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Trade Union Bill

Volume 602: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2015

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

Clause 2

Ballots: 50% turnout requirement

I beg to move amendment 15, page 1, line 14, at end insert—

“(3) The provisions of 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 or responsibility.”

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 16, in clause 3, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

“(4) The provisions of 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.”

Amendment 17, in clause 4, page 3, line 7, at end insert—

“(3) The provisions of 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.”

Amendment 18, clause 5, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(3) The provisions of 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.”

Amendment 19, in clause 6, page 4, line 5, at end insert—

“(3) The provisions of 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.”

Amendment 20, in clause 7, page 4, line 14, at end insert—

“(3) The provisions of 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.”

Amendment 21, in clause 8, page 4, line 29, at end insert—

“(3) The provisions of 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.”

Amendment 7, in clause 12, page 9, line 26, at end insert—

“(13) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to services the provision of which is devolved wholly or partially to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, Mayor of London or local authorities in England.”

The amendment would ensure that the provisions with regard to the publication requirements in relation to facility time would not apply to services devolved to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.

Amendment 22, page 9, line 26, at end insert—

“(13) The provisions of 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.”

Amendment 8, in clause 13, page 11, line 4, at end insert—

“(14) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to services the provision of which is devolved wholly or partially to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, Mayor of London or local authorities in England.”

The amendment would ensure that the provisions with regard to reserve powers in relation to facility time would not apply to services devolved to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.

Amendment 14, page 11, line 4, at end insert—

“(14) The provisions in this section and the Schedules it inserts 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.”

Amendment 9, in clause 14, page 12, line 8, at end insert—

“(3) None of the provisions of this section shall apply to services the provision of which is devolved wholly or partially to the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, Mayor of London or local authorities in England.”

The amendment would ensure that the provisions with regard to the prohibition on deduction of union subscriptions from wages in public sector would not apply to services devolved to the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Mayor of London or local authorities in England.

Amendment 34, page 12, line 8, at end insert—

“(3) 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.”

Amendment 31, in clause 15, page 12, line 19, at end insert—

“(4) 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.”

Amendment 32, in clause 16, page 13, line 33, at end insert—

“(5) The provisions of 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.”

Amendment 33, in clause 17, page 14, line 32, at end insert—

“(5) The provisions of this section and the Schedules it inserts 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.”

New clause 2—Workplace ballots and ballots by electronic means

“(1) Workplace ballots and balloting by electronic means, shall be permitted in the types of trade union ballots specified in subsection (2) with effect from the commencement date for sections 2 and 3 (Ballot thresholds for industrial action);

(2) The types of trade union ballots to which subsections (1) and (3) apply are those referred to in Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), V (industrial action), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamation or transfer).

(3) In relation to the ballots referred to in subsection (2)—

(a) the employer shall be under a duty to co-operate generally in connection with the ballot with the union, which shall include not undertaking surveillance of, intercepting or otherwise interfering with any communications between the union and its members, and with any person appointed in accordance with section 226B of the Act (Appointment of Scrutineer); and

(b) every person who is entitled to vote in the ballot shall be permitted to do so without interference or constraint imposed by any employer of the union’s members, or any of its employees or any person its behalf.

(4) Where in any proceedings an employer claims, or will claim, that a union has failed to comply with any requirement referred to in subsection 226 of the Act (Requirement of ballot before action by trade union), the union will have a complete defence to those proceedings if the employer has failed to comply with any part of its duty under subsection (3)(a) or it, or any of its employees or any person on its behalf, has imposed any interference or constraint of a type referred to in subsection (3)(b).

(5) In this section—

(a) “Workplace ballot” means a ballot in which votes may be cast in the workplace by such means as is or are determined by the union. Such means of voting in the workplace determined by the union may, but are not required to, include electronic means; and

(b) “electronic means” means such electronic means as is or determined by the union and, in each case, where section 226B of the Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union, is confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section, before the opening day of the ballot as meeting the required standard.

(6) Where electronic means are determined by the union, and, if applicable, confirmed by the person appointed under section 226B of the Act as meeting the required standard as provided for in subsection (5), the means of voting in the ballot shall also include postal voting, or some means of voting in a workplace ballot other than electronic means, where determined by the union and, in a case in which section 226B of the Act imposes an obligation on the union (Appointment of Scrutineer), confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section as being reasonably necessary to ensure that the required standard is satisfied.

