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Trade Union Bill - Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 3:08 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, I am pleased to return to debating this Bill, and am grateful to noble Lords for the constructive engagement and good progress that we have made. As a minor but important aside, I am sure that noble Lords will have noted that most of the clause numbers have changed and I am now addressing Clause 12—which was previously Clause 11—on political funds reporting.

In his speech on the first day of Report, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, asked the Government to come back with proposals that better balanced transparency, accountability and proportionality. We have given this careful consideration, including a very helpful discussion with the Certification Officer, which the noble Lord recommended. I will now set out our response.

Union reporting on political expenditure is not new. Unions already provide information about political expenditure in their annual return to the Certification Officer. Some do this well, providing detailed information. For example, the Communication Workers Union provides in its annual return to the Certification Officer a detailed breakdown of spend on political objects, including on elections, campaigns, affiliation fees and delegations to national and regional conferences. But others provide very sparse information, hence the need for reform.

Concerns were raised on Report about the potential burden of the Government’s proposed reporting requirements, and in particular the need to report expenditure on a bus fare paid to an individual union member. As I said, unions were required to provide details of all expenditure to all recipients in each of the categories in Section 72(1) of the 1992 Act once the £2,000 threshold was exceeded. This would have included, for example, any relatively small payment for an individual union member to attend a party conference. This was the concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and, indeed, by the Certification Officer. I accept that this could have been onerous for trade unions.

Amendment 1 therefore seeks to provide a more proportionate level of transparency by removing the requirement to report on each item of expenditure for every individual. Instead, we now require them to provide only a total of expenditure in each category and to specify which political party, organisation or candidate has been paid. I will give noble Lords an example of how this will work in practice in relation to conferences and meetings. Rather than reporting the payments for travel to individual members to attend a party conference, the union will now have to report only the total expenditure on conferences for a particular political party in any given year. This is much more comparable to the best practice that some unions currently exhibit, and the Certification Office has told us that the amendment brings helpful clarity to reporting requirements. I hope that noble Lords will therefore agree that this is a sensible way forward.

My noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley also raised concerns about whether it was clear that all expenditure from a union’s political fund should be reported annually to members. As I said on Report, I accept the principle of consistent transparency to which my noble friend referred. Therefore, Amendment 1 now provides that where political fund expenditure does not fall within Section 72(1) of the 1992 Act, unions should report on the total spend for each cause or campaign on which money was spent, or they must provide the name of the organisation to which money was paid.

Finally, government Amendment 3 is in response to the scrutiny of the clause by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. This is the amendment that I said I would return to after withdrawing it on Report, so that it could be considered as part of a wider package. The committee noted that the power to substitute the £2,000 minimum threshold for reporting in this clause can be used not only to raise the amount but to lower it again to an amount of not less than £2,000. In the passage of time it may well become necessary to raise the threshold for reporting. However, if the Government in future, having raised the threshold, wish to revert to a lower threshold, the amendment would rightly require affirmative regulations and greater parliamentary scrutiny. This seems completely right.

I believe that the amendment improves the Bill and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.