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Clause 9 — Union supervision of picketing

Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 10th November 2015.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 118
    A majority of MPs voted to require the appointment of a picket supervisor and for them to be identified to, and contactable by, the police.
  • Division number 119
    A majority of MPs voted against requiring the consent of the devolved administrations and local government before applying new regulations on trade union activity within their areas of responsibility.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 38, page 5, line 6, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 10, page 5, leave out lines 7 to 19 and insert—

‘(3) A picket supervisor is required to show a constable a letter of authorisation only if—

(a) the constable provides documentary evidence that he or she is a constable;

(b) the constable provides his or her name, and the name of the police station to which he or she is attached; and

(c) the constable explains the reasons for the request to see the letter of authorisation.

(4) If a picket supervisor complies with a constable‘s request to produce a letter of authorisation, the police officer shall provide the picket supervisor with a written record of the request, the reasons for it, and an acknowledgment that the request was complied with.

(5) If a picket supervisor fails to comply with a constable‘s request to produce a letter of authorisation, the police officer shall provide the picket supervisor with a written record of the request, the reasons for it, and an acknowledgment that the request was not complied with.

(6) Information about the identity of a picket supervisor and any information relating to the production of a letter of authorisation shall be retained by the police only for the purposes of giving evidence in legal proceedings directly related to the picketing to which it is connected.

(7) For the avoidance of doubt neither a member of the public nor an employer shall be entitled to request a picket supervisor to produce a letter of authorisation.”

Amendment 39, page 5, line 7, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 40, page 5, line 10, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 41, page 5, line 15, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Government amendments 2 and 3.

Amendment 42, page 5, line 17, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 43, page 5, line 20, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Amendment 44, page 5, line 25, leave out “must” and insert “may”.

This amendment would make the obligations under clause 9 voluntary rather than mandatory.

Government amendment 4.

New clause 1—Industrial action and agency workers

‘(1) Subject to subsection (3), an employment business shall not introduce or supply a work-seeker to a hirer to perform—

(a) the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action (“the first worker“), or

(b) the duties normally performed by any other worker employed by the hirer and who is assigned by the hirer to perform the duties normally performed by the first worker, unless in either case the employment business does not, and has no reasonable grounds for knowing, that the first worker is taking part in a strike or other industrial action.

(2) Subject to subsection (3) an employer (“the hirer“) shall not procure an employment agency to supply a work-seeker to perform—

(a) the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in a strike or other industrial action (“the first worker“), or

(b) the duties normally performed by any other worker employed by the hirer and who is assigned by the hirer to perform the duties normally performed by the first worker, unless in either case the hirer does not, and has no reasonable grounds for knowing, that the first worker is taking part in a strike or other industrial action.

(3) Subsections (2) and (3) shall not apply if, in relation to the first workers, the strike or other industrial action in question is an unofficial strike or other unofficial industrial action for the purposes of section 237 of the 1992 Act.

(4) For the purposes of this section an “employment business” means an employment business as defined by the Employment Agencies Act 1973.

(5) Breach of the provisions of this section shall be actionable against both the employment business and the hirer for breach of statutory duty.

(6) For the avoidance of doubt, the duty in subsections (1) and (2) above are owed to—

(a) any worker who is taking part in the strike or industrial action; and

(b) any trade union of which such a worker is a member.”

New clause 3—Statements on Bills affecting Trade Union political funds

‘(1) A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before Second Reading of the Bill, if the Bill contains provisions which are likely to affect the machinery of Trade Union political funds—

(a) make a statement to the effect that the Bill has been introduced with the agreement of the leaders of all the political parties represented in the House of Commons, or

(b) make a statement to the effect that the Bill has been introduced without agreement of the leaders of all the political parties represented in the House of Commons as the case may be.

(2) The statement must be in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.”

New clause 4—Certification Officer

For subsections (2) to (4) of section 254 of the 1992 Act substitute—

‘(2) The Certification Officer shall be appointed by the Judicial Appointments Commission, and the person appointed shall have expertise in trade union law.

(3) There shall be a Certification Officer for Scotland, equal in status to the Certification Officer in subsections (1) and (2) above.

(4) The Certification Officer for Scotland shall be appointed by the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, and the person appointed shall have expertise in trade union law.””

Amendment 27, page 5, line 31, leave out Clause 10.

Amendment 1, page 7, line 6, at end insert—

‘(2A) After section 85 of the 1992 Act insert—

“85A Payment of political funds directly to political parties

(1) The opt-in notice at section 84 of this Act must include a provision to permit the member of a trade union to direct the trade union to transfer the member’s political fund contributions directly to a UK political party rather than the trade union’s political fund.

(2) In this section a “UK political party” is a political party that is on the register of political parties in Great Britain and Northern Ireland maintained by the Electoral Commission.

(3) Where a trade union member indicates that his or her contributions should be transferred directly to a UK political party, the union must make the transfer within 31 days of receipt of the contributions from the member.””

This amendment would empower trade union members to direct their political fund contributions be paid directly to a political party rather than into a union’s political fund.

Amendment 28, page 7, line 11, leave out clause 11.

Amendment 37, page 8, line 17, clause 12, leave out “how many” and insert “the percentage”.

Amendment 25, page 8, line 19, leave out “total amount” and insert “the percentage”.

Amendment 26, page 8, line 29, at end insert

“and whether these are met in part or in full by a contribution from a trade union.”

Amendment 24, page 8, line 29, at end insert—

“(f) the percentage of relevant union officials whose facility time is met by a contribution from a trade union in whole or in part.”

Amendment 23, page 8, line 42, leave out paragraphs (b) and (c).

Amendment 11, page 9, line 32, clause 13, at end insert—

‘(1A) A minister shall not exercise powers under this section except to the extent that the exercise of these powers is compatible with treaty obligations.”

Amendment 12, page 10, line 37, at end insert—

‘(9A) The regulations may require an employer to take any steps under this section except to the extent that these steps are incompatible with treaty obligations.”

