11 Jan 2016 : Column 1

House of Lords

Monday, 11 January 2016.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Retirement of a Member: Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior


2.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from 31 December, of the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his much valued service to the House.

War Pensions: Uprating


2.36 pm

Asked by Lord Touhig

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Statement by Earl Howe on 9 December (HLWS366) on the 2016 Uprating of the War Pensions Scheme, when war pensioners can next expect an increase in their pensions.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, the reason war pensions are uprated is to ensure that they reflect any increases in the cost of living. They are uprated annually in line with the consumer prices index—CPI—figure, which is the same measure the Department for Work and Pensions uses for uprating social security disability benefits and is in keeping with other public service schemes. Our approach ensures consistency with the measure of inflation used by the Bank of England. War pensions will increase when the annual CPI figure next increases.

Lord Touhig (Lab): The Government deserve credit for enshrining the Armed Forces covenant in law, and I am sure that the entire House endorses the words of the Defence Secretary, who said in the latest covenant report that,

“we have a duty to ensure that our servicemen and women are treated fairly”.

Yet within days of his making that statement, his department published a Written Statement entitled War Pensions Scheme—Uprating 2016, although there is no uprating, and in fact war pensions have been frozen for two years. Does the Minister agree that war pensioners should be treated the same as, say, someone like me, who is in receipt of a state pension, which, as a result of the triple lock, is guaranteed to increase every year? As the Defence Secretary said, we have a duty to ensure that our service men and women are treated fairly, and surely none more so than those who have been injured while serving our country.

Earl Howe: My Lords, it is important to make it clear that despite its name, a war disablement pension is not a state pension but a form of compensation for disablement and/or injuries caused by service to the country. It is tax free and payable in addition to the state retirement pension. Payments are set at a higher rate than similar disability benefits and most war pensioners who have reached retirement age will be in receipt of both pensions.

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, the war pensions scheme includes allowances related to employment, so the annual uprating should be related to earnings inflation and not price inflation. Will the Minister tell the House what it would cost the Treasury to link the war pensions scheme to earnings and not to inflation?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I know that the Royal British Legion has come up with its own calculation. To answer the noble Baroness’s question, I am not aware that the Treasury has done so. However, the principles should be clear here. Under the Armed Forces compensation scheme and the war pensions scheme which preceded it, an injured service man or woman is

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assessed on their level of disability, and based on that assessment they are compensated for their deemed loss of earnings in civilian employment. After that, the guiding principle is that the real-terms purchasing power of the annual payment should be maintained, and it is therefore indexed to the consumer prices index, which, as I said, is the index applied by the DWP to all disability benefits.

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, the Royal British Legion is very clear in saying that war pensions are losing value compared with military and civilian salaries. It is inexplicable that our injured and disabled comrades cannot have the same as others in society—the triple lock. Is it not a sad commentary that the Royal British Legion and others are correct in saying that, in this case, we are not all in this together?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the triple lock applies only to the basic state pension. Members of the Armed Forces will therefore benefit from the triple lock once they reach state pension age, but there are broader issues to be considered here. One is that maintaining parity with social security disability benefits is in principle the right thing to do, but secondly, there is the affordability issue. As a Government and, I believe, as a nation, we have to stick with the long-term economic plan and we have to continue to live within our means.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): Is the Minister not surprised that no Conservatives are rising to their feet to defend our servicemen? They are quite prepared to go along and lay a wreath and to go on marches, but when it comes down to it, the Minister gave it away: he said the word “affordability”. These are people for whom we must afford to uprate their disabled benefits, along with pensions; otherwise, we are really not honouring the memory of those who died for our country and served it so well.

Earl Howe: As I have explained, we do uprate the war pensions scheme, in line with the CPI, which is exactly the measure used by the DWP for all disability benefits, so those people are not disadvantaged.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con): I had a past interest as the first chairman—I suppose that was my title—of the War Widows’ Association. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Fookes is now in the same position and has been very successful in that regard, as have other Members of this House. Can the Minister tell me whether the wonderful change, brought in by a Conservative Government, whereby war widows can marry again without losing their pension, is affected in any way, or will they still be able to live whatever life they choose as the widow of a war pensioner?

Earl Howe: My Lords, a change was introduced. As from 1 April last year, those who are widowed and have a war widow’s pension can keep that pension whether or not they subsequently marry. However, regarding cases that fall before that cut-off point, it

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has been the policy of successive Governments that changes or improvements to all public service pension schemes should not be applied retrospectively, so there are no plans to reinstate war widows’ pensions for war widows who remarried between 1973 and 2005. However, from 1 April last year, those who have already surrendered their pension due to remarriage or cohabitation can apply to have their pension restored for life, should that relationship end.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, 210 years ago on Saturday, Lord Nelson was put in the crypt at St Paul’s. He always said that when he died, he would have “lack of frigates” engraved on his heart. We had some 220 frigates at that stage; we now have 13. Does the Minister feel that Lord Nelson might be a little disappointed by that, and when will he order new frigates to replace the ageing ones?

Earl Howe: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, I think that is another question.

Four Seasons Group


2.44 pm

Asked by Baroness Wheeler

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the event of the financial collapse of the Four Seasons Group, what contingency plans are in place to provide alternative accommodation, care and support to ensure the safety and well-being of over 20,000 residents currently residing in Four Seasons homes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): My Lords, managing provider failure in the adult social care market is a local responsibility. I cannot comment on the finances of individual providers. However, the Care Quality Commission has financial oversight of the larger providers and would supply local authorities with early warning if one of the businesses were to fail and its regulated activities to cease, allowing time for local contingency plans to be implemented. The Department of Health would co-ordinate any appropriate national response.

Baroness Wheeler (Lab): I thank the Minister for his response but it is disappointing that he cannot be more reassuring on government contingency plans for the fallout that would result from the collapse of major and small providers in the care industry. The problem goes wider than Four Seasons, given the rising costs of care, the postponement of the care cap and the inability of cash-starved local authorities to increase fees to meet rising costs and demands. The Southern Cross collapse affected 31,000 frail and elderly residents, who had to be found alternative care. Surely the Minister recognises that and the fact that there needs to be a wider government strategy to ensure the financial sustainability of the sector and to deal with the huge scale of closures that will happen unless the funding problems are addressed.

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Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, the collapse of Southern Cross in 2011 was the main reason that the previous Government gave the CQC market oversight responsibilities, which will give early warning of any failure of a large provider. It is worth noting that the LGA believes that at least 95% of all local authorities have contingency plans ready to be implemented.

Baroness Greengross (CB): My Lords, the former Health Minister, Norman Lamb, called for a cross-party commission to review future funding for health and care services in this country. Does the Minister not agree that we have to start talking, honestly and openly, about what standards of health and care older people can expect now and in the future? Having a commission to look in depth at this and to come up with strong recommendations seems—to me, at any rate—a rather good idea. Does the Minister agree, and will he comment on whether such a commission might be established?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, the idea of having a commission has been discussed a number of times in this House, and there will be a long debate on this matter on Thursday. In the spending review the Government are enabling local authorities to increase their precept by 2% and they are increasing the contribution to the better care fund by £1.5 billion, which will see a real increase in the resources available for adult social care.

Lord Lansley (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in circumstances of provider failure one of the most important things is for residents to be maintained in their existing homes? In fact, that was achieved in the overwhelming majority of cases following the Southern Cross collapse. It is often possible to separate the going-concern basis of individual homes from the commercial situation of the provider as a whole.

Lord Prior of Brampton: I fully agree. Our interest is in the residents in the homes. The CQC’s oversight regime is not intended to prop up a provider—that is an entirely different matter. My noble friend is absolutely right that when Southern Cross went into insolvency, very few homes—in fact, I do not think that any homes—closed as a direct result at the time; most of them carried on as going concerns.

Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, is the Minister working with the Department of Health, the CQC and BIS to ensure that the new financial instrument, whereby an individual can invest in a single room in a care home for a guaranteed rent, protects the user of that room as much as it provides any yield for the investor? Evidence in the student sector has shown very mixed results. Students can move on elsewhere, but elderly care residents have nowhere else to go and their protection, and indeed the trading viability of a care home, could be affected if investors had to move out quickly.

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, I could not see where the question was coming from. I am not fully briefed on the financial instrument that my noble

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friend—I am sorry; the noble Baroness—referred to. I will have to research it and get back to her.

Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree that Four Seasons, which is the subject of the Question from my noble friend on the Front Bench, is only one of the groups facing financial crisis? It is estimated that by 2020 there will be a funding gap of £3 billion for the residential care sector, and 15 social care groups warned the Chancellor of this before the Autumn Statement. Have the Government any long-term plan for funding and improving social care or are they committed to short-term solutions and to saying that it is a matter just for local authorities?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, clearly, it is a matter principally for local authorities. However, the Government are making available in the spending review another £1.5 billion for the better care fund and allowing local authorities to raise a special precept of 2%. The oversight provisions of the CQC cover 45 providers, which cover some 20% of the market. It is intended that that will give early warning to local authorities of any likely collapse.

Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, can the Minister confirm that anyone who has their care package funded by a local authority is entitled to alternative provision? Anyone who is a self-funder under the law is entitled only to advice. Are the Government taking steps with local authorities to ensure that older people and their families are aware exactly what their entitlement would be in the event that their care home were to close?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, it is up to local authorities to have contingency plans in place in the event of the closure of a home in their area. As I said earlier, the Local Government Association has indicated that at least 95% of local authorities have contingency plans in place.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (CB): My Lords, the problems of care home residents through the demise of Southern Cross was dealt with very significantly by the rest of the care home sector; a condition of that happening was that it was in “robust condition”. Can the Minister reassure us that the care home sector is currently in equally robust condition?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, it is true, as the noble Lord says, that the fallout from the collapse of Southern Cross was that the industry took on most of the homes currently owned or operated by Southern Cross. I think that if a large provider went into insolvency, many of those homes would be taken over by the industry. The important thing is that the industry has confidence in its long-term future. As I said earlier, I believe that the commitment to increasing the better care fund and allowing local authorities to have a 2% precept for social care will provide that level of long-term confidence.

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Fire and Rescue Service: Thomas Review


2.52 pm

Asked by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the Thomas review into conditions of service for operational staff in the fire and rescue service in England will be published; and whether they will provide an update on the progress of that report.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, the Government are looking at the detail of the review’s findings and will publish it in due course in the light of the proposed governance changes for the fire and rescue services resulting from our consultation, Enabling Closer Working Between the Emergency Services.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. I hope that the transfer of fire and rescue services to the Home Office may bring about some urgency in the publication of this important document and that the new Minister will set out a timetable for publication of the review before the anniversary of the original deadline for the submission of the report to government, which was in February 2015. The delay in publication is causing unnecessary problems in forward planning. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the chairman of the LGA’s fire services management committee as soon as possible to discuss this important matter?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I am certainly very happy to meet the noble Baroness, but she may like to meet my noble friend Lord Bates—or perhaps she can meet both of us.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, first, I pay tribute to our brave men and women in the fire service. We have all seen their bravery during the recent floods, along with that of our other emergency services and the Armed Forces. The Government have had this report since February 2015 and the Fire Minister made reference to it in a speech to the LGA in March. Can the Minister give more of an answer to the House—her response was not very satisfactory—and explain why the Government have sat on this report for 11 months?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, as I said, the Government will be deliberating on the report. The themes of the review are already in the public domain and we will respond in due course. I echo the noble Lord’s words about the bravery of our fire and rescue services, and in fact all the emergency services, over the Christmas period. Certainly in the areas that I visited following the flooding, their services have been absolutely exemplary.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): I am surprised that no Conservative Members are standing up to say what a wonderful job the fire and rescue services did. While we were all sitting at home eating our Christmas

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dinner or drinking our new-year drink, they were out in the flooded areas in the north of England. I am afraid that most of the Members opposite who come from the south-east of England do not realise the problems that the north of England and Scotland faced. What discussions has the Minister had with her counterpart in Scotland to find out the ways in which the Scottish fire and rescue services have also been doing a very good job?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I have visited Bury, Salford and Rochdale over the Christmas period so it is unfair to say that noble Lords on these Benches have not shown an interest— and I am from Trafford. In addition—by sheer good fortune I was in the west of Scotland last week and missed the east coast flooding—I know that communities, local authorities and faith ministries have all pulled together just as they have in England. The community response has been humbling and I commend everyone who has played their part in the clean-up operation.

Lord Cormack (Con): Will my noble friend remind the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that care and concern is not the monopoly of any group within this House?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My noble friend is absolutely right.

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, can the Minister confirm that educational services have been cut drastically recently and that firemen are not going out to give enough fire safety training?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, fire safety training has been more focused on areas of high need—for example, the elderly and the disabled. There has certainly been a big push for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, as this House has debated on a couple of occasions. The fire and rescue services are focusing their efforts much more. I was going to say something else, which I have forgotten, but it is a more focused effort.

