I have gone on a little bit, primarily because I wanted to say something appropriate about the great speech made by my noble friend Lord Livermore. I probably have taken up more time than I should have, but I would like to leave the House with the thought that this is about people working together and about good practice. Employers and trade unions, both strong and both equal, need to help each other. I believe that the trade unions should talk to the Government—my view might be different from that of some of my colleagues; I do not know, I have never discussed it with them—and try to persuade them more and more about what really happens at work in the public services,

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and convince them that some of the measures in this Bill are going to damage good industrial relations and therefore the customer. No matter how bad people might think they are, I do not believe that the Government really want to go down that road.

5.30 pm

Lord De Mauley (Con): My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what noble Lords have had to say today so far. Much has been said of the good done by unions, and I have witnessed some of that myself. But nothing that has been said today so far has done anything to address my concern about the effect on inoffensive and uninvolved members of the public whose efforts to get to and from work or education become severely hampered by industrial action.

The public sector strikes in 2011 closed 62% of England’s schools, and the NHS cancelled tens of thousands of operations. Yet the ballot of the teachers’ union ATL had only a 25% turnout, and UNISON’s was about the same. Polls indicate that a majority of the public strongly agree that strike action should be taken only as a last resort. That is why it is right to introduce, as the Bill proposes, a requirement for a turnout of at least 50% in strike ballots.

Neither has anything that has been said so far in this debate explained why it is reasonable that industrial action can take place based on an ageing mandate. The NUT strike in 2014 led to the full or part closure of almost 1,500 educational establishments across England on a ballot that was almost two years old. As a matter of fact, there was also an alleged voting turnout of just 20%. I am aware of several other incidences of strike action that occurred in the year to October 2014 in which the mandate was more than 18 months old, and one of them no less than three years old. The CBI says that placing time limits on ballot mandates is important to ensure that industrial action is limited to the original dispute and not extended to other matters. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about that. It seems to me that that is why it is important that the Bill introduces a requirement that a ballot mandate must be no more than four months old.

I am also concerned that the number of days lost to industrial action in the public sector has doubled over 15 years, whereas in the private sector it has halved. Therefore, I am pleased that the Bill introduces a requirement that, if a strike is to take place in certain important public services, 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of strike action.

These are some of the issues that the Bill we are about to get into seeks to tackle. The public gave the Government a mandate at the general election, and the public are looking to the Government to fulfil that mandate.

5.34 pm

Baroness Primarolo (Lab) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House, like my noble friend Lord Livermore, with some nervousness. I am fortunate indeed to have been given the privilege and opportunity of joining your Lordships’ House, and I am grateful for the warm

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welcome that has been afforded me. I would like to thank my two distinguished supporters, my noble friends Lord Monks and Lady Royall. Both are experienced and respected Members of your Lordships’ House, and their advice and guidance is invaluable to me. I would also like to thank the staff who have been so helpful in advising me on procedure and protocol, although of course I should add that any mistakes today are entirely mine.

For the last 30 years, I have represented the good people of Bristol South, first as a councillor for Windmill Hill and then as the MP for Bristol South. My constituents, or those who were my constituents, are fair-minded, straight-talking, resilient, resourceful people who have modest aims: a decent job with fair wages, security for their families, the opportunity through education to improve their lives, and decent healthcare. They believe that these aspirations should not just be the preserve of those at the top of the tree but should be on offer to everyone: an economy where rewards are fairly shared.

It is of particular interest to me, therefore, that the Government are seeking to change the law governing trade unions. It is worrying that, whether intentional or not, the effect of the Government’s measures will be to weaken the rights and ability of already vulnerable workers to defend themselves from predatory and exploitative employers. By undermining the trade unions, as my noble friends have already eloquently identified in their contributions, there is a huge gap between the Government’s explanation of their intentions and the details of this Bill.

Noble Lords will know from recent revelations what can occur when workers are powerless to stand up to employers who have no conscience and no scruples. Unfortunately, some employers push beyond the bounds of decency. Look at Sports Direct. In pursuing profit, expansion and success for the company, it has deployed unacceptable employment practices. The absence of a trade union means that employees have no voice and no one to represent them, and are unable to do it themselves for fear of victimisation. Desperate to keep their job, they suffer degrading and humiliating conditions, and their relationship with their employer resembles that in a Victorian sweatshop.

As has been acknowledged in earlier contributions, trade unions do not just provide the defence against these unscrupulous employers but play a positive role in partnership with employers in the workplace. Through the workplace they facilitate improving skills, productivity and the quality of services. Their common aim with employers is a high-value, highly trained, fairly rewarded workforce in a thriving economy. They seek fair pay, safe working conditions, and security and safety in the workplace—aims that I am sure we would all agree are just. I do not think anyone is suggesting that the Government are seeking to create workplaces where the employer has unchallenged control of work practices and can exploit the workforce, but it may be the unintended consequence of these measures—if we are to be generous.

Weakening the organisational capacity of trade unions also threatens an important element of our democracy. When employers and trade unions can agree on check-off, why do the Government need to

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intervene? When employers and their workers are in disagreement and are negotiating a way forward with trade unions, why do the Government think that they alone know best and can override those structures? Why do the Government seek to curtail trade union rights and activities? By undermining the right to strike action, the Government could unintentionally damage the incentives for employers to listen to their workers, resolve disputes and engage in constructive relationships with trade union representatives. Employees being treated fairly at work and having someone to speak up for them and make sure that they are not denied their rights is a fundamental part of our democracy.

Constructive partnerships between employers and employees are about putting in place agreed boundaries: boundaries for employers to make sure that decency, respect and equality is the hallmark of the working environment; boundaries for trade unions to negotiate in good faith in representing their members. The Government are in serious danger of undermining this partnership by weakening trade unions and damaging the incentives for employers to engage in constructive talks with trade union representatives or, worse, removing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in the workplace, which opens the door to the unscrupulous.

Your Lordships will know that there is a wider principle at stake here. Our liberal democracy is built on a foundation of tolerance: of citizens professing reasonable but conflicting views living in tolerance of those with whom they do not agree; where the strong do not exploit the weak; where the majority does not overwhelm and abuse the minority; where we respect the rights of citizens to disagree and we value difference. Sadly, the Government’s proposed trade union legislation is illiberal, potentially punitive and therefore damaging to our democracy.

I sincerely hope that the Minister will think again and significantly amend these proposals, and that your Lordships’ House will deliver a fair and balanced Bill reflecting modern, progressive workplaces.

5.41 pm

Lord Morris of Handsworth (Lab): My Lords, it is my privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, and to congratulate her on her maiden speech. It was a speech of content and understanding, and passion was the hallmark of her delivery. I am sure that the House looks forward to many contributions from the noble Baroness.

I start by quoting the words of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills when he opened the debate in another place to introduce the Trade Union Bill that is before your Lordships’ House today. He said:

“Since the industrial revolution, Britain’s trade unions have done much to help to deliver that fairer society … They have helped to secure higher wages, safer workplaces and stronger employee rights. They have fought for social justice and campaigned for freedom and democracy, and they have supplied the House with some of its most eloquent and influential Members, including Leaders of the Opposition. Unions helped my father when he first worked in the cotton mills. They helped him again when a whites-only policy threatened to block him from becoming a bus driver”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/9/2015; col. 760.].

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There is a testimony for the House to ponder when considering the role of trade unions in a wider society. I could not have put it better myself. The Secretary of State eloquently spelled out the role of trade unions, both in the workplace and in the wider society. However, whatever his words in introducing the Bill, sadly, his determination to destroy the trade unions which supported his father is not in keeping with popular expectation. He seems determined to have his name etched on a long list of politicians down the ages who had a determination to be anti-trade unions, one of whom even branded the trade unions in time past as “the enemy within”.

However, before the Secretary of State gets too carried away, let me remind him of one of the roles of trade unions in a democracy. In coming to this debate, I take the view that one of the pillars of a democratic society is free and independent trade unions. Today’s trade unions accept that they must look beyond social solidarity and embrace a broader agenda at home and abroad. In a world of change, trade unions often lead the debate for investment in skills, people, equipment and innovation. As general secretary of my union, I travelled more miles than some Cabinet Ministers in making the case for inward investment to the United Kingdom. Based on my experience, I would say that trade unions are not only a force for good but the greatest under-used resource in British industry today.

My worry about this Bill is its propensity to destroy the partnerships and good practices built up over many years in many workplaces as part of the post-war settlement. Any decision to undermine a check-off system which is agreed with employers will add nothing to productivity, but is a vindictive proposition and a deliberate attempt to put some trade unions out of business. The requirement for trade unions to report to the police on industrial action puts the notion of a free, independent trade unions but one step away from a police-state trade union. On the same level, the new threshold for trade union ballots has no parallel with any other organisation, including political parties. What is so different about a trade union that it should not enjoy the same privilege and the same freedom in the same democracy?

The Secretary of State spoke movingly of his father as a new arrival in Britain and of how he was helped by the trade unions. I know that journey. I, too, arrived here as a 16 year-old and benefited from the values of opportunity and the support that my union gave me. My union underpinned my adult education and gave me most of my life’s chances, including the privilege of becoming its general secretary. However, there is a difference between me and the Secretary of State. My trade union values taught me that you help yourself to gain access but that you never ever pull up the drawbridge.

Why are these proposed changes necessary? What is the problem that we are trying to fix? Why are the Government attempting to command and control the orderly process of the political levy system? How many companies have received complaints about political levy payments? Where is the evidence to support these complaints? Why are the Government trying to fix a system that is not broken?

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The real problems in British industry today are: lower productivity compared with our competitors; low investment; low pay, low spending on training and apprenticeships; job insecurity; zero-hours contracts; low skills; low esteem; and, worst of all, bullied employees in companies such as Sports Direct have lost their pride and passion for what they do.

Why is it felt necessary that the full force of the law should now be brought to bear on trade union activities, particularly where there are disputes between two sides, the employers and the trade unions? This is not the democracy which enables free workers to withdraw their labour, subject, of course, to normal procedures.

What are the plans and objectives which form the next steps from this Bill, I ask myself. Its provisions bring out the worst features of the “them and us” society that the Government are creating step by step. I say that because this is the most vindictive and one-sided piece of legislation that I have seen. Where is the legislation to deal with the scandal of zero-hours contracts? Where is the legislation to stop bullying at work in many companies in particular sectors of the economy, which we read about constantly? We need new laws to ensure that workers are no longer blacklisted for exercising their democratic right to withdraw their labour. We need new legislation to ensure that the punitive fees and charges that stop a lot of low-paid workers gaining access to justice in an industrial tribunal are swept away. We need new laws to ensure that the blacklisting of workers that we have seen in the construction industry becomes a criminal offence with a mandatory custodial sentence for those who perpetuate this practice. We need new legislation, but we do not need this Bill. It is time for it to be confined to the archives of history where it belongs.

5.51 pm

Lord Dykes (Non-Afl): My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, with all his knowledge and experience, and his reputation for being a sensible and moderate trade union leader over the years. Other senior trade union people are represented in this debate, mostly Peers on the other side, who have contributed some excellent thoughts to the debate.

I want briefly to add my thanks to those of others for the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Livermore, and the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo. They have shown their capacity and skills in different ways, with the noble Lord, Lord Livermore, as a much newer Member of this Parliament. I was scandalised on his behalf by his example of the recruitment agent being so discouraging. That was only a few years ago; engagingly, the noble Lord is still extremely young. Many decades ago it would have been a different but still quite shocking story. I am glad he retold it to the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, showed her enormous experience over the years, not only in a ministerial capacity but as an excellent and successful Member of Parliament and, of course, in the Speaker’s Chair in the other place. It is important to hear again the excellent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for his speech, particularly when he strikingly reminded us that he was a successful businessman and therefore

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may be inclined, in the lore and practice of the tabloids nowadays, to be automatically anti-union. Not a bit of it, and we are grateful to him for his contribution.

I was glad that I had a chance to take part in the excellent debate on trade unions launched by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, on 19 November last. We reminded the House that the present Government were proposing draconian new restrictions on the right to strike in Britain, a right enshrined in our deep democratic traditions since the turn of the 19th century. Controversial restrictive ratios were to be imposed on unions to secure what could be called a “proper strike ballot result”, which is a total distortion of what legislation should do.

I had to emphasise then, as did others in the debate, that these reactionary new proposals are included in the Bill now before us, presented by an Administration with some 37% of those voting in the last general election supporting it, or around 24% of the total electorate. I can think of no worse source of advice on ratios and percentages for election procedures in whatever bodies, and indeed in national elections. There is a great lack of justification in this recent list of some rather dodgy “manifestoitis” Bills, but this piece of legislation shows sheer brutality in the parliamentary context of the need for moderate politics. I do not recall a Government in any EU country introducing such a restrictive package as this on what is a flimsy and inadequate basis of support. In fact, they could not do it because, unlike us, they are lucky enough to have the benefit of written constitutions and a constitutional court system that keeps any Government on the virtuous path of not abusing legislation in the manner of our unreliable three-line whipping system in the other place, which carries a Bill through without proper discussion. Other countries require coalitions, usually under PR voting systems, if a party has the support of fewer than 50% of those voting, with the main exception being France, where I also live. It is the only other country with a simple majority system, but at least there is a 50% requirement for round one, which provides some mitigation, although not much, between the total number of seats and the genuine percentage of the public voting.

The right to strike and to protest are fundamental in any truly democratic society. We can hardly say that there have been too many strikes in Britain in recent years—quite the contrary. In Germany, the Chancellor of even the Christian Democrats would routinely address the annual conference of the equivalent of the TUC, which is virtually unthinkable in this country because of the gaps, divisions and, indeed, hatreds fostered by thoughtless people in various political organisms. I agree with the moderate and sensible TUC leadership when it asserts that this wretched Bill also ignores international standards. That is a very worrying factor.

