11 Nov 2013 : Column 501

11 Nov 2013 : Column 501

House of Lords

Monday, 11 November 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Introduction: Baroness Goldie

2.38 pm

Annabel MacNicoll Goldie, having been created Baroness Goldie, of Bishopton in the County of Renfrewshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Sanderson of BowdenandLord Selkirk of Douglas, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Power of Attorney


2.43 pm

Asked by Baroness Trumpington

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to make it easier to nominate a power of attorney.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally) (LD): My Lords, the Government have taken the following steps to make it easier to make a lasting power of attorney. First, the Office of the Public Guardian has released a test version of a digital tool which allows donors to make lasting powers of attorney online. Secondly, it has redesigned its paper forms to make them easier to follow and is consulting on proposals to combine the application processes of the two types of lasting power of attorney and to introduce a digital signature. The fee for registering a lasting power of attorney has been reduced from £130 to £110 from 1 October this year.

Baroness Trumpington (Con):My Lords, I wonder who has told who about that reduction because I was quoted £200 by the lawyers. Many women, and maybe men as well, are thoroughly put off by the amount of money it will cost simply to do what one used to do. If the Minister asks his more elderly relations he may find out that one used to get a bit of paper, write on it “I give you power of attorney”, sign it and send it to the bank—that is all you had to do. This whole business seems to me unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming. I ask whether we might return to having a simple piece of paper.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I have to tell the noble Baroness that the number of older relations I have is becoming increasingly small. I take the point that she made, but we also have to be careful in dealing with matters where often quite considerable sums, in terms of inheritance, are in question. There has to be an orderly process that can be much better checked than the noble Baroness’s scrap of paper with a line on it. We are trying—and the Office of the Public Guardian is making every effort—to consult on this, and the consultations end on 26 November. We are trying to simplify and make it easier for people to do this without having to pay expensive legal fees.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 502

Baroness Boothroyd (CB): My Lords, this is the document to register power of attorney: it is 12 pages chock-full of questions, cautions and warnings. It is the most verbose document that I have had to deal with either for myself or for those I have represented in over 30 years in public life. Of course there must be safeguards in all this. A doctor has certified in this document that I am capable of making decisions—I have all my marbles. Why then do I have to name from two to five people to be told that I am registering power of attorney so that they can object to it? Why? Can this bundle of red tape and jargon not be withdrawn, consolidated in a new draft and put in the Library so that I and people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, who said it all, and lots of other people who might want to see this—solicitors and what have you—can inject some common sense into it?

Lord McNally: The last thing that I said to my officials was, “You realise I’m going to be addressing an informed and vested audience?”. I will make sure that the Hansard of these exchanges is taken as part of the public consultation, which I emphasise ends on 26 November. The reason for the consultation is very much to do with the noble Baroness’s point: there were, and continue to be, complaints about how complex this matter is. We hope that the outcome of the consultation will be a much simpler process which people can use.

Baroness Turner of Camden (Lab): My Lords, I am very glad to hear from the Minister that simplification is intended. Recently I have had to deal with these complications because unfortunately my sister is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and it has become necessary for me to find somebody to assume the power of attorney in that case. It is not easy. It is not only complicated and expensive but the person whom you nominate, and who has been nominated by me via our lawyers to handle the power of attorney, has his own job to get on with. It is also very time-consuming for the person who assumes it. I am grateful that a relative of mine has taken on this task, but it needed a bit of persuasion. It is not only the expense; it is also the time involved in doing it. It is important that it be really simplified so that people can take this job on. This is increasingly important as we are dealing with an older population in which people require this kind of service as simply and quickly as possible.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the noble Baroness has put her finger right on it. We all know the change in the structure of the population that is going on. I am always amazed when I am in the corridor and pass a colleague who I know is as old as I am and who says, “I’ve got to go and visit Mother this weekend”. That is one of the responsibilities; and because of these increasing responsibilities, we have to make sure that as well as making this process simple, we also make it fraud-proof. That is the balance that we are trying to get.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury (LD): My Lords, I am taking my life in my hands a bit by confronting the two noble Baronesses but, as an old solicitor, I wonder if my noble friend Lady Trumpington has taken account of the fact that the piece of paper that she so rightly

11 Nov 2013 : Column 503

said she could sign and waft off is still available to her. She can still go to a stationer and buy a general power of attorney for a pound, and that is all that she will need to pay. The problem is that the lasting power of attorney created in 2007 deals with people who have lost their capacity to command and deal with their own affairs. That is a hypersensitive issue, and within a family many people might be deeply uneasy about who gets that power, particularly in terms of life and death issues. Perhaps the answer is not as simple as it might at first appear.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that question. I look forward to witnessing the meeting of my noble friends Lord Phillips and Lady Trumpington in Peers’ Lobby after Questions.

Consumer Protection


2.52 pm

Asked by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what legislation or other proposals they have to update the protections for consumers from unfair practices.

Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con): My Lords, rogue traders who mislead and bully consumers, some of whom are the most vulnerable in our communities, are a blight on society. Research by Consumer Focus found that they cause more than £3 billion-worth of detriment to consumers each year. The Government recently announced legislation to make it simpler and clearer for consumers to fight back by giving them new rights to seek redress and, where appropriate, compensation for the damage that they cause.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, we have range of people and companies ripping off people who play fair: those who mis-sell PPI, rogue claims management companies, dodgy builders, people selling fake goods and people breaching copyrights. For a whole range of services, the Government use premium-rate phone lines so that when people phone for help and advice they pay over the odds for the privilege. For example, when bereaved people phone the Bereavement Service for help and advice they are charged over the odds. Is not the Minister ashamed of that? When are the Government going to put people first?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: We agree that it is inappropriate for vulnerable people to pay high charges for accessing vital public services, and we are clear that a more consistent approach is needed. The Cabinet Office now runs a cross-departmental group to consider customer telephone lines. This group has made some good progress in drafting guidance on prefix number selection and establishing best practice. We will publish the guidance and have a standing remit to ensure that it is kept up to date.

Lord Wrigglesworth (LD): My Lords, will my noble friend look at the plight of some bank customers with dormant accounts? Is he aware that a current account can be declared dormant after a year’s inactivity and a

11 Nov 2013 : Column 504

deposit account can be declared dormant after just three years? It can take six months for people to get their own money back in those circumstances. Will he ask the banks to notify customers more clearly and more readily that their accounts are to be made dormant and will he try to get the banks to speed up the repayment of people’s own money?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The Dormant Bank and Building Societies Accounts Act was passed in November 2008 and included a requirement for the Government to undertake a review. The legislation set out the specific questions that the review should cover: for example, how many banks and building societies have transferred balances; how much money has been transferred and how promptly; and how effective the arrangements have been for meeting claims. HM Treasury is currently undertaking the review. The closing date was 21 October, and the report will be laid before Parliament by March 2014.

Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Trading Standards Board. The Minister’s department is currently consulting on a new piece of consumer legislation. Will he tell us why it is in the interest of consumers that this legislation will require that two days’ notice is given before potential rogue traders are inspected by trading standards officers? Why is it in the interest of consumers for potential scammers—importers of counterfeit or unsafe goods—to have two days in which to destroy the material and the records that might otherwise incriminate them?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, the powers strike a balance between protecting civil liberties and reducing burdens on business and enabling enforcers to tackle rogue traders. Requiring enforcers to give 48 hours’ notice before carrying out routine inspections will benefit businesses by making it more convenient for them to accommodate these inspections. However, notice need not be given, for example, where it would defeat the purpose of the visit, as when a breach is suspected, such as with counterfeit DVDs.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, will the Minister, in responding to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for protection of consumers from unfair practices, look at helping those people who find that, without their knowledge, they are signed up for membership of trade unions or the Labour Party?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My noble friend may be aware that there is a Bill going through Parliament at the moment and I am at the Dispatch Box later.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, it is not just consumers of the big six who are taken advantage of by their providers; many vulnerable customers will have to pay more in rent than they should, are taken advantage of by the banks and are unable to shop around. Will the noble Viscount tell us whether the Government are really on the side of consumers and, if so, why they wound up Consumer Focus, whose report he has just quoted? If they are on the side of consumers, what will the Government do to strengthen the power and remit of ombudsmen so that people can get redress for poor service?

11 Nov 2013 : Column 505

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The noble Baroness will know that we are on the side of consumers and that we have updated some legislation already, particularly focusing on estate agents. She brought up the issues of tenancies and lettings. All letting and property management agents will have to belong to an independent redress scheme; the process for redress has become much clearer since 2010.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): Is the Minister aware of the disgusting practice of payday lenders of targeting their advertising at children’s television programmes? Why do my grandchildren have to be subjected to that kind of advertising when they are watching “Peppa Pig”?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: The subject of payday lending has taken up much time in your Lordships’ House. The noble Lord will know that we are taking action. The FCA announced last month that it has proposed tough action on payday lending, which includes a focus on children, and we welcome these proposals.

Nuclear Power: Procurement


2.58 pm

Asked by Viscount Hanworth

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that United Kingdom suppliers will be called upon to provide the components that will be required in building any new nuclear power station in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma) (Con): My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that the UK supply chain is able fully to capitalise on the opportunities that will come with the UK’s nuclear new-build programme. Investor confidence continues to grow with projects being taken forward by three consortia. These projects have set out plans to develop around 16 gigawatts of new nuclear power in the UK, which could support an estimated 29,000 to 41,000 jobs across the nuclear supply chain at the peak of its construction.

Viscount Hanworth (Lab): I thank the Minister for that reply. Recently, one of the EDF executives called into question the competence of the UK to supply high-tech equipment for the Hinkley C power station. This contradicts a current capability report of the Nuclear Industry Association, which maintains that, apart from a few large-scale items, the UK could supply almost all of the mechanical and electrical equipment, including the controls and the instrumentation. There are some essential misgivings concerning the possible wilful exclusion of competent UK suppliers. Will the Minister declare more fully what steps, if any, are being taken to protect their positions?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, EDF has indicated that around 57% of the opportunities in the construction of Hinkley Point C would come to the UK, while Horizon has estimated that it is expected that around 60% of the value of the first plant will be locally

11 Nov 2013 : Column 506

sourced. Nuclear is a key growth industry that provides highly skilled jobs. The 16 gigawatts of new-build capacity planned by industry would create a very large number of jobs, as I said. We in this country have the capability and the capacity.

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while there will be a wide welcome for the long-awaited return to nuclear power in this country, and not least, that it will be at Hinkley Point, which will make Bridgwater a boom town for many years, there is great disappointment that it is thought that it will not generate any electricity before 2023? Great efforts have been made by many people, not least by the landowner, who in a very constructive approach allowed all the preliminary groundwork to be done before any planning permission had even been given, to try to help this programme forward. Will the Minister ensure that every effort is made in her department to ensure that there is no hold-up with the state-aid permissions that we need to get out of Europe, so that we can get ahead with this programme?

Baroness Verma: I absolutely agree with my noble friend. He will, of course, be aware that these conversations are ongoing. Very constructive conversations are taking place and we are trying our level best to ensure that there will be no hindrance or obstruction.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet (Lab): The Minister’s previous portfolio involved skills that are found in many of the businesses—small and medium-sized enterprises—that will act as suppliers. The Government and the previous Government have focused on those businesses, which provide more than 75% of the workforce. They are absolutely ripe for apprenticeships, which again, is another government aspiration. Can the noble Baroness give us more certainty that apprenticeships will not be damaged in the way in which this business is carried out?

Baroness Verma: The noble Baroness is right about the skills agenda. We have created the Nuclear Energy Skills Alliance, which brings together all the key skills bodies related to nuclear, to collaborate and co-ordinate all the skills development in the sector. However, she is absolutely right—there is plenty to do. We are pleased that this sector is progressing rather than standing still.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, first, will my noble friend place copies in the Library of the memorandum of understanding signed by GE Hitachi with Babcock and Rolls-Royce, which allows them to participate in the manufacturing of components for the replacement of Oldbury and Wylfa power stations? Secondly, what are the prospects of British industry becoming involved in the two proposals that have been submitted by GE Hitachi and Candu Energy respectively for the use of the plutonium stockpile to generate electricity at Sellafield in Cumbria?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, on my noble friend’s first question, I will be happy to put into the Library the information that we have at hand. However, the memorandum of understanding is between two private companies, so I will go back to see if they will be

11 Nov 2013 : Column 507

happy to have something put in the Library. On my noble friend’s second question, while MOX remains the Government’s preferred option, we are in active talks with a number of providers. I reassure my noble friend that the conversations are ongoing, but we still have a preferred option.