Rough Sleeping


2.57 pm

Asked by Baroness Grender

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the number of people who are sleeping rough.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, the Government remain committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society. That is why we are maintaining homelessness funding over this spending review period, building on our significant investment since 2010. But even one person without a home is too many, so we have committed to work with homelessness organisations and across departments to consider options, including legislation, to prevent more people from becoming homeless in the first place.

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Baroness Grender (LD): Can the Minister explain how a Prime Minister who believes that affordable property in London is £450,000, and a Housing and Planning Bill which sells off social housing but with no legal guarantee of replacement, can be interpreted as anything other than the abandonment of a homelessness strategy and a return to the 1980s when kids out of care and troops returning home had no choice but to sleep rough?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the Prime Minister has not said that £450,000 is the price for an affordable home in London: it is the cap at which an affordable house can be provided in London. I apologise but I did not hear the second part of the noble Baroness’s question because there was a slight disturbance. Perhaps she would like to repeat it.

Lord Spicer (Con): My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Grender: I will repeat the second part. With the Housing and Planning Bill, which sells off social housing but has currently no legal guarantee of replacement, how is it possible to interpret it as anything other than an abandonment of homelessness strategy by this Government and a return to the 1980s when kids coming out of care and troops returning home had no choice but to sleep rough?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the Government are committed to building 1 million new homes by 2020 which will include affordable houses and homes for rent with a mix of different tenures. I must repeat that we will maintain and protect funding for local authorities, which by 2019-20 will be £315 million.

Lord Spicer: My Lords, as the housing Minister who introduced the rough sleepers allowance, I often wonder whether I was right to do so. Would it not have been better to have introduced more money for the provision of hostel places? Can I ask my noble friend how many hostel places are available today as compared with the number of those sleeping rough?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I cannot give an exact figure for the number of hostel places, but what I can say to my noble friend is that I think he was absolutely right to do the work that he did. We introduced a £20 million homelessness transition fund that has supported the rollout of “No Second Night Out” across England, which has been very effective.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, the Chartered Institute of Housing was recently quoted as saying that the main cause of increased homelessness is social security cuts. Can the Minister tell us what assessment the Government have themselves made of the impact of benefit cuts on the number of homeless people?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I cannot agree that the cause of homelessness is social security cuts because, in line with the housing benefit cuts, the welfare reform Bill will introduce a 1% reduction in social rents. My understanding is that the biggest cause of homelessness is in fact the end of tenancies.

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords, I think that the whole House will be disappointed that the noble Baroness was not able to estimate the number of people sleeping rough in London—and perhaps the Government do not have the figures. Could she at least answer the second half of the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Spicer; that is, how many hostel places are there in London at the present time?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I think I made it clear that I do not know the number of hostel places, but I will get that figure both for my noble friend and for the noble Lord.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, in my capacity as chair of the charity Housing Justice, an interest that I declare, I am very aware of the work of church and community winter night shelters. Indeed, the organisation provides a charter mark for such initiatives. In the winter of 2014-15, these shelters used some 500 church and other buildings, including mosques and synagogues, to provide winter accommodation, along with tens of thousands of volunteers who welcomed several thousand guests. Sadly, this work is expanding, although I wish it were not. Perhaps I may invite the Minister to affirm the Government’s support for initiatives such as winter shelters not simply as places of temporary shelter but, more importantly, as places where homeless people can be assisted to find longer term, permanent solutions to their circumstances.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I am very happy to endorse what the right reverend Prelate does and the work of organisations like the church. It is absolutely vital, particularly in the cold winter months, in taking rough sleepers off the streets and giving them warmth and shelter.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP): My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Prime Minister has actually chosen to deal with some of the symptoms of problems in our society but not the causes? He has suggested that he is going to knock down sink estates, whereas in fact what we need is poverty alleviation.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I think that this Government and the coalition Government before them focus quite heavily on the causes of poverty and alleviating it. Certainly the troubled families programme has been extremely effective in taking either a whole-family or whole-community approach in dealing with these complex, long-term problems.

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD): My Lords, I am not sure whether the Minister has seen the Centrepoint report which states that the number of homeless young people aged between 16 and 25 years old has more

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than doubled since 2011. It has called on the Government to make more hostel provision and support services to stop very vulnerable young people ending up sleeping rough on the streets. Do the Government have a plan to address this directly?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, we most certainly have. Young people getting into a homeless situation can often also cause other problems. The Government totally support what the noble Baroness is saying. The idea of prevention at that stage is vital for that young person’s future.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, in addition to the worrying increase in homelessness and rough sleeping, more and more people are being driven to rely on food banks. Which of these consequences of government policy do the Government regard as the more serious? In any event, will they now include provisions in the Housing and Planning Bill to address what David Cameron once described as the “disgrace” of having people sleeping on the streets?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, both aspects are important. People being homeless or using food banks is a worry for society, which is why the Government are investing centrally and locally to address the issue.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, the Immigration Bill will try deliberately to force people into destitution and discourage them from being immigrants in the UK. Listening to the Minister’s replies, does that mean that the Government will withdraw that section of the Immigration Bill which deliberately tries to force people on to the streets?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I am not totally au fait with the Immigration Bill. The Government believe that, while no one should ever have to sleep rough, EU nationals who choose to do so are abusing the freedom of movement, which will not be tolerated.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead (Lab): The Minister may not have the figures she was asked for but she may be interested in the figures of people sleeping rough in Watford. Prior to the Christmas appeal for what, in the last few years, was for food, this year the charity which looks after the homeless and those who sleep rough in Watford reported that four years ago approximately 30 people were sleeping rough; currently, there are 79. This year, they were not asking for food but for sleeping bags. Does the Minister have any conscience about what has happened to these people?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, indeed, I have a conscience about what is happening to these people, but I am very proud to say that homelessness is still half what it was at its 2003 peak.

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Trade Union Bill

Trade Union Bill

Second Reading

3.08 pm

Moved by Baroness Neville-Rolfe

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Relevant document: 15th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, I do not want to delay the House and I wish noble Lords a very happy new year, but perhaps I may seek guidance and advice from the Government. We are about to start our deliberations on the Trade Union Bill, in which there is considerable interest in your Lordships’ House today, yet, not for the first time, we have no impact assessment. This has happened before but this Bill started around five months ago in the House of Commons and we still do not have that impact assessment. I am sure the noble Baroness is aware that the Cabinet Office manual on impact assessments states:

“The final Impact Assessment must be made available alongside Bills published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny or introduced to Parliament, with 80 copies sent to the Vote Office … and 10 to the Lords Printed Paper Office”.

We do not need 10: we will settle for one but we would like it as soon as possible.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for raising this issue, which I was intending to cover today. To assist the House, I am happy to clarify that the Government have already published consultation impact assessments alongside the public consultations that support our package of reforms, as well as an equality impact assessment. As foreshadowed when I met noble Lords before Christmas, we will publish a further impact assessment on the Bill before Committee.

This is an important Bill, dealing with a very important subject. Trade unions have a long and distinguished history. They first came into being when many workers led a precarious existence and incapacity in a family’s main breadwinner could spell tragedy. They helped bring about higher wages and safer workplaces, and have many more worthy accomplishments to their credit. Everything I say today should be seen against this background.

In an earlier life, I worked at a company that had excellent relations with its main trade union, which achieved many benefits for its members in the company. However, every great social institution requires occasional modernisation if it is to remain relevant and responsive. I know how keen on modernisation noble Lords opposite are. Every institution can benefit from greater transparency, better accountability and clearer regulation.

The Bill seeks to modernise trade unions—not to undermine their place in society, but to strengthen it by making sure that they are accountable and transparent and use their powers responsibly. It is not fair that a

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strike in the education sector in 2014 organised by the National Union of Teachers was held on the support of just 22% of its members. Similarly, in 2014 a strike among NHS workers was called by Unite on the basis of the support of just 12% of members.

The consequences of strike action can be widespread and severe for many. I think especially of those having to juggle childcare whenever schoolteachers or Tube drivers take industrial action. As a parent and, indeed, now a grandparent, I know just how difficult such disruption can be. and remember that in Britain today we have the highest level of women’s participation in the workforce ever.

Some people have described the Bill as an attack on trade unions, on workers’ rights, on their ability to strike, and even on human rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bill is about bringing more democracy and transparency to industrial relations. It seeks to achieve a better and fairer balance between the rights of workers and the needs of people who rely on important public services.

Taking democracy first, the key purpose of the Bill is to ensure that strikes take place only where there is a genuine democratic and recent mandate. The Bill therefore provides that all strike ballots will require at least a 50% turnout before industrial action can commence. In addition, in important public services we will require at least 40% of members eligible to support a yes vote. We need to find a better balance to ensure that people who rely on these services do not find their lives disrupted at short notice by strikes that have the support of only a small proportion of union members. The Government’s reforms will restore public confidence that, where industrial action takes place, it always has the strong support of union members.

The Bill also requires unions to provide their members with a more detailed explanation of what issues are in dispute and what form of industrial action is planned on the ballot paper. This will allow all members to vote meaningfully and with confidence. Once a ballot has been won under our proposals, it would be valid for four months. This measure means that a strike can be called only on a recent decision by union members, not on a ballot that happened years before. The National Union of Teachers called a strike in July 2014 on a mandate from June 2011. We cannot go on in this way.

Moving on to transparency, the Bill will allow individual union members to make an active choice whether to contribute to a union’s political activities. Paying into the fund automatically will no longer be the default position. Having taken the decision, we want members to consider whether they want to continue to support the political campaigning of their union. That is why the Bill requires that union members will have to refresh the decision every five years. There is no reason why this new transparency should reduce the appetite for individual members to contribute to a union’s political fund. Indeed, we hope that it will increase the democratic debate within unions about the appropriate use of such funds.

Facility time is another area where we want to increase transparency. Most taxpayers are surprised to hear that some public sector workers are paid by the state to do a specific job, but spend a significant

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proportion of their time—indeed, in some cases, all their time—working on union matters. This, however, does not mean that the duties carried out by union representatives are not valuable. The measure will aid a more effective use of taxpayers’ money, while allowing public sector employers to focus on those areas that are vital to maintaining good industrial relations. It allows Ministers to require employers to publish information on the use of facility time in their own organisation. In the Civil Service, we have already introduced such a transparency requirement. Before these 2012 reforms to facility time, the cost to the taxpayer was around £36 million annually; now it has reduced to £9.45 million a year. Although we have taken a reserve power to set a limit on facility time, we will use that only if facility time is disproportionately high.

I now turn to measures to ensure a modern framework for union activities. We are grateful for the democratic debate that has taken place during the passage of the Bill through Parliament so far. We have listened, which has allowed us to improve the Bill. For example, our manifesto committed us to tackling the intimidation of non-striking workers. We held a wide-ranging public consultation and published our response in November. Much concern was raised during that consultation over what we may and might not do, most of which was unfounded. For example, we were never going to approve the text of individual tweets. Following the consultation, we are not pursuing a new offence of intimidation on the picket line. However, the consultation has allowed us to be clear that we need to update the 1992 code of practice on picketing to ensure that it addresses the use of social media. The Bill also makes an obligation of the appointment of a picket supervisor. This requirement is already in the code of picketing, which has been followed without difficulty on many occasions by many unions.

We believe that better transparency and democratic accountability will be further enhanced by a stronger and more direct relationship between unions and their members. That is why we are ending the practice of check-off in the public sector. Nowadays, in a world of direct debits and easy online payments, it feels unnecessary. Unions need to have a more direct relationship with their members.

We are also reforming the role of the Certification Officer to allow proper, robust and proportionate regulation. A modern regulator should not be a burden on the taxpayer. That is why we are asking trade unions and employer associations to pay for their regulator via a levy. This is not an unusual approach. The Bill equips the Certification Officer with appropriate new powers for a modern regulator of trade unions and employer associations. We are widening the Certification Officer’s powers of investigation in relation to suspected breaches of statutory requirements. These are neither unusual nor draconian. For example, the CO will be able to request the production of documents where there is good reason to do so. He or she will be able to consider concerns from third parties in deciding whether to investigate potential breaches. He or she will also have the ability to impose financial penalties for those who do not apply the statutory requirements. I shall say more about the exact levels of financial penalties at a later stage of the Bill.

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I recognise that many noble Lords feel passionately about unions and industrial relations and are wary of any attempts to change the laws relating to them. I hope they will accept that these are sensible, proportionate measures that will bring industrial life into the 21st century.

