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House of Lords

Monday, 8 February 2016.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Refugees: Unaccompanied Children


2.35 pm

Asked by Lord Roberts of Llandudno

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to relieve the situation of unaccompanied refugee children.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, the Government are working with the UNHCR to resettle unaccompanied refugee children from conflict areas where it is in the best interests of the child to do so. These are likely to be exceptional cases: for most children, their needs are best met in the region. We are providing an additional £10 million of support for vulnerable children in Europe.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): On 2 December, the Prime Minister said that he was thinking again about our moral duty towards these children. That was 10 weeks ago. What has happened in that 10 weeks, and what is going to happen in the next 10 weeks, to those children who are spread out in so many ways? They are deserving of our compassion, and those who are showing compassion are the people—young people especially—working as volunteers in Calais, Dunkirk and other places. As a House, we should express our appreciation of everything that they are doing.

Lord Bates: I certainly endorse what the noble Lord says about the volunteers who are giving up their time to help those people in need. The noble Lord asked what has happened since 2 December. On 28 January, the Prime Minister made a Statement outlining what he had done in the interim period, and he announced four new initiatives. He said that he was going to send the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, to look at the hotspots, as they are called, or reception centres, to see what was happening to children. We announced an additional £10 million of support, particularly for children who had arrived there. He also said that we would meet the UNHCR and Save the Children, and that is happening this Thursday. However, I thought the noble Lord might have given a passing mention to the fact that, last week, the Prime Minister announced a doubling of the aid we are giving to Syria—from £1.1 billion to £2.3 billion—by the end of the Parliament, which I am sure is welcomed by everyone in the House.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, following the statement last week by Brian Donald, the head of Europol, that 10,000 children had disappeared and an entire criminal infrastructure dedicated to exploiting migrants had been established, will the Minister tell the House what representations we have made to

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Europol and what discussions we are having with it about tackling this? Also, given that the 100,000 people now massing at Oncupinar, on the Turkish border with the Aleppo province, are facing an aerial bombardment campaign and the borders are closed to them—many of those refugees will be children—what action are the Government taking to ask that those borders be opened to allow the refugees safe passage across?

Lord Bates: The noble Lord is absolutely right to focus on this. Europol estimates that some 90% of people who arrive at Calais have been trafficked by criminal gangs. That is why the Prime Minister announced that we are setting up the Organised Immigration Crime Task Force, and there have been some early successes, although we need to work much harder on that. That is also why Kevin Hyland—I know the noble Lord knows him and respects his work—is looking at those issues. On the situation in Turkey, that is why we have announced a further £275 million as part of the EU-Turkey agreement, to provide aid to that southern border.

Lord Lexden (Con): My noble friend recently told the House he hoped that more local authorities would extend a warm welcome to refugee children and ensure that they are well cared for, in accordance with the traditions of our country. Has there been progress?

Lord Bates: I must admit that I wish there had been more. My noble friend is right to raise this matter. Kent is bearing an unfair share of the burden of caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: more than 1,000 are being cared for there. The Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Education, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government wrote in November asking local authorities to come forward. So far we have had interest from 24—but that is out of 440. Only eight children out of 1,000 have so far been offered places. I would like to think that all Members of this House who have links to their local authorities would be encouraging them to look again and see what can be done to help Kent in its hour of need.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, as the Minister may know, Eritrean children are fleeing from their country because of their experience of the most brutal human rights violations, often described as crimes against humanity. Will the Minister comment on the fact that, on the most recent evidence, the UK continues to reject Eritreans, including children, on the basis of a discredited Danish report, rather than using a balanced UN report?

Lord Bates: The noble Baroness asked a Question on this subject a couple of weeks ago. We still accept a large number of Eritreans who come here, because of the open-ended nature of the military service that they have to undertake. So far, we have accepted a large number of them. The UN report to which the noble Baroness refers did not have access in-country; our policy is based on in-country information from our embassy, and we will continue to keep the situation under review.

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The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, as one of the bishops from Kent, may I take the Minister back to his previous answer? In fact, some 1,300 unaccompanied refugee children are housed in Kent, and the local authorities and the voluntary agencies are under very significant pressure. May I push him a little as to whether, in the light of the somewhat unencouraging response from other local authorities, Her Majesty’s Government intend to do anything else to ensure a more effective national dispersal programme—given that we are talking not just about this moment, but about the likely 10 years that will be needed to get a young person from the point of arrival to full integration, with all the work in education, language and healthcare needed to go with that, and the considerable investment required? Some assurance would help my colleagues in Kent.

Lord Bates: It is absolutely right to raise that point: we have a particular problem there, and we need more local authorities to come forward. We will take some action: the Immigration Bill before your Lordships’ House includes a provision that will allow the Secretary of State, where people do not step forward, to impose a settlement on local authorities—and that comes not only with the child, but with about £40,000 of funding per head. So we are not simply asking people to take additional responsibilities. If there is anything that can be done through the Diocese of Kent to exert pressure on local authorities more widely to take their fair share, we would of course all welcome that.

Lord Dubs (Lab): Is the Minister aware that all over the country, the British public are anxious to do something to help Syrian refugees, particularly children? There is an enormous surge of enthusiasm to do something. Could the Minister, and the Government, not make a more positive appeal? I hear from people who want to be foster parents: foster parents will be forthcoming. We cannot leave these children to fester somewhere in Europe, uncared for and vulnerable to trafficking gangs.

Lord Bates: Absolutely right—and I certainly join the noble Lord in appealing for more foster carers to come forward, to help not only children who are refugees but all children; there is a great shortage. But I also hope that the people of this country can take some pride in the fact that through their aid—through their taxes, which go through the Government—we shall be able to provide £2.3 billion-worth of aid, which is keeping 227,793 children in education and providing livelihood assistance to 600,000 families in the region, 2 million medical interventions and 15 million food rations. That is something we can be proud of.

Creative Industries


2.43 pm

Asked by Baroness Afshar

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to nurture and support the creative industries to ensure their continuing success.

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The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, the latest statistics, released in January, show the creative industries going from strength to strength, with growth of almost 9% in 2014, nearly double that for the UK economy as a whole. The core sector was worth more than £84 billion in 2014—just over 5% of the UK economy. The Government support the UK creative industries in a number of ways, through direct and indirect funding, infrastructure provision, facilitation, advocacy and the production of statistics.

Baroness Afshar (CB): I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer and for the information about how active the industry is and how it is one of the best industries in the country. I declare an interest: my daughter is a music teacher. However, given the role that the industry plays, there is a fear that if music—which is one of the bases of the creative industry—and art are not part of the compulsory bacc, many schools would choose not to teach them and, therefore, the industry would not be able to continue to play the part it has played in the economy. Would the Government consider including both music and creative art in the EBacc?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Baroness draws attention to music in education, in particular in the EBacc. Young people should have the opportunity to study art subjects alongside the strong academic core curriculum, including the EBacc. Music is a compulsory subject within the national curriculum for five to 14 year-olds. All pupils in maintained schools will therefore study music for a minimum of nine years.

Lord Clement-Jones (LD): My Lords, I share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, about EBacc. However, turning to another aspect of the creative industries, does the Minister agree that Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide make a major contribution to the creative industries, both here and abroad? Will he commit the Government to supporting and protecting Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide, subject to their current arrangements, so that they can continue to deliver those benefits?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as ever, the noble Lord makes an important point relating to overseas, the BBC and Channel 4. I know he is aware that the charter review is in progress at the moment and many representations have been made. I also know that there was a Question last week on Channel 4, which was answered by my noble friend.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, on the Answer given by the noble Earl to the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, it is true that the creative industries are doing very well just now. However, she made a serious point about whether they will do so in the future. Does he agree that the problem about them not being included in the EBacc is that there is a systematic erosion of their status in education and that, over time, the implication grows that they are not important and will not lead to good jobs? This is fundamentally untrue and unhelpful. Will he talk to his colleagues in the Department for Education to see whether that can be changed?

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The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the DCMS and the Department for Education liaise on all these matters, particularly in relation to music. I should add that, between 2012 and 2016, the Department for Education invested £246 million in a network of music education hubs. These hubs have a number of roles, including ensuring that all children have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth (Con): Does the Minister agree that there cannot be much wrong with the creative industries in the United Kingdom if they can produce anything that will be missed as much as “War and Peace” on the BBC over the past few weeks? I am mourning it already—I do not know what I am going to do with Sunday nights. The growth of the creative industries in this country through the recession and so on is a testimony to successive Governments’ policies in respect of the creative industries. Does the Minister agree that the best thing the Government can do is to leave well alone?

The Earl of Courtown: I hope my noble friend finds something to do on Sunday afternoons. Apart from that, I agree with him entirely.

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that the creative industries make a massive economic contribution to these islands? The cuts that may be affecting them may emanate from local government, but the benefit of the economic input does not come to local government. Can central government find some way of ensuring that we do not lose out on the creative arts and the economic benefit that they bring to these islands?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord that we are losing out on creative arts, but I can tell him about examples of our funding, such as creative content tax relief. The noble Lord is no doubt aware of that. BIS, DCMS and UKTI offer access to finance, skills and export funding programmes. Then there is funding via arm’s-length bodies and other organisations, such as the British Film Institute, Arts Council England and Innovate UK.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, the Enterprise Bill introduces an apprenticeship levy and the Government have said that they recognise the need to discuss with the creative industries how to increase their apprenticeship levels without destroying the four voluntary levies currently run very successfully by Creative Skillset. What progress is being made on these discussions? Will the Minister reassure the industry that it is the Government’s intention to ensure that the apprenticeship levy is aligned with the current voluntary levies so as to protect the skills investment fund?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked about the apprenticeship levy in relation to this department. The levy will put apprenticeship funding in the hands of employers, encouraging them to invest in their apprentices and take on more. It will be collected by HMRC at a rate

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of 0.5% of an employer’s pay bill via monthly pay. In addition, the noble Lord mentioned the SIF, which is another way in which we have been developing training throughout the United Kingdom.



2.51 pm

Asked by Lord Lee of Trafford

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of tourism’s contribution to the economy of the United Kingdom.

Lord Lee of Trafford (LD): I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, the Office for National Statistics estimates that tourism directly contributed £59.6 billion to the UK economy in 2014, accounting for nearly 4% of the UK’s gross domestic product. Through our five-point plan, this Government are committed to further growing the tourism industry and spreading the benefits of its growth across the whole of Britain by encouraging more visitors to travel beyond the capital.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I am delighted that the Houses of Parliament are making a significant contribution. Parliament gets around 1 million visitors a year; 33,000 people sat in our Gallery last year and the purpose-built dedicated education centre is now operating at full capacity. It can take 100,000 pupils a year or 20 school groups a day. May I urge the noble Earl to pay tribute to the 100 or so staff who work in Visitor Services here and urge more parliamentarians to visit the superb education centre?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord took most of my answers. He is quite right: everyone who works in Visitor Services does a great job. As the noble Lord suggested, last week I went to have a look at the education centre in Black Rod’s Garden, where I was told that 100,000 children will visit each year and how they have the different rooms available to look at. I very much recommend that all noble Lords go and take a look.

Lord Harrison (Lab): Given the importance of the tourism and hospitality industries to the United Kingdom, and the importance of the free movement of people and services within the single market of 28 countries in which we prosper, has the department made any analysis of the jobs that would be lost and the businesses that would close as a result of our absenting ourselves from that crucial market?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord made a point about how important the entertainment industry and those supporting it are to the economy as a whole and to all those who work in it—what a great job they do. I cannot say whether there has been any

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assessment of the situation to which the noble Lord referred, but I congratulate all those who work in that area on the work they do.

Lord Glenarthur (Con): My Lords, can my noble friend say what proportion of the £59.6 billion to which he referred can be attributed to Scotland?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, no. I will write to my noble friend.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane (Lab): My Lords, would the Minister acknowledge, a great success story though British tourism is, that it is important that we do not price ourselves out of the market? There is a grave danger of us doing that because we are one of only four countries in Europe that charges VAT at the full rate on hotels and other tourism products. Will he ask his colleagues in the Treasury to model the effect of a major reduction in VAT on tourism? It may be that the lump sum that comes to the Treasury would be greater as a result of the growth of tourism.