Lord Wigley (PC): Does the Minister understand that in the context of the proposed new Wylfa B nuclear power station, the likely builders are a Japanese-led consortium led by Hitachi, which has also been looking at building nuclear power stations in Lithuania and possibly other locations on the European mainland? Does she accept that the uncertainty with regard to the future UK membership of the European Union may well mititate against maximising the number of contracts for British companies arising from situations such as that in Wylfa?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the fact is that we have a lot of interest from a lot of companies coming to the UK. We should be very proud that there is so much interest. We have an excellent skills base here and we should welcome all investors to our country.

Baroness Worthington (Lab): My Lords, is the Minister aware that Sheffield Forgemasters recently completed a large-scale forging for a nuclear reactor to be built in South America? The design was Canadian, but it is not a design that is licensed in the UK. Could the noble Baroness give us an update on whether that Canadian design could be licensed here and, if so, when?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, it is for operators to decide on the designs and it is for the Government then to approve them, as long as the regulators are satisfied.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, the Minister has said that 57% will be sourced in the United Kingdom. Will she tell the House how much of that will be sourced in Scotland? If she cannot do that now, could she write to me giving me some indication?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Lord knows that I will not be able to answer that at this moment. It would be better for me to take the question away.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, if that question were asked of the United States Government, the German Government or the French Government, I think there would have been a much more robust defence of jobs and companies. Why will the Government not do more?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I have just said to your Lordships’ House that between 29,000 and 41,000 jobs will be made available through what we are doing currently. Of course this is a growing sector and of course we want to see more job growth, but we also want to ensure that we get the right mix of energies in this country and this Government are doing that.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 508

Children: Temporary Accommodation


3.06 pm

Asked by Lord McKenzie of Luton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ameliorate the impact on children of living in temporary accommodation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, the Government are investing £470 million during this spending review period to help prevent and tackle homelessness. This investment has meant that the average time spent in temporary accommodation by those families who are at risk of becoming homeless has reduced from 20 months at the start of 2010 to 13 months as of September this year.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which, frankly, I do not believe addresses the seriousness of the current situation. Shelter estimates that this Christmas 80,000 children in Great Britain will wake up homeless. The number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation is the highest for nearly 10 years, with some 40% having to stay beyond the legal limit of six weeks, and more than 11,000 homeless households have been based in temporary accommodation in another area. All of this is damaging and disruptive to children’s health, to their education and to family life. I ask the Minister how the costs of all this to families, communities and society are weighed against the benefit restrictions that are fuelling the homelessness crisis.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, all of us are concerned to protect children and, thankfully, in this country we have a strong homelessness safety net, which is protected in law and ensures that families with children at risk of being homeless always have a roof over their head. As I said in my original Answer to the noble Lord, we have invested £470 million in preventing homelessness. Our effort is very much around preventing and avoiding people being put at risk in the first instance, but we are also working very closely with councils to ensure that they are properly equipped to provide the support that is necessary to anyone who is at risk at any time, never mind whether it is at Christmas or not.

Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, given that there is considerable anecdotal evidence of the health and education problems faced by young children in temporary accommodation, especially bed-and-breakfast accommodation, is any data collected to show the exact effect on children, specifically where they have to change GPs? Is there a requirement on local authorities to collect that data, particularly where children are in single-room accommodation for more than the maximum six weeks?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am grateful to my noble friend. As I have just said, Ministers are working very hard with local authorities to ensure that those families who are housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are not housed there for longer than six weeks. Yes,

11 Nov 2013 : Column 509

data will be collected and I am sure that I will be able to provide more information to my noble friend, but I emphasise the huge amount of effort that is being made in this area to minimise any of the effects on children.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister really think that bed-and-breakfast accommodation is ever suitable for children?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: What would be absolutely and totally unacceptable would be for any child to have no roof whatever over their head. If a child is at serious risk and the only option available to a local authority in an emergency is bed-and-breakfast accommodation, then, as long as it is for the barest minimum time possible, that is preferable to no accommodation whatever. However, clearly it should be for the very minimum amount of time.

Lord Laming (CB): My Lords, will the noble Baroness ensure that every effort is made across government to limit the impact that this disruption has on a child’s education? These frequent moves can be very disruptive for the education of children at a critical stage in their lives.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord makes an important point, and of course we are working very hard to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible. It is perhaps worth saying to your Lordships that there is clearly great pressure on London versus the rest of the UK. I think that the term we are talking about is “out-of-district placements”, where people are moved from one district to another. However, it is worth noble Lords being aware that information collected by London Councils shows that, of the moves from one district to another, most are within London and only a very small percentage are necessarily outside London.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree (Con): My Lords, does the Minister recognise that even worse in the order of upsetting these children is when they are moved from one adoptive home to another? This can sometimes go on for years, with a long list of upsets for the children. Does she recognise that this is a real problem that needs attending to because of the misery that it causes?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My noble friend is right. In the efforts that we are making under the heading of prevention, certainly some of the money is used to ensure that families stay together so that as few children as possible are disrupted and moved out of their families to any other kind of home.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): Does the Minister agree with local authorities and with me that the number of children in temporary accommodation, and the length of time that they spend there, will both rise as a direct result of the Government’s policies—that is, the bedroom tax?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: There is no evidence at this time to suggest that what the noble Baroness asserts is the case. I emphasise the amount of funding

11 Nov 2013 : Column 510

that has been specifically set aside both for the areas where rent increases are causing a shortage of affordable housing and for all areas to help people transition and deal with the different welfare reform changes.

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD): Can the Minister give the House an indication of the number of local authorities and families involved in breaching the six-week rule?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: This is an area where we have focused quite a lot of effort. We have increased transparency by publishing information about the performance of all authorities in this regard, and we have provided £2 million for the seven councils with the highest numbers of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation to support them in reducing those numbers. Westminster and Croydon are two examples of local authorities that we have worked with, and they have now reduced to zero the number of families staying in bed-and-breakfast accommodation beyond six weeks.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

Committee (2nd Day)

3.14 pm

Relevant documents: 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee and 12th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Amendment 94

Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town

94: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—

“Professional lobbyists taking up employment in Government

(1) Any professional lobbyist taking up a senior position in Government shall—

(a) have their appointment scrutinised by a Committee; and

(b) have restrictions placed on their activities as set out in subsection (3).

(2) “Senior position in Government” means a position as Senior Civil Servant or their equivalent.

(3) The Minister, after consultation with relevant stakeholders, may make regulations about the activities specified in subsection (1)(b).”

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, we return again to what my colleague has just described as a Bill with a long title but a very short content. The amendment stands in the names of my noble friend Lady Royall and me. Last week, an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Rooker, called for the requirement under the Bill to publish meetings with lobbyists to be extended from Ministers of the Crown to the leader of the Opposition in the six months before an election. This is an interesting proposition, as it raises the question of those slightly outside the magic circle of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, the lobbying of whom should be disclosed to the public.

However, the other side of that coin is the question of whether there are paid lobbyists—paid by industries to promote their interests—who have the ear of government in a particularly close way, but who would

11 Nov 2013 : Column 511

not be caught by the register rules, as they are not civil servants and they protest that when they do meet, for example, the Prime Minister, they are speaking not on behalf of those clients who pay them but about very different matters, such as how to beat the Labour Party, or, indeed—the Liberal Democrats should be warned—how to beat the Liberal Democrats. We therefore find that, for the strangest of reasons, meetings that the Prime Minister has with a very well paid lobbyist are not recorded, because, as it so happens, they are only to pore over opinion polls.

Furthermore, despite the Prime Minister’s promise to lead,

“the most transparent government ever”,

we understand that No. 10 has failed to reveal the identity of guests entertained at Chequers. We do not know whether these are lobbyists, mere donors to the party or ordinary friends. But what we do know is that Downing Street has traditionally published an annual list of guests at Chequers, but has not done so since July 2011.

In the context of this Bill, we would be interested to know how many times the lobbyist Lynton Crosby has been at Chequers. What sounds odd is that even after the Bill becomes law, Mr Crosby’s lobbying consultancy would have to disclose any such visits—and therefore publish more than the Prime Minister would have to about such conversations—because Mr Crosby would be defined by the Prime Minister just as a strategic political adviser. But how easy is it to make such distinctions, with the Bill as it stands?

Mr Crosby was hired in November 2012. That month his lobbying firm signed a contract with Philip Morris. In December, he allegedly chaired a meeting at which he advised tobacco companies about plain packaging. In January, he started work for the Conservative Party. In March, a senior Whitehall source told the BBC that Australian-style plain packaging would be introduced here. In July—surprise, surprise—the plan was dropped.

Similar questions have been raised about minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Of course, we have tried to find out the names of Mr Crosby’s clients, which would have had to be disclosed if the Government had produced this Bill rather sooner after their 2010 promise rather than now, as his lobbying company, being a consultancy, would have had to register and disclose its clients. As it is, Mr Shapps said on 17 July, it is a matter for Mr Crosby who his clients within the company are. That is because, as the Minister reiterated to me in a Written Answer on 29 July, Lynton Crosby was not employed by the Government—although, as we know, he was employed by a lobbying company, and by the Conservative Party.

In passing, we might note that although the Minister claims that Part 2 of the Bill is aimed at keeping big money out of politics, the Conservative Party can afford to pay Mr Crosby £500,000 to do his best to keep Mr Cameron in Downing Street. That sounds like big money to me.

Putting that to one side, this example—and there are others—raise two significant questions. One is about a possible conflict of interest caused by a lobbyist working on the Conservative Party leader’s political

11 Nov 2013 : Column 512

strategy, but there is also the wider point about the revolving door between government and the lobbying industry. We have just heard about the appointment of a former lobbyist, who also happened to be a Conservative campaigns officer, to oversee public appointments, which sounds to me like double jeopardy. The Civil Service Code states that Whitehall mandarins should be politically independent—a former Conservative worker does not look too independent. The lobbying transparency campaigner, Tamasin Cave, referring to this appointment, said that Ms Wyld had been a lobbyist. She went on to say:

“This job needs someone impartial. It does not bode well”.

Last July, the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee also looked at the issue from the other end: the revolving door between the Civil Service and the private sector. It urged the Government to adopt a joined-up approach to lobbying regulations and to consider changes to the ACOBA alongside lobbying regulations. All of this needs flushing out if the public are really to see who has the ear of government and whether the Bill’s objective of increasing transparency is to be achieved.

Our amendments tackle the issue of lobbyists coming into the system, either as civil servants or employed by a governing party, rather than the outward move, but both should be of concern in any Bill dealing with the openness and transparency of the lobbying industry. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen (Con): My Lords, I am not an expert on lobbying by any means, but I wonder whether lobbyists employed by opposition parties should also have their position made public. Opposition parties from time to time can form Governments after an election. The work of lobbyists in opposition is just as important as the work of lobbyists for those parties in government. The noble Baroness needs to redraft her amendment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, I shall start by welcoming the at least partial support expressed by the Labour Front Bench for Part 1 of the Bill, and indeed the commendable sentiment that has been expressed for strengthening Part 1 further. I am sure that as we proceed, the same sort of constructive spirit for the Bill’s aims will be provided by the Labour Front Bench. The revolving door is an issue all the way across politics, which no Government have yet entirely managed to resolve. We recognise that people moving in and out of different private and public forms of life create some problems, and a number of things are now in place to cope with those who move from private industry into government and back again. It is not a new problem with this Government.

For Amendment 95 to cover all three parties, one would need to add,

“those who are employed in voluntary capacities”,

because my party would love to employ a number of these people but could not conceivably afford to pay them. Indeed, I am aware of a number of people associated with consultant lobbyist companies who have advised my party in the past. Perhaps that is an area that might also be considered.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 513

I am conscious that this is very much about Lynton Crosby and Crosby Textor. In listening to the beginning of the speech of the noble Baroness, I felt that in some ways this was an amendment with a very long text but very little content, if I may slightly adapt what she said when starting out.

I note her comment on guests at Chequers and I will take that back. However, I googled Crosby Textor this morning and I can assure the noble Baroness that it would be caught by the new register, since it has offices in both Sydney and London, and would be forced to register and declare its clients under the new Part 1. That is part of what the Bill is about and Crosby Textor would therefore be entirely covered by it. The question of what happens when a member of a consulting company is employed under a contract part-time—as he is—by one of the political parties in government takes us close to the difficult area of how far political parties in government should be covered by this scheme. I have checked and I can assure the noble Baroness that he has not discussed the tobacco question with the Government. I realise that the tobacco question—I was not so aware of the alcohol question—is very sensitive in government. I merely say that Part 1 of the Bill would catch Crosby Textor. We would then know exactly who its clients were; that is part of the justification of Part 1.

