The Carr report, to which reference was made, was basically about leveraging. The concept was that you could turn up outside somebody’s house, golf club or whatever and embarrass the boss who was being hard-faced and difficult. That is not picketing. That is some sort of demonstration. Picketing, as was said, is allowed

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only at or near the place of work for the purposes of peaceful persuasion of the case of those on the picket line. I do not accept that they are the same thing. I could not find any evidence in the impact assessment of any problems on the picketing front. In fact, somewhere it says that there are no problems with the conduct of pickets. It goes straight into leveraging, the Carr report and bits of his creative writing.

We are aware that the provisions are strongly criticised by a range of civil liberties organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which say that they may be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and so on. I do not want to get too much into that at this stage, because I am trying to adopt a common-sense, pragmatic approach. The code of practice is working, because it has a bit of give, flexibility and scope for the police, union officials and others in a way that putting things in statute does not.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said that the provisions could waste police resources and are unnecessary as this is not a problem and that they have enough pressures on them without having to enforce a new statute in this area. If you are making a change, you need some good reasons for it and I do not think the Government have any. I very much support the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt.

Lord De Mauley (Con): My Lords, the gist of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, is to render the provisions of the clause optional. Let me read a few extracts from the evidence to the Carr review, to which he referred, to demonstrate why that would be undesirable. It refers to disputes at London Underground Limited and Transport for London from 2012 to 2014:

“TfL has described the atmosphere and conduct of picket lines as sometimes being intimidating to non-striking staff”.

TfL cited the following alleged examples: alcohol being consumed by a picket; the picket obstructing public access to the station; verbal abuse in strong terms; swearing and shouting; and a conviction for assault, overturned on appeal only because the police failed to submit CCTV evidence to the court.

In the fire and rescue services disputes from 2010 and 2013-14, examples cited include a mass picket listening to speeches made by union officials, one of whom is saying: “Tell” them,

“that we will follow them wherever and whenever they come into London. And we will be sending them a message saying get out of London and do not come back”.

There are allegations of the use of social media to intimidate non-striking firefighters, station gates padlocked and crews’ cars blocking forecourts, and private security guards abused and bucketed with water from roof level. The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, says that we have to put up with some intimidation. I do not think that we should put up with that sort of intimidation.

The CBI states:

“The current status of the picketing Code of Practice does not provide a great enough incentive for trade union members to remain within the prescribed guidelines … CBI members have witnessed trade union activity that falls foul of the current guidelines in recent years”—

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particularly with the advent of social media.

“Business supports the proposals to make parts of the Code legally enforceable. The CBI would … like to see the government go further and reasonably transpose the entire Code. The requirement to appoint a picket supervisor, as set out in Clause 9, provides a single point of contact—with a working understanding of the code—for the duration of the strike action … Legally requiring the appointment of a picket supervisor will uphold the Code on the picket line, reducing incidences of poor practice”.

The amendments seem inappropriate.

6.15 pm

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, for the points he made; I agree very much with them. It shows once again that when someone is speaking with direct experience of industry—on both sides—of his memories of occasions of industrial and commercial disruption and dispute, it helps this House in its deliberations on this Bill.

Notwithstanding the comments of the noble Lord who has just spoken, what particularly concerned the public in London was the strikes on London Underground. One can understand that: they can affect millions of people in their daily routine and are therefore a very serious matter. While I was concerned at the time that the unions might be overreaching themselves and making proposals that were going to be too difficult, I was concerned also about the other side of the picture, which was the hysterical approach of the only evening paper in London, the Evening Standard. It automatically and immediately condemned the unions without explaining in detail the reasons for the action, just saying that they were being irresponsible. There was the notion that for some reason there was an obligation on those unions never to strike or take industrial action, even if they were genuinely concerned about many underlying matters of the operations of London Transport, including safety considerations, which I think were uppermost in many trade union officials’ minds. That never got a hearing or any coverage in the Evening Standard, which was, apart from other free sheets, the only regional newspaper that one could get in London.

That was the general background, and I think it is therefore in the folk memory when it comes to industrial relations that there is an extra special obligation in the public sector and that, particularly with transport, it is selfish for any industrial action to take place. Driverless trains is a separate matter that needs to come back on to the agenda.

Notwithstanding that, the priority should surely be to have a balance in industrial relations provisions of legislation. I was very pleased when, at Second Reading, the Minister referred in her remarks opening the debate to the question of picketing, and said:

“The Bill also makes an obligation of the appointment of a picket supervisor. This requirement is already in the code of picketing, which has been followed without difficulty on many occasions by many unions”.—[Official Report, 11/1/16; col. 14.]

Concluding the Second Reading debate, very late at night, just after 10.45 pm, she referred to it again, saying:

“We are also comfortable with the measures on picketing, which are designed to make it clear to the police and the employer both where a picket is taking place and whom the police or an employer should contact. These are reasonable steps to ensure that pickets pass off peacefully”.—[Official Report, 11/1/16; col. 126.]

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The difference between those two quotations is, of course, the absence of any reference to the code. That might have been acceptable, except that the clause includes 10 subsections at least half of which are just an irritant to union and employer procedures in dealing with these difficult subjects.

If industrial action has been called and a strike is looming, or things are getting difficult, already, the temperature has risen. To have detailed measures about the individual behaviour of pickets—most of whom, according to the police, have behaved very well in the examples we have over the past 20 years since the period of unusual unrest before that—is putting oil on the fire and raising the temperature still further. Surely that cannot be right.

The Minister has been accommodating and forthcoming in Committee both on Monday and today, saying that she will give careful thought to lots of suggestions made in amendments, allowing us to have no Divisions so far and clauses to go through. I hope that she will be able to give such an undertaking in respect of this very important clause and the procedures on picketing.

Lord Callanan: My Lords, I have listened very carefully to noble Lords who have spoken in favour of these amendments. I am slightly at a loss to know what their complaints are. It seems that everybody who has spoken so far supports the picketing code, which has been reasonably successful for more than 20 years now. I hope that nobody supports the kind of tactics and behaviour outlined by my noble friend Lord De Mauley. I think that we, on this side of the House, also accept that the vast majority of union picketing operations abide by the code—but not all, as my noble friend outlined. So what can be the complaint from people who support the code and who agree that it amounts to responsible picketing? What can be the complaint about incorporating some, but not all, of those provisions in statute?

There are one or two isolated examples, still taking place, of disgraceful intimidation of those who want to go about their lawful business. It seems right that the provisions which have worked successfully for the vast majority of responsible unions should be enforced in statute for the small minority of irresponsible unions. All the proposers have spoken in favour of the code.

Lord Monks: Does the noble Lord accept that the examples given by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, are illegal under the present law and can be dealt with now with all sorts of different measures? I assume that the problem with the examples quoted was of enforcement, not of the weakness of law.

Lord Callanan: Well, they might be against the code but, as I understand it, the code is voluntary at the moment. It is not enforceable. I assume that outright intimidation is against the law and I hope that the police would take appropriate action. In its briefing, the CBI refers to a number of instances where the existing code has not been followed. As a responsible trade unionist, the noble Lord should be standing up for the majority of responsible unions that do follow the code and condemning, rather than seeking to support,

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the small minority that do not and that indulge in irresponsible behaviour. The provisions are entirely reasonable and those who are in favour of responsible trade unionism and responsible picketing should have no problems with them.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for long. In 1970, I was elected to the other place for a mining constituency. I saw the first miners’ strike and I still had a very large colliery—Littleton Colliery—one of the largest in the country, throughout the second miners’ strike.

During that period, I was impressed by two things. One was the close community feeling locally, which meant that I was a welcome visitor at any time to the pits—and later to the one pit I had left. I never had any fierce altercation, even heated argument. I had many discussions, but I was also very conscious that ugly things were happening elsewhere and that there was abuse of people who wanted, in all conscience, to go to work and whose lives were made fairly miserable in the process. So I do not think any moderate, sensible, balanced person could possibly disagree that there should be a code. The question is whether we give it the force of law.

The noble Lord, Lord Monks, made it quite plain that the ugly, indefensible actions to which my noble friend Lord De Mauley referred are illegal anyhow. We have measures that we can take against people who behave in this way. A code does not have the force of law in that sense. The question is whether we incorporate some or all of the code in a piece of legislation, which I think is frankly not necessary. It was in the manifesto and therefore the Government are entitled to bring it before your Lordships’ House, as they have taken it through another place.

We had a reasonable discussion about taking measures to define what people could and could not do. When I suggested the substitution of the word “clear”, my noble friend gave a moderate and helpful reply. Clearly, there are going to be long discussions taking place between now and Report. I think the answer is for there to be a discussion on the whole subject of picketing. In the 21st century, no reasonable person could conceivably argue that there should be no legal protection for people who wished to withdraw their labour. Of course there should. It therefore follows that there must be proper legal provision for those who wish peacefully to persuade their fellow workers who have not accepted the strength and validity of their arguments to do so. It must be done within a wholly peaceful, unaggressive, unintimidatory context. I do not think anybody in your Lordships’ House would disagree. My noble friend the Minister has shown herself open to ideas and suggestions. We need a proper discussion with her to see if we cannot come to a proper compromise that can be in this piece of legislation without overdoing it—without putting boots on it, if I can use that metaphor. I hope that this will follow from this debate.

Lord Oates: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Stoneham and to pick up on some of the points made so far.

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First, it should be absolutely clear that the noble Lord, Lord Monks, did not suggest that he was supporting people who engaged in intimidatory and violent action. He certainly did not and that should be on the record.

The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, spoke as if the code of practice for picketing was the only framework within which picketing took place. It is not. As the Government’s impact statement says, there is a detailed framework of civil and criminal law which governs picketing. In addition, there is a statutory code of practice on picketing which may be taken into account in law in any event. My noble friend Lord Stoneham made an important point about taking the code of practice into law—whether unions and members might be less willing to supervise pickets if we moved in that way. As my noble friend said, the unions play an extremely important role in ensuring that trade disputes are conducted in a proper and lawful manner.

Finally, I return to the point made by my noble friend Lord Stoneham, the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and other noble Lords. It is not good enough for legislation just to say why something should not be done. It should say why it should be done—what is the problem? The Government’s impact statement fails to provide that. Noble Lords have made reference to the Carr review. As the noble Lord, Lord Monks, said, that often dealt with issues which were not related to picketing and which would have been dealt with under the civil or criminal law. When an impact statement has to rely on the words:

“However, the media has reported that people not involved in a dispute can feel intimidated”,

one wonders about the nature of the problem the Government are seeking to solve. We all want to ensure that picketing is done peacefully and properly under the law—that is not in question. The question is how to do it most effectively and whether putting the code of practice into law is the effective way to do it. We, on this side, do not feel it is.

6.30 pm

Baroness Donaghy: My Lords, I will make a couple of brief points. There is an irony in this debate, because most of the time in opposition we are asking for things to be in the Bill, and it is the Government who say, “Oh no, there is a very good reason why it should not be in the Bill, it can come in a regulation”—or, dare I say it, in a code of practice. So I am aware of that dilemma. The first thing that I want to say after that is that I do not think that anybody here is going to say that violence and intimidation are acceptable, whether on a picket line or elsewhere in pursuit of a certain point of view. But I will say that up to now the code of practice has been adequate. I do not agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, that just because a few people might disregard it, the tail should be allowed to wag the dog and that somehow or other things need to be tightened up because there is a very small minority determined in some cases to cause that confrontation and take on the establishment.

My final point might seem trivial, but I do not think that it has been raised since my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton raised it at Second Reading.

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It is about the feminisation of the workforce. To a large extent, the trade union movement has not caught up with that as much as I would have liked, but we are now talking about a workforce, particularly in the public services, the majority of whom are women and people from ethnic minorities. As often as not, when you see pictures of pickets in the newspapers, the vast majority of them are women. I think that they have a slightly different understanding of employment relations; they might feel passionately about a particular dispute, but I would like to see one instance where women on a picket line have caused these difficulties. So I urge a bit of caution and that in any attempt to tighten up or change the code of practice into a law we should have regard to the fact that the industrial relations scene is very different from how it was 35 years or so ago, which some noble Lords were talking about.

Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, we have had a very effective discussion on these clauses—effective because we are challenging why we need a particular proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, hit the nail on the head. These things often require careful consideration. My fear is that we have not had careful consideration; what we have had is a response to particular headlines and newspaper stories. As my noble friend Lord Monks said, where there are failings it is often because the law has not been properly applied or has not been dealt with. Many noble Lords are acutely aware that we should not rush to statute or invent new laws to address a problem that could be properly resolved under existing laws.

As we have heard, picketing is heavily regulated; unions must comply with statutory requirements for peaceful picketing. Section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 requires that they must act in accordance with the code. It is not a choice or an option—it is not voluntary but a requirement. As my noble friend Lord Monks said, “What is the problem?”