The Earl of Courtown: The noble Lord makes a very good point. I know from other Questions that I have answered on similar subjects that my right honourable friend the Chancellor always keeps these matters under review.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, will my noble friend take the opportunity to pay another tribute to those volunteers without whom many of our most notable visitor attractions, such as English cathedrals, could not be properly open?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right, in particular when he brings to mind cathedrals, where many people volunteer without any recompense whatsoever.

The Earl of Glasgow (LD): My Lords, 20 years ago there were hundreds of tourist information centres all over Britain. They are now becoming very rare because local tourist boards and councils cannot afford to maintain them. I hope that the Government will agree that tourist information centres are really important to tourism in this country. Is there anything that the Government can do, possibly through VisitBritain, to try to revitalise tourist information centres in Britain?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Earl makes a good point. In 2007 there were 510 information centres; there are now 390. But it is important to note that each location and destination has different views as to what its funding and operational focus should be. One should not ignore the effects of the internet and the information available there for people who want to visit certain areas. Over the weekend I inquired locally where I am in the Cotswolds, which is a big destination area. More than 1 million hits go to our local website from people looking for what they can do in the area.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): I am very surprised to hear that the Minister can get on to the website, given where he lives. In the current edition of The House Magazine, the Secretary of State explains

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that another major issue clogging up his in-tray is the Government’s aim of providing superfast broadband. He goes on to confess that providing a service which is fast becoming as essential as electricity is easier said than done. Last month, 52 chambers of commerce representing 750,000 companies said that companies’ performance is being “severely affected” by poor broadband. Many of these companies work in the tourism sector. Other than wringing their hands, what are the Government doing to remedy this sorry state of affairs?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to where I live and my broadband speed. He will no doubt be very glad to hear that, for 18 months now, we have had fast broadband in Gloucestershire. I will not tell noble Lords what the mobile signal is like, but the broadband is quite excellent. We have been working at a number of different areas. In my area, Fastershire has been providing much improved broadband in the three counties surrounding Gloucestershire. The noble Lord is quite right that there is still much to do.

Lord Grocott (Lab): The noble Earl referred to 100,000 people coming through the education centre each year. Will he tell the House, if not now, by letter, what proportion come from the London area, and what from the other countries and regions of the United Kingdom? Those figures would be useful.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. I will write to him, because I do not have the exact details, but the whole point of our tourism strategy and the Discover England fund is to get people out of London and into the other areas of the United Kingdom to visit these attractions. I will write to him.

Allied Health Professionals: Training


2.59 pm

Asked by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with Health Education England to ensure that the number of student commissions for 2016–17 supports the goal of increasing the number of student places for allied health professionals set out in the comprehensive spending review, and ensures stability in allied health professionals’ education provision and workforce supply.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and I declare an interest as the honorary president of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): My Lords, Health Education England plans to commission, overall, 7,554 AHP training places in 2016-17—an increase of 344, or 4.8%, compared to 2015-16. The announcement in the 2015 spending review to move nursing, midwifery and AHP students on to the standard student loan system is for new students commencing their courses from 2017 only and therefore does not affect students commencing their courses in 2016-17.

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Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: Do the Government recognise that 500 more physiotherapy places will be needed in training each year until 2020 just to meet current needs? With Health Education England proposing cuts in training places in six out of 10 of the allied health professions—cuts ranging from 3.4% to 9.7%—how will the new models of care in prevention, patient treatment and reablement be met, given that they depend on these professionals taking on extended roles? This goes across sectors commissioned by the NHS and by other departments, including the Department for Education, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence.

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, Health Education England is proposing a net increase of 334 place in 2016-17 and we expect a growth in overall numbers of nurses and AHPs from 2017 onwards as a result of moving on to the standard student loan system.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister clarify that? He says that there is to be a net increase, but he will know that in relation to some specialties there is actually to be a reduction next year. This is a shambles. The Government have announced an increase in figures by 2020, but next year we are going to see an actual reduction in some of those places. What is going on?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, as I said, overall there is a small net increase of 334. That is largely for paramedics, where HEE believes that there is a more serious shortage than for other allied health professions. As I said, we have seen a significant increase in AHPs of more than 16% over the last five years and we expect that growth to continue after 2017.

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, how will the Government achieve their objectives in relation to modernised cancer treatment and an enhanced role for radiographers when Health Education England is cutting the number of training places for therapeutic radiographers by 4.3%?

Lord Prior of Brampton: Actually, I think the number of radiographers is going up slightly. I will check, if I can, and write to the noble Baroness. It is also worth mentioning that the number of medical endoscopists is planned to go up by 200 over the next three years.

Lord Quirk (CB): My Lords, while I welcome the 4.8% increase for the allied health professions, I deplore the fact that this increase is accompanied by really quite savage cuts in some of the professions concerned: 6% in the case of speech therapy. Does the Minister accept that our ageing population presents us with an increased incidence of stroke and dementia, and that the skills of speech therapists are essential to maintain and repair the language faculty? As a past president of the Royal College of Speech and Language, I urge the Government to think again. Is the Minister aware that costs would be far exceeded by benefits and that, for example, the west Birmingham rapid response team has saved the NHS more than £7 million a year by making unnecessary 17,000 bed days per annum?

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Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the role of speech and language therapies, particularly in treating people with stroke and other serious conditions, is absolutely vital. Perhaps I may correct a previous answer that I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Therapeutic radiographers have gone down slightly but diagnostic radiographers will go up slightly.

Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab): My Lords, the Minister told us that the increase is among paramedics, which presumably balances the cuts in other areas. Is this the Government’s strategy for sorting out the problems in the ambulance service, which around the country is failing to meet emergency targets? Do the Government hope that by training some more paramedics, they will somehow solve the problem and money will magically become available for the ambulance service to function?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, having more paramedics is part of the solution, but the major part of the solution is to treat more people outside A&E departments, so that people do not require ambulances to take them into A&E departments but are treated at home.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how diabetic patients’ needs will be met by maintaining foot care and thereby decreasing the risk of amputations, given Health Education England’s proposed decrease in training places in podiatry of 9.7%? That is at the top end of the list which my noble friend Lady Finlay was talking about.

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, I first extend my congratulations to the noble Baroness: it is her birthday today. I of course understand the vital importance of podiatrists. We are looking at a very small reduction in the planned number of training places next year of some 35 places. I would also make a more general point: in the mandate to Health Education England, we have set it a target of reducing the attrition rate among people starting training by 50%.

Riot Compensation Bill

First Reading

3.06 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill

First Reading

3.07 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

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Immigration Bill

Motion to Approve

3.07 pm

Moved by Lord Bates

To move—

(1) that the order of commitment of 22 December 2015 be varied so that the provisions which have not yet been considered in Committee (from after Clause 43 to Clause 65, Schedules 10 to 12 and the Title) be considered in Grand Committee;

(2) that the Instruction to the Committee of the Whole House of 12 January (order of consideration of clauses and Schedules) be an Instruction to the Grand Committee; and

(3) that on completion of consideration of the Bill in Grand Committee the Bill be reported to the House in respect of its consideration in both Committee of the Whole House and Grand Committee.

Motion agreed.

Education and Adoption Bill

Bill Main Page

Third Reading

3.08 pm

Clause 3: Other warning notices

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Nash

1: Clause 3, page 4, line 4, at end insert—

“(5) In section 69B (power of Secretary of State to direct local authority), in subsection (3)—

(a) omit paragraph (c);

(b) in paragraph (d), for “60A(10)” substitute “60A(1)(b)”.”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Lord Nash) (Con): My Lords, I am delighted to be opening the Third Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill. I take this opportunity to express my thanks for the support, challenge and rigorous scrutiny that the Bill has received in your Lordships’ House. It has been a pleasure to see the expertise that Peers from all sides of the House have brought to bear on the important matters of ensuring that our children receive an excellent education and improving our adoption system. I hope noble Lords will agree that our debates have been constructive and that the Bill has been improved as a result of the comments and contributions of your Lordships’ House.

Turning to the amendments the Government have tabled, Amendment 1 would make it explicit that two further sections of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 will be amended as a consequence of the Bill. The purpose of Amendments 4 and 5 is to tidy up the drafting of the Bill by removing and replacing a cross-reference which would misdirect the reader of the Bill and lead to confusion. Our aim in tabling these amendments is to ensure correct cross-referencing within the Bill and that consequential amendments to other

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Bills are identified. I hope noble Lords will agree that these amendments are straightforward and I beg to move.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendment 2

Moved by Lord Addington

2: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—

“Regional Schools Commissioners

(1) The Secretary of State must make widely available to the public a coherent document that sets out the powers and responsibilities of the Regional Schools Commissioners which are connected with the provisions of the Education and Adoption Act 2016.

(2) The document under subsection (1) must contain—

(a) a list of the Acts of Parliament and regulations from which each responsibility and power of the Regional Schools Commissioners is drawn;

(b) a user-friendly executive summary.”

Lord Addington (LD): My Lords, it became obvious during the progress of the Bill that the action proposed by Amendment 2 was needed. Regional schools commissioners are a new subject for us all. I became increasingly aware of just how important they are to the new structure roughly at the same time as the entire House of Commons did; nevertheless, we do what we can. It became clear that we could not find out very easily how this occurred. It needed a little bit of digging, and I thank Thomson Jones—a young lad who has been helping in my office—who did some of it. He is good at reading back on bits of legislation. Several bits had to be referred to, to find exactly what was going on and how it functioned and fitted together. Legally it was there, but you could not find it. Anecdotally, a lot of people are telling me that education authorities have people phoning up and saying, “What do I do about the academy?”. They do not know the new chain of command.

This is merely a sin of omission, but if we can get it right now, we will save a great deal of trouble for ourselves in the future. Even if we do not like the structure that is coming, it is clearly going to be with us for a while, so we must make it function properly. The objective of the amendment—and presumably those which have been tabled as amendments to it—is to make sure there is a clear way of getting to the legal basis for operation. The schools commissioners are soon going to have far more of the problems of the education system put on their doorstep to deal with. I hope the Minister can give positive answers to show exactly how this is going to be done, even if he does not—for some bizarre reason—choose to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment 3 (to Amendment 2)

Moved by Lord Watson of Invergowrie

3: At end insert—

“(c) a guide for parents; and

(d) information on other matters to do with the powers and responsibilities of Regional Schools Commissioners as may be appropriate.”

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Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): Amendment 3 seeks to add two further requirements to the document on regional schools commissioners mentioned in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Since noble Lords considered the Bill on Report, the House of Commons Education Committee has published a report entitled The role of Regional Schools Commissioners, which was not exactly uncritical of the role of these commissioners and the manner in which they have operated since they came into being in September 2014. Indeed, the report contains a total of 24 recommendations, to which the Minister will, no doubt, respond in detail in due course. I hope his response will not be delayed for long and that he will accept and implement most, if not all, of the very thoughtful suggestions made after hearing evidence from a variety of sources—not least the Minister himself. I dare say he will regard the report as carrying a considerable amount of weight, given that it was produced by a committee which is chaired by a member of his party, which has an inbuilt majority on the committee.

It is striking that there remain so many questions about the precise role of the regional schools commissioners and in whose interests they operate. This means that a guide for parents, as suggested in Amendment 3, is a necessity. Ensuring parents understand who to hold accountable for their child’s experience at school and how to do so is vital, yet the Bill consistently treats parents with disdain. I have given examples before, but if a group of parents wants to break away from a maintained school and establish their own free school, they are welcomed with open arms by the Government and given every assistance, as well as considerable amounts to cash, to enable them to do so. Put simply, they are listened to and treated with respect. However, should another group of parents want their children’s maintained school to keep that status in the face of forced academisation, they are ignored, told the decision is nothing to do with them and that the change will take place no matter what they think. Put simply, they are not listened to and are effectively treated with contempt. So under the Bill, parents are denied the right to have a say when the school attended by their children is forced to become an academy. We have said on various occasions that consultation is appropriate for all parents if they want to take advantage of it.

When the Bill was discussed in Committee, the Minister assured noble Lords that governing bodies of academies would include parental representatives. It was understood that those representatives would, in some limited form at least, have the ability to hold their school to account and have an influence in areas such as hiring senior staff, monitoring budgets and standards. Well, my Lords, just last month it was announced that those notions had been effectively thrown out of the window by the E-ACT academy group which, as noble Lords may be aware, has unilaterally decided to scrap local governing bodies for the 23 schools that it operates. There will be a centralised process for monitoring standards, and the governing bodies will be replaced by so-called advisory bodies, the chairs of which, to no one’s surprise, will be appointed by the academy chain. That is not merely a top-down but a

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closed-door approach, which it appears will brook no questioning of how the chain operates.