Professional lobbyists taking up employment in government is a rather broader issue. We would of course need to know what sort of a committee would look at this. It would be easier to absorb it into the current arrangements for checking on people who move into government from the outside and, indeed, those who then leave government and go back into these sorts of activities, for which Whitehall already has arrangements. However, I think in some ways these two amendments are in order to make sure that Crosby Textor gets on to the agenda, and possibly into tomorrow’s “Today” programme. Having said that, I say: well played. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, the amendment was not short on content and certainly not on intent. However, before I make one comment to the Minister, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, that my passing reference at the beginning was exactly the point that he raised. I did not reiterate what we did last week. It was about the leader of the Opposition in the run-up to an election possibly making the same declarations as we are now asking for from Ministers. I do not have full backing yet from the powers that be in the party, but we came as close as we could to a nod in that direction last week in a way that I think the Minister understands.

The Minister slightly misunderstood the point of the amendment. We know that Crosby Textor would be caught, which is why we were trying to get the information before the Bill became law because it was taking such a long time. The interest was, of course, that the Prime Minister would feel that he did not have to declare that because the person he is meeting at the moment is not a Permanent Secretary and therefore would not be covered in that way. The two really do need to dovetail together.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 514

This is something that we will want to come back to on Report, maybe not exactly in this form. However, it will be important for the aim of the Government, which is to make sure that those who have the ear of the most senior people in government declare theirs. We will need to make sure that we have captured that in a suitable amendment. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 94 withdrawn.

Amendment 95 not moved.

Clause 8 agreed.

Clause 9: Notice to supply information

Amendments 96 and 97 not moved.

Clause 9 agreed.

Clauses 10 and 11 agreed.

3.30 pm

Clause 12: Offences

Amendments 98 to 106 not moved.

Clause 12 agreed.

Amendment 107 not moved.

Clause 13 agreed.

Clause 14: Civil penalties

Amendment 108 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clause 15 agreed.

Clause 16: Imposition of penalty

Amendment 109 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clause 17 agreed.

Clause 18: Civil penalties and criminal proceedings

Amendment 110 not moved.

Clause 18 agreed.

Clauses 19 and 20 agreed.

Clause 21: Guidance

Amendment 111 not moved.

Clause 21 agreed.

Clause 22: Charges

Amendments 112 and 113 not moved.

Clause 22 agreed.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 515

Clause 23: Power to make further provision

Amendment 114 not moved.

Clause 23 agreed.

Clause 24: Regulations

Amendment 114A not moved.

Clause 24 agreed.

Amendment 115 not moved.

Clause 25: Interpretation

Amendments 116 to 118 not moved.

Clause 25 agreed.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con): My Lords, we gave an indication to the House that the Statement would take place after Amendments 94 and 95. This was for the convenience of, and to give certainty to, all those taking part in the transparency Bill, and to give some certainty to those who wished to be here for the Statement. The rationale behind this is that we have just heard the last of the amendments to Part 1 of the Bill and the House determined last week that Part 2 would not be considered until the middle of December. Therefore, during the rest of the day we will consider Part 3.

I can see that my noble friend Lady Warsi, like others, thought the first amendment would take a little longer. It was commendably briefly dealt with—it was a model for the rest—and at this stage I will have to move that the House adjourn during pleasure to enable others to take their places. As we are in Committee, I will first move that the House resume and then that it adjourn during pleasure, I suggest for 10 minutes.

House resumed.

3.34 pm

Sitting suspended.

Iran and Syria


3.45 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in the other place. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, I will update the House on developments in the Iran nuclear negotiations and our work to bring together a peace conference on Syria. I returned yesterday from E3+3 negotiations with Iran in Geneva. This was the third round of talks in the past month and it began last Thursday at official level. On Friday and Saturday E3+3 Foreign Ministers joined the Iranian Foreign Minister at the negotiations.

The threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is one of the greatest dangers to the peace and security of the world. That is why we must build momentum

11 Nov 2013 : Column 516

behind the Geneva negotiations and why we and Iran must ensure that the opportunity of making progress does not slip away in the coming weeks.

We had two days of intensive negotiations with Iran which finished in the early hours of yesterday morning. These were complex and detailed discussions covering every aspect of Iran’s nuclear programme. Our aim is to produce an interim, first-step agreement with Iran that can then create the confidence and space to negotiate a comprehensive and final settlement.

The talks broke up without reaching that interim agreement because some gaps between the parties remain. Although I cannot go into the details of the discussions while the talks continue, I can say that most of those gaps are now narrow and many others were bridged altogether during the negotiations. As we concluded the negotiations on Saturday night, all six E3+3 Foreign Ministers presented the same united position to Iran which gives an extremely strong foundation for the next round of talks which are to be held on 20November.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and my Foreign Minister colleagues, including Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. He is a tough but constructive negotiator who displayed a sincere and open approach throughout the talks. He and I took the opportunity to discuss further the bilateral relationship between Britain and Iran, and today both our Governments have formally appointed our new chargés d’affaires. I expect the new UK chargé to make his first visit to Iran this month.

The Government are firmly in favour of reaching an interim agreement with Iran as an essential step towards a comprehensive settlement, but given the extensive nature of Iran’s programme and the history of its concealment, the detailed terms of any agreement matter greatly. An agreement has to be clear and detailed, cover all aspects of Iran’s programme and give assurance to the whole world that the threat of nuclear proliferation in Iran is fully addressed. Such a deal is on the table and there is no doubt in my mind that it can be reached. I am convinced that the agreement we were discussing would be good for the security of the entire world and we will pursue it with energy and persistence.

An interim agreement would involve offering Iran limited, proportionate sanctions relief. In the mean time we will be vigilant and firm in upholding the international sanctions which have played an indispensable part in creating this new opening with Iran. Sanctions are costing the Iranian economy at least $4 billion a month and this cost will be maintained until we reach an agreement.

Until such a moment there is no question of us relaxing the pressure of sanctions in any way. We are determined to take every opportunity to reach a diplomatic settlement to the Iranian nuclear crisis because the alternatives—nuclear proliferation or conflict—could be disastrous for the peace and security of the world, including the stability of the Middle East.

That stability is being severely undermined by the deepening crisis in Syria. Our objectives remain to reach a political settlement to the conflict—thereby also protecting UK national security—to alleviate the

11 Nov 2013 : Column 517

desperate humanitarian suffering and to prevent the further use of chemical weapons.

On 22 October I hosted a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the 11 countries of the core group of the Friends of Syria, as well as the president and the senior leadership of the Syrian National Coalition. We gave our united support to the UN-led Geneva II process, which should establish a transitional governing body with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent. There was unanimous agreement that Assad and his close associates can play no role in a body formed by mutual consent. We also agreed to provide the national coalition with additional political and practical support to give the Geneva conference the best chance of success, and urged the coalition to commit itself to taking part in it.

It has now done that, which I strongly welcome. Last night, its members agreed by consensus at a general assembly to attend the Geneva talks, on the basis that this meant that Assad and those with blood on their hands would have no role in a transition. They also rightly called for humanitarian access and the release of detainees ahead of Geneva II. We continue to push for a date for a peace conference to be agreed, and the UN and Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, has reiterated that he is still trying to convene a conference before the end of the year.

In the light of that decision by the coalition, we will provide practical and political support to help them prepare to lead the opposition delegation. I will shortly lay before Parliament a proposal to increase our non-lethal support to the Supreme Military Council of General Idris. This life-saving equipment will take the form of communications, medical and logistics equipment. There can be no peaceful settlement to the conflict in Syria without a strong role for the legitimate, moderate opposition. I also welcome the vote last night by the national coalition to confirm the inclusion of the Kurdish National Council, which adds further to its broad representation of Syrian people.

We are also particularly determined to ensure that the peace talks include a direct role for women’s groups, in accordance with Security Council decisions on women, peace and security. It is vital that women participate fully in the future government and institutions of Syria, as they have an indispensable role to play in rebuilding and reconciling Syrian society. We are ready to work with Mr Brahimi, his team, international NGOs and other countries to make that a reality. We will also work with the UN and its agencies to ensure that we give the women’s groups the support they need to participate effectively. In addition, we are encouraging the Syrian National Coalition to include women members in its delegation.

So far, we have committed more than £20 million to support opposition groups, civil society, human rights defenders and media activists in Syria. This ranges from training and equipping search and rescue teams to providing up to £1 million to help survivors of sexual violence gain access to justice, and we will develop this assistance further.

The humanitarian situation in Syria is one of unimaginable distress and suffering. Well over 100,000 people have died, and 11.5 million people, more than half of Syria's population, are now in

11 Nov 2013 : Column 518

desperate need of assistance either inside the country or as refugees in the region. The UN estimates that 2.5 million people are trapped in areas in Syria which aid is not reaching, including an estimated 500,000 men, women and children living under siege conditions. Severe acute malnutrition is emerging among children, and polio has reappeared 14 years after the country was certified free of the disease.

Appalling human rights violations are being committed, including the use of incendiary bombs against civilians, torture, rape, massacres and summary executions, and attacks on hospitals, schools and even aid convoys. The regime has shown that it can facilitate access to chemical weapons inspectors when it wishes, and it could do so for humanitarian relief if it showed a shred of humanity and wished to do so.

We need to address this crisis to save lives and to improve the prospects for the Geneva II talks. On 2 October, we helped to secure a UN Security Council presidential statement which said that humanitarian aid must be able to reach all Syrians. This statement is clearly not being implemented. I spoke last week to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, urging his Government to try to persuade the regime to stop blocking the delivery of aid, and we would like to see stronger action in the UN Security Council, including a resolution if necessary.

In the Security Council and through all other avenues available to us, we will press for full humanitarian access and freedom of movement for trapped civilians, the evacuation of civilians from besieged areas, safe passage for medical personnel and convoys, the creation of hubs for the delivery of aid, cross-border assistance and the lifting of bureaucratic burdens imposed by the regime. We will also work with the coalition to improve access to aid in areas under its control.

The UK is contributing £500 million to relief efforts, much of it to assist neighbouring countries, and the international community as a whole has provided $3 billion in funding for this year. But the fact that the existing UN appeal for this year is still nearly $2 billion short underlines just how extreme the humanitarian crisis is, and we are calling on all countries to do more.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed that the destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons production, mixing and filling equipment is now complete. But some warheads and all of the bulk chemical agents and precursors remain, and must be removed from Syria and eliminated. The UK has provided £2.4 million of support for this process, and we will continue to support the mission until Syria’s chemical weapons capability is eradicated.

Diplomatic progress on all of these issues often seems intractable and difficult, but it is vital that diplomacy succeeds, and we will persist undeterred by the frustrations and delays. At the same time we will strongly support the Middle East peace process, which remains central to international peace and security. We do not underestimate the challenges, but firmly believe that if Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas show further bold leadership, a negotiated two-state solution is possible. We are working with European partners to provide practical support to both sides, including bilateral assistance to the institution of a future Palestinian state.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 519

We are likely to face a long period of turbulence in many areas of the Middle East in the coming years, and if we do not succeed in diplomatic solutions in these three crucial conflicts and potential conflicts then the outlook would be dark indeed, for the region and for the peace and security of the world. In the coming weeks we will continue to maintain every possible effort to succeed”.

3.56 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Foreign Secretary’s Statement in another place, and I also thank the Government for advance sight of the Statement itself. On both issues there have been some significant and important recent developments, and we very much welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary chose to come to Parliament today to update the House.

On Iran, I start by also paying tribute to the efforts of our colleague and former Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, who, as the Minister said, clearly played a crucial role in driving forward these latest talks. I also pay tribute to the clear commitment shown by all of the P5 plus one leaders in attendance at Geneva. We remain of the view that the UK Government should continue to pursue the twin-track approach of sanctions and diplomacy. President Rouhani campaigned—and, of course, was elected in June this year—on a platform of taking the steps necessary to ease the pressure that sanctions are currently putting on the Iranian economy. We believe that sanctions have been effective, and continue to be important.

Of course, alongside continued sanctions, sustained diplomatic engagement remains key. We welcome the Government’s announcement today that a chargé d’affaires has been appointed, and we wish him well. Yet it is a matter of real regret that, despite historic progress at this weekend’s talks, they did not succeed in producing an agreement. The Minister knows that reports emerged over the weekend describing a French veto which prevented any deal from being signed, and yet this morning Secretary of State Kerry said of the deal,

“the French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and everybody agreed it was a fair proposal. There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it at that particular moment, they weren't able to accept that particular thing”.

In the light of these differing reports, I wonder whether the Minister would set out what the British Government believe were the key barriers which prevented a deal being reached this weekend. Can she also set out what steps are now being taken to help agree a deal that is likely to secure the support of all parties in the next round of talks? In particular, given the reported disagreements over Iran’s plutonium production capabilities, can she set out whether she expects that stopping or simply delaying the development of Iran’s reactor at Arak will be a component of any future deal?

