Executive and Assembly to make devolution work better, including on the size of the Assembly, the number of government departments, use of the petition of concern and provision for an Official Opposition.

Secondly, the agreement takes Northern Ireland’s leaders further than ever before on paramilitary activity. It strongly reaffirms the commitment to upholding the rule of law and makes it absolutely clear that in no circumstances will paramilitary activity be tolerated. The agreement places new shared obligations on executive Ministers to work together towards ridding society of all paramilitary groups and actively challenging paramilitary activity in all its forms, and commits all participants to a concerted and enhanced effort to combat organised and cross-border crime, which the UK Government will help to fund.

A key element of the Stormont House agreement on which we were unable to agree a way forward was the establishment of new bodies to deal with the past. We did establish common ground between the parties on a range of significant questions on how to establish these important new structures but, sadly, not enough to enable legislation to go forward as yet. The Government continue to support these provisions because of the pressing need to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors—the people who, we must never forget, have suffered more than anyone else as a result of the Troubles. So it is crucial that we all now reflect on what needs to be done to achieve wider consensus to get the new legacy bodies set up.

I want to emphasise that in very large part, the agreement takes on board a wide range of points made by all five Northern Ireland parties during the 10 weeks of talks that have just concluded. As the overwhelming majority of issues were in devolved areas, this agreement has rightly been driven by Northern Ireland’s elected leaders, in particular the First and Deputy First Ministers. I reiterate my sincere thanks to them and to all the five parties which worked with

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determination and commitment in the talks. Thanks go, too, to my honourable friend the Northern Ireland Minister and to Ministers Charlie Flanagan and Seán Sherlock from the Irish Government, who devoted many long hours to this process and made an invaluable contribution to its successful outcome.

Implementation of this week’s agreement is already under way. On Tuesday, the Executive voted to support it. Yesterday, the Assembly passed an LCM on welfare reform legislation at Westminster and the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill will be introduced to Parliament this afternoon. I believe this package as a whole gives us the opportunity for a fresh start for devolution. It is a further stage in delivering the Government’s manifesto commitment to the implementation of the Stormont House agreement. It is another step forward towards a brighter, more secure future for everyone in Northern Ireland, and I commend this Statement to the House”.

11.59 am

Lord McAvoy (Lab): My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his Statement and for the early sight of it. In the House of Commons, my honourable friend Vernon Coaker has paid due tribute to Peter Robinson and his contribution to society in Northern Ireland. I endorse and support that tribute; I have been a friend of Peter Robinson since our days together on the House of Commons Select Committee on Northern Ireland and always found him a straight talker. What he said, he meant—and he always fulfilled—so I join in the tributes to him. His contribution to peace and progress in Northern Ireland has been immense. He has taken tough decisions. Most recently, in an interview in the Belfast Telegraph, he called for complete co-operation between the nationalist and unionist communities. Northern Ireland is a better place in no small part thanks to his work. I wish him and his whole family well.

I also compliment all those who have contributed to the document, including the Irish Government. It is a document which, despite some obvious challenges and, indeed, omissions, once again offers Northern Ireland a way forward—one more stepping stone towards the brighter, better future that the people of Northern Ireland want and deserve.

Does the Minister agree that the implementation of the agreement is crucial and that the people of Northern Ireland do not want to be faced in a year or two years with yet another crisis? This really has to be a fresh start. Is the Minister, like me, confident that the measures contained in the agreement really offer a way forward in a number of areas?

In particular, we welcome the commitment to bring an end to paramilitarism. Paramilitary activity has to end, and the proposal for a new strategy to bring this about, overseen by a panel, is critical. As Vernon Coaker said in the House of Commons, there are also worries about the attraction of these groups for some young people. Apparent easy money, lack of career opportunities, educational underachievement and a false belief that membership of such groups can give them status have to be tackled, with many of them having grown up in relative peace.

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Will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State will use her position to ensure that countering the attraction of those groups for some young people is one of the strategic priorities, as I believe it must be? Will the Minister say more about how, in establishing the joint agency task force, cross-border co-operation will work, what resources there will be for the PSNI and whether he expects prosecutions to increase? We also welcome the confirmation of the work to be undertaken with respect to flags and parades. Does the Minister agree that that aspect is crucial?

Does the Minister share my disappointment that no agreement with respect to legacy issues and the past has been possible? Collectively, we have done well to get here, but unless something concrete is done on legacy issues, the potential is there to return again and again to difficult situations. Will the Minister say more about the issues and how he believes that they can be resolved? For example, how will the clash between national security and disclosure be resolved? Clearly, victims and survivors have to play a key part in any agreed process. We all understand that dealing with the past is incredibly difficult, with competing narratives and contested versions of events, but a comprehensive approach is vital to continuing progress in Northern Ireland.

Does the Minister agree that in the search for truth and justice, they often seem unobtainable, yet is it not the case that the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians have made apparently impossible compromise and built consensus when none seemed likely—thanks in large measure to Members of your Lordships’ House?

Will the Minister ensure that further efforts are made to deal with the past? We cannot let this slide; we really must tackle it. What plans do the Government have to meet victims to discuss a way forward? Given that there is no agreement, is funding to be made available to the PSNI to continue its legacy work as a contribution to settling this difficult past?

The House has also been asked to legislate on welfare reform, and we will not oppose those measures, but I must say that for Northern Ireland, as for the whole of the United Kingdom, a programme for jobs and growth is also needed. What measures are there in the agreement, over and above the devolution of corporation tax, which will achieve that while also improving infrastructure?

In conclusion, as I said at the beginning, this is a stepping stone towards a shared future. Of course, there are frustrations and disappointment at the inability to reach agreement on legacy issues—that is the one big task still facing us jointly—but could not the alternative have been a situation where the devolution settlement itself was at risk, with a return to direct rule, both of which are surely unthinkable? So whatever people see as its imperfections, whatever faults people come up with, justified or unjustified, and whatever people see as being a disappointment, there is another breathing space and another opportunity for Northern Ireland to move forward to combat criminality, banish paramilitarism, tackle sectarianism and have a stable Government financially and politically. That opportunity

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must be grasped, outstanding issues resolved and a fresh crisis avoided in a year or two. The people of Northern Ireland deserve and expect no less, and Her Majesty’s Official Opposition will be fully behind this.

Lord Dholakia (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement in your Lordships’ House and endorse fully what has been said about Peter Robinson, who announced overnight that he was stepping down as leader of the DUP. He has played a significant role in Northern Ireland politics for some 40 years.

We welcome the fact that the DUP and Sinn Fein have been able to reach an agreement with the British and Irish Governments, but we are disappointed that the agreement was not more comprehensive. Significantly, the parties were unable to make progress on the fundamental issues arising from the Haass talks in 2013—for example, on parades, flags and dealing with the past. This is a considerable failure for the agreement. However, although the deal has been agreed and will prevent the collapse of the devolved institution, the package of measures is not a comprehensive outcome and does very little to tackle the underlying issues of the divided society in Northern Ireland. The failure of the political parties to come to an agreement on those issues has the potential to undermine public confidence in politics, devolved institutions and the peace process as a whole. It is clear that these issues will have to be settled for the good of everyone in Northern Ireland.

Of course, we welcome any agreement that sustains the Assembly and we are content to support the fast-track welfare Bill. But is it not the case that this agreement does not take us beyond or even, arguably, as far as the Stormont House agreement of 2014? How do the Government propose to assist, or at the very least encourage, the parties to address the unresolved question of flags, parades and the legacy of the past? What further progress can be made towards a genuinely shared future in Northern Ireland? The additional government financial support of £500 million to assist the Executive in tackling issues unique to Northern Ireland, including support for the programme to remove the peace walls, is welcome.

We very much welcome the agreement’s initiative to tackle paramilitarism and organised crime. The new commitment by all politicians to uphold the rule of law is to be strongly welcomed. There is no place in a democratic society for paramilitary activity. We also welcome the additional funding for the PSNI. Can the Minister give further details on how this will be used? Will there be scope for some of this funding to be used for further recruitment of officers to continue to tackle all crimes in Northern Ireland?

Lord Dunlop: I thank noble Lords for their words and for the indication of bipartisan, cross-party support, particularly to get the legislation on welfare reform through this House. I agree very much that the implementation of the deal is absolutely crucial, and we should be in no doubt that the agreement has broken a real impasse in Northern Ireland politics and offered a prospect of a brighter future for Northern Ireland. Critical to this is a thriving economy. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, mentioned this and it will

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be critical as we go forward. The deal unlocks not just the corporation tax powers but £2 billion of additional spending power that was part of the original Stormont House agreement.

The noble Lord mentioned the need to stop young people being drawn into criminal activity, and I agree very much that that is a crucial part of any strategy to deal with paramilitarism. Of the new money coming forward in this agreement, £25 million will be used to support the strategy to deal with paramilitary activity. Further work is required on the details of the joint agency task force, but it will be underpinned by £160 million extra security funding to make that activity fully effective.

On the importance of dealing with flags, identity, culture and tradition, the agreement makes provision for the creation of a new commission on these matters and on the commitments into which the Northern Ireland Executive has entered. We are all disappointed that it has not been possible to include the institutions that were part of the original Stormont House agreement to deal with the past as part of this agreement. The Government are committed to reflect with the parties the best way to take this forward because, as I said yesterday, victims and their families need to achieve closure in these matters.

I reiterate that I welcome the commitment that the parties opposite will not stand in the way of the welfare reform legislation.

Disclosure was mentioned. It is a tricky issue, and it is important to balance transparency with a duty to ensure that information release must not damage our ability to protect people.

