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New Clause 11 - Prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector

Trade Union Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 27th October 2015.

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‘(1) After section 116A of the 1992 Act insert—

“Deduction of trade union subscriptions from wages

116B Prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector

(1) No relevant public sector employer may make trade union subscription deductions from wages payable to workers.

(2) An employer is a relevant public sector employer if the employer is a public authority specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made by a Minister of the Crown.

(3) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations provide, in relation to a body or other person that is not a public authority but has functions of a public nature and is funded wholly or partly from public funds, that the body or other person is to be treated as a public authority for the purposes of this section.

(4) Regulations under this section may make provision specifying the person or other entity that is to be treated for the purposes of this section as the employer of a person who is employed by the Crown.

(5) The regulations may—

(a) deem a category of persons holding an office or employment under the Crown (or two or more such categories taken together) to be an entity for the purposes of provision made under subsection (4);

(b) make different provision under subsection (4) for different categories of persons holding an office or employment under the Crown.

(6) Regulations under this section may—

(a) make different provision for different purposes;

(b) make transitional provision in connection with the coming in to force of any provision of the regulations;

(c) make consequential provision amending or otherwise modifying contracts of employment or collective agreements.

(7) Regulations under this section are to be made by statutory instrument.

(8) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(9) In this section—

“trade union subscription deductions” means deductions representing payments to a trade union in respect of a worker’s membership of the union;

“wages” has the same meaning as in Part 2 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (see section 27);

“worker” has the same meaning as in that Act.”

(2) In section 296 of that Act (meaning of “worker” and related expressions), in subsection (3), after “68(4),” insert “116B(9),”.”.—(Nick Boles.)

This amendment would prohibit public sector employers prescribed by regulations from deducting trade union subscriptions from workers’ wages and sending these to the unions concerned, a service called ‘check-off’. Commencement of the ban would allow a reasonable period for affected workers and unions to make alternative arrangements to check-off.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

With this, it will be convenient to consider amendment (a) to the new clause, line 43 at end insert—

“(10) The provisions in this section shall only apply with the consent of the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London and local authorities in England in their areas of responsibility.”

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 also wish to resist the amendment to the clause tabled on behalf of the Scottish National Party. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General announced in August that the Government intended to end the outdated practice of check-off in the public sector. New clause 11 gives effect to that intention. It would prohibit relevant public sector employers in due course from deducting trade union subscriptions from workers’ wages and sending these to the unions concerned.

Check-off is anachronistic. It dates from a time when most workers did not have bank accounts and direct debit payments did not exist. Nowadays all public sector workers have bank accounts, and trade union subscriptions can very easily be paid by direct debit. Trade unions themselves agree that filling in a direct debit form is a simple and straightforward task. Even the PCS union’s own website currently promotes direct debit, saying:

“It’s quick and easy to sign up for direct debit—you can do it online in a couple of minutes. You just need your membership or National Insurance number and bank account number and sort code”.

Direct debits can even be set up on mobile phones. In addition to its convenience, this way of making payments gives employees the freedom to set up the direct debit arrangement with the trade union of their choice, as well as consumer protection under the direct debit guarantee. Such protection was withdrawn for check-off 17 years ago.

In any case, there is just no need for the relationship between a trade union and its members to be intermediated by the members’ employer. Trade unions should have a direct subscription relationship with their members, using direct debit like any other modern member-based organisation. The collection and administration of union subscriptions is no business of the employer. It should be a matter for a union and its members to arrange between themselves.

At a time of fiscal consolidation, taxpayer-funded employers providing the important public services that we all rely on should no longer carry unnecessary burdens. These include the burden of administering check-off on behalf of those trade unions that have not yet modernised their subscription arrangements. This in turn puts employers at risk of an employment tribunal claim if they make a mistake when deducting union dues. Where an employer provides a check-off service, it puts itself under a legal obligation to do so in a particular way under the 1992 Act. An employer that makes a mistake can be taken to an employment tribunal. That should not be at the expense of the taxpayer when it could so easily be avoided by making alternative arrangements to check-off.

The majority of civil service employers have already decided to remove check-off, and trade unions affected by those decisions have been successful in making alternative arrangements for their members to pay their subscriptions by other means. The vast majority of their members have switched to direct debit.

It is important to emphasise that we are not planning to spring this change on public sector employers and trade unions overnight. We recognise that affected unions will need time to implement the change and get their members to switch to direct debit. They have been on notice since we announced the provision in August.

