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Amendment proposed: 9, page 12, line 8, at end insert—
‘(3) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to services the provision of which is devolved wholly or partially to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, Mayor of London or local authorities in England.’
The amendment would ensure that the provisions with regard to the prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector would not apply to services devolved to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 269, Noes 304.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had any indication of whether there will be a written or oral statement by any Minister, given the statement today from the chief executive of Tata Steel Europe reported in The Economic Times in India that the long products division within Tata will have no future within Tata beyond this financial year? This includes the beam mill at Redcar, Skinningrove special profiles in my constituency, and Scunthorpe long products site.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer is that I have had no such indication, but he has placed those serious matters on the record and I imagine that he will return to them when the House returns.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I start by thanking all Members who have taken part in our deliberations on this important Bill. We had a robust debate on Second Reading, and a lively and passionate debate continued in Committee. I thank Kevin Brennan, who led for the Labour Opposition, and Chris Stephens who led for the SNP. They kept me on my toes throughout, and I have to admit that on occasion their fancy footwork pushed me uncomfortably close to the ropes. It is only because of the superb support of officials in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the unfailing vigilance of my hon. Friend the Whip, and my PPS, my hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris, and the stalwart resolve of hon. Friends on the Committee that we were able to resist their forensic fuselage.
This Bill seeks to do two things—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, whose lives are often disrupted by strikes. We have brought it forward as a party that believes in trade unions, that is proud to win the support of many trade union members at elections, and that wants trade unions to carry on doing the excellent work they do to encourage workplace learning and resolve disputes at work.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether you are as assiduous a reader of the ConservativeHome website as I am, but today the leader of the Scottish Conservative party published a superb piece about the importance of trade unions and hailed the launch of the Conservative Trade Unionists group by the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon.
The measures in this Bill are rooted in the manifesto, on the basis of which we won a majority of the seats in the House of Commons at the election in May. They are supported by members of the public whose interests as parents, as patients and as commuters we were elected to defend. The measures have secured clear majorities on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, and I hope they will secure a similarly clear majority on Third Reading.
Is it not important to ensure that the Bill is properly targeted and looks to where there is genuine support for changes, not least in relation to the removal of check-off? May I invite the Minister, as the Bill proceeds to the other place, to reflect on the arguments made by my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy in speaking to amendment 5, with the recognition that there should be an agreement to compensate taxpayers for the financial burden, and the proposal for an agreement? It is important that we properly reflect on these arguments to ensure that we have this targeted approach to dealing with issues of trade unionism in the right way.
I have already told my hon. Friend that I am happy to carry on talking to him about this as the Bill proceeds through the other place, and if he would like to join these discussions, I would be absolutely delighted.
I am tempted to say that they will have to buy a small donkey and write it on the side, but no, of course they will be able to join through the usual routes.
I look forward to engaging with Members of the upper House, alongside my noble Friend Baroness Neville-Rolfe, and we will listen carefully to any concerns they may have. I hope that I have demonstrated through amendments to the provisions on the picketing supervisor and the letter of authorisation that the Government are willing to hear persuasive arguments and to respond. In turn, I trust that noble Lords and Baronesses will respect the clearly expressed will of the British people, which is established not by retweets or by protests in Parliament Square but through the votes of their elected representatives sitting here in the House of Commons.
As I did on Second Reading, let me begin by drawing the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and declaring that I am a lifelong and proud trade unionist.
I believe that our country succeeds when government, employers and employees work in partnership to tackle our economic and social challenges. Evidence shows that good industrial relations are more likely to lead to increased productivity, higher skills, and greater safety in the workplace, so any Government who were serious about economic progress and wellbeing would be working to improve industrial relations, but this Bill demonstrates that we have a Tory Government hellbent on doing the exact opposite.
On Second Reading, I called the Bill “draconian, vindictive and counterproductive”, and during its passage through Parliament, this Government’s malign intent has been proved again and again. This Bill will do absolutely nothing to improve industrial relations in our country; in fact, it risks making them worse. It will do nothing to help build the modern economy we all want to see; in fact, it is an outdated response to the problems of decades past. It is bad for workers and bad for business.