Amendment 13, page 10, line 45, at end insert—

“(d) (1B) “treaty obligations” means treaties of (a) the Council of Europe and (b) the International Labour Organisation, which are in force and which have been ratified by the United Kingdom.”

Amendment 5, page 11, line 12, clause 14, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) Subject to subsection (2A), an employer is a relevant public sector employer if the employer is a public authority specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made by a Minister of the Crown.

(2A) An employer is not a relevant public sector employer so far as trade union subscription deductions are concerned where there exists an agreement between the employer and a trade union which provides for—

(a) the remittance by the employer to the trade union of those deductions, and

(b) the making of a payment by the trade union to the employer in respect of that remittance.”

Amendment 36, page 11, line 37, at end insert—

‘(8) The regulations may require an employer to take any steps under this section except to the extent that these steps are incompatible with treaty obligations, where ‘treaty obligations’ means treaties of (a) the Council of Europe and (b) the International Labour Organisation, which are in force and which have been ratified by the United Kingdom.“”

Amendment 35, page 12, line 8, at end insert—

‘(4) A minister shall not exercise powers under this section except to the extent that the exercise of these powers is compatible with treaty obligations.”

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I must say I thought we won the last debate, but somehow or other we lost the vote. As Disraeli said, perhaps a majority is its own repartee, but perhaps things will be different when these matters are discussed in another place.

Amendment 6 would delete clause 9 and leave picketing arrangements as they currently stand. Picketing activities are already heavily regulated in the UK by an extensive range of civil and criminal laws. Unions must comply with the requirements for peaceful pickets contained in section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 and operate in accordance with the accompanying code of practice. The Conservative Government have failed to demonstrate why the picketing provisions in the Bill are necessary or justified. The Government’s own Regulatory Policy Committee concluded that the BIS impact assessments on picketing restrictions were not fit for purpose.

The Government have made some minor concessions, which I will come on to later, but these new provisions go far beyond what is fair or necessary. In fact they were described by Mr Davis as Franco-style and I think that is an appropriate description, by a Conservative Member.

The clause will introduce a new restriction on picketing activities by trade unions and their members, and failure to comply with these over-prescriptive requirements will expose trade unions to legal challenges. Employers will be able to apply to court for an injunction preventing, or imposing restrictions on, a picket or even for damages for failing to wear an armband on a picket line.

Over the summer, the Government ran a very short consultation. It was utterly insufficient given the scale of the Bill’s proposed changes. The Government sought to rely on evidence gathered during the Carr review, even though the Government’s own impact assessment confirmed that

“this evidence could not be substantiated”.

Carr decided he was unable to make evidence-based proposals or recommendations for change as originally instructed

“due to the increasingly political environment within which [he] was operating coupled with the lack of a significant enough body of evidence to support any recommendations for change”.

Photo of Steve Rotheram Steve Rotheram Labour, Liverpool, Walton

Does my hon. Friend see the irony in the supposed party of free marketeers intervening in an agreement between two other parties?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Yes, I do. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come to that point when we discuss some of the later amendments. For the moment, I shall talk about the picketing provisions.

The BIS consultation document also acknowledged that most pickets conform to the guidance set out in the code of practice. The Regulatory Performance Committee’s review of the Government’s impact assessment also found that

“there is little evidence presented that there will be any significant benefits arising from the proposal”.

Liberty’s briefing for today’s debate states:

“In the absence of any evidence that these changes are needed, these bureaucratic proposals can only be construed as an attempt to create a situation whereby individuals and unions are set up to make mistakes, subjecting them to legal action and making strike action even more expensive and risky than it already is.”

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West

Does the shadow Minister share my concern, which was also mentioned in evidence to the Bill Committee, that the proposed new picketing arrangements could result in the increased blacklisting of trade union activists?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

There is every likelihood of that happening, as was clearly revealed in the evidence given to the Committee.

The current UK law provides sufficient safeguards, including provisions for the police to crack down on illegality and breaches of the peace, but all the while protecting the rights of trade union members to engage in peaceful picketing at the entrance to their workplace. These measures are not only unnecessary; they are an affront to democracy, which is why our amendment would remove them from the Bill altogether by deleting clause 9.

I said earlier that the Government had introduced some minor changes as a result of the consultation. Their amendments in this group are the result of significant scrutiny and pressure from my hon. Friends in Committee. The Government have now decided to reverse their position on the plans to introduce even tighter restrictions on union pickets and protests that they proposed in their consultation over the summer. They have also granted minor concessions in amendments 2, 3 and 4 that loosen the requirements relating to letters and picket supervisors.

Trade unions will not now be required to publish picket and protest plans 14 days in advance, detailing where, when and how they plan to protest and whether they propose to use Twitter and Facebook accounts as part of their campaign. It is extraordinary that that was ever proposed; it is a ludicrous proposal. Also, the Government will not now introduce new criminal offences on picket lines or direct local authorities to use antisocial behaviour provisions against union members participating in pickets and protests. Those minor concessions do not go nearly far enough, however. The Bill still contains many draconian measures that will violate the civil liberties of trade unions and their members. Clause 9 will still impose significant new restrictions on the ability of trade unions and their members to picket and protest peacefully, thereby undermining their civil liberties.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee

Perhaps it is regrettable that, having consulted on the matter, the Government have now withdrawn their proposal to outlaw secondary or wildcat tweeting.

[

Laughter.

]

Does my hon. Friend also agree that the evidence from the Police Federation and the National Police Chiefs’ Council made it clear that even the police do not want this legislation?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Indeed; the fact that they did not want it was clear from the evidence of the Police Federation in particular. Satire is a powerful tool, and even when the Government make proposals that are apparently beyond satire, my hon. Friend manages to make a good point with his remark about wildcat tweeting.

Picketing will now be lawful only if unions appoint a picket supervisor and notify the police of their name and contact details. The supervisors will be required to carry a letter of authorisation which must be shown to the employers or their representatives on demand. It is also astonishing that they will still be required to wear armbands to identify themselves. Sara Ogilvie of Liberty said the following during the oral evidence sessions:

“The thought that we would require a person in 2015 to wear an armband and carry a letter of authorisation at the behest of the state in order to exercise their rights does not seem right.”––[Official Report, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 13 October 2015; c.58, Q157.]

