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Second Reading

Part of Trade Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:40 pm on 11th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 4:40 pm, 11th January 2016

I say to the noble Lord that the publication of the Bill probably arises in part from the fact that there is no strong trade union voice on this side of the House. There is no one around to say at the higher policy levels of the Conservative Party, “Hold on a minute, there is another side to this story”. I was about to say that unions such as BALPA, the BDA—the union that I am president of—Prospect and others have reached out and begun a dialogue, and I hope that that will continue.

We are, I hope, going to join together and look for some concessions from the Minister. I do not propose to go through them in detail because they will come up in Committee. With regard to facility time, the Conservatives’ manifesto actually said that they would legislate to,

“tighten the rules around taxpayer-funded paid ‘facility time’”.

You can tighten rules and still preserve a local interest and the right of local democracy to determine what happens. It is, frankly, not a localism agenda if you start telling district councils, such as the one my wife served on in Suffolk, how to regulate the 25% of the week that one person spends on facility time—generally doing things for the local authority, actually. We need to look at this with a broad brush. We want transparency on facility time, but we do not want day-to-day control. We cannot exercise it. We cannot say what matters in Forest Heath District Council in Suffolk or any individual authority. We can say, “You must publish—you must be in the daylight”, but we cannot lay down the rules.

Similarly, if e-balloting is okay for selecting the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, the ruling body of the Royal Statistical Society, of which I am a fellow, and the board of directors of a venture capital trust that I am investing in, I do not see that we can rule it out. Certainly, if we look at making it subject to some control or sanction by the certification officer, there must be a way forward. We cannot just write it off.

The third thing I want to mention is the financial aspect. If it were left to me, I would ban all financing of political parties beyond a very low amount, probably £5,000 per head. I would not have any hedge funds donating to parties. I would make parties fight for votes. But I say this: is it healthy for democracy to work in this direction? I just put that question. Is it a good thing that we should patently attack one of the three unsatisfactory wings of funding? I leave that question up in the air because, if it were left to me and if I were the Labour Party, I would not turn the clock back. When I came into power, I would immediately ban donations to political parties above a quite low level and say that everybody above that level could not donate. It would not be that they had to say how much; I would say, “You cannot donate. You cannot buy democracy”. But until that day comes, let us be careful to look at what we are doing and think about our responsibilities to democracy, which go further than our responsibilities to one or other side of the House.