This agreement offers Northern Ireland the prospect of a brighter future, and the important work of detailed implementation now starts.

12.12 pm

Lord Trimble (Con): My Lords, the existence of private armies anywhere within the United Kingdom presents a challenge to the authority of the United Kingdom Government, and responding to the existence of private armies should be with the Government in the lead. Pretty words said in the Executive are all very good and well, but it requires something more effective. The reason that the original Independent Monitoring Commission was effective at dealing with paramilitaries was that it had the power to sanction those bodies. Furthermore, not just the character of the persons who were in it but its independence had the effect of keeping the Northern Ireland Office honest and inhibiting its tendency to brush things under the carpet. We are missing on both those counts.

Lord Dunlop: My noble friend speaks with huge authority on these matters. With regard to paramilitary activity, the assessment done a few weeks ago showed that all parties in Northern Ireland are committed to the political path. Under this agreement, all the parties have signed up to ambitious commitments to eradicate paramilitary activity. A strategy must be agreed. It needs to be backed by the joint agency task force. The monitoring body is a crucial part of this agreement. It

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will need, at a date in the future, to be given statutory underpinning and will be the subject of an international agreement with the Irish Government.

Lord Eames (CB): I declare an interest as co-chairman of the Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland, which published its report some years ago. Will the Minister tell us more about the efforts of Her Majesty’s Government to unravel the continuing problem of how we deal with the legacy issues, because so many other issues that he mentioned in the Statement are linked with the way in which we deal with the past? Will he enlighten the House about how the Government propose to tackle that part of the problem?

Lord Dunlop: I am not sure that at this stage I can give more detail than I have already given. The Government are disappointed that creating the institutions to deal with the past does not form part of this agreement. However, it remains a huge priority for the Government to deal with the issues of the past and take forward what was in the original Stormont House agreement to get these institutions set up. I think we can be optimistic that some very intractable issues, such as welfare reform and budgetary issues, have been dealt with in the agreement. That shows what can be achieved with good will and all the parties getting around the table. We need to bring that same spirit to how we take forward the issues that were not included in the agreement, and that will be a high priority for the Government.

Lord Browne of Belmont (DUP): My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I very much welcome the successful conclusion of the talks and the new fresh start agreement, which sets out a practical course to consolidating peace, stability and helping to promote economic development in Northern Ireland. I, too, pay tribute to my party leader, Peter Robinson, for his tireless work on achieving reconciliation in our community over a number of years.

I particularly welcome the additional security funding of £160 million for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to address the continuing severe national security threat, and to tackle continued paramilitary activity and criminality. However, will the Minister provide clarification about the nature of the severe national security threat and what steps the PSNI will be expected to take to address it?

Lord Dunlop: In this House a few weeks ago we had a Statement about the assessment that had been made. The Government continue to agree with that assessment, and I am not sure that I can add more at this stage to what was said on that occasion. Clearly, though, we are determined to tackle organised criminal activity, which has such a corrosive effect on the well-being of Northern Ireland.

Lord Empey (UUP): My Lords, I take this opportunity to wish Mr Robinson well in his retirement. However, I wish to disabuse the House of any idea that this is a five-party agreement. The document was pushed in front of our faces at 3 pm on Tuesday, and that applied to three out of the five parties. The final plenary session of the talks process was one hour later,

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and no one should be required to absorb a 67-page document in one hour. So let us be clear: this is a two-party agreement, it is less than the one that we had Statements on a year ago and huge areas are unresolved.

Will the Minister address the fact that the reason why we have a huge impasse here is not only that Sinn Fein reneged on the agreement on welfare that was made a year ago but the four consistent years of massive financial mismanagement? We are now faced with the situation that the budgets were known four years ago but no action was taken to meet expenditure on budgets, which meant that for the first time since 1921 Stormont could not balance its books. Secondly, and worse, we are now being allowed to borrow £700 million to pay off 20,000 public sector workers, instead of action having been taken at the time to gradually run things down by natural wastage and other mechanisms that would have cost the taxpayer nothing. Why did the Northern Ireland Office allow this situation to develop, watching millions of pounds of public sector money being squandered and wasted? What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the budget will be operated properly in future and that taxpayers will get value for money?

Lord Dunlop: I thank my noble friend. I note what he says about the position of other parties. All the parties have been engaged over a 10-week process and, as I said, it has broken a very damaging impasse. I hope that all Northern Ireland politicians will want to get behind the agreement and build upon it.

As for the finances, welfare reform and putting the budget on a sustainable footing have been two of the most intractable problems that we have been grappling with. It is important to say that all the new money that is part of this agreement is contingent on the Northern Ireland parties meeting the commitments that they have entered into. The agreement includes spending to save measures and there is no free ride in it. In addition to the implementation of welfare reform, instilling fiscal responsibility into managing the finances of Northern Ireland is critical to the agreement. Additional financial controls are part of the agreement—it is no longer possible to set unrealistic budgets—and it makes provision for a new, independent fiscal council. These are all things that are really important to ensuring that we do not get into the financially risky situation that we have seen over the last few months.

Lord Lexden (Con): What has been the actual cost of the prolonged welfare stand-off between Stormont and Westminster? When will the paramilitary structures highlighted so worryingly in the report published in September actually be dismantled? Are the Northern Ireland parties now confident that they can handle the consequences of the devolution of corporation tax, which I have long supported?

Lord Dunlop: I cannot give my noble friend precise figures on the cost of welfare reform, but I am very happy to write to him with as much information as I can provide. Clearly, I cannot give a specific date for

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when paramilitarism will be eradicated from Northern Ireland, but I can give an absolute assurance to this House that this is a top priority for the Government.

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, the Minister mentioned that Sinn Fein was against the welfare changes. To avoid any blame game in the future, will the Minister confirm that all parties, including Sinn Fein, gave the Westminster Government power, through an Order in Council, to pass these welfare changes?

Lord Dunlop: It was a very positive sign of the commitment to see that this agreement goes forward that the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a legislative consent Motion yesterday. That is a very positive development.

Lord Elton (Con): My Lords, paramilitarism will continue, even if the paramilitary forces are dismantled, for as long as the paramilitary instinct can find recruits among young people. I have some experience in this area and I remind my noble friend that one of the top priorities of young people emerging into adulthood is to achieve an identity of their own. They wish to stop being somebody’s son or somebody’s nephew and want to be themselves. An easy way to do that in times when paramilitarism is rife is simply to undertake acts of criminality, preferably very public and very damaging, whereupon they cease to be Paddy’s son, or Maeve’s brother and become “a hard man”; they become recognised as somebody to be respected among their equals. Unless we provide them with alternative activity this will go on. It is no good waiting for the economy to pick up and for jobs to bloom; there have to be accredited voluntary organisations giving such people meaningful, constructive things to do. I hope that my noble friend will see that this is treated as a priority.

Lord Dunlop: My noble friend has great experience of these matters and I agree very much with what he says. Community groups and organisations have a big part to play in creating a more prosperous, more stable future for Northern Ireland and we will certainly do what we can to support those groups.

Arrangement of Business


12.24 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may be helpful if I make a brief business statement to explain how it is envisaged that this House might consider the Northern Ireland welfare reform Bill. The House of Commons is due to take all stages of the Bill next Monday 23 November. We will therefore receive the Bill for a First Reading at the end of their proceedings, and the Bill will be printed overnight. Following discussions in the usual channels, we have agreed to propose that the House should take the remaining stages of the Bill next Tuesday 24 November, with a suitable interval between Second Reading and the remaining stages to allow Members who wish to table amendments to do so. The speakers’ list for the Second Reading is already open, and the Legislation

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Office has kindly agreed to offer drafting advice on amendments to Members who require it ahead of the Bill’s arrival in this House.

Enterprise Bill [HL]

Order of Consideration Motion

12.25 pm

Moved by Baroness Neville-Rolfe

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 13, Schedule 2, Clauses 14 to 17, Schedule 3, Clauses 18 to 26, Schedule 4, Clauses 27 to 31, Title.

Motion agreed.

Trade Unions

Motion to Take Note

12.26 pm

Moved by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

That this House takes note of the role of trade unions in a democracy and their contribution to the general economic wellbeing of the nation.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, I first declare an interest as a member of the GMB union, although I must confess that I am now, very appropriately, in the “retired workers” category. I very much look forward to the debate, but particularly to the contributions of the two maiden speakers, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, whom I know from the other place and whom I know will make excellent contributions. However, I also look forward to the contributions from the many former trade union leaders—I was going to say “trade union barons”, but perhaps that is not the right phrase to use here—who know so much more about this matter than I do. We are in for a very well informed debate.

Labour’s contribution to the debate on the Trade Union Bill in the other place has of necessity been somewhat defensive, because that Bill represents such a fundamental and, frankly, malign attack on trade unions. However, on behalf of Labour, I sought this debate today so that we can be much more positive and praise the work of the trade unions over the years and the contributions they have made and continue to make to our democracy and economy, as well as to protecting the well-being of the workers they represent.

Trade unions, from the Peasants’ Revolt of 1387—not many Members will remember too much about that—

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): I remember that.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock:—although my noble friend Lord Lea does; through to the industrial age, when, I am proud to say, the weavers in Ayrshire led the way, workers got together to challenge the injustices and abuse they faced. The state was controlled by an unrepresentative minority of wealthy people—in fact, a minority of wealthy men—

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Lord Grocott (Lab): Nothing changes.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My noble friend Lord Grocott says that it has not changed completely. They were intent on increasing their wealth, and ordinary workers were excluded and exploited.