She was understating it. Any person with a feeling for freedom and liberty would feel uneasy at these provisions. They smack of a political culture alien to that which, whatever our political differences in this place, is normally shared across parties in this country. Why do trade unions engaged in a lawful trade dispute deserve to be singled out for what I can only describe as un-British treatment?

I know that many right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches will be encouraged by their Whips to hold their noses and support clause 9, in the party interest, against some of their better instincts, but I have to say this to them: in terms of freedom and liberty, you can hold your nose all you like, but it still stinks.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central 5:00 pm, 10th November 2015

Does my hon. Friend agree that this Bill in effect creates two tiers of civil liberties and human rights in this country? One tier has much higher restrictions for trade union members and the other tier is for the rest of the population.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. Why is it only trade unions that are being singled out in this way? I think we explored some of the reasons earlier in this afternoon’s debate.

New clause 1, which stands in the name of Chris Stephens and his colleagues, is similar to the new clause 12 we tabled in Committee. It would insert in the Bill a ban on the supply of agency workers during industrial action. As we know, the Government are planning to remove the ban on agencies knowingly supplying agency workers to replace striking workers. Kate Shoesmith, the head of policy at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, which has nearly 3,500 corporate members, has said:

“We are not convinced that putting agencies and temporary workers into the middle of difficult industrial relations situations is a good idea for agencies, workers or their clients.”

The CIPD, the professional body for HR, which has about 140,000 members, warned that the Government’s plans to reform trade union laws are “an outdated response”, given the challenges employers face today.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence)

In the dispute at Northampton hospital, the pathologists were locked out of the lab and the trust brought in agency workers. That escalated risk to such an extent that samples were not able to be used for testing. Is it not the case that agency workers can make things far worse rather than better?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

They can make matters far worse. When we look at this proposal alongside clause 7, it becomes clear that the introduction of an extended notice period is there to give the employer additional time to organise agency workers to undermine the industrial action, as well as to be able to prepare for legal challenges. My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head: this is bad for safety and bad for service users, and bad because it could serve to prolong industrial action unnecessarily. It will also be bad for the general public. Conservative Members ought to care about the fact that it will also be bad for social cohesion in this country. Presumably, as a next step the Government will be getting the Department for Work and Pensions to sanction the unemployed for refusing to act as strike breakers.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

Has my hon. Friend also considered that in the long term the resentment that will be caused in the business affected will also mean that those actions will be bad for business?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. He knows well, and Conservative Members ought to know, that the festering resentment that would arise as a result of this kind of approach to industrial relations would last for many years, and in some communities would never be forgotten.

The TUC is firmly opposed to this proposal, which in its opinion will breach international law. The International Labour Organisation’s freedom of association committee has confirmed that

“the hiring of workers to break a strike in a sector which cannot be regarded as an essential sector in the strict sense of the term...constitutes a serious violation of freedom of association”.

New clause 1 would insert in the Bill a ban on the supply of agency workers during strikes, and we will therefore support it if it is pushed to a vote tonight. I also want to press amendment 6 to a Division—the lead amendment in this group, which is in my name and the names of my hon. Friends.

Let me say a few brief words about amendment 5, which was tabled by Jeremy Lefroy. It would allow check-off if employers and unions agreed that they wanted it, provided that the unions paid for the service. I understand why the hon. Gentleman would table such an amendment, as it seems to reflect some of the basic values that I thought were supposed to be in the DNA of his political party. When one party is willing by agreement to provide a service to another party in exchange for payment, the state should not interfere unless the service forms some kind of criminal or immoral activity.

Check-off is a voluntary agreement by an employer to collect through its pay roll the union subscription of trade union members who are its employees. Despite what the Government seem to think, that is not a criminal or an immoral activity. Why on earth would a Conservative Government think it is right for the state to proscribe a voluntary agreement between an employer and an employee where a payment for that service is involved? I completely understand why the hon. Gentleman has tabled his amendment.

What is wrong with an employer, in whatever sector, voluntarily agreeing, as part of an attempt to maintain good relations with employees, to help collect the trade union subscription in exchange for an administrative payment? How on earth is it the responsibility of Government, particularly a Conservative Government, to introduce a provision of this kind?

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

The hon. Gentleman has anticipated the remarks that I would have made had I caught Mr Deputy Speaker’s eye. Does he agree that many employers in both the private and the public sectors have said how convenient, positive and mutually beneficial this arrangement is and how they do not see any downside to it whatsoever?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is as baffled as I am as to why the Government are going down this road. It really is quite an extraordinary provision in the Bill. Can anyone on the Government Benches answer this: in what other sphere would a Conservative Government legislate to ban a simple, mutually beneficial transaction?

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I am waiting for an intervention from a Government Member. Not even Mr Djanogly can manage an intervention.

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Whom shall I choose from the Labour Benches? I shall choose my neighbour first.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

There is also the absurdity that there are many other similar arrangements in place for charitable giving, cycle-to-work schemes or childcare schemes. It seems extraordinarily discriminatory to be acting in this way with regard to these voluntary arrangements for trade union subscriptions.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and gives further power to the point that I am making and the point that the hon. Member for Stafford is trying to make by virtue of his amendment.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central

I noted that nobody on the Government Benches could help my hon. Friend with his question. The only reason I could think of for such a ban is to try to destroy the trade union movement.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Well, I am quite shocked by that accusation from my hon. Friend. On a serious note, there are many colleagues on the Government Benches who are members of trade unions. It was not so long ago that my old union, the National Union of Teachers, used to sponsor Conservative Members of Parliament.

I will give hon. Members some benefit of the doubt here. I will actually believe for a moment that the majority of Conservative Members do not want to destroy the trade union movement, because they are democrats and we live in a democratic society. What conclusion could somebody looking at this proposal draw, other than that it exists to inflict damage in an illiberal and absolutely inappropriate manner on voluntary trade union associations and employees’ voluntary agreements with their employers?

