[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Trade Union Funding

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 29th February 2012.

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Photo of Aidan Burley Aidan Burley Conservative, Cannock Chase 10:30 am, 29th February 2012

No, I will not.

We, on the Government side of the House, feel that the public have a right to know where their taxes are going. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton has done such an important job this morning in securing the debate on behalf of hard-pressed British taxpayers.

As my hon. Friend said, there is now widespread public and parliamentary concern about paid time off for trade union activities and duties, an issue that has been acknowledged by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Minister for Local Government. They are both looking at reforming that practice, known as public sector facility time.

I understand that the Cabinet Office is about to launch a consultation into the extent—indeed abuse, as pointed out by my hon. Friend Priti Patel—of so-called facility time. I would be grateful to the Minister if he could update us on when the consultation will take place, what its parameters will be, when it will be likely to conclude, and what the recommendations for reform might be.

The issue this morning is one of basic principle: is it appropriate for the taxpayer to subsidise trade unions at all, and if so, to what extent? In the brief time I have this morning, I want to deal with the issue of principle, because as far as I can tell, it has never been properly explained or defended in public.

I listened carefully to the response of John Healey to the ten-minute rule Bill tabled by my hon. Friend Jesse Norman on the issue. It was notable that in his response, at no point did the respected former Minister—I am sorry to see that he is no longer in the Chamber—defend or explain the principle of a public subsidy to trade unions. He opened his response by saying:

“This Bill attacks the most basic and most benign feature of trade union work—the day-to-day support for staff at work by their colleagues who are prepared to volunteer as trade union representatives.”—[Hansard, 11 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 201.]

That rather missed the point, because we have no problem with colleagues who are prepared to volunteer as trade union representatives, just with colleagues who think they should be paid by the taxpayer to be trade union representatives. In fact, if I was a volunteer trade union rep, doing a worthy job for a few hours a week because I believed in helping colleagues, I would be rather annoyed to think that whereas I worked for free, other colleagues felt that they needed to be paid to do it; in fact, some feel that they need to be paid full-time to do it. Where is the fairness in that? Why do some trade union reps need to be paid while others do not?