The fact that this has been handed down by an organisation that receives £135 million of public funds annually makes it even more serious. It appears that E-ACT is content to treat the public purse with respect, but quite unwilling to treat the public with respect. This behaviour would be serious enough for a chain that was operating effectively, but in 2014 E-ACT had the control of 10 of its academies taken away after Ofsted raised serious concerns about its performance. Not only its educational competence has been questioned; until July last year, the Education Funding Agency forced the chain to operate under a financial notice to improve. One might have thought that such inadequacy would have produced some humility at E-ACT, but as we have heard, the opposite is the fact. Perhaps the Minister can give noble Lords his take on this rather sorry state of affairs, including the action, if any, of the various regional schools commissioners, under whose auspices the chain operates.

My Lords, there are no circumstances in which a regional schools commissioner should stand by when an academy chain seeks to exclude parents, staff, local businesses and local politicians from the governance of their local schools. If regional schools commissioners are not there to ensure that academies operate to the highest standards, what, one might ask, is their purpose?

The education report highlighted a number of questions about whether the key role of regional schools commissioners was to help raise standards or whether it is simply to bring about more academies and free schools as quickly as possible. The key performance indicators institutionalise this confusion, which is a problem that must be dealt with, and soon.

It is not appropriate at this stage to go into greater detail on the recommendations of the Select Committee, which I believe has carefully put together a report that requires careful scrutiny. I am sure the Minister will scrutinise that report, but I hope that in doing so he will bear in mind the importance of parents being able to have some say in the way their children receive their education and how it is framed and delivered by academies. For that reason, I beg to move.

Lord O'Shaughnessy (Con): My Lords, as we are dealing with this issue of regional schools commissioners, I thought it might be useful to share with the House a personal story giving our experience at Floreat Education Academies Trust, which I founded, of dealing with the regional schools commissioners and of their role in regulating the system as it stands today. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, chose the example of E-ACT, which has had some problems in recent times, but it is important to note that the regional schools commissioner system has helped to generate the changes that have happened—schools have been taken away from E-ACT. To me, that is an example of a system that is working to crack down on low quality rather than one that is not working.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: Does the noble Lord know whether E-ACT consulted the regional schools commissioner before it decided to scrap the governing bodies for the schools that it operates?

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Lord O'Shaughnessy: I have no idea. I was referring to fact that schools of low quality were taken away from E-ACT.

The Select Committee report, to which noble Lords have referred, talks about in a specific recommendation the importance that,

“the Government reflect on the need to improve understanding of the role of the RSCs”.

I think that is what lies behind the amendments, so I welcome the sentiment, if not the vehicle itself. Our own experience at Floreat is from dealing with two RSCs: Dominic Herrington in south London and the south-east and Martin Post in south-central and north-west London. As a new provider, we found them open and responsive in a way that dealing just with the department would not have been by dint of the capacity at the department. So far, there has been just the right amount of support and challenge, which is at the heart of the role.

An example of the support offered—in this case, by Dominic Herrington’s schools commissioner region—was for multi-academy trust leaders’ training sessions: getting together with others, learning what works, being exposed to the new Ofsted framework, and so on. An issue of challenge would be around understanding the capacity and capability of a multi-academy trust to take on new schools and open new schools, and whether we have the finance and the expertise for doing so. That is a conversation that I had with our commissioner, Martin Post, on Friday.

So far, the experience has been of a productive relationship based very clearly at all times on raising standards for pupils. That shared purpose comes through clearly at all times. While I agree that it is necessary, given the importance of RSCs, to continue to explain in more detail the importance of the role and what it can and cannot do, I do not see that it requires an amendment to the Bill to achieve this, and I hope to hear positive news from the Minister about how the Government will actively promote the regional schools commissioners from now on.

Lord Nash: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 2, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Hunt. Both concern the responsibilities and powers of regional schools commissioners. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has proposed that the Secretary of State should be required to publish a document that would describe the powers and responsibilities of RSCs arising from the provisions in the Bill and other Acts of Parliament. Amendment 3 would extend this requirement to specify that the document must include a guide for parents and any other information to do with the powers and responsibilities of RSCs as may be appropriate.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for raising this issue once again, following the exchanges that he had with my noble friend Lady Evans on this matter on Report in this House. Since the last debate, he has also met officials from the Department for Education and he and I have had a number of exchanges on the matter. I hope that he has found these discussions helpful and has been reassured that the Government are committed to meeting the objectives of his amendment.

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As my noble friend Lady Evans explained in the previous debate, RSCs are not defined in legislation: they are civil servants, and exercise only the powers and duties of the Secretary of State that he chooses to delegate to them. Accountability for the decisions made by RSCs rests with the Secretary of State, who remains fully accountable to Parliament. It is important to emphasise that the role of RSCs is very different from the role of local authorities. RSCs operate within a clearly defined framework, with the focus on monitoring and tackling educational underperformance in academies and free schools, approving new academies, advising on free school applications and approving changes to open academies, such as expansions or age-range changes.

To support these functions, RSCs also work to develop the sponsor market in their regions. Subject to the passage of the Bill, RSCs will also take on responsibility for formal intervention in underperforming maintained schools. RSCs carry out their functions within a national framework and individual decisions are made in accordance with the relevant legislation, academy funding agreement and/or published criteria.

Information on the work of RSCs is already publicly available. We have already set out the remit of our RSCs and the membership of each head teacher board, published registers of interest and made available the criteria for RSC decision-making. Academy funding agreements are publicly available, as are the criteria for other individual RSC decisions. For example, the criteria that RSCs use to assess schools applying to become academies are set out online in the guidance document, Convert to an Academy: Guide for Schools. Notes of board meetings that detail each decision made are also published on a monthly basis.

In addition, we have recently consulted publicly on revising the statutory Schools Causing Concern guidance that describes the responsibilities and powers delegated to RSCs resulting from the provisions in the Bill, and how they will be used in practice by RSCs to intervene in failing and coasting maintained schools and academies. Alongside this document the Government are also required, under the Academies Act 2010, to provide an annual report to Parliament on the expansion of the academy programme and the performance of academies during the year. This year’s report will include commentary on RSCs.

We recognise, however, that we need to go further. We acknowledge that RSCs are a new concept and that, as more schools become academies and the RSC remit expands, we need to clearly articulate the role, improve understanding of its responsibilities and increase transparency. Noble Lords will be reassured to hear that the new national schools commissioner, Sir David Carter, considers raising awareness, particularly among parents, as one of his top priorities and he made this clear in a Radio 4 interview last month.

As with any new system, we expect the level of awareness to increase over time, but to expedite this I am today making a clear commitment to the House that the Government will publish a full description of the RSC role and a guide to all RSC powers and responsibilities. We will ensure that this more detailed information is in understandable form, includes a succinct summary of the role and has clear links for

8 Feb 2016 : Column 1995

the public to find more detailed information should they require it. We will make clear that this information is for parents and the sector.

The information will be published on the education pages of the government website, GOV.UK. This is the website where all government policies, publications, statistics and consultations are published. It is already used by parents to find information on matters such as school admissions, school performance and childcare. It is used extensively. In January of this year alone, there were nearly 1.3 million visitors to the education pages of GOV.UK. The website is designed for the public and is intended to be simple, clear and quick to find information. We will make sure that the information is collated and published in good time for the Bill coming into force. Furthermore, I assure noble Lords that we will keep the information up to date and revise it as necessary, following any changes to legislation or to RSC’s non-statutory responsibilities.

Alongside publishing more detailed information, we recognise that it is equally important to ensure the public know where to find it. Once the new information is published, we will alert parent and governor groups such as the National Governors’ Association and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations and encourage them to direct their members towards it. We will also publicise the information through the email which the Department for Education issues direct to schools at the start of every term and which sets out important changes. RSCs will also be carrying out a range of activities within their regions to improve awareness, to raise their profile and to ensure the sector understands and is prepared for the new legislation.

As the noble Lord has described, since we last debated this matter the Education Select Committee has published its report on the establishment of RSCs. While the committee welcomed the introduction of RSCs as a pragmatic approach to the expanding workload of academies oversight, the report also made a number of recommendations, including that the Government should reflect on the need to improve understanding of the role of RSCs. I assure noble Lords that the Government take this issue very seriously and will increase and improve the information available to the public on RSCs, with a particular focus on simplifying and improving the information for parents.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to the situation in relation to E-ACT and parents. I can assure him that we regard the involvement of parents in education as crucial. The best way to do this is not necessarily through having two parents on a governing body. An equally good or better way may be to have parent forums. I understand that E-ACT has plans to do this and is meeting with Sir David Carter this week to discuss this further.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: I certainly accept what the Minister is saying about parent forums, but why should that be to the exclusion of parent representatives from governing bodies? Can the two not exist equally well together?

Lord Nash: They can. They will have parents on their advisory boards and E-ACT is required, as are all multi-academy trusts if they do not have local

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governing bodies, to have two parents on their multi-academy trust board. So parents will still be intimately involved in decisions.

3.30 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: Perhaps I may follow that up. That is two parents in a multi-academy chain board. E-ACT has been mentioned by me. As I understand it, it has 23 schools and one academy chain board. Out of all those schools, only two parents would have any kind of representation. They could not possibly be representative in any way of the views of the parents in 21 other schools.

Lord Nash: That is why, as I understand it, they will have advisory bodies, which will consist of parents. As I have said, the same point can be made about individual schools. Two parents cannot necessarily be representative of the body of parents, which is why a parents’ association may be a much better way of engaging with parents across a broader church.

I hope that, given the further explanations and reassurances I have been able to give in relation to information about the RSCs, the noble Lord will be assured that we are committed to improving understanding and increasing transparency relating to RSCs and will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Before I sit down, I would like to take this opportunity to put my wider thanks on the record for the careful consideration the Bill has received throughout this House. First, I thank my noble friends on the government Benches, in particular my noble friend Lady Evans, who has provided strong support and kept the Bill on track over the past few months. I also thank my noble friend Lady Perry for her continuing support and advice and my noble friend Lord Harris for his passionate words on Report about the difference that becoming a sponsored academy can make.

I also thank my noble friends Lord O’Shaughnessy and Lord True. I would particularly like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for ensuring that the best interests of children are always at the forefront of all our considerations. Of course, I must pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education who is committed to taking forward essential reforms to achieve real social justice for all children and young people.

I also particularly thank the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Storey, who have provided strong and thorough opposition alongside their colleagues the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Addington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Pinnock. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Hughes, for their contributions. While we may have crossed swords on many things, their challenges have been constructive and it has been clear throughout our debates that across the House we are united in our belief in the life-transforming power of education and in the desire to give every child the best start in life.

There have been very important contributions on this Bill from all sides. On the Cross Benches, I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, for bringing his extensive knowledge and experience of our education system to bear on this Bill and to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his considered comments

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and amendments on children in care and mental health issues. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely for supporting the Government’s ambitions with the important role that church schools play in our education system.

I also thank the organisations that have engaged with the Bill and contributed to ensuring that its content will benefit children waiting to be adopted and pupils in our schools. In particular, I wish to thank the individual head teachers and MAT CEOs who freely gave up their time to share with Peers their experience of school improvement at the outset of the Bill entering this House. They have improved our understanding of the very real issues that the Bill seeks to address.

Finally, I would like to put on record my thanks to the officials from the Department for Education, the Bill team, in particular Louise Evans and Kayleigh Walker, the lawyers, including Caroline Chalmers, the policy officials and others who have worked on this Bill and helped to ensure the good progress we have made in this House.

As noble Lords will have heard me say previously, the Bill has one essential principle at its heart: that every child deserves an excellent education and a secure and loving home. This Bill is about social justice and about building a fairer society in which every child has the same opportunities to reach their potential regardless of their background. To ensure that adoption is always pursued when it is in the child’s best interests, we have recently announced increased funding totalling £200 million over the course of this Parliament to further develop regional adoption agencies, fund the interagency fee and extend the adoption support fund.