(7) For the purpose of subsections (5) and (6), a workplace ballot or means of electronic voting satisfies ‘the required standard’ for the ballot if, so far as reasonably practicable—

(a) those entitled to vote have an opportunity to do so;

(b) votes cast are secret; and

(c) the risk of any unfairness or malpractice is minimised.

(8) Any provision of the Act shall be disapplied to the extent necessary to give effect to this section.”

New clause 5—Voting by electronic means in trade union ballots for industrial action

“(1) Trade union members shall be permitted to vote by electronic means for the purposes of Part V of the 1992 Act (Industrial Action) with effect from the commencement date for sections 2 and 3.

(2) In this section “electronic means” means such electronic means, including means of secure voting electronically in the workplace, as is, or are determined by the union and, in a case in which section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union, confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section, before the opening day of the ballot as meeting the required standard.

(3) Where electronic means are determined by the union, and, if applicable, confirmed by the person appointed under section 226B of the Act as meeting the required standard as provided for in subsection (2), the means of voting in the ballot shall also include postal voting where determined by the union and, in a case in which section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union, confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section as being reasonably necessary to ensure that the required standard is satisfied.

(4) For the purpose of subsections (2) and (3), a means of electronic voting satisfies “the required standard” for the ballot if, so far as reasonably practicable—

(a) those entitled to vote have an opportunity to do so;

(b) votes cast are secret; and

(c) the risk of any unfairness or malpractice is minimised.

(5) In relation to the ballots referred to in subsection (1)—

(a) the employer shall be under a duty to co-operate generally in connection with the ballot with the union, which shall include not undertaking surveillance of, intercepting or otherwise interfering with any communications between the union and its members, and with any person appointed in accordance with section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer); and

(b) every person who is entitled to vote in the ballot shall be permitted to do so without interference or constraint imposed by any employer of the union’s members, or any of its employees or any person on its behalf.

(6) Where in any proceedings an employer claims, or will claim, that a union has failed to comply with any requirement referred to in section 226 of the 1992 Act (Requirement of ballot before action by trade union), the union will have a complete defence to those proceedings if the employer has failed to comply with any part of its duty under subsection (5)(a) or it, or any of its employees or any person on its behalf, has imposed any interference or constraint of a type referred to in subsection (5)(b).

(7) Any provision of the Act shall be disapplied to the extent necessary to give effect to this section.”

The new Clause would permit electronic voting in ballots for industrial action.

New clause 6—Voting by electronic means in trade union ballots

“(1) The provisions in New Clause5 [Voting by electronic means in trade union ballots for industrial action] apply to ballots and elections for the purposes of Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamation or transfer) of the 1992 Act.

(2) The electronic means adopted for the purposes of subsection (1) must also be capable of allowing union members to vote in ballots and elections for the purposes of Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamating or transfer) of the 1992 Act.”

The new Clause would permit electronic voting in union elections and ballots other than those for industrial action.

New clause 7—Secure workplace ballots for industrial action

“(1) Trade union members shall be permitted to vote in person at their place of work by means of a secure workplace ballot for the purposes of Part V of the 1992 Act (Industrial Action) with effect from the commencement date for sections 2 and 3.

(2) In this section “secure workplace ballot” means a ballot in which votes may be cast in the workplace by such means as is or are determined by the union. These may, but are not required to, include electronic means and, in a case in which section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union to ensure that the required standard is satisfied, confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section, before the opening day of the ballot as meeting the required standard.

(3) For the purpose of subsection (2), a workplace ballot satisfies “the required standard” if, so far as reasonably practicable—

(a) those entitled to vote have an opportunity to do so;

(b) those entitled to vote can do so in privacy;

(c) votes cast are secret; and

(d) the risk of any unfairness or malpractice is minimised.

(4) In relation to the ballots referred to in subsection (1)—

(a) the employer shall be under a duty to co-operate generally in connection with the ballot with the union, which shall include not undertaking surveillance of, intercepting or otherwise interfering with any communications between the union and its members, and with any person appointed in accordance with section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer); and

(b) every person who is entitled to vote in the ballot shall be permitted to do so without interference or constraint imposed by any employer of the union’s members, or any of its employees or any person its behalf.