Furthermore, the change will be brought about by affirmative regulations that will build in a reasonable transitional period. That will allow affected unions and their members time to put in place alternative arrangements to check-off, and will be sufficient to ensure that no undue disruption is caused to the unions or their members.

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

It is good to be on to the new clauses. It is intriguing that the Minister was talking about using mobile phones and the ease of doing things online—almost the very arguments that could be used in support of e-balloting and the methods connected to it—but he has chosen to apply those methods in other measures. That emphasises the debate we have been having throughout the Bill.

New clause 11 would prevent all public sector employers from deducting trade union subscriptions via payroll and would mark the end of what is called check-off.  I believe that the Government are deliberately targeting trade union finances by making it harder for individuals, including lower paid workers and many women in particular, to get access to trade union representation in the workplace. That is particularly true for dispersed workforces. I was struck by the evidence I received from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which works in the retail sector, about the many people working in small shops and retail outlets throughout the country who find check-off a convenient way to have their payments taken, without a complicated process. They will struggle because of the new clause.

The move is almost universally opposed, save for the Government and the TaxPayers Alliance, and we all know that the basis of the oral evidence they gave was very flimsy. It is all rather ironic when we consider that the Government’s claim that the proposal will save taxpayers’ money is, in fact, a red herring, given that many trade unions already cover the cost of check-off services. In some cases, the fees generated in the process and charged by Government employers for check-off provision generate a net gain for the public finances. There seems to be no sense at all in the proposals.

In pressing ahead in spite of the critics, the Government have failed to secure any substantial employer support for their proposals, as far as I am aware. Indeed, many employers, including employers in local government and the health sector—as we have heard with respect to the Scottish and Welsh Governments as well—have expressed concern that the removal of check-off arrangements could undermine constructive relations between managers and unions, which are vital to the quality of public services. Is that any wonder, when employers and trade unions were not even consulted properly?

The proposals have been introduced without a proper consultation process, engagement with the unions, or an assessment of the impact on employment relations. The proposals were not included in the Conservative party manifesto, Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech, or the briefing accompanying the speech, although it would have been easy for the Government to do that. The Minister has said that everyone has long been aware of the change and has had time to prepare, but if the Government are so clear about it, why did they not make it clear when they first suggested introducing the Bill? There was no reference to the proposal in any of the BIS consultations or impact assessments that accompanied the publication of the Bill. Instead, the Government announced the plans on 6 August 2015, and published the new clause introducing the ban, which we are discussing now, only a matter of days ago.

That does not strike me as the most transparent, engaging or consultative process. Unfortunately that has been the hallmark of the Bill from start to finish. To date, the Government have failed to publish any evidence justifying the introduction of the ban, or any assessment of the potential impact of the proposal on those who would be affected.

There are also huge implementation issues. Transferring millions of members on to direct debit would create significant organisational challenges for many trade unions, particularly those operating in dispersed work forces. It will therefore be vital, if this goes ahead, that  trade unions are provided with ample time to transfer members on to direct debits. We have talked about the potential unwinding of collective agreements and employment contracts in many sectors, but time will also need to be provided for employers and trade unions to renegotiate existing collective agreements, which often include aspects relating to the check-off provision.

I know many are concerned that no timetable for the introduction has been specified in the amendment. The Minister said he wants to allow a reasonable period and I hope that when he gets to his feet he will specify broadly what he has in mind. The explanatory note similarly suggests that a reasonable period will be provided, but that has no legal effect.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

As I was listening to my hon. Friend’s excellent speech, I was thinking about potential ramifications of this and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response. For example, if an accountant working for a council is a chartered accountant paying annual fees, does that come out of his pay packet in certain circumstances, in much the same way as check-off does? If a nurse pays annual fees to be registered as a nurse, does that come out of their pay packet as well?

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

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, one we discussed during the oral evidence sessions as well as here: there are many things that are deducted in the same format as check-off. We as MPs are allowed to make salary deductions for various things, from repayments of loans to charitable donations. Again, this is one rule for trade unions and another for everybody else and it is simply not acceptable. I hope the Minister will provide an explanation and more detail on that provision and a definition of what is a “reasonable” transition period.