The Chartists, founded by the London Working Men’s Association, agitated for political rights for ordinary people and set in train the long series of events that, by 1928—only then—led Britain to become a full democracy. When we take time to look back at the achievements of the unions, we begin to appreciate how different life would be now for ordinary working people without them. I will give a few examples.

First, on workplace safety, workplaces with union safety representatives have half the serious injuries of non-unionised workplaces. In particular, the London Olympics of 2012 were the first Olympic Games ever in which nobody was killed while constructing the venues. It is not accidental that for the 2012 Games there was strong union representation on both the London Olympic committee and the Olympic Delivery Authority. In comparison, at last year’s Winter Olympics at Sochi in Russia, 60 people died.

Secondly, there is the minimum wage. Unions were among the early supporters of what was arguably—it is a view I hold—new Labour’s most successful achievement: lifting the purchasing power of low-wage workers, particularly women, without negatively impacting on unemployment and, incidentally, thereby helping economic growth.

Thirdly, on equal pay, as we all recall, the female trade unionists at Ford’s Dagenham and Halewood plants forced the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970, which was a key step in the battle for gender equality in the United Kingdom. However, we are not all the way there yet. Since last week until the end of the year, women will on average be working for nothing in comparison with men in equivalent jobs.

Tremendous advantages have been won by the trade union movement, including full statutory maternity leave since 1993, and there are all those achievements without even mentioning the insurance cover, the legal representation and the other services that we ordinary union members receive from our trade unions.

Our economy also benefits hugely from the presence of trade unions at both the micro and the macro levels. At the level of individual workers within the economy, unions have had a positive effect for every type of worker. In relation to salaries and holidays, unionised British workers earn 8% more than non-members on average, and they have 29 days’ annual leave as opposed to 23 for non-members. For young people, workers between the ages of 16 and 24 earn on average 39% more when they are union members. That is a huge and significant difference. Women in a union earn 30% more on average. The gender pay gap among unionised workers is 6% compared with 22% among non-unionised workers. Finally, workplaces with recognised unions are 24% more likely to offer training to their workers, and training in skills is vital to developing our economy if we are to make progress.

Unions also impact positively on the macroeconomy in three major ways. First, although some people claim that unions inhibit productivity growth, the

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opposite is true—our economy is more productive where there are trade unions. Productivity growth since the recession has been disappointing across the economy as a whole. However, a recent study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that this productivity gap is connected to the decline of trade unions and that, in reality, high union density is associated with stronger productivity growth. The sectors of the British economy that are experiencing strong productivity growth, such as aerospace and engineering, tend to be those with stronger union representation, where employers actively encourage and engage with the trade unions in their workplace. Professor Kim Hoque of Warwick Business School has found that workplace productivity in the public sector is improved by union representation, and he has raised concerns about the effect on productivity of the Government’s impending Bill—an issue we need to return to when we debate that legislation.

Research by the New Economics Foundation found that high union membership boosts GDP by redirecting a larger share of capital to consumers or purchasers, thus expanding the domestic market for goods. Therefore, increasing the level of unionisation to that of the early 1980s, for example, could add nearly £23 billion to GDP. For every 1% reduction in the proportion of the workforce in unions, GDP is reduced by more than £2 billion.

Lord Clinton-Davis (Lab): As an active trade unionist all my life, I agree with what my noble friend says, but some trade unions are not affiliated to the Labour Party and they do an enormously valuable job. My noble friend Lord Monks and I have been presidents of BALPA for a long time. Would my noble friend say something about trade unions such as the National Union of Teachers and my own union, BALPA?

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My noble friend has a very distinguished record as president of the British Airline Pilots Association. Naturally, I would like all trade unions to affiliate to the Labour Party—of course I would. But I recognise that that is not likely always to be the case, and there may be very good reasons why they feel unable to do so. Part of our democracy is that they should have the right to make that decision.

If I may, I will move on to the point I was going to make about income equality. In the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada union membership has been strongly linked to greater income equality. Research has found that the more rapid rate of de-unionisation in America, for example, accounts for two-thirds of the greater income inequality compared with the United Kingdom.

I turn now to the unions’ contribution to democracy. As we all know, in a democracy, it is not enough just to cast your vote every four—now every five—years; that is only part of our democratic system. Real democracy demands civic engagement from people through churches, as the Bishops will testify, charities—I am proud to be a trustee of Age Scotland and many noble Lords are involved in charities—political parties and other parts of civil society. But the trade union movement is perhaps the single strongest embodiment of such civic engagement, critical not just as a way for employees to

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engage with employers on equal terms but as bodies representing and lobbying for wider changes in society on behalf of ordinary working people. We have seen trade unions do that. They serve as a vital conduit for the interests of millions to be heard here at Westminster, at Holyrood, at the Welsh Assembly and at Stormont, and in local government. They keep actively promoting the interests of working people in these areas where decisions are made. They promote the interests of a huge number of people—over 6 million British citizens—and are therefore essential to our democracy.

Trade unions also promote political participation by the citizens. According to figures from the OECD and the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the 10 most unionised countries have an average voter turnout of 78%, while the 10 least unionised have a turnout of 62%. That is a remarkable difference and there must be some correlation.

Trade unions do not just help democratic participation; they also campaign and impact on a wide range of social issues. They fight not only for their members in the narrow confines of the workplace but also for a better society for their members. For example, on child poverty and opportunity, greater trade union membership is associated with lower rates of child poverty and significantly better economic mobility. On equality, the Trade Union Share Owners, controlling £1 billion of shares, has openly used this financial clout to pressure for more women on FTSE 100 boards. Such power could be used even further and more effectively, and I would certainly encourage it so to do. On anti-slavery, trade unions in this country have lobbied DfID, the ILO and the Home Office to fund anti-slavery programs for the benefit of people working in slave conditions, both abroad and at home.

Trade unions are sometimes cast as an anachronism, and some people say that they are redundant. But in spite of the tremendous advancement of workers’ rights, the coming years point towards severe challenges that British workers will face. It is critical that we in Parliament work with employers and trade unions to mitigate and reverse some of these threats. The Trade Union Bill, which we will come to later, is one such threat.

The experience of the United States is a dire warning. Safety in the workplace is worse in the United Sates and wages are lower, particularly in states where there is anti-union legislation. If we compare those states with the others, we see a very significant difference.

In conclusion, the essence of a successful democracy is that the country works for the benefit of all the people. The Labour Party, which we recognise was born of the trade union movement, embodies that ideal. We are here to make the case for a more just and a more equitable society, to give voice to those who would otherwise be silent and to champion the continued journey of a nation towards our democratic ideal. Our trade unions should be a vital and valuable partner as we make this journey. I beg to move.

12.40 pm

Lord Balfe (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for putting down this Motion. I am sure that we welcome this debate at this important

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time. Perhaps I, too, could begin with a few declarations. I am the parliamentary adviser to BALPA, the pilots’ union, a majority of whose members I am pleased to say vote for the Conservative Party. I am also the president of the British Dietetic Association, a TUC-affiliated union, and I believe that the majority of its members do not vote for the Labour Party. In neither of those instances was this a matter for my being appointed to the role. Both those unions wanted to demonstrate that they were not dominated by one political party.

I should declare another interest. Since the age of 16, I have been a member of a TUC-affiliated union. For a good portion of that time, I was a member of AUEW-TASS, which I still think of as one of the finest unions that this country ever had. I am now a member of the Unite retired members section—like the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, we are most of us, I suspect, in retired members sections—but I still look back with fondness to AUEW-TASS and in particular to its leader, my good friend Ken Gill, who would not have found a place on the Benches opposite for reasons that we will not go into.

Some 30% of trade union members vote for the Conservative Party. We have increasing evidence of this; we have done surveys and we have looked at polls. I was for five years the envoy of the now Prime Minister and then leader of the Opposition to the trade union movement, from the end of 2007 through the election to 2012. Indeed, when I came to this place, he said to me, “This has nothing to do with your distinguished service in the European Parliament; it is your service on behalf of the party”.

Lord Clinton-Davis: When the noble Lord was in the European Parliament, did he hold those views at that time? Have they rather altered in recent days?

Lord Balfe: Like anyone who has known me for many years—of course, I knew the noble Lord when he was the Member for Hackney in the other House and as a distinguished commissioner—he will know that I have always had a wide range of views, which is why I was such a good friend of Ken Gill. Those views have evolved, as have all views, but they have not fundamentally changed: I am still standing here today on these Conservative Benches saying that I am proud to have been a lifelong member of a TUC-affiliated trade union.

I make the point about the Conservative Party—it is no secret; it is nothing new. The members of unions have always voted in large part for the Labour Party but in significant minority for other parties. Many of them do not vote at all; they actually mirror the population remarkably closely—much more closely than we might like to think. I am pleased that the Conservative Party has recently appointed Rob Halfon, its deputy chairman, to resuscitate the official trade union body within the party.

So we are at a bit of a crossroads, but one positive point that I want to repeat for the Minister is that one of the great achievements of the trade union movement has been the Unionlearn programme. It was recognised many years ago that active trade unionists are often

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the first people who are in touch with people, particularly migrants who have come to this country, who have first-class skills but who often lack English language skills and sometimes numeracy skills.

I was very impressed when visiting one or two of the Unionlearn projects to find out that while there was a problem with English as a foreign language, there was often no problem with numerical skills. I was told by one or two of the tutors that the people they were tutoring were much better mathematicians than the person who was doing the tutoring. Of course, mathematics is an international language, unlike written and spoken languages. There are now some 30,000 Unionlearn reps in this country and almost a quarter of a million people in work are benefiting from the Unionlearn scheme. It is to the great credit of the Government that they have continued to support this scheme and I would like the Minister in her response to mention and endorse the fact that they will continue to support the scheme.

