8.49 pm

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, my consternation over the Bill centres on two crucial elements. The first is that a Bill that will have, de facto, so much significance for the constitutional balance and commitment to social justice and human rights in this country should be pushed through with so little proper and full consensus-building and consultation. Something of this significance for our social fabric demanded a great deal of careful preparation, building widespread understanding of and commitment to what was being proposed. That did not happen.

The second thing that dismays me—although it hardly surprises me with this Government, I am sorry to say—is that in support of this they are advancing all their dogma about what democracy means and how many people must have voted and what proportion must have voted, when they have barely a quarter of identifiable electorate support in this country themselves.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 98

It is just extraordinary that a Government governing in that situation do not have the temperament or the sensitivity to see the need for consultation.

I have been a member of a trade union all my adult life. I refused to get into my first job between university and national service until I had joined a trade union. I joined the Transport and General Workers’ Union and I worked as a garden labourer for the GLC—a very important learning experience so soon after university. Why had I come to this position? Because I had been through a politically formative experience in the Second World War and in the period immediately after the Second World War. Subsequently, of course, in my adult life I went through the politically informative experience of the Cold War, when I was at the Ministry of Defence.

What had I learnt from that? I had learnt about the tremendous contribution that the trade union and Labour movements, working together, had made to the strength of Britain. I had learnt about the strong contribution made to the success of the Second World War coalition Government by the fine, courageous Labour Ministers who served in that coalition. It has become evident from all the writing—biographies, autobiographies and the rest—that in the work of the coalition they had, personally, not unlively relationships with some of their Conservative colleagues, including the Prime Minister, but good relationships with them. I think particularly of Ernie Bevin. I did not agree with Ernie Bevin on quite a lot but, my God, what a statesman he was. How he overshadowed so many others who served in his aftermath—an extraordinary man. Then there were all the others who brought their trade union experience to that Administration.

Then I saw the strength of the post-war Attlee Government, so much of whose success depended on the partnership between the trade union movement and the Labour Party, which was open, transparent and absolutely fundamental to purpose. I came to admire all that terrifically and therefore felt certain that in whatever I did with my life I wanted to build on that kind of experience and that kind of understanding of what society could be and should be. I realised then, and it grew into my whole being, that being together and working together could produce far more strategically and in the long run than struggling and fighting aggressively, individually, one against the other, in what has become the culture of the market and unbridled consumerism.

In 1979, when we went out of office, I was asked by good friends, “But what have you really learnt in your years as Minister?”. I said, “I’ll tell you one thing that worries me profoundly. We are hurtling towards an age in which tactics are becoming the total enemy of strategy”, because in those post-war years—and of course in the war years—politics had been about strategy. What did we want to do with our society? Where did we want to go with our society, and how were we going to do it? My God, there were fantastic arguments but they were arguments of great statesmen about vision, purpose and values. When I look back now, in 2016, I feel that even more strongly but I am also deeply worried by the force of counterproductivity, which is the inevitable consequence of an overconcentration on tactical gains and victories.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 99

Locally, nationally, regionally and internationally, the first reality of life is that we are locked together in total interdependence, whether we like it or not. The success of government in our age will, I venture to suggest, be judged historically by the success that we make of meeting the challenge of this interdependence and of devising policies and institutions which meet that reality. I know that “Neddy” was not a great success in its first endeavour in the 1970s, although it has been downgraded far too much, but we should never have deserted that principle—the idea of having a council, a forum in the nation, where all aspects and corporate realities of our society come together and work together.

I fear that the Bill, as others have argued so well today, will lead to confrontation and antagonism, and that it will not assist the establishment of a happy and fully productive nation. I see and fear an accelerating trend to centralise state control in the service of the free market and its centralised power, facilitated by too many organisations of shallow character with little fundamental critical analysis, and by media which reflect this sad reality. We have a lot of work to do on the Bill but I urge—unlike some in the House, I realise—that we be very careful. I am totally convinced that morality in politics is about compromise. It is about the exacting and difficult task of judging between the constructive, dynamic and positive compromise and the bad compromise. I hope that, in consideration of the Bill, in no way will we be lulled into an attitude that will facilitate a bad compromise. There are fundamental issues by which we have to stand.

I finish with a quotation I have kept close to me for many years. I know that every Member of the House will know it. It is from that immensely courageous Protestant pastor in Germany, who died in the concentration camp. We need to think very carefully about what he said:

“First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me”.

9 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, I hope I will not go too far down memory lane, but I would like to make a point of contrast between what we are discussing here and what we have often discussed in the trade union movement, which is about taking a more constructive position on the new world economy. Some months ago, some of us carried out an exercise with the TUC and UK members of European works councils with trade union and employer members. Frances O’Grady, Chuka Umunna and my noble friend Lord Monks were there, along with representatives of big companies, employers and workers, discussing investment, skills et cetera. It occurred to me during the course of the afternoon, listening to the various contributions, to ask how what we have been trying to do in that sense squares with the positions of the ideological fundamentalists of Conservative Central Office at present. How do those two things square? They do not.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 100

I will give another example. We have growing inequality, which, as you can see around the OECD, correlates with less collective bargaining. Growing inequality is the opposite of what we want, so do we need more collective bargaining? Yes or no? The answer is yes, but does the Minister think the answer is yes? If we have this correlation between growing inequality and less collective bargaining, it would not be a bad idea to think it has something to do with organising and having this constructive relationship.

I suspect that the reason these things do not add up together is that there is some type of schizophrenia inside the Conservative Party—the same schizophrenia that I think we have with the “pull up the drawbridge” position on the European question. How can we remove this sort of misunderstanding, which I think is part of our mutual problem? Some speakers opposite have tried to imply that it is we and the trade unions who have walked away from social partnership, social dialogue or whatever you like to call it, but there is no evidence for that at all. It is the Conservative Party which has recently backed itself into a silo—today’s fashionable word.

Let me just remind the House of one little bit of history. In 1998 we arranged, for the first time ever, a meeting at the TUC with the leaders of the Conservative Party. William Hague led the team, and George Osborne was there. A number of colleagues who are here this evening were on the trade union side—my noble friends Lord Morris, Lady Donaghy, Lady Drake and Lord Monks, as I recall. Although it was partly subliminal, the message was a very important one: we were saying that we accept your legitimacy, as the Conservative Party, as part of the body politic in this country and that you should acknowledge ours. I am not quite sure that we are now seen as legitimate. We are perhaps in a better state than we were 100 years ago in our relationship—it has been a long journey since the Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists—but where are we now? Does the Conservative Party really want to go down the track of trying to delegitimise us by setting up a caricature of trade unionism? The caricature has us as AnEnemy of the People—I am referring there to a play by Ibsen, in case anyone thought I was quoting Mao Tse-Tung.

How does that fit with all the rhetoric about the need to work together to increase our world market share? Answer: it does not. Some Members seem to want to conjure up an idea that we are so lacking in intelligence that we do not understand that public services are part of our living standards, and that people do not realise that when there is a strike in the public sector.

Lord Balfe: I point out to the noble Lord that the general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, has been within the past year to a group meeting of the Conservative Peers—I do not know whether she has addressed the Labour Peers—and we are still awaiting an invitation for our Prime Minister to address the Trades Union Congress. Perhaps that could be facilitated; perhaps the general secretary of the TUC could be invited to the Labour group of Peers.

Lord Lea of Crondall: I do not think that the Bill has helped to facilitate it; that is all I can say.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 101

The issue is that we are now not being seen as part of the great happy family, which was the idea, but delegitimised, which is my thesis. I am trying to get someone to point out whether that is true or not with some evidence. The Bill seems, with one provision after another—beginning with my noble friend Lord Monks, everybody has gone through the list—to be intended to reduce the number of members, the size of any political fund and so on. That is the effect. If that is not intended, someone has not done their arithmetic properly in designing the Bill. I should be interested to hear whether the Minister thinks that I have got that wrong, and why.

Organising is inherently more difficult at present than when we had lots of big workplaces and there was a higher trade union density. That is true across the OECD. Where we are at the moment was summed up in a Financial Times editorial: the Government are crossing the road to pick a fight with the trade unions. Why? One reason might be political advantage—perish the thought. If the idea is not to cut the legs off the trade unions or the financing of the Labour Party, the Government have a very funny way of going about it.

On the point about check-off, the Government seem to think that because some private sector companies are working to government contracts, they can somehow reach into the private sector and tell them how to organise check-off. This has certainly been mentioned to us as what is happening at Sellafield and Dounreay. Even before the Bill has passed, the Civil Service has written to companies saying that this is how they have to go, and they have to step into line as if they were in the public sector. I would like that to be looked into, if it has not, because we are told that that is what is happening.

The reason I find that rather strange is that, having been a member for some years of the central arbitration committee judging recognition claims, I know that if you get recognition, you have a collective agreement—in Sellafield or wherever it is—and it is a natural part of the agreement that you do check-off. Unless the Government have some ideological reason in mind for doing it, I do not think they should interfere with or intervene in voluntary arrangements that suit both parties.