As other noble Lords indicated, and as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, it is clear from the impact assessment that the real target is the so-called leverage campaigns that we have seen. Yet these provisions and clauses are targeted at picketing itself, particularly after the wider consultation proposals were dropped. The problem that I have is that the impact assessment refers to allegations of intimidatory behaviour “not limited to picketing”. That is the key phrase: “not limited to”. The impact assessment and evidence that the Government are using for these proposals relate to matters that are not about picketing.

They are, of course, about actions that are already covered in law. The impact assessment refers to unsubstantiated allegations in the media and, of course, to the Bruce Carr review, which focused on leverage. But we must not forget that unions and their members are subject to laws on public order, such as protection from harassment and criminal damage. They are all existing laws. It is also a criminal offence for pickets to use violence or to intimidate individuals and their families. Hence the police go on the picket line, and they soon return if there is any problem, and action is taken. So why do we have these additional requirements?

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We have heard that we should have a voluntary code—well, it is not voluntary; it must be complied with—on the face of the Bill. As my noble friend said, we want clarity in the Bill, but this is not going to add to clarity. Potentially, again, it is going to increase the involvement of the legal profession, and it might lead to challenges that are unintended. I shall come to the details of that in the Bill. I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is not in his place, because he wrote a very good article in the Times specifically highlighting these clauses. It is about coming back to this House with proper evidence about why this is required and why existing statutory provisions are not enough.

The clause will introduce significant additional restrictions on the ability of unions to organise peaceful pickets at or near a place of work. If the Bill becomes law, picketing will be lawful only if unions appoint a picket supervisor and notify the police of their name and contact details. The supervisors will be required to carry a letter of approval, which must be shown; they will be required to wear armbands and badges to identify them. As we have heard, on Report in the Commons the Government introduced amendments that removed the requirement on picket supervisors to show the letter of approval on demand to the police or any member of the public.

Ministers also clarified that it was not the Government’s intention that the letter of approval should include the name or contact details of the picket supervisor. The Government went further and announced that they did not plan to go ahead with additional restrictions, including the requirement on unions to publish protest plans 14 days in advance and to detail whether they proposed to use social media. They also decided not to require all pickets to wear armbands, and will not introduce additional criminal offences. While those developments are incredibly welcome, Clause 9 still violates the basic democratic rights of working people.

In our opinion, it is unreasonable for the state to require picket supervisors to undertake the requirements about understanding the full code. It is our opinion that a lot of these requirements are disproportionate and are also discriminatory measures, as they apply only to unions. As we have heard, the proposals have been roundly criticised by lawyers and civil liberties groups—and, of course, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has suggested that Clause 9, even as amended, may be in breach of Articles 11 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

My noble friend has also picked up the point that Clause 9 may substantially change the role of the police in relation to pickets and the union’s requirement to report the name of the supervisor. This becomes an issue where we have responsible action, with the union ensuring that peaceful protest and legitimate process to explain the reasons, and suddenly responsible people hear that their name has to be reported to the police and that the police will hold their name. They will ask what that means. We hear the Government talk about data protection, and say that this will happen and that will happen. A lot of responsible people will say that they are not sure. They will ask whether they should

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carry out this task in this proper way if it will result in these things being reported to the police. It increases the potential for responsible picketing not taking place. We will have to look into that seriously.

In the evidence session in the House of Commons, the National Police Chiefs’ Council has indicated that the new duties for unions to notify the police of the picket supervisor and the location of the picket would be unnecessary and could waste police resources. Deputy Chief Constable Charles Hall said:

“I do not see that as absolutely necessary, simply because we would expect those picket lines to be self-policing as far as possible. Involvement of police beyond that should be the exception, rather than the rule”.––[Official Report, Commons, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 15/10/15; col. 93.]

Again, this was a point that my noble friend Lord Monks made: namely, that you are ensuring increased intervention and that resources are wasted. Police are there to ensure that the existing law is properly maintained. I know that the police would not hesitate to go in there.

We have put down a series of amendments, particularly in relation to those reporting requirements. They are matters that need careful consideration. Putting these requirements in the Bill again increases the propensity for legal challenge. If the letter of the law is not met, we will end up with lawyers intervening, legal challenges and the unions devoting resources to deal with that, instead of matters being properly resolved in the way that they are now.

I come back to the point: what is the problem that we are seeking to address? If it is about compliance with the law, let us ensure that we address that properly. If people are breaking the law they should suffer the consequences. We should not simply go back to the statute book and introduce laws that are not necessary and could potentially hinder good conduct, because good people will be put off doing a responsible job.

6.45 pm

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, for his amendment and for bringing up his experience as a manager involved in a dispute.

The Government recognise that peaceful picketing is legitimate and lawful. We are not changing that. Equally, we believe that people have the right to go into work or about their daily lives without fear or risk of being intimidated. This is what we committed to in our manifesto. Picketing in Britain is governed by a framework of civil and criminal law, and is further guided by the provisions, as some have said, set out in the code of practice on picketing. I am pleased to say that most picketing is peaceful and, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, reminded the Committee, I said at Second Reading that most unions observe the provisions set out in the code. I say “most” as, regrettably, this is not so in every case.

A number of noble Lords have mentioned the Carr review, including my noble friend Lord De Mauley, and have gone through some of the submissions that were made to that review, which I will not repeat. The review was set up because of the intimidating tactics at Grangemouth, which I think shocked us all in 2013.

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Furthermore, in response to a government consultation on this issue in July, nearly half of the 177 respondents stated that they had observed intimidating behaviour, either during picketing or more generally as a result of strike action. This included following staff from the picketing line, strikers bringing dogs to a picket line outside a school and alcohol being consumed on the picket line, leading to heightened incidences of intimidation. One union stated that more than half of its members had experienced intimidation of its non-striking union members.

Even more concerning was the increasing prevalence of intimidation online. Cameras are being used to take images of people crossing picket lines that are then posted online to name and shame them. These photographs are often accompanied by derogatory comments, images and innuendo. Another union, which similarly consulted its members, concluded that the current legal protections are not effective, particularly where low-level intimidation was involved. The CBI has also stated that its members have witnessed trade union activity that falls foul of current guidelines.

The Government are clear that this type of behaviour must be tackled, but it must be done in an effective and proportionate way. Therefore, while our recent consultation also sought views on other proposals, including a new criminal offence of unlawful picketing, we listened. The Government will not be taking these forward. Instead, we have committed to the fair and proportionate provisions of Clause 9. We will also update the code of practice, making clear what is expected in relation to social media, which on occasion has been subject to misunderstanding.

The provisions of Clause 9 are not new and unions will be familiar with them. They reflect the key aspects of the code on picketing, which has been around since 1992. Where they have been followed by most unions, these provisions have not raised concerns or prevented unions picketing. They are targeted at the activities of the minority of unions that do not follow the code. The CBI is equally of the view that while the code has encouraged positive behaviour, its current voluntary status does not ensure that all trade union members follow its guidelines. As we have heard, it has said that it would like to go further and that we should transpose the entire code into a statute. However, we are being proportionate and enacting only the relevant parts that will tackle the intimidation of non-striking workers. There has been a lot of interest in this area and I hope the Committee will bear with me as I go through the amendments briefly.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, said, we have discussed on many occasions whether we should have “may” or “must”. Neither of us has been entirely consistent. These reforms are preventive measures that should stop unacceptable and intimidating behaviour. They are directed at those unions that currently do not observe the guidance set out in the code. Making compliance with these requirements voluntary would completely undermine their effectiveness. It would also result in confusion with the guidance of the code of practice on picketing that should complement Clause 9.

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The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, asked me three questions, which I will seek to answer. He asked whether I accepted that the co-operation of unions is critical for peaceful picketing. I agree that it is. However, we want to ensure that it is easy for all those attending a picket line to identify who the responsible union official is and that is why we are asking for a picket supervisor to be clearly identifiable.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: They already are, so why does that need to be statutory?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: It is in the code, of course, but it is not in the legislation and it is not legally enforceable in the same way. As I have sought to explain, we have put the key provisions in the Bill so that they are observed. These are provisions that the vast majority of unions, as we have heard this evening, feel are entirely reasonable.

The second question related to concern that further legal action would mean that unions would distance themselves from picketing—I think I understood that correctly. The provisions in Clause 9 are perfectly reasonable and proportionate. The appointment of the picket organiser is already in the code and is well known to unions. I see no reason why unions should not comply with those provisions.

Lord Monks: The current relationship of the law to the code is important. The code is taken into account in any legal proceedings. For example, if there is intimidation, and there is nobody in charge of the picket line, that makes it a more serious offence than if somebody was there trying to stop it, as is often the case with a picket supervisor. It is not just a matter of wishy-washy voluntarism. A criminal offence is being committed, and the provisions of the code are taken into account. It is quite a powerful weapon. To make it rigid statute law that there should be, say, six pickets but there are seven there and the police are supposed to do something about that, seems to be asking for trouble rather than calming it down.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I note what the noble Lord says. In a sense, I think he is making the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, made with his third question about why the code is not adequate. Examples from the Carr review and elsewhere, which I went through earlier, reveal that the code is not always followed. By putting elements of the code on a statutory footing in the Bill we will ensure consistency across all picketing activity, which will improve union accountability and public confidence.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned human rights. I think the allegation is that the legal obligation to appoint a picket supervisor and to show credentials to the police is discriminatory. Unfortunately, as the Carr review heard last year, there is concerning evidence that pickets organised by unions can and do lead to unacceptable levels of intimidation. In the circumstances, the Government consider it important that unions take all the steps they reasonably can to co-operate with police and ensure that pickets pass off peacefully. These provisions are not disproportionate and are

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justified under Article 11 and the ILO conventions. Rather than delay the Committee on this issue, I should say that following the debate at Second Reading I wrote to the chairman of the EHRC on the various human rights aspects of the Bill.

Amendment 42 limits the provisions of Clause 9 only to picketing that is directly organised by the union and will create unhelpful distinctions between union-organised picketing and picketing that is encouraged by the union. It would lead to unnecessary confusion between what will be perceived as different types of picketing. The law should apply to all picketing.

On Amendment 45, the Bill sets out a number of requirements which, combined, make the provisions in Clause 9 work effectively. The key to achieving this is the appointment of the picket supervisor, who needs to be familiar with the code so that he or she can act as a source of knowledge and advice.

Lord Collins of Highbury: This returns to the point about reasonable people. How will the requirement that the person be familiar with the code be tested? What knowledge is required? As my noble friend said, the person may think seven people rather than six is reasonable. What will the person be judged on there?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: That is a good question, but my understanding is that provisions relating to familiarity are not new. They have been in the code of practice on picketing since 1992. Familiarity with the code is not an onerous requirement; it is a necessity for the person who is going about their business.

I turn to interaction with the police. It is important that the police know who the picket supervisor is, how to contact him or her and where the picket is taking place. The supervisor does not have to be on the picket line all the time, provided they can return at short notice. It provides an extra safeguard where the police will be able to contact the supervisor should an issue arise on the picket line that does not require police intervention but would benefit from the picket supervisor’s advice.

The advance notice of such details, in particular the location of the picketing, should help the police to plan their resources in the event that something happens on the picket line which requires their attention. The provision to inform the police reflects the language of the code, which has not given cause for concern. The police are, of course, bound by the Data Protection Act and any complaints about the mishandling of personal data can be brought before the independent Police Complaints Commissioner and/or the Information Commissioner. I am not aware of any complaints of this nature related to picketing.

I move on to Amendments 48 and 49 and the letter of approval. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, this has been the cause of significant misunderstanding and concern. We have listened and made amendments. There is now no requirement for any of the picket supervisor’s personal details to be in the letter. Following consultation, the Government tabled an amendment so that the letter seeks only to approve the picketing activity. We further fine-tuned Clause 9 to clarify that

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only the employer to which the trade dispute relates and at whose workplace picketing occurs will be entitled to see this letter.

I fear that removing this requirement for a letter would result in confusion on the picket line about whether the union has endorsed the picketing and appointed a picket supervisor. I am not sure whether that was the intention, but the substituted wording in Amendment 49 removes the words,

“as soon as reasonably practicable”,

and would make the provision to see the letter more onerous.

On Amendments 51 and 52, the appointed picket supervisor will be the main point of contact during picketing and will act as a source of knowledge so that picketing remains peaceful. That is in everyone’s interest.

Finally, I come to the matter brought forward in the other place by the honourable member for Haltemprice and Howden. The media portrayal of this issue of armbands has been frankly mischievous. The key part is that the picket supervisor must be identifiable. The reference to an armband already sits in the code and is, of course, an indicative example. There are other ways of being identifiable, for example, wearing a badge or having blue hair. However, it is clear that there are concerns. I will therefore reflect further on this matter before Report.

Clause 9 seeks to tackle the intimidation of non-striking workers in a fair and proportionate way. It will result in picketing that is peaceful and consistent in the way it is conducted. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: I thank the Minister for her reply to these amendments. I welcome the support my amendments had from the noble Lords, Lord Monks and Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy. I shall pick up one point the Minister made. She said that by making the code statutory we are going to get consistency of approach to picketing because there will be a statutory obligation. Frankly, if she believes that, I will believe anything because you do not get enforcement or consistency just by making something statutory.