I saw the noble Lord, Lord Monks, frowning slightly. Of course the scheme has evolved, but the basic support for the principles of scheme is still there. It is there because the scheme benefits employers as well as employees. It is to the advantage of an employer to have a workforce that can read the health and safety notices; to have a workforce that has a sufficient command of the language to talk to other people on the shop floor who may also not be of a UK/English background but need to communicate in a common language. Courses in English, maths and technical studies are the backbone of the Unionlearn programme, and they have been extremely useful.

There is also a pay-off in economic return. If you improve the efficiency of workers, you improve their earnings, you improve the tax take and you improve the profits for the firms. It is not a charitable institution but one that is useful for benefiting the economy.

I have good news. Just under eight years after I first asked to meet Len McCluskey’s predecessor as secretary of the T&G, I received an email yesterday saying that Mr McCluskey would very much like to meet the Lord Balfe. I have of course replied and said that I would be delighted to meet him. I wonder what that can be about.

It is totally self-defeating for the Labour Party to try to monopolise the unions, because unions need friends on both sides of the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said, unions play an important part in the economy. It is important for them to have friends across the political spectrum. If I was to give them one message it would be to stop backing just one horse because occasionally that horse might not win the race. You need friends on all sides of the House. My challenge to the unions is to settle down, to stop being totally dominated by one political party and to look across the House. Then they might find that they have more friends when they have difficulties with impending legislation.

12.48 pm

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Foulkes for bringing the positive role of trade unions to the attention of the House and for

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doing so in such an interesting and powerful way. I too look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Robathan.

This debate is a timely curtain-raiser to the debates we are about to have on the Trade Union Bill, which will come to the House before Christmas. It is a trailer for some of the positive features of trade unions which I fear, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, are being ignored by the Government at present. I too should declare my interests as a former general secretary of the TUC and of the European Trade Union Confederation, and currently president of BALPA. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and I form a sort of odd couple in that particular union, but a very fine union it is too.

I wonder how many Members of the House have recently been through Westminster Hall, where there is an exhibition of the progress towards democracy that we have made in Britain since Magna Carta. Perhaps some have noticed that one of the banners hanging there pays tribute to the positive role of the trade union movement, and the particular role played by the Tolpuddle Martyrs. I invite the Minister and perhaps some of her colleagues to take a trip through the hall—I would be very happy to accompany them—and to take a look and remind themselves of the debt this country owes to trade unions in times of both peace and war.

I am very proud to have a strong connection to the world of trade unionism. Along with my family it is the central purpose of my life. I believe that trade unions have been, are and will be a tremendous force for good in the country, and I accept the stricture of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that we need friends across the political spectrum. I just wish that our friends over there were a bit more powerful in the Conservative Party than currently seems to be the case, because they are failing lamentably to have any influence at the moment, if the Trade Union Bill is anything to go by.

Just last week, Sir John Major lamented the lack of equality in Britain. He called on employers to pay more and acknowledged that the state alone was not rich enough to rescue all those left behind. In a remarkable speech, he called for a crusade and echoed similar sentiments that have been expressed by President Obama, Christine Lagarde and Mark Carney. But what Sir John omitted to mention is that the rise in inequality has been in inverse proportion to the fall in the coverage of collective bargaining. In the 1980s it was more than 70%, but has fallen to around 30% today. Strong unions pressed and even crusaded for higher pay, but by their very presence they imposed a degree of discipline on the way managements did things and on the reward packages they constructed for the people at the top. After all, it is not easy to help yourself when your employees are watching and may well be seeking some measure of comparability. As that pressure has eased, we have seen what has happened to boardroom pay.

I recognise that other countries with wider collective bargaining coverage are displaying some similar trends in inequality to ours, but the harsh fact is that the UK is the European leader in the inequality stakes, the

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front-runner setting the pace for others to follow. I usually like it when the UK is the front-runner and I wish we were in the lead on skills, productivity, innovation and investment, but alas we are not; only in inequality are we way out in front. The combination of an overpriced corporate elite and weakened unions has not only fostered inequality, it has been a brake on our economic growth as the purchasing power of many of those who are worse off has been strongly squeezed.

I acknowledge that the Chancellor has made moves on the living wage, even if currently it is really a rebranding of the minimum wage, and at anything like its current levels it is certainly not a justification for slashing in-work benefits. I believe that a more fundamental approach is necessary, and that is to alter the way Britain does its business. It was President Roosevelt in the 1930s who persuaded much of US business that it was the trustee of all the economy, not just individual firms, not just the next quarterly results and not just the next takeover bid. He also strengthened trade unions and collective bargaining as a countervailing force. The historians on the other side of the House might remember that Stanley Baldwin, a Conservative Prime Minister, tried to do the same thing. With the then Minister of Labour, he promoted collective bargaining, and there was support for that across the political spectrum in the late 1920s and 1930s. I think that we need to do the same again. We need to promote mechanisms that do not involve taxpayers’ money, but which provide for proper negotiations between employers and unions at the sectoral level so that we can iron out some of the inequalities and shine a light into the dark corners of the British labour market where exploitation is still rife.

However, that is not the way the Government are going. They are not going the Baldwin route; they are going a Thatcher route. Other Conservative Governments have had Bills on trade unions so it is a rite of passage for us to have ours as well. The barrel has been well and truly scraped of all the possible options in BIS. I will not debate the Trade Union Bill today; there will be plenty of opportunities to do that. We are being demonised. Blemishes here and there are seen through a prism which exaggerates them to give an impression of trade unionism that somehow we are the enemy of the state, when nothing could be further from the truth. We are a sword of justice. We wish we were a more powerful sword of justice to try and ensure that people get a fair deal.

The Trade Union Bill is to come and I hope that Members on all sides of the House will take an interest in it. I shall not go through any of the particular measures today—no doubt others will touch on them. Let us remember this: trade unions are not clapped out; they are not finished. Trade unionism is the norm in companies with more than 500 employees. It spans important sectors, such as aerospace, cars, chemicals, utilities, banking, transport and supermarkets. It would be good for equality if it spanned rather more sectors.

Will the Minister revisit the programmes of the present Government and look back a little at what Baldwin was trying to do in the 1920s and 1930s, and see trade unionism as an ally in what the Chancellor said he is trying to achieve, and what we are all trying

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to achieve: a fair deal for the people of this country? That is what this debate today should be about. It was unions that brought us the weekend and many other things that we take for granted. My plea today is: work with us not against us.

12.57 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for this timely and important debate, and for his introduction to it. I want to say a little about the context in which we are having the debate and then make one or two points about the future of the trade union movement. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, hinted, the trade union movement as we know it came out of chapels and churches and concern for the welfare of human beings in the world of work. We face similar challenges. If I may, I shall name some of the challenges that face not just churches but trade unions.

We live in what I call a non-joining culture. People want their rights and services in their lives but there is less energy to join and put your back to the wheel to make it happen. As people do not join and our numbers go down, there are fewer people to take up this important work. That is a real challenge for the trade union movement, as it is for the church, not least as the world of work gets more complex. We need more energy, more wisdom and more contribution from the experience of those in the world of work.

A second part of the context that intrigued me and which I want to name is that, in researching this, I discovered that the trade unions are relatively strong in their base in middle-income employees and in the professions. That is very much like the Church of England, if I may say so. We face a similar task in terms of people on the front line of the world of work in poor conditions—how to be alongside, encourage and support them.

The last bit of the context is about public perception. People think the church is about pitching up to a building on a Sunday. They think that trade unions are about having a fight about wages through strikes that cripple everybody else’s lifestyle. The public perception is very wrong. In Derby, where I work, trade unions are involved in some of the most creative and important work in the community, supporting and paying for community workers in deprived areas. They have been involved in helping churches and other voluntary groups respond to the food crisis on the ground, using their resources, contacts and expertise in partnership to make a difference to people in need in deprived areas. That story needs talking up. That is the base to build on and to encourage.

I will name two things that trade unions are and have been about, which should be the pillars on which their future health depends. The first is interest. Trade unions have always represented the interests of their members, but, as I said, the method is often perceived to be confrontational. When there were strikes in the 1860s the Guardian, which was not a left-wing paper but a church paper in those days, had a very interesting article pointing out that strikes and confrontation were in the interests of nobody. They were not in the interest of the employer, the employee or the public. If unions are to represent the interests of people, it has to

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be done by way of partnership, where people from different angles and views can participate and make a difference together. There is a responsibility on the unions as well as on employers, and on the public in our attitude, to challenge too simple a view of confrontation and to look for common ground. There is a shared interest that unions have to explore and step into with businesses and the public.

The second area in which unions have developed concerns identity. Historically, workers were hands—that was the word, “hands”, just a bit of a hand to help something happen. I was privileged to be part of the Joint Committee on modern slavery, examining where human beings are still commodities today. Actually, zero-hours contracts are not too different from people being in slavery, in a sense. There is a terrible way in which people are being treated as hands and commodities now, not just historically.

When the Government helped shape the then Modern Slavery Bill, the Minister’s argument was rightly that businesses have to take a lead in shaping a business culture that is accountable through its auditing to ensuring that human beings are treated not like commodities but as part of the business in a responsible way. For that to happen, the workers and people in work need representation in the process of what the business audit is about, how it works, how it operates and what it is trying to achieve. Some noble Lords may have noticed that the Pope produced an encyclical earlier this year, Laudato Si’, which brings together the issue of slavery and sustainable economic and environmental development—that is, we are commodifying not just the planet but people. We need joined-up practices to audit business practice to see where not just the planet and the environment but people are being commodified, what that experience is about and how to challenge and change it. That can be done only through partnership—through different voices being in the mix—not through confrontation.