We are in a society where modern welfare capitalism, which we were used to yesteryear, has receded more and more against the onslaught of relentless US-style brutal capitalist behaviour, scarring our formerly green and pleasant land where the only things that matter are the chief executive’s remuneration and shareholder profits. We need to restore the balance between the

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different legitimate sections of modern society, and to restore a harmonious link between the very large number of decent business employers and trade unions.

The Bill will allow employers to bring in agency workers to break strikes. That is such a provocative proposal as to alienate broad sections of moderate opinion on these matters. A wartime emergency might possibly justify such a controversial move, but surely not in normal times when social peace is a natural priority. The wholly illegitimate new threshold figures for strike action will make it far more difficult for ordinary workers to ensure that they are protected by a framework that allows normal organisational activity to protect their jobs, aspirations and the quality of their daily working lives. I have been told on good authority that when ILO senior officials in Geneva were notified of these plans, they reacted with surprise to say the least, and they are normally very guarded in their comments.

The Government have blandly ignored the idea of voters abstaining in a general election as being like a no vote, but say exactly that in the case of abstainers in a strike vote in the Bill. The Bill is also much harsher on public sector workers based on some flimsy arguments. That affects women more since the proportion of women in the public sector is much higher. I cannot understand the intrinsic vindictiveness in these proposals, apart from the woeful reminder they provide of the hatred that the supporters of a certain Prime Minister in the past felt towards union members, described in one of the worst phrases in the history of British politics as “the enemy within”. Nowadays we see very little disruption through industrial action, so harsh has daily working life for millions of people become. People fear losing their jobs in case they cannot get another one. In the days when Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, unemployment fell to 180,000, which is like saying there was no unemployment at all. The number of days lost has fallen very strikingly and is, I believe, some 10% of the total of lost days in the 1980s.

Why are the present Government so reluctant to modernise union and employer procedures by encouraging electronic and workplace ballots? Companies and other entities use them, and even the Tories used electronic balloting for elections, as has been pointed out by other speakers.

There are many other aspects of this very questionable Bill which we will need to examine in Committee line by line, and perhaps some of it through a Select Committee procedure, as has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. We need that even more because consideration of the Bill in the other place was woefully inadequate. For example, there are some onerous new requirements for supplementary information to avoid legal challenges by employers, which would perhaps have the effect of prolonging disputes unnecessarily, thus increasing the danger of a hardening of attitudes. Clause 8 will need meticulous inspection, while the danger of Clause 9 is that unfair extra burdens will be put on the police, thus increasing tension between them and union representatives. ACAS, too, is apparently worried—I am only guessing, but that is the hint which has been dropped—that the

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positive side of workplace consultation good practice, which often helps to lower the temperature, will be upset by the new unfair imbalances in relations between employer and employee.

We need to look very carefully in Committee at the planned upset in check-off arrangements, which are often very helpful to employees. The Minister in charge of this is a very moderate and highly respected individual, capable of moderate thinking even about this dangerous Bill. The Government need to think again about many sorry aspects in this sad and reactionary measure. It surprises me that it is being introduced. It harks back to the days of right-wing warfare on the unions. We need a more modern approach, consensus and co-operation, as there is in Germany and other countries. Do the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues have the imagination to make the really big changes that will allow this Bill to go through? I hope so.

6 pm

Lord Dobbs: My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in a debate with so many fine maiden speeches—namely, those of the noble Lord, Lord Livermore, and the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo, and it is an honour to be the warm-up artist for the noble Lord, Lord Watts. I am sure we wish them all well.

I suppose that we are all hostages to our upbringing. If I had been born in a different age, I would have watched what happened to the Tolpuddle Martyrs with shame; I would have supported the match girls’ strike; and I like to think that I would have taken part in the hunger marches of the 1930s. Those were battles that needed fighting. I not only pay tribute to what many trade unions have achieved, I would have been proud to have been part of it.

However, for better or for worse, I was a baby boomer, so I remember the three-day week. That time is seared on my soul, because my mother was a worker. She went out to work despite having four kids. But, of course, that is why she went out to work—because she had four kids. Then the three-day weeks began. The power was cut, the heating failed and the lights dimmed, yet my mother still had to go out to work. She was sick that winter—although we did not know it, she was dying—but she still had to work. She put on two overcoats, a woollen hat and gloves, and sat shivering through the working day in order to provide for her family. My mother was earning much less than a miner, yet that did not stop her being used as a pawn in that dispute: she was collateral damage. The point I am trying to make is that workers’ rights do not exist in isolation. They stand alongside the rights of other workers and sometimes they compete, and on occasions conflict, with those other rights. One man’s strike can be another man’s misery.

Let us take the London Underground. How can it be that we are once again faced with even more Tube strikes? Apparently, the unions have problems with the work-life balance of their members. I just wonder about the work-life balance of those who rely on the Tube. What of them? What about the rights of the millions of workers who need the Tube to get to their own work or the innocent victims of what is still so strangely called industrial action?

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The union leaders who gathered today to discuss yet more strikes are the same leaders who less than a year ago organised a strike in support of a driver who failed not one but two random breath tests. The London Underground carries 4 million passengers a day. That strike was backed by 299 votes to 221. More strikes have been agreed today. What absurd timing and what world do they live in? There is a right to strike, which is important, but there is also a right to work. Despite the Nelsonian blind eye of the noble Lord, Lord Monks, although perhaps it is more like the blind eye of Mr Arsene Wenger when one of his men handles the ball in the penalty area, these endless Tube strikes are not only futile but also a direct assault on the rights of millions of other workers who have families too.

The overall number of strikes has fallen dramatically. We have heard that, and thank goodness, but there are still those determined to deny any sense of fairness or balance. That is why we need to ensure that there is a sensible voting turnout before a strike and that votes are held within a reasonable time period—not in order to bash those who want to strike but in defence of those who want to work. The Bill contains much more, of course. It is about finding a balance between the rights of one set of workers and the rights of others. Perhaps the details need clarification. Without wishing to unduly excite noble Lords opposite, why not have electronic voting, for instance? Do designated picket supervisors really need armbands? This House, as always, will do its job on the details.

I, for one, do not want to see the impoverishment of the Labour Party. We need healthy, properly funded political parties and not a,

“bunch of far-left antiwar former communists”,

as one recently politically deceased member of the shadow Cabinet said over the weekend. It has already been a bad day, with more resignations, in a difficult month in a tormented year for the party opposite but I hope that the Opposition will find it possible to come forward with balanced suggestions for improving the effectiveness of this Bill. I hope that the Government will listen. This Government have the clear moral and political authority for this Bill and the backing of public opinion, which grows stronger with every ridiculous Tube strike. It is important that we as a party and a Government work hard to keep that support.

Last week, I spent some time talking with a very senior foreign ambassador. He said that there was something rather remarkable going on in this country. He very much admired how we are working our way out of the terrible economic mess in a more successful manner than almost any other country. This Bill is part of that effort. It is a Bill for ordinary workers, which ordinary people like my mother would have supported.

6.07 pm

Lord Watts (Lab) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I start my maiden speech by thanking the staff and officials of the House of Lords, and my fellow Peers from all sides of this Chamber for the warm welcome that I have received since I entered this establishment on 3 December. Having spent 20 years in local government

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and 18 years in the other place, it is somewhat of a shock to receive such kindness. When I first started my political career as a working-class boy from Liverpool, I had no idea that I would end up as the leader of my local authority, one of the town’s local MPs for 18 years, chairman of the PLP and now an appointed Member of this House.

I came to politics by accident after becoming active in the trade union movement in my teens. During the time that I was involved in my union, I came to understand that trade unions can protect workers and promote equality only up to a point. Working people needed a political party to represent them in Parliament. I believe that that principle was correct then and that it remains correct today.

If noble Lords consider every progressive change taken over the last 100 years, they will see that the Labour Party and the trade unions together have made this country a more just society. This includes the creation of the NHS, the welfare state, equal pay, the minimum wage, the Race Relations Act, the introduction of tax credits, and equality in the workplace and the home. The list goes on and on.

Despite being active in politics for nearly 40 years, I feel that I have failed in my main aims. I wanted to work towards a fairer and a more equal and just society. But I have to say that, despite my many years in politics, I believe that we have been moving backwards over the last five years. It is still the case today that a child’s life chances have more to do with where they are born rather than their own talents and abilities; it is still the case that the best schools and universities are kept for the rich and powerful; it is still the case that people’s job security depends on their class; and it is still the case that people will live longer in rich communities than in poorer towns and cities. It is impossible for many young people from poorer backgrounds to own their own homes.

This problem is not exclusively a British one: all around the world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer in relative terms. I believe that rejection of mainstream political parties is a direct consequence of many people feeling that their Governments around the world are on the side of the powerful, not ordinary families such as theirs.

I ask myself one question: will the Bill make the present situation better or worse? In my view it will make it worse. It will further empower poor employers and disadvantage millions of workers. The Trade Union Bill is a solution looking for a problem. It is not the case that trade unions are presently too powerful; in fact, it is the reverse. Employers are already in a powerful position. The legislation will simply make poor employers even more determined to enforce their will on employees and drive down wages and conditions.

There is simply no evidence to support the Bill: strikes are already at a very low historic level; wages have fallen in real terms over the last five years; and workers are already reluctant to take strike action because they fear the financial loss that they would incur. Millions of workers are no longer unionised and workers feel insecure and vulnerable. The balance between employers and employees has already

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dramatically shifted in favour of the employer in recent years. If the Government really wanted to help working people they would provide more security in the workplace. They would make it easier for trade unions to represent working people in the workplace who are currently being abused by 17th-century employers, such as Mike Ashley in Sports Direct, who seems to treat his employees like a character out of a Charles Dickens novel.

I will deviate for one second from my main speech and the main point I wish to make. I say to my own party leadership that last week was disastrous for us. When we should have been concentrating on holding the Government to account for the floods and for this Bill, we involved ourselves in an unnecessary reshuffle. We lost two of our best communicators, Michael Dugher and Kevan Jones. My advice to my own party leadership is that they should take less notice of the London-centric, hard-left political class who sit around in their £1 million mansions, eating their croissants at breakfast and seeking to lay the foundations for a socialist revolution. It is not the job of the Parliamentary Labour Party to sit around developing ultra-left-wing policies that make it feel good; it is its job and responsibility to come forward with policies that will help us to win the next general election. For those who do not want to take on that task, can I suggest that they join a society in which they can enjoy sitting around having a philosophical debate about the meaning of socialism? Working people need a practical Labour Party and trade union movement that will address their practical, day-to-day issues.

The Bill, along with other government Bills, shifts the political balance away from the party that represents working people’s interests to already powerful groups. It seeks to reduce funding to the only party that truly represents working people. It also builds on other government policies aimed at weakening the trade union movement, the Labour Party and other opposition parties, such as cutting the Short money to opposition parties, instructing the Boundary Commission to follow a political agenda for the first time in our history, and measures that will reduce the level of funding to trade unions. These will make it much more difficult for the Labour Party and the trade unions to oppose unfair and unjust policies. It will make it much more difficult for trade unions to represent working people and it will hand massive powers to bureaucrats who will have the power to bankrupt trade unions. It will allow employers to recruit temporary workers to break strikes and provide them with the time to do so. Such policies are unfair and unjust, and will leave millions of workers feeling that all political parties now represent the powerful and rich, not ordinary working families.

The Bill will concentrate power in the hands of one political party, poor employers, and the powerful and rich. It will not make it our county for one second a more fair and just place to live. Thank you, my Lords.

6.14 pm

Lord Bragg (Lab): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to congratulate my noble friend Lord Watts on his maiden speech. I agree with every word of it—that helps—and clearly with the influence of Liverpool

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above all. Local government, the House of Commons and chairing the PLP—wow. That is enough of an introduction to this place, and I hope that he intervenes a great deal more often.

On Sir Christopher Wren’s tomb in St Paul’s Cathedral, as I am sure noble Lords will know, there is an inscription that reads, “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice”—“If you seek a monument, look around”. I would say that the same thing has happened today in this House. Look around at the monument of opinions of so many in this House of unparalleled experience and expertise in this matter, and listen to the quality, pinpoint detail and strength of their objections to the Bill. It has been dismantled. Their voices have allies all over the country. The senior political adviser at CIPD said:

“We do not really see the need for legislation on this topic”.

Liberty, Amnesty International and the British Institute of Human Rights argue that the Bill would undermine the rights of all working people. Some 70 local authorities and NHS employers have publicly criticised it.

Why are the unions the only organisation in the UK legally required to hold postal-only ballots, which tend to be more expensive and lead to lower turnouts? Why is it so rarely said that unionised workplaces are safer places and that union representatives play a big role in improving morale? Yet this Government seem to believe, in an ancient way, that the trade union movement is some sort of demon dragon in our society that needs to be made toothless.

For centuries, this country—as others, but we are talking about ourselves today—has suffered from damaging splits between the powerful, the less powerful and the powerless. We have had slaves over the centuries, serfs, indented servants and unsecured labour, all dominated by the hydra-headed powerful. There is a sense in which that chasmic characteristic still obtains. National characteristics persist, and the powerful and the privileged, often in new shapes and forms, have fought very hard indeed to hold on to their power and privileges. Only an organised power of at least equal determination can curtail and civilise such entrenched autocracies, as my noble friend Lord Watts referred to in his excellent speech.

Until comparatively recently—a mere 100 years ago—we have had bestial housing, the herding of insecure workforces and a life for most of the people in this country that was nasty, brutish and short. This was often at times when we were among the richest countries—sometimes the very richest—not only in the world then, but perhaps which the world had hitherto ever seen. That has changed, but only because of constant struggle. It has been helped by honoured men and women of all classes, and of all political and religious persuasions and none, but it was the trade union movement that got a grip on it in the late 19th century and established a foundation on which a fairer society could exist, in which many more shared in economic prosperity and in which many more than ever before had opportunities to improve their condition. Many more could live a life worth living, instead of being humiliated, discounted and degraded.