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I know that in a former life the hon. Gentleman was a teacher, and he is making a very didactic case for his point of view. He is obviously a born-again libertarian. Is not the corollary of his argument that it is for individuals with free information to decide whether they wish to make a contribution to a trade union? That is the spirit of the Bill, rather than an element of compulsion.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman is talking my language. I absolutely agree with that proposition, but has he read the clause? Does he understand what it means? Has he read the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Stafford? The Government are banning any opportunity for an individual to enter into an agreement with an employer, and banning the employer from entering into such an agreement with its workforce, even in exchange for ready money. That service is not being given away, but its provision will be banned even when employees are paying for it. I was a teacher, and I was not trying to be didactic; I was trying to tease out a reaction, and obviously I got one from him. He should have a closer look at what his Government are actually doing and what he is actually voting for. A majority may be the best repartee, as Disraeli said, but I do not think Disraeli would have thought that this fitted with the principles of a one nation Conservative party.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to a fellow Cardiff Catholic. He may recall that similar predictions of the death of the trade union movement, of which I am a huge fan and supporter on this side of the House, were made when earlier legislation was passed—for example, in the early 1980s. The trade unions came through; they survived and blossomed. Why does the hon. Gentleman think this Bill sounds the death knell for trade unions, when in 13 years of Labour Government there was no repeal of previous legislation?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I am glad that trade unions are strongly supported in the Hoare house, but the hon. Gentleman should read the provision and then the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stafford, which seeks to tease out the fact that this measure is particularly illiberal.

Several hon. Members rose

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Before I give way to hon. Friends, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Huntingdon because he is usually paid by the word.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Conservative, Huntingdon

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have now looked at amendment 5, and in support of my hon. Friend Mr Jackson, who made the point that an individual may want to contract with his employer, I point out that the measure talks about the trade union contracting on behalf of employers, which is a rather different point.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman does not understand that trade unions are democratic organisations. They do things on behalf of their members because they are elected and chosen to do so as democratic, voluntary organisations. There is no attack on the individual, and unusually for him his intervention is specious.

Photo of Steve Rotheram Steve Rotheram Labour, Liverpool, Walton

Does my hon. Friend remember the Prime Minister’s promise of a bonfire of red tape? Does he believe that this measure makes arrangements more or less bureaucratic for employers and trade unions?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

The so-called one regulation in, one regulation out rule—[Interruption.] Oh, it’s two out, is it? The rule is not being followed in the case of trade unions. Clearly, regulation of trade unions is not considered to be regulation at all, when in fact it is an extraordinary piece of regulation.

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Labour, Dewsbury

Does my hon. Friend agree that this move to end check-off discriminates against trade unions, as the ban is unlikely to extend to other payroll deductions, including those for charity payments, pensions and cycle-to-work schemes?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Indeed. Other hon. Members have made that point and my hon. Friend is right to emphasise it.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I will give way one last time, then I will try to conclude so that other hon. Members can speak.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The intervention from Mr Jackson gives away how the Conservatives are prepared to dance on a pinhead in order to support the Bill. To suggest that an employer would be better off to contract with each employee individually to collect their union dues, rather than to do so collectively through the trade unions, is barmy.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Simon Hoare referred to our Catholic backgrounds, and my hon. Friend makes a veiled reference to St Thomas Aquinas when he refers to dancing on a pinhead. That is absolutely what the Government are doing—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend may not have known that he was doing so. His theological education is slightly lacking. The Government are dancing on a pinhead to try to justify an unjustifiable provision.

Given that no Conservative Member can understand why the Government would want to ban a simple mutually beneficial voluntary transaction which involves payment for a service by one party and its representatives to another, I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford on his amendment. In its basic decency it has unmasked a fundamental illiberalism at the heart of the Bill.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence)

Many of the arrangements are contractual, so removing them would cost the employer a significant amount, estimated to be around £6 million.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

So much for the party of business, imposing costs on businesses that have entered into voluntary agreements.

I hope the hon. Member for Stafford will seek to divide the House on his amendment, which is thoughtful and moderate, rather like the hon. Gentleman himself.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

The Trade Union Bill was my first experience of sitting on a Public Bill Committee. Our sessions were lively and often educational, like the previous speech. The bit about St Thomas Aquinas was greatly enjoyed in all parts of the House.

As a former public sector worker myself for 17 years, I know what it is like to cross a picket line. I enjoyed questioning union greats, including Len McCluskey. Today those on the Conservative Benches have been called Dickensian, Stalinist and draconian, but many of us firmly believe that trade unions are valuable institutions in British society. It is vital that they represent accurately the views of their members. This Bill aims to ensure that hard-working people are not disrupted by under-supported strike action, but it is the human rights considerations that run through the Bill that have been of particular interest to me.

The rights of workers to make their voices heard are, of course, important, and striking is an important last resort. We recognise that it is part of the armoury of trade union law. Article 11 of the European convention on human rights provides to everyone

“the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests”.

It is, however, important to recognise that article 11 is a qualified right.

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) (Trade Unions and Civil Society)

Is the hon. Lady aware of the letter that the Prime Minister sent to Ministers only days ago—it was sneaked out—on the change to the ministerial code, informing Ministers that they can now ignore international law? Does that have anything to do with this issue?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I am not aware of that letter, although I am aware that there is a debate on the issue. I am talking about the European convention on human rights. There is no proposal from the Government to renege on that at any time in the future, as far as I am aware.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

The hon. Lady talks a great deal about human rights and the European convention. Can she help me by telling me where article 11 talks about armbands and letters of authority?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I would like, with your leave, Mr Deputy Speaker, to finish my point and come on to armbands later.

Article 11 allows for proportionate restrictions on the exercise of—[Interruption.] I am referring to article 11(2), which states:

“No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society”.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly acknowledged, as recently as last year, that it is legitimate under article 11 for the Government to legislate to impose conditions on the right to strike where there is evidence that that is justified.