It is inevitable and understandable that as the terms of a deal begin to emerge, it will become increasingly called into question by those parties which have a higher stake in these important issues. In the light of

11 Nov 2013 : Column 520

that, can the Minister set out what assurances have been offered to regional partners, in particular to Israel, which are concerned that the principle of an interim deal will by definition not provide sufficient guarantees that Iran will cease all activity which could contribute to developing a nuclear weapons capacity? Is there any possibility that a deal is in principle achievable and does that mean that there is an urgency to test what is now deliverable in practice? We welcome the commitment, of course, to renewing talks between negotiators on 20 November. Can the Minister set out whether any plans are in place for renewing talks at Foreign Minister level?

I turn now to Syria. As the Minister made really clear in repeating the Statement this afternoon, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains desperate and continues to worsen. Only today, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting the continued use of incendiary weapons in Syria and last week the UN confirmed that 40% of Syrians are now in need of assistance. Clearly, the most effective way to ease the suffering is to end the war itself but while efforts to broker a peace deal continue, it is vital that the international community lives up to its responsibilities to protect those most in need. We on this side welcome the important work that Her Majesty’s Government have been doing but, despite our country’s contribution, the United Nations appeal is still less than half funded. Can the Minister set out what steps the Government will be taking to try to help ensure that other donors now deliver on their unfulfilled pledges?

Since the last time that the Foreign Secretary addressed the other place on this issue, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed that Syria’s declared equipment for producing, mixing and filling chemical weapons has now been destroyed. That country now has until mid-2014 to destroy the remaining stockpiles of chemical weapons. However, given that the OPCW team confirmed that it was not able to visit two out of the 23 chemical weapons sites in Syria because they were too dangerous, can the Minister say what assurances are being sought for the protection of OPCW personnel who are due to carry out their further significant work in conflict zones across the country?

The real breakthrough needed that would improve the situation on the ground is, of course, a diplomatic one. That is why we welcome the recent focus that the international community has shown on trying to secure a date for the next round of the Geneva talks. It is indeed welcome that the SNC has today voted to accept the invitation to attend Geneva 2 as the representatives of the Syrian opposition. However, as its acceptance is conditional on the granting of humanitarian corridors by the Syrian regime, can the Minister set out the Government’s present assessment of the likelihood of that condition being met?

In the light of the Foreign Secretary’s recent discussions with representatives of the Iranian regime, can the Minister set out her assessment of the likelihood of Iran actually taking part in or offering its support for the peace conference? We support what the Statement said about the importance of women’s groups being represented in peace talks too. Our view is that Geneva II still offers the best prospect for securing a more stable

11 Nov 2013 : Column 521

future for the people of Syria and that the Government should be focused on ensuring that in the weeks ahead unstinting efforts will continue to be made to try to bring about this long-delayed but much needed conference.

4.05 pm

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I thank the Benches opposite and the noble Lord for his support for the work that has been done so far. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for the way in which she has led what are incredibly difficult negotiations. These are tough negotiations, with a long history, but we have narrowed the gaps where there were disagreements.

Talks in Geneva have made a lot of progress. There is no doubt that the parties are now much closer together. If a year ago we had tried to predict where we would be it would not be where we are now. Two months ago I could not have anticipated that so much progress could have been made. E3+3 has reached a consensus and we are firm that our goal for the process should be an agreement that offers real assurance on all our non-proliferation concerns, and we are confident that a deal is achievable.

The noble Lord spoke specifically about Arak. Iran has made it clear that it wants to have a right to enrich and wants that right recognised. At this stage we do not recognise such a right, but we have repeatedly said that once Iran addresses the international community’s concerns, its nuclear programme will be treated in the same manner as that of any other non-nuclear weapons state that is party to the NPT. This is the position of the E3+3. I shall not be drawn into the detail of the discussions on Arak at this stage. We want the negotiations to reap results and have agreed with Iran that proceedings will remain confidential. We are clear that there are a number of areas where gaps between the positions of the parties remain, but as I have said these gaps are now narrower and we need to maintain the momentum for negotiations. Iran needs to reflect seriously on its position before the next round of talks later this month.

We are also clear that we will agree a deal only if it offers us real assurance regarding the whole of Iran’s nuclear programme. A first-step deal will create the space and time for negotiations on a comprehensive solution, but it is in all our interests to reach a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and vital now to maintain that momentum. Partners in the region understand that this is going to be part of a comprehensive agreement in due course.

In relation to Syria, the noble Lord is right. There is still a severe shortfall in humanitarian access and support. We pushed successfully for further progress at the G20 and at the UN General Assembly, where more than $1 billion of new funding was pledged by the international community. This was a step in the right direction, but we accept that more needs to be done. The presidential statement has been helpful to some extent in supporting this progress, but the noble Lord may be aware that there is a further donor conference taking place in January of next year. The UN has announced that that pledging conference will be hosted by Kuwait around mid-January—on the 15th and 16th, we think—and the UK will push for it to raise significant finance to meet urgent humanitarian

11 Nov 2013 : Column 522

needs for Syria and the surrounding region. We will continue to lobby our donor partners to put forward high and ambitious pledges to support the Syrian people, but I accept that we are constantly playing catch-up in a region with probably the largest humanitarian disaster that the world has seen.

In relation to the OPCW and its inspectors in Syria, I had an opportunity to discuss this matter in some detail with my noble friend Lady Williams, who is not in her place. She raised concerns with me about protection. I assure noble Lords that we take the protection of these inspectors incredibly seriously, and we have seen real support and assistance from the Syrian regime for the work that was set out for the OPCW. Syria has declared a formal destruction plan and the OPCW is analysing the documentation and seeking clarification where necessary. We feel that detailed technical analysis will be required before any conclusions can be reached about whether it will complete the work that the inspectors are doing.

I hope that I have addressed most of the concerns that were raised by the noble Lord, but if I have not, I shall follow up in writing.

4.10 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): I, too, thank the senior Minister for repeating the Statement in such a timely manner. Does she agree that Iran is more relevant to securing international peace and security than it has been for some time? This is a pivotal moment in the history of the Middle East. Were a deal secured on the NPT, it would give us an opportunity to restart discussions on a nuclear-free Middle East. The Minister mentioned Syria, and Iran is key to a negotiated settlement there. Is she able to tell the House what discussions the Government are having with the United States? We hear very disturbing reports about how the Senate is preparing to have tougher sanctions against Iran here and now, in the next 10 days, before we can agree to the next round of discussions, and that Congress and the Senate are prepared to continue to obstruct a deal. In that case, should an obstruction of that kind occur, are there any plans for European Union countries to move away from UN sanctions into some other method of helping Iran, should a deal be available?

Baroness Warsi: My noble friend makes an important point. We must remember that it is because sanctions were imposed and were biting that we have reached this stage. Sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiating table in a serious way, so it is important that sanctions remain until we reach agreement. I hear what the noble Baroness says about the politics of what is happening in the US, but we feel that at this stage we need to push to reach agreement, at least on first steps, before any substantive discussions can take place in relation to sanctions.

I accept that Iran is an important and vital issue on which we must move forward, not just in the light of the nuclear issue but because of its role in Syria. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked about the role of Iran in any further discussions at Geneva II, and I think I did not answer. No decision has been made at this stage about the participation of Iran in Geneva II.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 523

The UN Security Council has agreed that the Geneva II conference should implement the Geneva communiqué. At this stage, Iran has not publicly endorsed the Geneva communiqué or made it clear that it supports the purpose of Geneva II; it is hard to see how it can play a constructive role without endorsing that communiqué. We continue to have concern about fighters, including the IRGC Quds force, which continue to operate within Syria.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, like everyone else in this House, I warmly welcome the fact that the negotiations gap between the two parties seems to have narrowed very considerably. I shall make two points to the Minister and ask her to regard them as chilling realities. First, for 20 years, Iran has cheated time and again over all negotiations relating to nuclear development—as far Arak is concerned, there is no heavy water facility and, with regard to Natanz, no question of enriching uranium—up to the point when it would have been impossible and childish to have maintained such denial.

Secondly, the main thrust of negotiations in relation to Iran, with all that has been very properly said about human rights, is to see to it that it does not become a nuclear power. If it becomes a nuclear power, the Middle East will be jeopardised with a ticking bomb under it. That must be avoided at all costs.

Baroness Warsi: I take on board what the noble Lord said. Exactly these kinds of concerns are uppermost in our minds when we are in negotiations. I think that I can give the noble Lord some comfort by saying that we feel that the new Iranian regime, following the election of President Rouhani and the appointment of the new Iranian negotiating team led by Foreign Minister Zarif, has taken a constructive approach. We believe that Mr Zarif wants to resolve this problem and that he is out to do a deal. We feel that Iran is under serious political and economic pressure and that it recognises that it is in its interest to reach an agreement with the E3+3. I hope that we will be able to reach that point soon, but we take part in these negotiations with our eyes wide open, and take fully into account the context in which we are operating and have been operating for a number of years.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab): My Lords, is there not a much more difficult problem about Iran? There are effectively two Governments there. The Minister is talking about discussions taking place under the Rouhani leadership, but back in Tehran, there is a religious leadership that has already tried to rein in the new Government back, in respect of the steps that they have taken towards rapprochement with the rest of the world. What confidence can the Minister—and, indeed, negotiators—have that any eventual settlement will not simply be rejected by the religious leadership in Iran, as it has already tried to distance itself from some of what is going on?

Secondly, I have a question about Syria. In a former life, I was the envoy to Bashar al-Assad and I had to deal with a lot of the people around him who were deeply unpleasant, very sinister and, in many ways, far

11 Nov 2013 : Column 524

more unyielding than Bashar al-Assad. Can the Minister give us an assurance that none of these people will be left to wield any power when eventually we see the end of this regime? There have been suggestions that the vice-president would have a role; the vice-president whom I met was certainly not a man I would want to see having any power in Syria in future.

Baroness Warsi: The noble Baroness comes to these matters with great experience and expertise. She has made valid points about the different seats of power within Iran. At the moment, we feel that the Foreign Minister and President Rouhani have a mandate under which they are operating. We have had a number of meetings with them; the Foreign Secretary has met the Foreign Minister on three separate occasions, and we genuinely feel that progress was recently made in Geneva. The offer on the table now being considered by the Iranians is something that they will have to come back to discuss; it may well be that on 20 November we will be much clearer about how committed all aspects of the Iranian seats of power are in taking this matter forward. At this stage, however, we feel that progress has been made and that there is an acceptance that this is in Iran’s interests.

In relation to Syria, the noble Baroness made an important point. It is why the statement from the national coalition issued only yesterday said clearly that the transitional council must not include al-Assad or others who have blood on their hands. I think those are exactly the kind of individuals to whom the noble Baroness refers.

Lord Stirrup (CB): My Lords, it is of course right that we should negotiate with Iran, with a clear eye and a suspicious mind. Surely the point of the sanctions in the first place is to get the Iranians to the negotiating table so that we can find some diplomatic solution to their nuclear programme. We should, therefore, be enthusiastic about the process, while being very suspicious about the detail. With that in mind, the Minister has emphasised the united front that our negotiators put up to Iran. That is not the perception one gains from the media. Does the Minister agree that that is very unhelpful, particularly as regards people such as the Israelis and the US Congress, who are already suspicious of the process, and that unhelpful and unguarded remarks made by people, such as those made by the French Foreign Minister to journalists, are likely to damage our cause rather than help it?

Baroness Warsi: The noble and gallant Lord will be aware that a number of tracks—sometimes bilateral and at other times multilateral—usually take place before these negotiations are finally concluded. It was important that the E3+3 came to the same place and that they presented a united front. I assure the noble and gallant Lord that that offer is now clear and that the E3+3 are all behind that united position. On sanctions, we are clear that Iran needs to take concrete steps which give assurance and build trust; by that I mean not words but actions. Once we see that change in actions we will be ready to act proportionately and respond.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, on Palestine-Israel, no doubt the noble Baroness will

11 Nov 2013 : Column 525

have listened to the important speech made by Secretary Kerry, which warned of a possible future intifada. Is it correct that because of the impasse, the Palestinians are now demanding that the Americans take the lead, put their own proposals on the table and press for them? On Syria, the noble Baroness spoke of the legitimate moderate opposition. However, is not the bulk of the fighting, and certainly of the effective fighting, done by jihadists? How representative, in her view, are the people who now speak for the opposition? Is it at all realistic to seek to have peace talks without Iran, a key regional player, being present?

Baroness Warsi: On the Middle East peace process, I have stood at this Dispatch Box on a number of occasions over the past 12 months and have said that this year is in many ways a definitive year for real progress to be made. I am heartened by the incredible amount of personal time and energy that Secretary Kerry has put into moving this forward. I think we all accept that the Middle East peace process is an intrinsic element of resolving the tensions in the region. At this stage, we continue to support the initiative led by Secretary Kerry in any way we can and are asked to. The noble Lord makes an important point on the opposition. Of course, I have read many papers and briefings on the make-up of the opposition. There is the national coalition, the armed section—which I think is called the SNC, although I am trying desperately to think of what that stands for.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): The Syrian National Council.