(5) Where in any proceedings an employer claims, or will claim, that a union has failed to comply with any requirement referred to in section 226 of the 1992 Act (Requirement of ballot before action by trade union), the union will have a complete defence to those proceedings if the employer has failed to comply with any part of its duty under subsection (4)(a) or it, or any of its employees or any person on its behalf, has imposed any interference or constraint of a type referred to in subsection (4)(b).

(6) Any provision of the Act shall be disapplied to the extent necessary to give effect to this section.”

The new Clause would permit secure workplace ballots for industrial action. These can involve electronic or non-electronic means.

New clause 8—Secure workplace balloting and voting for trade union elections and other matters

“(1) The provisions in New Clause 7 [Secure workplace ballots for industrial action] shall apply to ballots and elections for the purposes of Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamation or transfer) of the 1992 Act.

(2) The arrangements adopted for the purposes of subsection (1) shall allow union members to vote in workplace ballots for the purposes of Chapters IV (elections for certain positions), VI (political resolutions) and VII (approval of instruments of amalgamating or transfer) of the 1992 Act.”

The new Clause would permit secure workplace ballots in union elections and ballots other than those for industrial action.

New clause 9—Methods of voting in ballots for industrial action, trade union elections and other matters

“(1) Voting in a ballot or election carried out to meet the requirements of the 1992 Act as amended can be carried out by postal ballot, electronic means, secure workplace ballot or a combination of these methods.

(2) The combination of methods is to be determined by the union and, in a case in which section 226B of the 1992 Act (Appointment of Scrutineer) imposes an obligation on the union, confirmed by the person appointed in accordance with that section, before the opening day of the ballot.”

New clause 10—Application of provisions to public sector employees across the UK—

The extent and provisions of this Bill shall only apply to the public sector in the UK,

(a) By consent of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, Mayor of London and other public bodies and local authorities in England in their areas of responsibility.

(b) Where consent has been granted, this consent can be withdrawn at any time.”

I rise to speak to amendments 15 to 22, 14, 34 and 31 to 33 in my name and those of my hon. Friends, as well as to new clause 10, with which I will begin my remarks.

Before I do so, I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who led for the Labour party in the Public Bill Committee with great diligence. I welcome the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) to his place. I also pay tribute to the Conservative members of the Committee, who tried to defend the indefensible. I pay tribute to Labour members of the Committee, the hon. Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott). However, the star of the show—she made the soundbite of the Public Bill Committee—was my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron): she commented that the Minister had presented the Bill with great moderation but was entirely disingenuous.

New clause 10 is a catch-all amendment that limits the extent and provisions of the Bill from applying to the public sector across the UK without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Mayor of London and other public bodies and local authorities in England. We took the view that, to protect our approach of working in partnership with unions, Scotland should be excluded from the entire Bill. However, having heard representations from other political parties, and indeed many from across the trade union and labour movement, we now want to restrict the extent of the Bill from applying without the consent of each devolved institution or authority which will be impacted by the changes.

I think it is arrogant of the Government to impose the changes on local authorities. We have had three negotiations on the check-off system.

Like many others in this place, the hon. Gentleman is a former council or local authority leader. He will know that he would have negotiated with the trade unions on issues such as facility time to make sure agreements were made in time and grievances were heard in time to avoid such issues going to a tribunal. I agree with him that it is arrogant and out of order for the UK Government to make decisions—for example, in respect of facility time and check-off—that are opposed by many local authorities across the UK.

The proposals in the Bill have the potential to undermine the effective engagement of trade unions across Scottish workplaces, and indeed across the UK, particularly in the public sector. The Scottish Government response to the “Working Together Review” and the fair work convention have shown a commitment to building a stronger, more collaborative approach to the relationship between trade unions, employees and employers. The combination of the provisions in the Bill will affect employees’ right to strike, will change the relationship between unions and organisations negatively and will lead to greater confusion among employees. That will undoubtedly hit Scottish business, especially across the public services in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.

As with many Bills in this House, the devil is reserved in the detail, and with a lot of the detail to be set out in regulations, we are unaware of what else may be coming down the line. Moreover, there will be no formal opportunity for the Scottish Government, or indeed any other authority, to influence such regulations, even though they will have a direct impact on them.