I shall say a couple of sentence about party funding. A joint approach on this is an idea whose time has come. There are naturally the usual caveats, but we know that there is something weird about the attempt to go back to 1927, after the General Strike. Contracting in was repealed by Attlee in 1945 and was not revisited by Churchill or Thatcher. I therefore have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is trying to do, but there are cherry-picking problems in this. I do not think it is possible to assume that an individual and a union with 1 million members are the same thing. It is clear that there are trade-offs, but the time has come to investigate because there is mutual interest at present, which there has not been until now, to do something along that line.

9.11 pm

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan (Lab): My Lords, we are getting to the stage in this debate when everything that could be said has been said, but not everybody

11 Jan 2016 : Column 102

has yet said it, and there are about 10 more of us to go, so I imagine that we will be going on a little after 10 pm. I do not want to cover all the areas in the Bill. The very helpful Library brief identified six discrete areas, and I want to touch on only one or two of them.

Trade union legislation has to be about the improvement of industrial relations, changing or rebalancing the system of industrial relations, challenging abuses by unions and management, addressing anomalies or unintended consequences of previous legislation, and offering assistance to vulnerable workers whose rights and conditions of employment are endangered by rogue employers. Such legislation normally features in general elections. In the 1980s, Conservative concerns about the winter of discontent and what happened after that laid the ground for their amendments. In the 1990s and the early part of this century, it was the electoral mandate of the Labour Party to take away some of the worst excesses of the Conservative legislation. I say “some”. I think we probably could have done more, but that is an argument for another day.

What priority in political debate at the moment should be given to industrial relations legislation changes? A very rough and ready guide to these priorities could well be the Times Guide to the House of Commons 2015. In it there is a presentation of the 10 issues that were deemed most important: the economy, immigration, et cetera. Missing was any reference to trade unionism, strikes, balloting or check-off. I suspect that before today’s debate a number of people on the other side of the House thought that check-off was a Russian playwright and would not engage the amount of attention that we have been giving it.

My point is that if we are talking about days lost and inconvenience to the public caused by rail strikes and the like, they are as nothing compared with the disruptions that we have had of late due to the incompetence of Network Rail in organising its maintenance schedules. Think of what happened last winter, when the weather was not that bad; there was incompetence then too. The public might well have been prepared to see the suspension of the abolition of capital punishment for the management of Network Rail—not that I would advocate that, but a populistic, hubristic Government like this one might well have seen that issue as a popular one with which to satisfy the readers of the Daily Mail or the Daily Express.

There is no evidence to suggest that the degree of inconvenience or damage to our economy merits the draconian attempt to limit strike action that the Bill is suggesting. Let us not forget that in the course of the past 12 months there were only 155 industrial disputes and over the past five years, on average, 647,000 days were lost to strike action. In fact, in 2014, 64% of these strikes lasted for one or two days, and between October 2014 and October 2015 the number of days lost to industrial action actually fell by 74%. There is no public outcry or demand for the kind of propositions that the Government are offering.

What was often at stake in these disputes were injustices within the public sector. There was a strike in Northern Ireland carried out by the midwives—not the most militant group of industrial workers in this country—who found that they were getting paid considerably less than their counterparts in England

11 Jan 2016 : Column 103

and Wales, so they withdrew their labour. A little closer to home, you might say, in London, in the offices of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, there was an industrial dispute and a strike in which the cleaners came out because in some buildings they were getting paid £2 an hour less than their fellow workers in other parts of that public sector agency. I do not think you could lay a charge that those militant cleaners were holding the country to ransom; rather, you could say that incompetent government Ministers who had responsibility for HR considerations had not been dealing with the matter with the degree of care and attention that they should have been.

It is said that these strikes are carried out on very low turnouts. One of the disturbing things about trade unionism in the UK now is the very poor attendance at trade union meetings. Equally, there is the concern that when people are going to make a decision about going on strike, they do not always vote. Sometimes they think, “We know what’s going to happen so we won’t vote”. It is a wee bit like voting in a council by-election if you are a Tory supporter in Surrey; you know what is going to happen so you do not need to turn out as the decision is pretty well made for you, and by and large you can go along with it. The fact is, though, that you are not compelled to go on strike. No evidence has been produced today that the workers who did not vote in the strike ballot are any less willing to withdraw their labour than the ones who did. There is no evidence of intimidation of the kind that would suggest that people were being forced into not crossing picket lines or the like.

We can see that in many instances of these public sector strikes, which I presume this legislation is endeavouring to frustrate, we are talking about people who in the main are not particularly well paid—people in junior clerical jobs or who are cleaners, and who have the biggest sanction of all against going on strike, which is the loss of pay. These people, who are hard up and have difficulties, go on strike because they are fed up with the conditions they have. Therefore, it is not legislation of the kind envisaged here that is required; rather, it is better industrial relations and better human resource management, if you want to use an expression like that. Certainly there is also the fact that the difficulties experienced by the kind of people I have just described are very often reflected in the churn of the turnover of staff, which makes recruitment quite difficult. Of course it also means that when these people go to work and are asked to join a union they say, “What does it require?” and they are told, “You’re going to have to go to the bank and fill in forms”, and so on. These are the sorts of people who have the kind of bank accounts in which their money is barely in, and usually they are just about overdrawn by the Thursday of any week.

I am making the point that these people in these circumstances will not be willing to be hassled and will not join the unions, as it will be inconvenient. Yet in many instances they depend upon the shop stewards, union reps, and the people who get facility time to help them, not just with the problems of their employment but with the problems of social security or industrial injury. These are the kind of issues that are dealt with

11 Jan 2016 : Column 104

in the facility time as much as anything else, and these people need that kind of assistance. However, if people will be discouraged from joining unions and from being prepared to make the financial sacrifice because it is complicated, the resources of the trade union to help such people will be drastically reduced, and you will have a cowed and disadvantaged workforce which will be that much more difficult to manage.

Finally, the Bill will impose new and complicated arrangements on the preparation of strike ballots. It will require higher majorities and turnout figures. It will restrict the conduct of peaceful picketing once a strike has started. It will complicate arrangements for the collection of union dues with the aim of frustrating recruitment of new members and the maintenance of existing members. The Bill is not about improving industrial relations but about weakening the power of the unions and frustrating the work which improves the lives of the union members. It will be a test bed for this new approach to industrial relations, and as sure as night follows day, if it is successful—and “success” will not mean that the workers will be happier and we will have better industrial relations but that union membership will go down and industrial relations will deteriorate—it will be extended across into the private sector as well.

This is a mean, spiteful Bill, introduced by a hubristic Government, whom I believe have no idea of the resentment their proposals will create and the needless damage their thoughtless actions will inflict upon British industrial relations in the months and years ahead, if we do not make radical changes to it and stop it in its tracks.

9.23 pm

Lord Tomlinson (Lab): My Lords, as I think has been said by almost every speaker from this side, this is a mean, vindictive Bill that has nothing to do with improving the basic industrial problems of this country. What are those problems? We have rehearsed them during the course of the day. They are low productivity, skills shortages and lack of flexibility in working relationships. But what are we doing? We are tackling this as if the problem is strikes. I will not go through the figures from the Office for National Statistics yet again, but it is quite clear that if you look at the 30-year run of month-to-month statistics, we are going through the longest sustained period since 1931—with the exception of that one peak when we had the winter of discontent—of low strike rates in this country. So we have to consider what we are really trying to achieve here.

I perked up a little when I heard the Minister say in her introduction—I wrote her words down, so that I remembered the tense—that trade unions have a long and distinguished history. I want to tell the Minister, that, yes, they have a long and distinguished history, but they have an extremely important present, and many Members on this side of the Chamber and many people in the country will make sure that they have an important role for the future. They are not just something from the past whose activities we are seeking ways to wind up.

Great emphasis is placed in the Bill on the ballot to call a strike. I am not quite sure where people are

11 Jan 2016 : Column 105

going to vote on this ballot paper, because the rules on what has to be included for guidance on the ballot paper are very confusing. The ballot paper is not just going to ask whether you want to go on strike or not; it will have to say whether it is going to be a strike or,

“industrial action short of a strike”—

a very interesting phrase that appears in Clause 4, to which I shall return shortly. Reasons also have to be given, along with a lot of other information. In doing that, the trade union will be setting out a very combative position in order to persuade its members.

But if you have to have a ballot to call a strike, has anybody given any thought to how you end it? I have some experience of working with trade unions, and I can imagine trade union executives, when called upon to get their members back to work, saying, “Well, no—we weren’t trusted to make the decisions in the negotiations at the beginning that caused the strike. I don’t think we can accept the responsibility for making the decision to call it off”. Strikes have to have a beginning and an end, and if we insist on complex balloting arrangements for the beginning of a strike, we have to have very clear arrangements for its conclusion.