What is it about this Conservative Government that they are so afraid of checks and balances on their power, including challenges from free trade unions and unshackled civil society? This Government are pursuing a very deliberate strategy to legislate their critics into silence or submission, whether through the gagging Act or the war being waged by those on the Tory Benches on the charities that dare to have an opinion contrary to the Government’s. They are attacking the Human Rights Act 1998, targeting the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and issuing threats against the House of Lords for daring to ask them to think again on tax credits. This Government increasingly like to use the law to clamp down on dissent. Now the Conservatives have the trade unions in their sights again.
In Committee, the Government gave no adequate justification for the many draconian measures in this Bill, and no evidence was provided to justify them. The sweeping changes to the opt-in for political funds go well beyond the current practices in Northern Ireland which have been used to justify the change. They are a nakedly partisan attack on Her Majesty’s Opposition. If enacted, these proposals would mark the abrupt end of the Churchill convention and of the long-standing consensus in British politics that the Government of the day should not introduce partisan legislation unfairly to disadvantage their political rivals. This is an abuse, and they know it.
The Bill does nothing to deal with the issue of big money in politics and it leaves Tory funding sources completely untouched, while all the while forcing through changes that threaten the very existence of all political activity and campaigning by trade unions, most of which is entirely unrelated to the Labour party, and which, by the way, is already heavily regulated.
In a healthy democracy, governing should be uncomfortable. Governments should be subject to real challenge. The Government should not use legislative means to shut down debate or dissent, as this Government are now doing. That is why Liberty, Amnesty International and the British Institute of Human Rights have opposed the Bill on the grounds of civil liberties. It breaches the international standards of the International Labour Organisation and the European convention on human rights.
The Bill gives an inadequate transitional period of just three months to re-recruit the 4.9 million current members of trade union political funds, which this Bill would arbitrarily and retrospectively set at zero. It deliberately allows insufficient time for trade unions to change their own rule books to accommodate that sudden, draconian legislative requirement.
The intrusive new investigatory powers for the certification officer make him the judge, jury and executioner on complaints, which flies in the face of the principles of natural justice.
The provisions on picketing were described by the Government’s own Regulatory Policy Committee as “Not fit for purpose”. The very minor concessions, which were made after Opposition pressure in Committee, do not go nearly far enough.
This Bill just does not fit with modern Britain. It acts as though devolution to our nations and regions never happened, with the Government seeking to ride roughshod over both check-off and facility agreements freely made between employer and employee in the devolved authorities and in English local government. If those agreements work well and facilitate good industrial relations, why do the Government wish to destroy them by central diktat? The obvious conclusion is that this Government want to destroy trade union finances and organisation and to effectively legislate trade unions out of existence.
Throughout the Bill’s passage, Labour has pushed for the introduction of e-balloting and secure workplace balloting, which are already used for a variety of purposes in both the public and the private sectors, including, of course, to choose the Tory mayoral candidate for London. I can think of no organisations besides trade unions where technological change and progress is not only discouraged by the Government, but actually banned by proscriptive legislation. There are no reasonable grounds for the Government’s continued refusal to countenance that wholly sensible change. Trade unions must be allowed to modernise and bring balloting into the 21st century, and I very much hope that my noble Friends in the other place will pick up on that.
We know that trade unions have a vital role to play in a modern economy where business, employees and Government work together for the mutual benefit of our country. It is time that the Government treated trade unions as an equal in that partnership and not as the enemy within.
The Bill is divisive and undermines the basic protections that trade unions provide for people at work. It is poorly drafted, legally unsound and in conflict with international obligations, and it undermines the devolution settlement. It does nothing to tackle the pressing national challenges our public services, businesses and industries alike are facing; instead, it tries to drive a false wedge between Government, industry, employees and the public.
Today we have heard, once again, divisive rhetoric against this country’s trade union movement. We have heard from some Government Back Benchers that trade unionists who are on strike get paid by their employer. That will be news to the millions of trade union members in this country. The real difficulty with and objection to some of the rhetoric we hear is the suggestion that trade union members are somehow different from taxpayers and the public. Trade union members are taxpayers and they are members of the general public.