According to the evidence of witnesses, there is concern that the Bill could lead to a constitutional crisis if the devolved Administrations refuse to implement the content of the Bill. The Bill potentially cuts across devolved areas and could lead to confusion and a conflict of interests in its application to existing and new contracts, owing to the ongoing local government reforms in other areas. During the evidence sessions, Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, commented that the new combined authorities in England will have a lot of extensions of powers, except the power to determine check-off and facility time arrangements.

The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, stated in the “Programme for Government 2015/16”:

“my government will vigorously oppose the UK government’s proposed trade union legislation, which seeks to undermine the rights of unions to fairly and reasonably represent their members.”

Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, echoed those concerns when he wrote to the Prime Minister expressing concerns about the Bill in September 2015, stating that it should be a matter for the National Assembly for Wales.

The Scottish Government maintain positive and stable industrial relations in Scotland. Those relations are underpinned by the long-standing strategic partnership between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, which was recently reaffirmed in the memorandum of understanding signed in May 2015. The memorandum pledged the Scottish Government to work with the STUC in opposing Tory austerity and in demanding further powers for Scotland. The Scottish Government view trade unions as key social partners, playing an important role in sustaining effective democracy in society, particularly in the workplace, and the existence of good employment practices is a key contributor to economic competitiveness and social justice.

The hon. Gentleman has described the Scottish Government’s relationship with the unions. In Committee, did the Government provide evidence of any public body having expressed a view that was different from that of the Scottish Government?

The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that no evidence was presented in Committee from a public body in support of the Bill. We heard from the Tory Taliban, the TaxPayers Alliance, which was supportive of some of the measures, but no public body was.

The restriction of the extent of the Bill would ensure that none of its provisions applied without the consent of the relevant authorities. We have tabled amendments to restrict the application of some of the provisions.

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to constituents of mine in Hertsmere, many of them hard-working commuters who will welcome the protection against unjustified strikes, why London should have a veto over these measures when they would not have a say under his proposals?

The hon. Gentleman refers to unjustified strikes. I am not aware of any unjustified strike. The notion seems to be presented by the Conservative party that low turnouts are due to lack of support. I do not think that that is the case. The case that the Government have advanced suggests that after the ballot result, trade union officials and stewards in the workplace develop mystical powers of persuasion—almost Jedi-like powers of persuasion—and with one wave of the hand can say, “This is the strike you are looking for.” That is nonsense. What was interesting in Committee, which the hon. Gentleman might want to take note of, is that passenger transport groups were very concerned about aspects of the Bill such as the provision on untrained agency workers in the transport sector.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Conservative party was interested in having more people voting in strike ballots, it would allow electronic voting, as it did for the election of its candidate for Mayor of London, and secure workplace balloting?

I will come on to that point. I found it curious in Committee that we were advised that e-balloting was unsafe and unsecure.

Amendment 15 would restrict the application of the provisions in clause 2 that introduce a 50% turnout requirement for industrial action ballots in addition to the current requirement for a majority vote in favour of action. The Government’s proposals will undermine constructive employment relations throughout the United Kingdom. Effective negotiations between unions and employers rely on equal bargaining power. The ability of unions to organise lawful industrial action ensures that employers take the views of the workforce seriously and engage in genuine negotiations.

The statutory thresholds will make it difficult for unions to organise industrial action, especially in larger workplaces and those with more dispersed workforces. As a result, the legislation is expected to have a wide-ranging impact on the ability of trade union members to take industrial action in defence of their jobs, working conditions and livelihoods.

It is in the employers’ and employees’ interests for disputes to be resolved quickly and amicably. The Government’s proposals mean that disputes are more likely to become protracted. The introduction of ballot thresholds will mean that unions will take more time in the run-up to ballots to ensure that there is the necessary turnout. That will inevitably divert time and effort from finding an amicable settlement.

This is one of those Bills that the Tories always bring forward when they are in trouble. More importantly, a lot of it has been brought forward because the Mayor of London has not been able to handle the industrial situation. As a result, the Tories are bringing in the Bill to undermine good industrial relations in this country.

I am very sympathetic to that point of view. The hon. Gentleman is right that the Mayor of London seems to have a different attitude from other public sector bodies across the UK.

Did not the evidence that was given to the Committee say that the Bill would not solve London’s problem because in most of the disputes that have taken place in recent years, particularly in rail, the action would have gone ahead in any case?

