New Clause 9 - Statements on Bills affecting Trade Union political funds

Trade Union Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 27 October 2015.

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‘(1) A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before Second Reading of the Bill, if the Bill contains provisions which are likely to affect the machinery of Trade Union political funds:

(a) make a statement to the effect that the Bill has been introduced with the agreement of the leaders of all the political parties represented in the House of Commons, or

(b) make a statement to the effect that the Bill has been introduced without the agreement of the leaders of all the political parties represented in the House of Commons

as the case may be.

(2) The statement must be in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister making it considers appropriate.”—(Chris Stephens.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I refer to remarks I made when we were discussing the proposed schedule to the Bill that interference in political funds in this way is a democratic and constitutional outrage. Trying to suggest, or even thinking, that political advantage is to be gained by changing political funds in this way is wrong. As we have already heard, the approach being taken on this Bill breaches the Churchill convention.

The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that Government will try and seek agreement with all political parties. This is important because it is not just the Labour party that has benefited from trade union funds. Plaid Cymru candidates have received money from trade unions, as have SNP candidates, Green party candidates and candidates from various socialist parties in all their guises. We simply propose a mechanism for dealing with political fund arrangements and to take a gold standard approach to these matters.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I support the new clause in the name of the hon. Member for Glasgow South West and to indicate our formal support, we have added our names to it. During the course of the debate on political fund opt-ins and so on, we also made it very clear that if the Bill receives Royal Assent in its current form, it will mark the abrupt end of the long-standing consensus in British politics that the Government should not introduce partisan legislation that would unfairly disadvantage other political parties. We also made reference to what is known as the Churchill convention, as raised by Professor Ewing in oral evidence to the Committee.

We support the new clause that would provide that before the Government introduce the Bill, which would affect trade union political funds, they should make a clear statement about whether it is being introduced with or without the agreement of all political parties represented in the House of Commons and that statement should be published. Certainly, I believe that that is the clear aim and that we should encourage the Government to seek political consensus with other political parties before introducing legislation that interferes with unions’ ability in this respect. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned examples. This is a point of principle. We have not seen  this attempted before. The Government can, of course, impose their will—they have the maths—on the Opposition if they wish to do so. We all know that that is the case. The question is whether it is right to do that. We have discussed these issues at length, but this clause will seek to make it clear that the Government will have to be very clear about their intentions in future.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

I love the way the Opposition seek to invent conventions whenever it is useful. It is an easy game to play because all that is needed is to find a very great person from the past—hopefully dead so that they cannot be consulted—take something they once said and declare it a convention. It is certainly something that, should I ever find myself in Opposition—God forbid—I will avail myself of.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

Very far from it, and long may he not be.

Our manifesto stated very clearly that a future Conservative Government would ensure that

“trade unions use a transparent opt-in process for union subscriptions”.

We were elected on that basis after a prolonged debate in the country of all the policies in all the different parties’ manifestos. That is exactly what we are doing.

The right and proper place to consider the provisions relating to that manifesto promise is in Committee and on the Floor of the House. In that way, the debate is transparent and democratic, and the electorate can see what is agreed and whether it is indeed what they were promised in the manifesto. Those debates should not happen behind closed doors and be presented to the public as a fait accompli.

We heard from the hon. Member for Glasgow South West and other hon. Members during the Committee’s deliberations about excellent campaigns such as HOPE not hate that receive support from trade unions through their political funds. I think we can all agree that those are very worthy causes that would command the support of all of us. I see no reason why they should not command the support of union members in exercising their opt-in to the political funds. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his new clause.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West

I am not going to press the new clause to a Division, because I think the case should be heard before the whole House, with all political parties present, so I will bring it back on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion,

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.