I shall pick up one point made by the noble Lords, Lord De Mauley and Lord Callanan, in relation to the Carr report. I read the Carr report, and I was amazed that there were not more instances of bad behaviour because this is a very difficult area to control and discipline. Unions play a very important part in exerting discipline and control in these situations. I shall take up one example because a lot of the examples they gave were examples of criminal behaviour that could have been prosecuted. Let us take the example of a person who is under the influence of alcohol on a picket line. Do we want the police to go in and pull that guy out, in quite an inflamed situation? I am sure they would not do that as their first option. They would want a responsible union representative who is the supervisor of the picket line—which is provided for in the code—to go in and deal with that person and quietly persuade him to leave the picket line. If he is unable to do that and the person does not leave, there is a difficulty either way.

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The problem will be if that individual, having tried to do that, is then prosecuted because he has not fulfilled the statutory duty that is now laid down for picketing. Who in the union movement is going to take on the job of picket line supervisor when they could risk being taken through the courts? I have seen it happen to an individual from the shop floor. It destroys their life because they are not used to it, and it is irresponsible. Anybody who has seen that will know that nobody in their right mind in the union movement would easily take on that responsibility. The point that we are trying to make is that the code, by being voluntary, encourages people like that to help enforce consistency and order in the picket line, and if you make it statutory you will complicate the situation and deter that sort of behaviour. That is the problem. However, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 41 withdrawn.

7 pm

Amendments 42 to 56 not moved.

Clause 9 agreed.

Clause 10: Opting in by union members to contribute to political funds

Amendment 57

Moved by Lord Collins of Highbury

57: Clause 10, page 6, line 1, leave out “in writing”

Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, we have two groups dealing with this clause. In a later group, my noble friend Lady Smith will focus on the principles behind Clauses 10 and 11, the fundamental unfairness of the proposals, the timeframe for implementation and the impact on party-political funding—issues which are currently being investigated by your Lordships’ Select Committee. So I will not dwell too much on the points that will be covered by my noble friend.

In this group of amendments, I want to focus on the practicalities and the cost to the trade unions of implementing the clauses and on whether the Government have considered processes that would ease the administrative burden through more modern methods. I am acutely aware that the existing model rules of political funds have been laid down by statute and have to be approved by the Certification Officer. They state exactly what the union can or cannot do in terms of notices and how they are applied. What I find interesting is that the Government have, in effect, replicated the requirements for renewal notices in terms of the opt-in every five years. They will need to be in writing and must be delivered to the union’s headquarters or branch office, in person or through an agent, or by post. They repeat the existing provisions in the political fund rules. In terms of an opt-in, if the Government pursue that route—obviously, I am not addressing the principles here—it would seem sensible to look at what is the current practice in the way people pay their subscriptions, notify their union and communicate with it. It would have been an opportunity to look at that.

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If we are to be committed to these processes where they must be in writing and delivered by post, such processes will prove time-consuming for members and incredibly cumbersome for unions, which will not be able to take advantage of automated processing systems. I have seen the letter from the noble Baroness to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. Before writing that letter, she needed to look at the model rules that unions are required to comply with and see what they can do. The current opt-in provisions are laid down. Of course, unions have had to conduct statutory ballots on whether they have a political fund every 10 years. Within that process, obviously unions have a huge communication responsibility, particularly on the purpose of a political fund. I have often tried to explain to people that a political fund is not a separate pot of gold. It is a part of a union subscription that a member gives to the union that may be spent for political purposes. Those political purposes have changed over the years, particularly since PPERA, and I will come to some of those issues in later clauses.

I want to focus on the practical implications. Regarding the opt-in renewal notices and the requirement for them to be in writing, I hope the Minister will be very clear about what that means. The Government’s impact assessment has stated that the cost of doing this will reach more than £2.4 million every five years. The TUC believes that that is a substantial underestimate; from my own personal experience, I tend to agree. It is a huge cost. That cost is not going not to the Labour Party or anywhere else; it is not going on union services and union benefits. It is an additional cost and a regulatory burden that needs to be taken into account. Even though there is a requirement to opt in every five years, the members, even when they have opted in, will have an opt-out at any point.

My big concern is that currently the Bill says that unions would have to implement these provisions within 12 weeks. That is an incredibly short time in which to be able to mount such a huge exercise. Clause 10 will require unions to revise their rulebook. In this country, unions are not part of the state. They may have been in some other nations, but in this country unions are independent. They govern themselves and they have rulebooks that are overseen by their members. In order to comply with this measure, rule changes would need to be agreed by members, with a process of approval through the Certification Officer. It is completely unreasonable for the Government to expect unions with a political fund to convene a special rule-making conference within three months. Most unions hold such conferences once a year or every two years, and in some cases it has been once every five years. Of course, in some unions the executive committees have delegated authority.

Lord Robathan (Con): Surely this Bill is talking about what was agreed by the TUC in 1984—we have the letters. It was said that opting out would be made so obvious that it would happen but, as the noble Lord knows from my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s letter, that has not been the case.

Lord Collins of Highbury: I am sure that we will come on to that requirement. One thing that this debate has to deal with is the existing requirements in

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relation to trade unions. Any code of practice or model guidance more than 30 years ago was made in the context of 10-yearly ballots on whether a union should have a political fund. A union’s practices in terms of notifying and making its members aware of opt-out provisions are laid down by statute. They are not set out simply in a code; they are laid down in model rules specified by the Certification Officer and the unions must comply with them. For example—this is my point about some of the regulatory requirements— if a method of communication were electronic, it would not necessarily be compliant with the union’s existing rules and you could have the ridiculous situation where the unions were challenged for breaching them. Regarding the operation of the opt-out, you would need to ask how many complaints there had been and how many people had been dissatisfied with their rights.

Not only was I an assistant general-secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and Unite but I was general-secretary of the Labour Party. I recall that in 2008 the Scottish National Party, the Conservative Party and, I think, the Liberal Democrats mounted a campaign to ensure that members knew of their right to opt out. It did not result in a huge number of opt-outs because I think people were perfectly aware of the procedure. It is a bit like some members of the Conservative Party asserting that the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party is a secret. If it is such a secret and is not known, all I can say is that the Daily Mail certainly seems to make enough of it. During the last general election campaign, I saw Conservative Party literature that made it absolutely clear who funds the Labour Party.

I have absolutely no problem with being totally out and proud of the relationship that the Labour Party has with the trade unions. In 1900, the trade unions established the Labour Party. They were the members of the Labour Party for the first 18 years. There were no individuals in the party. It was a federated body whose purpose was to ensure representation in Parliament. Over the years, things have changed. The last time these sorts of proposals were implemented was in 1927—

Lord Callanan: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I have the honour of serving on the committee which is currently studying this matter, and I suppose that we should be grateful to the Labour Party for suggesting this. One factor that we have been considering a great deal is the Collins review, which I believe was written by the noble Lord. Correct me if I am wrong, but did that not propose moving from an opt-out to an opt-in system, albeit over a slightly longer timescale?

7.15 pm

Lord Collins of Highbury: If the noble Lord wants me to give a long lecture on the Collins review, I shall be very happy to do that. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Maude, is here because, prior to the Collins review, he and I sat down for nearly a whole year and talked about party-political funding. During that time, never once did we think of changing the current arrangements by statute. Opting in and opting out of a political fund is not simply a matter about party

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funding, and of course not all unions are affiliated to or give money to the Labour Party—they use their political funds for a range of purposes. My concern about these proposals does not relate simply to Labour Party or party-political funding; we will come to that.

The question of the current ability to opt out of the political fund arrangements is dealt with in the amendments. Should we reinvigorate the voluntary code in addition to the 10-yearly ballots? You can hardly say that during those ballots people are not notified about the existence of a political fund.

I know that I am a lot older than I look, but I remember when the original 1984 proposals came in. In fact, I was partly responsible for implementing them. There was a genuine concern in some quarters, with people asking, “Do people know about political funds? Do they know what we’re doing?”. In some respects it was a challenge for the trade unions—as with all threats, they are often challenges. The 1984 proposals made unions go out and make a strong case for their political funds. What was the result of the 1984 Act? It was not that some unions decided not to have a political fund. Every single union that had a political fund in 1984 adopted the resolution, through postal voting by their members, and kept their political fund. But the 1984 provision also made other unions think that perhaps this would enable them to have a voice, which they had not had so far. As a consequence of the 1984 Act, we ended up with more unions having political funds than had been the case before, so the challenge was important and it was delivered upon.

If there is a problem concerning the right of members to say for religious, personal or other reasons, “I don’t want any of my union subscription spent on political purposes”, then let us address it properly. The Collins report was about the relationship between the Labour Party and the trade union movement. It asked: has that relationship since 1900 worked properly? In 1920, we adopted a constitution that introduced individuals into the party. There was then a dichotomy, with individuals and affiliated organisations, and the question of the balance of responsibility between the two groups. That is our tradition; it is our heritage. We are not going to turn the clock back and say that how we have become what we are is unimportant. We need to understand the journey and, sometimes, that journey leads us to changes that need to be made; for example, when we reformed the way that we conducted our business. That is the context of the Collins report.

My noble friend Lady Smith will address the point about whether to opt in or opt out of political funds in the next group, so we will have two bites of the cherry—the next group but one, sorry; I forgot about the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. I do not know how the Minister covers so many groups. The point is that there are issues that need to be addressed here. The Government are imposing, with a 12-week transition period, incredible burdens on unions and making it extremely difficult for these provisions to be implemented. In some respects, it makes one feel that the whole purpose of the exercise is to make it so difficult that not many people will opt in. I know that my noble friend will address this, but when Sir Christopher Kelly and Hayden Phillips looked

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at this issue in the round, they concluded that a transitional period was necessary and that it should be five years. That was in the context of taking big money out of politics, donations and interparty talks.

I want to focus on the specifics. The amendments I have put down are about the ways we can ensure that, if this is going to go through, it is not deliberately causing difficulties for the union or individual members. Why is there a five-year opt-in period? Why do people have to do it again? If someone does not opt in again after five years, why is the default position that they are out? What is that provision for? Bear in mind that, in addition to the requirement to opt in, the 1984 Act will remain on the statute and requires unions to conduct a ballot every 10 years on whether they have a political fund. Why is there a five-year review? It is unnecessary and, I think, being done deliberately to ensure that people will not be in the political fund.

One issue I have some concern with is the Government saying that there is no evidence that there would be a substantial attrition in membership resulting from this lapsing after five years. But look at any evidence about making people do something positively. It is a bit like signing a donor card and then being told that you will have to sign it again every five years. I know what the medical profession would say to that: it would not be very happy. I do not know why this is being applied here at all.

Through the details of each of my amendments, I want to probe exactly what methodology the Government are proposing. Perhaps the Minister can explain what “in writing” means. She has had tremendous responsibility in digitising the economy and making sure that we have modern methods of communications—apart from, as I heard in the background from my noble friend, for the unions. Unions cannot adopt modern methods of communication or proper processes that will ensure success. No, it has to be “in writing”.

If this requirement does come into effect, why have the Government not considered the possibility of applying it only to new members? Why are the unions being given the huge task of going back to members who have understood themselves to be part of the organisation to ask them to opt in? The Government are making retrospective legislation, in some senses. Why has a gradual approach not been looked at? These are issues that we need to look at in some detail.

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): My Lords, I feel that, in a sense, these debates are in the wrong order. The noble Lord is talking about the various ways in which, if the Bill is brought in, it might be improved. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, has tabled an important amendment which goes to the heart of the matter and the fundamental reasons we are here in the first place, and I think the Minister will have something to say on these issues as well. I do not know how we are going to deal with these issues. They are very important, and I understand the sensitivities and deep feeling involved. It would be a good idea if we could somehow get the amendments in this debate in the right order. I do not know whether to foreclose on this, but perhaps we should deal briefly with these particular amendments and then get to the heart of the matter.

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Lord Collins of Highbury: I am grateful for that intervention. The noble Lord, Lord King, is right. I could not predict the order that we would take the amendments in, and I am happy to leave these on the table, as it were, so that we can look at the practical implications and move speedily on to the next groups, where we will be able to address the principles in relation to the model rules. I beg to move.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: Are we not going to have a preliminary debate on this? I want to make the same point as was made by the noble Lord, Lord King. We have already had a long debate on this section and have decided that the matter will be referred to a Select Committee, which is now taking evidence. Therefore, I do not intend to make a long speech on these amendments, for the very reasons that the noble Lord, Lord King, said.

I do not want to go into all the arguments as to why the Select Committee is important, but, in parenthesis, and so that I do not have to say much more in this series of debates, I want to say three things. First, the Select Committee received evidence from the Certification Officer when it was in public session. As I understand it, he said two things. One is that he was never consulted, which is surprising if we are trying to look at responsible legislation, because he is going to have to implement it. The second thing he said is that he has had to deal with very few complaints on opting-in and opting-out issues.