To achieve a world-class education system, we need a school system that consistently and universally delivers high academic standards. To help deliver that, this House has accepted an important amendment to the Bill to give more consistent and effective powers to regional schools commissioners when academies underperform. The amendments we have made, alongside the original Bill provisions to strengthen our ability to turn around failing and coasting maintained schools, mean that I am confident that the Bill leaves this House with the potential to ensure that many more children and young people will have the opportunity to make the best start and succeed in life. I commend it to the House.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, I did not expect the Minister to make those remarks at this stage—I thought he would do it at the Bill do now pass stage. I would like to say a little more about my amendment on the question of regional schools commissioners. The Minister was kind enough to facilitate a meeting with the regional schools commissioner who covers the area in which I live. In a sense, that encapsulated one of the anomalies of regional schools commissioners—the way that they are divided geographically. The Education Select Committee report highlighted the fact that London is covered by three regional schools commissioners. The committee suggested that there should be a ninth commissioner for London, to mirror Ofsted regions, which is a very

8 Feb 2016 : Column 1998

sensible suggestion. The fact that I live in a region that covers places as diverse as West Ham and Great Yarmouth suggests that there is room for improvement.

There is also room for improvement in the role of parents in education. That must be about the hundredth time I have mentioned it in our many hours of debate. I believe that the Government are plain wrong in trying to say that parents do not have a meaningful contribution to make—and not the token that the Minister recently mentioned of two parents on a board that covers 23 schools. Most parents care passionately about their child’s education. The fact that they have effectively been brushed aside by much of the Bill is unfortunate, to put it mildly. It is also grossly unfair. Many people who want to have that input are now going to be unable to do so. So even a parents’ guide to regional schools commissioners would be a step forward, to at least make sure that people know where to go and who to speak to when they have a complaint, and how to forward it. I regret that it has not been possible to get agreement. Perhaps we should await the Minister’s response to the Education Committee report; I do so with some interest. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 3 (to Amendment 2) withdrawn.

Lord Addington: If we may draw back from the amendments we are actually discussing, I thank the noble Lord for his work and the courtesy of his department. There have been a lot of emails going back and forth. There was also an entertaining point when the good old-fashioned steam telephone was not working in my office, so in the end a piece of paper was handed to me by one of the doorkeepers. That meant that I knew the noble Lord was getting back to me, for which I thank him.

If we address what the noble Lord said about this amendment, it is a triumph of the bleeding obvious, if I may put it like that. We should let people know what is changing. What he has done is not quite as much fun as getting an amendment accepted, but half a loaf is better than no bread—and this is a bit more like three-quarters, so I thank him for that.

Given that we seem to be going slightly off-piste, I shall also take the opportunity of thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, for giving the assurance at an earlier stage that the KPIs for increasing the number of schools becoming academies were withdrawn. I should have mentioned that at the time, but it got rather swamped by other matters. Having heard that, and having those assurances on the record, I thank the noble Lord for his work on this and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 14: Academies causing concern

Amendments 4 and 5

Moved by Lord Nash

4: Clause 14, page 9, line 41, leave out “1A” and insert “14”

5: Clause 14, page 10, line 22, leave out “1A” and insert “14”

Amendments 4 and 5 agreed.

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Moved by Lord Nash

That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Nash: My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, we have now reached the point where this Bill must return to the other place. From these Benches we have to say that it is regrettable that it will take so little in terms of amendments with it. As has been outlined, it has many faults, and despite claims by both Ministers that it is all about rescuing children from underperforming schools, many noble Lords believe that there is rather more to it than that.

I should say that I do not doubt the bona fides of either Minister. The relish with which they have advanced their arguments during the Bill’s time in your Lordships’ House reflects their own backgrounds and motivation. I understand that the noble Baroness has a history in the free schools sector and that the noble Lord has a history in the academies sector, each with some success. If I may draw an analogy, to be handed this Bill is tantamount to a girl and boy being given the keys to the toy shop. It is clear that they are in their element, because it allows them to pursue their personal and particular priorities. But it has to be said that their priorities are not necessarily those of wider society, judging by the briefings we have had from a very wide range of organisations, all of whom I thank, and not to any significant extent those of the education professionals, all of whom also have as their raison d'être providing the best possible education for our children.

We have spent almost 24 hours in debate on this Bill—a full day. I wonder whether we might ask ourselves whether we might have put to better use—some may say yes—and I am sure that we are now all ready to move on to other things. But before we do so, I want to thank the Bill team. We on these Benches have worked rather hard. On my behalf I pay tribute to my assistant, Molly Critchley, who did the heavy lifting when it came to negotiating over amendments. She did much more besides, and both I and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath are indebted to her for her tireless efforts. This is the first piece of legislation for which I have had Front-Bench responsibility and I have leaned much and often on the experienced shoulders of my colleague Lord Hunt, for which I am most grateful. Having leaned much, I like to think that I have now learned much—but I suppose time will tell.

I think I am correct in asserting that this is also the first Bill as a Front-Bencher for the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park. She has perhaps had a slightly tougher baptism than she might have hoped for, but through it all she has retained an upbeat manner and an ability to assure—or at least attempt to assure—those on these Benches that the Bill was much more benign than we believed.

The noble Lord, Lord Nash, and I have had—what shall I say?—our moments throughout those 24 hours. It seems that neither of us is ever going to convince the other of the veracity of our respective arguments, but

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at least we have given it our best shot. I have made a discovery about the noble Lord and, in spite of the fact that he has offered precious little in terms of concessions on the Bill, I am about to offer him one of my own. I think he and I have only two things in common. One is clearly membership of your Lordships’ House. The other, I have learned, is that we were born in the same year. I am not about to divulge the year, but we were born just five weeks apart—and that provides me with both good news and bad. The good news is that the Minister was born first. The bad news is that it does not show.

Lord Storey (LD): My Lords, I take the opportunity once again to thank the Minister for being prepared to listen. There have been a number of changes—including changes of interpretation—to the Bill. I said to my colleagues at the beginning, “I am sure that Lord Nash will listen”, and he has done. This is a very small Bill, really. On the adoption side, I think real progress has been made.

On the school side, there are a few issues for me. The first is whether this is not just about the academisation programme and the slow strangulation of maintained schools and local education authorities. Maybe there is a much fairer way of achieving that. I recall the statement from the Chancellor that he wants all schools to become academies, and the same from the Prime Minister.

The second issue is that of parents. I have always believed that one of the hallmarks of a successful education system is that parents are at the heart of it. I think we said in Committee that if the school that your children go to is being closed, that is quite a traumatic occasion; you want to be involved in those discussions and to know the reasons and what is happening. To then be told that you are not even going to have a say on the new school or new academy sponsor is something that I am concerned about.

Another issue follows a couple of Questions that I tabled regarding the governing bodies of schools. Again, it seems bizarre that you can have academy trusts abolishing governing bodies. In maintained schools, of course, you have to have a governing body—quite rightly; parents are an important voice in a school—but in multi-academy trusts you can have one governing body for, say, 50-odd schools. In the Harris Academy chain there are now, I think, 52 schools. One governing body—which could be in another part of the country, for that matter—being the parental voice is really not good enough. It could be said—well-meaningly, I am sure—that parents’ associations are quite important. But many schools do not have parent associations; they tend to be, I have to say, in middle-class areas.

The area of schools commissioners is one that has vexed us for some time. Light needs to be shone on the work and there needs to be transparency, and I am delighted with the comments the Minister has made on that. It is a very important step forward.

Some of us have always believed that driving up standards in our schools is not about waving the proverbial big cane but about professionalism and trusting in the leadership of schools. One of my regrets from the coalition period was that we abolished the leadership academy. That was a great mistake. You

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need to make sure that the people you put as leaders of your school are of the highest calibre, quality and training. You have to have good leaders.

Secondly, it is all for nought if you do not have quality teachers. It is about ensuring that teachers are respected, highly trained and highly valued. It worries me that 40% of teachers leave in the first five years of their teaching. That is a very worrying trend. I hope that, now that the Bill is out of the way, we can do what the Minister is good at—listen and evolve policies or procedures that work for all our education services.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Trade Union Bill

Bill Main Page

Committee (1st Day)

3.45 pm

Relevant documents: 15th and 20th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee

Clause 1 agreed.

Clause 2: Ballots: 50% turnout requirement

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Kerslake

1: Clause 2, page 1, line 14, at end insert—

“(3) Subsection (1) shall not come into force until—

(a) an independent report is published, and laid before each House of Parliament, which has been prepared by the Central Arbitration Committee in consultation with qualified independent persons, on the delivery of secure methods of electronic, postal and workplace balloting for the purpose of ballots held under section 226 of the 1992 Act, and

(b) the Secretary of State has considered the report and published, and laid before each House of Parliament, a verification strategy for the rollout of secure electronic, workplace and postal balloting methods for the purpose of ballots held under section 226 of the 1992 Act.

(4) The Secretary of State must publish and lay before each House of Parliament the strategy provided for by subsection (3)(b) no later than two months after the date on which this Act is passed.

(5) The report provided for by subsection (3)(a) must include—

(a) an analysis of different methods of authentication that can be used to enable voters to cast their electronic votes such as single use security codes, personal identification information or membership affiliation information;

(b) an assessment of the ability of electronic voting systems to identify that the information being provided to authenticate the voter is the information required to enable a vote to be cast and recorded in that particular ballot and that the information is unique to the voter;

(c) an assessment of the ability of trade unions appropriately to secure means of distribution required for the delivery of electronic voting information to maintain the security and integrity of any ballot;

(d) a cost benefit analysis of the risks involved in methods of distribution such as email, post, text messaging and face-to-face methods;

(e) an assessment of existing recognised industry standards for online voting systems; and

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(f) analysis of the role of third party administrators and the benefits of using rigorous quality assurance procedures and processes for delivering electronic voting.

(6) The verification strategy provided for by subsection (3)(b) must include an assessment of how alternative, secure, methods of balloting will impact voter turnout.

(7) For the purpose of preparing the strategy, the Secretary of State must consult relevant organisations including professionals from expert associations to seek their advice and recommendations.”

Lord Kerslake (CB): My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 1 and indicate my support for the other amendments in this grouping. The central tenet of all the amendments, tabled and supported by Members of all parties and none, is the same: namely, that if we are to introduce thresholds on trade union ballots before industrial action is taken, we should seek to enable the widest range of methods for members to place their vote.

This seems such an obviously right thing to do that it is surprising to me that we have to debate it. If we believe that important decisions on whether to take industrial action should have the widest possible engagement and participation of those involved, we must surely all want to take whatever practical steps we can to encourage it.

Currently, ballots for industrial action can take place only through postal ballots. However, ballots for trade union recognition, which apply the same thresholds as proposed in the Bill for industrial action, can now take place through workplace ballots, so we already have a difference. At present, neither can be done through electronic balloting.

Digital technology has moved on fantastically since the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 was passed. We now expect routinely to undertake activities such as banking and shopping in a way that would have been unimaginable then. Today, 82% of adults are online. The public in general and trade union members in particular now expect to have the digital choice—an important point. It is a choice that their trade unions ought to be able to give them. The Government’s own policy is to be digital by default in the delivery of their services.

There is absolutely no doubt that electronic balloting can be made to work. I used it myself in Sheffield for the local and general elections as far back as 2007. The use of electronic voting has come on in leaps and bounds since then. For example, in 2014, more than 400 organisations throughout the UK provided their stakeholders with the opportunity to cast votes electronically using the services of Electoral Reform Services Ltd, an independent supplier of ballot and election services. These involved a wide range of bodies from companies to community-based organisations, with more than a million votes cast.

ERS is confident that it can meet the required standards for ballots under the 1992 Act—namely, that those who are entitled to vote have the opportunity to do so; that votes are cast in secret; and that the risk of unfairness or malpractice is minimised. It believes that it can meet all those tests. Given the widespread use of electronic balloting, the only possible remaining issue is security.

As a former returning officer, I take the issue of voting security very seriously. We should take every

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practical step to ensure that ballots of all types are as secure as they can possibly be. However, we should also be realistic and say that no system of voting can be made completely and utterly secure, just as no system of online banking can be completely protected from fraud. Therefore, the question is whether electronic balloting can be done in a way that is as secure, if not more so, as postal balloting. That is the key test. I am absolutely convinced that it can, and there is good evidence from Electoral Reform Services and others to back that up.