3.20 pm

Lord Mendelsohn (Lab): My Lords, I rise to reply on behalf of these Benches, and look forward to hearing some excellent maiden speeches in the course of this debate. I hope that my comments, or aspects of them, may find some resonance across the House. I do not think that it will not be too much of a surprise to anyone when I say that the Bill is extraordinarily partisan, vindictive and selective. It breaches legal conventions, civil liberties and settled agreements between political parties, and it reintroduces adversarialism. It clearly impinges on the capacity of the devolved authorities to manage the functions for which they have responsibility, thus fuelling the argument in favour of separation. It fails to achieve its stated purpose—not least as its analysis is poor and its measures counterproductive.

I am a businessman. I have never been a member of a trade union, but I have dealt with them, including on employment matters, where they have played a valuable and pragmatic role in dealing sensibly with issues—far more so than the intervention of lawyers. I do not come from a great trade union background in my attachment to my party; there are many with experience and wisdom who have that background, and I look forward to hearing from them in the debate today. But I have worked with trade unions, done business with them, criticised them and, some years ago, even discussed change and modernisation with a trade union. I am neither closed nor precious when it comes to considering issues around trade unions, and there is nothing like a good examination of trade unions—but this is nothing like a good examination of trade unions.

I deeply regret that the Government are yet to publish the consultation; it is unorthodox. The very serious nature of this Bill has been pointed to by a very respected body of this House already, and I am unsure how much clarity the impact assessment will provide following the Regulatory Policy Committee’s scathing criticism of the Government’s three impact assessments on thresholds, picketing and use of agency staff, which were red-flagged and deemed not fit for purpose. It is worth noting that in the previous Parliament the RPC issued just over 2,000 opinions, and there were only 14 instances in which a department proceeded to the next stage of the policy process on the basis of an impact assessment rated by the RPC as not fit for purpose—and in this case three were deemed not fit for purpose.

So why is this Bill so bad? First, in principle, it does not address the right issues. There is no evidential foundation to say that there is a significant problem that needs to be addressed by many of the measures that it has chosen—certainly compared to the rest of Europe, where we are at just over 50% of the general average loss of days taken up by strike disputes. In the 1980s, 7 million days a year were lost on average; over the past decade, the running average was around 670,000,

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and the numbers have been in decline steadily and consistently. In 2014, there were 151 stoppages, and most disputes where there were ballots were settled without strikes; 56% of these were in the private sector. Detailed data and research undertaken by the OECD have shown that all statistics have roughly halved in each decade since the early 1980s; reductions are steady in industry sectors and in dispute duration; and these declines are exemplary in places with high union membership and collective agreements. Low inflation has led to a reduction of the incidence of pay disputes.

So where is the evidence that there is a particular problem, and why are the Government taking a risk in acting so disproportionately? I have searched for any study or evidence that the Government could even point to, to suggest a strong public interest case. I have looked at the writings and research of economists, but they, too, cannot see the logic. In fact, a recent University of Oxford paper entitled The Benefits of Enforced Experimentation, studying the impact of the RMT Tube strike on the travelling habits of 18,000 commuters, concluded that a 48-hour stoppage was economically efficient—encouraging consumer behaviour to examine alternatives in markets where there is not perfect information, far better than the benefits of technology—and actually helped commuters in the long run, including and especially working mothers. I am not arguing in favour of conduct based on this analysis; I am just pointing out the absolute dearth of any evidence to support not just the Government’s stated figures but their measures and means to achieve their objectives.

Business support is lukewarm and detailed analysis has been negative. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has said that the Bill’s plans are,

“an outdated response to the challenges of the modern workplace”.

CIPD research with employers and consultation with its own members show that employer relations with trade unions are generally good. Therefore, a more logical way forward for employers would be to build a better dialogue with their workforces and consider alternative approaches such as no-strike agreements rather than focusing on ballot thresholds.

Secondly, as a businessman, my frustration with the Bill is that it is entirely one-sided. It utterly fails to take into account the most significant driver of the working environment at the current time; that is, management—leadership. Today the major variants owe more to the role of management than to employees and nowhere is this more evident than in the public sector. I was encouraged that I seem to share the approach of the Permanent Secretary of the Minister’s department. Responding to ACAS’s excellent work on building workplace co-operation to improve productivity, he welcomed it as strongly recognising,

“the impact that good management can have”.

There is an interesting contrast here with the public sector because of course many of the disputes were identified previously in the private sector. In the UK economy, productivity gains have been the strongest in the private sector in the largest companies, particularly in areas with long-established ways of working with unions and representation; for example, in the car industry or the impressive and world-leading work

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between unions and management in the UK oil industry. The public sector has a significant mass of disproportionately large entities and here the productivity has been weakest.

According to the last full report of the ONS, 131 million days were lost due to sickness absence, of which 15 million were through stress, anxiety and depression. The trend line of days lost has been in decline since 2000, since partnership emerged quite strikingly. Public sector workers are still running at 2.9% of working days lost; in the private sector the figure is 1.8%. That has come down in the public sector from 4.2% and in the private sector from 2.8%. Certainly there is a fantastic opportunity here for public sector managers to see and maximise greater advantages. In managing motivation and the problems of sickness, absence, stress and depression, we can make a big difference, particularly where the public sector lags. Here is the most significant lever that could be used to make significant changes in line with the outcomes the Government profess to want, and I hope it is here that the Government will be willing to consider some helpful amendments.

Thirdly, the Bill is a great example of penny-wise and pound-foolish. For all the political bluster, it achieves little and creates in its wake a series of unenforced errors and costs. I will quantify this point later but I was once taught some very important lessons on how to manage well and avoid disputes. Do not give conflicting messages: say what you mean and act to show that you mean it. Give your employees the tools they need to do their jobs; if they cannot get the job done because they lack the tools, whose fault is it really? Learn to lead from the background: delegate authority properly and provide the instructions and tools necessary. Meet regularly with union representatives; do not cancel or avoid meetings and keep the lines of communication open. Be fair but do not give away the farm. These are probably the most significant lessons for public sector managers and especially Ministers. Manage the workforce in the public sector better and you will get better outcomes. The measures in the Bill are draconian.

Finally, the Bill is unworthy of how politics in this country should be conducted. The Government’s clear attempt to defenestrate the Labour Party’s finances does not just breach the long-standing agreement that any measures which have a bearing on the finances and capabilities of the parties should be only by agreement with all the other parties but has led to the most ludicrous denials I have ever heard. “This is not about party funding”, it is said. Is that really plausible after this has been a repeated topic of discussion during rounds of party funding discussions, and after it was discussed during the coalition but was rejected because it breached an agreed convention and because of the patently obvious impact that it would have? There might perhaps have been a scintilla of a chance of carrying this off, were it not for the punitive timetable set out in the Bill to inflict maximum damage as soon as possible.

I want to make it clear that I hold the Minister in the highest regard. She is a capable and decent Minister. I appreciate that in her role she has to perform many duties and that this is a script which comes from

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somewhere else. There is less dispute over the ultimate authorship of the Bill than there is with Shakespeare. Such a political calculation may be a strong indication of the future of the Chancellor but I hope that, in the traditions of this House, the Minister will be willing to see what can be done to make the Bill better in any way possible.

I want to go briefly through some of the measures that the Bill addresses and some of its problems. In relation to thresholds, are the Government really saying with conviction that they want to hear the democratic voice? If this is so, why were they so resistant to introducing any of the changes that would allow for participation to increase? All the methods which are now widely used are still resisted. If the Government are serious about the democratic voice, they will be open to allowing participation consistent with the current standards of balancing processes to be introduced.

In relation to certification officers and the Government’s wish to turn a regulator into an investigator, they are not just lowering the threshold for what investigation can be made to the lowest possible but allowing for punitive powers for costs to be applied to the union, no matter what the circumstances. Is this really the way that we want a regulator to operate?

In relation to check-off—simple payroll administration —I am absolutely astounded. I heard the argument when a Minister in the other place said that this costs the public purse £6 million. Frankly, an economist and someone who professes to have worked in a family business, which was a payroll software system business, should understand marginal cost. The marginal cost of introducing an employee is so small that in a number of organisations where the unions are willing to pay the cost of it, the cost cannot even be calculated because it is no different to adding the costs in relation to bikes, student loans and other matters. The public sector has not actually been subsidising this; it makes money from it. There are a number of organisations which charge considerable fees to trade unions so the loser on the costs will actually be the public sector, not the trade unions. The actual cost is being impaired. What has happened is that the charges made to the public sector are an actual loss in their accounts.

Most employers who use this method in the private sector consider it a major benefit. It creates information and transparency in relationships. Great companies have used it, such as GKN and Tesco, where the Minister herself was one of the people involved in the process of discussion with the trade unions to great effect. There is no case on check-off. There is less evidence for it than in a press release.

In relation to facility time, I notice the clever device to suggest that the taxpayer costs for this will be reduced from £36 million to £10 million, but how do you make a saving in government? You transfer the cost to another budget line and then do not measure it. Many of the activities that facility time was available for—negotiating with employers, representing members individually and collectively, particularly in labour disputes, performing health and safety functions, attending union training courses and performing some union functions—will still be conducted. Considerable levels

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of unpaid time were identified in previous research. By many factors of the time that was paid under facility time there was time conducted by the employee. Frankly, this is now no longer calculated or understood; the activities still take place and the costs now go on to the payroll. This time is used by the private sector and it should be by the public sector—to make sure that a better trained and more productive workforce is there, to help to build loyalty and reduce absence, and so that safety and efficiency, which go together, can be introduced to the public sector.

There are a variety of measures here—we are looking at all sorts of restrictions—for which we will find it extraordinary to have a sensible justification from the Government. This is not a straightforward Bill. It is transparently poor. I am aware that many noble Lords around this House have concerns, including many on the Benches opposite. It cannot be right to claim to believe in less regulation but to introduce so much just to target trade unions. It cannot be right that a Government who wish to discourage vexatious claims and to avoid incentivising claims without a just apportionment of costs can redesign a system to make that the very outcome for certification officers. Surely a Government who accept the legitimacy of police and crime commissioners with a vote of 15.1% can see the irony of their position on the democratic voice.

What concerns me is that the Bill has so little evidential foundation and operational soundness that it will undoubtedly have intended and unintended consequences that will be neither beneficial nor just for our country. For what? Is it for some satisfaction that political foes can be weakened or—as with one of my sons reading the classic novels when he was four years old—so that imaginary evils can be defeated by some dashing white knight riding to the rescue?

This is a very poor Bill and it will be the duty not just of these Benches but of the whole House to make some measured and sensible improvements. We are conscious of our role and the conventions of this House, but we will not recoil from vigorously opposing that which is wicked and unjust, and we will not shy away from suggesting improvements where we can. I have never thought that putting lipstick on a pig was a very good idea, but this Bill has made me revise my view.

3.36 pm

Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD): My Lords, the Bill reminds me of a prize fight between two old adversaries. The boxer in the blue corner has picked the fight, knowing that the boxer in the red corner is severely weakened following a recent devastating defeat—not to mention the debilitating condition that he currently endures. The aim of the blue boxer is to finish off the old adversary. What he really wants to do is to take his gloves off and give the red boxer a good old slapping before he has even left his stool.

Fortunately, in this House, this fight takes place in an arena which, although somewhat partisan, also has respect for the rules of the game and for fair play. The referee consists of Liberal Democrats and Cross-Benchers, who have some power to decide the fairness of the play. We on these Benches, who are not renowned for

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our love of blood sports, intend to ensure that this happens. In playing this role, we must also point out to both sides, but particularly to the Government, that we feel this is entirely the wrong game to be playing. Our country plays on an international playing field, and the energy and effort currently being expended on internecine fighting would be much better spent on putting together a team to play together and fight for Great Britain on the world stage.

Your Lordships will have guessed by now that the Liberal Democrats are not hugely supportive of the Bill. It was blocked time after time by Liberal Democrats in coalition as unnecessary, unhealthy and unfair. Despite the attitude of some in the trade union movement to Liberal Democrats as part of the coalition Government, it is rapidly becoming clear that we were the best friends they never knew they had in this battle.

The fact is that the Bill is undemocratic, unneeded and unwanted. However, before I launch into what is wrong with the Bill, it is important to acknowledge what I assume to be the Government’s motivation in drafting it. We have to consider the other side of the story: legitimate concerns that trade unions have been more interested in getting party political advantage than serving the interests of their members at times.

In a healthy democracy the people should call the shots, and the determination of election results by huge sums of money has been the subject of serious concern for many years. This is something that urgently needs to be fixed if the public are to have confidence in our democratic process. But we will only reach a long-term solution by tackling the problem by consensus, without the two biggest sides in this battle seeking to use the exercise purely to further their own ends.

Sadly, both Labour and Conservative parties have consistently failed to come to the table in this spirit. Given the need for reform to continue by consensus, it is particularly disappointing that the Bill specifically flouts the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that reductions in funding should be made and that they should be proportionate to both sides. Given the fact that neither trade unions nor big business fund the Liberal Democrats, we can truly be held to be in neither camp. We will be favoured with remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, who chaired the committee, and my noble friend Lord Tyler, who will move his amendment later, so I shall concentrate the rest of my remarks on other aspects of the Bill.