The Minister will be aware of the specific concerns outlined by the TUC that trade unions will be required to sign members up to direct debit payments at the same time as needing to comply with the other significant legislative changes in the Bill. Those include encouraging millions of members within just three months to opt in to the union’s political fund, even though they have voluntarily contributed for many years, gathering additional information for the certification officer and complying with the oodles and oodles of red tape and blue tape that are being put in by the Bill, let alone previous provisions such as those introduced by the gagging Act. In these circumstances, the need for significant time to allow unions to move their members on to direct debit is very clear.

As I have argued throughout this Bill, the Government are not pursuing a plan for modern and forward-looking industrial relations. They are trying to turn the clock back and offering solutions to the problems of yesteryear.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

I have just thought of another question. This goes back to my industrial background working with predominantly female workforces in the textile industry. Many did not have bank accounts, but were trade union members and worked on piecework rates. How will they be affected if they are disfranchised, rendered unable to join a trade union at all because they do not have a bank account?

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

That is an excellent point on which I would like to hear from the Minister. Whether we like it or not, many people, particularly on low incomes or starting out on their careers, do not have bank accounts. What provision will be made for them? If they do not have a bank account, how will they be able to make these payments?

As I have said, in reality, deductions from payroll are a very common way that employers across the public and private sectors help employees to manage their finances. I mentioned examples that apply to us as Members of Parliament, but we often see things such as childcare, travel, bike loans or computer payments made through similar payroll deductions. The proposed ban on check-off for union subscriptions will affect millions who currently choose to do that through their wages. We oppose new clause 11 and call on the Government to withdraw it. At the very least, I hope that the Minister will engage with employers and trade unions in the period between Committee and Report, so that we can have some clarity when he comes back to the House on how long the transition and implementation period will be and whether accommodations can be made.

Amendment (a) enjoys the formal support of myself and my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). It is an SNP amendment on securing active consent from the different parts of the UK before the ban on check-off arrangements can apply elsewhere. Were the hon. Member for Glasgow South West to push this to a vote he would certainly have our support.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West 2:30 pm, 27th October 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward.

The purpose of our amendment is to require consent from public bodies, but I wish to make some remarks about the role of check-off and the principles behind it. Our first concern is the impact on collective bargaining arrangements. An employee can pay bills through salary deductions, including council tax and rent. They can also make charitable donations—for example, in Glasgow employees can make trade union charitable donations to organisations such as Action For Southern Africa or Community HEART. Staff association subscriptions, too, can be taken off as a salary deduction. Under these proposals, however, in a collective bargaining arena where there is a staff association and a trade union or unions, the staff association would be allowed check-off, but the trade unions would not. That shows an extraordinary bias towards staff associations. I asked the Minister for the Cabinet Office about this in the evidence sessions and was advised that a staff association is internal and a trade union is not. What remarkable ignorance of how a workplace operates. Surely both organisations are internal, and employees have made a choice about who is to bargain on their behalf?

In our view, new clause 11 is designed to interfere with and unsettle those collective bargaining arrangements. I ask the Minister what is to stop a trade union reclassifying itself to become a staff association. Is that how they will be able to get round the Bill? We are asked to believe that these proposals are modernisation. In reality, they are a 19th century solution in a 21st-century world. If allowing other deductions is modernisation, then why is check-off to trade unions not modernisation? It is a fanciful and quaint notion.

We are also concerned about the legal risks that public sector employers will face in relation to these arrangements. In a recent court case, Mr Justice Supperstone said:

“I am not impressed by the argument that check off is only or primarily for the benefit of the union as such, rather than for its members in their capacity as employees. It seems to me that there is a real benefit to employees in the administrative convenience of not having to make their own arrangements for payments each month, or having to set up a direct debit or standing order and then change it or replace it from time to time as may be necessary”.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Obviously, it depends on the workplace. If someone is a private sector construction worker or employed in an industry working shift patterns which are not annualised, pay will fluctuate depending upon production targets and what the market is doing. Inevitably, as a result their union subs will change, because most unions have a redistributive model for their subscriptions.

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

That is an excellent point. Trade unions will be denied money on that basis, as in the very example given by the hon. Gentleman. Another concern is that what we are seeing here is a situation where a voluntary agreement between a public sector body and a trade union is effectively to be banned by the state.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the consequences—unintended, I am sure—of removing check-off will be that if there is, for instance, an industrial action ballot of a public sector workforce of many tens of thousands, with people working all over the place, it will be even more difficult for people to agree on what the bargaining unit is in that case. If people pay by direct debit—as many trade union members already do—then when they change their place of work, if they are still working for the same employer, their place of work will not necessarily notify their trade union.