As I said, Clause 4 refers to,

“industrial action short of a strike”.

We have heard precious little about that today, and nothing about it from the Government. But industrial action short of a strike is in many cases far more damaging than a clear-cut strike which, when it has had its day or two days, is finished and everything is back in position. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, was much concerned with problems on the railways. Let us imagine that a decision is taken by railway workers to take industrial action short of a strike. That means that the first day of the strike will be a much less inconvenient day, but at the end of the first day the rolling stock will be scattered all around the network because people have not worked overtime to take the trains back to the depot, and there will be no staff there to man the trains, so you will have a much more chaotic situation. The Bill does not address that situation at all.

Bearing in mind the time, I shall just mention the very important contribution to the debate made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. It has not been much referred to. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has made the very succinct declaration that she has,

“made the following statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act”.

However, her view did not persuade me quite as much as some of the reservations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, and the statement made by Lorna McGregor, a member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Lorna McGregor has argued fairly cogently that the Trade Union Bill will impose “potentially unlawful restrictions” on the right to strike. There is a very serious question there that the Minister has to address.

This is not just a question of playing publicly with your virility symbols, saying in effect, “We’re going to be tough on the workers”; there will be very real consequences from each decision that the Government are proposing to make. I suggest that it might be in the best interests of the Government to show a little humility, to follow some of the arguments made by

11 Jan 2016 : Column 106

people on both sides of the House but particularly on this side—people who have much greater experience of industrial relations than the very small number who have participated from the other side—to learn from that experience and to change the Bill while there is still time. The alternative to changing the Bill will be a catastrophic imposition on industrial relations which will be to the detriment of the country and certainly to the detriment of its economic performance.

9.31 pm

Lord Callanan (Con): My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the many heartfelt contributions, and indeed history lessons, from many people on both sides of this debate. Many on the Labour Benches—I suppose predictably, as my noble friend Lord Mawhinney pointed out—have their outrage meters turned up all the way to 11. An uninformed observer might conclude that the Government are somehow abolishing trade unions entirely or making strike action illegal, but of course neither is true.

We no longer live in the 1970s, an era of industrial strife, when the leader of the Transport and General Workers’ Union was voted to be the most powerful person in the country, ahead even of the Prime Minister of the day, or indeed the 1980s, my formative time in politics. I was a young councillor in the north-east of England at the time of the miners’ strike. While in my opinion virtually all the ordinary miners had legitimate intentions, the leadership of the NUM made no secret of the fact that their aim was to bring down the elected Government of the day. We now know, of course, that they even took money from our foreign enemies to help them in that task.

Thankfully, times have now moved on. We no longer live in an “us and them” working environment, with bosses on the one side and workers on the other. Most people are not in trade unions. Most people now work in small businesses or are self-employed. It is surely time that the trade unions moved on, as the rest of society has done.

I am grateful for the briefing on this subject from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, an excellent organisation that does great work. In 2014, a total of 788,000 days were lost in strike action. Only 72,000 of those days were in the private sector but 715,000 were in the public sector—10 times as many, even though more people work in the private sector. This is overwhelmingly a public sector problem. Why is that? Is it because pay, terms and conditions and health and safety are worse in the public sector? Of course not—if anything, the reverse is true. It is, of course, because public services are by nature a monopoly provision. People have no choice in using those services, so the public sector trade unions know that they can inflict real damage on the public, who cannot go elsewhere to obtain them.

Many noble Lords have referred to the Tube strikes, where several hundred well-paid militant trade unionists with pretty good terms and conditions are making life a misery for millions of commuters, and all to try to prevent Transport for London introducing an improvement in service: a night Tube. However, there is, in my view, an even worse side to this. Transport for London, I discover, employs 35 full-time-equivalent

11 Jan 2016 : Column 107

members of staff working purely on trade union business. So taxpaying Londoners are subsidising the very union organisers who are working their hardest to stop them going about their lawful business and, indeed, even getting to work.

These people are a small part of the so-called trade union pilgrims, made famous a few years ago by the nurse in a Tooting hospital who was paid £40,000 a year to do no nursing at all but to spend her time seemingly organising demonstrations against Conservative politicians. She was obviously kept very busy by her trade union activities, but not so busy that she did not have enough time to run a part-time health consultancy as well. The Metropolitan Police has 57 full-time-equivalent pilgrims; the Land Registry has 19; the Scottish fire brigade, incredibly, has 78. In 2012-13, there were almost 3,000 of them, although, thankfully, the Minister tells us that the numbers have reduced since then. If the Government are searching for cuts in public expenditure, there are tens of millions of pounds to be saved there.

On the subject of wasting public money, we also received a briefing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a body that the Government seem to be funding to lobby against themselves. According to the EHRC, ending this so-called facility time or imposing balloting thresholds is not, as most of us might believe, a simple matter of political disagreement that this Parliament is perfectly able to decide. Apparently, it could be a breach of those workers’ human rights. I have no idea whether that information is accurate or not but, if it is, it provides further evidence for why our other manifesto commitment to reform human rights laws should, in my view, be speedily implemented alongside this legislation.

I fully support the Bill, but my slight concern is the issue of the opt-in system for political levies, which are supplied, ultimately, in many cases, to the Labour Party. I take the view that for political funding changes it is best not to depart from the principle that they should really be agreed on a cross-party basis. Besides, from my party’s point of view, surely we should be in favour of giving Jeremy Corbyn as much access to as many resources as possible to promote his views as widely as possible.

9.37 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): My Lords, I start by complimenting four of the speeches that we heard this afternoon and evening. The first three were from my new noble friends Lord Livermore and Lord Watts and Lady Primarolo, all of which I enjoyed. I know that we are going to hear a lot more from them in the years to come. I will just reassure them that sitting until 11 pm, as we are going to do this evening, is not the general practice in this House, as they will be pleased to know.

The other speech I want to compliment, and one I thought to be a remarkable one, was from the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. I very much enjoyed his article in the Guardian, and he said very much the same thing in his speech today. It was a powerful speech in many ways, because he is an independent voice and vastly

11 Jan 2016 : Column 108

experienced, not least at the centre of government. He made many points that I really hope the Government, and indeed the Minister, will take on board, because they carry additional weight coming from the Cross Benches. She may dismiss everything from these Benches, but I feel that she really should not dismiss the views of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake.

Like many recent speakers, I find myself number 46 in a list of 53 speakers, with almost everything having been said. So I have taken a slightly different approach: I decided to discard the speech that I came with and, as the debate has gone on, have prepared another one. I will take a slightly wider sweep and perhaps be slightly provocative, in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has just been. However, I feel that neither of us will be as provocative as the Minister: to come here as a Minister and sit with a red rose very visible is, I think, likely to inflame the political feelings—I do not know about the passions—of many on these Benches.

I have been a parliamentarian since 1989 and I can honestly say that I have never encountered such a brazenly partisan Bill. It is shamelessly designed to benefit one of the main political parties at the expense of the other, or to benefit employers at the expense of employees and their representatives. This ridiculous and prejudiced Bill merits nothing less than those descriptions. It amounts to a so-called solution to a problem that does not exist. The Bill does not address any existential problems, in the workplace or wider society, that have been drawn to the Government’s attention by people other than those on the Benches opposite, in this debate and when it was discussed in the other place. We have heard that employers’ organisations are not railing against the way things are at the moment.

Clearly the driving force behind the Bill is government ideology. Be in no doubt that this Bill should not be viewed in isolation: it is part of an authoritarian pattern. After winning an election for the first time in 23 years, the Conservative Party is seeking to ensure that it never again suffers a prolonged period out of power. Its unambiguous aim is to avoid ever ceding power again and certainly some people at the top of the party believe that that is achievable. With that in mind, in the eight months since the general election we have witnessed a series of attacks on anyone or any institution that the Government regard as the opposition. That term is accorded a much wider meaning by the Conservatives than political parties and any and all opposition must be stifled.

As far as the Government are concerned, their margin of victory was much too narrow for comfort. Therefore, in an attempt to guard against a repeat, they are hurriedly reducing the number of constituencies, redrawing parliamentary boundaries and making it more difficult for people to vote. Individual electoral registration will impact disproportionately on urban areas, particularly inner cities, where of course Labour traditionally enjoys more support. The Government have also ignored the views of the Electoral Commission and are pressing ahead with all haste to introduce the changes in time for the London mayoral elections this year.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 109

Local authorities have long been regarded by Conservatives as bastions of opposition and since the election we have already seen Bills introduced which further reduce the role of councils in education and housing, while their resources, which were already stretched almost to breaking point, were savagely cut in the Autumn Statement. The BBC is certainly regarded as part of the opposition and has quickly come within the Government’s sights. If I worked for the Beeb, I would be fearful as to what the future holds because we have not seen nothing yet.