The Bill infringes human rights and civil liberties, and if unaltered, it can only lead to more work for the courts and, sadly, more blacklisting for trade union members in this country. The Bill attacks the ability of trade unions to organise, as we have seen with the proposals on facility time and check-off. This is not just about party political funding; it is an attack on the trade union movement’s ability to fund general campaigns, such as anti-racist campaigns and campaigns in favour of public services.
It is quite astonishing that the Government believe that aspects of the Bill do not require a legislative consent motion, either from the Scottish Parliament or from the Welsh Assembly, on public services across the board. I predict that that will come back to bite them.
It is an honour to speak on Third Reading. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Skills on his hard work. He has worked tirelessly on this very important Bill, which is vital in terms of accountability and transparency.
Like many Members of the House, I was fortunate enough last week to meet a delegation from Macclesfield of good, hard-working union members. They are very sincere in their support of their fellow union members.
They rightly pointed out that unions do a lot of work to support members and others in the workplace. However, not all union leaders share those motives and some strikes can cause major disruption, so the Bill is important. I stress again that its importance is in terms of accountability and transparency. Who should be fearful of those principles in relation to the practices in the Bill?
The Bill will ensure that union members have the right to better information about any industrial action a union proposes to take. It ensures that union members have the right to be consulted in another ballot, so that saying yes to action in the winter does not necessarily still mean yes the following summer. The union will have to ask members if they want to opt in to political levies, and then ask them again if they want to be opted in some five years later. These are reasonable proposals and reasonable policies.
This is a profound and timely shift of power in favour of the public and of the grassroots in the union movement—Conservative democracy and accountability in action once again. We Conservatives have a democratic mandate to introduce the reforms. We are accountable to the electorate for following through on our manifesto commitments. Union leaders must now be held to a higher level of accountability when planning action that could lead to serious disruption to important public services.
It is only right that ballots for industrial action should need to reach certain thresholds of support among union members, particularly when such action relates to public services. It is right that the fear of intimidation at the picket line should be removed, which will protect the public and their services from any excessive zeal by an unrepresentative minority within the union movement. If such people are not unrepresentative, why do they fear the threshold? This is about accountability to union members and to the British public.
Of course, the hard left has always had a foothold in the Labour party, and now it has the whip hand. That far-left whip hand, Labour’s new leadership, has been busy building up momentum behind its agenda. That is Momentum with a capital M by the way: Momentum for real change—on the Labour Benches, that is—is a movement inspired by militant trade unionists who want to do to the country what they now have the momentum to do in the Labour party.
I talked earlier about how the shadow Chancellor wants to encourage more militant approaches and no doubt wants to inspire militant trade unionism. Conservative Members have been hearing that, and we have to finish the job of trade union reform that we started in the 1980s and carried on in the 1990s because there are leading Labour Members who saw the industrial strife of the 1970s and 1980s as a dry run for where they want to go next. They will not protect the regular members of trade unions and the public, but Conservative Members will, and that is why I support the Bill.
The evidence is absolutely clear that those who are in a trade union are more likely to be better paid and to enjoy equal pay, less likely to be unfairly dismissed, bullied or discriminated against, and more likely to work in a safe workplace and to enjoy a decent pension.
I have worked for 40 years in the trade union movement with good employers, including those in the automotive industry such as Jaguar Land Rover, who praise their trade unions for the transformation of the industry to a high-pay, high-quality, high-productivity culture. I have also fought the bad. My whole experience is that trade unions are a force for good and for liberty.
Now, the so-called party of working people wants to weaken working people. It is part of a wider agenda that will brook no opposition: first the charities, then the BBC, even the House of Lords and now the trade unions. The Tory party wants a one party, one nation state.
The great Jack Jones once said that the way for working people to access power was through their union card on the one hand and their right to vote for the Labour party on the other.
Let me show what is so obnoxious about this Bill. When I was treasurer of the Labour party in 2006, against the background of the secret loans scandal and the Hayden Phillips process, it was put to me, “Jack, if we impose a cap on donations of £5,000, it will bankrupt the Tory party.” I said no to doing that because it would be immoral for one party to abuse its power to bankrupt another party. Would that the Conservative party had the same moral compass now.
In conclusion, this is a pernicious and iniquitous Bill. It is born out of malice, informed by prejudice and has no place in a democracy. That is why the true party of working people, the Labour party, will vote against it tonight.