The Modern Slavery Act produced the anti-slavery commissioner. I am privileged to chair his reference group. Some noble Lords may have received his first strategic plan, which was published this autumn. It calls on businesses and trade unions to work together to challenge the commodification of human beings in the workplace. That cannot be done by business alone. It needs the representation and all the skills that unions have to get alongside people, to hear what is happening to them, to articulate it and to put it into the mix. As we develop better business audit systems, we must have the voice of those in work.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority makes the same plea for businesses and unions to work together. It highlights specific areas of economic activity that have a desperate need for this partnership. It highlights agriculture, construction and hospitality, where there is not only a lot of technical slavery and a lot of very unsupportive work practices. We desperately need unions to help some of the most vulnerable in the workforce to have a voice and to make a contribution to business audit, business planning and business performance.

There is an enormous, vital and necessary future for the historical trade union movement to be alongside people in work and to be in partnership with business.

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We are at a stage where businesses are looking at a social and sustainable audit practice, trying to be socially responsible. Business needs the contribution of those who represent people in the workplace. I invite the Minister to comment not only on how we encourage businesses to have sustainable audit, but on how the Government can encourage the participation of those who listen to and represent the workers, and help the far from satisfactory experience of many in the workforce at the lower end of the scale, to be taken seriously and tackled creatively.

1.05 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde (Lab): My Lords, I, too, welcome very much this debate from my noble friend Lord Foulkes. Quite frankly, it is almost sad that it has been necessary to hold it and to put forward the positive contribution that trade unions have made. I look forward very much to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. Her experience in personnel will be very helpful.

We have just heard from the right reverend Prelate about history. Historical credentials are important in this House. I declare that I am a member of a trade union. I have been for more than 50 years and will continue to be until I die, because I believe in trade unions and in the rights of working people. History comes into it, in that I was elected general secretary of one of the printing unions, which was more than 200 years old—much older than any political party in this Chamber. It was formed out of hardship by people who were deported to Australia because they had the audacity to try to band together because they could not live on their wages, and if they threatened to do something about it their homes were taken off them because they lived in tied cottages.

We have come a long way. The record of the positive contribution of trade unions to this nation goes without question, in my view. I just hope that when we come to the Trade Union Bill that list of positives will be taken in the balance, because the Government pushing forward that Bill have a pretty poor record of looking after the ordinary man and woman in this nation. The party pushing forward this anti-trade union legislation—it is anti-trade union—opposed the formation of the health service. It opposed the Equal Pay Act when Barbara Castle brought it forward to try to help women. It opposed the Sex Discrimination Act. It opposed the minimum wage. If noble Lords look at the balance of where the positive contributions have been, it is a very hard argument from the Government that they are for working people.

Lord Balfe: I remind the noble Baroness, since we are in a history lesson, that the Labour Party opposed all the Thatcher trade union reforms but repealed none of them.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: I take that point, but I am talking about the positive contribution for working people in Britain, not just members of trade unions. The policies that trade unions put forward benefited those in work, both within and outside trade unions.

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Lord Callanan (Con): I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I am someone who has no particular knowledge of trade unions. I have never been a member of one and I have never seen them as particularly relevant in most of the places I have worked. Does she accept that the Bill we will debate is not anti-trade union but pro-consumer? Many of us who have no connection with trade unions get very irritated with the role of many trade unions as, first of all, they spend all their time campaigning against my party, so why should we have any respect for what they do? Secondly, they get in the way of many of us who want to go about our daily business.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: I thank the noble Lord for that contribution. It is on the record and we will be able to remember it. I am a trade unionist; I am also a consumer, as were all my members. When I was in the trade union movement I learned a big lesson. I had 220,000 members who I was privileged to be elected to represent. Some 4% of them worked in Fleet Street. Noble Lords might have thought my union’s members were Fleet Street. Yes, they were the screaming child and they did not bring a good reputation to my union, but the other 200,000-odd members were decent men and women at work, trying to get on with a decent job. They were good, decent trade unionists, yet the union’s reputation was based on Fleet Street.

That is the very point I am trying to make on the Trade Union Bill, which, in seeking to deal with an issue that certainly exists, will take away the rights of a whole organisation representing decent working men and women. That organisation has more members than all the political parties put together and of any other organisation in the UK. Its members can join voluntarily. They do not have to join but choose to do so. One of the reasons they choose to join is that an employer who runs a workshop, for example, will probably have a full-time HR person, or someone he can refer to, and a lawyer to represent him. However, the individual worker has very little impact as an individual. Therefore, the right to combine with others is in my view one of the most important points of any civilised, free society. To do anything that damages that would damage our democracy and would take away the rights of working people.

I believe in industrial partnership and I tried to practise it as a trade unionist, as do most trade union representatives. We have heard reference to the Thatcher years. I recall Mrs Thatcher calling the trade unions “the enemy within”, giving a label to nearly 12 million working people in Britain. That was a nonsense. I see Members across the Chamber shaking their heads. I was a trade union official when that statement was made. It did not help me in my work but rather hindered me in trying to develop partnerships.

The contribution that trade unions make to this country depends on the freedom of individuals. Any economy that does not allow free trade unions is not successful. If the Government argue that their proposals will help our economy, I will challenge that—and it will be challenged in debate.

I will end with two points. Legislating to tackle a small but important problem in a way that penalises a whole sector of people in Britain is wrong and will not

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work. Secondly, I would like to accept the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, to make friends as trade unionists across the Chamber. I look forward to working with him to achieve a balanced outcome when the legislation arrives in this House.

1.12 pm

Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today. I feel enormously privileged to be here and hope to make a productive and positive contribution to this House. I am grateful also for the welcome I received from noble Lords at my introduction and for the enormous support, courtesy and patience of parliamentary staff in the way they have helped this particular “new girl”. I have found the politeness and helpfulness of all the staff in this place without parallel. However, I am sure that it will take me a while to get used to the ways and customs here, so I feel that now is a good opportunity to apologise in advance for any faux pas I am likely to make as I feel my way.

I have been told that one’s maiden speech should be relatively non-controversial. I will try. I have been bruised and battered many times in the fray in the other place and have been impressed by the politeness and civility I have witnessed in this Chamber. It is refreshing, and I aspire to measure up to the standards that noble Lords maintain here.

Politics, in my past experience, has been a brutal game. I have served in local as well as national elected chambers, as a local councillor in Dudley—Lenny Henry country—and for 10 years as MP in the rather more genteel Solihull, overturning a 9,400 majority in 2005. This result came as an enormous surprise not only to the party that lost but also to many in my own party. At least one colleague on election duty with the media that night asked them to double-check the result before they discussed it on air. But although it was the street fighter from Dudley who originally won that seat, I chose Solihull for my peerage title because today I am a Silhillian—I live there, love it and love the people I have served for the last 10 years.

Before I discovered politics, my career was in public service—the Prison Service, in fact—in commercial business and then as an entrepreneur with my own businesses. I have spoken up for business large and small throughout my parliamentary career, so this short debate today seemed ideal for my maiden speech. My party, the Liberal Democrats, is a pro-business party. We feel a special affinity to small businesses; that independence of thinking, preparedness to back up your beliefs with actions and working hard are all traits we share with the entrepreneur. Indeed, many party members are entrepreneurs, but many also are trade union members, a lot of them in the public sector, selflessly serving in health, education and other services.

We all recognise that businesses and public services are nothing without the people who staff them, put their energy, time and creativity into making businesses grow, deliver the best service they possibly can, take pride in seeing the success they have helped to create and rightly expect to share in that success. Business is a partnership between those tasked with managing the

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business and those who put energy and effort into making that business or that service the best it can possibly be. Here I cannot help being a little bit controversial. I think that anyone who seeks to profit at the expense of one side or the other will only defeat themselves. Taking sides is counterproductive—and I am sad to say that we see this all too clearly in politics at the moment.

The Trade Union Bill, to which several noble Lords have already alluded, in my view seeks to diminish union power when there is no evidence that strikes are on the increase and the number of trade union members is at its lowest for 20 years. Having said that, however, trade unions have a big responsibility, too. They serve their members poorly if they seek to push management too far, protect unproductive working practices and hamper the ability of employers to create wealth for all. That is why Liberal Democrats favour employee ownership so strongly. It is sad that many unions do little to support mutual and shared ownership when their own roots come from the co-operative movement. So, we welcome the constructive role that trade unions can play in the partnership that enables everyone to benefit from their labours.

In case anyone is thinking that I am unrealistic in my description of the working partnership I have outlined, I point noble Lords to an example of what happened in Solihull when Jaguar Land Rover fell on difficult times and we feared that either the Solihull or the Castle Bromwich plant would have to close, spelling disaster for our area and affecting the wider West Midlands. Management and unions worked together to agree a plan to reduce workers’ hours and pay, thereby enabling more skilled staff to remain in work so that the skills would not be lost when the hoped for upturn arrived—and, boy, did it arrive. Since that terrible time, JLR has become one of the most successful manufacturing companies in the UK, investing and building a long-term future to guarantee the success and prosperity of all the partners involved. That is the way to do it. Successful, long-term businesses are built on firm and committed partnerships between owners and staff.

I commend the spirit of this Motion and thank all noble Lords for listening so patiently.

1.19 pm

Lord Morris of Handsworth (Lab): My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness on the occasion of her maiden speech. It was a speech of content, passion and, of course, authority. The House warmly congratulates her on that speech and looks forward to many more contributions in the future.

When considering today’s debate, I was tempted to reflect on my 12 years as general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. But in order to avoid being labelled a “trade union baron”, as I anticipated, I decided instead to share my thoughts based on my 18 years as an employee and workplace representative at Hardy Spicer Ltd, subsequently a member of the GKN group.