Noble Lords are only too aware as to what happens when we cross this Government. Having had the temerity to vote down the tax credit cuts, we all know how the Prime Minister reacted. He said, “What? They acted within the rules? Then we will have to change the rules”—which of course is what they are now doing.

Then there was another Autumn Statement announcement, without any notice, to the effect that Short money to opposition parties is to be sharply reduced. Labour introduced Short money in the 1970s and trebled it after winning the 1997 general election. Having benefited in the past and used it to assist them in returning to power, the Conservatives are now kicking the ladder away to prevent their position being meaningfully challenged. Is it just me or are the Conservatives much more ruthless in government than Labour?

Nor does the list finish there. Under the noses of the Lib Dems—we should remember their complicity—the coalition Government introduced fees which denied women the chance to pursue equal pay in tribunals, slashed legal aid and prevented much-respected charities from campaigning and challenging government policy. The Lib Dems will no doubt claim that they prevented the Tories from limiting access under the Freedom of Information Act and scrapping the Human Rights Act. However, these attacks on our liberty have only been delayed. They will be along soon enough.

This Bill fits the trend towards an authoritarian Government. In this case it represents a back-to-the-future approach to legislation because it seeks to deal with issues that may have existed in the 1970s and 1980s but do not today.

Curiously, in a slightly lighter vein, I have recently been transported back to the 1970s and 1980s courtesy of Santa Claus. The return to popularity of vinyl records prompted me to ask him for a turntable so that I could revisit some of the 200-odd albums that, thankfully, I could never quite bring myself to give away. Now I can once again play my old favourites—complete with crackles and scratches of course—which are their trademark. It has been a journey of rediscovery, not least in respect of the great David Bowie, who as my noble friend Lord Lennie mentioned, very sadly died yesterday.

But the album that struck me most in terms of bridging the 40-year gap was by the Tom Robinson Band, which some noble Lords may recall, a political band whose tracks include “Winter of 79”, “Better Decide Which Side You’re On” and “Up Against the Wall”. They still carry a powerful message and they took me back to my days as a young trade union official dealing with many issues that belie the retrospective

11 Jan 2016 : Column 110

view that trade unions had everything their own way at that time. In many ways they were as under fire then as they are today, and that is why, as my noble friend Lord Tomlinson has just said, they are every bit as important today and will continue to be for some considerable time into the future.

The Bill is an undisguised attack on trade unions. It is designed to restrict their ability to operate effectively, and what is more important, it will seriously undermine constructive employment relations in many workplaces. The noble Baroness the Minister referred to her own experience at a senior level with Tesco. That company has long had an excellent relationship with USDAW that benefits both the company and its employees. Like many other trade unions, USDAW operates as a problem solver, not as a problem causer, and like my noble friend Lord Young I find it difficult to believe that the Minister subscribes on a personal level to the extreme measures contained in the Bill because she must know that they will not produce a positive outcome; in fact it will be the opposite.

Every measure in the Bill is designed to damage the ability of trade unions to defend employees’ interests either directly or through campaigning, ironically at a time when, as we have heard from many noble Lords, the number of working days lost due to industrial action is at an historical low. The requirements on trade unions will go well beyond the duties placed on public limited companies that make political donations. They are required to pass a shareholder resolution every four years, but there is no requirement on shareholders to opt in, and indeed they have no right to opt out. Surely it is entirely unacceptable that the Prime Minister should be restricting funding by working people to the Labour Party while turning a blind eye to donations from hedge funds to his own party. The Government clearly believe that it should be as simple as possible for the noble Lord, Lord Bamford, the chairman of JCB, to be able to donate many thousands of pounds to the Tory party but as difficult as possible for his employees to contribute through their trade union to Labour.

There are further vindictive aspects to this Bill which have been eloquently covered by other noble Lords and I will not go into them. I mention balloting, which is designed purely and simply to make it harder for employees to take industrial action, and ending check-off, which is aimed at hitting Labour Party funds, as well as restricting facility time, which makes it harder for employees to be properly represented. Then there is the extensive new red tape that will be imposed on unions relating to the Certification Officer. Many noble Lords will recall the Deregulation Bill when it was in your Lordships’ House during the last Parliament. Government Ministers, enthusiastically supported by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, who is not in his place but who contributed to the debate earlier, said that red tape was a dreadful burden that was holding companies back and absolutely had to be reduced. Why are trade unions the only organisations that this Government believe should have more burdens and more red tape piled upon them? It is quite illogical unless, of course, you understand the ideology driving this shoddy and shabby attempt at legislation.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 111

This is a Bill that the Labour Party must commit to repealing when we return to power because I believe it is one that shames your Lordships’ House.

9.48 pm

Baroness Gould of Potternewton (Lab): My Lords, I will concentrate my remarks on the effect of this Bill on women. Although we have touched on the subject in some speeches, no one has talked about the overall consequences that this will have on the part-time, low-paid workers referred to earlier by my noble friend Lord Sawyer. They are women who have been helped by being members of a union: improving family-friendly policies, raising standards and improving the quality of service. Women make up the majority of trade union membership and have benefited greatly from collective bargaining on pay, terms and conditions such as occupational maternity pay schemes, and from the newer forms of trade union representation such as union learning reps and equality reps. The report published by BIS in December 2014 showed that whether it was flexible working, enhanced maternity pay, training women returning to work after maternity leave, or health and safety at work, women benefit overwhelmingly from being in a unionised workforce.

Unions also play an important part in attempts to close the pay gap, which the Government talk a lot about but so far do not seem to achieve. Good employers share information with trade union representatives for the purpose of bargaining, which means that there is greater gender balance and disclosure of pay in those workforces. The ILO found that the gender pay gap is lowest in countries where collective bargaining coverage is high and companies are bound to a collective agreement. Therefore, promoting collective bargaining, rather than reducing trade union rights as this Bill seeks to do, is likely to lead to narrower gender pay differences in the workplace.

Unions have a crucial role in taking equal pay claims on behalf of women members. That is now even more crucial since the introduction of employment tribunal fees which present a barrier to many women seeking access to justice. This Bill, designed as it is to reduce the role of trade unions, could lead to a serious imbalance of power which could further lead to a decline in service delivery and have a negative impact on working conditions for women. Because the majority of women are in the important classifications under the Bill, they are also likely to be disproportionately affected by the introduction of the 40% threshold and the collection of the levy by the lack of introduction of electronic balloting. Over the years, the achievements for women have been pronounced in many ways. They have had the ability to fight for equal pay and fair treatment, and against discrimination. These are disadvantages on which women have long campaigned.

I want to do a little history too. One can go back to 1910 and the action of 800 women chain-makers at Cradley Heath. They were paid wages of five shillings for a 54-hour week of hard labour. They went on strike when their employers refused to implement a new minimum wage for chain-makers of 11 shillings and three old pence. However, those women won and they were the first in history to achieve a minimum

11 Jan 2016 : Column 112

wage. In 1918, the first equal pay strike was successfully won by women workers on London buses and trains. Later, the sewing machinists at the Ford plant in Dagenham took strike action for regrading to have parity with men, but only to the C grade. After three weeks, they settled for 92% of the C-grade rate and were responsible for Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act.

In 1995, women cleaners at Hillingdon Hospital went on strike for changes to their terms and conditions. They refused to sign the new employment contract and were sacked. With the help of their unions, they appealed to the employment tribunal. They were successful and were awarded the maximum compensation, which is an example of how the trade unions helped the women. My final example relates to the midwives who recently went on strike for the first time in the 133-year history of the Royal College of Midwives. They have expressed concern that this Bill will make it more difficult, and make women more fearful, to take legal action in the future. That is a disgraceful state of affairs. None of those women goes into this situation lightly. Earlier, the Minister referred to childcare. Yes, those women were prepared to make those sacrifice in order to achieve the rights that they felt they should have.

It is outrageous of the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, to justify this Bill as a guard against militants. None of those women was a militant. They were ordinary women fighting for their legitimate rights and women should be allowed to continue to do that. This Bill could prove to be a real restraint on gender equality. As my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon said, we await the impact assessment statement. The delay may be because of a fear of what consequences it might expose. For instance, within the NHS, it could have a serious consequence for productivity and staff morale, therefore exposing a threat to patient care. Further evidence shows that turnover in organisations where there are no union reps is three times higher than those with union reps, which equates to an annual saving for the NHS of about £100 million. The Bill will do nothing to improve industrial relations in the NHS, and, as has been said, will only harden the position. This applies to many other public industries.

However, we heard of the equality analysis that has taken place, which says that the Bill will benefit the whole country, which will be less inconvenienced by strike action, and, as it is not adverse to anyone, it therefore will not have an adverse effect on women. What a piece of double-speak. Obviously no account was taken of the Ipsos MORI poll, which showed that eight out of 10 people believe that trade unions are essential to protect workplace rights—I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Flight, is not in his place, since he talked about the majority of people being in favour of the Bill and its consequences.

