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Trade Union Bill - Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Wheeler Baroness Wheeler Opposition Senior Whip (Lords) 3:45 pm, 25th April 2016

I think that noble Lords will find that trade unions do invite people from all political parties to their conferences. I thank the Minister for explaining the amendments to Clause 14. The Opposition are happy that Amendments 8 and 10 reflect the discussion and agreement with Ministers on the future deduction of trade union members’ subscriptions from pay in particular, and reflect the importance of having the same choice as staff in the private and voluntary sector as to how they pay their subscription in the light of their work, their personal circumstances and their financial situation.

For us, the key points arising from the publication of both the facilities time and the check-off draft regulations are: first, the need for a full consultation on the regulations; secondly, the importance of the Minister meeting the TUC and other main parties, including unions and employers, to discuss realistic and achievable timescales for implementation; and, thirdly, for implementation dates to be viewed across the entire provision of the Bill in the light of the huge organisational, logistical and financial challenges that the Bill presents to trade unions, not just from the check-off and facility time provisions but from the Bill’s proposals on ballots, political fund changes and the role and powers of the Certification Officer.

There was no consultation on the check-off provisions, so it is now absolutely vital that the Government commit to full consultation on the regulations before the final draft regulations are published. As has been pointed out, the current drafts were received by us as late as Friday/early Saturday, so we had less than three working days between the final Report day and today’s Third Reading. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge this and that the spirit of meaningful listening mode will prevail and operate in this regard.

On Amendment 9, my noble friend Lady Hayter underlined our continuing concerns and reservations about the scope of the organisations that come under both the facility time and check-off provisions. She has made it clear that the concerns apply to both Clauses 13 and 14, so I will not repeat the issues that she has raised. One matter, however, specifically on check-off is the Government’s decision not to exclude smaller employers—that is, those with fewer than 50 employees—from the check-off regulations in line with the proposed provisions in the facility time regulations. Can the Minister explain the rationale behind this?

As I have stressed, I hope that the Minister will be prepared to consult widely on the implementation date for check-off and to set in the final regulations a timescale for implementation that is both reasonable and achievable. Noble Lords will recall that the check-off impact assessment gave no consideration at all to the position we have now arrived at: for check-off to continue, with trade unions meeting the administrative costs. It considered only the two stark options of doing nothing at all or having a complete check-off ban—and even then it did not consider those very thoroughly.

Thus, no modelling or work was undertaken on the process for revisiting all check-off agreements to ensure that they comply with the new legislation. UNISON, for example, estimates that it has to sign 25,000 check-off agreements as a result of the Bill, so it is important that the full processes involved in this, workplace by workplace and employer by employer, are recognised in the deadline for implementation. It is imperative that a further impact assessment is undertaken and that evidence and information are properly gathered. I hope that the Government will commit to this.

The current draft regulations provide for the check-off provisions to come into force at least 12 months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. I note that the Minister talked about adequate deadlines and I would say that that is not adequate. I hope that the Government will not come back saying that they have already extended the deadline from three months. This was done five months ago by the Government in the Commons, based on the old Bill and not in the light of the new provisions. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said on the second day of Report that,

“undermining the trade unions themselves ... is certainly not—and never has been—the Government’s intention”.—[Official Report, 19/4/16; col. 584.]

I hope that today the Government will hold true to that contention and accept the need for a further impact assessment on check-off, as well as full consultation on realistic and achievable implementation deadlines for the provisions across the Bill.