Baroness Warsi: Thank you. We are aware of a number of groups who have openly distanced themselves from the national coalition and the Syrian National Council—for example, al-Qaeda and affiliated groups. However, we are confident that the national coalition continues to represent a broad perspective of Syrian opinion and that that is the view of the Syrian people. We find that many of the armed groups that operate within Syria are not part of the national coalition or necessarily representative of the Syrian people, but have taken advantage of the situation that has arisen in that country.

Lord Roper (LD): Will the Minister comment on the report this morning that an agreement has been reached between the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Iranian authorities in Tehran on inspection of the Arak plutonium site? If that is the case, would it facilitate the negotiations and discussions on 20 November?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I am not familiar with the details of that report. I was aware that a round of talks was taking place. Perhaps I can write to the noble Lord with further details.

Lord King of Bridgwater (Con): My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness for not being here at the start of

11 Nov 2013 : Column 526

the Statement. I listened to her colleague deliver the same Statement in another place so I am familiar with it.

It seems to me that it is impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the situation faced in that whole region. The chances of Syria surviving as a single country, under the present pressures that it faces and the danger that it may split into three separate countries or separate organisations, seem to be very slim indeed. Against that background, it seems to me to be hugely important that the momentum of this effort to try to find peace through diplomacy is vital. I welcome the announcement about the chargé. The sooner he goes to Iran and establishes a base in Tehran the better.

The other key element in this surely is Russia. In this situation one can see a whole region in danger of collapsing into total confusion. Everyone has an interest in seeing a better outcome. I very much hope that we will press on, notwithstanding the comments, which I strongly support, that there is clear evidence that hardliners in Tehran, the Israeli Government, with their present attitude, and elements in Congress will do everything that they can to obstruct it.

Baroness Warsi: I can give my noble friend confidence by saying that the chargé whom we have appointed is someone who has served in Tehran before; in fact he was the deputy ambassador there. Indeed, when I spoke to him this morning, he was brushing up on his Farsi. He knows the country well, is incredibly well equipped and is the right man for the job. Of course, it is an important role and we hope that he will visit the country before the end of the month.

The Russians have been working closely with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, in relation to Syria and Iran as part of the E3+3. They have indeed taken a leading role in relation to the destruction of chemical weapons. It is a strong relationship; it is a relationship which we know we need to continue to work on because their role is crucial to achieving a settlement.

Lord Desai (Lab): My Lords, in the Statement read out by the noble Baroness it was clear that there are three conflicts: the negotiations with Iran, the Syrian conflict and the Israel-Palestine negotiations. Is there scope for expanding the Geneva process to be much more inclusive and to take these various things together because they are interconnected? The Minister mentioned, for example, that the Syrian National Coalition has recognised the Kurdish Syrian party and I am sure that the Turkish Kurdish party and the Iraqi Kurds are also trying to get together. We might be at a crucial juncture in the Middle East and it might be helpful to have a much more general Geneva conference, expanded to include all these problems together.

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord makes an important point but I think that he will probably accept that although each of these situations has overlapping issues, they are uniquely complex in their own ways. To try to bring the various issues together might make it too difficult to resolve any of them.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 527

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

4.28 pm

Clause 36: Duty to provide membership audit certificate

Amendment 118A

Moved by Lord Monks

118A: Clause 36, page 39, line 1, leave out “in relation to each reporting period” and insert “if—

(a) a formal complaint is received by the Certification Officer that would result in the Certification Officer requiring a membership audit in relation to the reporting period when the complaint was verified, and

(b) the Certification Officer determined that a certificate was required.”

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 118B and 118D standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stevenson, and shall also oppose the Question that Clause 36 stand part of the Bill. I will also speak in support of the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lord Whitty and Lord Lea of Crondall.

We are in some difficulty in dealing with Part 3. We had assumed that this was going to come up at around the end of the month because that was the original schedule. However, with the pause to Part 2 agreed here a week ago, it has all been rushed forward. Part 3 has been jinxed from the start. It was a very late addition to the Government’s programme and to the Bill. The short consultation period was in August, which is not a particularly busy month for many of us, and now, given the attention that has been given so far to Part 2, we are dealing with Part 3 on the run in this House before many people are remotely aware of its significance or of what it is about. However, our contention on this side is that this part of the Bill is very important. We hope that today we will at least be able to raise awareness of the issues at stake and appeal to fair-minded Members on all sides of the Committee for their support in looking in detail at what this part involves.

We have raised our opposition to the clause standing part as part of an attempt to persuade the Government to think again and to think further about what resembles a vindictive attempt to load on to trade unions a great new dollop of red tape—a new layer of bureaucracy that is unnecessary by any objective or fair-minded standard. Of course unions should keep accurate records. Indeed, they are already required to do so under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. They are required to make detailed returns on an annual basis to the certification officer. They are required to have independent scrutineers in all elections, and invariably those scrutineers check the membership registers. The certification officer—the union regulator—has the power to order a rerun if there is a complaint of sufficient importance.

I note from yesterday’s press that there are allegations by a defeated candidate about a recent election in Unite. By the way, that election was supervised by

11 Nov 2013 : Column 528

Electoral Reform Services—the old Electoral Reform Society. I also understand from the press that a complaint has now been made to the certification officer. If it is upheld, the certification officer will have appropriate powers, if necessary, to order a rerun. He does not need new powers as foreseen in the Bill. As far as I know, the certification officer has not asked for any new powers. He does not feel that he is lacking any ability to deal with issues that are referred to him. Therefore, I do not believe that there is any basis for heaping extra requirements on to unions. Likewise, industrial action ballots can be, and occasionally are, challenged by employers on the grounds either that inappropriate people are balloted or that people are missed out of a ballot. Therefore, unions have every incentive to keep accurate records.

I should like to know from the Government why they are doing this. What is the motivation for it? Why are they incurring considerable expense on all sides—unions, employers, the Government and the taxpayer—for this particular non-event? There is no rationale for this provision, which will involve extra bureaucracy and extra costs. This Government were anti-red tape when they were on the other side of the House, but they are obviously making an exception for trade unions.

The cry has gone up that we need more assurance and more confidence. I see the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, in his place. He suggested, among other things, that this was necessary because a union has a political role. Lots of other organisations have political roles, but are their membership rolls to be supervised by a public official? Are the political parties going to be thrown into the mix? Do we need some assurance about how many members they have? That would be very interesting for some of us to read. No, it is unions, again, that are being scapegoated and picked out to be given a kick on this issue.

By the way, only a small minority of unions have anything directly to do with the Labour Party, yet many, such as the Royal College of Nursing—which is, I may say, a good way off the Labour Party—will be affected by this part of the Bill. It is a blunderbuss, aimed at just one section of society that plays a political role. If I were paranoid, I would say that we were being persecuted.

The stated intended effect of the Bill is to ensure that voting papers and other communications reach union members, and so give greater confidence that members have the chance to participate in union affairs. There will be a new statutory duty to provide the certification officer with an annual membership audit certificate that provides an opinion on the union register, with the larger unions having to appoint an independent “assurer”—I have not come across that interesting title before—and a duty for the certification officer to appoint inspectors to investigate and make orders, and for those officials to issue declarations and enforcement orders for non-compliance. Heavy-handed, or what?

That is tough administration. Again, if unions were getting a litany of great numbers of complaints, I might be able to understand the reason for it. But there is no such evidence. As I and others pointed out at Second Reading, there is absolutely no practical reason for these measures to be in the Bill.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 529

Are union membership records defective? They are not perfect; I would be the first to acknowledge that. How can they be? Unions collect their money in one of three ways. The traditional way was through regular cash collections by voluntary officials such as branch secretaries, shop stewards and others. That is very difficult in some circumstances—in construction, for example, with a fluid workforce and many people on very short-term contracts. It is difficult in many other places, too, as anybody who has ever collected money for a political party or a voluntary organisation knows. The record keeping could sometimes slip, depending on the efficiency of the individual collector; I have no doubt about that.

The second way to collect subs is by the so-called check-off method, using deductions at source by an employer, for which the union usually pays the employer a handling charge. In one of my other roles, helping to secure auto-enrolment for pensions, we are having a lot of trouble with the quality of employer payrolls. With some of them, as many as one in four workers is not properly reflected on the payroll. I know that unions and employers together have big problems handling the check-off. In certain sectors, such as retail, there is a high turnover of labour: a third of the members of USDAW, the main retail union, have to be replaced each year just for membership numbers to stand still. Keeping those records up to date is a huge administrative job. The employer is probably paying a quarter in arrears anyway, so for a significant part of the quarter a union may be some way out with its membership register. The third method is by direct debit and standing order. They tend to be more accurate, so I shall not dwell on those.

Where are the problems with all this? It is not perfect, I agree. If I were the assurer I would not quite know how to deal with some of the sectors where unions have to collect their money and organise their members. Between 2000 and 2004, a total of six complaints were received by the certification officer, five of which were dismissed—and even for the sixth one he did not issue a declaration. He just expressed an opinion that some things could have been done differently. There had been no complaints in respect of a vast majority of unions. In fact, I did not know about another one at all until I read the Sunday Times yesterday.

I stress that there is no real problem. This is a remedy in search of a problem. I would like to think that many noble Lords on the other side of the House would be embarrassed about this waste of effort and time. The cost to unions of this part of the Bill on the Government’s own estimate is about £460,000. By the way, that is an underestimate, which fails to take into account the necessary changes to rule books. Some unions have to have rules revision conferences and some have them only every five years or so. It does not reflect the continuing cost of having the assurer and annual audit done year after year. It is not only unions that will have to pay. Business will have to pay and the estimate is about £400,000, £100,000 of which will end up on the Government’s budget, and therefore on all our budgets as taxpayers.

Some noble Lords will no doubt be thinking, “As a former general-secretary of the TUC, he would say that, wouldn’t he? It’s predictable stuff from the TUC”.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 530

But they do not need to take my word for it on this occasion. They need only glance at the report of the Regulatory Policy Committee, a business-dominated government committee attached to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills whose sole purpose is to curb red tape. I emphasise that the committee is composed largely of business representatives from the chambers of commerce, the Institute of Directors, and others. It has issued a rare red card to the Government on this matter—a stop notice in effect on Part 3. Unfortunately, this was not available at Second Reading. The House as a whole needs to be alerted immediately to the report, and I hope that it will be prepared to look afresh at this proposed legislation.

Some noble Lords may not care too much for trade unions; they may think that they deserve all the flak they get. But I ask the fair-minded to take a look at the report. I shall quote some points. It says that the impact assessment of the Bill,

“needs to provide a more detailed assessment of all likely costs to trade unions … supported by further evidence that was gathered … It is unclear how accurate and up-to-date a membership register will have to be for a union to be considered ‘compliant’ … or what process of investigation would be undertaken by an independent qualified assurer, or how rigorous that process would be”.

It also refers to the recurring costs. The committee illustrates that it was only after the Bill was published that the short August consultation period was started. It highlights the failure to follow appropriate better regulation processes—hence the issue of that very rare red card.

Our case today is not just about red tape. Individuals sometimes have to be careful who knows they are in a union. Countries that require a public official to know who is or is not in a union tend to be despotic tyrannies. Although I do not belabour the Government with that charge, information on union membership is very sensitive. Blacklists do exist. Eight major construction companies have recently admitted that and more than 2,000 workers are in line with legal cases against some of the biggest household names in British construction. There are worries about membership information finding its way to the unscrupulous end of employers. Worries have been expressed by parliamentary committees about breaching the confidentiality of union membership records. There are concerns, too, that Part 3, despite what is in the Bill, is not compatible with Articles 8 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights or with certain obligations concerning the International Labour Organisation.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has asked the Government to address these concerns during the course of proceedings on the Bill. There is plenty of criticism from around the House of this part of the Bill. Part 3 in fact confers powers on state officials in relation to voluntary organisations that seem odd in a liberal democracy—organisations which, under these international obligations, are protected from too much state interference. Only if there is a proportionate need, is the theme running through them, should curbs be brought in. I have not seen anybody yet demonstrate that there is any sort of proportionate need. Therefore, in the period between now and Report stage, we will be trying to raise general awareness about Part 3 and its rather vindictive,

11 Nov 2013 : Column 531

malicious nature. The Government did listen to reason on Part 2 and I hope that they will listen again on Part 3 in this intervening period. We are looking for support for our contention that Clause 36, a keystone clause in Part 3, should not stand part of the Bill.