The Bill clearly shows that the Government have a purpose: to weaken the trade unions at any costs and to reduce the rights of the 6.5 million British people who belong to unions. It has nothing to do with modernisation. It is an assault on those hard-working women and men who the Government purport to support. It is a disgraceful and pernicious piece of legislation.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 113

9.56 pm

Lord Borwick (Con): My Lords, when I was 17 and a rather inept bricklayer, I talked to the UCATT steward about joining the union, but he would not let me. He said I was a natural boss, not a worker—what a wise man he was.

When I became that boss about 12 years later, running a group of companies with more than 1,000 employees, the trade unions were represented in those businesses with thin margins and old technology. When I was looking for new ideas they came from our employees—not through the union, but directly. That is an illustration of the image problem of the trade unions. It seems that they are associated mainly with problems not solutions, and with stress in failing industries.

When one thinks of the history of unions, one of the first things that springs to mind is the vicious fight to retain deep-mined coal. We know now, and knew then, that miners get lung diseases and cancer, for which the Government pay them and their lawyers vast sums in compensation, all to produce coal, which is probably the worst-polluting energy form in the world. The product is poisonous and the people producing it die in great pain as a result of the production. How can this be virtuous? The history of the unions may be described as magnificent by those who agree with them politically and it is certainly significant, but surely one cannot look back with nostalgia to a time when people were working in such toxic conditions.

We know that unions exist to protect against unfair employment practices, but nowadays we find that companies with such practices will disappear, not least because of the power of social media to spread bad news in lightning-quick time. We have seen many companies forced into public apologies in response to a so-called Twitterstorm. A company mistreating its employees would quickly receive negative headlines, and rightly so. Perhaps we can credit trade unions for helping to shape a society where bosses are as acutely aware of the need to treat employees well as are the employees themselves. But the truth is that with more information, particularly in this digital age, self-regulation is a lot easier, which perhaps diminishes the role of unions.

Unions are not really a major force in the rapidly growing parts of the economy. In sectors such as software and systems, and consulting and financial services, not many unions are run by young overachievers. We tend to find the unions in places where the economy is stable or failing; that may be why the number of union members seems to be doing the same. What is happening to these members? They are getting older, with the proportion of trade union members aged under 50 falling since 1995. The total number of union members has been going down for years as their average age has been rising. These are the classic signs of the customer base of a company that is in trouble.

Unions are sometimes found to be resisting change, but there is a big problem with this: change is what makes the economy thrive. Surely, the successful unions of the future will be those that embrace change and are responsive to their customers—in other words, their members—because it is the customer who changes a business, whatever the managing director or the

11 Jan 2016 : Column 114

shareholders might wish. If the customers change their preference, the company must change or die. Customers who never change their minds seem to me to be like the members of unions, who can seemingly agree once and for ever about their preferences for political donations. Let us not forget that the other customers are people using public services, and they do not get a vote at all.

It is not simply a battle between the unions and the employers; it is quite often a battle between the employers and the employees against the real customers—the patients whose operations are cancelled and the Tube travellers who cannot get to their jobs. The patients whose operations will be cancelled as a result of the intransigence of the BMA have not been offered a vote. In both cases—the doctors and the London Tube—the Government want to increase the number of times that a good public service is offered, and the union goes on strike.

The unions have described the Bill as an evil attack on their very existence, but it will make them more responsive to their customers, who are, of course, their members. Any legislation forcing the unions to get their customers—their members—regularly to sign up for their deductions will force the unions to improve their practices. Any legislation forcing the unions to have a healthy majority before taking action that could cost those members their jobs will, again, force the unions to improve their practices. Personally, I can see the advantages of e-ballots, if they are secure. I know that old-fashioned paper ballots are not as secure as they look. So nobody who is trying to destroy a union first makes it improve; quite the reverse. If unions concentrate on old industries and preserving old practices, they will die as surely as those old industries will be superseded by new ones. The unions should see this Bill as heading in the same direction as they are—becoming more technologically savvy and evolving ways of communicating with both their members and their members’ employers. That way, unions can represent people in the new businesses that are our future.

10.02 pm

Baroness Drake: My Lords, the public can be forgiven for thinking that this Bill is only about strike action. That is what public commentary has focused on. But in reality, as today’s debate has demonstrated, the proposals go much wider. The Bill does not stop at setting high thresholds for strike ballots by train drivers, teachers or hospital workers; it launches a much broader attack on the ability of trade unions to organise and politically engage, subjects them to extended scrutiny from the Certification Officer and expands Ministers’ powers, with significant and unseen secondary legislation still to follow—all of which disturbingly upsets the balance of influence in our treasured pluralist democracy. Amnesty, Liberty and the Equality and Human Rights Commission—the hat-trick—have all expressed their deep concerns.

In contrast to the 1980s, industrial relations today are in a benign state. Strike days are a tiny fraction of the 27 million days in 1984. No evidence is provided for why such extensive provisions are needed today

11 Jan 2016 : Column 115

and no assessment of their impact is yet published, yet the Bill shifts the balance of power against workers in the labour market and the balance of political influence against trade unions and the Labour Party.

Currently, the Certification Officer has the power to act on a complaint from a trade union member. The Bill transforms it from an adjudicator on disputes between unions and their members into an enforcement agency with wide-ranging powers—even if a member has not made a complaint—to initiate investigations, require the production of documents and impose substantial fines. It gives the state extensive access to members’ details and privileged correspondence. As the Minister for Skills confirmed, third parties will be able to raise concerns. The failure to act on them could well expose the Certification Officer to judicial review. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission comments, the power to instigate complaints, as well as investigate them and adjudicate on them, compromises the impartiality of the Certification Officer and therefore raises substantive concerns about compliance with Article 6.

As my noble friend Lord Hain observed, excessive state interference with independent trade unions has normally been strongly opposed by all good democrats. The Bill gives Ministers significant reserved powers to amend primary legislation relating to facility time for union representatives in public authorities. The Equality and Human Rights Commission believes that these open-ended powers could be used to introduce disproportionate interference with freedom of association. They are, indeed, open-ended. As the Delegated Powers Committee observed, the Government’s power to require information, or impose a limit on facilities, extends to a person who is not a public authority but who has functions of a public nature because they receive funding in part from public funds. This could include a care home with local authority-funded residents; a charity providing services; indeed, a long list of employers who receive public funds.

The Bill introduces stricter rules for a lawful ballot and lawful industrial action, but meeting those higher standards of legitimacy will still not be enough for a legitimate strike. The Government are intent on removing the restrictions on agency workers being employed to cover striking workers. In effect, responsibility will be transferred from the principal employer to the employment agency, through service-level agreements, to resolve a lawful dispute by strike breaking. Agency workers will have to strike-break to keep their jobs with the employment agency, because the agency’s service contract will require them to supply labour during a strike, and the agencies know that.

Tony Blair once said that British labour law is,

“the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world”.

It is about to get even more so; yet individual protections are also being weakened. The big increase in fees saw employment tribunal claims plummet by nearly 70% in the year following their introduction—way beyond deterring unmeritorious cases.

The Government claim that they are the workers’ party because they increased the minimum wage. I have spoken in favour of such an increase from these Benches. However, as the Centre for Policy Studies

11 Jan 2016 : Column 116

argued, it was driven as much by the need to address low levels of UK productivity and stop companies—including many large employers—taking advantage of in-work benefits to subsidise their pay bills as it was by a caring attitude for the low paid. The £4 billion rise in pay which the increase will generate is no substitute for the £12 billion cut in benefits.

The proposals on political funds do not represent a regulatory regime that is fair to all political parties. They are a partisan measure, intended to reduce unions’ political engagement and the funding of the Labour Party. The change from “opt out” to “opt in” does not come from measured cross-party consideration. The established precedent that changes to party funding happen only by consensus has simply been torn up.

Figures show that from 2009 to 2015, excluding donations directly paid to candidates, the Conservative Party received £39,970,822 and the Labour Party £7,437,087 in company donations. They confirm what we all know: Labour receives significant funding from trade unions, the Conservatives from business. But there is no proposal, for example, for businesses to seek the specific approval of individual shareholders for the donations that they make. Employers use opt-out to put employees in salary sacrifice schemes and to change terms and working practices, and the state uses opt-out to get workers to save for retirement. But it is now unilaterally unacceptable for unions to use it, even with the bedrock protection that members cannot be auto-enrolled into union membership. The Certification Officer will now have new powers to require unions to report in considerable detail on how political funds have been spent.

The Government claim that the rules are even-handed because they apply to employers’ associations. That is disingenuous. None of the 94 employers’ associations on the certification list has a political fund. Companies make political donations individually or via other channels. Everyone with a modicum of understanding knows that these rules will impact only trade unions.

Lord Flight: Companies are obliged by statute to vote on whether or not to make political donations, as a result of which virtually no public companies do so any longer.