Secondly, I want to make a general point about the amendments in this group, and particularly the reference to “electronic means”. If we want a way to encourage people not to opt in, it ought to be in writing because, these days, nobody responds to correspondence in an efficient and effective way, but they do respond to emails. To have the Minister, a pioneer of the digital age, advocating that all the replies should be in writing is, frankly, taking us back to the horse and cart. That is very important.

Thirdly, government Ministers do not have to employ an army of special advisers to advise them on the best way of doing the Labour Party down. I am sure that there are behavioural scientists who advise the Government on how people respond to government correspondence. They know exactly what happens when you take a certain action. If you stick to the writing, rather than going electronic, you are just encouraging the destruction of the funding of the Labour Party.

Nobody has more interest than this side of the House in getting political funding reform, I can tell you. But as we said in the debate, we want to make sure that this is a fair package which is agreed. If you do not, it will be open warfare in the future and your individual donations will be under attack—

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords—

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: Yes, I know. I am getting there. I am quite entitled to make my points, as the amendment has been moved. I do not intend to say much during the debate, but those points needed to be made.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe: My Lords, I propose that we adjourn and that I answer the questions that have been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Stoneham, when we discuss the amendment after next.

Lord Collins of Highbury: Okay. In the light of those comments, I will withdraw the amendment, as long as I can then interrupt the Minister in the next group.

Amendment 57 withdrawn.

Amendments 58 to 64 not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.31 pm.


Question for Short Debate

7.31 pm

Asked by Lord Young of Cookham

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to promote cycling as a safe means of transport.

Lord Young of Cookham (Con): My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to promote the cause of cycling and am grateful to noble Lords for postponing their evening meal to take part. I welcome the Minister who is to reply, and commend in particular the work of his colleague Robert Goodwill, who holds the cycling brief at the department and sets a fine example by travelling on two wheels whenever he can.

On 11 July 1975, more than 40 years ago, I initiated a debate on cycling in the other place. The Minister who replied was Denis Howell—the Sports Minister—indicating that the then Government regarded cycling primarily as a form of recreation. I presented him with a cyclists’ charter: a bicycle unit in his department; cycle lanes through the Royal Parks; proficiency courses for children; a requirement that in all new developments provision should be made to encourage the cyclist by separating his journey from that of the motorist; the identification of cycle-priority routes; mileage allowances for cyclists; and better provision for bicycles on trains by British Rail, with more covered parking spaces at stations. My suggestions were either summarily dismissed —such as the cycle allowance, the bicycle unit in the department and the directives to British Rail—or described by the Minister as “interesting”. This was before “Yes Minister” but, as a former civil servant myself, I knew that by “interesting” he meant absurd.

The very first point he made was that cycling was dangerous, and I am afraid that coloured his whole response. As it was dangerous, he thought we should be careful before encouraging it. But that argument should be stood on its head. Cycling of itself is a benign and safe activity. On health, environmental, energy conservation and congestion grounds, it should be encouraged by making it safer by, among other things, reducing the interface with danger, primarily traffic.

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Safety is of course important, as the title of this debate implies, but the Minister reminded the all-party group last week that cycling in London is in fact no more dangerous than walking in London and, crucially, cycling becomes safer as the numbers increase and the terms of trade begin to change.

In the intervening decades since that debate, enormous progress has been made by Administrations of all colours, thanks to the Cyclists’ Touring Club, the all-party group, Sustrans and many others. Despite the tight-fitting lycra suit of public expenditure constraint, during the past five years the Government have invested more in cycling than any previous Government. As noble friend said yesterday, investment has risen from £2 per head to about £6.

The Infrastructure Act requires the Government to produce a cycling and walking investment strategy, with money allocated on the same basis—though not, sadly, in the same quantity—as for rail, main road and motorways. The Minister told us yesterday it would be published in the summer. Can he more precise, and will that be the draft or the final document?

We have a long way to go, and I want to play my modest part in the upper House, where the press has promoted me from the bicycling baronet to the pedalling Peer, to press for further action until we have reached the situation in Holland, which I regard as the cyclist’s Utopia. In the Netherlands, 27% of journeys are by bicycle, compared with 2% here. I am conscious that we need to overcome a disadvantage for which the Almighty is responsible—namely, on the third day, when He said, “Let the dry land appear”, it appeared flat in Holland but hilly in Britain. However, the introduction of multi-geared bicycles and, indeed, the growing popularity of electric bicycles can help to neutralise this handicap.

I visited Holland with other noble Lords in April 2009 and it made a deep impression. For the Dutch, cycling is like walking, but on wheels. In other words, it is done in ordinary clothes, without sweat, by the same people who walk. Here, by contrast, cycling is predominantly male, white, youngish, fast and often in cycling gear. It will take time for this cultural shift to take place, until more people use their feet for journeys up to say half a mile; the bicycle for longer journeys, of up to, say, three or four miles; and then public transport or a car for longer journeys. Nearly everyone in this country can ride a bicycle and there are bicycles in most households. After school, college or university, however, two wheels are abandoned, and resumed only if the Tube drivers or tanker drivers go on strike. I commend the CTC bike revival project to get disused bikes in garages back on the road—the two-wheel version of “bring out your dead”—and I hope it can be expanded.

As I said, this cultural change will take time; it will be decades before we catch up with the Dutch. However, noble Lords can and do help to promote this change. As more people see Peers, Ministers, judges, generals, Permanent Secretaries—even, dare I say, bishops—cycling to work, it helps promote this form of transport. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that regular cyclists live an extra two years.

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How can the Government promote this change? When I first took an interest in cycling, segregation of cyclists was seen by many cyclists as a threat to their entitlement to use the road as equals, making them second-class citizens. Having been to Holland, however, I see separate provision as a key part of the change we need. I welcome the superhighways now being built by the Mayor of London and similar initiatives in other towns and cities. Where separate provision is not practical, we need measures to reduce the interface with other traffic and make it safer.

I have a modest shopping list for the Minister, hoping for a warmer response than the one I got from Denis Howell. We need more high-quality, protected cycle lanes on roads with large traffic volumes or high speeds—lanes that are physically separate from cars and pedestrians. We need more segregated routes through parks, and alongside canals and railway lines. We need cycle paths and designated routes that reflect popular journeys. We need to give real thought to how these dedicated routes and paths interface with main roads at junctions. We need to integrate cycling better with public transport, and encourage more employers to make it easier for employees who live nearby to cycle to work.

We should build on the Safe Routes to School initiative, pioneered by Sustrans. In the Netherlands, 45% of primary school children and 75% of secondary school children cycle to school. Here, the figures are 1% and 2%. I welcome the £50 million allocated to Bikeability in December for training in schools, and hope the Minister will liaise with colleagues in DfE and local government to promote safer journeys to school. I recognise that parents are rightly cautious about letting their children cycle to school unless they are satisfied that it is safe for them to do so.

The Government can give clear guidance on the designing of new roads. At the moment there is a confusing plethora of design guidance notes which are contradictory and lead to poor outcomes. Excellent standards have been developed by Transport for London and the Government should follow that example. Planning policy can ensure that all new developments are cycle-friendly.

We need to introduce a new generation of lorries, from whose cabs drivers can see all around them, as with new buses. The Government can give a lead here by specifying the use of these safer lorries by Highways England, the HS2 rail project and other publicly funded infrastructure investment. The City of London is already leading the way in this respect.

One of the messages that Robert Goodwill left with the APPG was that many decisions on cycling have been devolved to local authorities. I have no quarrel with that, but it underlines the need for local, as well as national, champions. There needs to be at least one active councillor on each local authority who is a standard-bearer for the cyclist and who can ensure, among other things, that the pothole fund helps the cyclist as well as the motorist.

I am conscious that, in earlier exchanges on this subject, the cycling fraternity has met some headwind from some noble Lords who have had unfortunate experiences with cyclists. A minority of cyclists give us

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all a bad name by flouting the

Highway Code

and the law. I am no friend of theirs. I am relaxed if the lights turn red because I like to stop and get my breath back. But the antagonism between cyclists and motorists can be overdone. Many cyclists are also motorists: 80% have driving licences and 18% of AA members cycle. All motorists, if not cyclists themselves, have family or friends who are. Like the farmer and the cowman in “Oklahoma!”, the cyclist and the motorist should be friends, having a common interest in making safe and sensible use of the road space where they share it.

Much more needs to be done and other noble Lords will make the case, but I end by quoting what the Prime Minister, who has called for a cycling revolution, said in the Government’s vision document for the cycling and walking investment strategy. The vision was,

“to create an environment which encourages walking and cycling, where cycling and walking is the norm for short journeys or as part of a longer journey. Our ambition is for streets and public places which support walking and cycling”.

That admirable vision needs to be backed by the necessary investment to make this form of transport safer and more popular. It needs to be dynamised by more ambitious targets than the modest ones currently adopted by government, and it needs to be achieved by a genuine partnership with the many people who want to see two wheels realise their true potential in a 21st century transport system.

7.41 pm

Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords, the House is incredibly lucky to have the noble Lord, Lord Young, free to talk about one of his favourite subjects. As he said, he has been banging on about cycling for 40 years. It was more difficult when he held different posts in the other place, but his speech demonstrated what a passionate supporter of cycling he is. He is one of the founders of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, of which I remain secretary. We heard some very good ideas from him, covering all kinds of needs for cycling. I add one that he missed: I believe that when it rains in Denmark the sequencing of the traffic lights is changed so that cyclists do not get so wet. That is rather a nice idea.

The noble Lord mentioned devolution, which comes up all the time because it is a good idea. It is good that expenditure, design and enthusiasm for cycling is devolved. On the other hand, we have to watch that that is not then an excuse for some local authorities to do nothing. There are still cyclists there. The Government need to make sure that their intentions, whatever they are, get carried out.

Devolution—we could almost call it “ducking responsibility”—has been an issue ever since the noble Lord, Lord Young, first spoke on cycling in 1975. It carried on in 1993 in a debate in this House, when the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who sadly is not here this evening, made similar statements about the need for local authorities to recognise cyclists’ needs. He hoped that it,

“would lead to more widespread action to improve facilities … which … would encourage more people to cycle”.—[

Official Report

, 21/4/1993; cols. 1677.]

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In his response, the then Minister said that most people cycled on local roads—I feel that he was trying to say, “It doesn’t matter very much because that’s for the local authority”—and that expenditure priorities should remain a matter for local decisions. We have heard that before.

As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, things are improving. In 2013, the all-party group published a document called Get Britain Cycling following an inquiry. Probably almost uniquely, when it was debated in the Commons Chamber it received an unopposed vote of support, which I thought indicated that the Members of Parliament thought that this was a good idea that needed supporting. It said that investment in cycling should be £10 per person per year. In response to a question yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said that it is currently around £6. Of course, that is a great increase on what we have seen before, but it does not link in with what the Cyclists’ Touring Club says. Its figure is more like £1.39 per person outside London. We know that London has some wonderful investment going in and that is really good, but when the Minister replies will he give some explanation of what the £6 covers and where it comes from? Many Ministers have given this figure, which is a really good one. It is not £10, but £6 is better than £1, or £2, or £3. Where does it come from, who will spend it, and on what? Is it ring-fenced to local authorities? Could they spend it on roads or footpaths? I conclude by comparing it to a headline today relating to a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs which says that each family in this country is paying £150 per year in taxes for railways. Divide that by the number of children in a family and it is an awful lot more than £6. Maybe at some stage the Minister can tell us what the equivalent figure is for roads. I look forward to his answers.

7.46 pm

Lord Taverne (LD): My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for raising this question, because this House does not seem to like cyclists. Some noble Lords hate cyclists and seem to object to their very existence. Every time the subject is raised at Question Time, some Peer will almost explode at their experience of the terrible behaviour of some cyclist that they have witnessed. Others complain about special separated cycle lanes blocking the road at the expense of space for cars, and generally about the inconvenience they cause to those invariably well-behaved, law-abiding, environment-enhancing motorists.

I remember at one Question Time, when the Question was on safety after another young woman had been crushed to death by a heavy lorry, the majority of follow-up questions were complaints about cyclists talking on their mobiles. Of course there are cyclists who are rude and who break traffic laws. Their behaviour is to be deplored. But do car drivers never behave rudely, break traffic laws and talk on their mobiles? At least cyclists do not kill people.

My wife and I gave up our car in 1974. We could do so because we live in central London. It was a liberation: no worry about finding a parking place or about drinking if you go out to dinner—as long as you do not get drunk so you are not safe on a bike. There was no more sitting exasperated in traffic jams, or arriving

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late or even missing meetings because you could not find a taxi. By bike you can get where you want to be on time and you do not suffer the annoyance of discovering someone has dented or scratched your car.

Cycling, even in London, enhances life’s pleasures. You can look around you as you travel about wonderful London. Fellow cyclists, even policemen, talk to you at traffic lights. Beautiful days make it a pleasure to be out in the open. On rainy days you are snug in your rain gear while cars are snarled up in traffic jams and public transport is unpleasantly overcrowded. It helps to keep you fit, and, not least, we improve the environment: we reduce congestion and air pollution. So, for very good reasons, our family motto is, “Two wheels good, four wheels bad”.