The Court has also acknowledged that the Government have a wide margin of appreciation in deciding how to legislate. Clause 9, as we have heard, introduces a set of requirements on the supervision of picketing, following some sensible concessions that were made by the Minister following the consultation period. The picket supervisor will have to wear a badge, armband or other item to ensure that they are easy to identify. This is hardly onerous.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

The hon. Lady referred to article 11(2), which sets out the circumstances in which the right of freedom of association can be interfered with, including the protection of national security and the prevention of serious crime. All we have heard Conservative Members talk about is the “temporary inconvenience” that strikes cause. I am afraid that that is not listed in article 11(2).

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I do not believe that the wearing of a badge or armband, or some other means of identification, is onerous in the way that the hon. Lady suggests. In fact, it is something that unions widely do already as part of the code on picketing, which actually says that everybody should wear an armband.

I must admit that in Committee I was somewhat bemused by this part of the argument and the briefs provided by Amnesty International and Liberty in the evidence that was given. Both are excellent human rights organisations that undertake extremely important work around the world dealing with executions and torture, yet the wearing of an armband by one person so that they are identifiable during a strike presents them with a big issue. I do not agree. We are not asking everybody taking part in a strike to wear an armband, but simply asking the organiser of a particular event to do so in order to identify themselves.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I am going to finish, if I may.

This seems to be an entirely reasonable and, more importantly, proportionate measure. There is a clear public interest in ensuring that trade unions take responsibility for the conduct of the pickets that they organise. It is only fair that the rights of those who belong to unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers, including those in my constituency, who rely on key public services.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

I must declare an interest as a member of Unite the union and a proud union representative for 14 years.

Our proposals in new clauses 1, 3 and 4 and amendments 27, 28, 37, 25, 26, 24, 23, 11, 12, 13, 36 and 35 cover a variety of areas in the Bill that pose particular difficulties for public sector workers, focusing on agency workers and political funds. New clause 1 attempts to retain within primary legislation the ban on the supply of agency workers during strikes. Legislation banning the use of agency workers to break strikes has been in place in the UK since 1973. That position is in line with the majority of other European countries, which also prohibit or severely restrict the use of agency workers during industrial disputes. Removing that ban would be regressive and it would have significant implications for all workers.

Public opinion polls also indicate that such changes are not supported by the majority of the general public. The SNP therefore supports new clause 1, which aims to retain in primary legislation the ban on the supply of agency workers during strikes. Although the Bill does not specifically include provisions for that measure to be repealed, the Government have been consulting on draft legislation that would allow that to happen. Adopting our proposal would therefore be a failsafe against that occurring in future.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the difficulty is that the current penalty for an employer who hires agency workers to break strikes is very weak indeed? We need primary legislation to stop that practice.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is also extremely important with regard to safety, including that of the public, which I will come on to discuss.

Repealing the existing prohibition on hiring agency staff to replace workers participating in industrial action fundamentally undermines the right to strike. It reduces the impact of strike action and upsets the power balance between workers and employers. It has also been argued that it is relatively ineffective with regard to dispute resolution, as it serves only to prolong the dispute, delay resolution and embitter industrial relations.

At a time when we are trying to encourage the living wage, the measure is also likely to drag down pay and working conditions for workers right across the country. It could have adverse implications for the agency workers themselves, as it would place them in a stressful environment.

Introducing inexperienced workers to take on the role of the permanent workforce in a workplace with which they are not familiar also has significant implications for health and safety and for quality of services. That will impact both on those workers and on the public at large, who may utilise those services.

Those matters appear to be of particular concern to the public. A recent YouGov poll found that 65% of those surveyed were against bringing in temporary agency workers to break public sector strikes, and more than half said they thought it would worsen services and have a negative impact on safety. Only 8% indicated that they believe that hiring agency workers during strikes would improve services.

Unlike the UK Government, the SNP believes in a modern and progressive approach to industrial relations and to trade unionism, which is at the very heart of being able to achieve fair work. We recognise that no one wants strikes, but the way to avoid them is not to promote confrontation by legislating them out of existence. The right way is to pursue a relationship, in partnership with both workers and employers, based on respect and co-operation.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

Would it not be better for this Government to value the work of our public sector workers in particular, rather than to undermine the role they play by bringing in agency workers to break strikes?

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

I agree with my hon. Friend. Workers who feel valued are much more likely to increase productivity and boost the economy.

New clause 3 would provide that, before the Government could introduce a Bill that would affect trade union political funds, they must first publish a statement specifying whether the Bill was being introduced with or without the agreement of all political parties represented in the House of Commons. The aim is to encourage the Government to seek political consensus with other political parties before introducing legislation that interferes with the ability of unions to engage politically.

Unions that wish to contribute to political parties or to engage in certain political activities, as defined by section 72 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, must establish a political fund. Before doing that, unions are legally required to ballot their members on whether they agree to the union maintaining a political fund through a political fund resolution.

Clause 10 will restrict unions’ right to freedom of association and their ability to engage in political debates. The provisions will place huge administrative burdens on unions, and may reduce the level of contributions raised, as has been the case in Northern Ireland. Currently, union members have the right to opt out of their subscriptions being used for political fund purposes, and they are not required to renew their opt-in. The proposals in clause 10 exceed the duties that apply to companies when making political donations. It is widely known that opt-in processes reduce participation. Amendment 27 seeks to remove clause 10 from the Bill completely, as it will undermine unions’ freedom of association.

Amendment 1, tabled by Mr Carswell, would give union members the right to direct their union to pay donations straight to a UK political party of their choice, rather than contributing to a union’s political fund. We oppose the amendment as it assumes the union’s role is simply to act as a conduit for political donations. All individuals have the right to decide to donate to a political party of their choice. Unions cannot be required by law to associate them with any political parties whose values or objectives are not consistent with those of the union.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 5:30 pm, 10th November 2015

Depending on the union, unions can have several political funds. For example, Unison does, which goes back to agreements made when the National Union of Public Employees and the National and Local Government Officers Association amalgamated.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

They amalgamated with the Confederation of Health Service Employees, as my hon. Friend says. The legislation does not recognise internal agreements that have been reached over decades.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I would add that we heard testimony from witnesses in the Public Bill Committee on the very good work that unions contribute in terms of political donations to campaigns.