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

That is right, and it is an excellent point. There is also the other example of someone who works for a large employer who may have two different jobs for that employer—perhaps part time in two departments. Again, the hon. Lady makes an excellent point.

If the state is banning voluntary collective agreements, I must ask the Minister at what the point the Conservative party went from being laissez-faire to Stalinist. This goes against what I consider to be the principles the Conservative Party was founded on. The arguments advanced are also irrelevant because, if income tax can be deducted at source, then why not trade union subscriptions?

The measure will also leave the public sector at risk of legal challenge. The International Labour Organisation is looking at other countries that have tried the same thing, such as Congo. In 2010 the ILO committee of experts reported

“since the check-off system was abandoned in 1991, there has been no procedure for deducting trade union dues from workers’ pay. According to the Government, in practice, all unionized workers are expected to pay their dues to the trade union office. The Committee once again notes with regret that the Government has still not specified whether the abandonment of the check-off system in 1991 had the effect of barring trade unions from negotiating procedures allowing trade union dues to be deducted  from members’ pay. The Committee once again reminds the Government that the deduction of trade union dues by employers and their transfer to the unions is not a matter that should be excluded from the scope of collective bargaining”.

The ILO committee of experts is now making observations on Croatia as well. It noted that

“in general, a legal provision which allows one party to modify unilaterally the content of signed collective agreements is contrary to the principles of collective bargaining”.

Its continues:

“The Committee requests the Government to provide a copy of the aforementioned Act and underlines the importance of ensuring that any future Act on the Realization of the State Budget does not enable the Government to modify the substance of collective agreements in force in the public service for financial reasons.”

Those are very serious matters. The Government are leaving themselves open to risk on that basis.

Once again, the principles of consent are relevant. Some public bodies, as the shadow Minister has said, receive income from trade unions to administer check-off, and the general secretary of Unison, Dave Prentis, made it clear in his evidence that Unison pays for the facility when it is asked to. The public sector does not support the principle of banning check-off. The consent of the devolved Administrations, local authorities and other public bodies should be required, but we believe that the real intention is to make derecognition easier in the workplace. The new clause strikes at the heart of trade union organisation and is insidious.

I do not think that the Minister has yet demonstrated that he understands the principles of consent or devolution. He has made the extraordinary claim that the Government are complying with the Smith agreement, but I think that the only people who think so are the Government; no independent analysis shows that. I think that it is the right of all public bodies to institute their own arrangements for industrial relations, check-off and facility time. We appeal to the Minister once again to try to understand the principles behind those things, and I hope he will accept the amendment.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Labour, Cardiff Central

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the final Committee sitting, Sir Edward.

In tabling the new clause on check-off, the Government seem extremely concerned to bring trade unions into the 21st century. For the second time in Committee I am forced to admit that I agree with the Minister—not on the content of the amendment, but on the aim of modernisation. The Government seem to believe that paying union subscriptions online, via a bank account, is an acceptable facet of 21st-century trade unionism, but that secure online balloting is not. We must ask ourselves why.

I had an inkling of that while looking back through a 2011 Conservative Home column—I have very exciting evenings—which, thanks to a quotation from the then Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, specifically tied the issue of check-off to the collection of a political levy. That makes me wonder whether the motive for the new clause has more to do with that issue. About 3.8 million public sector workers could be affected by the proposed changes, yet there is no groundswell of demand for the changes from anyone other than the Conservative party.

I want to set out a few inconsistencies to highlight how the amendment does not make sense. I have mentioned the Government’s hypocrisy in opposing online balloting, so I begin with the fact that the use of check-off is voluntary. No employer has to offer it. As with facility time, the right should be with the employer to decide whether the practice benefits their workforce or not. In the case of local government and the devolved Governments in Wales and Scotland, the Westminster Government are imposing top-down solutions to problems that do not exist on the ground.

Secondly, this is not about taxpayers’ money. In many instances, as we have heard, trade unions pay for the very small cost of administering check-off. As the Minister has pointed out, this is the 21st century: payroll is automated. As Unison noted it its written evidence to this committee, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the coalition Government wrote to stop attempts to end check-off, saying that,

“Departments should be aware that there is no fiscal case for doing this, as the Unions have offered to pay any costs associated with check-off, which are in any case minimal”.