Clause 2 introduces a 50% turnout requirement for industrial action ballots, in addition to the requirement for the existing majority vote in favour of action. Clause 3 requires for important public services a positive vote by at least 40% of those entitled to vote in the ballot. Why 40%? If you have the required minimum turnout of 50%, the percentage voting for strike action would need to be 80%. The higher the ballot percentage needed, the more hardened the position of the workers needs to be before strike action can be called. We believe that this clause will ultimately lead to any strikes that go ahead, such as the junior doctors’ strike due to take place tomorrow, being harder to stop, lasting longer and doing more damage to the relationship between employees and employers. The same can be

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said of Clause 8, which requires any mandate for industrial action to expire four months after the date of the ballot. This will foster new pressure and escalate tensions in a dispute, not subdue them—both parties will feel pressure as the deadline rushes towards them. That makes the likelihood of industrial action greater, not smaller.

If the Government are serious about reform in this area, why have they refused to allow the most sensible reform of all: allowing the use of electronic voting in industrial ballots? Electronic voting would allow the true voice of workers to be heard and ensure that strikes have legitimacy, yet trade unions are banned from using these systems. Despite repeated calls, the Government have resisted allowing electronic voting as part of the Bill. This has little to do with security of the ballot, and it is out of step with the trend in electoral processes. The Speaker’s Committee suggested that electronic voting should even be available for the general election of 2020. It is not even a philosophical dislike of electronic voting. The Conservative Party itself utilised online voting for the selection of its London mayoral candidate. Again, the only reasonable conclusion is that the Government’s aim is not to reform trade unions to reduce workplace conflict but simply to make it harder for unions to operate.

Clause 9 introduces new rules related to protest and picketing. This clause illuminates just how little the Government appreciate the importance of how employers and unions manage the process of negotiations together. The Government have rowed back a little in some of the elements of the clause, but it will still do nothing to enhance or improve relations between employers and unions. Indeed, it will foster discontent, drag police into what has up till now always been a civil matter and make a special case of trade union protesters, who are required to wear armbands, as against other protesting groups, who are not. In addition, there are civil liberties consequences here. The requirement to provide police with plans before strikes and contact details during them calls into question opportunities for blacklisting and more.

Clauses 10 and 11 expose one of the main intentions of the Bill: to attack the funding of the Conservative Party’s main political opponents. Those in the Liberal Democrats who have been on the receiving end of the Labour Party’s mobilisation of trade unions against us understand the frustration that can be felt about the unions’ use of political funds, but, ultimately, it is not for a Conservative Government unwilling to make changes to their equally cynical funding sources to determine how trade unions spend their money. That will not be solved by this legislation, nor by political tactics by the Conservative Party. If they are serious about solving the unions’ funding problems, will the Government commit to new cross-party negotiations and withdraw these measures from the Bill until a deal is reached?

I worry about many aspects of the Bill. Strike activity in this country has reduced by 90% over the past 20 years, but there is nothing in the Bill that promotes that state of affairs continuing, let alone pursuing its downward trajectory over the next 20 years— quite the reverse. This Bill seeks to pick a fight where no will exists on behalf of employers or trade unions

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to fight and to marginalise the activities of trade unions instead of drawing them into a more mainstream partnership position with employers. To use the American phrase, it ain’t broke, so for goodness’ sake let us not try to fix it.

3.46 pm

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve (CB): My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I shall talk about some of the human rights that are engaged by the Bill.

The Bill sets conditions on the activities of trade unions. It therefore engages the right to freedom of association, which is an important human right. It might seem that this is the worst of moments to discuss the human rights implications of this or any other Bill since we are expecting the Government’s consultation on a future Bill of Rights shortly and changes in the background assumptions or the configuration of some rights might be proposed or implemented.

But now is now, and the right at stake here is unlikely to be changed. It is an ancient one in our country, and one not likely to be ditched by this—or, I hope, any other—Government. Nor do I think that the specification of this right, as drafted for the European Convention on Human Rights by late Lord Kilmuir, who was a Conservative Lord Chancellor, is likely to be ditched or radically revised, or that it is defective.

Article 11 of the convention, as Lord Kilmuir draftedusb it, sets out the right to freedom of assembly and association in the following terms. Paragraph 1 states:

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

Paragraph 2 states:

“No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

There are other provisions I shall not mention. This is a distinctive right which may be restricted only for one of the reasons set out in paragraph 2 of Article 11, and not, for example, for administrative convenience or efficiency. That is not a sufficient reason to restrict. Each restriction enacted must meet at least one of the tests set out in paragraph 2 of Article 11.

Article 11 has certain interesting parallels with Article 9 on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, in that both explicitly set out rights that are to be exercised in conjunction with others. Article 9 reads:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.

The article goes on, completely in parallel with Article 11:

“Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

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What is distinctive about these rights is that they focus on protecting shared or joint, yet fundamental, activities, not just on protecting individual choices for optional activities. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is not designed to protect individual opinions; for that, the right to freedom of expression is appropriate and sufficient.

However, when we reflect, we all know that freedom of religion and belief is important because it is about protecting shared beliefs and practices that manifest life-orienting beliefs, and is not to be invoked on behalf of isolated or decontextualised opinions. I fear that sometimes it is in employment tribunals, but that is another matter. Equally, the right to freedom of assembly and association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of interests, is not a mere right to choose or refuse membership of a voluntary organisation. It is a right to form such organisations with others for a common purpose, including specifically the protection of interests.

It is evidently legitimate for legislation to set conditions that are necessary on the exercise of this right, as of other rights. It is within the power of Parliament to determine which restrictions will be lawful, but it will need great care and judgment, not merely at Second Reading but above all in Committee and on Report, to test whether each proposed condition set on the operation of trade unions is indeed,

“necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

Those are the tests to which we should look. These tests are addressed up to a point in the useful memorandum from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the way in which the proposed conditions to meet the European convention requirements are to be met, but a lot of work is going to be needed to test the detail of whether the proposed conditions actually meet the required tests.

3.51 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): My Lords, I am most interested in the contribution that the noble Baroness has just made, and I am sure that those issues will come in for further discussion during consideration of the Bill. I am delighted at the interest that both Ministers are taking in the Bill because this House has a unique contribution to make, with a number of people on all sides who have some experience and background in these matters.

The challenges and problems posed by the abuse of trade union power were one of the reasons why I came into politics in the first place. I worked in the printing industry for 12 years of my life. For the last five years before I came here I was running a printing plant in Bristol, employing 700 people with nine different unions. While in the main the union relationship was extremely good, one did not have to look very far, to Fleet Street, to see some of the real abuses that were taking place at that time, before Mr Murdoch decided unilaterally to change the arrangements. Such abuses did real damage. I saw the amount of work that the UK printing industry lost overseas because of the uncompetitiveness of the restricted practices that existed in it.

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In no sense am I anti-union, and I hope that those who have worked with me on both sides of the House know that I recognise entirely the positive role that responsible trade unions can play. On a personal note, my father was the human resources director of a company called the Dickinson Robinson Group, which employed many thousands of people and was headquartered in Bristol. His most treasured possession when he retired was the gift that he got from the fathers of the federated chapels. I always thought that that was a wonderful term in the printing industry; instead of having common shop stewards, their shop stewards were called “fathers of the chapel”.

I came into Parliament in the wake of the failure of In Place of Strife. If one thinks forward, one can look at the Benches opposite and feel the sadness that there must be in some hearts that In Place of Strife did not happen. I recall that at the end of 1978 the Labour Government held a five-point lead, while at the end of the winter of discontent the lead was 20% to the Conservatives, and in a very real sense that helped to put Margaret Thatcher in power.

There is a need for sensible, constructive reform. I said in the 1971 debate on the Bill introduced by Robert Carr, as he was then, and Geoffrey Howe—a less than wonderful industrial relations Bill dealing with the problems at that time—that if trade unionism,

“is to flourish, it must be on the basis of encouraging voluntary union membership … and not upon the basis of compulsive sanction”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 27/1/1971; col. 688.]

That lasted until the Conservative Government came into power and introduced a programme of trade union reform. Jim Prior, as he then was, introduced the 1980 Act, which sought to tackle the abuses of the closed shop and the picket lines. In 1982 my noble friend Lord Tebbit, who is not in his place, removed the immunity from trade unions which organised unlawful industrial action, made closed shops subject to ballot, and introduced postal ballots for the election of officers and taking industrial action. At the time my noble friend Lord Tebbit made it clear that we would have preferred voluntary action by the trade unions, but in the absence of that we legislated.

The legislation was not entirely disagreeable to many Members of the party opposite. I did a little research and found that there was an Early Day Motion in 1975, during the Labour Government, which was signed by two Members of the Labour shadow Cabinet and by five other Front-Bench Members, including the noble Lord, Lord Evans—a Member of this House—urging the Government to legislate to fund postal ballots. That is the background.

In 1983 I introduced what became the 1984 Act. I remember being hugely influenced by a conversation I had with Sir Michael Edwardes, who had been the chief executive of British Leyland. Those were the days of “I’m All Right Jack”—of the car park meeting, being called out on strike by an aggressive trade unionist, and of the notorious Red Robbo. Sir Michael Edwardes told me that in his first year as chief executive, there was not a single day when one or other major plant of British Leyland was not on strike. My God, what happens to a group like that, faced with that sort of industrial challenge and difficulty? I can tell you what

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happens—we all know it. You can see Honda—not Nissan, which has a new factory—BMW in Oxford, Tata and the Jaguar factories; you can see where other companies have come in and a great British company was effectively destroyed.

When I introduced our Bill in 1983 I claimed that nothing was being proposed in the Bill that was not being done by one union or another. Indeed, the AUEW was particularly active in the field of secret ballots, which is one of the provisions I introduced in the Bill. I said:

“If some trade unions can follow proper democratic procedures, why should they not all do so?”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/11/83; col. 159.]

We have been here before. We heard an interesting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn. However, I recall the late John Smith. We had both just come to our new responsibilities, and in 1983 he was leading for the Opposition, backed up by the Member for St Helens North, John Evans—as he was—on the Front Bench. Referring to secret ballots and secret postal ballots in advance of strikes, John Smith said,

“when we come to power … we shall repeal it”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 8/11/83; col. 173.]

Sadly, John Smith did not live long enough to come to power. However, someone who came to power will be well known to Members of this House: a promising young brand new Member of Parliament, the honourable Member for Sedgefield, Mr Tony Blair. He said:

“We shall oppose the Bill, which is a scandalous and undemocratic measure against the trade union movement”.—[Official Report, 8/11/83; col. 210.]

He was backed up by another promising new Member of Parliament called Mr Gordon Brown. I notice that the noble Lords, Lord Hoyle and Lord Foulkes, both took part in that debate, and they will remember it.

It is perfectly understandable that when Labour came to power the trade unions expected that that would be repealed. As we know, nothing happened, and I seem to recall Mr Blair, as Prime Minister, saying, “How could anybody take away from democratic union members the right to a vote in a secret ballot?” so when I hear the dire warnings about what this Bill proposes, I remember that history.

If trade unions are to continue to enjoy public support for the very special immunities they enjoy under the law, it is our duty to ensure that we keep trade union legislation up to date to meet current issues and concerns, which is very much the point the Minister made in her speech. At the same time, I absolutely accept that the Bill covers a number of quite separate issues. I am concentrating on Clauses 2 and 3, which deal with ballot turnouts and majorities. I also accept that some difficult issues will have to be discussed, such as modernising voting and how to maximise voting turnout. We have heard a lot about electronic voting. We live in a world of cyberspace and hackers of all descriptions. The Speaker’s Committee has already warned about the challenges and difficulties in trying to move to electronic parliamentary voting.

Turning to the responsibility for calling strikes, the House may notice that among the briefing papers on the Bill is one from the Mayor of London. It is well

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known that Boris Johnson is in favour of requiring a higher turnout. The paper from the TUC says that unions and employers have a shared interest in the success of their organisation. If it is Rolls-Royce or BAE Systems, for example, that is right. If they do not reach a sensible agreement, they are out on strike, and they will lose orders and lose their jobs. However, we know the challenge when it comes to essential public services. Nobody in this House has any excuse not to recognise it, because we have lived through tube strikes in London, for example, and the chaos that they cause. I do not think we have ever had an accurate check-back on what tragedies may have occurred during those periods as a result of people being unable to get to hospital, for example. My noble friend talked about the problem of people having no care facilities. All those difficulties emerge. It is not just a question of essential public services such as transport. I dare say that if there was a bus strike in Bridgwater—my old constituency—people would get by. A bus strike in London is a very different matter, however.

I look forward to a serious and constructive Committee stage. I have some reservations about certain aspects of the Bill, but it is important that this House adopts a constructive approach and makes sure that trade union legislation takes account of the challenges of our time. The time has come to consider that issue.