Amendments 11 to 13 to clause 13 attempt to limit the ability of Ministers to use their powers under the Bill where such powers are in breach of treaty obligations by stating that the powers cannot be used unless they are “compatible with treaty obligations” arising from the Council of Europe and the ILO. The cap on facility time will reduce the capacity of trade unions to represent their members and resolve disputes in the workplace before they escalate. According to the TUC, there is a risk that the proposal for a cap could conflict with EU law protecting the rights of health and safety reps to have paid time off for their duties and training; the rights of union representatives to have paid time off and office facilities during consultations on collective redundancies and outsourcing; TUPE rights; and even rights under general information and consultation arrangements covered by the information and consultation of employees regulations.

Amendments 35 and 36 also attempt to limit the ability of Ministers to use their powers under the Bill where such powers are in breach of treaty obligations by stating that the powers cannot be used unless they are “compatible with treaty obligations” arising from the Council of Europe and the ILO. Clause 14 will prevent all public sector employees from deducting union subscriptions via payroll. That will make it harder for individuals, including lower-paid workers, to access union representation in the workplace. The TUC is concerned that clause 14 will apply only to trade unions, not to staff associations. That suggests that the Government want to make it harder for people to join trade unions and to access the benefits of trade union membership, including effective representation in the workplace and specialist advice on employment rights, health and safety, and other work-related issues.

Under clause 14, the Government will be able to introduce regulations imposing a ban on check-off arrangements across the entire public sector. In particular, the plans to impose changes to collective agreements voluntarily made by employers and unions do not comply with ILO standards. Minister Roseanna Cunningham made it clear during the evidence sessions that the Scottish Government do not support the proposed ban on check-off arrangements. In recent weeks, more than 50 local authorities, NHS employers and employer organisations have criticised the Government’s plans to ban check-off arrangements in the public sector.

The Government claim that the proposal will save taxpayers up to £6 million. However, many unions already cover the cost of check-off services, as has been said. In some cases, fees charged by public sector employers for check-off provision generate a net gain. Another great concern that was raised in Committee was that legal challenges to the Government could cost the public purse.

Amendment 5, which was tabled by Jeremy Lefroy, provides that the ban on check-off arrangements would not apply to public sector workplaces where the employer and the relevant unions had an agreement. We support that amendment.

In conclusion, this debate is about people, their lives, their pay, their conditions and their safety in their workplace. It deserves to be paid the utmost respect by Members in all parts of the Chamber.

Photo of Ian Lavery Ian Lavery Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) (Trade Unions and Civil Society)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to place it on the record that I am a member of Unite the union and the National Union of Mineworkers.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

We are extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It falls to each Member to declare his or her interests as they see fit. We are deeply obliged to him.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I rise to speak to amendment 5, which appears in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and my right hon. Friend Mr Davis. I do so with a heavy heart, because clause 14, to which the amendment relates, is entitled, “Prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector”. As a Conservative, I am not greatly in favour of prohibition in many instances and I certainly am not in this instance. The clause was not in the Bill on Second Reading so we did not debate it and I am disappointed that it has been brought forward. Because it has been brought forward, I will speak to my amendment.

When we introduce a prohibition, we must ask what the penalties will be. If a union and an employer decide that this kind of arrangement is so important and so difficult to unwind that they will continue using it, what will happen to them? Will the police be involved? Will the employer and the union be fined? If there is a prohibition, there must be some way of enforcing it. There is no sensible way of enforcing this kind of prohibition on what is a relatively sensible arrangement between an employer and a union.

Let us be clear that we are talking about an agreement between an employer and a union, not something that is imposed on either of them. It is a partnership. In my view, it is generally a positive one as it enables people to work together. Surely that is what all of us are here to encourage. Nobody is required to have such an arrangement.

If my amendment were accepted by the Government at some point, it would require the cost to be reimbursed, as it is in many arrangements up and down the country, including in my county of Staffordshire, where there is a perfectly good arrangement between Unison and Staffordshire County Council.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Conservative, Stevenage

I support amendment 5 because it is my understanding that local authorities and other such organisations would be able to charge a commercial rate to recover the costs.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

Yes, and they do. As I mentioned in an intervention on Kevin Brennan, some councils make a surplus from it that goes towards their services.

As has been pointed out, clause 14 singles out union subscriptions. There is no prohibition on other deductions for which there might not be compensation to the employer, such as deductions for season tickets, which have been mentioned, or professional fees. Even on my payslip as a Member of Parliament, the top deduction every month is £2 for the Members fund. There will be no prohibition on that deduction, unless the Members fund is a national union of Members of Parliament, which I do not think it is.

Other people have made the case much more eloquently than I have, so I will not detain the House any longer on this point.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman makes a convincing and measured case, and I have looked closely at the wording of his amendment and think it very reasonable. Given what he has just said, if the Government are unwilling to accept this reasoned amendment, does he think that we should test the view of the House on it this evening?

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I will wait to hear what the Minister says. He is an extremely reasonable person and there are other ways in which such things can happen. I encourage the Government to accept the amendment because I do not want to see this clause unamended in an Act of Parliament signed by Her Majesty.

Let me quote someone I greatly admire:

“In most parts of the world the suggestion that someone might be both conservative and liberal would be viewed as absurd…In the UK there is no finer tradition, no more established custom and no stronger institution than that of freedom under the law…That’s why in Anglo-Saxon countries conservatism is freedom’s doughtiest defender and why the advance of freedom gives conservatism its moral purpose.”