As a believer in the values of a fair and just society, I have no difficulty in rationalising my role as a trade unionist. Today’s debate seeks to explore the role of

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unions in a democracy and their contribution to the wider economy. I take the view that a free, independent trade union movement goes hand in hand with a fair and just society. But without playing devil’s advocate, I would like to put exactly the same question to the employers: what is the role of employers in a democracy and their contribution to an economy that is fair and equitable? What are they doing that could not be done by other agents or, indeed, the state?

What I am seeking to establish is that there is an interdependence between capital on the one hand and labour on the other. Both working together, and working well, benefits society for the common good. It is clear that production and consumption are two sides of the same coin. The debate is about not the acquisition of ownership but equitable distribution. Trade unions provide a mechanism for dialogue between workers and employers, helping to build trust and commitment among the workforce. They ensure that problems can be identified and resolved quickly and fairly, bringing significant productivity benefits.

Many employers and employer bodies such as the EEF and the CBI have recognised the positive role that trade unions have played in supporting employer-led issues such as training and health and safety. Employers have long recognised the contribution that unions make in implementing organisational changes. They offer a mechanism for the effective negotiations and consultations that are generally needed to make significant change to programmes within the workplace. Trade unions are ambassadors, both at home and abroad.

In addition, trade unions have long worked alongside companies, business organisations and their communities in supporting national infrastructure projects. We have heard about projects such as the fifth terminal at Heathrow and of course the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As we speak, these groups are working together to build the case for other projects, yet some politicians and newspapers talk of trade unions as the scourge of economic well-being, in the past even describing us as the “enemy within”. These claims are made even when workers seek health and safety protection for themselves and, more importantly, the general public.

A recent report produced by the independent think tank the New Economics Foundation and the University of Greenwich points out that the number of days lost per year to industrial action has fallen dramatically over the past 30 years and has today reached an historic low. The report concludes:

“The UK has paid a heavy economic price for three decades of anti-union policy and law”,

and argues:

“If the recovery from the recession is to be placed on a secure footing, the status of trade unions as an essential part of sound economic policymaking must be restored”.

The report argues that the UK economy is wage-led, not profit-led, and that increasing wages would kick-start spending and increase GDP by 1.6%. The collective strength of trade unions’ negotiation means that on average union members take home higher pay and have better sickness and pension benefits, more holidays and more flexible working—all of which benefit the economy.

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The World Bank agrees that unions are good for the economy. In a report based on more than 1,000 studies of trade unions and the performance of national economies, the World Bank found that high rates of unionisation led to less inequality of earnings, lower unemployment, lower inflation, higher productivity, and speedier adjustment to economic shocks.

So far I have looked only at the contribution of trade unions to the economy. What of their role in a democracy? I take the view that free, independent trade unions go hand in hand with a just and fair society—locally, nationally and globally. On a basic level, trade unions are agents for change and will always strive to protect and advance the interests of those they represent, including those without a voice. A major ILO study found that countries in which income inequality was on average lower tended to be those in which a greater proportion of workers were members of trade unions. It also found that higher rates of union density had a positive impact on the range of social rights afforded to citizens.

It is no coincidence that in countries in which there are free and active trade unions, there are more democratic, transparent and representative forms of government. In countries where there are no trade unions or where the movement is not visible, the vast majority of citizens continue to be trapped in poverty. It is in these conditions that instability and extremism thrive at the expense of democracy. Therefore, by pressing for better social, economic and environmental policies, trade unions are good for the economy and for society, and make democracy work better.

1.28 pm

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): My Lords, I add my tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, who spoke earlier. Like my noble friend, I look forward very much to hearing more from her in the future. I was also delighted to hear the tone with which my noble friend Lord Foulkes introduced this debate. There is a Bill coming and we will have the opportunity to say things about it, but it is not a bad thing to remember that the trade unions are a part of our national life—not sectoral, not subdivisional but an integral part of our national life—and it is good that we hear the positive news.

I am therefore encouraged by my noble friend to bring up something that comes from a rather personal angle. I was 10 when my grandfather died. He had been a coal miner all his life and used to tell me, until I could tell the story off by heart, of how in 1910 at Penygraig in the Rhondda valleys he was one of those miners who came out on strike after there had been a lock-out. The miners were asking for 1 shilling and ninepence for mining a ton of coal. They were protesting that the price was not quite enough and the owners shut them out, so the workers came out on strike. My grandfather told me so graphically about Samuel Rhys, who died of a fractured skull right alongside him in the crowd. I am absolutely certain that every one of the 12,000 miners on strike that day told their grandchildren that they were next to Samuel Rhys. At the same time, at that very incident, the then Home Secretary ordered the British troops to move into the valleys. The Riot Act was read and bayonets were

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fixed. My grandfather could tell that story pretty graphically. I was only 10, but I remember it to its last detail.

The mining industry has gone. Traditional heavy industries are no more. The injustices—let us be honest, that is what they were—under which workers went down those mines continue to exist, but they have morphed into other places. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned some of those areas. If it is a matter of justice, the fight has to go on. The champions who are behind the standard that they raise in the name of justice must not be vilified because they are doing that.

I want to go on to pay tribute to one of my personal political heroes, who is almost never mentioned in Parliament but deserves to be recognised much more. He was Jim Griffiths—no relative of mine, although he lived in Burry Port where I grew up. As a coalminer himself, Jim Griffiths came up to become president of the federation of miners in South Wales and, in that way, he became Member of Parliament for Llanelli in the 1930s. With the Labour victory in 1945, Clement Attlee invited Jim Griffiths to take up office in the Foreign Office but he refused. Clem Attlee was a little surprised: “Well, what do you want?”, he said. “I want to do something for my people”, said this former trade union leader, and so he took on the job of Minister for National Insurance. Under his leadership, four of the six parts of the welfare state as envisaged by Beveridge were put into place. He implemented the Family Allowances Act and brought the Industrial Injuries Act, National Insurance Act and National Assistance Act on to the statute book. We know about Nye Bevan and 1948; we know about Rab Butler and 1944; but nobody knows about Jim Griffiths, who did all four of the other Acts, so I pay my tribute to him here.

However, let us remember that the welfare state was itself created to address those evils that are called poverty, ignorance, disease, squalor and idleness. Let nobody in this House pretend that that battle has been won. All of us who have our feet on the ground and visit people in their homes and neighbourhoods can point to places where the scourges of those particular enemies continue to have their place. We rejoice, however, that we have had 60 years of benefiting from the implementation of those measures to address those enemies, and we stand fearfully on the threshold of the dismantling of those measures in our own day—woe to all of us. Of course they need reform and can no longer hold up in the way that they were envisaged originally but, my goodness, we are going to be a fragmented society if we lose hold of that.

I then want to pay tribute to another Jim Griffiths: my brother, who was an area organiser for the GMB. He did not live long enough to get into the retired GMB members and join my noble friend but my brother, who failed the 11-plus and did hard work on a factory floor, managed to impress the union by his ability to communicate with fellow workers. He soon became a shop steward. I have been with him many times at 6 am, when the shift ended, as he tried to recruit new members for the union. I saw my younger brother stand on a soap-box and arraign them with his oratory: Griffiths the preacher listening to Griffiths the soap-box orator. He was so persuasive in helping

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the people coming through those factory gates to understand what the real benefits of joining a union were. He became an area organiser and this failure at school used to phone me to ask what I thought about John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant or Aristotle and Plato. He was offered a place at Ruskin College. We must not underestimate the contribution to the social fabric and leadership skills of this country that has come through the trade unions. They must not be typified and thought of exclusively in terms of certain well-rehearsed and well-publicised confrontational moments in our national life. There is far more to trade unions than that, and they ought to be honoured for it.

Finally, I pay my tribute to a Member of this House, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, a very close friend of mine. He attempted to work out something that he called pragmatic socialism in the social contract, which he played his part in establishing, and in attempts with the CBI to see that, across the employers/employees divide, there should be joint ways of solving our national problems. He had to endure the winter of discontent and understand how the new Prime Minister of 1979 had her own way of doing things. ACAS was formed in his time, but confrontation came out of the new political realities.

By paying tribute in this way to people who have touched my life, I should have added myself as a Methodist minister. Goodness me, where would the trade unions be without Methodists? One after another, they gave the public-speaking skills, organisational skills and self-confidence in public to working-class people who went on to found the Agricultural Labourers Union, the stonemasons union and, in Durham in 1832, the mineworkers union. All these things and so much more came from the Methodist Church—not Wesleyan Methodism, the posh bit that was going through a long mahogany phase, but the primitive Methodists who were out there doing their stuff in the highways and byways of the land. I owe to Methodism my self-confidence—I would not be standing here now without it—and Labour owes more to Methodism than to Marx, having come down the ILP route rather than the SDF route.

So, my friends, I just wanted to say how much I owe to the trade union movement, even though I was in it officially only as a junior member, aged 21. I was in the Association of University Teachers when I had a cameo career in that part of our life. I pay tribute to the trade unions and say that they must, in their stance for justice, continue to be approved, wanted and helped to morph into the modern realities that they face. God bless the trade unions and God bless this House, if it can see the good side of them.

1.38 pm

Lord Robathan (Con) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, this is my second parliamentary maiden speech. The first was made some 23 years ago, when I introduced a debate on recycling down the corridor. These are rather grander surroundings. Nevertheless, I approach this speech with some trepidation.

After my first speech, people were remarkably nice about it. It was not bad but probably did not deserve the praise that it received, if the truth be known.