4.03 pm

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, it is always a pleasure to renew working with the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater. I was very disappointed, though, that during his trip through the history of industrial relations in the 1970s and 1980s, he did not refer to more recent history and the positive role played by trade unions in turning round Jaguar Land Rover, the BMW plant at Oxford and a whole range of other places where unions have played an extremely positive role—often with very little encouragement, I might say, from the Benches opposite.

For those of us who also believe in constructive and positive trade unionism, it is very sad to sit here as a Bill is presented which is disproportionate, disrespectful and malicious as far as responsible trade unionism is concerned. Despite the Minister’s able “one nation” rhetoric, the Bill’s purpose is crystal clear: it is to reduce the influence of trade unions. It aims to dump on them a great dollop of obstacles and requirements which would severely limit their freedom to act in both the industrial and the political spheres.

The Government have claimed the Bill to be “moderate, necessary and welcome”. Words such as “reform” and “modernisation” are never far from Ministers’ lips. There really is a case here for referral under the Trade Descriptions Act, for no amount of cosmetic spin or lipstick on the pig can camouflage the Bill’s real intentions. It is not moderate, as is demonstrated, for example, by the one-sided attacks on union political activities, while absolutely nothing is done about the other, often controversial, sources of political funding. It rides roughshod over this country’s obligations to the International Labour Organization regarding the rights of unions, and it wilfully breaches similar obligations under European and human rights laws.

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Are employers interested? I cannot find any employers with a significant interest in any of this. They are not in the Michael Edwardes position, to which the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, referred. Times have changed—

Lord Dobbs (Con): The noble Lord says that he does not know of any employers who are interested in this. Has he ridden on the London Tube recently during one of the endless strikes?

Lord Monks: I ride on the London Tube every day and I suffer when other people do, but it is quite typical of the Benches opposite to blame the unions every time there is an industrial dispute or a strike. They do not know the causes. Far too often, they are not interested in the causes, and it is time they looked at the background. I do not know the details of the problems on London Underground, but I know that the issues can be quite complicated and difficult. It is too easy to jump to blame people in industrial disputes but it is much more important to get to the bottom of what is happening.

I hope that this House will always remember what unions have achieved in this country. Rather ironically, if noble Lords had walked through Westminster Hall recently, they would have seen an exhibition on the progress of British democracy from Magna Carta onwards. Hanging high and proud in that exhibition was a banner paying tribute to the history and contribution of the trade union movement, and the Tolpuddle martyrs got a mention. How come Conservative headquarters did not stop that positive reference to trade unions? How did that slip through the net when it came to trying to create an image of us as somehow being an enemy of the people—an image that underlies the principles of this Bill?

The unions have done a tremendous amount. Where did the weekend, six weeks’ paid holiday, including public holidays, health and safety standards that rank with the world’s best, and equal pay for women all come from? We should remember the Ford sewing machinists at Dagenham. In addition, terms in unionised workplaces would, if more general, make it unnecessary for Governments to legislate on the living wage. I could go on about unions’ achievements.

Many Members of this House will remember, and quite a few participated in, the fierce debates of the 1970s and 1980s about the proper place of unions in our society, as was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord King. We all remember that it was commonplace for unions to be described as “overmighty subjects”. Today, no one—not even the Mayor of London—makes that charge. We are well down the list of “mighty” subjects, yet today it seems to be a rite of passage for Conservative Governments to emulate their predecessors and give the unions a kick, regardless of current realities. Just what are those realities? They are companies such as Sports Direct and Amazon treating workers as casual, disposable objects; companies concentrating on the short-term deal, rather than on investment in new methods and skills; and companies paying disproportionate amounts to not very impressive executives at the head, with the inevitable consequence of widening inequality.

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I quote Simon Walker of the Institute of Directors, who said recently:

“Runaway pay packages, golden hellos, and inflammatory bonuses are running the reputation of business into the ground”.

I ask the other side of the House in particular, and others, to consider those words from an organisation that was at the heart of pressing for changes in the 1970s and 1980s. What does the Bill have to say about these and other overmighty subjects, such as the media barons and the banks? In both cases, the impetus to regulate seems to have lost steam and the “light touch” is certainly back in vogue.

I ask all Members of the House to take a lively interest in this Bill. I particularly appeal to those on the Government Benches with ministerial experience of employment matters to bring their expertise to bear on the Bill—even a little bit of back-seat driving would be welcome.

I turn very briefly to the specifics of the Bill. It is important to see this alongside legislation that is already restrictive by the standards of other western democracies. Take the proposed thresholds on industrial action. I will not get into the debate about it being only us who are going to face these kinds of requirements—the Government would not have been elected if similar thresholds were applied to the Westminster elections—or the embarrassingly low turnout for the elections of police commissioners. Leaving all that aside, we must remember that unions are compelled to use postal ballots. Things have moved on since Jim Prior and the debate of the 1970s and 1980s. There are now other ways of doing these things, using technology in the way that the Conservative Party did for the election of its candidate in the mayoral election in London. I do not like the proposed thresholds in principle, but if they were linked to independently-supervised electronic and workplace ballots, maybe a way forward begins to open up.

Clauses 4 and 8 go on to introduce more legal hurdles on what unions must do. I looked in vain, but not with any surprise, for any equivalent obligations on employers. There is nothing at all; the obligations are only on us.

Clause 9 aims to enshrine the existing code of practice on picketing into law. I am absolutely unaware, and have been for a long time, of any problems raised by the police or employers with picketing. I agree with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which thought that the new measures are unnecessary and would waste police resources. That is what the police think, and I ask the Government to consider that point.

Clauses 12 and 13 are about facility time, which the Government regard as wasteful expenditure. However, I wonder whether they have considered recent research by Professors Hogue and Baron that points out that managers in public services overwhelmingly regard facility time in certain locations as useful. The same research showed that 86% of public sector managers believe that union representatives can be trusted to work with honesty and integrity—the banks would kill for a figure such as that in terms of public trust in their integrity or lack of it.

Clause 14 is a key provision aiming to prevent public sector employers—not just the Civil Service but the NHS, local authorities, the Scottish Government,

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the Welsh Assembly, the nuclear decommissioning estate and more—from deducting union subscriptions from the payroll. The reason given is that somehow check-off is outdated and that direct debit is a much more modern arrangement. But deductions from payroll are an integral part of the auto-enrolment of pensions, and of childcare, travel, charity donations and, as we have heard, bike purchases. Are these old-fashioned, too? Are the Government going to do something about that? It is ridiculous that we get involved in the detail of management in these bodies, which are not the direct employees of government.

I turn very briefly to the political fund rules. The noble Lord, Lord King, did not mention his agreement with the TUC in 1984 that the unions must make it clear to all members that there is an opportunity to opt out from the political fund and to do so on a regular basis—an agreement we kept and about which there has never been a complaint. At the time, Mrs Thatcher believed that opting in would be regarded as an attack on the Labour Party—and now we have that attack on the Labour Party. There are no balancing requirements. Wise words were said earlier about the need to look at these matters together and not in isolation if a reaction is not to be provoked. Not all unions with political funds are affiliated to the Labour Party. None the less, the new proposals will affect them, too.

My final point is on the issue of the certification officer, who will have the power to initiate investigations without the need for anybody to complain. The investigations can be outsourced—no doubt to expensive law firms and consultants—and the union side will bear all the costs. This is a big step towards state supervision of trade unions. It offends the principle of autonomy and is a distant echo—I emphasise “distant”—of a totalitarian and certainly an arrogant approach. Where is the justification for it? The certification officer deals perfectly adequately with complaints now and has not been seeking new powers. It is a vindictive step.

Noble Lords have been patient with my heartfelt contribution. However, as a former general secretary of the TUC and current president of the British Airline Pilots Association, I cannot regard this Bill as a minor tidying-up matter. It is not a series of modest adjustments but offends our pluralistic democracy. It is a mortal threat to some unions. I hope that we can persuade many noble Lords to think similarly in the weeks ahead.

4.16 pm

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, I start with a text:

“It has become a well-established custom that matters affecting the interests of rival parties should not be settled by the imposition of the will of one side over the other but by an agreement reached either between the leaders of the main parties or by conferences under the impartial guidance of Mr. Speaker”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/2/1948; col. 859.]

That was Mr Winston Churchill, leader of the Conservative Opposition, speaking in the Commons on 16 February 1948. I agree with him. That is why there is a Motion in my name on the Order Paper relating to the Commitment Motion today.

It was one of the great disappointments of the coalition period that more progress was not made in

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this area because funding scandals are a running sore in British politics for all parties. In 2011, the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life offered the political system a way out of its own mess through a carefully considered, well-balanced package sitting fairly on the foundations of the recommendations in the Hayden Phillips review set up by Labour in 2006. The committee’s proposals were so helpful that, alongside Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie and Labour MP Alan Whitehead, I had them turned into a draft Bill for consultation. That is still available and I commend it to the Minister for her reading before we reach Committee.

In proffering its recommendations, the committee said that,

“this situation is unsustainable, damaging to confidence in democracy and in serious need of reform. This was also the view expressed by the three major parties at the last election. All three made commitments in their manifestos to reform the big donor culture. They now need to deliver those commitments”.

It continued:

“It is critical too that the proposed reforms command the support of all parties. They will not otherwise prove to be sustainable. It would be unfortunate if the parties looked at them only in terms of political party advantage. It would also be a lost opportunity. All share a common interest in public confidence in the integrity of the democratic system. Their manifestos for the last General Election recognised that fact. Implementation of our proposals will, however, require political courage”.

What we have before us today in Clauses 10 and 11 is not so much an example of political courage but of naked political opportunism.

It is worth recalling precisely what the recommendations of the CSPL were. First, that there should be a cap on individual and corporate donations of £10,000; secondly, a 15% reduction in campaign spending limits; thirdly, a new system of public support to political parties to be introduced, relating to support at the ballot box; and, fourthly, changes to ensure that donations through trade union political funds by individual trade union members are all on an “opt-in”, transparent basis. This Conservative Government are taking just the fourth of the recommendations and ignoring the other three. Instead of taking the comprehensive, balanced package, and seeking to implement this without paying any attention to the others, they are being selective; they are cherry picking.

Ministers are also taking only one of their own manifesto promises on this subject, which read clearly in two consecutive sentences as an even-handed objective as follows,

“we will legislate to ensure trade unions use a transparent opt-in process for subscriptions to political parties. We will continue to seek agreement on a comprehensive package of party funding reform”.

Are they? It is the first I have heard of it. The question of opting into or out of political fund levies is absolutely central to the overall balance of rules on party political funding. It cannot, with an even hand, be extricated from the other questions of a donation cap, reduced spending limits and some measure of public funding to make up the difference. To try to do so represents a nakedly partisan attempt to rig the system against one party—the Labour Party—and, by extension, in favour of the other. It is exactly the kind of unilateralism that Winston Churchill warned us against.

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For all that, the need for comprehensive funding reform has become a great deal bigger since the report in 2011. Jim Messina, who was a key adviser to the Conservatives in their 2015 election campaign, recently told the Spectator that the party spent £30 million on the campaign. That is quite an admission since the legal limit for parties contesting all GB seats is just under £19 million. We do not yet know whether the figures are correct because we have not seen the Electoral Commission’s report, but I suspect that it will be a lesser sum than his boast. However, what we do know is that the scale of donations to each party—the ammunition in the arms race—during the four quarters running up to and including the 2015 election, shows that the Conservative Party raised £38.1 million. That is about 60% more than Labour, which was on £23.8 million, including all the trade union donations which this part of the Bill attempts to undermine. So there is already a huge disproportion of advantage between the two major parties. The Bill would make it eye-wateringly worse, and no fair-minded person could think that that is reasonable.

Before concluding, I want to make it clear that my party and I agree with the Government that it is right in principle for trade union funding of political parties to be made transparent. That is not what my amendment is concerned with. Indeed, we should know who is donating through a political levy, how much represents block donations and so on. But we should not impose such rules without some balancing provisions in the form of a donation cap, which would affect all parties, including my own. To accept the Government’s partisan proposals is to give in to the tendency that the CSPL specifically warned us against in its 2011 report. How prescient the committee was when it said:

“It is important that proposals are regarded as a package. Failure to resist the temptation to implement some parts, while rejecting others, would upset the balance we have sought to achieve”.

That is precisely the temptation that motivated the authors of this Bill.

Your Lordships will recall that the CSPL was set up by the last majority Conservative Government and it was given seven key principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The committee has served the nation and this Parliament well, but this legislation in its present form offends just about all those seven guiding principles. It is difficult to imagine a proposal that is more clearly selfish and subjective, or one for which the case has been made with more opacity and dishonesty.