Lest we forget: just as we pay our dues to the continuing stabilising influence of the Queen and this

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parliamentary system in our constitutional democracy, and just as we respect hard-won victories in the law and the Armed Forces, so we need to bear in mind and honour what the trade unions have done and still do for our society. These men and women gave to millions over the centuries a life unimaginable to them beforehand. To merely demonise them is unworthy. We owe them a great debt. Of course, at times the unions have seemed unreasonable and implacable, and sometimes appear to be bent on frustrated wrecking as the only way they can expedite change. But that is not the greater part of their history—not a bit of it. Their achievement has been to liberate and improve the lot of the mass of the British people. That is what they have done.

Let us compare the other side, because we have two sides here. What about the great controllers: government and management? What have they contributed along the way? How did management and government manage to lose the basis and guts of what, until the middle of the last century, was one of the greatest manufacturing conurbations in the world? How did British management and government, for instance, lose our mighty shipbuilding industry when other comparable countries kept or improved theirs? It was not only the unions that were intransigent and incompetent, so why has an island that has built ships since the time of Alfred the Great managed to kill off such a major tradition?

Where were the new ideas from our controllers and managers? Where was the long-term investment? Where was there any understanding of the inevitable economic and personal devastation? Where was the will to build anew? Where was the leadership? Absent. And on what grounds was that wasting of other great industries, especially in the north, leaving 3 million often highly skilled people unemployed and without provision for their future? Has that ever been convincingly justified by management or government?

We live in a country that is still lucky to have outstandingly clever people at all levels of our society and in many disciplines. It is worth remembering that arguably the greatest revolution in world history, the Industrial Revolution, which founded our prosperity, started, flourished and conquered from here, and was seeded and nourished by working men, most of whom had left school by the age of 13 or l4. It is also worth reminding the House that today in science, thanks to our universities, we are the second greatest research engine in the world.

It used to be said that we were a providential island—a special case. Indeed, for a small place we have had, and still have, an extraordinary—perhaps unique—range of the highest talents across the waterfront throughout our history, save one: we have not the talent to mend the rifts between the powerful and the powerless, between them and us—or “them and uz”, as the poet, Tony Harrison said—and all the permutations of that. Why can we not merge these two forces and each learn from the other and be prepared to respect, encourage and involve the other? This is not a dream. Today we are a small island in a world which demands bigger and bigger forces and commitments. We need creative parity: instead, we have an unimaginative, unsympathetic, old class act.

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Instead of exacerbating basic divisions in this country, which this Bill seeks to do, why cannot the Government work out a well thought through, permanent structure for a more equal playing field, with full contributions from all parts of our increasingly diverse society? Why is there no vision, or any hope of that, in the Bill? So many people want it to happen. It need not be so very difficult—and, if it is, it will be all the more rewarding to succeed. What I am saying may seem simplistic and obvious and pie in the sky, but can anyone propose a better option for bringing to an end this unjust, oppressive, regressive civil struggle? I look forward to an amended Bill.

6.22 pm

Lord Adebowale (CB): Right. Well, I have drawn the short straw in that I am the 23rd speaker on the list and I follow the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. To be honest, I think that I should sit down now. The noble Lord made a cracking speech. I have listened to some 20 informative and incredible speeches containing a lot of detail, knowledge and history. My contribution is a modest one.

I thought about whether I should speak at all. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that I was encouraged to speak by the experience of my mother, who was a public sector nurse in the NHS. We sat through the three-day week and the strikes. She went to work in the cold but she supported the right to strike and to cause inconvenience. In fact, I am here because of the threat of inconvenience. During the Bristol bus strike of 1964, there was a boycott by BME groups in Bristol. At first they were not supported by the unions, but the unions subsequently got behind black and minority ethnic groups in Bristol who were being discriminated against by an employer who casually did not employ black people on the buses. The excuse given for not employing black men on the buses was the perfectly reasonable one to his mind that the daughters of white people would be at risk.

I think—and my mother would agree—that there are many incidents of poor behaviour on the part of the unions but, believe me, there is an equal number of incidents of appalling behaviour on the part of employers. In listening to the eloquent and emollient introduction of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, I wondered whether the intention of the Bill was matched by its process and content. I have read the Bill and its intention and the stuff presented by the TaxPayers’ Alliance and others. However, I am still concerned about the Bill’s content and whether it has an honest link to any intent to create an “and/and” society rather than an “either/or” society in which you are either a boss or a dastardly trade unionist, akin to a communist or a socialist—which is becoming something of an insult these days. However, I am a Cross-Bencher, so I guess that I can slag them all off.

The organisation for which I work employs 4,000 staff. It is a not-for-dividend organisation. I do not say not for profit: just because we are not for dividend does not mean that we are for deficit. I always take the opportunity—as I do now—to pay tribute to every single one of the employees, who do amazing work at the front line. We have a trade union, with which I have not always got on—after all, I am a boss. But I

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respect its right to cause inconvenience. I use public transport and suffer when there is a Tube strike.

When I talk to trade union members about what they are doing and why, I do not get the impression that they are doing it lightly or are doing so just to be bloody-minded and to make me walk or scoot to work. They are doing it because, by and large, they are forced to do so—just as my mum, as a public sector worker, had to use the weight of the union to fight the racist discrimination that existed in the NHS. I do not understand why there is one rule for the public sector and another for the private sector. That seems inherent in the Bill. It is as though racism, discrimination and bullying cannot take place in the public sector but somehow can take place in the private sector. That does not make sense. It needs to be explained and clarified in more detail by the Minister.

One of the privileges of speaking 23rd is that much has already been said, so there is no point in repeating it. But the electronic workplace ballot issue strikes me as rather odd. If ever there was evidence that the intention of the Bill is not entirely honourable, it is in the refusal to allow electronic workplace ballots by trade unions. I have spoken to the TUC, heaven forfend. I have spoken to its researchers and other organisations about whether they use electronic postal ballots. Frankly, the only organisation that I can see is banned from using them is the trade unions. That does not make sense.

The notion that the electronic ballot might be at risk of hacking, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, does not stand up to scrutiny in an age when virtually every single one of us has an electronic bank account. I have certainly used electronic voting in many of the organisations with which I have been involved. As a litmus test of the evidence that this Bill is meant to create an “and/and” and more balanced relationship between workers and trade unions and between bosses and workers, doing something about electronic ballots would certainly indicate to me that there was a serious intent to do something useful.

As I listened to many of the contributions made today, including that of the noble Lord, Lord King, I wondered whether the Bill was about a battle that took place in the past, given the references to miners’ strikes, “Red Robbo”, the three-day week and even the Tube strike. I wonder whether this is about past battles between parties and old ideologies.

We need a Bill that looks to the future and that represents the people who are inconvenienced and those who would wish to put inconvenience upon them—in other words, the leaders and managers who have disrespect for the people who work for them. We should be creating a Bill that is about the future and put the past behind us. This country needs an “and/and” Bill.

6.31 pm

Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak tonight in support of the Bill, as many of my noble friends have already done. I begin by making reference to the much cited ONS data that show the very low number of days lost to

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industrial action in current times, compared to the peaks of the 1920s and the General Strike and, as we have just heard, the industrial strife of the 1970s. My noble friend Lord King reminded us of the relevance of the terrible times which are behind us when the rubbish lay on the streets, Red Robbo called the shots and Britain became the “sick man of Europe”. Given our comparatively low level of days lost to industrial action today, some have argued that there is no need to continue to modernise and reform our trade unions.

This is complacent thinking which ignores modern economic reality. It is complacent because we should not consider it acceptable that 700,000 of the 788,000 days lost to strike action in 2014 were in the public sector. This implies that private sector employers, employees and unions have got their act together; they have sorted matters out and progressed. The economic reality is that we exist in a globalised economy where capital flows across borders and we must compete with a hundred countries—instead of a few—for precious inward investment. We have been successful. My noble friend Lord Balfe reminded the House of the Mayor of London’s comment that, if this legislation had already been passed, 19 of the 26 disputes on the London Underground since 2008 would not have happened.

Critics of the Bill frequently try to portray it as an attack on the inalienable right to strike, but such rights cannot be considered in isolation. It is the job of the elected Government to look after the whole country and we may be discussing strike action that infringes the rights of millions of people. I am sure your Lordships would agree that, as such, a right to strike must be accompanied by an obligation to use it responsibly. For example, it seems self-evident that where something as disruptive as strike action is mooted, the ballot that conveys its legitimacy is itself put beyond reproach. The Bill does this by introducing thresholds of 50% turnout of those eligible to vote and, for vital services such as health, fire, transport and security, 40% of those eligible to vote must do so in favour of the action. This is action that disrupts the lives of millions of workers, so it is a small ask indeed that half of members should actually participate for the balloting to be valid.

The Conservative manifesto—on which the Government were elected—specifically referred to health, education, fire and transport as important public services. A recent BIS consultation then added border security and nuclear decommissioning. Does this go far enough to protect the public? The wording in the consultation refers to a situation that could have,

“far reaching effects on significant numbers of ordinary people who have no association with the dispute”.

For example, does transport incorporate all of the ancillary activity that goes to support it? If baggage handlers go on strike, using the lower ballot requirements, this would quickly and materially affect the lives of millions. Similarly, what about energy and utilities? There is no mention of them, but nothing is more essential than the provision of heat, power and water to Britain’s businesses and families. Would the Minister consider using a wider lens when determining what activity goes to make up an “important public service”?

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In the other place, arguments against these thresholds centred on introducing a new clause on e-balloting. Leaving aside the fact that the data security and privacy issues have not been addressed, let alone accounted for, this amounts to moving the goalposts and raises suspicions that the trade union movement is not optimistic about meeting even these modest requirements in future, as well as casting a shadow over ballots of the recent past. Furthermore, measures in the Bill that mandate more clarity on what the dispute is actually about, and what possible action is proposed and for when, are eminently sensible, as is the expiration date of four months on the ballot itself. I am sure employers will, similarly, welcome being given 14 days’ notice of impending strike action instead of seven.

Also worthy of mention are the measures in the Bill to increase transparency in the use of facility time—union activity conducted during paid working hours. We have seen much-needed modernisation in this regard in government departments, led by my noble friend Lord Maude, under the Cabinet Office’s facility time framework for the Civil Service. For example, the annual bill for facility time in the Civil Service was £16.7 million in 2013, which included £500,000 to send employees to union conferences. It is now down to less than £10 million. The Bill simply seeks to embed a similar approach across the public sector, in addition to the Civil Service, by having employers publish more information, including the amount spent on union activity and disclosure of the number of trade union representatives on employee rolls. Does the Minister agree that taxpayers deserve to know how much of their money is being spent on facility time? Indeed, if the savings we have seen in the Civil Service, where facility time costs were reduced from 0.14% to 0.07%, were replicated across the whole of the public sector, the taxpayer would save up to £150 million a year.

In summary, the measures in this Bill are proportionate, beneficial to union members and the public, and will entrench our competitive position in the global economy. There are, of course, vested interests and I quite understand why the Labour Party is concerned about the funding proposals. However, I believe that the Labour Party would be better off if its funding was not dependent on the whims of a very small number of senior union executives. The shadow Business Secretary—or that is what he was this morning—said in the other place that the Bill was a threat to health and safety. These must be the same phantom health and safety issues that taxi unions are citing against their competitor Uber, to the detriment of consumers. Another honourable Member said that the Bill would reduce civil liberties and human rights. Surely it is the rights of workers and consumers of public services that are most threatened by some of this activism. One union leader even compared the Bill to the treatment of unions in Nazi Germany. Such hyperbole does not help in facilitating meaningful debate.

I hope that this Bill passes through the House and that your Lordships will seek to protect ordinary workers and users of public services, as well as continue to wave the flag for Britain as the best destination for inward investment. It is true that the public sector no longer builds ships, but we are Europe’s major producer

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of cars and the private sector also produces luxury yachts. It is possible to make progress in industrial relations. I therefore entirely welcome the Bill.

6.39 pm

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab): My Lords, I did not speak in the dress rehearsal on 19 November, when my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock moved a Motion about the trade unions. I was here for most of the debate and read all of it. It was generally positive and constructive and we did not get the digging in to extreme positions that we have occasionally heard during today’s debate. In particular, I read the Minister’s contribution. She said that the Government recognise,

“that trade unions have a valuable role to play in developing our workforce and in ensuring that the vulnerable are able to participate in work”.

She stressed,

“the importance of trade unions and why I believe it is right that the legislative framework needs reform … to modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members and to redress the balance between the rights of trade unions and the rights of the general public”.—[

Official Report

, 19/11/15; col. 314.]

She pointed out, as she has done today, that the Government pledged in their manifesto to undertake these reforms and bring the Bill forward and this is what you have done.

I read the manifesto to check what you had written and what you have brought forward. Page 18 carries about 2,000 words that cover this. There is no mention, however, of the proposal to change check-off. If the Government are supportive generally of trade unions and their aims and do not want to undermine them, I would like the Minister to explain why they did not have that in the manifesto and why it has now suddenly appeared. If she has been listening carefully to the contributions today, she will know that this is one of the changes that will seriously undermine not just what might happen with money between the unions and the Labour Party but the ability of some unions to perform.

That is not because there is a mismatch between the interests of the members and the unions. Previously I have seen check-off withdrawn in the Civil Service from the Prison Officers’ Association. Many years ago that was undertaken and what happened? It weakened the union because in due course the number of members went down, not because the members were opposed to the union or were not prepared to put themselves out; it was simply an issue of them not being willing to do anything more than say, “Yes, I will agree to check-off but I am not going to start fiddling around with my bank account and the rest of it or start going into other areas”. It was as straightforward as that.

So if you are not truly about undermining the unions, you need to explain why you are going to go ahead with this quite dangerous piece of change. I rather support the view of the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, that these are the kinds of issues where a test is brought to bear on whether the Government are serious about making matters better or whether they are being quite malicious and determined to knock one side down. I hope you are not, but on the face of things it looks very much like that.

