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Trade Union Bill - Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 3:30 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, I start by thanking those who have helped us reach a modicum of consensus—I should probably stress the word modicum, as I do not want to tempt fate—in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, with whom I have had several conversations, along with her colleagues on the Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham.

A number of legitimate concerns have been expressed about how far reaching these provisions relating to this clause will be and how they might be implemented. The Government have listened to these concerns and, to address them, have acted in a variety of ways.

First, we produced a clear list of bodies that will be in scope. We used the Freedom of Information Act as a starting point for this and, as I committed to do on Report, we have now shared this list with the House as part of the draft regulations. However, I clarify again that the scope of facility time transparency will mean that it applies only to organisations with 50 or more employees and at least one trade union official. Those bodies that do not meet these criteria may exclude themselves from the facility time transparency measures.

Secondly, there was equally legitimate concern about the need to ensure that we are clear which organisations may be in scope. In particular, several noble Lords were concerned about the provisions applying to organisations only partly funded by public funds. The Government agree that that is a legitimate concern and, with that in mind, I now put forward an amendment that would ensure that only those public sector bodies mainly funded by public funds could come within the scope of regulations made under Clause 13(9). I know that that change was important to a number of your Lordships.

Thirdly, we have also brought forward Amendments 5 and 7, which will ensure that any exercise of the power in Clause 13(9) will be by way of the affirmative resolution procedure. This should provide the assurance that a number of your Lordships sought—namely, that inclusion in regulations of bodies that are not public authorities but are performing functions of a public nature will come about only once both Houses of Parliament have expressly so agreed by affirmative resolution.

Let me now address a specific concern raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, regarding the scope of this clause and Clause 14, and the possible impact on charities. As I have said before, none of us wishes those clauses to apply to what I would call a typical charity—for example, Oxfam and charities of the type that fall outside what I would loosely refer to as the core public sector—or a relatively small charity performing laudable work in the community, such as tackling homelessness or addiction. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, highlighted, some of those charities might—might—receive most of their revenue in one year from the public purse. The Government agree that we need to give them the comfort that, were that ever to be the case, they would not and could not come within the scope of these provisions. I therefore committed on Report to continuing to work with officials and the noble Baroness to devise an approach to alleviate and address those concerns.

I now confirm that the Government are committed to ensuring that regulations made under the extension powers in Clauses 13 and 14 capture only those charities that could be captured by the Freedom of Information Act and its Scottish equivalent and are also mainly funded by public funds. In future, if a charity met both of those criteria, Parliament would properly scrutinise whether the scope of the regulations should be extended to them, and this would be done via affirmative resolution. Therefore, because I know just how important this issue is to noble Lords, I will ensure that we will not use the powers to capture a charity that the Freedom of Information Act and Scottish equivalent could not also capture.

I believe that we have given due consideration to your Lordships’ concerns regarding the scope of the clause. We have reflected on many of these matters, the Government have made amendments to discharge noble Lords’ misgivings, and we hope that your Lordships will support the amendments.