Your Lordships’ House has a special role in identifying power grabs by the Executive and, in this case, by one party for its own interest against that of its rivals. In this House, we have the benefit of independent Cross-Benchers to act as honest brokers. I feel sure that colleagues on those Benches will see the partisan nature of these proposals for what they are. We have a responsibility to ensure that the motives behind and the consequences of legislation such as this are properly scrutinised. I can think of no better place than a Select Committee of your Lordships’ House to ensure that that scrutiny happens. I hope therefore that the House will join me in referring these controversial sections of

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the Bill to a special Select Committee of your Lordships’ House and that the Government will then deliver on their full manifesto promise for a comprehensive package of party funding reform.

4.25 pm

Lord Hain (Lab): My Lords, I very much welcome the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and I hope that if his amendment to the Motion is not carried tonight there may be another vehicle for addressing what he quite rightly described as a partisan and, indeed, pernicious attack on the funding of one particular political party: the Labour Party. I also ask the Minister to acknowledge that throughout modern history, and right across the world, when Governments have moved to attack democracy, they have always targeted trade unions first.

However, today I am asking that special consideration be given to the interests of Wales, for which I served as Secretary of State for seven years and was responsible for the Government of Wales Act 2006—the basis for the settlement that has operated since then. On 14 October last year, the Welsh Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews, argued on behalf of the Welsh Government that,

“we believe this Bill and the associated proposal to remove the ban on the use of agency workers during industrial action will … lead to more confrontational relationships between employers and workers. These proposals will ultimately undermine, rather than support, the delivery of public services and the economy”.

The Welsh Government’s position on the Bill was set out in a Written Statement to the Assembly on 9 September 2015, which argued that the Bill relates to its devolved responsibilities. As the author of the 2006 Act I agree, and I believe that the Bill should therefore not be applied to Wales without the explicit legislative consent of the National Assembly for Wales. This, I submit, should be very important to your Lordships, who have an acknowledged expertise on constitutional matters. Significant parts of the Bill relate specifically to “important public services” that are clearly devolved, for instance the additional 40% overall membership support threshold for industrial action.

On 20 November 2015, a legislative consent memorandum was laid before the Assembly by Mr Andrews. It sets out the Welsh Government’s view that the Assembly’s consent should be required for Clauses 3, 12, 13 and 14, as they relate to devolved matters. The memorandum argues that these clauses fall within the legislative competence of the Assembly in so far as they relate to public sector employers in Wales involved in the provision of a range of public services, including education and training, fire and rescue services, health services, local government and transport facilities and services. The memorandum also stated an intention to table a legislative consent Motion under Standing Order 29.6 seeking Welsh Assembly Members’ consent to the inclusion of those clauses, and argued that consent should not be given.

Very significantly, in 2014—I hope that your Lordships will note this—the Supreme Court adopted a broad approach to the interpretation of the Assembly’s legislative competence when considering a challenge by the UK Government against the Welsh Assembly’s Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill. Lord Reed and the noble and

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learned Lord, Lord Thomas, giving the judgment of the Supreme Court, held that, when determining the meaning of the relevant subject within Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, the court should consider that:

“Each is intended to designate a subject-matter which is the object of legislative activity”.

In the context of determining the meaning of “agriculture” as a subject heading, this justified a broad interpretation,

“as designating the industry or economic activity of agriculture in all its aspects, including the business and other constituent elements of that industry”.

The Supreme Court found that the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill had as its purpose the regulation of agricultural wages so that the agricultural industry in Wales would be supported and protected. Therefore, it was aptly classified as relating to agriculture. By contrast, the Attorney-General argued to the Supreme Court that the 2013 Bill related to “employment” and “industrial relations”, and that it was outside the Assembly’s legislative competence, as neither employment nor industrial relations are listed as a subject in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act.

Although the Supreme Court accepted that the 2013 Bill could also be classified as relating to employment and industrial relations—a subject matter that is not devolved—the court argued that that did not bring it outside the Assembly’s legislative competence. This is crucial, and I submit that much the same argument applies to the Trade Union Bill in so far as it covers public services devolved to Wales. It is therefore not acceptable for the UK Government to impose it on Wales. Policy on how best to support and protect the effective delivery of devolved public services is for the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales. This includes the way public sector bodies in such devolved services work with trade unions to ensure effective delivery of services to the public.

There is an increasing divergence in approach to delivery of public services between England and Wales. It would be wrong and potentially damaging to the UK Government’s stated aim of protecting public services for decisions based on English structures and approaches to be imposed on different service delivery models in Wales, especially when its Assembly has expressly opposed that through a cross-party Motion—I stress “cross-party”—supported by not just Labour but the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, although sadly not the Conservatives.

How can it be right for the UK Government, who have no responsibility for, or direct knowledge of, policy priorities and devolved service delivery reforms in Wales, to specify how much union facility time devolved public sector employers should allow, or to end the check-off system in the Welsh public sector? That would be disruptive, harming the viability of trade unions, which have, under devolution, been constructive partners in delivering public services of all kinds in Wales, where they are viewed as establishing good and stabilised industrial relations. My noble friend Lord Monks mentioned that point in respect of the many private sector employers, from Jaguar to Nissan, in Sunderland, where trade unions are very strong.

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Of course, the Sewel convention provides that the UK Parliament may not legislate for devolved matters without the consent of the devolved legislature affected. I hope that your Lordships will bear this in mind. I therefore hope and trust that your Lordships will accept in Committee, or later on Report, that the Government’s intention to force the Bill upon Wales is fundamentally wrong, and that it is also deeply unwise when the future of the United Kingdom remains uncertain because of the Scottish Government’s separatist stance. If I cannot persuade the Minister and the Benches opposite, I hope that the Liberal Democrats and the Cross Benches will support the case for Wales to be specially protected in this way.

4.33 pm

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, we on these Benches are always wary of involving ourselves in debates that, as we have already seen, are likely to become fairly polarised in political ways. Of course, this is a Second Reading debate, in which we try to focus on matters of intention and principle. Therefore, I dare to step in. Indeed, it is only because my right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol has conspired to get himself on a plane to Uganda at this precise moment that I am standing in his place at all. I rather wish that he had been here instead of me, but there we are.

We have an interest in these matters, because many of the origins of the trade union movement lie in close partnership with the churches of this land, not least the Methodist Church but others also. From these Benches, we have a continuing concern for the flourishing of those things that are to do with civil society in our nation, and, within civil society, of those things that we think of as intermediate institutions, of which trade unions are a very good example. Therefore, the place of trade unions is of concern to us.

It is unfortunate that often in public debate, not least in the reporting of public debate on trade unions, there is a tendency to focus on what might be seen—certainly from a publicity point of view—as the sharp end of trade union activity: that is, activity around industrial action. However, as has been indicated in this debate, the reality is that an awful lot of trade union work is much more mundane and low key and is about a whole range of issues to do with well-being and welfare in the workplace and, indeed, the economic vitality of many of our industries. When trade union activity works well—as it very often does—it fosters good relationships in the workplace, reduces absences from work, resolves disputes, promotes mediation and avoids recourse to employment tribunals and their associated expense. Good evidence and research illustrate those things.

In a debate in your Lordships’ House in November last year, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Derby spoke eloquently about trade union participation and involvement. I will not repeat what he said but simply encourage noble Lords to read that contribution.

My questions on the Bill, and the area to which I hope that this House will give attention, not least in Committee, concern whether all the proposed prescriptions are strictly necessary, as has been mentioned by one or two other noble Lords. Indeed, there is

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always a danger that we end up with the unforeseen consequences of prescribing things and find that prescription demotivates and therefore militates against the participation we wish to encourage. As a representative of the Church of England, I know only too well that we have an increasingly non-joining culture. We want people to participate in our institutions at the various levels that are possible within our society. It would be deeply sad if the prescriptive elements of the Bill were to discourage voluntary activity and working together. Trade unions are part of the picture we wish to foster and encourage.

I have heard from an episcopal colleague, who is unable to be here today, of a large and by no means left-wing local authority whose leader is seriously worried about the level of prescription in the Bill, which he believes threatens to undermine the existing good and effective working arrangements between employers and trade unions. For example, they have reached agreement on facility time and have a working arrangement for collecting levies and suchlike. These things are working perfectly well in that setting. What has our talk about devolution and localism achieved if we cannot trust those arrangements to work without having to prescribe them in what might be seen as a heavy way? I support every possible initiative to increase participation in all sorts of institutions within our society. I was interested, therefore, to hear about electronic ballots in this context, and whether we can increase their use. I worry about the introduction of imposed thresholds and hope that we will have more debate around that, because in most other parallel situations there are no such thresholds. Reference has already been made to the election of police and crime commissioners. If we had 40% thresholds there, we would have some interesting scenarios to look at. Therefore, there is a bigger debate to be had about this sort of thing in the context of encouraging participation.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, spoke eloquently about the whole matter of funding. That, too, is a wider debate. We will see where that goes and I look forward to the noble Baroness’s response to his contribution, which seems to me to merit further consideration.

We do not have to look very far to see places where people do not enjoy good conditions in the workplace—not only internationally, although it is easy to see examples there, but in the UK. Those are concerns that led among other things to the passing of the Modern Slavery Act, which was a good piece of legislation. Issues were also raised by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority in relation to practices in parts of the agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors. Trade unions at their best protect people who are vulnerable in the workplace and where there is a danger of exploitation. We want to encourage modernisation, good practice and all those sorts of things. In looking at this legislation in detail, as we will in coming weeks and months, we need to make sure that we employ positive encouragement towards good practice, which always works better than measures that rely on inappropriate prescription and control. In applying our wisdom to the Bill, I hope that we will bring those kinds of things into consideration.

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4.40 pm

Lord Balfe (Con): My Lords, I start with a declaration of interest that does not usually come from this side of the Chamber. This month I celebrate my 50th continuous year of membership of the TUC-affiliated trade union movement. I am the president of the British Dietetic Association, which is a TUC-affiliated union, and I am an adviser to BALPA, which still has blessed memories of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and more recent memories, of course, of my friend the noble Lord, Lord Monks. So I speak with some sort of background.

I was struck by the level of consensus that I detected in the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn. The role of this Chamber is to revise, and there are certain areas of the Bill that could well be revised without us departing from the manifesto commitment of the party on this side of the House. I noted that the noble Lord made reference to the 1980s and compared it to today; what he did not say, of course, was that the last Labour Government kept in place all the legislation that was passed by their predecessor, by my noble friend Lord King and other Conservative Secretaries of State. I would predict that the central part of this Bill, on thresholds in public sector services, will not be repealed when the Labour Party, as it eventually will in a democracy, comes back to power. They will probably stay, because the point has been made—my noble friend Lord King made it—that there is a distinction between the industrial workforce and the public sector.

There is no doubt in my mind that a number of public sector strikes have been deeply unpopular. I have a briefing from the Mayor of London—I do not know whether the Opposition have had it—which says that, of the 26 disputes in London which have led to Tube strike action since 2008, 19 would have been prevented under this new legislation in relation to workers in essential services. That is quite a high figure, but of course it also presents an organisational challenge. There is a tendency, which people sometimes slip into, to think that trade unions are somehow led by people who are not followed by their workers. One has only to look at the strike that is going to take place tomorrow to see that you get quite high turn-outs for industrial action in ballots. One sometimes must reflect, as the noble Lord, Lord Monks, mentioned, that in a dispute there may be two sides to a story and that both sides need to sit down and talk to each other. That is the whole purpose of ACAS.

I would also say to the trade unions that they need to get out of their sectarian silo. I am sorry to keep on referring to the noble Lord, Lord Monks, but he has been the secretary-general of the European TUC. He will know that, outside this country, it is very unusual for the entire trade union movement to be dedicated to the support of just one party. That is not good for the trade union movement, particularly when we know that one-third of its members actually vote for the Conservative Party. Of course, a good number of the others do not vote at all and a handful, I am sorry to say, vote for the Liberal party. I think both sides of the Chamber can agree that that is not what either of us would like, but it is none the less the case.

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I say to the trade union movement: reach out. You could have a Conservative Government for some years yet. Good relations and the interests of the members of the trade union movement are not served by the blanket refusal that you get on the part of some unions—I single out Unite particularly—although not all of them, to engage in any sensible dialogue with the governing party. That is not sensible. It is not good news for the members of that union.

Lord Monks: Does the noble Lord accept that the publication of the Bill makes that kind of dialogue even more unlikely?

Lord Balfe: I say to the noble Lord that the publication of the Bill probably arises in part from the fact that there is no strong trade union voice on this side of the House. There is no one around to say at the higher policy levels of the Conservative Party, “Hold on a minute, there is another side to this story”. I was about to say that unions such as BALPA, the BDA—the union that I am president of—Prospect and others have reached out and begun a dialogue, and I hope that that will continue.

