Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill — Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 13th January 2014.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 8:00 pm, 13th January 2014

My Lords, I have never in my long life met a Conservative member of a trade union. It is very nice to be introduced to one and to hear him speak. It has been very evident from the speeches we have heard, both in this small debate and previously, that if the Bill is to progress and be brought into law it must operate with the best chance of success otherwise it will not have been worth a candle doing it. As my noble friend Lord Monks said in an earlier intervention, the right way to do this is to give the unions—particularly the larger unions—adequate time to comply with the Act in a way that is cost effective, economical and practical, but also from their point of view. Unions are, after all, independent self-governing bodies. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said, they rightly have procedures for making complex changes in their constitutions and it will be necessary, as the Bill recognises, that the unions will make some changes through rules conferences and the like. This is not to say in any sense that there is not anything wrong with what is currently in the Bill, but I detect in some of the comments made that we are still not absolutely clear about how the procedures will operate and the timescales that will be on and that will interfere a little bit with transparency.

When he responded to this point in Committee, the Minister said that he shared the sentiment that,

“trade unions should be given sufficient time to prepare”,

and he hoped he could,

“offer a positive and emollient answer”,—[ Official Report , 11/11/13; col. 596.]

to allow time for the bedding down of the new legislation. I take it from that that he is still interested in trying to make sure that this works well. Picking up on what has just been said, I get to 17 months from the comments that were made during Committee if I follow two tracks. The first is that a union whose reporting year ends on a fiscal basis—that is, 31 March—would not need to submit a report for the year ending 31 March until the end of August 2015, which I think is 17 months if I do my maths correctly. However, a union that reports on a calendar-year basis would have a little more time. It would not have to submit its report for the year ending 31 December 2015 until the end of May 2016.

That is the sort of level of complexity which we are operating on. If we are going to fit a 17-month period, which I think was mentioned earlier as being appropriate, combining it with a Royal Assent, possibly by March 2014, and a period of consultation on the question of how assurers are going to be both defined and appointed, that suggests that it would be sensible to have one further round of discussions before it is finalised. Will the Minister consider having a short meeting with me and a few colleagues to try to run over this so that we can get some absolute clarity on it? Thereafter, we can all work together, not in any sense to shake the principles which are part of this part of the Bill, but to make sure that they work effectively.