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Having embarked on this little exercise, I took the trouble of going through the rest of your manifesto—the whole 81 pages—and, given that we keep hearing the Chancellor speaking about your party being the one that represents working people, I was looking to see on how many occasions you said anything about life at work. With this Bill we are talking about a much diminished trade union organisation compared to what it was some years ago. We now have barely 6 million or 7 million trade union members, yet we now happily have 30 million people at work who, for one reason or another, are not members of a trade union. I went through what you were offering the whole of the population who were able to vote, not just those who were trade unionists or non-trade unionists, and it was quite interesting to pick up some little statements where you said you were going to back people at work. You are going to work to reduce inequality—

Lord Elton (Con): I do not want to restrict the flow of the noble Lord’s very eloquent speech, but we have not heard whether the “you” he keeps using is singular or plural. If he could revert to using the third person, as required in the Companion, that would make it much easier.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: I am grateful for being put right and I will endeavour to do my best on that score. I cannot guarantee it, however. You have nicely thrown me off my line as well. Thank you very much for that.

After looking at the relatively modest references in the manifesto to working conditions for 30 million people, what I really wanted to look for in the legislation, when it came, was the whole point about what is going wrong with industrial relations that needs rescuing—I pick up the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, particularly—to see whether we can find some way of having a piece of legislation that was not simply negative but would perhaps look to the positive as well.

On 19 November, the Minister reminded us:

“This is a free country. Everybody has the right to belong to a trade union. Equally, there is no compulsion in the workplace to do so. Closed shops are a thing of the past”.—[Official Report, 19/11/15; col. 312.]

Of course they are. However, what she or some of her friends may not realise is that we now have millions of people at work who do not know what we are talking about when we talk about the closed shop. It is in the past. But if one looks at the evidence that has come from a whole range of organisations about the nature of conditions at work, what many people know is that when they go to work, where they spend much of their lives, they have very little control over it; as technology develops, they have less and less so, and there is often a diminishing respect between employer and employees. If she cares to look at the work that has been done by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, she will see that one in three employees experienced a form of interpersonal conflict at work in the preceding year; and that a lack of respect is the most common way in which conflicts affect behaviour at work, with 61% saying that they have difficulties with those issues.

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Yes, those 24 million people are free to join trade unions if they wish, although there have to be 50 or more workers employed and the majority of them voting for it for a trade union to be admitted to represent them. Since over 90% of those employees are in small to medium enterprises with fewer than 50 employees, it is not surprising that there is an ever-growing body of employees with no representative rights at work. Going back to your manifesto, will you tell the 24 million to 25 million UK employees who are not in unions how you will fight for them, how you will fight for equal opportunity, and how you will see greater gender equality at work and the other aspects that are mentioned in the manifesto?

In the main, most of these issues cannot be resolved by legislation at the centre. They have to be worked at. Those of us who have worked in workplaces know that the solutions are to be found down at the workplace level. But now, as I say, an increasing number of people are effectively voiceless. Although unemployment has been falling, there is a rising number of low-skilled jobs, zero-hours contracts and low pay, with stagnant productivity across the country and ill-equipped and poorly trained staff. Are the trade unions responsible for that? I would say no, and I do not believe the Minister herself would agree with that.

What we therefore need is something to go in this legislation which is positive, which works for the other people who are there. I know that the unions did not particularly want to see changes in the legislation that was introduced in 2005 on consultation. Perhaps the Minister might go back and have a look at that and see whether we cannot find something that would be positive and of benefit and would get us away from the continual divisions that we find on industrial relations and produce the consensus that is needed to make things better.

6.48 pm

Baroness Janke (LD): My Lords, I speak as the former leader of a city council which has a history of good working relationships with public sector unions. Colleagues and I worked in partnership with the trade unions throughout a period of fundamental change in local government in Bristol—it is good to hear so many people from Bristol here today. We found it essential that unions represented their workers, particularly when their jobs and working conditions were affected by major change, but also in enabling affected members of the public to understand the impact of such change on their lives. We may have had disagreements but the freedom to negotiate and agree matters locally was both essential and beneficial.

For example, I and colleagues found that when it was necessary to introduce changes in sensitive services in the city, such as how care and respite services were provided, it was absolutely essential to work in partnership with the trade unions for the reassurance of workers and care users, as well as their relatives. When this happened in the past without this level of partnership and joint working, the disruption, stress and anxiety suffered by the most vulnerable people has been intense. We also found that in the introduction of new working practices, whether on single status or flexible working,

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the trade unions provided explanation, education and, often, innovation in taking them forward on an agreed basis.

The recent cuts to major services in local government have affected the most vulnerable, whether workers or members of the public. Partnership with the unions has provided insight and understanding among those affected and has often led to ideas for improvements and alternative ways of providing services. We found that discussing and thrashing out issues at local level, even if it took some time, led to better decisions and that local discretion led to much better industrial relations. Having heard some of the battles of the past being re-enacted, I think it is necessary to remember just how much change has taken place since the 1980s.

If I were still leader of Bristol City Council, I would find the proposals in the Bill very undermining of relationships between unions and employers. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester mentioned his conversations with leaders of councils who are very worried about these proposals. Years of work to establish partnerships could be wasted if changes in practices for employers are required, such as the capping of facility time and the end of check-off, which has been considered mutually beneficial by many union members and a wide range of employers. While talking of devolution, the Government are imposing practices in this legislation which would be much better negotiated and agreed locally.

If I were still a leader in local government, I would also find that the Bill introduced unnecessary and bureaucratic burdens, which may make resolution of disputes longer and more difficult. The introduction of arbitrary thresholds for voting on strike action, which many Members have already dealt with, without the possibility of electronic voting, will impose a huge and unreasonable burden on unions and make it much more difficult for them to organise legitimate action. It will also seem unnecessarily punitive for public services that the Bill defines as “important services”.

The introduction of new powers for the Certification Officer would, I imagine, also be seen as a major intrusion into the right of workers and their unions to privacy. The measures in the Bill seem high-handed and override existing good practice. They are dismissive of the positive work done over the years by unions and employers and will make employer-union relations more fraught if new and oppressive national policy is implemented, and if employers are obliged to do this locally on behalf of the Government.

In addition to my concerns about employers in local government, I would oppose any restraint on unions’ ability to campaign. As many Members have already said, unions seem to have had a hugely beneficial influence on employees’ rights such as equal pay, minimum wage and minimum holiday entitlement, and in the recent legislation to combat modern slavery. There should be no interference with this right, in my opinion. There is still exploitation. There are still very dubious working practices and many unjust working circumstances for people in this country.

I also say here that I support my colleague and noble friend Lord Tyler in his efforts to separate the measures in the Bill from the issue of party funding,

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which should be a matter for all-party consideration. As an issue fundamental to our democracy, it should not be treated in a prejudicial and partisan way, as it is in the Bill.

I am sure that the Minister and her team are listening to the important points being made today; I realise that there are still more to be made. I very much hope that we can work together in this House to bring about some changes, and to work for good industrial relationships in future and positive attitudes to workers in the workplace. This would benefit all, as it would benefit the economy of the country.

6.54 pm

Lord Lennie (Lab): My Lords, I add my congratulations on the three maiden speeches that we have heard from my noble friends on this side of the House. They are my noble friend Lady Primarolo, of whom I was a former constituent back in 1983; my noble friend Lord Livermore with whom I worked for many years in the Labour Party, campaigning from 1997 onwards; and my noble friend Lord Watts, from whose speech I gather he is not about to seek promotion to the shadow Cabinet any time soon. I might be wrong—who knows?

I want to share a story with your Lordships arising from what became the Trade Union Act 1984, which the noble Lord, Lord King, introduced under the Thatcher Government of that time. We seem to be trying to deal with the same problems all over again despite the fact that, as many people have said, they no longer exist in the industrial relations of modern Great Britain. The legislation introduced then by the noble Lord, Lord King, also introduced the notion of balloting among unions if they wished to retain political funding. I think he said that no piece of that legislation was not already being undertaken by one or other of the unions at that time. I do not think that balloting for political funds was being undertaken then but I may be wrong, and that is not the point of my story. The point is that we had a somewhat arrogant Tory Government at the height of their power. We had a much weakened Labour Party that had suffered two big defeats and was wrecked by infiltration from outside forces, which we managed to get rid of in the end. We also had the dear departed David Bowie, God rest his soul, riding high in the charts at that time with “Let’s Dance”—and let us listen to that more often.

My personal role at that time was as a lowly, newly-appointed trade union official. I had originally been recruited to the trade union movement up in the north-east of England by my noble friend Lord Sawyer. I was then appointed as an official to the then union NALGO, which looked after workers in the public sector and was very keen to retain its political fund. It was not sure whether its membership would vote to retain the fund but we were determined to do whatever we could to ensure that it happened. Dave Prentis, who is now the general secretary of Unison, was then the assistant general-secretary of NALGO and my boss, and I think Rita Donaghy, now my noble friend Lady Donaghy, was probably its president at that time. They had the modern answer—the campaigning tool that would win the argument among the membership. It was a video, a cutting-edge piece of campaigning kit

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which ensured that a consistent, clear message would be received by all the members of the union, wherever they were throughout the country.

The video was entitled “NALGO—the political fund explained”, and all the arguments were there. There was everything necessary to win the hearts and minds, and indeed the votes, of a sceptical membership. “Show it to win it” was the slogan. What could possibly go wrong? In modern terms, we had been weaponised with the use of the video and could not lose. I was a keen young official but I made a fatal mistake: I volunteered to be the guinea pig, the first to show the new video at the first mass meeting of members of the then union, which was the City of Newcastle NALGO branch. Sir Jeremy Beecham, now my noble friend Lord Beecham, was the leader of the council at the time. He gave us facility time for the meeting and the room to have the meeting in: the civic centre’s main hall. The campaign strategy was good. It was to get the big branches of the union convinced and persuaded first, and then to cascade out from them to the smaller branches. The momentum was unstoppable. We were going to win.

So there I was in Newcastle Civic Centre, setting up this cutting-edge technology, the video machine. There was a large screen behind me, and the video player was in front of me, awaiting the members’ arrival. They arrived in droves—a full house for the first showing of NALGO’s video explaining the political fund. People were rapt in anticipation. My fear, as I am sure noble Lords will recall with video machines, was that it would not work: the machinery or the video would let me down and the argument would be lost, or indeed the video might not arrive. It was being sent from the dispatch department in NALGO headquarters in London, up to Newcastle for this first ever showing. I do not know why they took the risk, but they did. However, the video arrived, despite my fear that it would not and I would be left high and dry.

My fear was overcome as the welcome sign of a green light came up on a button that said “Play” and a dispatch rider came in with the video in hand, wrapped up in its packaging, uninterfered with, ready for me to play to the massed ranks of the NALGO membership in Newcastle. I put the video in the machine, which did all the right things: it swallowed the video, a whirring sound started and the green light stayed on. I began to relax. I was pioneering the use of video technology as a campaign tool—the weapon, as we called it. But then a lot of the audience started to titter and snigger around the room. I turned round to look at the screen, and horror struck as I read the title page of the video that they were watching behind me to explain NALGO’s political fund: “The Kama Sutra Rides Again”. It was a full-colour cartoon of the famous book of love. They were hooked; I was mortified. It was not a deliberate attempt inspired by NALGO, Dave Prentis or Rita Donaghy—my noble friend Lady Donaghy—to set me down a little bit, but sabotage by the video distributors, having a laugh at my expense. They did not know me and I did not know them, but I am sure they were laughing as much as the rest of the audience. Your Lordships will be

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glad to know that we overcame the problem and the legislation, and won the ballot to retain NALGO’s political fund.

Here we are at the next attempt. I do not know what the technology will be this time, but we will probably have streaming—all kinds of stuff coming online—and all kinds of ways of combating, countering and overcoming the hurdles of the legislation. But there seem to be three particular problem areas with the legislation, which we need to get right but which we are getting very wrong.

First, there is DOCAS. We have heard this before and will hear it again, but there has been no call from any quarter for DOCAS to end. In her opening speech introducing the legislation, the Minister said it was an unnecessary part of the relationship between unions and their members. Unnecessary to whom? Employers think it is necessary, employees think it is necessary and the trade unions think it is necessary. I have heard of nobody who feels that this is an unnecessary facility to have. Deduction of contributions at source—check-off or whatever you want to call it—is an important part of the relationship to make sure that union membership is what it is in the public sector.

We heard from my noble friend Lord Hain the arguments about why this legislation should not apply in Wales, and I am sure that is probably true of Scotland, too. One of the explanations for this legislation covering both devolved areas of Scotland and Wales is that employers have to deal with members or workers in all the countries and would get confused—it would get too complicated for them—if they had to deal with possibly three different sets of legislative frameworks on deduction of contributions at source, or not as the case may be. I have to say that in the modern economy, companies have employees all over the world and deal with dozens of such issues without it apparently causing confusion, so I cannot see any logic for not excluding Wales and Scotland and letting them do their own thing under their devolved Administrations.

The second area is political funds. I was a part of the discussions about these and, as many people have said, it is true that there has been, if not quite a convention, a long-standing understanding between the parties that you do not move on the issue of funding political parties unless you have all-party agreement. The argument that this is not about the funding of political parties is simply hollow. It is not true. This is all about trying to hurt the Labour Party at the time when it is at its weakest in the cycle, in preparation for election campaigns to come. Many hours of discussions involving the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, the right honourable Jack Straw when he was a Minister and Andrew Tyrie, who I think was the main spokesperson at that time for the Tories, sought to find agreement on these things. We came very close to agreement on many occasions, only for one or other of the parties to pull back from signing such an agreement, for reasons that are frankly beyond me. We came very close to it, and since then there have been independent reports, including the latest in 2011, warning that you do not move on these things unless you have all-party agreement. It is dangerous and undemocratic and will no doubt lead to future vengeful acts, to which I

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would not want to be a party, from this side of the House on that side of the House, should it choose to go in that direction.