Safety? My wife and I have each had one relatively minor accident in more than 40 years. A comparison on an actuarial basis done some 10 years ago showed that for every life-year lost through accidents, 20 are gained through improved health. Since then, the ratio will have improved because the more, the merrier, as the noble Lord said: the more people cycle, the more the proportion killed or injured falls. Increasing the number of cyclists is probably the best thing we can do to improve safety. So, nationally, let us disregard the perverse view common in this House and follow the example set by the Danes and the Dutch: we have a lot to learn from them.

7.50 pm

Viscount Craigavon (CB): My Lords, I am grateful to my fellow pedalling Peer and old friend the noble Lord, Lord Young. I think the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, will provide the headwind that we have missed so far in this debate.

First, I declare my interest as a frequent cyclist, as well as a motorcyclist on a 125 and an infrequent motorist, so I speak from that rounded perspective in full support of the cause of two wheels. I have been involved with the parliamentary cycling group for many years, although I am no longer in the front line; it should be congratulated on what has been achieved in the last Parliament and to date, in conjunction with the Times in particular and the many cyclist lobbying groups.

We should not forget the generosity and example of the Dutch, whose embassy every year sponsors, with hospitality, an annual bicycle ride from their embassy to Parliament during Bike Week. As has been said, we were told yesterday at Question Time that we are awaiting the Government’s summer report on the distribution of the £300 million during this Parliament. I understand that more than £120 million has already been promised for particular worthy causes, which does not leave much for the rest of the period to 2020, especially when much is likely to be London-centric.

I realise it is easy to ask for more money, and that can be justified, but, as we know, there is no simple, silver bullet to deal with the worthy but diffuse demands of cycling. While I regard leisure or recreational cycling as valuable, I believe that the majority of our efforts should be on city or commuter cycling, but I realise that, surprisingly, rural cycling is significantly more dangerous than urban. I mention some caution on that without, I hope, being negative.

10 Feb 2016 : Column 2303

I support dedicated cycleways, but we all know of some minor routes that have simply not been thought through or linked up as part of a wider picture, and sometimes the larger schemes are too intrusive on other users. We have witnessed locally, in Westminster, the roadworks necessary to effect the cross-London route along the Victoria Embankment and past Parliament. There, to provide segregated cycle paths, some considerable inconvenience may, in future, be caused to motorists where a heavily-used, two-lane route is effectively being changed into a one-lane channel for cars from which, in parts, no escape is possible, because the cycle area has been physically separated. As has been said, what if any vehicle breaks down, acting as a block for those behind?

I understand if motorists’ frustration builds up when the neighbouring cycle lanes appear to be very underused. This is particularly so at off-peak times, when they can be particularly sparse. Around and near Parliament Square, it appears that two lanes are now being filtered into one, to allow so-called proper bicycle approaches to junctions. I am reminded of the dedicated bus and taxi lane some years ago alongside the M4 approach to the Chiswick flyover in London. Queueing motorists, in their frustration, could not believe the oft-asserted rationale for such a sparsely used lane and in the end, after some time, that pressure gave way to common sense and the lane was abandoned.

In the case of cycles, it may be hoped that simply by provision, use will expand. I just hope that the level of frustration at such pinch points in these new schemes does not reach crisis point and serve to aggravate the sometimes fractious relations between motorists and cyclists. I believe that it is not always a case of, “Two wheels good, four wheels bad”.

On a related matter, also being a motorist, I understand the arguments but have never been convinced about the widespread use of 20 mph zones: why not 15 mph or 25 mph? Also, the 30 mph limit has never been universally or properly enforced. I realise that the justification is for pedestrians as well as cyclists, but I hope that cycling does not get the blame.

Finally in this short debate, there are no universal answers to very diffuse issues, but I hope there will be more central co-ordination as to how cycling should be supported, perhaps guided by the Government with financial support. For me, the best hope in the longer term is a change of attitude to one of more genuine respect for cyclists, as seen in Denmark and Holland.

7.55 pm

Lord Freeman (Con): My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham for securing this debate. His example, originally as the bicycling baronet and now as the cycling Peer, is much to be admired. I am sure he must have influenced the leader of the Opposition in the other place, and perhaps the current Health Secretary, whom one frequently sees on the television astride a bicycle.

I want, first, to talk about safety. Eight cyclists were killed in vehicle collisions in London last year. That is eight tragedies for the families and friends of those

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cyclists and eight casualties too many. We have had nationally, on average, more than 100 deaths per annum in the last decade, and that is far too many. I am concerned as a parent of a child who travels five miles by bicycle to work each day on crowded roads. I know that my wife and I literally pray for a safe completion of each journey. I think all cycle deaths are tragedies for families.

I want to mention three issues very briefly. The first concerns the equipment that cyclists should ensure that they have: a helmet, proper lights and luggage storage. This is not observed by many cyclists. It is not part of the law and anyone who has travelled by car in traffic in London, and who can see cyclists without those elementary precautions to protect themselves, must be concerned. In particular, the experiment launched by the current Mayor of London, the so-called Boris bikes, has presented a problem. There is no warning to visitors, many visitors who use those bikes are not wearing helmets and at night the bicycles do not always have proper lighting. There should be a warning before those cycles are rented and it should be a condition of operation of sites that helmets are provided.

The second issue concerns drivers. It should be a condition of the award of a driving licence that the potential driver is aware of good practice in relation to cyclists on the roads. As for heavy goods vehicles, the design regulations for cabs, in particular, which were agreed by the European Parliament in 2015, are not due to come into operation until 2022, I understand—perhaps the Minister could confirm this. That is too long. We need urgent action to prescribe nearside mirrors or electronic warning.

The third issue concerns street design on new roads. I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Young: I understand that the Dutch experience allows traffic lights to provide a unique opportunity for cyclists and pedestrians to cross the road together. That is a very sensible initiative, which I very much hope the department will consider.

Finally, the Conservative manifesto of 2015 talked about doubling cycling in this country and pledged £200 million for safer journeys. I hope the Minister will comment on progress on these two promises.

7.59 pm

Lord Scott of Foscote (CB): My Lords, I, too, add my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, for promoting this debate. I agree with everything that has been said but I must declare my own interest in cycling. I have used a bicycle in London for many years, mainly to get from my flat in Camden to my place of work. Originally it was Lincoln’s Inn, then the Royal Courts of Justice, and for the last few years it has been the Palace of Westminster. So I come and go on my bicycle, and every now and again, something happens and I fall off. It is always a lesson, because it is nearly always my fault—I have not seen a hole in the road, or something of that sort.

The question is on what action the Government should take to promote cycling as a safe means of transport. I do not think that this is a matter for the Government. Cycling will never be absolutely safe; not many things in life are. The rider can take many

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more steps than the Government can to ensure his or her safety. He can, as has been said, make sure that his bicycle is in good condition and that if it is dark he has functioning front and rear lights. When I bicycle in London I always wear a highly-coloured fluorescent overshirt thing—I do not know what the right name for it is. It is an appalling-looking garment but at least it makes me visible.

Two other things that strike me as important are that the cyclist should have good eyesight and good hearing. Your eyes protect you against dangers in front of you and your ears protect you, to a large extent, against dangers coming up behind you that you can hear. Many cyclists in London, particularly the young, wear earphones so that they can listen to music while they cycle. I am sure that that is fun for them and makes their journey more enjoyable, but it is highly dangerous. If you cannot hear what is coming up behind you, you are not making use of one of your important senses. But there it is; I suspect that they know this. One can always see what is coming towards one and can take appropriate steps and ought to be able to hear what is coming up behind—motorbikes in particular make a huge noise and often come very close.

This debate asks the Government to take action to promote safe cycling. I do not know that it is their job. I think that it is the job of cyclists to look after their own safety and to take the steps that are necessary for that purpose. They should ensure, as has already been said, that their bicycle is in good condition. They would be well advised to wear clothes that cover their arms and legs with material that will protect them against grazing when, as may always happen, they fall on to the tarmacadam. If these precautions are taken, the risk from riding a bicycle in London will reduce to an acceptable point.

There will always be some risk: there is some risk in practically anything that one does that is fun. But I have found bicycling in London, from Camden to the Inns of Court, the Royal Courts of Justice and the Palace of Westminster, highly enjoyable and a very convenient method of travel. There is some risk, and there always will be—but it has to be measured and for my part, I enjoy the experience and I would not want to stop it.

8.04 pm

The Earl of Caithness (Con): My Lords, I declare an interest as a bicyclist. I cycled to my local village school when I was a boy and I have been cycling in London for many years. I remember cycling around Hyde Park Corner before there were traffic lights—that was a hazardous business at the best of times. I am also a motorist, so I fulfil the criteria that my noble friend who introduced this good debate mentioned of somebody who might be able to take a slightly wider perspective.

We undoubtedly have a lot to learn from the Dutch and the Danes and I agree with much of what has been suggested. But I follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, in saying that this is not solely a matter for the Government, or for local government. It is also a matter for cycling groups and cyclists themselves. It would be a massive step forward if some

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of the cycle groups acknowledged that they have a problem which they have to face up to. My noble friend Lord Freeman mentioned some of the basic elements.

I used to travel a lot on the Underground but since my accident I go more often by car as a passenger. I am horrified by the bicycle chase down Victoria Embankment at rush hour. Mixed up in some very sensible bicyclists are a whole lot of mad ones texting, wearing earphones, listening to music, not concentrating and not riding in the bicycle lane but swerving across the middle lane. They are a real hazardous menace. The Government’s policy must suit all road users, not just one type. If bicyclists and bicycle groups would acknowledge that they have a problem to sort out, a lot of us would be much happier.

In mentioning that policy must be made for all road users, it is interesting to note that in Kensington Gardens one of the paths that bicyclists use has been dug up and had cobbles put in the middle. I presume that this is a bicycle-traffic calming measure. I say “presume” because there was nobody in the Royal Parks office this afternoon when I rang and the duty manager refused to talk to me—but I will follow that up separately.

Having spent the recent past in a wheelchair, I can say that cobbles are a nightmare. Kensington Gardens is one of my favourite walks. When I walk here with my wife, as I often do, we go down that path. If she is pushing me in a wheelchair, it will be a nightmare; it will be hard to push and it will be pretty darn uncomfortable for me. If they are cycle-calming measures, they have not been properly thought through—and nor have the interests of everyone else who uses that path been taken into account.

I want to hear from the Minister. As so much has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, and my noble friend Lord Freeman, I will terminate my remarks. I just plead once again for the cycle groups to be more realistic and not just say it is always somebody else’s fault.

8.07 pm

Baroness Flather (CB): My Lords, I thought that I would be the only one to say that it is also the responsibility of cyclists to look after themselves. They should also take care of other road users, who should take care of them, too.

I am very lucky to have a driver. Often when driving in London, having come from Maidenhead, where I live, we have one or two shocks from cyclists doing things that are totally unacceptable. I know that everybody says it is the few, but while this may be so, it is the few motorists, the few cyclists and the few pedestrians who cause problems for everybody else. It is very common to see cyclists who do not give hand signals. That is not unusual at all. I have had cyclists overtake my car when we are trying to turn right, we have signalled and there is nothing coming from the other side, so it is to be expected that we would want to turn right. Okay, we are careful. We do not knock them down. But it is important that they follow the same rules. They often do not stop for red lights. They need to follow the same rules as we do.

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I wrote to the mayor about it and he talked about some kind of training programme. I do not know whether it would be voluntary or compulsory. I think that it should be compulsory for all cyclists in a big city such as London, because everybody needs to know what they should and should not be doing, and what makes things dangerous for them and for other road users.

8.10 pm

Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, I take my inspiration this evening from my former colleague Julian Huppert, who was largely responsible for the Get Britain Cycling report.

The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, referred to Holland. Last year I went to northern Italy. There is some true inspiration to be found there. I was at Lake Garda and the image of a man cycling up an Alp—a gradient of eye-watering proportions—while talking to his mate on his mobile phone will stay with me for a long time. But what was more impressive was the city of Parma. It has a medieval heart but it is a heavy industrial city with lots of big lorries, and it is a city in which cycling, motoring and walking are fully integrated. People of all ages coexist at junctions—on Italian roads. I commend it. I do not know why the people of Parma have cracked this and we cannot, but they have.

I will talk briefly about funding. There is a real problem at the moment with the Local Sustainable Transport Fund coming to an end and the access fund coming into being from 2016. The Minister and I had an exchange about the amount of money yesterday but the key problem is that the staff employed by local authorities to teach cycle safety to children, but also at weekends to adults, are likely to be lost because of the uncertainty of funding from March this year. As a woman who after 30 years of inactivity got back on a bike, it was going along to my local authority training scheme that gave me the confidence to get back on a bike and to cycle in London.

It is not that there are not sources of funding. There are lots of different pots of money. There is the Highways England cycling fund, Bikeability, the cycle city ambition grants, the access fund and the Local Growth Fund. What there is not is any clarity about how they all fit together and how local authorities can best access them. I wonder whether the Minister can give some clarity on that.