Baroness Drake: To the best of my knowledge—do not hold me to the exact detail—all that companies have to do is have a resolution at their annual general meeting every four years. I am sure that trade unions would be prepared to do that at their annual general conferences if we were matching like for like. My point is that the rigour and the conditions are going to be applied only to trade unions. There are no reciprocal intrusive requirements being imposed on employers or companies in the Bill.

The Government have the right to govern but should not use that privilege to unfairly weaken the basis of legitimate opposition. That is not governing; it is undermining our democracy.

10.12 pm

Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD): My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, and the noble Lords, Lord Livermore and

11 Jan 2016 : Column 117

Lord Watts, on their maiden speeches. The hour is late, most of the arguments have been heard and we are largely talking to ourselves so, after a few general observations, I will confine myself to three themes in the Bill. Like my noble friend Lady Burt, I am deeply depressed by this piece of legislation. After five years of coalition, we are back to partisan politics and, as many speakers have said, it is distracting from the real issue of how we should build on the success of the economy, concentrating particularly on raising productivity, exports and public sector reform.

The Government should be taking the high road. They should be delivering what they say they believe in: one nation. They should be building on the partnerships between management and unions that have transformed our motor industry in the past 20 years. Indeed, in the public sector they should be building on the success the previous Government achieved with the public sector unions in implementing, remarkably, the Hutton public sector pension reforms. Instead, they seem to be taking the low road, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, in his excellent speech, of partisanship and reacting disproportionately to the issues we should be seeking to resolve.

My noble friend Lord Rennard reminded us that, frankly, there are lots of issues here that were fought over in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s by respective Conservative and Labour Governments. With respect to the noble Lords, Lord King, Lord Mawhinney and Lord Dobbs, we do not have to refight the battles of In Place of Strife, the miners’ strike or the winter of discontent. Reforms were introduced to improve democracy in the unions and ballots before strikes. Red Robbo, Fleet Street, British Leyland and the mining industry, sadly, no longer exist. A basis of consent was established nearly 20 years ago on these measures when the Labour Government did not go back to change this legislation. It is in disturbing this consensus that the Bill seems now to be taking a backward step.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, I have had 30 years of dealing with unions, and being part of a union, in pretty difficult sectors—coal, rail and printing—and I have not lost my faith in what they seek to do. I accept that they are not perfect. At times they can be frustrating but they are important stakeholders in our society and our workplaces, and I would rather deal any day with a progressive, strong union leadership than weakened, insecure and incompetent leadership. Frankly, the same goes for management, too. As the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, pointed out, management often gets the unions that it deserves. It does not surprise me that it has taken foreign ownership and management to transform the motor industry and get it out of its class interests.

There has been some dispute in this debate over a view that was expressed by some, and indeed by Nick Boles when we met him as the Minister responsible for this legislation in the Commons. When we saw him, he said that people will ask in years to come what all the fuss was about. I do not accept that this is as transformational as the legislation that we saw in the 1980s, as some may argue, but it will not modernise the unions. It will perpetuate the unions’ decline when they are already pretty weak. It will also risk making

11 Jan 2016 : Column 118

unions more insecure, as their leadership will be less good, and pushing them into their own silos. That will cause the country more problems.

Let us take three issues: the threshold for strike ballots, union facilities and political funding. First, on the strike ballot threshold, I understand—and we in this group understand—that public sector strikes which inconvenience the public are unpopular, and a 50% turnout might well be reasonable. But I am more sceptical about the more complicated thresholds, which could simply fan the flames of discontent rather than resolve them. From the Back Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, is already questioning the net that will cover these issues so this is just the start of what the Government are about. If independent scrutineers are involved, as indeed they are, we should certainly experiment with other avenues of voting. Electronic voting and workplace ballots could be used. Indeed, electronic voting will actually help unions to improve their communications because they will have to get the email addresses of their members, and encourage them to have email addresses.

Disputes have to be resolved through a bargaining relationship; if that is not understood, we will be led to unintended consequences. If you have thresholds, the unions will work to achieve those thresholds, so strikers could become more intransigent. Just take the case of the junior doctors: 76% have voted and 99% are in favour, so that ticks all the boxes as far as the legislation is concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Borwick, described it as intransigence by the BMA when it is trying to express a democratic view, but how do you resolve the dispute? There will have to be either a government climbdown or a prolonged dispute, because the dispute will have been made more intransigent. That is the danger.

What are we left with? We have the Minister resorting to the old adage of the enemy within. He is quoted in the Guardian today as saying:

“Of course it’s a concern if some elements within the BMA are seeing this as a political opportunity to bash a Tory government that they hate”.

I do not really believe that that is representative of the BMA. This is not the politics of reason or likely to resolve the dispute and, at the end of the day, two sides have to resolve a dispute.

We could cover a whole series of issues under trade union facilities. The check-off is clearly designed to weaken unions and is a distraction when we should be getting unions to co-operate on public sector reform. Similarly, with facilities, there is a more important issue: the Government talk on one hand about devolution to local authorities, to the regions and to the nations, but at the same time wish to retain their powers of centralisation. It is okay for employers to be able to challenge the check-off if they want to, but legislation will undermine local decision-making. People should be allowed to make those decisions locally. We should be reminded in this House that there has been a huge decline in workplace representation. Local representatives, in my view, are vital in many organisations to oil wheels, resolve grievances and channel employees’ emotions. The last thing you want in industry is high turnover and inexperienced representatives. They are the bugbear of good employers.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 119

We have had serious discussions on political funding, and my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard have covered the issues very well. The issue of opting out of or opting in to political funding through trade union funds has been around for over 100 years. It is not a new issue. It keeps coming back, and if the Conservatives change this, then Labour will be back with it. More importantly, all political parties have their views on this—we would like the trade unions to give some money to us and I expect the Conservatives would as well—but we are not going to do this in a one-sided way. This is a completely one-sided playing field. As has been said in the debate, without covering the whole issue of public funding, it is just giving more political power to the Conservatives. It is completely unfair and this House needs to be very cautious in looking at this legislation and to consider opposing these moves.

Returning to my original thoughts, I am saddened by the destruction in this legislation. We will seek to challenge and amend it. The trade unions may not be perfect, but they are often better than the alternative. We defend their right to exist, as they are very important to our national life. We may not always favour them, but we accept they have an important political role in our society and in the workplace. All organisations and societies benefit from the grit in the oyster and from having somebody to challenge them, and the unions do that where they exist. It is not easy, but they provide an important challenge. There is a danger, if you diminish and weaken them, that you will lose their leadership.

If you want trade union reform, it should be of a type that seeks to modernise the unions and strengthen them. We need to look at what makes them more representative, assists them in making better use of their limited resources and helps them to develop their services in mutual insurance, pensions and legal advice, which can help their members. Above all, we oppose the political stunts of the political funding measures, which go against the whole tradition of cross-party agreement in this debate.

10.23 pm

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friends Lord Livermore, Lady Primarolo and Lord Watts on their excellent maiden speeches today. All of them, in those excellent speeches, reminded us of the positive role trade unions play in society, in terms of developing people’s skills and of social mobility, but also the positive role that they have in managing change—I know that the Minister has played an important role in that, as we had exchanges about it when she was at Tesco—supporting training and enhancing democracy. They have been at the forefront in challenging countries in the world where democracy has not existed. I am extremely proud of the international role that my union and previous general secretaries have played not only in the fight for democracy in Spain, but in the fight to end apartheid in South Africa. Important roles were played by ordinary trade union members, which we should not forget in debate on the Bill. It is sad that the Bill does not address that positive role.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 120

The Bill is an attack on civil liberties. It flouts international labour standards and singles out unions for draconian regulation. It is also, in my opinion, the most politically partisan piece of legislation since the end of the 1920s, impacting as it does on Labour Party funding.

As we have heard, in particular from my noble friend Lord Monks, the Bill is being proposed with little real support from employers and without proper consultation. Limited consultations were held over the summer holiday period on the ballot thresholds and restrictions on union picketing and protests and the use of agency workers during strikes, but there has been no consultation on other key measures, including restrictions on facility time and check-off arrangements. Government responses to two of those consultations are yet to be published and, as highlighted in the debate, the Government have failed miserably to demonstrate why the Bill is necessary or justified. The Regulatory Policy Committee concluded that the BIS impact assessments on proposals for ballot thresholds, picketing restrictions and the use of agency workers were “not fit for purpose”. We have had a commitment from the Minister that the Government will publish the full impact assessment before Committee. This is not good enough in such an important piece of legislation. Failure to meet that assurance will seriously impede the progress of the Bill through this House, particularly in Committee.

As we have heard, strikes are at an all-time low, with far fewer days lost to industrial action than to illness. To return to the issue of the positive agenda, what has far greater impact on productivity is the UK’s underinvestment in skills, something that the unions have been wanting to work with the Government to fix for a considerable time and which they are constantly putting on the agenda.