The third area is time off for trade union duties: time off to promote health and safety issues, to represent members in difficulties, to advise people at work as to their rights, to represent people with grievances and those facing disciplinaries or other hearings, and all the rest of it. These are the day-to-day routines of trade union activity which keep industrial relations stable, good and modern in Britain. To limit such things by simply denying the right of time to do them seems wrong. If there is a problem with a particular employer, employee or union in a particular place in a particular part of the country, then deal with it. That is what managers are paid to do. We should not have a full-blown piece of legislation aimed at the heart of the trade union movement.

I look forward to future contributions, particularly to where the Government will move and make amendments, at the next stage of this piece of legislation.

7.07 pm

Lord Mawhinney (Con): My Lords, bearing in mind that this is a debate, I will start by referring to a comment made, in an earlier speech, by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, who gave us the benefit of his very considerable and balanced experience. Slipped in amid all that erudition and common sense was just the slightest implication that maybe all of us on this side of the House do not much like trade unions—or maybe it was not quite so subtle. I start by declaring an interest. For five or six years, I was on the executive of the Conservative trade union committee, and led it as chairman for three of those five years.

My second declaration of interest is that that in turn stemmed from my personal experience when I came back from America and started teaching medical students in this country. In the early 1970s I joined the trade union, and stayed with it for all the years that I taught. When it came time to leave the medical school and spend all my time in the House of Commons, I had a decision to make. The decision I made was that I would take out life membership of that trade union. It has lasted for over 40 years, so there is at least one person on this side of the House who cannot be accused of being unduly anti-trade union. It is important to say that, because some of the other things I want to say need to be balanced against that start.

The third declaration of interest is that I had the privilege of being the Secretary of State for Transport who presided over the last national rail strike in this country back in 1994. My noble friend—he is also my friend—Lord MacGregor stepped down after the first four weeks, and I did the last 10 up to and through the resolution of that dispute. I learned a lot about trade unions in that 10-week period, I learned a lot about the management of public services in those 10 weeks and I learned a lot about how each of them was focused on where they were coming from and what they aspired to achieve. What struck me was that we spent not nearly as much time talking about the inconvenience to the travelling public as we did about the rights and wrongs of the trade union views or the management of the public services.

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The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, encouraged us not to refight the battles of the past, and I assure your Lordships that I do not intend to do that by this reference. The history is that the strike was eventually settled on terms acceptable to the Government. That was a long time ago, but it shaped me. I have never forgotten it.

I suppose you could argue that, in a democracy, I was the representative of millions of people, but I am not sure that that is good enough in today’s world. Angela Eagle, the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, said in the other place that the Bill was,

“the most significant sustained and partisan attack on 6 million trade union members and their workplace organisations that we have seen in this country in the past 30 years”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 14/9/15; col. 774.]

I chose to discount most of the hyperbole, but the mention of 30 years caught my eye because about 30 years ago—at that time, I was down the other end of the Corridor, as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater—the language of her predecessors was just the same. They said that there was a vindictive piece of legislation designed to—I had better be careful; I am in your Lordships’ House—rubbish the Labour Party and the trade union movement and, perhaps, settle a few historic scores. That legislation transformed this country’s industrial relations. Do you really think that the reduction in the number of strikes would have happened without that legislation? Forgive me if I do not get excited about the hyperbole, but I am interested in the transformational effect of what all our predecessors went through 30 years ago with the same language, which produced an outcome very few, even in my party, predicted.

Over the past 40-odd years, I have had the pleasure of hearing the Labour Party, including some in your Lordships’ House and some then at the other end who are now in your Lordships’ House, telling me that the Labour Party was for the many and we were for the few. I will be interested when we get to Committee to see how the many are resolved in the context of all the inconvenience of the public, who represents them and whether it is not time for a change.

I thought about that as I read this morning’s Guardian. I suppose that it is not surprising that the Labour Party should think that Clause 10 is an attack on its finances, but its internal document, if the Guardian is to be believed, says that if we go to opt-in from opt-out, nine out of every 10 people who are at the moment contributing to the levy will stop. That is from 3.3 million down to 330,000. Nine out of every 10 will retain their own money to decide how they want to spend it, for political reasons or otherwise. That, my friends, is a representation of the many for whom the Bill is, at least in part, designed to be helpful.

It is time for a change. It is time to move away from the past, it is time to find a better way forward and, above all, it is time to find some way to give recognition to the voice and needs of the many who should be the recipients of the services that too often do not happen. This Bill takes a small step in that direction.

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7.15 pm

Baroness Bakewell (Lab): My Lords, I speak from two perspectives on this Bill. My title comes from Stockport, where I grew up and where some of the earliest trade unions were active and powerful. As long ago as 1829, textile industry employers there reduced cotton spinners’ wages and brought in substitute labour, provoking strikes in Stockport that got violent. Troops were called in and there was one hanging and three transportations. I do not believe things are as bad as that today—certainly not in Stockport.

I grew up to study the trade union movement at university and was at one time a member of three unions simultaneously: the ACTT, the NUJ and Equity. The trade union movement in this country has sustained and fought for the interests of working people for over 100 years and will go on doing so. That is the past, but it is also the future.

Today, we see in the Bill a government attack on the trade union movement that is unremitting and partisan. It will, we recognise, strike a deep blow to the funding of the Labour Party, whose roots are deeply entwined since early in the 20th century with those of organised labour. In so doing, it will strike at one of the pillars of our democratic life by which ordinary working people can exercise some control over the forces that shape their lives.

In launching the Bill, the Government make much of statistics: percentages of the voters, of the workforce, et cetera. Let me offer as a sideline comment some other statistics. In 2014, according to statistics from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, there were 6.4 million trade unionists in this country, constituting 25% of the workforce. Membership of the Tory party is currently 150,000, and of the Labour Party 370,000. The Tories won the election by a majority of 12 seats in 2015, the smallest majority since 1974. They did so with less than 24% of registered voters—so let us not play with statistics.

It now seems that the Tory Government are embarked on a policy of redrawing constituency boundaries and the electoral registration rules in a way that is calculated to change the balance in favour of the Tory party. They do that in the name of efficiency, yet resolutely refuse to enter into discussions with trade unions to allow electronic and workplace balloting: a contradiction. In this flawed version of democracy, it is worth adding that 4 million people voted for UKIP and got only one seat in the House of Commons. Things are not fair.

We see in this Trade Union Bill just one part of a strategy that appears to be loading political representation of the people towards one end of the political spectrum. The trade union movement speaks to this crisis in constitutional affairs and calls for serious amendments to this Bill.

I shall now speak to the concerns of the NUJ, a small but important union with some 30,000 members that is not affiliated to any political party and does not have a political fund. Clause 9, on picketing, introduces a number of bureaucratic rules intended to make picketing more difficult and thereby weaken its effect. This impacts on the NUJ because of the known hostility of many employers and the media to trade union membership. To take a small example, only last

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year the

Rotherham Advertiser

targeted the NUJ father of the chapel for compulsory redundancy. He had worked there for 30 years and was the only one of 14 editorial staff to be selected from the consultation. The workforce threatened a 24-hour strike and management rescinded its decision. We can do without this kind of confrontation.

The NUJ is also concerned, as are other unions, about the increasing involvement of the police in matters of picketing, in the giving of names and the ongoing surveillance of NUJ members investigating corporate and state misconduct. There should be no requirement to supply personal details of trade union representatives to the police, who may—who knows?—in some cases be the subject of investigative journalism themselves.

The trade union movement is a strong and vigorous part of our democracy. It is recognised and celebrated as such in our popular culture, in films such as “Pride”, “Brassed Off”, “Made in Dagenham”, in shows such as “Billy Elliot”, and in Turner prize-winner Jeremy Deller’s “The Battle of Orgreave”, which is dedicated to the miners’ strike. These and many more celebrate the struggle working people have to live their lives in peace and security. That is why we seek to amend this damaging Bill.

7.22 pm

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, who is not in his place, I spent a large proportion of my professional life acting for trade unions and their members—and the firm of which I am an unpaid consultant continues to do so—pursuing claims for personal injuries and appearing before employment and medical appeal tribunals. I recall lecturing to Workers’ Educational Association schools and individual union gatherings on the ground-breaking Redundancy Payments Act introduced by the Labour Government in the 1960s. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is now in his place.

Just a few months ago, I came across another example of my interest in trade unions while casually browsing through the verbatim records of Newcastle City Council meetings, of all things. In March 1975, it fell to me to reply to a debate initiated by Conservative councillors—some 21 years before they became an extinct species in the City—in which strong criticism was levied at the Community Development Project, created by the Heath Government, for having the temerity to display posters and materials about trade unions on its premises. By sheer chance, I was able to quote the following passage, which had appeared in the press the previous weekend. It stated that,

“for over 100 years, ever since Disraeli’s day, since before the Labour Party ever existed, it has been the belief of the Conservative Party that the law should not only permit, but that it should assist, the trades unions to carry out their legitimate function of protecting their members”.

They were the words of a Conservative politician, one Margaret Thatcher, which she proclaimed within weeks of becoming her party’s leader. What better test could be applied to the provisions of this Bill than to see whether, and to what extent, it conforms to that ringing declaration?

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Against a background in which the number of days lost through industrial action has long been much reduced, the Government have chosen to interfere with the working and finances of trade unions and, indeed, in some respects, of their employers in ways not contemplated—or if contemplated, at least not implemented—in the most troubled years of the 1980s. Moreover they have spatchcocked into this Bill a measure deliberately designed to damage the finances of the Labour Party, going well beyond the restrictions imposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, even though the so-called political levy amounts to around 16p per head per week in the case of Unite, not all of which goes to the Labour Party but is spent on campaigns on contemporary issues. Moreover, of course, not all unions are affiliated to Labour.

This approach is not confined to trade unions. It is a political agenda. It is echoing the pressures applied to third-sector organisations in the so-called lobbying Act and to the BBC. Bankers, on the other hand, and business go effectively unregulated when it comes to party financing or, indeed, in the case of the banks, to the way they conduct their business despite the havoc they wrought on the world economy. No limit is applied to donations effectively funded by us all as customers and consumers of goods and services by organisations which exercise their right to contribute to the funds of the Conservative Party.

Further, a Government elected with the support of only 24% of the electorate, or 36% of those actually voting, require a minimum turnout threshold of 50%—five times as many as voted in some of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections—with 80% support before industrial action can be taken. The refusal to permit electronic balloting, which the Conservative Party itself uses, is equally wrong-headed, especially in the light of the institution of postal balloting, which the noble Lord, Lord King, referred to, by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, 30 years ago.

Nor does it end there. It would be reasonable to require the costs of a check-off system, whereby union dues are retained by the employer and handed over, to be met by the recipient union. It is already a widespread practice. However, to render agreements between employers and unions in the public sector unlawful is a grotesque interference with, for example, the autonomy of local authorities to conduct their affairs. In fairness, when this was debated in the Commons the Minister, on being pressed by some of his own Back-Benchers, appears to have agreed to consider this aspect further. It will be interesting to learn whether any further discussions have taken place. The Minister said that,

“we absolutely do not intend the measure to be a way of making life difficult for unions”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 10/11/15; col. 325.]

However, it will have that effect, and I hope Ministers will listen to the reservations of their own supporters in that respect.

The proposals centrally to control arrangements for facility time, social partnership forums, health and safety representatives or learning representatives are equally unacceptable, as the North East Regional Employers’ Organisation, representing the region’s 12 local councils has made clear. It stated:

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“We are surprised and disappointed that we are to lose the autonomy to take our own decisions around these important areas for employee engagement, particularly given the government’s rhetorical commitments to the localism agenda. We call on the government to think again”.

Similar views have been expressed by those radical organisations, the Royal College of Nursing and the Association of Educational Psychologists, neither of which is affiliated to the Labour Party.

There are also questions to be asked about what counts as a public service, since the Government seek to apply their most stringent restrictions to unions operating in that sphere. Will the new regime apply to outsourced public services, such as prisons and academies or free schools, or perhaps extend to privatised industries, such as the utilities or the railways?

The problem is that, quite apart from its party-political motivation, echoing the reduction in Short money support for all the opposition parties while the pay bill for government special advisers soars, the Government, unlike many others, notably in Germany, do not value the role of trade unions as partners in the economy or in the provision of public services. They seem all too ready to acquiesce in, if not actually to promote, a Sports Direct approach to workers and their rights. That is not the right path for a modern productive economy and well-run, responsive public services.

To return to Margaret Thatcher’s words in 1975, this Bill limits rather than permits and assists the trade unions in carrying out their legitimate function. In the words of an even higher authority, cited in the Book of Daniel—that is the prophet, not the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, who is no longer in his place—too many of its provisions have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The Government need to think again and this House should assist them in so doing.

7.29 pm

Lord Kerslake (CB): My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Local Government Association. My other interests are listed in the register.

I suspect that I have been subject to as much personal challenge from the trade unions in my different roles as almost anyone in this Chamber. In Sheffield, I as chief executive had to take forward some very tough budget decisions, including major spending reductions, staff redundancies and outsourcing of services. The setting up of the Homes and Communities Agency involved bringing together two very different organisations, with consequent major restructuring and relocation of services. As Permanent Secretary to the Department for Communities and Local Government, I oversaw the reduction in size of the department by more than one-third and the closure of the government offices. The Civil Service, while I was head of it, experienced the largest cuts since the Second World War. Each of these changes was fiercely contested by the trade unions affected. Although I was clearly implementing the decisions of elected politicians, it was not unusual for trade unions to play the man, not the ball. I would say in passing that there were some tweets that I could not repeat in this Chamber or indeed anywhere else in polite company.

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Given that experience, you might think that I would welcome the Bill. I most assuredly do not. While there are measures to bring greater transparency that I welcome, the main thrust of the proposals seems to be both partisan and disproportionate to the supposed problem that they are trying to address. When this is taken with the other measures being put forward by the Government—the curtailing of the powers of this House, the moves to water down the Freedom of Information Act and the reduction in so-called short money to support opposition parties—there appears to me to be a worryingly authoritarian streak emerging from this Government, who are uncomfortable with scrutiny and challenge. I am sure that the Government will protest at this and say that it is unfair and that each issue needs to be considered on its own merits, but for me the cumulative effect of these measures seems hard to deny.