Secondly, will the Minister accept that for those local authorities, particularly outside London, that really do want to make progress on this, getting access to top design and to information about what works is very important, particularly these days when local authority budgets are stretched? Although there are good examples—TfL and the Welsh Assembly have come up with really good designs—getting national guidelines that would bring down the cost of implementing good design and good practice around the country is quite difficult for local authorities. I wonder whether across the many government departments that have responsibility for this there might be some joined-up thinking.

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I agree with the many noble Lords who have said that it is only when people feel safe that they will cycle. In some cases that means bringing in dedicated cycle lanes. In some cases that is not possible and it is about ensuring that cyclists, HGV drivers and car drivers all understand how best to preserve the safety of everybody on the roads.

Following the Olympics, we really do have a legacy for cycling in this country. We have the ability to make a small investment that will reap great rewards, not least for the National Health Service in terms of the health gain that will come from it. All we need from this Government is a bit of joined-up funding and leadership to enable those local authorities that want to work on this to do so, and to take inspiration so that we can continue to beat the Italians at the Olympics.

8.14 pm

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, on securing this debate.

The number of pedal cycle deaths a year currently stands at 113 and has remained between 104 and 118 since 2008. The most recent annual figure for the number of pedal cyclists killed or seriously injured stands at 3,514, which was an 8% rise on the previous year. Those figures on fatalities and serious injuries also need to be looked at in the context that the most recent annual figures show that, while 36% of cyclists cycled mainly on the roads, 28% cycled mainly on pavements, cycle paths or lanes; 22% mainly off the roads, such as in parks; and 13% on a variety of surfaces. Thus a considerable percentage of cyclists are cycling mainly in an environment that one would not normally associate with posing a considerable potential risk of either fatalities or serious injuries to cyclists.

The Government have said that they will reduce the number of cyclist fatalities each year—by how many? What is the target reduction in the number of such fatalities against which the Government, and we, can judge the success or otherwise of their policies on safer cycling? How much do the Government intend to invest each year specifically on cycling safety improvements as opposed to general road safety improvements benefiting all road users?

The Government have said that they are committed to creating,

“an environment which encourages cycling and where cycling, along with walking, is the norm for short journeys or as part of a longer journey”.

The Government intend to bring forward a cycling and walking investment strategy in England, with publication scheduled for the summer, following public consultation. Can the Minister say to what extent this investment strategy will address improving safety for cyclists and thus promoting cycling as a safe means of transport?

The value of improving safety is considerable, not just in financial terms but, perhaps rather more importantly, in human terms. When I was on the police service parliamentary scheme, I spent a day with the traffic police. Part of the day was spent at the scene of a

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cycling fatality in central London, where an adult male cyclist had ended up under the wheels of a lorry. Identification was found on the cyclist, including a photograph of, I believe, two young children. As one of the officers said to me, it was going to be a heart-breaking moment for his family when they were told what had happened, but also a very difficult moment for the officer who had to go to the home address and break the news.

A Department for Transport paper, Infrastructure and Cyclist Safety, stated that,

“Of all interventions to increase cycle safety, the greatest benefits come from reducing motor vehicle speeds”.

The paper identified the potential benefits of segregated networks for cyclists but also noted evidence that,

“cyclists may be exposed to heightened risk where cycle networks intersect the general highway network”.

Do the Government have a view on what measures give best value for money in terms of improving cycling safety, and will the cycling investment strategy to be published in the summer address this question?

I am sure that we all welcome the increase in the number of cyclists and the number of journeys being made on a pedal cycle. But as the title of the debate implies, one of the biggest boosts to cycle usage will be to take measures to increase the public’s perception of cycling as a safe means of transport.

8.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport and Home Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, I join all other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Young—a former Secretary of State for Transport—for securing this debate and bringing forward a very important issue, which is a key priority for this Government. As he and other noble Lords acknowledged, this is something that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has often talked about. I join my noble friend Lord Young in acknowledging the words and indeed the actions of my colleague at the Department for Transport, my honourable friend Robert Goodwill. Robert is one of those people who not only cycles but puts other Ministers to shame by taking the stairs to the fifth floor at the DfT. We all live in awe of him and I suppose, like others, would seek to emulate him.

During this debate, we have also been on a journey across Europe. I am reminded of many of my early travels to the subcontinent. If you go across the likes of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, I still do not know how cars manage to avoid hitting each other, but within that traffic were many cyclists who had a great knack of avoiding such collisions. I raise that point not just for a lighter moment but to reflect that cycling is a mode of travel important to people’s livelihoods and to the economy.

This Government want to make this country a walking and cycling nation—a place where people routinely make short journeys or stages of longer journeys by walking or cycling. We have a vision of streets that support safe cycling and walking. We are seeing this in some of our cities, with an increasing number of people who choose to incorporate these activities into their lifestyle. As several noble Lords

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pointed out, they already do so elsewhere, in the Netherlands and Denmark to name but two countries, and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out, in Italy as well.

To help us realise this vision, we have introduced, as noble Lords have acknowledged, a statutory obligation to produce and update a cycling and walking investment strategy. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, noted, after consultation this will be introduced in the summer. I can confirm that it will be not a draft but a final version of the Government’s strategy in this respect. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that, without prejudging the full contents of what is as yet an unpublished document, safety will be a key feature of this strategy.

I shall outline some of the initiatives that the Government have taken forward. Britain’s roads, as we all acknowledge, are amongst the safest in Europe, but the Government, and indeed others, are not complacent and we can and will do more. Despite this, there is a perception, as we have heard from various noble Lords, that cycling is less safe than it actually is. Looking at 2014, there was one cyclist death for every 34 billion miles travelled. This is fairly comparable with walking, which sees one person killed for every 39 billion miles.

Notwithstanding these statistics—and we can talk about statistics—I totally subscribe to the point that one cyclist death is one too many. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked for an ambition and a target. I cannot give him a percentage figure, because I think that would be the wrong approach—we want to see the eradication of all cycling deaths. Working in partnership with different parties, including local government in London and in other cities, we want to eradicate cycle deaths altogether. That is an ambition that the Government or indeed anybody need to set themselves. I emphasis to noble Lords that the death of any person on the road, whether a cyclist or not, is one death too many.

The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, talked about “Two wheels good, four wheels bad”. When he was talking in those terms, I was reminded, as a father of three children, that when it comes to bicycles my family use four wheels, three wheels and two wheels: two wheels for my daughter, who is 10, four wheels for my son who is three and a half—two plus two with the training wheels makes four; I am reasonably good at maths—and three wheels for a tricycle. That represents the generations that embrace cycling. Perhaps there is a lesson that I can learn from my own children. I count myself as one of those who is probably embracing cycling in the teaching of it by ensuring that my children learn to cycle.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out the importance of education and training. I was a beneficiary of the cycling proficiency tests offered in schools. I am delighted that the Government continue to support it and have recognised it through additional funding of the £50 million for the Bikeability scheme.

As we all recognise, cycling is a form of transport that has positive benefits for the health of the cyclist, for the environment and for the economy. The cycling economy is worth £2.5 billion per annum and 23,000 people are directly employed in bicycle sales. Every year 3 million bicycles are sold in the United Kingdom.

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I assure your Lordships, in particular my noble friend Lord Young, that the Government are fully committed to creating and promoting a safe environment for all road users, including cyclists. As I have set out, achieving this vision is by no means straightforward. I acknowledge and align myself to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, as well as my noble friend Lord Caithness, that this is not just about the Government but that the Government have a key role. The strategy is part of that and involves manufacturers of technology, the police and, as noble Lords have pointed out, cyclists themselves. Lighting on bikes is important. Visibility jackets also help.

The Government are continuing to provide investment to promote the take-up of cycling. In 2010, for every person in this country £2 was spent supporting cycling; spending on cycling is currently £6 per person. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked me specifically for a breakdown of the figures vis-à-vis the £1.39 that he cited. I shall write to him on that. This is a mixture of commitments from central government but also contributions reflecting the priority that local authorities are giving to this issue. There was mention that this may be London-centric, but when we look across the country we see that cycling ambition cities include Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich and Oxford.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement committed us to investing over £300 million to cycling and walking programmes over the life of this Parliament. This includes £114 million for delivering the Cycle City Ambition programme in full and the £50 million to which I have already alluded for the Bikeability programme. I take on board and will take back the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, as to further clarity. The moneys are often there and it is about finding the best route of sourcing those moneys.

Talking of funding, other sources of long-term funding include £580 million for a new access fund for sustainable transport that the noble Baroness mentioned. That includes £80 million of revenue funding and £500 million of capital funding through the Local Growth Fund. This means everyone who wishes to can invest up to £10 per head in cycling, as these cycling ambition cities are showing. We also know that local enterprise partnerships are already doing a lot to deliver better facilities for cycling and walking, investing over £500 million of the £4 billion allocated to transport so far.

In the mean time, my department continues to oversee the delivery of existing programmes. I have talked about the cycling ambition cities. We are also investing over £200 million to deliver cycling networks including, as noble Lords have suggested, the Dutch model—Dutch-style segregated cycle lanes—in Cambridge and new strategic routes in Greater Manchester. Elsewhere, Highways England’s cycling strategy, launched in January 2016, outlines its plans to provide a safer, integrated and more accessible strategic road network for cyclists and other vulnerable road users. This includes investing £100 million in 200 cycling schemes between now and 2021.

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I have mentioned the role of local authorities, and we have heard today about different initiatives that can be taken. They have the flexibility to introduce 20 miles per hour limits. Since 2011, all English local authorities have been able to provide Trixi mirrors at road junctions to make cyclists more visible to drivers and to install “No entry except cycles” signing to facilitate contraflow cycling.

The department has also been working on revising the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, which will introduce a number of improvements to help local authorities provide for cycling. We have also seen these on our travels. My department has worked with TfL and other local authorities to use some of them ahead of new regulations coming into force—I refer to cycle boxes. Local authorities have also been given guidance to help them to design good schemes within current legislation through Local Transport Note 2/08, which includes best practice highlighted by noble Lords.

There are many schemes under way. I mentioned Bikeability training and education. As we have heard from this debate, this is evolving. Our strategy will underline the importance that this Government attach to cycling. We shall work across the board and, as the strategy comes to fruition, we want to share good practices and ideas—I invite noble Lords to do so—to ensure that we do create that kind of environment that we all desire.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the TfL Safer Lorry Scheme. Again, we need to learn lessons from such initiatives that can be shared as we go down the route of devolution. I believe devolved authorities can share and learn, and such practices should be shared across the board.

Finally, I turn to a point that has been raised in previous debates and was raised today by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and my noble friend Lord Caithness. Although the majority of cyclists are law-abiding, we recognise there is a proportion who do not obey the laws, for example by cycling without lights or in a dangerous manner or by disobeying traffic signals. This type of behaviour represents a danger to pedestrians and other road users but also to the cyclists themselves. The enforcement of traffic laws is an important part of protecting the safety of all road users.

This has been a very informed, passionate and valuable debate. In my contribution, I hope I have illustrated that the Government see promoting cycling as a safe means of transport as an important issue. With the actions the Government have taken in the past and those through which we continue to build on that, please be assured that the Government are committed to focusing our efforts to promote cycling as a healthy, safe and enjoyable activity for people of all ages.

Trade Union Bill

Bill Main Page

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

8.31 pm

Amendment 65

Moved by Lord Campbell-Savours

65: Clause 10, page 6, line 44, at end insert—

10 Feb 2016 : Column 2313

“(1A) A trade union must make available to a member who has given an opt-in notice under section 84 (contributions to political fund from members of the union) a form enabling that member to claim tax relief on their contribution to the union’s political fund.

(1B) Any member who fills out and returns a form under subsection (1A) to a trade union shall be granted tax relief on his or her contribution to the union’s political fund.”

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, Amendment 65 is on the question of tax relief on the trade union levy. This is not the first time that I have raised this issue in this House. I first raised it on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill in 2014. On that occasion, I sought to insert into the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 a new section which provided tax relief on small donations to any political party, and the response of Ministers was to point to the stalled inter-party talks on political funding and the need to find a consensus. There had been seven discussions on political funding, culminating in no reform and a Statement in July 2013 from the Deputy Prime Minister in the last Parliament, in which he said,

“it is now clear that reforms cannot go forward in this Parliament”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 4/7/13; col. 62WS.]

That Statement effectively blocked off any sensible discussion on the issue that I wish to raise today of tax relief on the trade union political levy.

I am arguing today that the political levy should be paid out of pre-tax income and not post-tax income. I have to admit that there is some confusion as to whether the levy, as it currently stands, is in or out. My latest advice is that it is out of net income, whatever the circumstance. I am seeking a standardised practice among all trade unions. The proposal I make is built on the gift aid scheme, which applies to donations to charities. I argue that there is much in the work of trade unions which is essentially charitable, as is the case with much of the work carried out by political parties.