We are, I hope, going to join together and look for some concessions from the Minister. I do not propose to go through them in detail because they will come up in Committee. With regard to facility time, the Conservatives’ manifesto actually said that they would legislate to,

“tighten the rules around taxpayer-funded paid ‘facility time’”.

You can tighten rules and still preserve a local interest and the right of local democracy to determine what happens. It is, frankly, not a localism agenda if you start telling district councils, such as the one my wife served on in Suffolk, how to regulate the 25% of the week that one person spends on facility time—generally doing things for the local authority, actually. We need to look at this with a broad brush. We want transparency on facility time, but we do not want day-to-day control. We cannot exercise it. We cannot say what matters in Forest Heath District Council in Suffolk or any individual authority. We can say, “You must publish—you must be in the daylight”, but we cannot lay down the rules.

Similarly, if e-balloting is okay for selecting the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, the ruling body of the Royal Statistical Society, of which I am a fellow, and the board of directors of a venture capital trust that I am investing in, I do not see that we can rule it out. Certainly, if we look at making it subject to some control or sanction by the certification officer, there must be a way forward. We cannot just write it off.

The third thing I want to mention is the financial aspect. If it were left to me, I would ban all financing of political parties beyond a very low amount, probably £5,000 per head. I would not have any hedge funds donating to parties. I would make parties fight for votes. But I say this: is it healthy for democracy to work in this direction? I just put that question. Is it a good thing that we should patently attack one of the three unsatisfactory wings of funding? I leave that question up in the air because, if it were left to me and if I were the Labour Party, I would not turn the clock

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back. When I came into power, I would immediately ban donations to political parties above a quite low level and say that everybody above that level could not donate. It would not be that they had to say how much; I would say, “You cannot donate. You cannot buy democracy”. But until that day comes, let us be careful to look at what we are doing and think about our responsibilities to democracy, which go further than our responsibilities to one or other side of the House.

4.50 pm

Baroness Prosser (Lab): My Lords, I am sure that we are all entirely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, for his words of wisdom. We have all listened very carefully. I start my contribution by declaring an interest as a member of Unite, the union, and as a pensioner of that union.

Along with others, I am sorry to be spending time discussing this proposed legislation. It seems designed not to improve or help build good relations in the workplace but rather to inhibit the ability of trade unions to organise and represent working people. The Bill is only one example of actions taken by this Government the main purposes of which seem to be a desire to stymie debate, reduce opposition and limit the value or influence of voices with which they disagree. There are proposed boundary changes and electoral reform—the result of which will almost certainly reduce the votes of the Opposition—EVEL and the reduction of Short money. All these actions tell the story of a Government unable to win on the strength of their arguments, and reduced to introducing procedural changes designed to quieten opposition voices.

But today there is the Trade Union Bill. Changes to check-off arrangements and political fund payments are of great concern. Many meetings were held in the last Session of Parliament where union representatives were mainly those who deal daily with running membership systems or ensuring that ballots, whether for strike action or internal elections, are based upon valid lists. Check-off of course makes membership validation a relatively straightforward affair. One meeting was called by the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and we welcomed the opportunity for a conversation with her and the Minister responsible in the other place, Mr Nick Boles.

In answer to a question about the thinking behind the proposed changes to check-off and political fund payments Mr Boles, with quite a straight face, explained that the Government wanted to see an improved and closer relationship between the union rep and the union member. Meeting and talking to each other while dues were being collected, he said, would help them to better understand each other’s needs and concerns. I concluded that Mr Boles had missed his vocation in life; he should have been a stand-up comedian.

In a month of Sundays I never would have guessed that that was the Government’s thinking when the relevant clauses were being drafted. Do the Government think that employers are going to welcome these proposals? Having the union rep spending his or her time wandering around the workplace chatting with this person and that, collecting money and finding change will work wonders for the UK’s productivity

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problem. The whole concept is ludicrous. A check-off system brings order and transparency not just to the union but to the employer, who also likes to know who is a member and who is not.

The Government have said that operating the check-off system can be financially onerous. If that is the case, the terms of the arrangement can be renegotiated. It has been found by the ILO that the deduction of union dues by the employer and the transfer of those dues to the union is a matter which should not be excluded from collective bargaining. Are the Government intent upon interfering in collective bargaining? Do they think they know better than employers and unions about how these things work? I thought that I had heard many a government Minister bemoaning the nanny state—but not of course when it suits them.

Please do not tell us that all this can be put right by workers paying their dues by direct debit. First, that would not meet Mr Boles’s criterion of happy families. Secondly, employers would not know who was in and who was out; and, thirdly, many low-paid workers have a pay packet that goes into the bank and out again on the same day, with no room for arrangements such as direct debits.

If these proposals are not likely to achieve improved relations in the workplace, what are they designed to achieve? The union reps who spoke to us emphasised that changes to check-off had to be seen together with the proposed changes to payments into a political fund and to the requirements for checking eligibility to take part in a strike. There is a knock-on effect between each of these. All the unions believe that these changes will reduce their membership and campaigning income. In turn, the unions affiliated to the Labour Party will have their ability to help fund Labour’s programme decidedly cut short. All unions believe that the likely loss of membership will affect their affiliation figures to the TUC—which, by the way, is renowned globally and looked upon by the global trade union movement as the example of how an umbrella trade union organisation should operate.

There we have it: a mean-spirited piece of legislation that is not designed to address the outstanding workplace issues of the day, such as the lack of skills, insecure contracts, and unequal and low pay that has to be subsidised by the taxpayer. No, it addresses none of these. No energy is being expended on addressing or fixing these problems, which impact badly on the UK’s productivity rating, which is embarrassingly low compared to those of other, like nations. Instead we spend our time attacking the very people and structures we should be engaging with. Other countries engage with labour organisations with great success. Look at Germany or the Scandinavian countries, which are not afraid of organised labour and do not behave as though trade unions are proscribed organisations—the enemy within, as famously noted by a previous leader of the government party.

There are a number of other aspects to the Bill which require attention, such as the use of agency labour to replace workers taking legal—yes, legal—strike action. That has been dismissed by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which says that it is not willing to get involved in what would be very

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difficult industrial relations situations. In any case, it doubts that replacement professionals could be found, particularly for example for the health service. There will be time of course at a later stage to address these issues in detail. Ballot methods and thresholds, and the role of the certification officer, for example, will come under close scrutiny, as will the issues I have already mentioned. Many organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Liberty, have expressed concern at the proposals on picketing and rights to facility time, and are checking to see that the relevant clauses comply with our responsibilities under the European Convention on Human Rights. Our own Joint Committee on Human Rights is of course also studying the Bill and will no doubt make recommendations as appropriate.

I will not take any more of the House’s time now—but rest assured that those of us with knowledge and experience of, and respect for, the trade union movement will do all we can to see that the Act which emerges at the end of our proceedings will help the trade unions to contribute positively to improving industrial relations and will ensure that the world of work can contribute positively to the UK’s place in the world. My final comment to those who have spoken or will speak from the management perspective is an expression which contains a great deal of truth: managements get the unions they deserve.

4.58 pm

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this very important debate. Years ago, part of my O-level history course included the Industrial Revolution, which covered many brilliant innovations and advances to ensure the prosperity of the country and of the manufacturing and weaving industries. These advances did not always benefit the people working on the factory floor but gradually, over time, improvements were made to the safety of the working conditions, the shortening of the working day, the employment and education of children, and the general welfare of the workforce. This is all to be welcomed. I would be the last to suggest that this Trade Union Bill we are debating today takes us back to the 19th century, but it does fill me with foreboding over where the next step will be if the Bill is passed unamended.

Many have made very valid contributions this afternoon, far more eloquently than I can, but the Bill raises a number of issues, and I will concentrate on three substantial items. One is the refusal to allow electronic balloting, the second is the percentage turnout thresholds and the third is check-off.

I am at a loss to understand why electronic balloting should be outlawed. As long as there is a reputable third party present, there can be no problem with this method. It is cheaper and quicker than the paper ballot, and individual polling numbers prevent abuse. Reputable organisations such as the National Trust and others allow it. Postal ballots are much more likely to be abused, with the possibility of those casting their votes being pressurised on how they vote.

Like others, I am concerned about the percentage turnout required for a union ballot to be valid: a 50% minimum turnout of those eligible to vote. Of that

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50%, 80% must be in favour of strike action before a strike can legally take place. Sitting on this side of the House, I know that the Conservatives claim to have a majority to govern on a far lower turnout of those eligible to vote, with only 37% of those who did turn out to vote in the general election actually voting for them. We appear to have double standards being applied. This is deplorable and not a shining example of democracy. As for counting abstentions as no votes, where would the Government be if all those who chose to stay at home in the general election were counted as voting “none of the above”? Those people would be a very large minority in some seats, and in the police and crime commissioner elections, which have already been referred to, they would be the majority.

Thirdly, I turn to Clause 14 and the subject of check-off agreements. This system of deducting donations from payroll has a long and reputable history. Currently, employees contribute to their favourite charity, the local sports club lottery or to the union that covers their area of employment. There is provision within existing legislation for employers to charge for this service but, currently, only about 25% do so. Why is it now necessary for those employees in the public sector belonging to a union to be prevented from having their union subscriptions deducted at source from their pay? That is not required in the private sector. Many private employers which provide vital services, such as electricity, are able to operate check-off, but health, local government, the police, the fire service and others will be prevented from doing so. This seems perverse in the extreme, not to mention spiteful.

Current arrangements have been negotiated over time, and a move away from that takes no account of local circumstances. This is a retrograde step and out of kilter with the Government’s general localism agenda of allowing decisions to be taken locally, as demonstrated in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which was debated at length in this Chamber. I hope the Government will recognise that such a move will not help employers to identify just who is and who is not a member of a union, and is likely to engender poor working relationships rather than better ones, as others have said.

I understand that there is little or no employer support for the measures in the Bill. It would seem that the Government are likely to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater in introducing this bureaucratic and regressive piece of legislation. Although it may be inconvenient for some services to be disrupted by those striking for improved pay and conditions, I believe that we should uphold the rights of employees to exercise their wish to strike. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that allows free speech and welcomes all views expressed through written articles, marches and demonstrations. We cannot return to the days when strikers in years gone past were deported, as in the case of Tolpuddle, just for publicly expressing their views. This is not democracy, and we must uphold the right to strike when there is no other way of bringing matters to public attention. We must not make it impossible for employees to achieve this.

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5.04 pm

Lord Bew (CB): My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which has been referred to a number of times in this debate and is referred to in the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.

It might be helpful if I remind the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has already has, that the committee was established 20 years ago by John Major and includes lay members and representatives of the main political parties. As I look around me, I see distinguished Members on all sides of the House who have served on the committee. I will return to that point before I conclude my remarks.

I have been chair for two years. In November 2011, my predecessors on the committee produced a comprehensive report on this issue. With great effort, they attempted to produce a balanced and sustainable package of reforms to address the big donor culture in party funding. The committee’s research showed that the public are highly sceptical about the motivations of donors, whether they are individuals, organisations or, indeed, trade unions. Reform of party funding to end the big donor culture appeared in the manifestos of the three main parties in the recent general election.

The committee made it clear at the time that the package it recommended was intended to be reasonably fair in its impact on different parties and called for all parties to act in the national interest to benefit the health of UK democracy rather than for narrow party advantage. For example, chapter 15 of the committee’s report states:

“It is important that proposals are regarded as a package. Failure to resist the temptation to implement some parts, while rejecting others, would upset the balance we have sought to achieve”.

I insist on this as a central point. To extract one element—this afternoon we have discussed Part 4, which deals with trade union funding—without implementing the other reforms is not in the spirit of the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s 2011 report. Nobody who reads it can be in any possible doubt about that.

Having said that, I shall make some further points. The committee’s report needs some updating. Years have passed since 2011. We need better current figures, and my committee is undertaking further research to test the public’s view. In particular, it is important that all parties set out their sources and use of funds in an easily intelligible way and use common, publicly available standards so that proper analysis and comparisons are possible.

When the committee’s original report was published in 2011—this is why I mentioned the party-political composition of the committee earlier—Margaret Beckett MP published a dissenting note for the Labour Party, as did Oliver Heald MP for the Conservative Party. Those dissenting notes were published by the committee. Oliver Heald in particular pointed to a lack of adequate information about parties’ funding and called for consistent accounting.

This has led me to the view, which I think is the view of the committee today, that it is essential to promote a vigorous and well-informed debate. I wrote

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to all the party leaders after the general election, drawing attention to the commitments that were in their manifestos. There now needs to be a broad debate on these issues. I am confident that there are sufficient public-spirited people in all parties. If one reads the press associated with the main parties in our system, one can see a reflection of this opinion. If one listens carefully to what Members of Parliament have said, I am confident that there is sufficient informed and genuinely public-spirited opinion on this matter to produce a serious debate. I entirely respect the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that we may have to wait one or two Parliaments before this matter moves on but, while I respect it, it is the role of the Committee on Standards in Public Life at this point to push for a broader, intense debate on these fundamental issues.