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I particularly remember that Tam Dalyell, then the Labour MP for Linlithgow and now Sir Thomas Dalyell of the Binns, Baronet, was very complimentary. He particularly said that I was a great improvement on my predecessor in Blaby, about whom he went on to say some very disobliging things. Now, first, it was not true that I was a great improvement on my predecessor, and, secondly, I was somewhat shocked by the quite vicious attacks made on him. Here in the House of Lords, I already find that there are far better manners, much greater courtesy and real friendliness from all parts of the Chamber. For that I am very grateful; it is not always in evidence in the House of Commons.

I have been told that I should say something about myself, which of course is an irresistible invitation to any preening politician. Briefly, I was elected with the previous majority Conservative Government 23 years ago, after serving 18 years in Her Majesty’s Forces, and I stood down as this majority Conservative Government were elected. I spent some four years in the previous Parliament as a Minister in the Ministry of Defence and the Northern Ireland Office. The truth is that it was time to move on, and I think that those who have been in the House of Commons would agree that 23 years is a pretty long sentence.

It is genuinely an honour to be here. Of course, there are issues and arguments about the future of this House, but I do not think there is any disagreement about its remarkable history. I would like to thank everybody across the Chamber for being so welcoming: my sponsors, my noble friends Lord Astor of Hever and Lord Spicer, my mentor, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, and everybody for the advice and assistance that they have given me—not least the staff of the House. In particular, I should like to mention the Principal Doorkeeper, Mr Keith Phipps. For a couple of years in the late 1980s, he and I worked together in the Army in Hong Kong and Northern Ireland. He tried to steer me in the right direction—well, usually in the right direction. As you may have guessed, he was not that keen on my emphasis on physical fitness and fitness training, but he was usually right about most matters, and I expect that he will try to put me right in this place, as well. Lastly, because old habits die hard, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for nominating me.

Turning to the substance of the debate, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for calling this debate. We have known each other over the years and have always got on in a relatively civilised manner, I hope. I was told to be uncontroversial, which is to break the habit of a lifetime. As a frightful, died-in-the-wool old Tory, just my speaking on trade unions might be thought to be partisan, but I hope to avoid so being. I wish to approach this debate from an historic, discursive perspective in a genuine spirit of inquiry, because I think that there is a place for discussion on this matter. I would like to look also, only briefly, at the future of organised labour.

I say at the outset that, along with other noble Lords who have spoken, I absolutely believe in the right—indeed, the need—for any workforce to have representation. Twenty years and more ago, when I was on the Employment Committee in the House of Commons, I was astonished when chief executive

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officers would come to tell us with pride that they had started having regular discussions with their workforce. Surely they always consulted their employees—but this was not the case. In the Army, paradoxically, I always knew what my soldiers thought, and I listened to them. In the SAS, we used to have things called Chinese parliaments. In a Chinese parliament, anybody and everybody had their say and said what they thought. Very often, it was extremely helpful.

As we have heard, the trade unions have hugely improved the lot of the workforces of this country over the years, from pensions to statutory sick pay and other matters. They have been assisted by the party of labour; I state that absolutely. Others here, particularly on the Opposition Benches, know the history of the labour movement much better than I: Keir Hardie, the Labour Representation Committee and the Labour Party, born out of organised labour. However, in my lifetime, I recall the 1960s: the seamen’s strike of 1966, I think, and Jack Dash, who was of course a communist, leading the dockers on strike in London, which contributed toward the demise of the London docks. This, of course, was all under a Labour Government led by Harold Wilson, and it led Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle to produce In Place of Strife. Others on the Opposition Benches will know more about that than I, but it was not very popular.

At university, I remember, under the Heath Government, attempting to study by candlelight. I recall the electricians’ strike, the postal workers’ strike, and, finally, Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers creating the three-day week under Heath and Heath then calling the election on “Who Governs Britain?”. We know what answer was given. Then the Callaghan Labour Government struggled with Red Robbo and British Leyland and were finally fatally undermined by the winter of discontent, led by some trade unionists.

I will gloss over the Thatcher reforms, because that would be controversial, but, in the second decade of the 21st century, what did my former constituents in South Leicestershire think of trade unions? It was a prosperous area, I agree, but generally, the larger proportion of younger people were not attracted by trade unions and felt that they were somewhat irrelevant to them—except, of course, when they needed their assistance in a dispute. More relevant than any anecdotal evidence that I produce is the decline in membership of the trade unions from 13 million in the year of the winter of discontent to now fewer than 7 million members. That is partly why some unions have amalgamated.

Of course I deprecate strikes on the transport system and in the public sector, but trade unions still do good work. As a Minister in the Ministry of Defence, I chaired meetings with trade union representatives. They were very honest and told me at the start that they would have preferred to have had a Minister from a different party, but they were generally good people who stood up for their membership. That was their role and I applaud them for it. Noble Lords may be surprised to know that we almost invariably parted on amicable terms.

I think that we would all agree that there has been a huge impact of technology, health and safety legislation, automation, globalisation and different ways of working,

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all of which have affected trade unions and led in part to their decline in membership. While I believe that representatives of organised labour have an important role to play, I pose a question to everybody in the House: does the current structure of trade unions and having a party of organised labour still best serve the interests of the workforce—of workers? Indeed, will trade unions and the TUC as currently constituted remain? Why, in the 21st century, is there still a party of organised labour? I pose that question in a genuine spirit of inquiry.

Especially now, when—I do not think it is controversial to say—we have a somewhat divided Labour Party, should those on the left of centre in politics still want to be a party of organised labour? The world has changed dramatically since the matters that I and other people have mentioned—since the 1906 creation of the Labour Party. I regret to say that even the Conservative Party has changed. Romantic views of past struggles may not best serve either those who are currently union members or an opposition party that covets power. I can see a time when the Labour Party parts from organised labour. Tony Blair and Ed Miliband enacted changes and distanced the party to a certain extent from trade unions. I would not presume to advise political opponents on what they should do, but I can see a possible realignment of those who support views that are broadly left of centre—and that would include the Liberal Democrats as well. The world has moved on and parties must move on, as indeed the Conservative Party—now caring, compassionate, et cetera—has also moved on. By the way, perhaps I may also say that whoever forms the Government, our country needs an effective Opposition. As I said, those comments are made in a genuine spirit of inquiry and for discussion, and I hope that they are taken as such.

In conclusion, I am told that people may be complimentary about my speech, probably along the lines of, “Frightfully good. Jolly good speech. Pity you were talking complete rubbish”.

1.47 pm

Lord De Mauley (Con): My Lords, perhaps I may start by congratulating my noble friend on a fine maiden performance; we look forward to many more. Taking over the constituency of South Leicestershire, formerly Blaby, in 1992, my noble friend had a rather large pair of boots to fill. He had had a distinguished career in the Coldstream Guards and the Special Forces. He then moved to the world of big business, only to volunteer to return to the colours for the first Gulf War, so he was the natural choice for the Prime Minister to ask to go to the Ministry of Defence, after service as Opposition Deputy Chief Whip, on the formation of a new Government in 2010, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Welfare and Veterans. Subsequently, of course, he became a Minister of State and served both in the MoD and, as he said, at the Northern Ireland Office. We all look forward to his future contributions in your Lordships’ House—as we do to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, for bringing this debate on this very important subject. I might start by saying that, when I was at Defra, I enjoyed a highly constructive relationship with the

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trade unions, especially—and I was going to say “most strikingly”, but perhaps “most significantly” would be a better phrase—in the case of making amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act to improve the level of protection for postal workers and many other workers going about their jobs every day. The Communication Workers Union was extremely helpful—an ally, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Monks—as was Royal Mail. Together we improved the situation quite markedly, and I thank them for that.

Trade unions have done and continue to do brilliant work for their Members—the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, explained some of that—and long may that work continue. However, cases continue to occur where there is abuse of the system and it is reasonable to think about making changes to the law. I am aware that we will get into that in detail in your Lordships’ House over the next few weeks so, there being limited time, I shall confine myself to a few general points today.

First, I am concerned about the effects on inoffensive and uninvolved members of the public, whose efforts to get to and from work or education become severely hampered by industrial action. The public sector strikes in 2011 closed 62% of England’s schools, while the NHS cancelled tens of thousands of operations, yet the turnout for both the ATL teachers’ union ballot and for Unison’s was only about 25%. Does my noble friend the Minister think that that is fair or right? I do not think that many people would disagree with me in thinking that it is not. Indeed, the majority has indicated in polls that it strongly agrees that strike action should be undertaken only as the last resort.

My second point is that I am concerned that the number of days lost to industrial action in the public sector has doubled over 15 years, whereas in the private sector it has halved. There is a need to tackle that.

Thirdly, it must be unreasonable that industrial action can take place based on a mandate that is, for example, more than a year old. The NUT strike in 2014 led to the full or part closure of almost 1,500 educational establishments across England on a mandate almost two years old, on which there was an alleged voting turnout of just 27%. This surely has to change.

Those are some of the issues that the Bill that we are about to get into debating seeks to tackle. Other matters include bullying and harassment, check-off and transparency about facility time. The public gave the Government a mandate at the general election, and the public are looking to the Government to fulfil it.

1.52 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a long- serving official of the TUC. Indeed, I am a lifetime member of what was the Transport and General Workers’ Union and, subsequently, Unite, having organised membership in the Economist Intelligence Unit in 1963.

Many of us are aware of the range of unions in the TUC; we do not need to be reminded of it, perhaps, but nevertheless it is an interesting and important point that people in professional occupations are now

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more likely to be in a trade union than those on the other path of the economy. Likewise, many unions with that sort of membership know very well that many of their members vote Conservative. I do not think that the TUC in its day-to-day work is working with a particular relationship with a political party—but let us put that the other way around and look for just one moment at the political connotations, as mentioned by two or three speakers on the other side of the House.