In reality, the political levy, per member, is quite small—very often in the region of £10 per member or less. It would therefore be for the convenience of all concerned if the opt-in notice included the application for tax relief on the levy, signed by the applicant member concerned. It would be even more helpful to the whole administrative process if trade unions could opt to have group submissions to HMRC on behalf of each of their members, thereby avoiding the burden for both the Revenue—I keep referring to the Revenue, as I am very old-fashioned on these matters—and the union of handling the tax relief applications individually.

I suppose it could be argued that a very small minority of members do not meet the standard rate threshold for the payment of tax. This, I suggest, could be dealt with by a special Revenue concession based on the presumption that the applicant is a basic-rate taxpayer. Otherwise, dealing with such cases would be administratively burdensome. A tax relief on the levy would certainly help incentivise the take-up of opt-in notices. I would like to think that the Government would not be so malevolent as to resist my amendment on the basis that it would be an incentive for the submission of opt-in notices.

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There is a great danger that the change from opt-out to opt-in will reduce the donor base. That should not be the objective. We should all be signing up to the widest possible donor base and making every attempt to foster active forms of political engagement, with money and contributions paid to political parties. That is precisely what President Obama set out to do in America inviting, as he did, a system of mass but smaller donations to his political campaign, as indeed has Mr Bernie Sanders.

Now the Government might again argue the need to resume talks on political funding—that is to say, talks that complement those going on in the special Select Committee currently considering these clauses. I believe we need to break the logjam and begin legislating now. What better to start with than the union levy, which under this Bill is a voluntary contribution to a political party? The breakdown and the inevitable stalemate that followed led to the 2007 review undertaken by Sir Hayden Phillips. It was hoped that this review would lead us out of the impasse but its report indicated only the nature of the problem and did not provide a solution. However, the review did pave the way for further talks between the three main political parties under Hayden Phillips himself. Again, the inevitable happened as the talks broke down in October 2007.

In May 2010, after aborted discussions and a general election, a reference to the problem surfaced in the coalition agreement, where it said:

“We also agree to pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding”.

The coalition agreement was followed in July 2010 by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which re-energised the debate with its 2011 report. The report was accompanied by caveats in the appendices from both Labour and Conservative party representatives. Indeed, we were back on the old merry-go-round, with caps on contributions and trade union donations, and the usual differences and suspicions. Two months later the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee despairingly called for a resolution of the problem to help avoid further party funding scandals, not that that plea had much of an effect.

Then, Mr Francis Maude—now the noble Lord, Lord Maude, at that stage a Minister in the other place—announced a new series of talks. In his statement establishing the talks he said:

“We could also look at how to boost small donations and broaden the support base”,

for the parties. There were seven meetings in 2012 and 2013 which, as I have already explained, predictably collapsed. My amendment does exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Maude, called for in his statement. It seeks to broaden the support base by preserving and boosting small donations, in this case through the machinery of trade union political levies. I beg to move.

Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—which is not something I thought I would hear myself say. To put it in context, I declare my interest as a treasurer of the Conservative Party. Having supported the amendment, I have to say that I do not think the right place for it is in this Bill—this Bill is not

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about party funding but about trade union reform. But I welcome the direction of his remarks. Party funding is a big issue on which, frankly, there will not be much agreement in the near future but there are some very small steps that we can take together—and I have discussed this matter with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, as well. I think there is general consensus about gift aid—or matched funding from government, which is in effect what it is. Part of the reason for my support is not the financial benefit to all parties but to explain to the public and encourage them to understand that supporting a political party is a public duty. It is a good deed. It is something for the benefit of the entire country and community and moves the dial away from people, unions, business and individuals being perceived as bad people who just wish to support a party financially.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD): I said earlier that I would not make many interventions but I was interrupted when I was speaking before dinner. I am not quite sure what procedure we are following here because I thought we were going to have the response to the previous debate after dinner. Are we having a collective here or something?

The Earl of Courtown (Con): A composite.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: It is a composite. Right. Can I just make a couple of small points on this issue?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, perhaps I can just interrupt—I beg the forgiveness of the House. We are dealing with matters that were raised before dinner in the next group.

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: So we are having a debate on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours? That is fine. That is what I was expecting; I just hoped that we were not missing the Minister’s reply.

We are in favour of examining all forms of reform of political donations. The only point I would like to make to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is that I am not quite sure how gift aid would work. Obviously there would be a huge advantage to the Conservative Party with its big donations and the big tax relief it could get on them. That would be a major problem because it would disadvantage the Labour Party and it would disadvantage us. Noble Lords may laugh, but I wondered why the noble Lord was supporting it. I know why. The Conservative Party has worked out that a 40% rebate on £20 million gives it £8 million and the Labour Party’s £15 million gives it £6 million, so the Conservative Party has an advantage of £2 million. These are just rough figures.

Lord Campbell-Savours: I have never done this before: intervening on a speech just after I have spoken. I am being absolutely blunt and frank here. This was the argument I had with my own party when we were dealing with these matters on previous occasions. We should not consider the funding arrangements of other

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political parties. They are not our business. The Tories will always raise the money they need, because they have the donor base. The fact that they may gain from some tax concession should be irrelevant to other political parties which need to raise money. The noble Lord should not worry about what they get; we should be more worried about the funding of our own political parties. If they benefit, it is simply coincidental.

8.45 pm

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: I accept the point that the noble Lord makes, but the key issue is that if we are looking for a fair settlement, we have to do something about the cap on donations. That is the issue. If we are dealing with the political levy, we have to do something about the cap. That is why the Conservatives were worried in the debate the other day, because they know that if they make and pursue an attack, as they are, on the Labour Party and the political levy—I will get a laugh for this, because I know that this Bill is not about political funding of particular parties—it is open season. It is very unfair when they have the generous funds that they already have that they are making it easier for themselves.

We would say, however, that there is plenty of scope here. Let us not forget that there is a lot of political funding currently going on from the state. There is the £40 million spent on the post system during the general election, the Short money, subsidies for party conferences and money for policy development. There is a lot of money currently being spent from government funds on political parties.

The other area where we think we could get money from, if we are not going to allow taxpayers to contribute to political parties, is government political funding for advertising. There is a huge pot of money there, and just a few million pounds of it could contribute to solving this problem. If that is in the form of tax incentives, that is fine, but let us also make sure that we have an equitable resolution of these problems that does not give political advantage to one party or another.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, I say at the outset that we have got ourselves into a bit of a pickle over procedure; I know that the Government Whip is not in his place at the moment. It is rather unusual for the Minister to agree to answer one debate when responding to another. I hope that that does not mean that she will avoid any of the questions raised in the previous debate, however unusual the procedure that has been adopted may be. I also hope that she has found her folder: she told me in the Ladies that she had lost it, and I think that she would struggle to respond to some of the debates without it.

I thank my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for raising this issue, which he did with his usual tenacity and also his usual thoughtfulness. There is merit in discussing this further. Surprisingly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Leigh—although not with his analysis—that this is probably not the right place to debate it. The noble Lord says that the Bill is not about the funding of political parties, but the amendment is about the political levy, which is in the Bill. If the

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amendment affects political parties because it discusses the political levy, so does the Bill—so that is a curious and tortuous reason he gives for not supporting it.

The wider point is that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours highlights why the issue of the political levy, which involves party-political funding and political funding of the work of trade unions, should properly be considered in the round, as it was by the Committee on Standards in Public Life when it looked at the issue. If we consider tax relief on those paying their contribution to the unions’ political funds, that has wider implications. To look at it in isolation from the other issues raised by the Committee on Standards in Public Life is wrong—as we have argued that these two clauses are wrong.

My noble friend highlights the inadequacy of the Bill. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, on one point: there is a debate to be had about whether contributions to political parties or the political levy of a trade union are part of wider civic society and should be recognised as such. I suspect that the Minister feels nervous at the idea that trade unions could be regarded as part of civil society, from her earlier comments, but this should be fed into the overall debate on party-political funding. It is worthy of consideration, but today is probably not when we should be discussing these issues; the proper place would be in a debate on party-political funding.

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 am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for tabling this amendment and sparking this debate. He sought to build an analogy between trade unions and charities. It is, of course, true that unions do philanthropic good, as indeed do many companies. However, having said that, I am afraid that the rules on tax relief on voluntary donations are well established and very clear. They apply to charities. To qualify, an organisation must be recognised as a charity by HMRC and the independent Charity Commission. This tax relief does not apply to money that is used for political purposes.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Leigh that this is not a matter for this Bill. As we have said, it is not about party funding. I am slightly less sure about his direction of travel. I was pleased to have a curtain-raiser from the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, with some of his thoughts on party funding.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that this is not a matter for this debate. I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, when I was called, I was in a little bit of a pickle over procedure because I was quite surprised that my debate came as early as this. I thought I would be waiting another hour or so for it.

I say to the Minister that this proposal has many supporters on her own Benches. When I was tabling my amendments in the Table Office those years ago, I always made sure that they were supported by Conservative Members. The resistance has actually

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always been on my own side, because people felt that if we went down the route of tax relief on donations to political parties, the Conservative Party would be the main beneficiary. It may well be, but it is completely irrelevant. What matters is that we preserve the contribution base and bring hundreds of thousands of new people and individuals into donating to political parties.

The noble Lord, Lord Leigh, and other noble Lords have said this is not the vehicle. It could be the vehicle in so far as the committee that is sitting in parallel, dealing with these matters, could make a recommendation for it. The Chancellor could then consider it in the next Budget. There is no reason why the Conservative Government should not take a far more liberal view on the issue of tax relief on political donations, when it has so much support in their own party. I am told privately that Prime Minister Cameron at one stage expressed support for the idea of capped donations to political parties with tax relief. When I proposed £100 originally in previous legislation, the word that came back was that there was a lot of support in the Government for it. I understand why, because they saw themselves as the major beneficiary.

I thank my noble friend Lady Smith for her support from the Front Bench. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham. I am sorry if I leapt in on his response. I have never done that before but I thought I should deal with it at that particular point. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, for his clear and unequivocal support for my amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 65 withdrawn.

Amendment 66

Moved by Baroness Smith of Basildon

66: Clause 10, page 7, line 11, leave out “three months” and insert “five years”

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords,—

Lord Callanan: My Lords—

Baroness Smith of Basildon: I have never yet been intervened on before I have said one sentence, but I will happily give way.

Lord Callanan: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I wonder if she could help me with something which is troubling me. I noticed when the noble Lord, Lord Collins, was speaking earlier that he was wearing a “I ‘heart’ unions” badge. I noticed in Prime Minister’s Questions earlier today that the right honourable gentleman the leader of the Opposition was also wearing one. I cannot help noticing that the noble Baroness is not wearing one. Should we read anything into this sartorial omission?

Baroness Smith of Basildon: I have to say to the noble Lord that that is one of the silliest interventions that I have ever heard in this House. I am really

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sorry—I have been left off the list; I did not get the memo this morning. Perhaps I should ask my noble friend Lord Collins if I could have a badge too, please, as it might calm the noble Lord opposite. Seriously, though, I think that it is a rather silly point to make on what I think is a serious issue, and I am not normally devoid of a sense of humour.

Noble Lords will recall from debates at Second Reading and on my Motion to establish a Select Committee that there are really deep concerns about Clauses 10 and 11. Regardless of what any of us in this Chamber say, and as we may learn in the Select Committee, we believe that this Bill has an impact on trade union political funding and, as a consequence, on party-political funding. I use as my reference on that the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which addressed those points. It is hugely controversial and we will not resolve it across this Dispatch Box, whether or not I have a union badge on—I thought that my brooch was rather nice. I think that it is right that your Lordships’ House has sought a Select Committee to get further information on this issue and really get under it in a lot more detail than we will be able to do in this Chamber. Its report will enable us to have a much more informed discussion on Report, and I am looking forward to it.

The noble Lord, Lord King, was right to raise earlier the process of discussing the overall principle underlining the two clauses. We did so at Second Reading and when we had the debate on the Select Committee, and I suspect that we will return to it again on Report. I want to touch on some of those principles today while addressing the clauses and the amendments tabled by me and my noble friend Lord Collins. I do not want to repeat the points that I made when we debated the Select Committee, but I think that some of them are worth emphasising and amplifying.

The Government’s proposals are that every trade union should within three months or 12 weeks ensure that all the members who wish to contribute to the political levy of their trade union should have to opt in to the political fund rather than having the right to opt out. The purpose of the amendments in this group is to probe the Government’s intentions a bit further but also to recognise and demonstrate why the timescale is so unrealistic, unnecessary and unreasonable. It also seeks a government response to what we believe is a sensible and practical way forward, either through extending the transitional period to five years or delaying commencement, both of which would have the effect, in practice, of providing the time to plan and prepare for the changes in a sensible way. I appreciate that this is not to do with the overall, overarching theme, but I think that we have established that there is a lack of credibility and robustness about the principles underlining the Government’s proposals.