All Governments are inclined as time goes on to become more arrogant, less good at listening and more certain that their view is right. The electorate quickly work this out and vote accordingly. What is much more worrying is when a Government act to weaken those institutions and organisations that have the temerity to oppose them. It is this point that all of us in this House, in all parties, should become more concerned about. It is against that test and our commitment to an open, plural democracy that the Bill needs to be judged.

I have four main concerns with the Bill as drafted. The first is its provisions for ballots for industrial action. It does not seem unreasonable to set a threshold for turnout; indeed, most trade union leaders would think carefully about pursuing industrial action without such a mandate. It is worth noting in passing, though, that we will have no threshold in the referendum on whether we remain in the EU, and this threshold would be a level of turnout that police and crime commissioners could only dream of. The 40% support of the membership required for action in important public services is a very stiff test indeed. As has been said, the current Government happily govern with fewer than one-quarter of the electorate supporting it, and fewer than 40% of those who voted. That tells me as much about why we need electoral reform in this country as it does about trade union democracy.

What is hard to contend with, though, is that trade unions will not be able to conduct such ballots electronically. As chief executive of Sheffield, I was responsible in 2007 for running what is still probably the largest electronic voting pilot in this country. The scheme had its challenges, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, will testify, not least the compressed timescale for implementation. However, I became convinced during the pilot that electronic voting can provide at least as much, if not more, security than postal voting. Since that time, people have come to carry out vastly more of their day-to-day activities online, from banking to shopping to hospital appointments. It would therefore be an entirely logical extension to be able to vote in trade union ballots in this way. The denial of that option seems therefore to be to frustrate the efforts of unions to secure their mandate for action.

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My second concern is the introduction of the opt-in requirement for union members to contribute to political funds. Other noble Lords have spoken about this at length, so there is no need for me to repeat what they have said. However, in the absence of a proper review of the funding of all political parties in this country, this can be seen only as a one-sided attempt by one political party to undermine the main funding source of another. It is hard to see how it serves any other purpose than that. The first step before any such change is implemented therefore ought to be a cross-party review of funding.

My third major concern is the proposed reserve powers on paid time off for union officials and the prohibition on the deduction of union subscriptions from payroll. As has been said, these would apply to all public bodies, central and local, regardless of whether those bodies themselves want to act in a different way. These measures seem extraordinarily centralising and completely disproportionate to the issues involved. The introduction of these types of arrangements was designed to facilitate good industrial relations and make it easier for employees to pay their subscriptions. There are arguments for and against the actual level of trade union facilities in any organisation, and indeed whether officials should be full-time or part-time, while it is perfectly reasonable—indeed, it should be an option—for members to pay their subscription through direct debits rather than the payroll. What seems completely unacceptable, though, is for central government to dictate this.

Local government in particular ought to be able to come to its own local arrangements with its trade unions and employees. The transparency provisions of the Bill, and indeed the Freedom of Information Act, will mean that the local electorate can see just how much this is costing. Indeed, local authorities should be, and in some cases already are, able to make an economic charge for the cost of deductions, which in my personal experience is a minimal sum. For a Government who are committed to decentralisation then to seek to dictate in this level of detail how a local authority conducts its industrial relations affairs is perverse in the extreme. It is worth mentioning that this measure applies to the whole of the United Kingdom when it is abundantly clear that there is absolutely no appetite for these changes in the devolved nations.

My fourth and final area of concern is the extension of the role and powers of the Certification Officer. These changes will bring considerable new responsibilities and costs to the office. They will bring new regulatory burdens to the trade unions themselves and, if the levy provisions in the Bill are agreed, significant additional costs in funding it. For the smaller unions, such as the First Division Association, which I worked with extensively and constructively as head of the Civil Service, this will not be a small burden. I have searched as hard as I can but have found it impossible to establish any independent evidence supporting the need for this additional regulation. Given the Government’s commitment to reducing regulatory burdens, we might have expected to see significant concerns being expressed by either employers, trade union members or indeed the Certification Officer himself about the current arrangements. I have taken the trouble to go back and

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read the last annual report of the Certification Officer—there is dedication for you. The most eventful thing that I could find in it was the enforced move out of Euston Tower to the BIS headquarters in Victoria Street due to the building being structurally unsafe. It is hard to think of any other sector where new regulatory burdens of this sort have been or would be introduced with such little evidence to support them.

The biggest mistake of this House would be to see the Bill in purely technical terms. Its import is much greater than this. A Government elected with less than a quarter of the votes of the electorate should act with humility and balance. This is not a balanced Bill. I note, as others have, the continuing human rights issues that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has expressed about the Bill.

For all the frustrating moments I had in dealing with the unions over the years, I could see the important role they played in representing the collective and individual interests of their members. There was also a real benefit to me as a manager in being able to work with them to resolve individual issues and reach collective agreements on change. They have a powerful role, which we should seek to support. I hope that, notwithstanding their manifesto commitments, the Government will be open to making significant changes to the Bill as it passes through this House. It most certainly needs it.

7.41 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, many speakers today have underlined how pernicious and unnecessary the Bill is. As many have noted, it is one of a catalogue of attempts by the Government to curtail and control opposition in this country in an attempt to stack the cards in favour of the Conservative Party. It is a nakedly partisan Bill and is wholly unnecessary at a time when strikes are at an all-time low.

Many distinguished trade unionists who have spoken today have noted how wrong it is to insist that there should be a minimum threshold of votes for strikes to happen, and yet the Government will not allow the use of electronic or workplace balloting, despite the fact that we know that this increases turnout. E-balloting was good enough for the Tory mayoral selection procedure; why is it not good enough for trade unions? It is wrong to insist that trade union members will have to opt in to allow funding to go to a political party, although it is notable that the same individual consent is not demanded for hedge funds nor shareholders in companies which contribute to the Tory party. It is unfair to push for intrusive requirements for anyone who is involved in picketing, and it is vindictive to introduce a measure which means that in future you will not be able to deduct union subscriptions via payroll. However, today I will concentrate, as did my noble friend Lord Hain, on the constitutional breach which is being proposed in the Bill, with its insistence that the measures introduced in the Bill will impact not just on England but on other parts of this devolved country.

The Bill works on the assumption that employment and employment law is a reserved matter, on which the UK Government speak for the whole of the United

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Kingdom. I make it clear that I agree that, in general, employment law should continue to rest with the UK Government. Unravelling the minimum wage, health and safety standards and employment rights across the UK could lead to a race to the bottom, a situation which would undermine the hard-fought rights that UK workers enjoy today. However, goodness knows what the Bill might have looked like had we not been a part of the European Union, where the protection measures in place because we are a part of the European Union have prevented the Government going even further. Nevertheless, the lines are blurred, in particular on the broader aspect of how trade unions interact with public services, when it comes to where Westminster powers start and stop. Many of our key public services—health, education, local government, fire, transport and public administrations—are devolved. I will focus my comments on how the Bill relates to Wales.

Conventions have developed, and have been respected, since 1999, which have made it clear that Westminster should not intervene in matters which have been devolved. I underline the fact that the Welsh Government are extremely exercised about the fact that the UK Government are trying to intervene in matters which they believe are rightly matters for the Welsh Government to decide. The introduction of the Bill will undermine the Sewel convention and will lead to a long and protracted battle in the courts, certainly between the Welsh Government and the United Kingdom Government. The Welsh Government are concerned that there is a breach in the Bill as regards matters which relate to the 40% threshold in support of strike action in public services, the ability to place restrictions on trade union facility time in the public sector, and banning check-off arrangements in the public sector, despite the fact that many public service employers draw an income of at least 2% for making such deductions.

Of course, many would argue, “The Welsh Government would say that, wouldn’t they?”. They are of a different complexion politically, and unlike the Tories in the United Kingdom, they have a close working relationship with the trade unions, which has led to successful schemes and measures being introduced such as the pioneering Jobs Growth Wales plan, which has ensured that 15,000 young people have found new jobs. The Welsh Government have worked hand in glove with the trade unions. That is not a bad thing. That model has served Germany and other countries extremely well over recent decades.

Where are the doctors going on strike? It is in England, not in Wales. Strike action in the NHS in Wales over the last decade has been minimal, despite significant organisational change and the introduction of changes to terms and conditions. Indeed, debate and discussions with trade unions helped to lead to the living wage being introduced throughout the NHS in Wales. However, not only the trade unions and the Welsh Government are concerned; the people who run the public services in Wales are extremely concerned that the Bill will lead to a deterioration in industrial relations. The Cardiff and Vale University Health Board chief executive has written to the trade union Unison to state very clearly that;

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“The Trade Union Bill could have a detrimental effect on the mutually beneficial working between the health board and its personnel and could potentially lead to unnecessary challenging industrial relations in future”.

Public sector employers in Wales do not want this to happen.

However, I argue that this is not just about politics and party-political positions. It is about respecting the devolved settlement. In the amendment that we will set out, we will attempt to ensure that the UK Government do not finish up paying hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on High Court battles which will happen in order to settle this issue, if the Bill gets through in its current format. It is understood constitutionally that, if the United Kingdom Parliament wants to introduce a law on a devolved matter, it needs the consent of the Assembly before it can pass that law. This is given through a mechanism called the legislative consent Motion. The Welsh Assembly will be voting on a legislative consent Motion on this issue on 26 January. It will argue that the UK Government are working beyond their mandate on this and it will encourage Assembly Members to vote against giving legislative consent, which will lead to a collision course with the UK Government unless things are changed.

I am quite an old-fashioned politician when it comes to who should decide what. I guess that it is a bit ironic to say, sitting here in the House of Lords, that elected politicians should decide these things and not courts. That is yet another example of why it would be beneficial for us to have a comprehensive debate on constitutional matters in a constitutional convention, which could iron this matter out along with so many others. However, on which side are the courts likely to settle? My noble friend Lord Hain referred to the attempt by the Welsh Government to introduce a law which would give protection in terms of wages to Welsh agricultural workers. This was challenged by the United Kingdom Government, who claimed that the Welsh Government had gone beyond the powers allocated to them in the Wales Act. The Supreme Court came down firmly on the side of the Welsh Government. It acknowledged that employment matters were not devolved or given a specified exemption, but it decided that, as agricultural issues came firmly under the remit of the Welsh Government, they should decide on agricultural wage levels. It concluded that the legislative provision may relate to both devolved and non-devolved subject matter.

The evidence would therefore suggest that, if this matter came before the courts, they would refer to this earlier judgment and would come down on the side of the Welsh Government on the matters referred to in this Bill. The TUC in Wales has also had Queen’s Counsel advice suggesting that, even if the Bill is enacted in its current form, there would be nothing to prevent the Welsh Government and the Assembly enacting legislation that would overturn, in full or in part, the effect of this Bill in Wales, as long as that legislation relates to a devolved subject matter.

I therefore hope that the Government will not just be open to the view that this Bill could lead to deteriorating industrial relations across the whole of the United

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Kingdom, but will respect the devolved settlement of this country and not impose these rules on the whole of the United Kingdom.

7.51 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab): My Lords, I first congratulate my noble friends on their maiden speeches, which showed great promise of some superb contributions to come.

Unfortunately, the Minister is not in her place. I listened carefully to her contribution, which was short—I suppose we should be grateful for that in some ways—but I was not convinced that she was convinced about many aspects of this Bill. I find that surprising. I spend some of my time working constructively with her, in a semi-industrial relations way, on apprenticeships, and I did not see the same conviction in her presentation today.

I have spent most of my working life involved in industrial relations, as I said in the 19 November debate that has already been quoted today, and which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Foulkes. As I said then, I owe most of my education—for better or worse, as you can judge on this contribution—to the trade union movement.

I, as general secretary, and my noble friend Lady Drake negotiated our way through some very difficult challenges, including large-scale redundancies, without strike action. Why? Because we had a constructive engagement that involved the positive approach to industrial relations which, I would submit, most of the trade union movement in this country participates in. I sometimes reflect that it is unfortunate that the history of the trade union movement is often focused on the great strikes, which tends to take away the emphasis on all the work and activity that takes place without strike action. We have heard mentioned many times, so I need not repeat it, all the work that takes place on education and defending workers’ basic rights.

Is this Bill really going to make a constructive, positive contribution to improving industrial relations? For the life of me, I cannot see where in the Bill such a contribution is made. It is not as though we do not need it. We do face some real challenges. If the Bill was doing something about the real challenges of improving productivity and creating a more skilled workforce, I would be willing to look at it much more favourably. But there is nothing in this Bill.

There is a real problem with workforce industrial relations, as has been acknowledged by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and with management training. A significant number of management personnel still do not have any training at all, and a significant number of employers still do not provide reasonable training or take on apprenticeships. Those are the real challenges that we face, and they are not going to be addressed by this Bill.

I will not focus on the points that have been made exceedingly well by my noble friends Lord Mendelsohn and Lord Monks, because they made a better job of doing so than I would. I was interested in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—unfortunately, he is not in his place—who could not be described as “one of those trade unionists, so he would say that,

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wouldn’t he?”. You could say lots of things about him, but you cannot characterise him in that manner. He identified the issue. We have heard it said time and again in this debate: where is the call for the many wonderful features—that is my attempt at irony—of this Bill?

I was also fascinated by the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, to establish his trade union credentials, which I do not doubt. I was just concerned about the bit where he talked about the Conservative association of trade unionists. I regard that phrase as an oxymoron—a contradictory cliché, for those who are not sure. I struggle to remember the campaigns that were led by the Conservative association of trade unionists. Maybe I missed them. Maybe it was leading the minimum wage campaign or the fight for equal pay; if so, I clearly missed it. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, is about to tell me of the great campaigns. I knew he would rise eventually.

Lord Balfe: I remind the noble Lord that 30% of trade unionists vote for the Conservative Party but they are not widely represented in the leadership because the leadership replicates itself. The fact that the Conservatives are not often approached by the unions actually weakens the unions’ case.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I thank the noble Lord. I have always been aware of the fact that a significant number of my members voted for the Conservative Party, despite my attempts to persuade them otherwise. We did not use the video, thank goodness—if we had they might have been convinced of something, although I do not know what.