If the Government were really concerned about improving workplace democracy, they would look at ways to increase participation, not restrict it by removing facilities. They would also look at new ways and new methods, particularly, as we have heard, online balloting, an easy and secure way to let workers have their say. As my noble friend Lord Monks said, the Conservative Party used it in its mayoral selection. If it is good for the Conservative Party, why is it not good for workers? Clearly, we will address that issue in Committee on the broader front of how we enhance democracy in our unions.

The arbitrary threshold for industrial action ballots and treating abstentions as no votes is clearly undemocratic. The International Labour Organization states that only votes cast should be taken into account. As my noble friend Lady Donaghy reminded us, who is to be covered by “important public services” is to be left to regulation. Parliament will therefore have limited opportunity to scrutinise or amend the proposals, which restrict the democratic rights of, potentially, millions of workers.

As my noble friends Lord Hain and Lady Morgan indicated, the proposals on removing facilities will significantly interfere with public sector employers’ ability to decide how to engage with their staff and their unions. It will impact on collective bargaining.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 121

It is interference in collective bargaining that we have not seen before. As my noble friend Lord Hain said, it would cut across the devolution settlement and conflict with the Government’s localism agenda. It would also undermine constructive employment relations which contribute to the delivery of quality public services.

A clause in this Bill which is particularly vindictive is the prohibition of payroll deductions of union subscriptions from wages in the public sector. This Government and other Governments have promoted the principle of deductions from payroll. We accept it as an important element to help employers manage their finances for childcare and travel. We have promoted charitable giving through payroll deduction. We even have a government scheme to do it. So why single out trade union subscriptions? Trade unions are the biggest voluntary sector membership organisations in this country. We are trying to encourage voluntarism in this country, yet we want to put up barriers for trade unionists. The Government claim that the proposal will save the taxpayer £6 million, but that figure is strongly disputed by the TUC. If unions are willing to pay for payroll deduction, what is the case for introducing this? There cannot be a case for it, apart from vindictiveness. I assure the Minister that we will return to this issue in Committee with specific amendments.

As we have heard, the Bill will significantly extend the roll, remit and powers of the Certification Officer with unions expected to cover the additional cost. These new powers are excessive and inconsistent with the principles of natural justice. At the beginning of the debate, we heard that this view is shared by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which points out that Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that:

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations … everyone is entitled to a fair … hearing … by an independent and impartial tribunal”.

In the commission’s assessment, the CO’s power to instigate complaints as well as to investigate and adjudicate compromises the impartiality of the CO and therefore raises substantive concerns about compliance with Article 6. I assure the Minister that this is an issue that we will address in Committee with amendments.

I want to focus on the changes to the political fund rules provisions, which present a direct and deliberate threat to Labour Party funding from affiliated trade unions while leaving Tory funding sources untouched and breaking, as we have heard throughout this debate from all sides of the Chamber, the well-established consensus on this issue. That consensus was clearly acknowledged in the 2010 Conservative manifesto. I refer to this because it was constantly raised with me in the subsequent political party talks. The manifesto stated:

“We will seek an agreement on a comprehensive package of reform that will encourage individual donations and include an across-the-board cap on donations. This will mark the end of the big donor era and the problems it has sometimes entailed”.

It is not acceptable for the Prime Minister to be curbing funds from working people to the Labour Party while ignoring his commitment to address the problems entailed in the big-donor culture. Why is there no attempt to ask companies’ shareholders to opt into or out of similar donations?

11 Jan 2016 : Column 122

Like the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I urge the Government not to go ahead with these changes unless it is on a cross-party basis that addresses the big-donor issues identified in the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly. We will be tabling a Motion this week that will ask this House to express its opinion by establishing a committee that will do precisely what the noble Lord is asking for. We do not want to see delays through the mechanism of hindering the progress of the Bill, but we think that this matter should be properly addressed.

The Minister has argued that the proposals in the Bill are not about party funding. In a written response, she said:

“The Trade Union Bill is introducing a greater level of transparency into union activities by requiring union members to make an active decision to contribute to a union’s political fund. If union members want a political fund they are perfectly free to contribute to one, so, this will not necessarily lead to a reduction in the funds available”.

I find that argument to be absolutely incredible, bearing in mind the evidence presented in the reports by Hayden Phillips and Sir Christopher Kelly. Both reports acknowledged the different historical funding traditions of the political parties in this country and the impact that changes may have in respect of those different traditions. In fact the Committee on Standards in Public Life said:

“Both as a matter of principle and to support its sustainability, the regulatory regime must be fair to all political parties, and widely believed to be so”.

That is not what is in the Bill. The government response to the committee’s report at the time led to a series of talks between the then three main parties. I was part of those talks, so I am absolutely clear what the impacts of the various proposals were and that they were clearly identified at every step of the way.

I have been quoted today in the Guardian, and I want to explain why I said what I said there. As a bare minimum, comparing the level of contributions in Northern Ireland, where opt-in operates, with the rest of the UK, I estimate that the reduction in the funds available to the Labour Party over the lifetime of the Parliament would be in the region of £35 million. The issue for the Labour Party on donation caps has always been about the need to recognise the collective membership of trade unions. The Labour Party was founded by trade unions. That is not a secret and we do not hide it; in fact we are proud of it. The party was founded by trade unions, and for its first 18 years it consisted only of trade union organisations. There were no individual members within the Labour Party because its purpose was to ensure that organised labour was represented in Parliament.

Despite the lack of progress with the interparty talks, the Labour Party and those unions affiliated with it decided at the beginning of 2014 to address the issue of greater transparency on affiliation fees. This resulted in trade union levy payers being able to make a choice about their union paying affiliation fees to the Labour Party on their behalf. In the case of new members, there will be a clear choice on the membership form. In the case of existing members, they will have received separate notification, and all will have been communicated with at the end of the five-year transition

11 Jan 2016 : Column 123

period. Unison, as a noble Lord opposite mentioned, has offered its levy-paying members this sort of choice for some considerable time. The transitional period of five years reflected the reports of Sir Hayden Phillips and Sir Christopher Kelly, both of whom recommended that it would take this amount of time for unions and the Labour Party to move to such a method of collective affiliation fees based on individual positive choice.

However, the Bill is not simply about what unions do with their political funds. Its objective is to limit their ability to act politically by reducing the total amount available to them. The implementation of its provisions in three months—not the five years recommended by the two committees we have discussed—is clearly designed to hit not only the Labour Party but all union political activity. It is totally unreasonable and we will certainly address it again in Committee.

However, in all of what we have heard so far, what are the issues of transparency? What are the concerns of the people? I have been through several general elections during which the Conservative Party has been unrelenting in its accusations that Labour is in the hands of the pockets of the trade union movement. I do not believe that anyone in the general public thinks that trade unions hide their donations to the Labour Party or that the Labour Party is keen to hide them either. What, then, are the issues of transparency? Currently, union members have the right to opt out from political fund contributions at any stage. It is a right that they have to advertise, and as my noble friend Lord Monks said, that was repeated on a more consistent basis. As well as that right to opt out, they have to vote every 10 years on whether a union should run a political fund at all. Of course, after the Conservatives introduced that requirement, we ended up with more trade unions having political funds than not.

I am sorry—I have just realised the time. I did not mean to go on so long at this late stage of the evening. However, I stress that the Bill is politically dangerous. It presents a threat to political activity and campaigning by trade unions, which are not necessarily or in fact not entirely related to the Labour Party. This includes other campaigns such as USDAW’s Freedom From Fear campaign, HOPE Not Hate’s fight against racism and fascism and the BNP, and efforts to increase electoral registration. Along with the Bill, this shows that the Government are determined to clamp down on the right of trade unions to have a legitimate political voice in our society. The Bill is wrong, and I hope that the Government will think again.

10.43 pm

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate. I was confident that your Lordships would take a keen and knowledgeable interest in the Bill, and that has been amply confirmed this evening.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Livermore, on his first speech in our House. He brings with him both notable experience of how government works and strong business experience. I agree with him about the power of business as a vehicle of social mobility and

11 Jan 2016 : Column 124

of unions’ role in training and development. I was pleased to hear the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo. I commend in particular her experience in the other place of helping children and families, which will be very important in this House. Finally, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Watts, and I look forward to his further input in the continuing debate on the Bill.

Given the impressive number of noble Lords who have spoken, I am not able to reply to them all, but fortunately there will be plenty of time for further debate in Committee, and of course, my door is always open. Indeed, we need to scrutinise the Bill together, as the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, said; we may want to make measured and sensible improvements. In that regard, I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Monks, with whom I worked in a prior life, for reminding us all to bring our experience and expertise to the Bill. I welcome that.