4.45 pm

I hope too that there will be support for the other amendment’s. I refer briefly to Amendment 118A, which would adjust the reporting duties so that it would be only once a complaint was received that the process laid out in the Bill would have to kick off. Amendment 118B would introduce an appeals mechanism for unions to say, “Come on, this is ridiculous”. I leave the merits of Amendment 118C in the capable hands of my noble friends Lord Whitty and Lord Lea. On Amendment 118D, I simply point out that the amendment is part of a series that seeks to make the Bill less onerous, complicated and costly to unions and employers. It aims to probe whether the Government are really hell-bent on a Bill based on anti-union prejudice or are open to constructive ideas. It seeks to do this by deleting the requirement on a union in relation to these reporting periods—a duty to submit the membership audit certificate in relation to each reporting period—which would be at least one year. We seek to alter this to require a union to submit a membership audit certificate if the section is invoked.

At the moment the Government resemble Don Quixote, tilting by reflex at the trade union windmill, dreaming up remedies before they have identified the problems, and prodding unions with a stick, like little Albert in Stanley Holloway’s piece, to try and incite some reaction and make a rather shabby political point. Polishing up union-bashing credentials seems to be a rite of passage for some on the other side of the House. Just remember this. A recent poll has shown that 78% of the population believe that,

“trade unions are essential to protect workers’ interests”.

The Government therefore should think again before Report. They should start to act in a fair-minded way and not be blinded by ill-informed prejudice. I beg to move.

Baroness Turner of Camden (Lab): I rise to support these amendments. This section of the Bill is yet more evidence of the opposition of the Government to the interests and desires of ordinary working people—to their need to organise to represent their legitimate interests at a time when employment rights are constantly under government attack. Now we have this attempted legislation, which is a direct attack on unions and their ability to represent their members and provide a service to them. There is already legislation in place as we have heard, in the 1992 Act, which requires unions to maintain a register of members with a certification officer in charge of implementation. As my noble friend has pointed out, there have been hardly any complaints under that legislation and only one with any substance requiring further examination. The Government have not produced any evidence to support the amending legislation they are now proposing.

Government spokespeople often stress the importance of voluntary organisations, but unions are among the largest voluntary organisations in the country. Although

11 Nov 2013 : Column 532

the media, most of which seek to demonise unions, refer only to union bosses, most local and workplace work is done by willing volunteers. Yet unions are the only voluntary organisations to have this kind of internal bureaucracy imposed upon them and at their expense. The CBI, employers’ organisations, organisations representing bankers and the fiscal industries do not have this; only unions are to have this additional expensive official, an allegedly independent person, who is not voted for by them but is imposed upon their internal administration.

What of the privacy of ordinary members? What of their confidentiality? It is clear that the Government are intent on making things much more difficult for a union affiliated to the Labour Party. However, not all of them are. Most are affiliated only after a ballot of those who pay the political levy, which is surely a matter for union members themselves. The TUC has made substantial criticism of the Bill, which it regards as an attack upon democracy. It believes that it would make organising a conference in advance of the general election, even its own congress in 2014, a criminal offence, because it would be in advance of an election.

The campaigning organisation, Liberty, has also opposed this section of the Bill, believing it to be a breach of Article 11 of the European employment rights legislation. The Government, of course, disagree. I regard this section as undemocratic and a further attack on the employment rights of ordinary people. The Government pretend that it is not. However, to weaken the ability of the unions to adequately do the job for which their members belong weakens those members. Strong unions mean better pay and conditions, which is one of the reasons why millionaires do not like them much.

We in this House should not be misled by media misrepresentation of unions and should recognise the contribution that they make to the support and welfare of ordinary working people. This section of the Bill should therefore be opposed. I fully support what my noble friend said in his introduction to this section.

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have been a member of the GMB for 40 years this year and was a member of other unions prior to that. I therefore have an axe to grind—not a pecuniary one—and I share that interest with millions of our fellow citizens and with many who are not in trade unions but who, nevertheless, benefit from the way in which trade unions operate in the market.

My Amendment 118C seeks to delete from the clause the reference to this peculiar new invention of an assessor. The Government have seen fit to invent a whole new profession and office for reasons which, as my noble friend Lord Monks said, are not entirely clear. The role of the assessor is dealt with in more detail in Clause 37, and I will return to make more detailed remarks in that respect. The central point is why the Government think that they need to invent a relatively costly new bureaucratic structure when they already have the powers in the role of the certification officer, who can deal with any complaint received, intervene and censure a union if inadequate documentation is provided. As my noble friend has said, there are already substantial penalties available

11 Nov 2013 : Column 533

to certification officers if ever one of the few complaints they receive is upheld. In this section of the 1992 Act, there is also the possibility for individuals to complain, not only to the certification officer but to the courts, about the failure of trade unions to maintain proper records and many other provisions of that Act.

So why is a new structure being proposed? As my noble friend Lord Monks has said, there are problems in maintaining a register of trade unions with names and addresses and accurate records. By and large, most of the population moves every four years, and the impact assessment recognises this. People change their address every four years and tend to move job slightly more frequently than that. In some cases, they change the way in which they pay their union dues, or the name of the company for which they work changes. At any given point, it is difficult to maintain a 100% accurate register, but the Act rightly says,

“so far as is reasonably practicable”.

That is the basis on which the certification officer makes a judgment.

It is not clear in this Bill whether the Government intend to invoke more stringent principles of how to decide whether or not it is an accurate register. If they are, it is not in the Bill. Is the assessor, or whoever advises them, to develop new codes? If so, the House should be told before we proceed. I will return to the role of the assessor, which appears in the next clause.

I also strongly support the aim of the amendment of my noble friends Lord Monks and Lord Stevenson to delete this clause and this whole part of the Bill. We have looked at the impact assessment, which estimates the costs to unions, the Government and employers. For unions, it is assessed at around £400,000. I have had representations from all sorts of unions—my own, the National Union of Teachers, which is not affiliated to this party, and the Royal College of Nursing, to which my noble friend has referred and which is not affiliated either to the TUC or to the party. These indicate clearly that the cost of implementing these provisions and initiating the changes in procedure and rules that is required would be substantially more than that.

Even more interesting is that only £140,000 is allocated to additional costs to the Government, whereas if they were really trying to enforce this, they should give the certification officer significantly more powers. It is arguable that under the present rules the certification officer may need more resources, but that is not what this Bill is about. It is about an entirely new approach to this area. The even more interesting part of the impact assessment is that the benefit at one point is described as nil. That is a pretty telling internal report on a proposal from Ministers: at a cost of £400,000, which I think will be rather larger, plus £100,000 or so to the Government, the benefit is nil.

My noble friend Lord Monks has already cited the Regulatory Policy Committee, which basically says that this is one of the daftest proposals that has ever come before it, and there is no justification for it. Even the Government, who have been scraping around for supporters of this Bill during a rushed consultation period over the holiday month, could not get more than lukewarm support from the CBI, which said that

11 Nov 2013 : Column 534

it would not be its first priority. Where are the Government coming from on this? The benefit to restating and providing a bureaucratic infrastructure to enforce the requirement of unions to keep membership records effectively is not justified in anything the Government have so far said about this, either in the impact assessment or in speeches in the House of Commons, which was of course very late in the proceedings.

5 pm

That has naturally given rise to various levels of paranoia from the trade union movement. I should say on behalf of me and my colleagues: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you”. There are some hints in the impact assessment that they may really be talking about strike ballots, which are not relevant, as my noble friend Lord Monks said. The issue in a strike ballot is whether the people who are balloted are those, and all those, in a particular bargaining unit. That depends on the definition by the union and the employer; it does not depend on the totality of any union’s register of members and their addresses. An alternative suggestion was that the proposal relates to internal elections within unions because the Government, in some way or other, do not like the people who are being elected. Occasionally the Labour Party leadership does not like them, either. The fact of the matter is that if something is wrong with an election, the defeated candidate can complain to the certification officer, as happened in a recent case to which my noble friend referred. If an officer finds in favour of the complainant, then the election is run again. What additional powers do the Government see coming out of these changes that would affect that situation?

My final reason is perhaps the most sinister. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has left the Chamber, even though he made remarks at Second Reading that suggested that the Liberal Democrats in particular were on about trade union political funds, which, of course, are dealt with in entirely different legislation. I agree that decent membership records are required but political funds are not dealt with in this part of the Bill. Even if the Government were out to bankrupt the Labour Party, this proposal would not do so. I therefore have to say to Ministers that if those more Machiavellian motives were their real motives, they have got it wrong. If, however, the proposals were a reasonable and fair-minded attempt simply to improve the situation, then again they have got it wrong because the present powers are sufficient.

The Government are introducing something which, if they had imposed it on any other entity within our civic society, would have been regarded as otiose or even oppressive. We shall come later to the oppressive aspects of these proposals. We have yet to hear from the Minister today on this; we certainly did not hear from him at Second Reading. Unless he can give us a more coherent and persuasive argument as to why these matters need to be addressed and why this new structure has to be imposed, this clause—indeed, this whole section of the Bill—would be best left out and we should not proceed further with it.

That would be a drastic measure but there is time in which the Government could think up some new reasons as to why they are making these proposals.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 535

There is a pause in relation to Part 2: if the Government use that time to engage in a proper consultation, they may conclude that these proposals are unnecessary, or they may be able to concoct more convincing reasons as to why they are necessary. However, for the moment, as it stands, the Bill is nonsensical and unnecessary, and imposes a cost on trade unions and their members that does not deliver any benefit, as the Government’s impact assessment suggests. That is good reason enough for them at least to pause but possibly abandon this part of the Bill.

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, I should like to pick up from where my noble friend Lord Whitty left off. The more that the British public start to understand the Kafkaesque nature of the Bill—Part 3 in particular—the more, during the pause to which my noble friend referred, people around the House, not just on these Benches, will recognise that it is an outrageous measure.

I take this opportunity to list the very onerous administrative burdens that, as my noble friend Lord Monks was saying, are going to be placed in addition to those that exist at the moment. It is a rather formidable list. This is what the Bill would do in addition to what is done at the moment: it would require unions to submit to the certification officer a membership audit certificate. Secondly, it would require unions with more than 10,000 members to appoint a qualified, independent person to act as an assurer who will provide the union membership audit certificate and carry out such inquiries as they consider necessary to provide the certificate.

Thirdly, the Bill will give new, substantial investigatory powers to the certification officer who will be entitled to: require the production of relevant documents or authorise another person to do so; require explanations of those documents from their producer or any person who is or has been an official of the union, including assurers; and appoint an inspector to investigate compliance with the duty to maintain a register of names and addresses of members if circumstances suggest that the union has failed to comply with that duty or the duties relating to the membership audit certificate.

Lastly, the Bill will give new enforcement powers to the certification officer, who would be able to make a declaration of non-compliance with duties relating to the register and subsequently to issue an enforcement order that would impose requirements to take steps to remedy the failure. Then, of course, there will be penalties at the end of that.

Where would one normally go in a democracy to find out an evaluation of such a lengthy list of new requirements? As my noble friend Lord Monks has said, it is not exactly a bonfire of red tape. One would go to a Select Committee or a Standing Committee. I think there is scope here for a Select Committee but there are different ways in which you can skin this cat during the pause. One of them is the report from the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee which says that this Bill has requirements which are disproportionate to anything that the Bill wishes to achieve. It states that,

11 Nov 2013 : Column 536

“other than in cases of emergency, all Bills should, as standard practice, go through pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament”.

We are touching on a really serious feature of the way this has been done.

To me, the most significant part of the Regulatory Policy Committee’s damning report is the way it puts the finger on Ministers who, for political reasons, make use of Whitehall expertise so that the business department in effect invents a problem in order to solve it. In other words, the RPC says, in terms, in the impact assessment statement—I have pity on those who have to draw it up—“What is the problem that we are trying to solve?” Because it had not been told exactly, it had to postulate what the problem was. It finds itself going around in concentric circles. In the words of the RPC:

“The IA is not fit for purpose”.

That is not to do with the probity of the people writing it. If I was a former Permanent Secretary of a government department or a former Cabinet Secretary, this would to me be a further example of the way in which respect for the quality of the Civil Service, which, from the famous mid-19th century Northcote report, has been a model for the world, has vanished. Now, civil servants are being used as footballs. It would be very useful to hear from judges, former Permanent Secretaries and others without a political axe to grind—as we obviously can be said to have.

The committee states:

“The IA is not fit for purpose”,

and that it,

“needs to provide a more detailed assessment”,

of the costs. It finds that the impact assessment probably underestimates the cost to trade unions by 100%. In other words, instead of being £400,000 it is probably £800,000. It depends to some extent on the cost per hour of a typical person responsible for those matters in a trade union. The IA puts it at £12 an hour, in line with a voluntary organisation. I may say that the houses that trade union officials live in are not palatial, but trade union officials with those responsibilities get more than £12 an hour. It is that on which we base the rest of the edifice of cost, which the Regulatory Policy Committee says is grossly underestimated.

As we go through the clauses, the case will build for the whole measure being a long way over the top. It is then quite embarrassing to have to ask people: what can we do to amend it? Frankly, the concept is so flawed and so politically motivated that actually clause stand part is the only way to approach it; you might say that about this whole section of the Bill.