Those are the words of the Minister, my hon. Friend Nick Boles, and I entirely agree with him.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are echoes in that speech of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, in which charities were almost proscribed for doing what they believed was right? There are also echoes from the attempts to change or alter the Human Rights Act 1998—it feels as if there is a creepy sense of authoritarianism, which I do not think Members in this place agree with.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I respect the hon. Lady but I do not entirely agree with her. I would be interested to see whether the chilling effects that people so often claimed the 2014 Act would have on the 2015 general election campaign actually took place—indeed, we should have a review of that Act as it is important. I have made clear my views on the Human Rights Act: I believe that we should remain signatories to the European convention on human rights, and I hold to that. We look forward to seeing what the Government bring forward. I urge the Government, and especially the Minister whom I greatly admire, to have another look at the Bill, and to come forward with proposals that allow people who want to work together in this sort of format, and who are paying the right costs, to do so.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Labour, Aberavon

I declare an interest as a proud member of Community union. I represent the south Wales constituency of Aberavon which is steeped in the history of the trade union movement—Members will imagine the strength of feeling and amount of correspondence that I have received in opposition to this unjust and vindictive Bill. We now need a cultural change in Britain’s industrial relations, and a move away from the Punch and Judy style that has evolved thanks to legislation such as this Bill. There is an urgent need to move towards more collective bargaining across the economy, as that would have a direct and positive impact on productivity—something that the Government claim they are campaigning for passionately. Regrettably, the Bill will neither change the culture nor increase productivity. Instead, it will lead to an entrenching of the “them versus us” culture that is bad for workers, employers, customers, business, and the public at large.

Let me draw the House’s attention to the sections in the Bill that deal with picketing. Conservative Members have failed completely to demonstrate why the picketing provisions in this Bill are necessary or justified. The Government’s regulatory policy committee concluded that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills impact assessment on picketing restrictions was not fit for purpose, and that no full impact assessment of the Bill has been published.

Under these new provisions, trade union pickets will be subject to levels of police scrutiny and control that go far beyond what is fair or necessary. Most importantly, the changes in the Bill will also be a waste of police time. That issue was raised by the National Police Chiefs Council and the Police Federation in oral evidence to the Bill Committee. Steve White from the Police Federation said:

“We are finding it extremely challenging to cope with day-to-day policing with the current resource levels, and the likelihood is that they are going to become squeezed even more. If there is an increased requirement for police involvement around the policing of industrial disputes, that would be more challenging.”

I understand that Conservative Members are friends and supporters of the police, so I hope they will listen carefully to that.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East 5:45 pm, 10th November 2015

When senior police officers are warning that neighbourhood policing is under threat, is it right that we should use police resources to further restrict the civil liberties of trade union members?

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Labour, Aberavon

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We hear a lot from Conservative Members about smart government and deploying resources according to priorities. Does any hon. Member honestly believe that using police resources on this matter would be a good use of already stretched resources? I think not.

The digital age has brought a revolution in the world of work. That has thrown up several questions, but also offers employers, trade unions and Government alike a once in a generation opportunity to work in partnership—a chance to shape a framework that provides the blend of flexibility and security that this new reality requires. If all parties were to seize that opportunity, we could potentially see the green shoots of a 21st century industrial relations culture that would, in turn, enable the development of a labour market that is fit for purpose and resilient in this new age. Let us not waste that opportunity with an adversarial and counterproductive Bill such as this.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Before I call the hon. Gentleman, I would say to him that I wish to call the Minister at, or close, to 5.50 pm, so he has three or, at most, four minutes.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Conservative, Huntingdon

Thank you for squeezing me in, Mr Speaker.

Given the Opposition’s comments at various stages of the Bill, I am surprised that only the SNP—in new clause 4—has suggested amendment of the role of certification officer. As a shadow BIS Minister some years ago, I visited the certification officer, and everything I saw there shouted that it was a weak, toothless regulator crying out for reform. I wholly support the Government’s attempts to do so.

As for new clause 4, I do not support the idea that the certification officer should have to have expertise in trade union law, although obviously some members of his staff will need to be experts, as much as others will need general legal or accounting skills. It is also somewhat ironic to hear that specific legal qualifications should be required when we know that the last Labour Government specifically excluded unions from regulation under the Legal Services Act 2007. The requirement in new clause 4 for a certification officer for Scotland may fulfil the SNP’s political mandate, but it would be unhelpful for Scottish and other British businesses which want to see a single regulator dealing with unions equally.

Given the wide political and practical debates involved in the unions’ political funds, it is surprising that it has been left to Mr Carswell to initiate a debate on this important issue through amendment 1. To set up a political fund, trade unions must first ballot their members to adopt political objects as a union objective. Trade unions can then support political objects only with money from their political funds. The funds may also be spent on union objectives that are not political. The amendment is unnecessary because the Bill includes an opt-in provision.

On a connected issue, will the Minister confirm that I am right in thinking that failing to opt into the levy will not necessarily mean that a union member’s overall contribution will be reduced by the amount of the political contribution? If so, should we not consider doing that? Furthermore, given that statute dictates that companies require an annual vote on political donations, why should not the political levy be voted on annually by trade union members? Perhaps that could be addressed as the Bill makes progress.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I rise to support Government amendments 2, 3 and 4, and to resist Opposition amendments and new clauses.

The Government recognise picketing as a lawful activity when it is conducted in a peaceful way. We believe that when some people exercise their right to freedom of expression, it should not impact on others’ right to disagree with that view. The main requirement set out in the Bill is a statutory duty for the union to supervise picketing, in particular by appointing a picket supervisor. The picket supervisor must either attend the picket line or be readily contactable by the union and the police, and be able to attend at short notice to ensure that picketing is lawful. As you may recall, Mr Speaker, none of the measures in clause 9 is new. They reflect key aspects of the picketing code, which has been in existence since 1992; most unions have been very happy to comply with it in almost all cases. We have had no suggestions for its amendment from the Opposition, including in their 13 years in government.

Government amendment 2 deals with the requirement in clause 9 for the union to issue a letter of authorisation. I have listened very carefully to the different views expressed on this requirement. It is clear that there has been some confusion about the purpose of the letter of authorisation, its content with regard to the picket supervisor, and the entitlement to be shown it. I would like to state for the record that there was never any intention of having the personal details of the picket supervisor set out in the letter of authorisation, but given that there continues to be uncertainty about how the requirement will work in practice, we are clarifying that the purpose of the letter is to record the union’s approval of a picket related to a particular dispute.