5.09 pm

Lord Livermore (Lab) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House, and I do so with a great sense of humility and no little trepidation. I am acutely aware of the experience, expertise and wisdom that reside on all sides of this House, and I am genuinely grateful for the warm and generous welcome that I have received. I thank the doorkeepers and the staff and officers of this House for their kindness to my family on the day of my introduction, and for their continuing help to me since.

I am also deeply grateful to those noble Lords who did me the honour of introducing me: my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton and my noble friend Lady Nye. I particularly thank my noble friend Lady Nye for her wise and patient advice as I acclimatised to your Lordships’ House. It is said that when Harold Wilson resigned from the Labour Government together with Aneurin Bevan in 1951, he was called “Nye’s little dog”. At times I felt a little like that myself as I followed obediently behind the noble Baroness.

Improving democracy in the workplace is said to be a key objective of this Bill. Democracy has played an important part in my own career, as I have worked on four general election campaigns over the past 18 years. Over that time, all political parties have sought to increase engagement and participation in the democratic process. As technology has evolved, the challenge of modernising our democracy has become ever more pressing, and it is encouraging that thousands of organisations in the private sector, from the Federation of Small Businesses to the Royal College of Nursing, from HSBC to the National Trust, have risen to this challenge and now use electronic voting in their own elections and consultations. It therefore seems a curious anomaly that this Bill should leave trade unions as the only organisations in Britain prohibited from harnessing technology to modernise their own democratic procedures. Modernisation is vital, and I hope that in the passage of the Bill that anomaly can be rectified. I hope, too, that in time we can find new ways to use technology in general elections to engage a whole new generation of voters.

At their best, trade unions have been not just the voice of working people but the route for many to a better life, opening up opportunities that otherwise

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would not exist. From their earliest origins in co-operative and friendly societies to establishing working men’s libraries, through to funding university scholarships, trade unions fought not only for collective solidarity but for individual self-improvement. Arguably, too much of that early tradition has been lost, and a key test for the Bill is whether it closes down opportunities for working people or enables trade unions to once again fulfil their historic function in breaking down barriers to aspiration. The latter is much needed. As the Prime Minister said last week:

“We live in a country where too many people are stopped from reaching their potential because of their background”.

In Britain today, a boy born into a middle-class family is 15 times more likely to be middle-class himself than a boy born into a working-class family. I know that to be true. When I was 16, a careers teacher came to visit my school. Seeing each of us in turn, she sat me down in the classroom and asked what my next steps might be. I said that after my A-levels I wanted to go on to university to study economics. “Oh no,” came her reply, “university isn’t for pupils from this school”. I express gratitude today not only to my family for their support and encouragement but to that careers teacher too; I found her to be a powerful source of motivation as I sought to prove her wrong. I was very proud to go on from school to university, but I remain angry that I was the only one in my school year to have done so.

Our country cannot afford to limit opportunities, shrink horizons, and waste talent like that. However, I do not believe that tackling this lack of social mobility and ensuring everyone can reach their full potential can be achieved by government alone. For 10 years I worked in the Treasury as special adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Labour Government. Improving life chances was at the heart of what we sought to achieve. We took action on employment and on child poverty, and the life chances of the poorest improved dramatically. However, reflecting on that time in government, it is clear to me that for those who are not poor, those who are closer to the middle, improving life chances is about more than a poverty of income—it is about a poverty of aspiration. For these children, too often it is not a lack of means but a lack of dreams. Social mobility must of course be built on a foundation of income and employment, but I know from my own experience that it also requires education, enterprise and ambition.

Since leaving government I have worked in the private sector, and have greatly enjoyed contributing to building a successful strategy business. I have learnt much from this time but in particular I have learnt that business has an incredibly important role to play as a powerful engine of social mobility, and within businesses modern trade unions have a crucial play to play, too, in developing new skills, raising ambitions, and increasing personal prosperity as a result. Initiatives such as the Union Learning Fund were great innovations. Now, one of the greatest services modern trade unions could offer 21st-century workers would be bargaining for skills, which benefits both the company and the individual worker by promoting their progression in the workplace.

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I have taken Rotherhithe, in the London Borough of Southwark, as the geographic part of my title, where I have lived for many years. Rotherhithe has a proud industrial history, from building ships for the Royal Navy in the 1650s to being at the heart of London’s Docklands until the 1960s. Running through that industrial history is a strong heritage of internationalism, and perhaps our proudest claim is that Rotherhithe is where the “Mayflower” first sailed from on its journey to the New World in 1620. Those on board helped, by imagining a greater destiny for themselves, to found the ideals that created the American Dream, that prosperity would come from hard work, and that if you were willing to work hard you could make a better life for yourself and your family.

In 1774, the Royal Governor of Virginia said that Americans,

“forever imagine the lands further off are still better than those upon which they are already settled”.

That instinct to continually search for a better life, that expansive belief in possibility, is to be admired. It was a gift to America from Britain. It is a British belief, a British value, but one which we must ensure reaches every community in our land. This is a task in which this House has an important role to play, and to which I commit myself to playing my part in the years ahead.

5.17 pm

Lord Sawyer (Lab): My Lords, it is a great privilege to congratulate my noble friend Lord Livermore on his most excellent and outstanding maiden speech. As I expected, we heard the views of a thoughtful, intelligent, mature man on some of the issues facing our nation at the present time, particularly the important issue of social exclusion and improving life for ordinary people, which I know my noble friend has always been particularly and deeply interested in. I am sure we will hear a lot more from him on this subject as the years go by.

I had the opportunity to meet my noble friend when he was a young man, even younger than he is today, when he came as a young graduate from university to work at the Millbank Tower before the 1997 general election campaign. I am not sure whether he remembers this, but he had a desk outside my office; I knew he was an ambitious young man when he provided me with a lovely cup of tea at the start of every day’s work. I knew at the time that he would achieve great things, and that not just his ability would take him to high places but his courteous manner and polite approach to all his colleagues, which is still a feature of his contribution to public life.

My noble friend went on to achieve great things, to become a senior strategy and communication professional, helping to win two more general elections after 1997 and helping Labour leaders at the highest level—Prime Ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer—in and out of No. 10 and No. 11, to achieve outstanding and excellent results. In addition, my noble friend has developed a private practice, where he advises private companies on issues relating to communications. I hope that we have the opportunity—in fact I am sure we will—to hear further excellent speeches from my noble friend in the months and years to come.

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Today, the task is unfortunately not as pleasant as simply congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Livermore; rather, today is a day that brings great shame to our Parliament. This Bill, which has high-level political motivations, is masquerading as a Bill to give the unions back to their members, and that, essentially, is deceitful. The Bill pretends to help workers but ends up hurting them, particularly part-time women workers, who are especially vulnerable to the measures in it. This Bill will make it much more difficult for workers to become trade union members, to be represented by the only collective agent that has ever fought on their behalf: the British trade union movement. This Bill comes along and crashes in a most ungainly way into the world of employee/employer relations, ignoring good practice, ignoring employee representations, ignoring what is best and what works in public service practice. That is unforgivable.

I would like to say something, as other noble Lords have done, about the trade union movement itself. Lots of past Bills and White Papers have had euphemistic titles such as the Industrial Relations Bill or In Place Of Strife. This Bill is actually called the Trade Union Bill. Noble Lords have spoken about the importance of the trade unions. This party, which sits on these Opposition Benches, would not be here if it were not for the British trade union movement, which shows its importance in the history of this country. I do not want to go through all the things that Labour Governments have brought to fruition, but we would not be here without the British trade union movement.

As I look around the Chamber today, I see my noble friends Lady Prosser and Lord Pendry and other noble Lords who would not be here without the British trade union movement, which has given so many people the chance to do things in public life that no other institution has been able to provide. It is very important that that be recognised, respected and celebrated.

Of course, trade unions have done much more than simply in the workplace. They have done lots of things in the community, such as helping unemployed people and the homeless. I am not that old—I do not go back to the dark ages—but the street of 70 houses in the north-east of England that I was born in had only one telephone. It was owned by the union man, and 70 households could all use that telephone. That is what the trade union movement did for us: it allowed us to use the telephone when none of us could afford one. So, when our children were ill or there was a family crisis and nobody else was around to help—in those days, the state was not there—the trade union helped us. We should never forget that.

As my noble friend Lady Prosser said, the British trade union movement is the oldest, most democratic and most representative such movement in the world. It has given so much at both a personal and local level, helping to win two world wars, helping in the fight for civil rights around the world, and—most importantly in the context of this debate—helping to make businesses successful and workplaces fair and safe.

This Government could have given us a Bill that built on that legacy. It did not have to be a bad Bill; it could have helped to strengthen and unite people to

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fight zero-hours contracts, to end poverty pay, to promote partnership and best practice at work. It did not have to be this negative Bill.

When I read the Bill, I wonder what the Government think that the millions of public service workers look like. I have concluded that it is a male, full-time worker stood angrily on a picket line, preventing services being provided. We heard earlier in the debate about “Red Robbo”. Who remembers Red Robbo? Who remembers In Place Of Strife? That is not the British trade union movement. The typical British trade union member is a public sector worker who is part-time, female and low paid. That is what we are talking about today, not Red Robbo. Goodness me! We need to move into modern times.

These people work hard. They have a difficult job as they daily try to deal with the consequences of the enormous public expenditure cuts that this Government have placed upon them. At home, what will be the reality of their place in our economic hierarchy? Finding it hard to manage, not having an easy time, as they work hard to provide good services. I say to the Minister that it is on the heads of these people that the Government are directing this legislation, making it difficult—probably impossible—for them to have an effective voice at work because the Government are hitting their union.

I wonder how much noble Lords on the other side know about employer relations in the public sector. I wonder how much experience of them they have. I accept that in some ways they are not too different from those in the private sector, but of course the private sector is not having deductions made at source. Effectively that is happening only in the public sector.

One of the important things about the public sector is that it has an established culture of collective bargaining. Millions of people work in a culture where their pay and conditions are governed by a bargain between trade unions and their employers. This is very big stuff, and the Government are affecting all those people with this legislation. Another facet of public services is that people do not work in one place; they work in lots of places. If you take any borough anywhere in Britain—Sheffield, Newcastle or Salisbury—you will find several thousand people in workplaces of two or three people. They all have to be organised, talked to and communicated with. That is the job of the trade union but it is also the job of the employer—employers and trade unions need to do it together. It is what they have always done in the public services and it is what they want to continue to do.

It is very important that we recognise the nature of public service and of public service workers. Public service works primarily through employers and employees focusing on what is best for the customer. Would your Lordships believe that? It is important that somebody says that in this debate. This debate is about the customer. It is not just about workers, unions and employers; it is about customers or taxpayers—people who want a good service but will not get it unless the collective bargaining system works. We have to make it work, as it does now, and we should not damage it. It is really important for millions of people that it works.

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There is not a single council leader, NHS chief executive officer or HR director who wants to do what we do in any other way. There is no support among the political or professional leadership for the public service measures in this Bill. In Teesside, where I come from, 50,000 people work in the public services—in local government and health—and they will all be affected by this Bill. All of them are managed well and are working well—I hope that is the case, although there is always something that is not perfect—and none of them wants this legislation. None of the employers and none of the workforce wants it, so what is going on? We need strong and competent management, as well as strong and competent unions, and they should be able to work together from a position of mutual respect and strength.

Unions need to represent the workforce. They need the workforce’s membership and, to achieve that, they need sensible and proportionate help. Unions are voluntary organisations. Let us not forget that the vast majority of the people taking on representative roles are unpaid volunteers. Unions are not full of full-time, paid officers driving around in cars. They are about lay people—ordinary people—doing work for nothing to help smooth the wheels of good employer/employee relations, and we must not lose sight of that. People who work for a union work in the interests of both sides, keeping the workplace successful and safe. That is what they do and it is why we have to support them.

Noble Lords will have heard people talking about losing the check-off facility. I well remember when I was a local organiser being asked to go to a council in Sunderland. The council said to me, “We’ve got a problem here. Lots of the people we employ are not in a union”. I replied, “Well, I don’t know why that is”. I was told, “The reason is that we pay them through the post and send their work rosters through the post and actually nobody ever really meets them”. I said, “There are two things there. The first is that the management needs to take a more proactive role, meeting, managing and encouraging these people, and the second is that the union should as well”. I spent a lot of time getting those people to become members of a trade union and it was hard work. I used to ask them, “How do you want to pay the union subs? Do you want to pay them by direct debit or through the bank, or do you want to pay by check-off?”. The vast majority said, “I want to pay by check-off because this is to do with what I do at work. It’s nothing to do with the bank and I don’t want it on my bank statement”. People have different reasons for not wanting things to appear on a bank statement.