As the hon. Member for Glasgow South West mentioned, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis gave us evidence on 15 October about check-off arrangements and gave numerous examples of arrangements that Unison has in place where it either pays for the check-off system, or the employer that the union works with makes money out of it. He named Fife Council, East Lancashire hospitals, Bradford City Council, and Derbyshire County Council, to name a few. If cost really were the issue here, surely the appropriate response is to ensure that the costs are met, rather than to entirely abolish the system.

That brings me to how check-off is used by other organisations. From animal welfare to cancer charities, from helping the homeless to children’s organisations, payroll giving is commonplace. Workplace Giving UK says that it is the most efficient way to give to charity—it works with huge charities such as the Stroke Association and Macmillan. The Payroll Giving Centre claims that over 8,000 employers use the system, with over 1 million people donating from their salaries. It is efficient and easily understood, yet while this system of giving seems set to continue and indeed expand for charities, it is being removed for trade union members.

Finally, on transparency and accountability, check-off ensures that members do not continue to pay their subscription after they have left employment. It is a very clear and easy way for a member to pay subscriptions when in employment but not to continue doing so when they leave their job. Taken with other sections of this Bill, this new clause contributes to a new, sprawling and costly bureaucracy that is being put in place with the sole aim of impeding the ability of trade unions to organise politically and industrially. This is all that this is.

We oppose the new clause and the Bill, but if the Minister really wishes to demonstrate that he is serious about modernisation, I urge him to withdraw this amendment and instead bring forward measures to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not spent on check-off, if that really is his concern, and to specify that trade unions pay for the facility themselves, as many already do.

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 will start by answering some of the questions raised by Opposition Members. There was a question about the transition period and how long trade unions with check-off arrangements would be  given to move people over to direct debits. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office has suggested that a transition period of six months from commencement of the provisions on check-off would be appropriate.

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

I am interested in that response. Why is a six-month period suggested for transition on check-off but only three months for the transition on political fund opt-ins? What is the justification for that?

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)

Probably it relates to the fact that check-off does not just involve the relationship between the trade union and the individual member, as the political fund does. It also involves the employer, so there are more administrative steps to go through. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not welcome the fact that the period is longer. We could have aligned the two periods of course, but no doubt he would have attacked us for doing that. I do not expect to be thanked for these things, but a little generosity at this stage in consideration of the Bill might be nice.

Secondly, a number of hon. Members have made a big play of the fact that a number of trade unions pay for the check-off arrangement. Indeed, they are right to do so. The difficulty is that research carried out by their favourite organisation, the TaxPayers Alliance, revealed that in fact only 22% of public sector employers charge for check-off, so it is a little rich to claim that public sector organisations are somehow making a nice turn on it. I remember from the evidence sessions that the hon. Member for Cardiff Central suggested that social workers would have to be fired if the check-off arrangement were ended. There are relatively few situations in which public sector organisations are being paid for the administrative task that they fulfil.

Several hon. Members rose —

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 have clearly stirred a hornets’ nest. I am spoiled for choice. I will start with the hon. Member for Sunderland Central, because we have not heard from her today.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

I have made a couple of interventions. Can the Minister advise from what return the figure of 22% was derived? My understanding is that it is not based on 100%, so it is not an entirely complete figure.

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) 2:45 pm, 27th October 2015

I have no doubt that the hon. Lady quotes surveys, samples and everything else in her contributions to various debates, so she will be aware that it is possible to draw conclusions about the behaviour of organisations without necessarily interviewing every single one of them. Indeed, I believe her own party took a great deal of encouragement from various opinion polls before the election that seemed to offer predictions about voter behaviour.

The TaxPayers Alliance report in 2013 revealed that 972 public sector organisations that it had contacted and from which it received responses deducted membership subscriptions to trade unions in the check-off arrangement. Of those, 213, or 22%, charged the union for the service. Charging arrangements ranged from a proportion of the costs of subscription—between 0.5% and 6%—to a flat charge per employee or a monthly fee charged to  the union. I make no claim that every single public sector employer was interviewed, but it is a reasonably large sample, and it would be surprising if the average for the whole were very different.

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

Since the Minister published this amendment, how many public sector employers have written to him supporting the removal of check-off? I am curious about it. If some have decided to provide it freely, there does not seem to be a lot of support in the public sector for banning it completely.