We also benefited from the vast experience of my noble friends Lord King and Lord Mawhinney, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, who were involved in different aspects of the history of trade unionism. On a different note of history, I am delighted that the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Lennie, took the opportunity to mention David Bowie, whose death was so sadly announced today. We all enjoyed the summary by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, of the early use of videos in political campaigning.

To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, I agree that the trade unions have a strong future as well as a distinguished history. I know this from my own experience in both the public and private sectors, which a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, were kind enough to mention. I should pay tribute to his experience in this area, as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, also reminded us of the role that trade unions play in society. My noble friend Lord Balfe revealed the little-known fact that 30% of union members vote Conservative.

Given some of the remarks made, including the suggestion that the legislation is vindictive or even dangerous, I need to be absolutely clear that this Bill is not an attack on trade unions or workers’ rights; nor is it an attempt to ban strikes, or to make it harder for people to join unions or for unions to go about their legitimate business. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, questioned whether businesses support the reforms. When we introduced the Bill, the deputy director-general of the CBI said:

“We’re glad the Government has brought forward this Bill, as the CBI has long called for modernisation of our outdated industrial relations laws to better reflect today’s workforce and current workplace practices”.

We are seeking through this Bill to modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members. I agree with my noble friend Lord Dobbs, who gave the compelling example of the London Tube strikes. We need to address the balance between the rights of trade unions and the rights of the rest of us—the general public—in trying to get about our working lives. This is a strong point, and we must not forget it. These are moderate, necessary and welcome reforms.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 125

Nor is there a lack of evidence. As many have said, things are better than they were in the 1960s and 1970s, but strikes today, triggered by a small minority, can cause a huge amount of disruption to everyone, as we have heard and as my noble friend Lord Callanan said. As my noble friend Lord Flight argued, the public are fed up with public sector strikes. Strikes in schools cause major disruption to the lives of many, especially working parents. As my noble friend Lord De Mauley said, the NUT strike in 2014 led to the full or partial closure of almost 1,500 schools, nurseries and colleges across England, on a ballot that was almost two years old, for which there was an alleged voting turnout of just 27%.

I was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, touched on the place of women. However, I disagree with her suggestion, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, that women are disproportionately adversely affected by this Bill. Indeed, I would argue that they can often be more affected by strikes and will therefore potentially benefit most from this Bill. For example, working mothers may have to give up a day’s work or try to find alternative care for their children. This makes their busy lives even harder. The British Chambers of Commerce has estimated that the 2008 teachers’ strike alone cost businesses some £68 million in lost working hours.

Those figures are regrettable and dispiriting, especially because, as my noble friend Lord Leigh said, the vast majority of days lost to strikes are in the public sector. Any responsible Government would try to do something to lessen the incidence of such events. However, I am not convinced of the case he made for extending the 40% balloting requirement to additional sectors.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for bringing the Oxford University research to the House’s attention. People affected by Tube strikes might not just face delays in travelling or need to find new routes; they may be forced to miss out on a day of work or miss important appointments. Our proposals consider this wider context.

The noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Collins, and other noble Lords raised the important issue of productivity. I was sorry to miss some of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Young. The Government’s productivity plan outlines an ambitious vision for where we want to be by 2020 and the pro-productivity agenda that we need to deliver that. This is not in the Bill of course but we are taking action, and I agree with the noble Lord about the vital importance of skills.

In response to my noble friend Lord Borwick, who spoke about the junior doctors, none of the changes in the Bill is about stopping strikes. The new thresholds are intended to ensure that strikes can happen only as a result of a clear, positive decision by those entitled to vote. The recent BMA ballot achieved that, although it is very disappointing that the doctors decided to strike rather than return to the negotiating table.

We have heard much today from all sides of the House about electronic balloting. We have been very clear that we have no objection in principle to electronic balloting, but it is imperative that everyone—unions, businesses and the public—has complete confidence in the ballot process. A decision on strike action has

11 Jan 2016 : Column 126

much wider implications for the public than some other ballots; it is not just a workplace matter. That is why a postal ballot is required for industrial action, union election and political fund ballots. There are significant challenges for e-balloting, including potential hacking, mentioned by my noble friend Lord King, vote selling and voter intimidation, as recognised by the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy in 2015. I am sure that we will return to this issue in Committee.

I turn to the points made on human rights. I was delighted to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, and was grateful for the work that we did together on the Enterprise Bill. This Government recognise that the freedom of assembly guaranteed by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights affords the right to join trade unions and the right to take industrial action. However, it is well established under the convention that it is perfectly legitimate to legislate in ways that may place limits on strike action and other trade union activities where those limits are justified and proportionate.

We are also comfortable with the measures on picketing, which are designed to make it clear to the police and the employer both where a picket is taking place and whom the police or an employer should contact. These are reasonable steps to ensure that pickets pass off peacefully.

I would not have signed the statement on human rights on the face of the Bill if I had not been satisfied that the provisions were justified, proportionate and compatible with our international obligations—in particular, obligations under the UN and ILO treaties, as well as obligations under the European Social Charter. However, in view of the points raised, I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, responding to the points that she made.

Our door is always open on the reform of party funding but this Bill is not about party funding; it is about ensuring that the relationship between trade union members and trade unions is as transparent as possible. The pledge to legislate to ensure a transparent opt-in process for union subscriptions can be found at paragraph 19 of the Conservative Party manifesto.

Lord Tyler: The Minister refers to the Conservative Party manifesto. Does she also recall it said that a Conservative Government would continue to seek agreement on a comprehensive package of party funding reform? They have had eight months to fulfil that promise. What have they done?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I will just finish this point and then come back to that, if I may.

Union members already have the statutory right to decide whether or not to contribute to political funds, but currently the default position is that members contribute. In practice, the choice is not always clear. We believe that we need to make it clearer. Indeed, as I heard the leader of the Labour Party say this morning on the “Today” programme when I woke up rather late, people are entitled to have their individual say in the party; as my noble friend Lord Balfe said, whichever party that may be.

11 Jan 2016 : Column 127

We heard from the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Bew, among others, about recommendations by the Committee on Standards in Public Life for reform of party funding and the ending of the culture of big donor funding. In my view, these issues, and matters relating to them, are separate from the provisions in Clause 10 to require union members to make an active choice to contribute to political funds. I add in my response to noble Lords, and to my noble friend Lord Leigh, that the Labour Government changed the law to require shareholder approval for a political donation of more than £5,000.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked why check-off was not mentioned in the manifesto. Our manifesto was clear about the case for modernising industrial relations, including tightening the rules around taxpayer-funded arrangements. This is part of our pledge to tackle facility time. DCLG guidance on facility time issued to local government in the last Parliament, for example, included advice on removing check-off. As my noble friend Lord Suri said, direct debits are very easy nowadays, and that should be the direction of travel.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, spoke about facility time. This Bill introduces a reporting requirement for the wider public sector to report on such time because the Government are concerned about transparency. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, said that private businesses regard facility time as useful, and we do not want to take away from the good work that unions do. We recognise the constructive role that unions can play, as I have already said, which is why in 2015-16 we have provided a grant of £14 million to the TUC to fund Unionlearn and TUC Education. However, we want to shine a light on the amount of time and money that is spent on facility time in the public sector; taxpayers deserve this.

An enhanced Certification Officer with more robust regulatory and enforcement powers will contribute to our objective of making unions and employer associations more accountable to their members and the wider public. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, that the Certification Officer will not be able to use his or her powers inappropriately or vexatiously. Should the CO act unlawfully or unfairly in making enforcement decisions, the persons affected have the right of appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

In response to the noble Baroness Lady Donaghy, I can confirm that there could be no provision in the Bill to levy fees on the central activities of ACAS.

The noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, spoke about implementation in Wales. These changes in the Bill are to employment and industrial relations legislation, which continue to be

11 Jan 2016 : Column 128

reserved matters. The Government are determined to protect the public from disruptive and undemocratic strike action across the whole of Great Britain, and that is just as important in Scotland and Wales as it is in England.

This Bill is not the massive change that some have made out today. It is a Bill in favour of the public. It seeks to balance the interests of the unions with the interests of the public. We stand ready, of course, to discuss the Bill, our various consultation papers and our impact assessment in Committee—and, indeed, to return to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on check-off, where we have agreed to give 12 months’ grace before the ban will come into effect.

The Bill introduces greater accountability through provisions on ballot thresholds, supervision of picketing and the Certification Officer reforms. It introduces greater transparency through political funds, facility time and check-off provisions. It offers the right level of incremental change for the 21st century in Britain. I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time.

11 pm


Moved by Baroness Neville-Rolfe

That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I beg to move.

Amendment to the Motion

Tabled by Lord Tyler

As an amendment to the above Motion, leave out “Committee of the Whole House” and insert “Select Committee in respect of clauses 10 and 11, in the light of the failure to take steps to implement the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in their report Political party finance: ending the big donor culture.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour, not moved.

Amendment to the Motion not moved.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 11.01 pm.