Although I have tried to lighten my approach to this debate, it is a serious Bill that, as many people have rightly said, is partisan in many ways, whether intentional or otherwise. The Minister must address that point. A number of people have asked whether the Government can really justify undermining check-off arrangements when there is no call for that. This Government are making a serious mistake and losing an opportunity, as I have said, to address the real challenges and problems that we face.

When the Minister reads my scintillating contribution in Hansard, I hope she will take into account the key points that I have made, and that others have made throughout this debate. This Bill does nothing to improve industrial relations and does not address the real challenges that we face in this country.

7.59 pm

Lord Suri (Con): My Lords, my research prior to this speech took me a long time back. Unlike those in the other place, most of us can remember the terrible industrial strife of the 1970s and 1980s. The unions bedevilled Labour and Conservative Governments alike. The three-day week and rubbish piled to the shoulder in the street—I remember it all. Trying to run a business in those times was fraught with difficulty. It seems amazing to younger businessmen that there was once a real risk that you might go to the office, flick a switch and remain in darkness.

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The level of dispute has gone down, thankfully, but unions still reserve the power to cause immense disruption. As a Londoner, I know that every day that the Tube drivers go on strike we lose up to £40 million—and that I might be late in coming here, which I am sure all noble Lords would be very sad about. As a result, it seems to a lot of the people whom I meet that many unions are concerned not with what they can do for civil society but with what they can get from civil society—a view with which I strongly sympathise.

The political activities of the unions also trouble me. How is it fair that the unions can exert a political levy on their members to fund parties that many of them do not vote for? If union members want to fund the Labour Party, they are perfectly capable of signing up for direct debits. Of course, a big chunk of that money goes towards the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition—an attempt at a political party that managed to do even worse than the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. If I were a unionised worker seeing my hard-earned wages going towards this failed and ideologically motivated cause, I would be furious.

Trade unions serve a number of useful functions. As a boss, I have always endeavoured to treat my staff with the respect they deserve and to remunerate them fairly, but I would be naive to suggest that all bosses think the same. Employment law provides the checks but unions provide the balance. At their best, unions provide a way of shielding the worker from arbitrary harm, and some unions do this admirably.

I was impressed by the recent Unite campaign to stop restaurant workers’ tips being taken. It managed to get a number of restaurants to change their policy and forced the Government into a review of the law, helping both its members and the customers, who expect their tips to go to their waiters or waitresses. Sadly, far more unions seem less concerned about helping society and their members, preferring to focus on political campaigning. Ideologically motivated actions, urged on by the clique of hard leftists who run many unions, damage public trust in unions and damage society.

The fact that a strike can be called on a member turnout of less than 25% is clearly ridiculous, and I am glad that the Bill will put an end to the nonsense of national strikes on derisory turnouts, holding up people and businesses. It is a shame, because I remember some union leaders as sensible moderates—more social democrats than democratic socialists. They managed to drag the Labour Party back to electability with Kinnock, but they seem now to be pushing it as far as they can from the Overton window.

This Bill addresses the basic unfairness of the political levy and the increasing propensity of strikes. I congratulate the Business Secretary and his team on creating legislation that strikes the balance between regulating the pernicious aspects of union activity and maintaining their existence.

8.04 pm

Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Lab): My Lords, I began my interest in trade unions as a student of engineering when I was at Cambridge University. I spent my vacations in various factories and on building sites,

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and I began to see that unless management and workers could collaborate, we were never going to develop our industry as well as we should.

I had other experiences of being a member of a trade union when I worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board. I was so impressed with the trade union that I then became branch secretary. Later, I realised that trade unions were extremely important for management. On my first or second day as head of the Met Office, I talked to the trade unions and learned a great many things that I had not learned from other people. One of the extraordinary things about being both a staff member and a trade union person in an organisation is that you see a cross-section of the organisation.

The Minister mentioned some positive aspects of trade unions when she introduced the Bill. She also said—I think she is right—that some elements of the Bill are useful, with a move towards greater openness and more information. However, as we have heard in this debate from the opposite side, the general spirit is not as constructive as one would like to think in trying to move this country forward from a spirit of division and inequality to the kind of modern country that one sees in Germany. Of course, it was the UK after the Second World War that encouraged Germany to have a trade union role on the supervisory boards of companies, but we debated the Bullock report in the Lords and regrettably the conclusion was that we were perhaps too divided to have the same kind of approach as in Germany. In the UK, public and private bodies have ad hoc roles for union involvement that relate to pay, welfare, safety and the functioning of the organisation, but they do not have the same strategic role as in Germany.

Paragraph 54 of the Explanatory Notes is explicit that the proposals to reduce the time spent by trade union officials in running public bodies will lead to some reduction in cost, and various very small numbers have been mentioned this afternoon. The question is whether reducing the involvement of trade union representatives and management in public and private bodies will make business and organisations more competitive—a point made by my noble friend Lord Young. In fact, modern organisations are increasingly complex and put increasing responsibilities and stress on staff at every level.

The authors of this legislation in BIS or the drafting office clearly have never run, and know nothing about running, a large public sector organisation. It is very important that higher management, technical staff and trade unions work together and take more time away from their daily duties to attend courses and meet professional colleagues. The evidence given to us in documents by the Royal College of Nursing was extremely powerful. It said that without spending time on understanding the whole management, mistakes will be made, and we will not be able to use modern technology in medicine.

Of course, I look forward to a future Labour Government, when Ministers will ask City of London companies how much time their staff spend hobnobbing and drinking at City livery companies, and perhaps seek rules to reduce that. We all know that these

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organisations are simply front organisations for the Conservative Party and are far from being the national representative bodies that one would expect in a country no longer in the Middle Ages. I should have said “England” in the Middle Ages; Wales has clearly moved somewhat further ahead.

As head of the Met Office, I had 3,000 staff and excellent, responsible trade union representatives, which I found very helpful in an informal way, as well as the more formal methods of the well-established Whitley Council meetings. What is extraordinary is the proposal, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, that some Minister—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Maude, in an earlier existence—will be sending out orders to the chief executives of public sector bodies to tell them how much time they can allow staff to spend on trade union activity. This is a grotesque diminution of the managerial role of these chief executives. I do not think that even “Yes Minister” would have conceived of this level of managerial small-mindedness.

Surely what we should be doing is moving in a different way. The Lord Maudes of this world should in fact be encouraging chief executives to have in their job description that they should work closely with the trade union movement to improve the way that companies operate and to have wider participation in the management of companies. This will be the most important way to reduce disruption and make this country safer and more modern.

When the coalition Government took power in 2010, they waxed lyrical about the need for people’s greater involvement. Clause 14 is another step backwards from this modern public and private organisation. It seems curious that, now we have a Conservative and not a coalition Government, they are a bit cooler about this idea of the people’s society. Surely a strong society is one where people join and collaborate in organisations, and people need to be encouraged. We know, after all, that the Government give tax relief for donations to charities. In most progressive private organisations, subscriptions to professional bodies by professional staff are subsidised and paid for completely by the organisation. Even small enterprises, such as the one that I am chairman of, do this for staff. No one is suggestion that subscriptions to a trade union should be subsidised by the company. All that we are asking, for reasons explained by my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn, is that employers should make it easy for people to join a trade union. Only with people joining trade unions will we have companies working in a modern way, as they do in Germany.

Sadly, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is not with us today, but I have had many conversations with him. He was a very active member of the BALPA trade union when he worked in BOAC. His dynamism as a trade union official clearly benefited the entire organisation; it is not just about, as it were, looking after a narrow interest. That was the reason that I joined a trade union: the Electrical Power Engineers’ Association. I could see that, through joining, I could understand the whole organisation. You have quite a different role in a company when you are on the trade union side and the management side; you see different aspects of the organisation. This positive, visionary aspect of the union movement needs to be emphasised.

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The other important point I expected to be discussed more today is that women are often slow to see the advantages of trade union membership—perhaps the culture of trade unions is sometimes rather on the blokeish side. But the role for women in trade union organisations is very important, and management everywhere must see the advantages of stronger involvement by women. One way to do that, of course, is to make sure that it is very easy for people to join a trade union and to have their subscription taken from their pay.

I will give noble Lords a story. We have discussed here the need for an understanding of the positive role of trade unions. In the 1970s, I encouraged a brilliant woman medical researcher at a certain university to join the Association of University Teachers, which then took up her case of the unreasonable age-related withholding of tenure, which was very widespread in the university world. Her case went to a tribunal and, subsequently, an important change was made in the way that tenure decisions for women were made. Many, many more women now have a more advanced career in universities.

Similar problems arise all the time and it is, therefore, essential for the Government not merely to withdraw the pernicious Clause 14 but to change it and put an obligation on trade unions and employers to provide more information about trade unions so that staff can participate. The Government should also make it easier for staff to pay their subscription.

In the Minister’s opening remarks in this debate she sounded so progressive, but we then learned many of the rather negative aspects of the Government’s view of the trade unions. That certainly did not reflect a modern, effective, democratic, technically advanced country. Technical advances have not been allowed to be used and, therefore, this is a disappointing Bill. As my noble friend Lord Bragg implied, the future of England as a divided and ineffective country comes nearer with this Bill.

8.14 pm

Baroness Donaghy (Lab): My Lords, I have been a public servant for most of my working life and an active member of a public service trade union. I am very proud to have been a trade unionist, and I take this Trade Union Bill rather personally.

I regret that we are starting the new year in our tribal groups, emphasising differences, rather than promoting co-operation and employee involvement. I believe that, in pandering to their backwoods supporters, the Government will find that the Bill will do more harm than good. It will make David Cameron’s negotiations with European leaders on a reformed Europe more difficult—perhaps that is the intention.

While top employers are earning 180 times the average wage, and that gap is growing, the government response is to try to weaken trade union influence. In my contribution I want to cover the Certification Office, the deduction of subscriptions from source and the right to strike.

As noble Lords will know, the Certification Office is part of the ACAS family. The coalition Government made it part of the bonfire of the quangos: does

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everybody remember that one? The Certification Office was considered so insignificant that it was merged with another organisation so that BIS could claim it had halved the quangos in this area. Although it was a great PR exercise, the tiny office and tiny staffing remained the same—but it did lose one photocopier.

Then came the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill in 2013. The Certification Office was rescued from the bonfire in Part 3 and its powers were increased to allow more investigatory powers and to tie up the trade unions and employers’ organisations with more red tape. I urged the then Government to avoid politicising the role of the Certification Officer. Now a Conservative Government has come along—presumably adding the bits the Lib Dems did not like—trying to create a Trojan horse whereby trade unions can be investigated on the initiative of any Nick, Sajid or Anna when the spirit moves. It is this kind of clear-sighted vision which makes politics so admired.

The Certification Office will not only become a highly political, sectarian and controversial organisation but will raise money from its own statutory activities. That is a conflict of interest. Before the Government say that ACAS raises income from its activities—a point carefully placed in the Explanatory Notes—let me make it clear that any revenue-raising in ACAS is associated with assisting organisations to improve their employment relations. This is no longer a statutory duty of ACAS, which I personally regret, and has nothing to do with ACAS’s statutory conciliation duties. One cannot help but wonder whether this proposal is the thin end of a very large wedge. Will the Minister assure us that levying fees will not be extended to the central work of ACAS? I hope the Government will reconsider some of these damaging proposals and draw back from the payment of fees and the powers over political fund expenditure.

Turning to the proposal to outlaw public sector deductions of union subscriptions from source, when I was active in my union I had a lot of experience of collecting union subscriptions before deductions from salaries was introduced in my workplace. This is nothing new. It was an inefficient use of my time when I could have been solving problems with my employer. My question to the Minister is whether the Government will recognise in the Bill the need for facility time for trade union representatives to collect subscriptions. Failure to do this would expose the Government to accusations that they were intent on sabotaging the ability to recruit.

Some members cannot afford to pay an annual subscription all in one go, either in cash or through their bank. Some cannot persuade their bank or building society to deduct subscriptions monthly, because their pay is either too low or too sporadic or both. This could affect school employees in particular. The physical collection of subscriptions will therefore have to take place and representatives will need time to do it. Has the Minister consulted public sector employers about this move? I ask because it will mean that they have no idea who is in a trade union if this proposal is carried.

In my former union, UNISON, the majority of the 1.3 million members have their subscriptions deducted straight from their wages, a process that is beneficial

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for both employers and members. No employer is required to provide the service. UNISON covers the cost of the administration of check-off whenever asked. The Minister knows that this highly controversial proposal was not in her party’s manifesto. Is she seriously saying that the Government would rather ban check-off than accept union payment for services? Is that because the Government do not trust public sector employers? I am certain that this will be the subject of many amendments.

My final points concern the right to strike. Further restricting the right to strike and removing the ban on the use of agency workers during strikes will worsen employment relations. The Government are well aware that the number of days lost to industrial action per year has fallen substantially. If they really cared about union democracy they would allow electronic voting and the extension of workplace ballots. All the additional legal hurdles contained in the Bill will make settlements more difficult, with or without strike action, and will certainly increase the chance of legal challenges against the union and encourage employers to sit out a dispute.

I am concerned, too, about the use of regulations to cover vitally important areas affecting the democratic rights of workers. This is a pattern with this Government—the framework Government—whereby legislation as flimsy as a pack of cards is put through and the really important bits are presented much later in the form of regulation. In this Bill, we will not know precisely who will be covered by the 40% threshold in Clause 3.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: Therefore, my comments on this methodology and the proposed change of removing the House of Lords’ ability to deal with secondary legislation will be even more powerful.

Baroness Donaghy: I thank the noble Lord for that additional piece of wisdom.

In this Bill we will not know precisely who will be covered by the 40% threshold in Clause 3 until the regulations come out. There will be no opportunity to amend or give proper scrutiny, which is our job. This is anti-democratic, as is treating abstentions as no votes for industrial action. Of course strike action should be the last resort, but poor employment relations lead to worse things—absenteeism, presenteeism, low morale and low productivity. This wretched Bill has no contribution to make in these areas.