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)

Funnily enough, the hon. Gentleman’s question gets to the heart of the difference between the Conservative party and the Scottish National party. We believe that the public sector employers are the taxpayers—the people of Great Britain who work and pay taxes in order to pay for us and for everybody else in the public sector, and for everything that the public sector does. They are the employers, not the board of this NHS trust, that police force or this local authority, which are charged by the taxpayer to discharge their responsibilities and handle taxpayers’ money cautiously and carefully. It is entirely reasonable for us as representatives of the ultimate employers of the public sector—the taxpayers—to represent their interests and insist that they get value for their money, which they are currently not getting through check-off. I will now move to the amendment, unless—

Tom Blenkinsop rose—

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

The main point that we are trying to make is that there are managers who run large public sector organisations who have HR competencies and deal with vast amounts of public sector workers: take the NHS, for example, or any hospital trust. They will be very concerned about any breakdown in recognition—the ability to know where their staff are, who represents them and who to talk to on a collective basis. There will be massive chaos if individual consultation is required on every HR matter.

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 am the first to defer to the hon. Gentleman on intimate knowledge of the detailed realities of working for trade unions and working in an organisation with high levels of union representation—I do not claim to be able to match him on that—but we have got rid of check-off in the civil service over the last few years. There are many issues at debate in the civil service. I am not going to suggest that everything is sweetness and light there, but it is a bit of a stretch to say that the removal of check-off specifically has caused chaos in the civil service.

Tom Blenkinsop rose—

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)

No, I will just finish. The hon. Gentleman can put his hand down, because I have noted that he wants to intervene. He will be well aware that some civil service unions—I mention no names—have lost members to other unions, not to no union but to other unions, because, now that there is no check-off, other unions that offer a better service, possibly at a lower cost, can get in and win the support of individuals in the civil service, whereas the legacy union was simply relying on individuals being locked in through a check-off system. I would have thought that the modern Labour party,  which I know he always feels he is part of, would want to support the introduction of a little competition among unions in offering a consumer service to their members.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

Unfortunately, the Minister displays his ignorance, because inter-union competition has been going on for decades, since the Bridlington agreement. In the interest of the nation, its people, the public sector and its employees, we want proper recognition agreements so that both parties know with whom they are talking. Trying to say that this is about helping trade unions to recruit members is pathetic. That is a completely redundant argument, and it does not represent the interest of the British general public. What we want to know is that, when paramedics bring up industrial issues and health and safety concerns, they will be talking to an HR manager who knows what they are talking about, rather than having to talk to various individuals in a scattergun fashion, thereby putting services at risk.

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 feel that I may have touched a nerve, so perhaps I better not press that any further.

I will move on to the amendment tabled by the SNP. The Committee debated similar amendments at length last Tuesday. As I said then, all the provisions in the Bill relate to employment and industrial relations law, which are clearly reserved matters under the devolution settlements for Scotland and Wales. New clause 11 relates to the same reserved matters, so it is entirely in order for the Government to propose that its provisions should also apply to the whole of Great Britain. I see no reason why the Government should seek consent before applying those provisions in particular areas.

In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, employment and industrial relations are transferred matters so, respecting the agreement that was properly reached with Northern Ireland, new clause 11 will not apply there. Certain responsibilities are being devolved to local authorities in England and to the Mayor of London, but none of those responsibilities includes employment and industrial relations law. Amendment (a) seeks to carve out different arrangements for Scotland, Wales, London and English local authorities on matters of employment and industrial relations law, which Parliament has already determined are reserved. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press the amendment.

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

We received clarification on this in the previous similar debate. Proposed new section 116B(3) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 states that such regulations may potentially apply to bodies that are wholly or partly funded from public funds. We have talked about organisations that receive small grant funding of, say, £10,000 from public sources. Will the Minister clarify the extent to which the new clause will apply to such organisations?

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)

My understanding is that the new clause will not apply, for instance, to a charity that receives a grant from the Government—absolutely not. This is for public sector organisations, but I will happily write to the Committee to confirm that the definition will be similar to the one used for other provisions.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 7.

Division number 46 Decision Time — New Clause 11 - Prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

New clause 11 read a Second time.

Amendment proposed to new clause 11: (a), line 43 at end insert—

‘(10) The provisions in this section shall only apply with the consent of the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London and local authorities in England in their areas of responsibility.”—(Chris Stephens.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Division number 47 Decision Time — New Clause 11 - Prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 7.

Division number 48 Decision Time — New Clause 11 - Prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

New clause 11 added to the Bill.