The response from Ministers so far to what I think is a perfectly reasonable request from the trade unions is to raise—rather vaguely, in my view—security concerns and then to seek to push the issue off for another day. I really do not think that this is an adequate or fair response when there is an opportunity to deal with the issue now. My amendments therefore propose that before the thresholds set out in the Bill come into force, two things should happen: first, an independent report should be undertaken by the Central Arbitration Committee on the delivery of secure methods of electronic, postal and workplace ballots; and, secondly, the Secretary of State should have considered this report and laid before each House of Parliament a verification strategy for the rollout of such balloting methods. I have set a timetable of two months after the Act has passed for the strategy to be done.

The amendment would allow the CAC, a well-established and respected arm’s-length public body, to look at the issues objectively and to give us its views. It is well within the remit of the CAC to undertake this review. Indeed, there is provision within its regulatory framework to introduce electronic methods for recognition ballots now—a provision that has so far not been taken up. The CAC has considerable experience in organising secure ballots but would not claim to be expert in electronic balloting. I have therefore included in the amendment provision that it could draw on an independent qualified person who is such an expert.

I am absolutely persuaded that we could securely introduce electronic and workplace balloting now. However, I recognise that to date this has not been the Government’s position. I have therefore, through this amendment, sought to meet the Government half way. Whether they are prepared to go the other half will be a test of their willingness to engage in open and constructive debate on the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment which has just been so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and I also support other amendments in this group.

As the Committee will see, Clauses 2 and 3 introduce arbitrary thresholds of turnout and majorities in relation to union strike ballots, particularly affecting certain sectors. Never mind, for the moment, that no other organisations are under the same statutory restrictions as far as their ballots are concerned. Never mind, for the moment, the glaring discrepancies between these requirements and the requirements that exist for ballots in political life; for example, we all know the embarrassment of the low turnout for police commissioner elections in particular, and there are one or two other examples. And perhaps never mind, for the moment, the

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unprecedented nature of these requirements on trade unions, certainly in western Europe. The fact is that these thresholds must be seen alongside the existing requirement that a union must use postal ballots. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, has just explained, this has been the case since 1992.

Looking at different countries, only in Australia are there similarly tough thresholds on unions as far as strikes and other industrial action ballots are concerned. But in Australia, it is normal to use workplace ballots, with the postal ballot as the default position, and unions there can use online balloting too. This amendment seeks to develop that case for the United Kingdom.

In the impact assessment, which I am pleased we have now had a chance to look at—better late than never—the Government claim that the proposals are not about banning strikes and, rather disingenuously, claim that the thresholds are in fact an attempt to make the balance better. Other countries in western Europe are mentioned in the impact assessment, including Denmark and Germany, which do use thresholds in strike ballots. However, in both cases, those are agreed arrangements with the unions concerned that go back a number of years and, in the main, were done just after the end of the Second World War. But, again, there is no requirement on the method of balloting to be used in those countries. So, nowhere else in the advanced world is the requirement on how to ballot linked to questions of threshold, and nowhere else is there a requirement to have a mandatory postal ballot.

Those familiar with parliamentary elections—and there are many in this House—will know that easier rules on postal balloting were introduced to increase turnout. People apply for a postal vote from the local returning officer. In the union world, the ballot form is different; it is not solicited in the same way. It drops through the post with all the other stuff that we get and, too often, gets put to one side, forgotten about and ends up in the recycling bin. It has depressed turnout figures in most unions; it has certainly not increased them. The Government clearly do not trust—at the moment, anyway—alternative methods. In their wish to curtail the relatively few strikes that do take place in the UK today, the Government are using the combination of high thresholds plus postal ballots as a way of stamping out dissent and protest.

What redress is left to employees in these circumstances? Just imagine, for a moment, a large retailer with many casual workers, often low paid, a very high labour turnover and some harsh management practices: Sports Direct just happens to spring to my mind immediately. Under the proposed provisions in the Bill, how could workers do much collectively about the conditions in which they work? It would be virtually impossible, for example, to take lawful industrial action. I have to say that in some of these companies, it would not be easy to do that at all, even without postal ballots or any thresholds. However, it seems to me that an important artery of democracy is being blocked by making things more difficult. Not everybody is in a school or works for Transport for London—a tight group of workers with a common identity who are therefore relatively easy to organise.

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The amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord Oates, and myself suggests that Clauses 2 and 3 should not come into effect until an independent review has been carried out by the CAC. The Central Arbitration Committee is probably not very well known to most of the British population. It is a relatively small organisation, but it conducts ballots under the law on trade union applications for recognition. The turnouts in the ballots that it conducts are always high, and no evidence of fraud has been found since it started doing this work. It can decide on the most appropriate means of holding a recognition ballot—for example, with a dispersed workforce it could well use postal balloting, whereas with a concentrated workforce it would make sense to have a properly supervised ballot box. The key is proper supervision, with an independent scrutineer and a properly secure balloting method. The CAC has not yet used e-balloting, although as the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, it has the ability to use it.

4 pm

Our amendment asks that before the provisions of the Bill come into force, the CAC be asked to conduct a review of the delivery of the various means of voting on industrial action. It would be asked to prepare an independent report to be laid before both Houses of Parliament considering the different methods of authenticating voter identification and security systems for electronic voting, and providing a cost-benefit analysis for unions using those different methods of balloting. As has been explained, the Secretary of State would be required to lay before Parliament,

“a … strategy for the rollout of secure electronic, workplace and postal balloting methods”,

on industrial action.

That seems to me, as I hope it seems to most noble Lords present, a very reasonable proposition, and I hope the Government will open their mind to it. It must be obvious to any fair-minded person that, provided that the balloting method is secure and can be trusted, unions should not be impeded from taking lawful steps in the interests of their members. The current proposals are draconian—unacceptably hard. The measures in the amendment and the other amendments in the group seek to make them more practical and fairer.

If e-balloting is good enough for the Conservative candidate in the London mayoral election, surely it is good enough for wider application—and it could ease the burdens that the Bill is putting on unions. I have a vision of a certain Minister acting like the sorcerer’s apprentice in Whitehall, scurrying around collecting ideas for hobbling trade unions and slapping as much red tape as they can find on them. This is unfair and unjust: it is the opposite of one-nation Conservatism. There are huge problems in the British labour market—problems of inequality, casualisation and productivity—but what trade unions are up to at the moment is not one of those problems. Rather, it has been picked on by the Government to attack. I hope they will think a bit more maturely about what they are doing, and try to find a way of making some of these provisions more acceptable. I hope that by adopting the amendment,

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or one very much like it, we will get a better, fairer and much more balanced Bill—one that the Government can be proud of, and the rest of us can live with.

Lord Oates (LD): My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and of the other amendments in the group. I should first apologise to the Committee as I was not able to speak at Second Reading. That was an administrative mess-up on my part. I hope the Committee will forgive me, as a relative newcomer, for such a breach of protocol. I was, however, present throughout the debate, and listened carefully to the many significant points made by noble Lords, and to the Minister’s response.

We shall have the chance to discuss the merits or otherwise of the introduction of thresholds later today, but without doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Monks, made clear, this is a significant departure from the usual democratic practices of this country—indeed, from those of any comparable democracy in the world. Given that fact, I would expect the Government, in putting forward such radical proposals, to accompany them with a means to ensure maximum participation and to take the opportunity to modernise balloting procedures.

The Minister stated at Second Reading that the Government’s purpose in bringing forward the Trade Union Bill was to modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members. One might debate whether that is not more properly an issue for trade unions and their members rather than for the Government but, be that as it may, if Ministers are sincere in their protestations about modernisation, it is unclear why they are resisting the one obvious modernisation measure—the proposal to allow electronic and other forms of balloting that could help increase participation.

The other amendments in the group, in slightly different ways, seek to achieve that purpose with the safeguard of independent scrutiny to ensure those ballots are conducted properly and without intimidation. I support those amendments because I am convinced that we could introduce electronic and workplace balloting now. However, we heard at Second Reading that the Government remain opposed. The Minister questioned whether electronic ballots would be secure or open to intimidation and vote-buying. The amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord Monks, and myself, provide the Government with the opportunity to properly test this issue with the assistance of the Central Arbitration Committee, a respected body which has considerable experience on the issue of balloting, as well as with others with expertise in the specific field of electronic balloting. If security really is the issue, these amendments can help get to the bottom of whether it is possible to use alternative means of balloting in a manner as secure as, if not more secure than, the current postal ballot system.

The Government’s approach to these amendments will be important because it will give an indication of whether they are sincere in the claim, repeated by the Minister at Second Reading, that the Government’s objection to electronic voting is not a matter of principle but one of practicality. It will reveal whether the Government really want more people to participate in

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trade union ballots but cannot see a practical way to make it happen, as they claim, or whether, as many of us believe, their sole objective is to make it as difficult as possible for trade unions to take industrial action. I hope I am wrong in that belief and that the Minister will expose it as entirely unwarranted cynicism by accepting these amendments. If she is unable to do so, we will know where the Government stand.

Lord Pannick (CB): My Lords, your Lordships will have seen the report published last Friday by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the application of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of association, including the right to form and join a trade union. This is of particular relevance to the issue we are debating—electronic balloting.

The Joint Committee’s report mentions that in 2014 the European Court of Human Rights dismissed a complaint brought by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers about the ban on secondary action. I declare an interest: I was counsel for the United Kingdom Government in that case. The European court said that it will generally respect a legislature’s policy choices in relation to social and economic issues, including its laws on industrial relations, which it accurately describes as a,

“legislative policy area of recognised sensitivity”,

unless the choices the legislature makes are “manifestly without reasonable foundation”.

The European court said that a democratically elected Parliament is “better placed” to identify,

“what is in the public interest on social and economic grounds”.

The Joint Committee points out that the European court added that, the more far-reaching the interference with a core trade union activity—for example, requiring the dissolution of a trade union—the greater the justification required. I think, however, that the European court and courts in this country would almost certainly regard the basic provisions in Clauses 2 and 3 as not going to the core of trade union activity because the existence of trade unions and the rights to call a strike are unaffected, albeit that important limits and conditions are imposed. Parliament would, I think, be acting well within its broad scope of discretion if we decided that the disruption to the lives of others caused by strikes, particularly in the public sector, justified the general measures in Clauses 2 and 3.

I would be very surprised if the European court were to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monks, that the threshold provisions are arbitrary. However, I agree with the Joint Committee that the Government may be vulnerable to a legal challenge under Article 11 because a court will consider the package of statutory provisions as a whole when it assesses whether those provisions are proportionate and whether they have an objective justification. If the Government do not compromise on some of the less attractive provisions of the Bill, to which we will come, such as check-off, they will be at much greater risk of a human rights complaint being taken seriously by the court.

Clauses 2 and 3 would be particularly vulnerable to legal challenge if the Government refuse to allow for electronic balloting. Allowing online balloting would

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manifestly promote the professed objective of the Bill to enhance democratic decision-making on strikes. My advice to the Government is to consider carefully the amendments in this group and to seek an accommodation to allow electronic balloting to reduce what will otherwise be the legal vulnerability of Clauses 2 and 3, which could damage an important objective of the Bill.

Lord Balfe (Con): My Lords, I declare my interests as president of the British Dietetic Association, a TUC-affiliated union, and an unpaid adviser to BALPA, the pilots’ union. I also remind the Committee, as I do virtually every time I speak on the trade unions, that 30% of trade unionists—in fact, slightly more, we estimate—vote for the Conservative Party in general elections. Sometimes we tend to forget that and to think that the trade union movement is a sort of Labour Party at play. It is not. It is as diverse, almost, as the rest of the country.

In speaking about electronic balloting, I point out that I am always pleased when Governments carry out what is in their manifestos. It is not something that I have been used to for the whole of my political life. However, I must say to the Minister that at no point in the Conservative Party manifesto is anything mentioned about electronic balloting not being allowed. Therefore, this clause in the Bill is in no way connected with the election manifesto, although quite a few other clauses are and I will not be opposing them.

4.15 pm

I think that the Government are under the illusion that a lower turnout would somehow help to prevent industrial action. There is not much evidence for that. If anything, the people who do not vote may be less likely to support industrial action, but I do not think that one really knows. However, I know that strikes are not undertaken lightly. I have never been on strike in my life, but that is not unusual. Most trade unionists have never been on strike. They join their trade union for a wide variety of reasons. For instance, lollipop ladies who join UNISON get £5,000-worth of life insurance—an extremely valuable benefit that comes with their subscription. Most other unions offer a package of services. My union, Unite, offers a free legal advice service to all its members. I must say, having used it on two occasions, that it is an excellent service staffed by good solicitors.