Submissions have been made by individual unions. The mindset on the part of the Government is that all those unions are affiliated to the Labour Party by some wicked connection. “Did you know?”, they might say. I will be corrected if I am wrong, but in terms of the number of unions, I think that only 20% or so of unions are affiliated to the Labour Party. My noble friend Lord Whitty says that I have overestimated it, but I will say 20%. We are talking about unions being affiliated to the Labour Party, but not all unions are affiliated to the TUC. In a later amendment, I will be presenting some of the detailed concerns about the Bill from the Royal College of Nursing. It is not

11 Nov 2013 : Column 537

affiliated to the TUC. I do not think that it will ring the same bells in the mind of many members of the Conservative Party as unions which are part of the TUC. It makes a point, which is well made in the TUC’s main submission, that people jump to the conclusion that there may be civil liberties issues in Part 2, but there are not civil liberties issues in Part 3. That is not the case at all when one thinks about the circumstances in which people can be identified in reports to independent assessors. There is no regard to information which is supposed to be private, in some cases because names and addresses are sensitive.

At some stage during this pause, between now and the new year, a process must take place to test whether we on this side of the House are right, or whether people on the other side of the House are right. It will not be easy to judge this today, but I think that the case we are putting forward, and will continue to put forward, will prove overwhelming.

5.15 pm

Baroness Donaghy (Lab): My Lords, I do not want to repeat points which have already been made by other noble Lords, but two points do bear underlining. First, the consultation period has already been mentioned, but I am not sure that noble Lords know its exact dates. It opened on 17 July this year and closed on 16 August. I would like to ask any fair-minded person whether they thought that to be a sufficiently long period for consultation, and whether that was the right time of year to have such a serious constitutional consultation. My second point, which has already been made but bears repeating, is that the Regulatory Policy Committee stated that:

“The impact assessment lacks a sound evidence base and is insufficiently robust to justify RPC validation of the estimated costs to civil society organisations (trade unions)”.

That is a damming indictment of the process that this Government have adopted. Even if the proposals were valid and fair, and even if we understood their motivation, I would say that the process is not just flawed but a public disgrace.

Let us look again at the impact assessment. I should emphasise that I am not criticising the civil servants who drafted it. They are magicians; they have conjured up some window dressing for this crackpot idea, which puts them on a par with Tommy Cooper. I blame the crackpot idea. The impact assessment states:

“Anecdotal evidence from a few employers provided as part of informal consultation with stakeholders suggests that some employers would benefit from being provided greater assurance that membership lists are accurate”.

“A few employers”; “suggests”; “some would benefit”: how in the name of bureaucracy are some employers going to benefit from a certificate? That is all that they are going to get. In the next paragraph the impact assessment states:

“Given the complexity of maintaining up-to-date registers there is a danger that trade union members, employers and the general public will not be confident that unions are complying with their duty to maintain an accurate and up-to-date register”.

Who says that there is a danger? Here is another quote:

“We have received views from some employers that there is a perception”—

11 Nov 2013 : Column 538

this is going further and further back—

“that trade union membership details may be inaccurate”.

Yet the impact assessment then goes on to state:

“But we have no direct evidence that unions are not complying with the existing statutory duty to maintain their list of members”.

Let me repeat that. This impact assessment—which the Government expect us to take seriously, even though it was not actually published at the same time as the Bill—acknowledges that there is no evidence that unions are not complying with the existing statutory duty to maintain their list of members. This is a shocking example of a complete failure to produce evidence to justify this dubious policy.

The finances are also way out of line. We are told that independent assurers will be appointed from professional bodies such as solicitors, auditors and scrutineers. The cost to the trade unions for these assurers is estimated by the impact assessment to vary between £5,000 and £15,000. I have never met an auditor yet who would get out of bed for those sorts of figures. I could go on. The intellectual base and the rationale for this proposal are absent, but the petty prejudice of this Government is only too obvious.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, my noble friend asked at the beginning of her speech whether the Committee thought that a 30-day period—no more than that—was adequate for consultation. It is quite clear that the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, which has reported on consultation matters, thought that such a period is inadequate and that a six-week period ought to be regarded as a working minimum. As my noble friend pointed out, the period in question partly covered a holiday period as well. That is just one flaw in this process, which is another example of this Government’s propensity to cobble together wholly unrelated issues into a single Bill.

I said at Second Reading on the anti-social behaviour Bill that it was not so much a curate’s egg as a curate’s omelette, combining as it did a variety of different substances. I said on that occasion that there were unsavoury ingredients; I have to say in connection with this part of the Bill that these are certainly unsavoury ingredients. It is strange, is it not, that this is a Government who have taken so long to begin to do anything about the massive scandals in the banking industry, the regulation of letting agents—my noble friend Lady Hayter has been pursuing that for some years—the energy companies or payday lenders, none of which are effectively regulated but are all matters of huge public concern? Yet they do not get legislation, let alone legislation in the form in which it emerges in this Bill.

The Explanatory Notes give some justification for Part 1, the part of the Bill that was contained in the coalition agreement. I think it was also in the Conservative manifesto. It was certainly the Prime Minister’s intention to deal with the “next scandal” which he, perhaps rightly, identified as political lobbying. Three years on we get a Bill which deals with that, after a fashion, but with these additional elements thrown in—and in a quite unjustified and unexplained way.

The Explanatory Notes do not touch on the rationale for these proposals. Just as the anti-social behaviour Bill includes such matters as dangerous dogs, firearms,

11 Nov 2013 : Column 539

court fees and policing, all dragged together in a Bill which is supposed to be dealing with anti-social behaviour, in this Bill we get proposals, out of nowhere, affecting trade unions in a way that is not imposed on any other sector. It is not imposed on professional bodies or, in anything like this form, on the world of charities. It is purely a question of singling out trade unions. As others of my noble friends have said, perhaps these proposals were intended to convey the misguided

view that these are all political organisations pledged to support the Labour Party, which is palpably not the case. It is an unfortunate example of recidivism on at least the Conservative part of this coalition Government that they should hark back to that kind of divisive and inaccurate view of the trade union movement, which is much broader than they would like people to think.

There is no justification for Part 3. We have yet to hear from the Government why at the last minute they have chosen to add this dubious ingredient to the legislative omelette to which I have referred. It will be interesting to hear what explanation the Minister can give over and above the flimsy grounds that have been referred to by my noble friends already, particularly my noble friend Lady Donaghy, and the handful of responses that conditionally seem to raise concerns that have not been adequately explored or explained. This is an unworthy addition to a Bill that should have dealt with the much more serious problem of the impact on our parliamentary democracy of lobbying, which the Prime Minister identified all that time ago. This is hugely important.

When it comes to compiling information, perhaps the Government should give more attention to ensuring that we have a fully complete electoral register underpinning that parliamentary democracy, while expressing their concerns in this very party-political way about the membership of trade unions organisations, which are already significantly regulated. I hope that this debate will persuade the Government to have second thoughts. I am not over-optimistic, but they really ought to have second thoughts about pushing forward a measure that is irrelevant, in this part anyway, to the needs of our country, to the role of the trade unions and to industrial relations.

It also imposes a significant financial burden on the sector. In local government, we have something called the new burdens theory, under which, if new responsibilities are laid on local authorities, the Government are supposed to make financial allowance for them. There is no indication whatever that they will do so here. Yet this is a Government who, in their legal aid provisions, scramble round to find areas for cutting back on access to justice for minimal savings. They are prepared to inflict on organisations representing millions of people costs in excess of those that they are seeking to achieve by legislative measures in that area. It is a disgrace and the Government should think again.

Baroness Drake (Lab): I support my noble friends Lord Monks and Lord Stevenson. Trade unions are a very important part of civil society. In their contribution to it they have many proud achievements: the equal treatment of part-time workers; the financial assistance

11 Nov 2013 : Column 540

scheme for pensioners whose companies go bust; and the national minimum wage, to mention just a few. These concepts were challenged at the time, but are now accepted as an integral part of a civilised and advanced society.

A free and independent collective voice for ordinary working people is also an essential ingredient for a secure democracy, whether we look back to the 20th century or to what is happening in some emerging economies. Oh, for some of the mature, stable, free, independent voices to address some of the issues that have occurred in those civil societies! In spite of that, at the moment we have a narrative that quite crudely says, “Unions bad, employers good”.

We are seeing in this Bill an opportunity to give extensive powers to part of the state to access trade union membership records, allowing third parties, whoever they may be, to make complaints. These powers are being granted in the absence of coherent reasons for the Government to make this necessary, or of a problem that they are seeking to remedy. We are struggling to understand that. This is a sizeable attack on an important, voluntary set of organisations in their contribution to civil society, and they are being subjected to potential onerous conditions.

Much mention has been made of strike ballots. I confess to having conducted quite a few in my previous existence. As my noble friend Lord Whitty commented, they are about bargaining units and who are the union members within those units. The employer wants to know exactly who is involved in the strike and which employees will be absent. Employers can readily seek injunctions if they are unhappy with the information that unions provide. I know to my cost—I have experienced those injunctions and have had to stand there and explain in detail. I do not bite ankles, but I still found myself facing an injunction.

5.30 pm

If you have a very large employer and employees move around a lot, it can be quite difficult. You have a very good database of the members and their membership, but you do not know which operational unit members may have been moved into by that employer. There are some quite significant challenges on trade unions to keep on top of their membership records, and to keep on top of them for strike ballot purposes, which seem to be being swept away as somehow not fit for purpose and really quite trivial, as if we really needed these more onerous conditions to come into play.

The right to freedom of association should not be made too onerous or undermined too lightly if one values democratic society or if one is having difficulty with the terms of political debate, because the price is really quite high. I fear that the Bill may have unintended consequences, because it is being rushed through. It has not been thought about and there is no evidence of the compelling reason for these changes.

The Bill provides the certification officer with extensive new powers to access and retain the registers of members’ names and addresses, and several other documents that he may wish to get his hands on when he has reason to decide that he needs them. It is a fact of life—I have gone to factories in my coat when it is

11 Nov 2013 : Column 541

quite cold and spoken to employers and union members—that employees are frightened of letting their employer know that they are a trade union member. Even if there is not black-listing, it is quite scary when you feel that your company, your factory or your workplace is getting really bad, with random redundancies and wages being cut. You cannot articulate that as an individual, so you take the initiative to try to find a collective voice or some lady or man who will come to speak for you, because it is quite frightening to speak to your employer. People say, “I want to join the union, and I want the union to come, but don’t tell them I’m a member because I’m petrified of the consequences. When you’ve got enough members and you’ve got recognition, fine—but I don’t want it to be known that I’m a union member”. That is the reality in some workplaces. They are not all colossuses, striding around; a lot of it is about frightened people without a voice, and sometimes the trade union is their only prospect of getting a collective voice. I have had it said to me, and I have done it myself. You have to put their details on the central membership record, but you take action to make sure that their details are not circulated; you promise that you will not bandy around the details of their membership but will protect them. I worry that with third parties and whoever—and who knows how the provisions of the Bill could evolve, when we start getting into the granularity of challenging membership records—things might be done to vulnerable individuals that were never intended as a consequence of the Bill. We may start to undermine the freedom of association and the right to the collective voice of which, I hope, we are all so proud and which are such an essential part of an independent democracy.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, I start, as I did at Second Reading, by declaring my interest as a member of a union. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. There have been some excellent speeches, which, taken together, have put the onus on the Government about the content, consultation, timing and purpose of the Bill in such a way as to leave one with the very strong impression that this is, in some sense, a very partisan measure.

If I were the Minister and had felt the strength of what was being said, I might want to crawl away and lick my wounds at this stage. The Minister does pick them. He has had this experience before, so perhaps he will learn from it.

We believe that Part 3 is unnecessary. It has been described as a confidentiality-breaching, red-tape-increasing solution to a problem that does not exist. So I invite the Minister to demonstrate to us that there is a serious public policy issue behind this proposal. When he responds, will he state as clearly as possible what he thinks the problem is, what this Bill will achieve that current legislation does not achieve and why the measures he is proposing will do more than simply increase regulatory burdens on trade unions? I hope he will do better than simply repeat what is in the BIS consultation which states:

“Trade union activity has the potential to affect the daily lives of members and non-members. The general public should be confident that voting papers and other communications are reaching union members so that they have the opportunity to participate,

11 Nov 2013 : Column 542

even if they choose not to exercise it. As a result, unions also have a responsibility to give public assurance that they are keeping up-to-date registers”.

It is motherhood and brown bread.

We agree with that, but as the Minister well knows, union membership is already regulated by the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. Section 24(1) puts a duty on unions to maintain an up-to-date register of members’ names and addresses so far as reasonably practicable. This legislation has stood the test of time since the days of Mrs Thatcher. In recent times, unions have always had a legal obligation to maintain accurate membership lists. As it happens, it is in their own interests to do so, and the certification officer already has sufficient powers to deal with inaccurate membership records, but has not needed to do so for many years. So the Minister should, in words of one syllable, explain precisely what is wrong with that legislation.