8.23 pm

Lord Rennard (LD): My Lords, this Bill has been generally characterised today as an anti-trade union Bill. It is, and I think that the many criticisms of it being made are fair. There was an excellent debate in the House last November led by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, which highlighted the positive contribution made to our society by trade unions. I believe that they should be recognised as a force for good in this country and that they have played a major role in making our society much fairer. In the past, however, there were significant problems with how they were run and how strikes could be undertaken. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, that it would have

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been better if the “in place of strife” proposals had been implemented by Harold Wilson’s Government before 1970. Perhaps then the so-called winter of discontent could have been avoided. Reform eventually came from the Conservative Government’s changes to employment law in the 1980s. At the time there was much opposition to those changes from the trade unions and the Labour Party, but I believe that they were necessary and that they are now generally accepted. The Labour Governments of 1997 to 2010 did not seek to reverse the changes.

However, the case for many of the changes proposed in this Bill has not been made; quite the contrary. The scale of turbulence shown by the number of working days lost through labour disputes in the 1970s and 1980s has not been repeated in the more than a quarter of a century since then, which suggests that there is not a great problem to address. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, referred frequently to the three-day week and the blackouts of 1972 and 1974. I remember them as well because I had just started secondary school. But they were more than 40 years ago, so that was then. Industrial relations and employment law have moved on over that time, and so should the Conservative Party.

The concern I want to address about the Bill today is its basic anti-democratic nature. In my earliest contributions to this House, when I led for my party on the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, I suggested that something must be done to hold back the arms race in party spending on elections. If we look at the growth of expenditure at the national level by the Conservative Party between 1974 and 1997, we can see the problem. In each of the 1974 elections, the Conservative Party was calculated to have spent less than £100,000 on each of its national campaigns. By 1979, it was estimated to have spent £2 million nationally. By 1983 it was £4 million; by 1987 it was £9 million; by 1992 it was £11 million; and by 1997 it was a staggering £28 million. The legislation in 2000 was supposed to have halted the arms race by imposing for the first time a limit on national party spending in the year before a general election. I argued then that a limit of approximately £20 million for a party contesting every seat in Great Britain was too high, but the real problem with that legislation was that the warnings that I and others made about the consequences of allowing supposedly national spending to be incurred in individual constituencies were not heeded. This meant that a party that was able to raise almost £20 million for a general election campaign nationally could in effect spend almost as much as it liked in individually targeted marginal constituencies. I believe that the Conservative majority of last year was obtained by spending sums of up to £250,000 in seats that it gained. The legislation of 1883 that for more than a century effectively limited expenditure in individual constituencies so as to prevent the buying of a seat in Parliament was rendered useless once national spending targeted at individual voters in individual seats was allowed.

In the recent general election, there was virtually no limit on what could be spent promoting the case for Cameron’s Conservatives, while tight limits still applied to what could be spent by individual candidates, including those defending their record as MPs. Such expenditure

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by the Conservatives was effective. If it had not been, we would not have seen Sir Lynton Crosby’s knighthood announced in the New Year Honours. So money does count, and a major aim of the Bill is clearly to prevent the biggest opposition party ever having the finances to match what the Conservatives are doing.

Many opportunities to re-establish the principles of the 1883 legislation, based on preventing the buying of individual constituencies, have been missed since the Committee on Standards in Public Life was established following the sleaze allegations that arose in the 1990s. Nothing really effective was ever done during the 13 years of the Labour Government because Labour Ministers were reluctant to act without the agreement of the Conservatives. But that agreement is not now being reciprocated. The Conservatives are mindful of their small majority of 12, and the fact that they won an overall majority for only the first time in 23 years and polled only 37% of the vote.

In this Bill, we see the Conservatives acting to halt the arms race in party spending by unilaterally disarming their biggest opponents, while leaving their own funding sources untouched and able to be spent in ways that ensure that the playing field in politics is anything but level. Looking at what is proposed, it is not the change from an opt-out system to an opt-in system for trade union members making payments to the Labour Party that is wrong in principle. What is wrong in principle is making a change to block your major opponents’ funding while doing nothing to impose any limit on the size of donations that can be made by multimillionaires and which finance your own party’s campaigns.

All political parties, my own included, have suffered embarrassment from their dependency on donors who can make million-pound donations. In our legislation, we need to reassert the principle that, in a democracy, thousands of votes should count for more than thousands of pounds. As my noble friend Lord Tyler said, a great opportunity again to level the playing field in politics was also missed in the last Parliament when the coalition failed to fully support the proposals in the 2011 report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. This committee made fair and balanced proposals to limit donations and provide instead for a modest extension in state funding.

It is not out of any love for the Labour Party that I oppose the measures effectively to disarm it by removing such a substantial portion of its income. It is because the Conservative Party wants to prevent democratic opposition so much so that it seeks to reduce the power of this House to challenge unfair and anti-democratic measures that have not been subject to proper scrutiny in the Commons. It wants fewer of its opponents to be registered to vote in elections while ensuring that there will be fewer constituencies that can be won by opposing parties. It is now trying to ensure that opposing parties suffer a reduction in the funding that enables them to scrutinise legislation in Parliament and to challenge the Conservative Party in elections.

Changes to party funding arrangements are bound to cause controversy but those in this Bill weaken our democracy. On 3 December, I asked Her Majesty's Government,

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“what plans they have to introduce a limit on the size of personal, or company, donations to political parties”.

I received the following reply from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley. He wrote:

“We remain committed to negotiating a comprehensive cross-party reform agreement, including donations from all funding sources including trade unions”.

If the Government are indeed committed to negotiating a cross-party reform agreement, they must withdraw the proposals on party funding in this Bill.

8.33 pm

Lord Pendry (Lab): My Lords, it is heartening that so many noble Lords have taken part in this debate. I hope that, as a result of those contributions, the Bill will be altered in a material way, especially after the three excellent speeches of the maiden speakers. I am sure that noble Lords would not doubt that they will continue to impress in the months and years ahead, and that the House cannot wait to hear another non-controversial speech by my noble friend Lord Watts.

Some of us have trodden these paths before. We would have hoped that, over the years, the Conservative Party would have heeded the voices of those who recognise that the vital elements of British democracy would be threatened if clauses as contained in this Bill were enacted. In the Government’s attempt we see them, like some of their predecessors, once more attacking an important British institution. We have heard already that strike action in the UK is at its lowest level in 30 years, which points to the obvious fact that sensible industrialists and unionists are more connected than ever in creating good working relationships, leading to better industrial relations and more productivity and efficiency in the workplace. No wonder organisations such as the CIPD, the EEF, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and other companies large and small are critical of the Bill. Even on a practical level, the suggestion of greater supervision of strikes has been questioned by the Police Federation, which continues to face greater pressures than ever before on its already stretched-out services.

The Bill is a concerted attempt to create unnecessary disruption and tension between union members and their employers for narrow party gain. It is not only unnecessary, but regressive in its attempt to reform the trade union movement. Clearly, the Bill sets out to curtail workers’ rights that have been hard fought for over the years, for example in 1888 with the match girls’ strike at Bryant and May’s factory in Bow, which broke ground for female workers, followed closely by the dock strike of 1889, which garnered international support for workers against workplace injustices, and, of course, the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ epic struggle of the 19th century. If enacted, the Bill would challenge the very democratic right of workers to withhold their labour, but would also be an attack on other basic rights of workers—those of freedom of expression and association.

Is it any wonder that, on top of the voices of the unions, enlightened employers and academics, human rights organisation such as Liberty, Amnesty International and the British Institute of Human Rights have also weighed in with their condemnation of the Bill, pointing out that it is unnecessary and in direct contradiction

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of some of the legal obligations by which the UK is bound—not least the European Convention on Human Rights, which the UK helped to ratify? Liberty condemns the Bill by arguing that it is an,

“unjustified intrusion by the State into the freedom of association and assembly of trade union members”,

undermines their rights,

“to private and family life”,

and jeopardises,

“the UK’s important history of supporting peaceful protest”.

At a time when the UK is seen as a beacon of democracy and freedom, one wonders what signals a Bill such as this sends to the British people—indeed, to the world at large—about the kind of society we want to be.

I conclude as I began by cautioning the Government for returning to their well-trodden path of an attack, through legislation, on the trade union movement. One would have thought that they would have got their contempt of trade union membership out of their system by now. When I was elected to the other place in 1970, we had to contend with what was then the infamous Industrial Relations Bill of the Heath Administration. I made my maiden speech on 26 November 1970 on that Bill. In preparation for that nerve-racking experience, I attended a meeting the weekend before at the London School of Economics to hear the then Solicitor-General, Geoffrey Howe MP—later Lord Howe of Aberavon—make a bold pledge to introduce Queensberry rules into our industrial relations. What a gem that was for me, for, on the following Thursday, I rose for that important speech and began, in the form of the non-contentious parliamentary convention on maiden speeches, by praising my predecessor and describing my constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde, before breaking with tradition by finishing with a condemnation of the proposed Bill. In reference to the Solicitor-General’s remarks, I said that, speaking as a former ABA boxing champion, I had to tell him and the Government that,

“even under Queensberry if one leads with one’s chin”,—[

Official Report

, Commons, 26/11/1970; col. 683.]

one is likely to get knocked out. Those remarks are as appropriate today as they were 46 years ago.

8.40 pm

Lord Flight (Con): My Lords, notwithstanding all that has been said, this legislation is not intended to be hostile to the trade union movement but rather to modernise and address practices that are now outdated and sometimes inappropriate, particularly in the public sector and particularly with regard to the interests of consumers and taxpayers. My perception was that the Labour Party broadly accepted this, and hence in the other place did not table any amendments addressing the key elements of the Bill, but rather initiated a debate on conducting ballots in the workplace by electronic communication, which is important and which I personally support.

I support the important elements of the Bill: the ballot reforms in Clauses 2 and 3; the requirements for an opt-in for union members paying the political levy in Clauses 10 and 11; addressing facility time in Clauses 12

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and 13; check-off arrangements in the public sector in Clause 14; and beefing up the powers of the Certification Officer in Clauses 15 to 17.

As we are all aware, the Bill requires that at least 50% of union members entitled to vote on industrial action should cast their vote for the ballot to be valid, and that, in addition, in important public services affecting the public, at least 40% of those entitled to vote should vote in favour of industrial action. The present arrangements, where only a simple majority of those voting is required, have led to abuse by militants, largely in the public sector and frequently inconveniencing the public. Trade unionists should accept that many members of the public are fed up with public sector strikes. Candidly, it is a disgrace that doctors are threatening to go on strike.

Of the days lost from strikes in 2014, 91% were in the public sector, which represents less than 30% of those in work and has both higher pay and better pensions than the private sector. Indeed, reform is needed more in the public sector than in the private sector.

Clause 10 provides that union members must make an active decision to contribute to political funds. Some unions, such as Unison, I understand, already have a tick-box. Clause 11 requires unions to include in their returns to the Certification Officer greater detail on what the political fund is spent on where expenditure exceeds £2,000. My reading of the legislation, however, is that failing to opt in to the levy will not necessarily mean that a member’s union contribution will be reduced by the amount of the political contribution. This could provide for a hidden increase in members’ subscriptions. However, of more moment, statute already requires an annual shareholders’ vote for companies to make political contributions, which should reasonably be matched by union members’ political levies similarly being voted on annually. Contrary to assertions made this evening, no banks or public listed companies make party-political contributions to any of the parties.

There has been a growing lack of distinction between trade union duties and trade union activities that qualify for facility time where there is no statutory requirement to pay union representatives for time spent on union activities. In practice, some union representatives are paid for undertaking activities as well as duties. It is surely reasonable that trade unions should pay for activity representation within the public sector organisations themselves, rather than the taxpayer shouldering this burden. In 2012-13, trade unions received £108 million in subsidies from taxpayers, plus a further £85 million in paid staff time and £23 million in direct payments. In 2013, at least 2,841 full-time equivalent public sector staff worked on trade union activities and duties at taxpayers’ expense. Out of 1,074 public sector organisations, 344 did not formally record facility time. This area needs tidying up and cleaning.

As noble Lords are aware, historically employers have deducted trade union subscriptions from a member’s pay and passed them on to the union. With direct debit facilities more easily available, there is no longer any real need for this practice. Some 972 public sector organisations—91% of public bodies—still provide check-off facilities. Only 213—22%—charge for this

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service. In 2012-13, these 213 bodies charged £1.77 million. If the other 759 public sector bodies were to charge, this would equate to £6.3 million—effectively another taxpayer subsidy. In today’s world, it is surely not the business of public sector employers to be processing staff dues. But if they do so, they should charge appropriately for the service.

Most legal services, including litigation, are reserved activities and can be provided only by a regulated person. However, the Legal Services Act 2007 was amended, for no particularly valid reason, to provide that trade unions—not other not-for-profit organisations—would be wholly exempt from regulation in the provision of legal services to their members. Experience with compensation claims suggests that trade unions need greater, not less, regulation in related territories.

At present, the Certification Officer, although called a regulator, has little more power than Companies House: in other words, they check that accounts have been received but not what is in them. So beefing up the powers of the Certification Officer in Clauses 15 to 17 is an important aspect of the Bill. It would be interesting to have more detail on what is intended here. For example, where there are potential frauds, the Bill needs to provide the mechanism for action and the Certification Officer needs to be adequately funded to act. The relationship of the Certification Officer to the Electoral Commission as regards the monitoring of union elections and the registration of political donations also needs to be considered. The provisions in the Bill regarding the Certification Officer need further consideration.

Baroness Drake (Lab): Does the noble Lord accept that the Certification Officer has the power to check that the unions have adjusted the contribution rate of members who have opted out?

Lord Flight: I am not aware of whether that power exists at present. It is certainly intended so far as the Bill is concerned. But I suggest that there are quite a lot of other useful things that a Certification Officer can and should be doing.