I digress slightly, but by tabling my amendment I am not saying that this is the only way to deal with electronic balloting. There are, after all, five separate amendments on it. We will not force them to a Division, but I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity after the debate to look carefully at what has been said and who is in favour. She will have had a paper from 16 of what I would call the most moderate unions in Britain, all affiliated to the TUC. It says:

“At a time when many government departments are adopting a ‘digital first’ approach it is perverse that the … bill prevents unions”,

from running online ballots. It continues:

“If the government wishes for unions to ballot … members more often, and to shorten timeframes for industrial action”,

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then unions should be allowed to,

“operate in the most efficient way possible”.

The First Division Association, which is the union of the most senior civil servants and which would look at how to make this work, has stated:

“The continued prohibition of electronic balloting for statutory ballots supports the view that the purpose of these reforms is to impede trade unions rather than encourage democracy as claimed”.

Despite this opportunity to make a positive reform, the Government have chosen to retain the ban on electronic balloting. These are not wild people.

As the Minister will know, because she was good enough to meet BALPA with me last week, and in response to her request, the general secretary of BALPA, Jim McAuslan, sent her a two-page letter, three-quarters of which is a list of organisations that have allowed electronic balloting to take place without any problems coming up. I will quote one other group that is not normally found in the same box as the TUC. The Institute of Directors has stated:

“Provided that a fair and transparent system of electronic voting can be delivered, there is no reason why—in return for asking for a higher level of legitimacy—the union movement should not be allowed to embrace technological advances to increase participation”.

That is fairly clear.

My challenge to the Minister and to the Government is to take the words of Nick Boles in another place that the Government did not object in principle to the introduction of e-balloting, but they had reservations about security. My view is that those reservations can be addressed and that, in a fast-moving technological world, they are not significant enough to keep this out of the Bill. The technology moves extremely fast. My amendment, like the others, provides safeguards in the implementation of the proposed new clause. It does not say that unions can set up their own electronic balloting company and have a closed system. All the amendments, in some way or other, provide for checks and balances that would enable the reservations of the Minister to be met.

Recently, an organisation called WebRoots Democracy produced a rather thick report dealing with many of the objections to e-balloting and pointing out ways forward. What is certain is that we will not get those ways forward and we will not end up where we want to be unless this goes into the Bill. So I ask the Minister to go away, rethink, look at what can be done and take note of the very strong feeling in many parts of this House that the time has come for the legislation to be put in place. This is a reform that can be made to work and I urge the Minister to make it possible.

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, I shall give two reasons as to why the Central Arbitration Committee is uniquely qualified to carry out the inquiry and report as stated in the lead amendment in this group. I declare an interest as an ex-member of the Central Arbitration Committee. It has the following qualities. Most inquiries are judge-led. There is typically a judge, someone with experience of employers’ organisations—that is, an employer—and someone with experience of an organisation of workers, normally a trade union person. So employers would be confident that their

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experience was built in to the inquiry. I think the Minister could take that as an indication of the confidence that one should have in such an inquiry.

Secondly, the CAC has unique experience of what one might call access to the workplace. Of course, there are different models on show in this debate and no one is trying to say, as I understand it, that only one model can work. However, there are enormous issues around contact in the workplace and it is a fact, as far as I know, that over the 15 years or so of the operation of the CAC, no one has ever queried the standards. The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, is nodding his head. I think it is a remarkable record that everybody has confidence in the modus operandi of the Central Arbitration Committee.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, I, too, support this group of amendments; indeed, the arguments in favour seem compelling. It is a modest enough proposal and its safeguards are implicit in the very nature of the report which is canvassed. Personally, I support the turnout requirement in Clauses 2 and 3, but I cannot resist pointing to the bizarre consequences that could, at least theoretically, result from the new provision.

To take the illustration used in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill of a bargaining unit of 1,000 union members, if 499 vote in favour of industrial action and none against, a strike would be unlawful. If, however, 499 vote in favour and one against, then, because at least 50% of those eligible will have voted, a strike is permitted. So, too, of course, if 499 vote in favour of industrial action and 498 against. Doubtless, such anomalous possibilities as these are inevitable in any scheme, which, as here, has a combination of a turnout requirement but then a decision on the basis of a simple majority. However, it surely underlines—and this is my point—the imperative of ensuring that the best possible way is sought of achieving a maximum turnout of those eligible to vote. These amendments surely allow for that better way.

Lord Morris of Handsworth (Lab): My Lords, I, too, support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. I ask myself: why? I will make a plea for a travelling section of workers who are sometimes never seen because they are on unsocial hours and shifts—transport drivers, in particular. Not so long ago, a transport driver would work a five-day week. At the weekend, he—and it was more likely to be a he—would go along to the branch meeting in a local pub and cast a vote. Those arrangements no longer exist because of domestic and other demands on the time of the driver, who might be away throughout the week.

Very often the press, and indeed the general public and some politicians, cast real doubts on balloting arrangements. They reckon that they are unconstitutional, not fair and subject to a host of practices which are not democratic. I am pleased about this amendment because, at last, a methodology of engagement and participation can be found. It can be trusted and realised. Democracy at work in today’s world is important; Amendment 1 brings about its achievement.

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The flexibility offered by the amendment will improve that democracy and public confidence in trade unionism. I am sure that it will find support among the large majority of employers, because when the press reports any malfunction of a process in a particular workplace, it is about not just the trade unions or the individual but the name and reputation of that enterprise. This amendment would therefore, in my judgment, bring about support and authority for all the parties concerned.

For those reasons, and because I believe that democracy can be found in and out of the workplace, I hope that Amendment 1 will carry support in this Chamber.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, it was nearly 50 years ago that I enrolled as a member of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. I say that I enrolled, but I was enrolled—I had no choice. I was working between school and university and I worked in the Land Rover factory in Solihull helping to make Land Rover Defenders, the last of which have recently rolled off the production line. Since then, because of my career in the church, my direct involvement in the trade union movement has obviously been less, but I endorse what has been said about the union Unite, which some clergy belong to. It provides good advice and I much encourage my clergy, if they want, to join that union.

The 50 years since I ceased to be a member of the Transport and General Workers’ Union have been difficult for trade unions, one way or another. But they have a vital role going forward, not least in our globalised world which is driven by large economic forces. They have a place, but the key thing is to emphasise the process of modernisation, to which reference has been made. I, for one, fully accept that strike action should not result from a small and vocal minority dictating things to others, and I can broadly support the provisions in Clauses 2 and 3. It is a matter of judgment and it is in one sense arbitrary just where you draw that judgment. We will come on to that later. It seems to me that at the heart of the combination of Clauses 1, 2 and 3 is—to use a word which I think we have not used so far in the debate—a matter of fairness. That is what lies behind Article 11, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred. It is fundamentally a question of what is a fair position, balancing all sorts of different considerations.

Having listened to the debate so far and some very interesting speeches—not least that by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, behind me—issues of fairness indicate that a proper consideration of electronic voting should be part of the process of modernisation. I offer, in conclusion, a final encouragement. If the General Synod of the Church of England can embrace electronic voting, so can we.

4.30 pm

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, I was wholeheartedly with the right reverend Prelate until he called the General Synod in aid, but he was totally right about fairness. As someone who does nothing electronically and has no intention of doing anything online at all, I believe we have to accept that those who want to move with the times in that way should be able to do so. My

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noble friend Lord Balfe made an impeccable case, as did the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I find no particular affection for this Bill, but it is essential that when it goes on to the statute book—as it surely will—it must be seen to be fair. The right reverend Prelate is, of course, right. I pulled his leg, but if the Church of England can do it then we must allow the trade unions to do it. It must be fully supervised and properly secure. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, nothing is ever 100% secure—which is why I would never do online banking—but we can do most things to ensure that the system is secure.

I want to do one thing and one thing only: to appeal to the fairness of the Minister who will come to reply. It is the function of this House, from time to time, to ask another place, and the Government, to think again. In no sense does this destroy or undermine the Bill, but it allows those who wish to vote to do so, in privacy, online. One could argue that they might be under less pressure than if they voted in my preferred way—in the workplace—or by post. We have seen so many abuses of the postal voting system in general elections that we cannot hold that up as a great example. I hope my noble friend will bear in mind the words of Mr Nick Boles in another place, which have already been quoted: if there is no objection in principle then let us make sure we enact in practice.

Lord Dykes (Non-Afl): My Lords, I added my name enthusiastically to that of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, on Amendment 22 about electronic voting. I thank him for his wise words, spoken with authority and knowledge of trade union activities. That is not necessarily linked automatically to the Labour Party in any way. This is especially so in the modern world, compared to the past when it might have been more automatic with the big trade unions. We now see a much more open scenario and there are many who support or vote for the Conservative Party in general elections who are enthusiastic about their own membership of different kinds of trade unions. That should be the norm in any modern, balanced society. It should not be two competing elites with nothing moveable in between.

This amendment helps to widen the possibilities for voting for strike action in the future. This is so infrequent and rare in British society nowadays, compared to the past, that it is not a general problem at all. That adds to the need for this cluster of amendments. I am referring now to Amendment 22, but the rest all fit together. They ask the Government to think again carefully about the underlying reasons why the Bill was introduced. There is still an element of surprise in wider society among people who follow new Bills about why the Bill was engineered and created as it was. Any Government, as was said in the Second Reading debate, who have the authority of only 24% of the electorate, have to be careful to introduce legislation that is not only properly drafted and intelligent but creates consensus, fairness and balance to deal with areas of pressing need for public governance.

There is considerable dismay about the Bill among those who are not keen on any limits on trade union voting activity. In my view, it should be completely open, but the threshold idea has caught on with some people, so one has to accept that it will be supported in

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the future, to whatever extent that is rational. The Government have to respond to that pressure and think again.

One of the ironies is that the Bill would be easier to get through if the Government responded to intelligent amendments that represent the views of Members from all parties in this House. I hope that the amendments will be received with some interest and enthusiasm in the other place if the Government do what we are requesting today.

On electronic voting, the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, referred in his speech to what he did in Sheffield. Electronic voting is feasible and can be just as secure as any other method of voting if proper procedures are put in place. It can be secure, as provided for in the Central Arbitration Committee report system, which is an excellent part of the amendment drafted by colleagues including Lord Monks.

The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, expressed reservations about Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown referred to the potential mathematical absurdity of the Government’s latest 50% proposal, which needs changing. All those problems were raised by Cross-Benchers, which is yet another illustration of the substantial changes that need to be made to the Bill.

I was in business for many years and we may compare the fairly easy-going procedures for corporate AGMs with what is being planned to bring the trade unions to heel. That might be an emotional phrase that is used fairly by some people and probably with enthusiasm by some of our right-wing newspapers. It would be a great tragedy if there were one standard for one set of people and another for another.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, very much for his advice on the common-sense element of trade union behaviour. There is a real need to make progress on this cluster of amendments. This is a great opportunity for the Government to refer positively to them and accept the ideas behind them. Then the Bill would make progress in other important areas.

Lord Clinton-Davis (Lab): For 30 years, I was president of BALPA, and I notice that the union is very well represented in the Committee today. I beg the Minister to think again about the Bill. Every speech that has been made so far has indicated that the Government ought to think again. We do not know whether the Minister will think again. I plead with her to do so, because this is not an ordinary Bill. It goes to the very heart of what not only the trade union movement or the Labour movement but the whole country thinks about this issue. I hope that the Minister will be more placatory than the Government have indicated so far. I repeat that the Bill is misplaced, as it is written. Therefore, I hope that she will say later on that she is prepared to think again about what the Government are putting forward.

I am very glad that BALPA has set a good example. Although on the whole the executive has been Conservative—there are one or two people who are not, but not many—the important thing about the union is that it is prepared to put aside its political

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views and think in a way that is representative of the country as a whole. BALPA has done a great deal for British aviation. It is not always right, but on the whole what it has advanced has been for the benefit not only of pilots but of those who use all the airlines in the world. Will the Minister say today that she will think again about the whole virtue and principle of this Bill, which is vitally important?

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): My Lords, I rise to make clear right at the start that I strongly support Clauses 2 and 3 in this Bill, and I will describe the reasons why. The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, obviously impinges on them, so I shall say a word about that.