As has been said already, we are not aware of any calls having been made to the Government to extend this provision. BIS, the certification officer and ACAS have confirmed under freedom of information requests that they have received no representations for such a measure. Not even those employer and right-wing groups that consistently call for further legal restrictions on unions have ever campaigned for this change. Can the Minister explain precisely what public concern he is responding to with these proposals?

There are a number of organisations whose list of registered members is of real importance to the public; doctors, lawyers and chartered accountants come to mind. If someone wants to check whether a professional is on the list, the accuracy of that register is key to the assurance such a register provides, so one would expect that on the lines now being suggested for trade unions there must be external, independent checks and there must be certificates in place to provide comfort to patients or clients that the relevant registers are up to date. What do we find? The Library kindly carried out a survey for us of some bodies.

Chartered accountants must belong to a recognised body, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales or other membership organisation which protects the quality and integrity of the accountancy profession. I am a qualified accountant with the ACCA. Our Library’s research has failed to locate any independent membership verification of its membership list. The ICAEW’s members elect members of their council but still have no independent assurer to check the list of voters, their addresses or whether the details held are accurate and complete.

The Bar Council represents barristers, but is not a trade union, although it represents the interests of the Bar on all matters relating to the profession: trade union, disciplinary et cetera. Although the Bar Council is the source of information about whether someone is a barrister, it told the Library that its membership list is not independently verified. Solicitors are represented by the Law Society, which aims to help, protect and promote them, but its list has no independent outside person to assure the public of its accuracy and completeness.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 543

The strangest is doctors. Doctors are required by law to be registered with the GMC before they can undertake medical practice, and the GMC’s list includes details of their qualifications and their fitness to practise problems. It is the doctor’s responsibility to be on the register, and there is no independent assurer to certify the accuracy of that record. However, the trade union to which doctors belong—the BMA—will have to appoint such an assurer to confirm its records. Perhaps the Minister could explain why it is more important to have an externally verified list of BMA members than the far more significant list of medical practitioners held by the GMC.

As is now well known, this Bill was published as the summer Recess started and was rushed through the House of Commons—so rushed that the regulatory impact assessment for Part 3 was published only in September. It has only just been made available, during the Committee stage of the Bill in the other place. As we have heard, however, it has been considered by the Regulatory Policy Committee—an independent body largely composed of senior industrialists—and has been given a rare red rating by that body. The last one was in connection to “shares for rights” in a Bill that the noble Viscount might well recall, it having been debated rather vigorously in this House.

On the impact assessment, the Regulatory Policy Committee said:

“The IA is not fit for purpose. The assessment is not sufficiently robust to justify validation of the equivalent annual net cost to business figure … It is unclear how accurate and up-to-date a membership register will have to be for a union to be considered ‘compliant’ with the proposed new requirements; or what process of investigation would be undertaken by an independent qualified assurer, or how rigorous that process would be. Thus, the accuracy of a union’s register, the time costs of the assurance process, and the fee payable to the assurer, all remain highly uncertain”.

Therefore, it is not just saying that it does not believe what is there; it is saying that the way the Bill is constructed is so vague and imprecise that it is not possible to draw a conclusion as to whether the costs outweigh the benefits that have been provided. As we have heard, the benefits are rather low. As has already been mentioned, the committee notes that the very short consultation period and the failure to follow appropriate better-regulation framework processes put in place by the Government are both factors that may contribute to the lack of a sound evidence base. This is a truly shameful state of affairs.

My noble friend Lord Monks asked the Minister to explain why the department did not follow the better-regulation framework processes. On the points of substance, will more evidence be gathered? Will we get a more detailed assessment of all likely costs to the trade unions? Will there be more evidence gathered from consultation with stakeholders? All these points were made by the Regulatory Policy Committee. Will we get a figure for the estimated cost to unions of changing the rules before the Bill finishes its consideration in this House? We need this if we are to consider this measure in the round, so we really need a reworked impact study addressing the complaints made by the independent committee. Will we have this and, if so, when will it be ready?

11 Nov 2013 : Column 544

Having said that, there is one section on the impact assessment that is positive. Again, I would like to ask the Minister what he reads into this. It says, on the question of the one-in, two-out rule:

“The measures contained in this impact assessment are in scope of the one-in, two-out rule. The Bill will impose a net annual direct cost on trade unions, which are classified as civil society organisations”.

That being so, could we please learn what the “two outs” are that will be given to the trade unions in return for the “one in” that has been proposed?

Ministers have stated, as they are required to do, that the Bill is compliant with the Human Rights Act, but the Minister will be aware that Liberty believes that the introduction of additional compliance and scrutiny measures on trade union registers of members may constitute a breach of Article 11. That article protects the right to freedom of association, including the right to form and join a trade union. As has been said, restrictions are permitted only if they pass a test of pressing social need and proportionality. Will he explain why he thinks that this additional burden of measures on trade unions does not breach the right in Article 11(2), in the light of its potentially intrusive nature into the private affairs of union members and unions’ internal affairs? Can the Minister set out the legitimate policy aims that pass the strict test expressed in that article?

Without an adequate explanation of what the Government are trying to achieve here, far better arguments about why the existing legislation is deficient and the information to judge whether the costs imposed justify the regulatory burden being introduced in the larger unions, it is hard to see why we should not proceed to oppose the clause stand part Motion, as we have proposed. As my noble friend Lady Drake said, the unions in Britain play a significant part in the modern economy. They should be cherished, not castigated. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, if the Government had brought forward such a burdensome set of duties to any other section of civil society, there would be an outcry. There is indeed an outcry and we should listen.

5.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con): My Lords, my first point is that I do not wish to make any reference to reports that I read in the Sunday Times yesterday. As the noble Lord, Lord Monks, correctly said, the certification officer has been called in to investigate; it is not for me to comment further and it is for him to progress or otherwise.

Secondly, I want to acknowledge the many distinguished Members opposite who have led unions and have had substantial responsibility for individuals within the unions in the past. Some of these unions have been very big, with many hundreds of thousands of members, so I want to thank those noble Lords for their contributions. I realise that in the past they have been very much in the public eye with all that has gone on over several decades.

I shall deal with the amendments to Clause 36 and the question of whether the clause should stand part together. Clause 36 is intended to give widespread assurance that unions are able to contact their members

11 Nov 2013 : Column 545

and that, as a result, union decisions reflect the will of their members. This should enhance the democratic credibility of union actions to a wider audience. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, could not have put it better. This is important because unions have extensive influence—in public life and in the daily lives of their members. Actions they take can also have an impact on non-members. As the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, have rightly highlighted, the statistics demonstrating the value that the public place on the unions is high. This is why there is a need to be sure that the registration lists are up to date.

Union members work across a range of critical areas, including in the public sector. Union membership is around 56% in the public sector and 14% in the private sector. We do not want to change or inhibit the vital role that unions can and do play in society—which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake—but we want to ensure that there is confidence in their accountability to their members. Since 1984, there has been a statutory duty on unions to maintain a list of members’ names and addresses. This is currently enshrined in Section 24 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which requires unions to keep the list up to date,

“so far as is reasonably practicable”.

This register will be a union’s primary source for ensuring that its communications, including ballot papers, reach members. I think everyone agrees with the principle of maintaining the register. That principle is not under scrutiny today, and the existing duty remains unchanged. However, there is no mechanism to require reporting on compliance with the statutory duty.

Clause 36 introduces a reporting regime that is proportionate to the practicalities of the duty to which it relates. Unions will be required to supply an annual membership audit certificate to the certification officer, alongside the annual return. As this provision is about giving widespread assurance, all unions will have to make the most recent certificate available to those who request to see it, either free or for a reasonable charge. The certification officer will also have to keep copies of all certificates and allow the public to inspect them. This addresses the fact that there is currently no real way for members, employers or the wider public to check how far the existing duty is being complied with. Finally, Clause 36(3) and (4) ensure that a trade union can discharge the new duty on behalf of its branches and that federated unions must comply with the new duty.

Amendment 118A—and Amendment 118D, which is consequential on it—seeks to limit the duty on unions so that they do not have to submit a membership audit certificate every year, but only if a complaint is made. In practice, if a complaint is received by the certification officer and he investigates, he will want to be satisfied that there is no breach of the duties in relation to the register. If he discovers such a breach, it would be more appropriate to provide a remedy as soon as is reasonably practicable, rather than to impose a reporting requirement. If there were no annual reporting requirement, the legislation would not achieve the level of routine assurance that we want for union members and the wider public. Only individual union

11 Nov 2013 : Column 546

members have the right to check their details on the membership register, and they must be predisposed to do so. Even if the member does this, he or she has no right to see all of the register and, in any case, cannot know whether other names and addresses are up to date. Nor can the member know who should or should not be on the register. Therefore the member cannot ascertain or guarantee the accuracy of the register in its entirety. If the member checks the register and finds problems with the accuracy of his or her details, they can make a complaint to the certification officer. However, only the member has the right to do this and, as I have said, they will not be able to determine the accuracy of the register as a whole. If anyone else has reason to believe there might be inaccuracies, they could not make such a complaint. Even if the certification officer received allegations about the union’s register, under the current law he would have insufficient powers to investigate.

I am aware that unions and some noble Lords have argued that there have been a very low number of complaints about union registers. However, given the limitations of the existing regime that I have just set out, that is not a particularly effective indicator of the overall accuracy of union membership registers. Over the summer we carried out a targeted consultation exercise, which was mentioned by noble Lords opposite. Evidence from that suggests that unions face difficulties in keeping their records updated. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, stated that in his opening speech and I will say more about the consultation on it later. The CIPD commented:

“Unions have stated difficulties at times maintaining the addresses of members”.

A member of the Engineering Employers Federation also commented that trade unions,

“do not have a unified way of tracking membership and it remains difficult for them to do so”.

I believe that most noble Lords opposite acknowledge that.

When these measures were debated in the other place, a number of references were made to the challenge of maintaining registers because of the high degree of turnover in members, which was alluded to this afternoon. Around 2 million people move in and out of union membership a year, which equates to around one in four union members. That means that if a union does not regularly update its register, it could quickly become inaccurate. We propose a modest and proportionate approach to providing greater assurance that registers are as up to date as is reasonably practicable. We are not changing the way in which unions record member details, nor are we changing the existing duty to keep a register. Our focus is on the reporting requirements and effective enforcement. That means greater confidence that union members are receiving all necessary information, including the opportunity to vote on key matters such as a new general secretary. That also means greater confidence that when unions decide that they need to take industrial action—which is entirely their right—those affected know that members have been contacted and given the opportunity to vote. Membership audit certificates will be beneficial to unions, give confidence to individual members and more widely enhance the credibility of their decisions.

11 Nov 2013 : Column 547

Amendment 118B would amend Clause 36 to allow a union to delay submitting a membership audit certificate if it is launching an appeal against it or the certification officer’s acceptance of it. I appreciate that unions will want to ensure that an assurer does not, mistakenly or otherwise, send a qualified certificate to the certification officer without the union knowing about it. I hope that I can provide some reassurance that this amendment is unnecessary. The current drafting of Clause 37 ensures that the assurer will send a copy of the membership audit certificate to the certification officer only,

“after it is provided to the union”.

Therefore the union will have seen the certificate and will have an opportunity to engage with the assurer. If the union is able to demonstrate that the certificate is inaccurate, it should be able to remedy it at that point. Furthermore, unions will themselves appoint their assurers and agree their contractual relationship with them. That gives a union discretion to require an assurer to allow the union to comment on any draft certificate or to discuss concerns before it is issued to the certification officer. However, we believe that it is reasonable to require that qualified certificates are sent to the certification officer as soon as reasonably practicable after they are given to the union so that he can decide what steps to take. We regard this as a necessary part of the assurance process.

If a union is required to appoint an independent assurer to provide a certificate because it has more than 10,000 members, that certificate is the membership audit certificate for the purposes of Clause 36. Clause 36 also sets out what is necessary for unions with 10,000 members or fewer. Those unions will be able to authorise a union officer to sign off the certificate, with a statement that, to the best of their knowledge and belief, the union has complied with its duties under Section 24. As we expect smaller unions to have a less complex register, we think it is reasonable to consider that a union officer will have sufficient familiarity with the content to be able to make such a statement. Amendment 118C seeks to alter Clause 36 so that the assurer would no longer provide the membership audit certificate for unions with more than 10,000 members. That would mean that all unions would provide a self-assurance that they are complying with the statutory obligation under Section 24 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. This amendment would not give sufficient assurance that unions are maintaining accurate and up-to-date registers and can contact their membership. We already have a regime which relies on individual union members actively checking their membership details.