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Trade Union Bill - Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 3:15 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, I, too, appreciate that the Government have moved substantially on this issue. Of course, the Select Committee and, I suspect, opinion across the House recognise that union members were entitled to more detail and transparency about political expenditure by their unions. That was reflected in the Select Committee report and the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Burns.

In congratulating the Government on this move I would also express some concern about whether they have taken into account the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lea, which dealt with expenditure not covered by the statutory requirement on political spend. What did the Certification Officer say about this additional requirement? Instead of simplifying and reducing red tape, the Government are increasing it. Many campaigns organised by unions have industrial and political elements. As long as unions pay for the political elements from the political fund, other elements can be paid for from whatever fund they decide is appropriate.

I repeat what I said in Committee and on Report—anyone would think that the accounts of trade unions are not properly audited and scrutinised at every level of the organisation by committees, districts and executives. Anyone would think that we were talking about a local Conservative association, where no figures are published and no one, not even in the Conservative Party’s central office, knows where the funds are. That is not the case here. Therefore, in taking on board the noble Lord’s amendment, instead of reducing red tape and sticking to the sensible concern raised by the Select Committee—and I have no doubt that this concern is shared by the Certification Officer—the Government are going one step further in dictating how unions spend their money. Anyone would think—and I believe the party opposite does think—that political funds were a separate pot of gold and that £9 million had gone missing here and there. The political funds set up under statute were established to ensure that political expenditure, as defined by the 1992 Act, was covered by an element of members’ subscriptions. The legislation does not prescribe that that element of union members’ subscriptions must be spent on political purposes. Unions’ priorities vary and change. Sometimes they might not spend any money on political purposes but will want to run an industrial campaign.

Imposing this additional reporting requirement will potentially cause confusion, not greater transparency. I attended the USDAW conference at the weekend in sunny Blackpool.