The amendment refers to introduction of voting by,

“electronic, postal and workplace balloting”.

I am struck by one thing; this was described as the e-voting debate, but I have not heard a single person yet say that they think that workplace ballots should be reintroduced. In my own judgment, that is the reason why in the 1984 Act, which I had the honour of taking through Parliament, we introduced compulsory postal voting. I am not at all persuaded of the idea that you can get safely back to workplace ballots without intimidation or corruption in certain areas.

There is a need for trade unions, government and the public estate to carry public confidence at all times. If their lives are to be significantly inconvenienced, and in some ways seriously inconvenienced, with great personal distress, there should be proper protection for those people. As has been said already, striking should be only the last resort. That is in the interests of the union members themselves, for whom it may be a very expensive operation that may involve significant loss. They should never be taken out on strike by union leaders except as a last resort. But at all times we have protected that last resort of the right to strike, as was rightly said by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It is the ultimate freedom—the right that people have under the law.

We talk about trade unions in general as if we were talking about—

Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords—

Lord King of Bridgwater: May I just finish this point and then I shall give way? We are talking also about the change in the number of strikes. What is very significant is—and the right reverend Prelate referred to 50 years ago being on the shop floor, or maybe in a more senior position at Land Rover—that it was a very different world indeed. The world was very conscious at that time of strikes in the car industry. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, paid an indirect tribute to the progress that had been made under Conservative legislation. He pointed to the much more constructive industrial relations that now exist between the workforce and the management, which has been a major factor and a key to the success of our car industry at the present time. I give way to the noble Lord.

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4.45 pm

Lord Morris of Handsworth: I thank the noble Lord. I have great respect for his views but the debate that we are having is not about strikes; it is about a method of voting.

Lord King of Bridgwater: The point is: how do you maximise voting? It is very important that the public have confidence in the number of votes cast in these situations. The latest figure I saw, if it is correct, showed that there are now seven times as many strikes in the public sector as in the private sector. Public sector industries tend to be monopolies and you do not have to live long in London to see that a public sector or monopoly strike, such as happens, sadly, on the Underground and perhaps on the buses, can cause huge disruption and distress for millions of people. This is an issue for Parliament; it is not a party issue. We all have a duty to ensure that the public have the correct protection without preventing the right of a trade union in the final analysis to use its ultimate right to strike. I make that point very clearly. There must a maximisation of that vote, without corruption and intimidation. It must be a full and correct vote.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, piloted electronic voting in Sheffield in 2007 and that is very impressive. I wonder how many people in Sheffield at that time were really familiar with the internet and whether the electronic possibilities had spread to the extent that they obviously have now. What has come with that spread is a far greater threat from the corruption of the internet itself. Everybody knows the challenges of cyber. It is a major defence issue now. We now know that nothing is secure against a cyberattack and the problems associated with hacking are much more prevalent. That is not an argument against electronic voting—before everybody sucks their teeth and thinks I am about to oppose it. I actually think we should bring in electronic voting, but we must do it with our eyes open to the fact that there are now far more risks than existed in 2007.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, will accept that there are now far more challenges and difficulties. I do not think many people outside realise just how insecure those systems are and just how professional different organisations and Governments are who do not bear us any good will and are interested in corrupting and damaging our systems. So if we are going to go ahead with electronic voting, we have to do it after the most careful examination of the challenges, because the worst thing to do would be to introduce electronic voting and then find that it does not work because it is corrupt. That would bring discredit on the whole system.

I do not claim to be an expert on the Central Arbitration Committee and whether that is the best body to do this, but one line in the amendment worries me. It states:

“Subsection (1) shall not come into force until—”.

I worry that this is trying to kick the whole thing out and that it might be used as a device to prevent Clauses 2 and 3 from coming into effect. The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, gave a very helpful speech making it quite clear that it is not his intention to do that, but there is an alternative way to proceed. The Secretary of State has the power under existing legislation, if he

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wishes to use it, to introduce electronic voting after a proper examination of these issues. That is the alternative way to go.

This is Committee. We shall no doubt return to these issues on Report, but I put that thought to the Minister as a possible way to proceed. I do not want to find that we have delays. If there could be proper consideration and the best possible examination of this by bodies really capable of really examining these very difficult issues that now surround the electronic world, I would support it in the interests of maximising the voting possibility because—my noble friend Lord Balfe made this point very well—the fullest turnout is the best safeguard against the wrong result. Active minorities working against idle majorities is the danger we have to guard against. We need the maximum commitment and the maximum vote in these situations. If electronic voting genuinely free from corruption and distortion can be made to work, I would support it.

Baroness Prosser (Lab): My Lords, I want to raise a couple of points that are rather different from those which we have heard thus far.

First, what is the purpose of this legislation? What is the purpose of the Government’s proposal to increase the thresholds for turnout and participation, when we have not heard an inkling about their interest in enabling that increased participation to take place? Many noble Lords have already spoken about using electronic voting. It would be a real step forward and really interesting and heart-warming if the Government were prepared to say that they are prepared to trial it, look at it and to set up a group to study it, but thus far they have said nothing. That makes me very suspicious about the real intention behind the proposal. Could it be that the Government do not want an increase in thresholds to come about? Do they really want more participation, or is this a way of demonstrating that they do not want any strikes, particularly in the public sector, without actually saying that they do not want any strikes, particularly in the public sector?

The noble Lord, Lord King, said that nobody thus far has mentioned workplace voting. I know there is a range of issues and problems, but it might well be useful to take a look at whether, in certain circumstances and certain kinds of workplaces, workplace balloting would be appropriate. However, it seems to me that none of this is the object of the Bill. Increasingly, it looks as though it is an exercise in how to ban strikes without actually banning them. It is very clever. It saves all that performance of perhaps having to face legislation—all the global public opprobrium that would be likely to come from the ILO and others if strikes were banned. It makes it so difficult that most attempts at industrial action would fail. That is how it reads and that is how it is going to work out, it seems to me, if we do not have some measure of understanding from the Government about what is actually being suggested.

I am moved to comment in this way because this is not the only legislation or policy we have had in recent times which makes it appear that the Government are trying to close down voices of opposition. I mentioned at Second Reading the areas where this dismissal of opposition has become apparent. For example, there

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is English votes for English laws: of course, no pesky Scottish National Party is going to get in the way of things. There are the Boundary Commission’s changes to the electoral register; proposals elsewhere in the Bill to make it more difficult for unions to return and retain their membership lists, thereby certainly reducing membership income; and changes to unions’ ability to build up and retain funds for political and other forms of campaigning. Further, this weekend we heard that restrictions are to be placed on the charitable sector’s ability to conduct public policy campaigns. All that adds up to a frightening and worrying scenario. It all adds up to political interference. As I said earlier, I believe that it will be seen by many people as a very poor show and by many more as a demonstration of very poor judgment.

Many speakers have spoken in detail about the problems associated with postal ballots and participation and I am not going to repeat what they said. However, if industrial action is being considered, the most important work to be done—by unions and employers—is to engage in debate and try to solve the differences that have led to the industrial relations breakdown. Unfortunately, with one or two very good exceptions, few of the people involved in drawing up this legislation seem to have had any experience of the world of work or, certainly, any knowledge of trade unions.

The noble Lord, Lord King, commented that industrial relations now are very different from those that pertained in the days of “the Rover”, as union members always referred to the factory. That is absolutely correct; but the reasons for those changes are many and various. Not least, the improvement in industrial relations has something to do with having a better-trained management than we ever had in the past.

Viscount Colville of Culross (CB): My Lords, I apologise for not being available to speak at Second Reading. I now rise in support of Amendment 20. Along with many other noble Lords, I feel that clause 2 is an attempt by the Government to increase the participation in voting for industrial action. Surely the Minister will support any way of ensuring as large a turnout as possible.

I have taken part in postal votes on industrial action, and other trade union elections, as a member of my present union, BECTU, and as a former member of the NUJ. I have also taken part in elections electronically. I can tell noble Lords that it is much easier for me to take part in the latter ballots. When I talk to my younger colleagues in the media about whether e-voting should be allowed in trade union votes, frankly they are astonished, and in some cases appalled, that it does not happen already. Along with many of us, they already carry out incredibly secure transactions and make huge decisions electronically every day. For them, e-voting would dramatically increase their willingness to take part in any strike votes—which, after all, must be one of the aims of the Bill. Online transactions and decision-making are in every sphere of our lives; they are the reality of the 21st century and ought to be represented in this Bill.

I have read the objections of the Minister in the other place to allowing electronic voting to take place

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in industrial ballots and other trade union elections. He quoted from the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, which recommended not introducing e-voting yet on the grounds that e-voting equipment could not be trusted—that electronic voting software is not accountable and its complexity makes voting insecure. It strikes me that the Speaker’s Commission was looking at UK national elections and European elections, so the issue of trade union elections was not actually relevant. Even so, its recommendation 26 says that secure systems for electronic voting should be an option for voters in the 2020 general election.

5 pm

Like my noble friend Lord Kerslake, I have spoken to Electronic Reform Services. As he said, it has supervised elections involving 400 organisations, and of course the Conservative Party used electronic voting in its own primaries for the London mayoral elections. If electronic voting is fine for these organisations, surely it should be considered for trade union elections as well. I also understand that, under the previous coalition Government, work was commissioned by the then BIS Secretary, Vince Cable, to investigate whether e-voting for trade unions was viable. I would be grateful if the Minister let the House know the findings of that work.

The noble Lord, Lord King, expressed his concern about how insecure electronic voting could be. Amendment 20 is a convincing response to any fears there might be about trade union e-voting being insecure, and whether the systems would be accountable. The Minister in the other place said he was willing to discuss practical objections with opposition parties, and anyone else in society, to overcome those objections. This amendment is a very good basis for such discussions.

Electronic Reform Services has indeed brought out a report, which seems to work very well with paragraphs (a) to (e) of new subsection 6 in the amendment. It has a voting system that could be made secure by separating the database used for the distribution of voter information from the database of the system used to store the votes that have been cast electronically. In that way, ERS can ensure that the voter’s identity is separated from their preference, as currently happens with postal votes in public elections. It can also ensure that the identity of the voter is authenticated by issuing randomly generated single-use security codes to enable them to access the electronic voting system. Alternatively, voters could provide personal identifiers such as dates of birth and membership numbers, but the former has been recommended as less open to manipulation.

New subsection 6(c) would work very well with ERS’s suggestion that security codes be sent only to the email address registered by the voter, a method that could be enhanced by delivering part of the authentication by a separate means—by email or by post. However, ERS points out that splitting information can be problematic. Through new subsection 6(e), we could ensure that the software system used for electronic voting was built independently using industrial standards, and regularly tested by an approved vendor.

These measures have been good enough for the millions of votes cast electronically over the past few years, and for the Government’s own party’s elections

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in the London mayoral elections, so surely this method would be good enough to ensure a high turnout for trade union votes. I commend the amendment to your Lordships’ House in the name of democracy.

Lord Dobbs (Con): My Lords, I must apologise to the House. My head is full of cold, and if I expire half way through my remarks I know that at least I shall have the support of a large number of your Lordships in that. I shall be mercifully short.

I have listened carefully to this interesting debate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, was wrong when he said in promoting his amendment that the Government were opposed to electronic voting. I trust that they are certainly not opposed in principle; it is more that they have not yet been persuaded of its practicality. That is an important distinction.

The noble Lord, Lord Monks, said that surely any system should be right provided that the balloting method is secure and can be trusted. I think we can all agree with that; the question is what that method should be. Anyone who can remember the remarks I made at Second Reading will know that I am generally in favour of e-voting. Postal balloting itself has scarcely been known for its security in many areas. We simply need to get on with it and find the right practical decision.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, has a fundamental flaw. It makes the threshold provisions of subsection (1), which I think are hugely important, consequential on the means of voting. The noble Lord, Lord King, has pointed out the flaw. It is as if the means of voting are more important than the principle of voting itself. I do not think that that is good enough.