The timescale of five years that we propose has not been plucked out of thin air. Unlike the Government’s proposals, and unlike this flimsy and inadequate impact assessment, we have taken the timescale from previous independent reports. The Committee on Standards in Public Life made similar recommendations, which allowed for changes to be made within five years. But let us be

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absolutely clear about those recommendations, which were made in the context of, and alongside, those three other recommendations that it envisaged would be acted on at exactly the same time. Those four recommendations, across the board on political funding, were made together. The committee’s report from 2011 said:

“Failure to resist the temptation to implement some parts, while rejecting others, would upset the balance we have sought to achieve”.

It was very clear—it sought not to advantage or disadvantage one political party over another but to have a balanced approach. That is what I find so offensive about the Government’s approach; they do not even pretend to seek a balanced approach but identify just one of four recommendations and seek to legislate on it while pretending that it does not have an impact on the very thing that the Committee on Standards in Public Life said that it did have an impact on. The report said:

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

9 pm

The Government have rejected that and sought to distil one part. I say to the Minister that there is nothing in what I have seen or heard from the Government that provides a rationale either for singling out this issue of the opt-in/opt-out, or for the timescale in which they wish to proceed with achieving the process of opt-in. I looked again and went through the Second Reading debate. In the noble Baroness’s comments, in her introduction and winding-up speech, there is nothing whatever about the timescale of three months or 12 weeks. She completely ignored that point—it was never mentioned. I went through the Explanatory Notes in case I had missed something. There is nothing there about why three months or 12 weeks is a legitimate timescale. Perhaps the impact assessment could help—there are enough pages here—but there is nothing in its content that gives a justification or rationale for a three-month implementation.

The first question for the noble Baroness is why—not just with regard to this process, but why have the Government put forward three months or 12 weeks? What is it about this issue that is so desperately urgent that however the Government perceive the problem, it has to be resolved so quickly that it will inevitably be a hurried process and, undoubtedly, because of that, an unsatisfactory one.

I have looked at the length of time that the Government normally give to bringing in legislation—to enact legislative changes. When the Government legislated that shops could not provide plastic bags without charge, the proposed change took eight times as long to be implemented as the Government are offering for this change to opt-in. Regarding banning the display of cigarettes in shops under the Health Act 2009, the coalition Government announced in 2010 that that would come in two years later for larger shops and five years later for smaller outlets. But again, there are just 12 weeks for the trade unions. The right-to-rent provisions in the Immigration Bill were first piloted with a two-year implementation period. Even bringing into force the

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provisions of the same-sex marriage Bill was given longer by the Government than they are offering the trade unions today.

To understand why this timescale is so utterly unreasonable we have to understand, as my noble friend Lord Collins pointed out, how that change could be achieved. In effect, within three months, a trade union will have to make all the necessary rule changes, and inform all its members and officers. It will have to ensure that all paid and voluntary staff are fully apprised of the new requirements under the legislation, alongside the new training that is required to ensure that those are fulfilled. It will have to ensure that all union literature regarding membership and political funds is reprinted, that no incorrect or outdated forms are in circulation, and be sure that no errors can be made.

It will have to write to every single member. For charities, the response rate for unsolicited mail remains around 1%. I would expect a little more reach with union members, although perhaps not. Perhaps the union will have to write to them more than once. There will also have to be considerable advertising and a familiarisation campaign to ensure that everyone is aware and to improve the response rate. It would have make changes to accounting systems and banking and change direct debits where necessary. It would no doubt be made easier by a payroll deduction—check-off in other words—but the Government will have banned that in the public sector, so that will not be available to them either. Despite this huge administrative burden and these enormous costs, the organisation is expected to do all that in three months, and the Government think that this will have no impact on their funding. What planet are Ministers on? Alongside that, we still have no definitive rationale from the Government on what the problem is that they are seeking to resolve. Other than an ideological one, opt-out is considered preferable to opt-in by the Government.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, is not in his place. I would have to apologise to him yet again. When he was in the Chamber and we were debating whether a Select Committee should look at the wider principles underlining this, to try to establish the Government’s rationale for the proposals in Clauses 10 and 11, he asked whether the Minister could,

“give us some examples of where people have been prevented from opting out of the political fund and explain the extent of the problem? Can she also explain why this cannot be achieved by some kind of agreement of a code of conduct with the trade unions?”.

The Minister replied:

“My Lords, this is a Motion on procedure and I was not planning to go into the detail”—

we have heard that before—

“but I will certainly write to my noble friend and other noble Lords and we can discuss in Committee the sort of examples that he is talking about”.—[

Official Report

, 20/1/16; col. 779.]

I shall repeat that request because I am still struggling to understand the rationale and the detail. Can the Minister provide evidence of what exactly is the problem that they are seeking to resolve? I have seen the reply she sent to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, but all she does in it is emphasise exactly the same point the Government have made before, which is that they think it should be made easier for people to opt out.

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In her response to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the Minister promised that there would be examples of prevention or of people being leaned on. We have some information from her on web-based applications forms. That is not quite the same as somebody being leaned on or prevented from opting out.

The Certification Officer has given evidence to the Select Committee and we will see that evidence when it is published for your Lordships’ House. Is the Minister looking for her letter? I do not know whether she is aware of the point I am making. The Certification Officer has not upheld even one complaint that has been made about opt-out problems. If there is a great problem that has to be addressed and complaints that have been forwarded to the Certification Officer, why has not one complaint ever been upheld? I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, is not in his place as he might have chosen to intervene on me and I would have welcomed the opportunity to respond. If the Government wanted to increase transparency and this had nothing to do with political funding, they could have ensured a code of practice or even legislated to do that. Instead, they have gone down this completely different route, which is far beyond what could be required from what the Minister has said. The route the Government are taking is not to make it easier for people to opt out, but to make it illegal for people to opt out. It appears to make opting in as difficult, convoluted and complicated as possible in a totally unrealistic timescale.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that these changes and the restrictions, in the way they are to be made, are designed not to effect change, to give transparency or to make it easier to opt out, but to make that change as difficult as possible. That is the fundamental issue at stake here. Independent reviews have looked at this issue and recommended change, but alongside a number of other issues that recognise concerns about political funding that should be addressed together. That is the question the Minister must address. Of the four recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, why have the Government singled out just one and looked at it on its own and tried to say that it does not affect political funds and will not affect any political parties? That is not what the committee said. Why would an independent committee, such as the Committee on Standards in Public Life, look at trade union funding and the opt-out and opt-in issue if it considered that they did not impact on party political funding? The only reason it looked at this issue is because it impacts on party political funding, which is why it was extremely reasonable in saying to any Government that they should not deal with one of the issues on its own but with all four of them together.

It is the totally unrealistic timescale that has let the cat out of the bag. If the Government were really concerned only with transparency and with making it easier to opt out—if that was their sole and genuine concern—there are far better, quicker and less expensive ways of dealing with that. That is not the proposal the Government have given us in the Bill.

I have a number of questions for the Minister. It would be helpful to your Lordships’ House if she could explain the urgency of the problem perceived by

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the Government that has led to such an impractical and impossible timetable being brought forward. Can she tell us what penalties there will be for those who, despite their best endeavours, cannot achieve all that the Government ask within three months? Can she also give me some help as I read the impact assessment? On page 74, it states:

“Our main estimate is that there will be no change in the number of members contributing to the political fund”—

that is why the Government said there would be no difference. It continues:

“We do not have reliable data to estimate any changes in the proportions contributing”.

How can the Government say that there will be no change when they do not have any reliable data on which to base that estimate? If the Minister can enlighten me, that would be really helpful. Also on page 74, to justify that, it states:

“However, we have conducted some sensitivity testing above examining the impact of changes to the proportions contributing to political funds”.

Can she tell me what sensitivity testing is and how it is conducted?

On page 75, on active opting back in, it says:

“We have no evidence of whether there would be substantial attrition in membership participation resulting from the lapsing of active opting-in after five years. Therefore we have assumed no attrition”.

We have no evidence and we do not know what will happen, so we assume that nothing will happen and nothing will change. How on earth can you make that assumption from having no evidence? It is the flimsiest and weakest impact assessment I have ever seen. Unless the noble Baroness can give a better explanation for her department’s impact assessment, I cannot see how anyone in this House can accept the proposal that she is putting forward. Can she give any other examples of such significant change where finances are involved—I say “where finances are involved” because it has to be very accurate and precise—where the Government have imposed change on such a short timescale? I have looked and I cannot find any. Before the Government brought this forward, they must have known it could be done, so I would be grateful for that evidence.

A phrase I often use when talking about your Lordships’ House in a very positive way is that your Lordships are good at looking at the devil in the detail. We interrogate issues, we look under the issues and, unlike the other place, we go through an entire Bill line by line on any issue we wish to. We have the remit and we make the time to examine the detail that can make legislation effective or ineffective, or make it practical or impractical. It is what we do, and we do it well.

But this is of a different order. It is not that the devil is in the detail; the devil is in the design. We find it difficult to understand what the Government are seeking to do, because what the Government tell us they are seeking to do could have been achieved so much more easily, more quickly and more cheaply by other means. Instead, the Government have chosen to go down this convoluted route, and that makes me question whether their motives on this issue are exactly

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as the Minister says. What the Government fail to understand is why so many people are concerned by the intent behind these two clauses. We are convinced that this legislation is being used as a Trojan horse for wider party political funding changes in the sole interest of the government party.

If my words are harsh, it is because I am disappointed in the lack of evidence that the Government are providing for such a fundamental party political and partisan change. I hope the noble Baroness has answers to all the questions that I have raised, and I hope she will not duck, in some procedural way, the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Collins in the previous debate. Without answers to those questions, this Bill should not proceed.

9.15 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): My Lords, the House has great respect for the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition and for the speech that she has just made about amendments whose effect would be that these proposals would come in but over a longer timescale. Although she then dealt with the core issues behind the amendments—I understand entirely why in her position she felt it necessary to do so—this Committee is in some difficulty with the way in which the amendments have been grouped.

I had not intended to speak until I had heard the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Monks, but I have a suggestion to make, although I do not know whether I can persuade him to do this. Would he be prepared to make his speech on his amendment in the debate on this group of amendments? The serious issue here is that the noble Baroness’s amendments deal with contracting in and contracting out but over a different timescale. I do not in any way seek to misrepresent her, but that is the core issue that we need to discuss.

I myself have serious reservations. The noble Baroness will know—she has referred to it—that there is a considerable historical background to this matter, and the noble Lord, Lord Monks, has kindly provided me with material to remind me of the correspondence that I had when this matter arose before. It would be helpful to the progress of business and to the relevance of the speeches that no doubt a number of noble Lords on both sides wish to make if we could deal with the issue in that way. I would not otherwise have intended to speak because this is a more limited amendment on the timeframe in which these changes come in, whereas I want to talk about the general principle.

Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD): My Lords, this transitional period of three months, during which the trade union member is treated as a contributor to the trade union before they must register the opt-in to the political fund, is clearly punitive and designed to inflict maximum damage on trade union funds.

Much has been said tonight about the Select Committee which is to take evidence on the impact of this legislation on political funding. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned this, and I suspect that we may get a contribution from my noble friend Lord Wrigglesworth,

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who is a member of that committee. We have to await the report, but you do not need a report to understand what this three-month period will achieve.

Let us take the example of the union Unite. It has 1.2 million members whom it has to approach within the three-month period. It has to speak to each one and ask them to opt in. If they do not opt in in time, the union is not empowered to deduct the money. If it does, one presumes that it will be acting illegally.

Labour has proposed a five-year timescale. I wonder whether five years might be a little long but I understand the logic behind it, because within that period every member of the trade union will have the opportunity to renew their membership, and new members of the union will be covered by the opt-in as well.

I do not want to get into the argument of how long the period should be, but I am supportive of the trade unions. If they have to do this, they need time to adapt, just as, if the Conservatives were in the same position regarding donations, we would want them to have a fair period of time in which to make the adjustment.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords—

Lord Balfe (Con): My Lords—

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, perhaps I may jump in. The procedure is a little muddled but I think that it makes sense for the general points to be made and for the Minister to reply at the end, provided that she replies to all the points made by my Front Bench colleagues.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for the trailer for this speech, in which I shall talk about Amendment 68. The reason we have a bit of teamwork going on is that in 1984, when the noble Lord, Lord King, was Secretary of State for Employment, the then Government, under Mrs Thatcher, considered this very issue.

Opting in was on the agenda, possibly, but they decided to ask the TUC to come up with a transparent scheme to ensure that people have the right to opt out. I call it the King-Murray agreement; Len Murray was the negotiator and I was his assistant and scribe on the job. They reached an agreement on opt-out, of which I have a faded copy from 30-odd years ago. We undertook to remind members about their right to opt out and to give them the procedure whereby they could do it. It was done by an information sheet, as it was called then, and we did it. As I say, that was 32 years ago, and we have never had any complaint in the TUC that this agreement has not been carried out, from members, from government—from either of the two major political parties—or from employers.

As has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Collins, unions already have to ballot every 10 years on whether it is legitimate for them to have a political fund at all, and they have done that four times since 1984, most recently in 2014. If we are going to go down the deregulation route of two out for one in, then this is one of the ones that should go out at some stage. However, we are still doing the ballot and we have never lost one. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Collins said, we have actually put on some extra funds.

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