I took on board the concerns expressed about the entitlement to see the letter, and said that I would return to this matter on Report. I assure the House that I take matters relating to data protection very seriously, and do not want to create any room for misconceived entitlement or concern about misuse of personal information. That is why we are making it clear that the entitlement to see the letter of authorisation is restricted to the employer at whose workplace picketing is taking place, or the employer’s agent. To remove any scope for the misunderstanding that the picket supervisor is required to supply their name during picketing, we have removed the reference to the constable from the clause. The police will already have been informed of the picket supervisor’s contact details following the picket supervisor’s appointment.

We have built in important flexibility; for example, the requirement should be to show the letter as soon as is reasonably practicable, to enable the picket supervisor to be at another picket line related to the trade dispute. The measures also help the employer by allowing them to ask their human resources manager or solicitor to act on their behalf. I comment the amendment to the House.

On agency workers, I simply say that new clause 1 seeks to pre-empt the Government’s response to the consultation on agency workers. The Government consultation closed in September; we are analysing responses. We will publish a response in due course, and I resist any amendment that seeks to pre-empt it.

On political funding, the Conservative manifesto on which we stood for election in May said that a future Conservative Government would ensure that trade unions use a transparent opt-in process for union subscriptions. The public rightly expect us to deliver on these promises. It would be wrong, given our mandate, for us to engage in discussions behind closed doors and agree some kind of compromise that was then presented to the public and Parliament as a done deal. Many Opposition Members believe that this change will see political funding fall for certain political parties. That betrays an extraordinary lack of self-confidence in their ability to persuade union members of the merits of supporting their party. On that basis, I do not believe the amendment is necessary.

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

Will the Minister do the same with the shareholders of companies that give money to the Tory party?

Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

Will the Minister give that opportunity to shareholders in big companies that give money to the Tory party?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, and as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, any donations by public companies have to receive the approval of shareholders and are subject to the same declaration, at the exact same level, as we are proposing for trade unions, so when it comes to transparency and voting, things are equally clear.

I want to turn at some length to my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy and his arguments in support of his amendment 5. All Members will have heard a sincere and principled man making a sincere and principled argument. I say that not because he was so kind as to quote, rather awkwardly, a speech I made in a moment of delusion, but because I genuinely believe he seeks the best for the British people, British business and trade unions. I correct him on one point of fact, however: while some trade unions compensate employers for check-off arrangements, our understanding is that this relates to only 22% of check-off arrangements in the public sector.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Is the Minister aware that the general secretary of Unison—the largest trade union in the public sector—offered in Committee to reimburse employers for any check-off costs they incur?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

I am aware of that, because I was in the Committee, and the general secretary of Unison is an unforgettable man, and no one forgets when he makes them an offer. However, the purpose of the Government’s measure is not suddenly to undermine the representation of unions in the public sector—that is not what has happened in the civil service, where check-off has been removed—but to create a direct relationship between members and their trade unions by enabling them to make an active choice about which union will best represent them. We have heard from other unions that this has enabled them to compete for the membership of some in the civil service, and to form a more direct relationship with their members.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I fully understand the Minister’s point, but in that case, why not let them choose whether to do this?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

I understand my hon. Friend’s argument, but of course the choice would be made by the employer and the union, not the individual members. I have not yet been persuaded by his arguments, and will resist his amendment, if he pushes it, but I hope I can reassure him that we absolutely do not intend the measure to be a way of making life difficult for unions or of reducing their membership. We will double the time trade unions have to transfer members from the existing check-off arrangement to the new direct debit arrangement from six months to one year. That will not satisfy him and those who support his amendment, but I hope that it will at least reassure him that we do not intend this to be a way of making life difficult for unions. If there is anything further we can do on that point, I am happy to have further discussions with him.

On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend will be persuaded not to press his amendment. We will talk about this more. I hope that I have reassured him that trade unions will have time to form the direct relationship with their members that the Bill seeks to provide.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I just wish to confirm that we wish to push amendment 6 to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 271, Noes 304.

Division number 118 Trade Union Bill — Clause 9 — Union Supervision of Picketing

A majority of MPs voted to require the appointment of a picket supervisor and for them to be identified to, and contactable by, the police.

Aye: 271 MPs

No: 304 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 70 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Amendments made: 2, page 5, leave out line 16 and insert

“the picketing is approved by the union.”

This amendment would make clear that the purpose of the letter from the union, held by picket supervisor, is to confirm that the picketing has been approved by the union. Approval of the picketing would require the union to supervise the picketing in accordance with the requirements inserted by clause 9.

Amendment 3, page 5, leave out lines 17 to 19 and insert—

‘(6) If an individual who is, or is acting on behalf of, the employer asks the picket supervisor for sight of the approval letter, the picket supervisor must show it to that individual as soon as reasonably practicable.”

This amendment would oblige the picket supervisor to show the approval letter as soon as reasonably practicable if requested to do so, and also specifies that such a request can be made only by the employer or someone acting on the employer’s behalf.

Amendment 4, page 5, line 27, leave out “section “picketing”” and insert

“section—

“approval letter” means the letter referred to in subsection (5);

“employer” means the employer to which the trade dispute relates;

“picketing”” —(Stephen Barclay.)

This amendment inserts definitions of expressions used in amendment 3.

New Clause 10

Application of provisions to public sector employees across the UK

“The extent and provisions of this Bill shall only apply to the public sector in the UK,

(a) By consent of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, Mayor of London and other public bodies and local authorities in England in their areas of responsibility.

(b) Where consent has been granted, this consent can be withdrawn at any time.”—(Chris Stephens.)

Brought up.

Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.

The House divided:

Ayes 267, Noes 306.

Division number 119 Trade Union Bill — Clause 9 — Consent of Devolved Administrations and Local Government

A majority of MPs voted against requiring the consent of the devolved administrations and local government before applying new regulations on trade union activity within their areas of responsibility.

Aye: 267 MPs

No: 306 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 72 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.