In any democracy one needs pluralism—in terms of political parties, unlike Russia, and in terms of people’s right to belong to a trade union, in this case. The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, nods his head, but it so happens that the £20 million or £30 million raised for an election on the part of the Conservative Party comes from somewhere, and that is the sort of money that the Labour Party cannot compete with, or even get near to, unless some considerable contribution is made through the trade unions. I make that point in passing without wanting to start a great debate about political funding.

Unity is strength for workers and seems also to be strength for capital. I was going to say “capitalism”, but that is a word that suggests that one belongs to a particular sort of analysis. But it is a fact that what drives capital in the City of London is very much mergers and acquisitions. In the multinational corporations of today, it is very difficult to get any sort of countervailing power if you think that capital and labour should be on the basis of some degree of equality. That is a much bigger debate than we can have at the moment, but capital is organised in a developing way that has a lot to do with the difficulties of trade unions in recent years. As my noble friend Lord Monks pointed out, the difficulty of organising in recent years has been associated with an increase in inequality—and that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby pointed out in a very interesting speech, has in its turn produced a non-joining culture in a society of individualism. That has lots of downsides in society.

I shall briefly come back to that point if I may, but not before I congratulate the two maiden speakers. I am delighted to hear from a very strong friend of the trade union movement on the Liberal Benches, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt—and I wish her well for her future contributions. Then there was the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, whom I know to be a not particularly strong friend of the trade unions. We have had conversations in the past where the word “TUC” was treated, if not as a term of abuse, then as something along those lines—as I recall, and he will recall as well.

Lord Hoyle (Lab): You know each other.

Lord Lea of Crondall: Yes, we know each other.

The question of how we redress the balance of these forces, which go against trade union interest and tradition, is a very thorny one indeed. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, made the point, which allows me to make the response—although he is not in his place at the moment. The noble Lord intervened from the opposite Benches on, I think, my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, and said, “Of course, these organised producers are just

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against the consumer”. I think I am not paraphrasing him; I think that was right. Having thrown that hand grenade, he retired from the Chamber—well, it was quite soon afterwards. Somebody must have put something on his seat, but it was not me. That is a very interesting idea, precept or fallacy to spend a couple of minutes on. We are all consumers, and that is why we want low prices and everything hunky-dory as far as consumers are concerned—but that is nothing to do with what we get paid as producers, presumably, and nothing to do with the health and safety conditions of people producing tea, lychees or textiles in Bangladesh or wherever.

I shall make this comparison: I suspect that even the Chinese economy, as it evolves over the coming period, will find that it needs a degree of pluralism in its structure, and I think that that will be the development of the trade union principle in China. It is one to watch because it will give the lie to those people who think that the future of the world will be successful in relation to increasing gross national product without any reference to the degree of inequality that might be associated with it. Does the Minister agree that there is a model of the future where producers and consumers are opposed to each other and that the problem of inequality is not associated with that fallacy?

2.01 pm

Lord Dykes (Non-Afl): My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, a doughty parliamentary fighter for parliamentary rights and trade union rights, for initiating this debate. Most of the speakers have been from the other side for fairly self-evident reasons, but that has been very valuable for people on other Benches. I wish there had been more Tory Peers present today to listen to the authentic voice of trade unions and long-standing experience.

It is a great pleasure and honour to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, on an excellent maiden speech. We used to liaise on a number of issues when I had the pleasure of being in the Liberal Democrat group. She had a reputation for being an extremely hard-working MP as well as a very distinguished chairman of the parliamentary party. We welcome her here with great warmth and look forward to her contributions.

I have known the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, less, but none the less I congratulate him warmly on his speech. It verged on the quasi-fierce at stages, but none the less it was very gentlemanly, not quite one-nation Tory but trying to get there a bit. We thank him very much and look forward to his contributions. As someone quite rightly said, taking over in Blaby was no mean task, but he did it very well indeed.

I well remember going to the office of the noble Lord, Lord Monks, when one newspaper called me the most left-wing Tory MP—I was a Conservative MP in those days—in the 1980s. The noble Lord, Lord Lea, was in the office as his deputy. I tried to reassure him that there were Conservative MPs who were not anti-trade union. That was the position we had reached in those days, and it was tragic, agonising and painful, particularly with the manifestation of the miners’ strike and the use of the police. I was therefore credited equally with being far too avant garde and out of line with conventional policy in those days. When I was

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MP for Harrow, a subeditor on my local newspaper, the

Harrow Observer

, wrote “Dykes lashes Thatcherism” because it was at the same time.

Although I have had a City and financial background for many years, what worries me is that if you create a society where the only thing that matters is making money, that society gradually disintegrates. You can see that in America now. The latest manifestations in American society show that effect: an insecure, neurotic society based on medieval inequalities, not just the developing inequalities in this country that John Major rightly referred to last week, but huge savage inequalities and the despair of poor citizens in the United States who feel that they have no support. Now there is a threat from the Republican Party to dismantle even the modest Medicare system that Barack Obama brought in. I hope we will not get to that. I will not get to the Americanisation of British economics and society. I would call it the “Bullingdonisation” of society as well. That is just as bad as Americanisation from the present Government.

We have to thank the Library, as usual, for its masterly research and briefing in the pack it did for this debate. I am glad the debate was extended to give us a bit more time. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for achieving that. When I think of the latest Conservative manifesto, I look at page 18 of the briefing pack. It states:

“We will protect you from disruptive and undemocratic strike action. Strikes should only ever be the result of a clear, positive decision based on a ballot in which at least half the workforce has voted”.

This comes from a Government who were elected by 37% of those people who turned out to vote—I think roughly 24% of the electorate. No Government without a real majority has a right to introduce such obnoxious legislation without the authority and support of the people as a whole. That is the problem with our political system, with exclusion and one party again winning with no genuine majority. Mrs Thatcher had a majority that went down on each vote and was much less than 50%. In other European countries, that is not possible. You must have at least 50%, with a coalition arrangement if necessary, otherwise you cannot govern. The only possible exception is the other country I live in, which is France, where you must have 50% on the first round but there can still be huge discrepancies between seats and popular votes. A Government need real authority to introduce legislation like that. I hope the Lords will be meticulous in looking at the various provisions coming from the Commons in this legislation to make sure that it is fair for working people. Above all now, they need fairness in a society of zero-hours contracts and wages that are still very low despite some improvements in the minimum wage figures and the so-called living wage. There are now grim prospects for ordinary working families. John Major was quite right to refer to those dangers. I remember that it is all linked together.

The more I think about it, the more I think it is a great weakness that we do not have a written constitution because the parties can never get together to agree on fundamental matters. One of the glaring absences is the leaders of the main parties agreeing on a funding system for political parties. Mr Cameron originally

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proposed that there should be a limit of £5,000 on individual donations. That fell by the wayside. Ed Miliband, to his credit, started the opting-out, opting-in system to reduce the amount of support automatically, allowing people not to opt in or not to be compulsorily included, and he got no credit for that in the increasingly right-wing newspapers in this country. I think six out of nine of our hapless newspapers, with their declining circulations, belong to owners who do not pay United Kingdom personal taxes, live in tax havens, write long, boring editorials about the need for us all to be keen on work, even if it is low paid, and are very patriotic as well. I wish they would come to live in this country and pay taxes. We would be more impressed.

I go to Germany frequently and see the difference there in the trade union picture with the Government of the day. Angela Merkel regularly attends the equivalent of the TUC conference, the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, to make a speech as the Chancellor or Prime Minister. Here, our divisions are so massive that that is impossible. The antagonism continues. There is no leadership of the correct kind to make sure that people come together. The overwhelming evidence I have from studying entrepreneurs, business and financial matters at very close quarters over many years is that if you have a happy employer-union relationship in any company of whatever size, that company usually works successfully if the market is strong enough and the demand for the products and services is strong enough. I have seen no exception to that. Occasionally you get tough guys—more guys than ladies, of course, because if there were more lady entrepreneurs, there would be less strife in industry as we know—saying, “I’m not going to have unions here”, and keeping them out and that kind of thing. Sometime employers become very benevolent, like Branson, in return for agreeing not to have unions, but that is very rare, and usually, with the inequalities we have now, you are undermining the consumption function all the time and depriving people of the opportunity of spending money or, indeed, saving money, which also contributes to the economy through the banking and investment system. That is a recipe for disaster. I hope the Government will be enlightened enough to change their mind and think again about some clauses of the Bill.

2.09 pm

Lord Hoyle: I also must declare an interest: previously I was president of ASTMS, which became MSF when we merged with TASS. The noble Lord, Lord Monk, referred to his friend Ken Gill. Along with another colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, I worked closely with Ken in taking that union forward.

I must thank my noble friend Lord Foulkes for tabling this Motion because it gives us a chance, as has been said, to show trade unionism in a positive light. At a later date we will deal with the Trade Union Bill, which makes it more difficult for trade unions to operate and protect their members. It is important that we remember what has been achieved by trade unions and employers working in partnership. When they come together, that benefits not only employees but employers and, in the case of the public sector, if there are good working relationships they benefit the public at large as well.

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An important point that I want to make is that in unionised companies, support for women is greater than in those that are not unionised. The unions that represent them make it easier for them to work—and indeed to return to work—through flexible working, job-sharing, sensible hours for people with families, and enhanced maternity pay. It is important to establish a relationship between unions and employers so that both take an interest in people who are on maternity leave, keep in contact with them and ensure that they get training when they return to work.