The threshold provisions are a manifesto commitment of the Government. I am a little prejudiced—sceptical—about manifesto commitments. We all know how much work goes into manifestos and we all toil away as parties to get to the right sort of provisions. We then ask ourselves how on earth we get anybody to read it and take notice of it. This simple argument—that because a manifesto contains something, it inevitably must pass into law because it has the support of the people—can be stretched too far. When I was responsible for these things in Conservative Central Office back in the 1980s, faced with the problems of trying to get our manifesto publicised and read, we came to the conclusion that the only way to do so was to leak it to the Guardian, where it ended up on the front page. Nevertheless, we are talking about a clear public commitment of the Government, made in a manner that would satisfy the Government of any political persuasion.

I hope and expect the Government will take away the comments that have been made this afternoon in a very serious and sensible fashion, bang them about a bit, get it right and make it work, so that we have the safest possible mechanism to get the maximum turnout in any ballot. By putting the cart before the horse—the mechanism above the principle—the amendment is not helpful and is not the way to go. Although I support many of the details that have been expressed in support of the amendment, I myself cannot support it.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD): My Lords, I support the amendments and in particular Amendment 21.

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In my working career there has been a huge improvement in achieving a democratic mandate for strike action. The House has made the point that strikes are an action of last resort and it is important that whatever mandate is achieved for that strike should have the biggest and most representative turnouts.

If your Lordships look at the ballots and strikes that we have had in recent years—they have decreased in number, which is good—you will see that about 50% have already been achieving 50% turnouts. There has been a huge improvement in the way in which the ballots are conducted, certainly compared with the experience that the noble Lord, Lord King, talked about. We know that a very important social development took place at that time. There was a reaction against the intimidation of the factory gate meetings, but also in unions themselves a big change was going on because people were not attending branch meetings. As a result, those unions that depended on branch meetings to determine strike action were not fully representative.

I remember as a young graduate working for Sid Weighell in the National Union of Railwaymen going along to the No. 1 Euston branch of the NUR on the eve of a one-day strike, which was an action against the Conservative Government’s plans for transport at the time. It was remarkable—there was a room for 50 people, but there were 200 people queuing outside to come in. The branch secretary who was presiding was in a fluster and very bad tempered as to why all these people were suddenly turning up for a branch meeting when they had never come before. The following day, there was an action and Sid Weighell sent me there to find out how representative the feeling was in the union. Clearly, the reason people were turning up was because they did not want the one-day strike to continue.

Anyway, we then introduced postal ballots. We have had long experience that they are secure. We have good experience of them. Fundamentally, they have independent scrutineers to ensure that they are fair and representative, and we have 25 or 30 years’ experience of them. However, there is one problem—that the turnout in postal ballots is still not as high as we would like. If we have this threshold, trade unions will have to work harder to get the turnout up, and they will. They will be able to do second mailings and will use all sorts of means to encourage turnout and make sure that people vote in these important ballots. As we know is the case in general elections, people do not vote when they think that the outcome is predictable but they do vote when it is close, and the unions will be able to get this turnout. I am sure that they will use things such as second mailings and emails to get the turnout up.

The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, was right to say that in the other place the Minister said that he was not convinced about the practicality—he used the Speaker’s commission for that. However, that is unrealistic, because the numbers involved in national elections are vast compared with the numbers in ballots for this sort of strike. Therefore, we need to look at the idea of extending the different ways of voting and it is right that we should also now look at workplace balloting. If there are independent scrutineers, there is no reason why that should not be secure as well.

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There has been quite a social change. People are willing to use emails and digitisation to vote, and organisations are already doing that. That will help the turnout.

I do not think that we should consider putting a burden on the unions to get turnout up if we do not help them to do it. That seems to be a fundamental principle, and it will have a benefit. My experience is limited but I am sure that unions already use email addresses. If they go in for electronic voting, they will have to extend email use, and that will improve communication and turnout.

The CAC is already using a variety of methods to test people’s views on recognition, as has been mentioned in this debate. It deals with very sensitive issues. As those experienced in union processes will know, recognition is one of the most bitterly contested issues because employers are sometimes concerned to stop it and the unions are determined to get it. So these are very sensitive ballots and the CAC now has experience of using not just postal ballots but workplace ballots and electronic voting. Therefore, we support the changes proposed in the amendments.

In ending my remarks, I have three questions for the Minister. First, have the Government and Ministers had conversations with the Central Arbitration Committee about the processes used to improve turnout in ballots? Secondly, do the Government not think that the whole digitisation strategy means that, in all sorts of processes, electronic voting is the next stage in extending the voting process in all sorts of organisations? My final question, which is an abrupt one, is: is the Conservative Party satisfied that it had a fair election for its mayoral candidate in London when it used the sorts of processes advocated in these amendments?

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, the first question for me is: will minimum thresholds for industrial action ballots improve democracy in the workplace? If postal voting remains the only option available to trade unions wishing to ballot their members, the answer must be no, and that is because, putting aside the question of whether the introduction of statutory thresholds is desirable, it is in the interests of trade unions and employers for a ballot properly to reflect the opinions of workers. I appreciate and thank—

A noble Lord: The right reverend Prelate?

Lord Collins of Highbury: No. I was thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and trying to think of the correct term for the legal profession—but in fact I do not need to do that. I hate breaching protocol. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, makes a very valid point in this debate: whatever our opinions of thresholds—and this is where the Government will, I hope, think hard about what the noble Lord said—it will undermine the Government’s position, if there is a legal challenge, by denying the opportunity for unions to ensure that there is a full turnout in the vote. So it is incumbent on the Government, in my opinion, to think hard about whether they can push through thresholds without allowing unions to consider other secure methods of voting.

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5.15 pm

I think that the Government’s response surely must be to see that the best way of increasing participation in union democracy would be to bring ballots into the 21st century by permitting the use of electronic and workplace ballots. Unions are the only organisation in the UK that are legally required to hold postal-only ballots. Postal ballots tend to be more expensive and lead to lower turnout. Postal-only ballots can also unnecessarily extend the voting period. Again, this is an important issue in industrial democracy and industrial action. Faster and equally secure balloting methods could support the earlier resolution of disputes and would also increase participation in union democracy. In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, clearly the method of voting is a critical factor in participation. The evidence we have is that where unions have the ability to run secure workplace ballots, turnout increases.

What the noble Lord, Lord King, failed to mention in his contribution is that unions are now permitted to use workplace ballots for statutory recognition purposes. That is a very important and vital element to the success of an enterprise: whether a union is recognised. I would say that it would be for the benefit of an enterprise, but maybe the owners of the enterprise would have a different view. But workplace ballots are permitted in these circumstances. We are not talking about going back to the 1970s, with a show of hands and decisions being made at the gate. We are talking about new and modern methods of balloting.

In CAC recognition ballots, individuals vote using paper ballots and secure ballot boxes, and that is overseen by a qualified independent person. Average turnout is significantly higher in workplace ballots, at 88%, than all postal ballots, where the average is 71.6%. Also, there is no evidence that individuals feel pressurised to vote in support of union recognition where workplace ballots take place. Since 2004, the CAC has received a total of only seven complaints of unfair practices during statutory recognition ballots, none of which was upheld.

Can we be assured that secure workplace ballots will not be open to abuse? Electoral Reform Services, which is highly experienced in running industrial ballots, confirms that it is perfectly possible to run workplace ballots that are secret and secure against any possibility of fraud or intimidation. Amendments 19 and 21 in this group, which I have put my name to, would ensure that all ballot methods are confirmed by a scrutineer as safe and secure before they take place. All ballots would be monitored during the process and all outcomes declared safe by the scrutineer. The union would also be required to comply with any recommendations made by the scrutineer.

Amendment 19, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn, keeps the responsibility for the conduct and integrity of the ballot with the existing statutory independent scrutineer, but we recognise that the CAC has experience of statutory workplace recognition ballots, and such expertise should be available to the scrutineer. Existing legislation already requires that scrutineers must be independent of unions. BIS maintains a statutory list of approved scrutineers, and

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the vast majority of industrial action ballots are overseen by organisations on that list—primarily by Electoral Reform Services.

When a workplace ballot, or any other ballot, is conducted, it is important for employers to have a duty to co-operate with the ballot, as they have in relation to statutory recognition ballots. This could include a duty for employers to work closely with balloting agencies to ensure that company firewalls do not prevent union emails reaching members and that websites are not blocked. This co-operation is already common practice in workplaces holding elections for staff associations, and for information and consultation. Spaces should also be provided for voting free from surveillance by management, and employers should have a duty to ensure that union members can vote free from interference or constraint. Of course, this duty mirrors the existing duty on unions and is therefore even-handed.

As we have heard in the debate, we are not alone in in supporting the use of electronic and workplace balloting methods. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, even the Institute of Directors has long held the view that unions should be permitted to use electronic voting. Its 2012 policy paper stated,

“Provided that a fair and transparent system of electronic voting can be delivered, there is no reason why—in return for asking for a higher level of legitimacy—the union movement should not be allowed to embrace technological advances”.

I stress the words,

“a higher level of legitimacy”.

Surely that is what the Government are after in imposing thresholds. If they want to ensure that the case for thresholds is sustainable, they should consider the reasonable requests made in the amendments.

The case for electronic ballots has been strongly put in the debate. According to the latest Ofcom figures, 83% of people now have access to broadband and 66% of households own a smartphone. These figures are much higher among those of working age. There is also a growing expectation that individuals should be able to vote electronically in elections. The 2014 Electoral Commission survey found that 42% of respondents felt online voting would increase confidence in the way that elections are run in the UK. These views are particularly prevalent among younger people.

A further indication of the appetite among the British public to digitise democracy is shown by the Government’s own voter registration data. Between the launch of online registration in June 2014 and October 2015, 12 million people registered to vote online. Online balloting can be safe and secure, much like online banking. It is already used for a variety of purposes in both the public and the private sector.

As we have already heard, the Government are proactive in extending digitisation. The Minister has prime responsibility for that, so it is a pity she cannot turn that responsibility away from businesses alone and focus on the needs of workers, too. As the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, pointed out, political parties use electronic voting. Most recently, the Conservatives utilised online voting in the selection of their London mayoral candidate. More than 9,000 people recorded votes on line in that ballot.

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As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, highlighted, the Government are increasingly committed to digitisation of government services. Citizens are required now to make changes to their driving licences, pay vehicle excise duty and renew their tax credits—and, in the future, apply for universal credit—online. According to the Government Digital Service, 85% of tax returns are now filed online. On concerns that people are not used to it or are not accepting it, the key point is that people are asking for it.

That is when we come to this debate. The ability of people to exercise their responsibility will be governed by the options of secure voting. While I am satisfied that there is sufficient evidence for the introduction of secure alternative methods of balloting, I accept that if this proposal for a range of secure balloting methods was reviewed and examined by a totally independent source, such as the CAC, others may be more readily convinced than me. This is one measure the Government must surely consider appropriate. They should not sit back and delay but instigate quickly proper measures to ensure a system of alternative secure methods of voting. That is why I, too, support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake.

I hear what noble Lords have said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, about whether the issue of security is acting as a barrier to the introduction of a commitment in the manifesto. I believe that if the commitment in the manifesto was to be made secure, then the Government would commit to do this first. It sustains the Government’s argument. Of course, in another group I shall be arguing the complete opposite but, for the purpose of this issue, it is important that there is a reasoned and responsible response from the Government. I hope the Minister will engage in an open and constructive debate on this specific aspect of the Bill to ensure that we end up with a system that creates greater participation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, for his amendments and for bringing his wide experience of the public sector to this matter. I welcome new voices and new participants to our debate. We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Pannick, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. It is good to have lots of people involved in our debate.

The essence of the Bill is to improve fairness and to protect the public from disruptive and undemocratic strike action. As this is the first day in Committee, I want to say that we will be in listening mode.

Let me turn to the subject of these amendments—electronic balloting—which was not in our manifesto, as my noble friend Lord Balfe pointed out. However, let me be clear that the Government have no objection in principle to electronic voting; indeed, we are encouraging a huge programme of digitalisation of the economy as a government. We are moving with the times, in the

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words of my noble friend Lord Cormack. It is an area of mutual interest to me and the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury.

However, it is vital that union members, employees, and the public have utmost confidence in ballot processes. Without that, of course, the integrity of the whole system is called into question. Members will not use it, unions will not rely on it, and employers and the public will not trust it. That is not in anyone’s interest.

5.30 pm

I should at this point reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and say that the former Secretary of State’s group was looking into the very issues that we are concerned about today, on legitimacy, safety and security of voting. It is clear from this work and from the various reports published on this matter that some important issues still need to be explored further.