The reason it would have gone ahead in any case is that the thresholds the Government are trying to introduce would have been met.

Is it not the case that the Conservative Mayor of London has not met the unions in the transport sector in London at all during his tenure? Would not a better method be to have proper industrial relations with negotiations and dialogue rather than sabre-rattling?

I agree. There will be an opportunity for the electorate in London to pass judgment on that at the appropriate time next year.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking successive interventions. I was not a member of the Bill Committee. He is talking about the application of higher thresholds for industrial action. What consideration was given in Committee to the potential for wildcat union action as a consequence of the higher thresholds, because trade union leaders might be unwilling to take a vote for fear of not meeting the threshold?

No evidence was presented that that would be the case. What was raised was the impact that the thresholds would have on women workers in progressing disputes about issues that impact on them more than on male workers, such as the introduction of shift changes. The Bill Committee did not touch on the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of days lost to industrial action per year has fallen dramatically over the past 30 years. Since 2010, an average of 647,000 days have been lost to industrial action each year, compared with 7,213,000 days per year in the 1980s. In 2014, there were only 155 stoppages as a result of industrial action, with 55% taking place in the private sector and 45% in the public sector. Most industrial action is short-lived: in 2014, 64% of all stoppages lasted for only one or two days, with 93% of the workers taking part in the industrial action.

I would like the answer to a question. If the amendments that would allow the Scottish Government to give their consent were accepted, would you drop your—[Interruption.] Sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. In those circumstances, would the SNP drop the other amendments as it would have a say in its own Parliament?

Collective bargaining, indeed.

It is important that public bodies across the United Kingdom have a say and give their consent as to whether provisions in the Bill should be passed. I also believe that if a public body gives its consent, it should be possible for that consent to be taken away on a future occasion. The Mayor of London, to use an example that was given earlier, is perhaps the best example of that.

It was good that my hon. Friend noted the difference in strike rates in lost days over the past 30 years. Does he agree that industrial relations have improved over the past 30 years and that unions are much more effective and co-operative, but that the Tories over there are stuck in an ideological argument of 30 years ago? They should move forward instead of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

I agree with that. Seasoned veterans of the House will know what I mean when I say that this is Keith Joseph, phase 3. This is an ideological attack on the largest group in civic society that stands up against exploitation.

It was a pleasure to serve on the Bill Committee and the hon. Gentleman was a wily performer. He talks about Keith Joseph and says that we are not in the real world. I remind him that we heard evidence right at the beginning of our consideration from the chief executive of Arriva buses, who said that on a vote of 17% of the staff of his firm, 50% of all buses in London were stopped. Think of the disruption that that caused for real people out there in the real world.

The key issue was not the number of people who were balloted, but the number of fellow workers who then came out to support them. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there was other evidence of employee intimidation and blacklisting, and the Government need to answer that point later in our debate.

The amendments address restrictions on facility time. Facility time is a good thing. The Royal College of Nursing—not known as the most militant trade union—believes that the Bill could lead to £100 million being lost to the NHS because of workplace issues that go to tribunal and so on. Public bodies should have the right to test the argument presented in Committee that taxpayers should be protected, because trade union members are taxpayers, and they are also voters.

Does evidence from the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Nursing not contrast spectacularly with that of a Government witness from Health 2020 who admitted when giving evidence that she did not even know what facility time was?

That is correct. I had never heard of Health 2020, and under the skilful questioning of the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) it was revealed that the witness was a former Conservative candidate. When she mentioned her concerns about patient care, I said that a trade union is obliged to provide life and limb cover, but the witness had not heard of that either; and as the hon. Lady mentioned, she did not know what facility time was.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because I am trying to develop a theme with my questions about the Committee. I asked about thresholds and what consideration the Government gave to wildcat action. Will the hon. Gentleman speak about the restrictions on facility time and what the Government say about the potential for wildcat action if there is less time for trade unions to deal with workplace disputes?

Wildcat action was not discussed in Committee. We discussed the social media provisions that could lead—as the hon. Member for Gateshead pointed out—to wildcat tweeting, but there was no discussion about wildcat action in that sense.

The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. He mentioned the work of the Royal College of Nursing. Its employer, University College Hospital, said that:

“elements of the Bill that would confine trade unions’ ability to engage with us are widely viewed by NHS employers as potentially undermining of the Government’s health policy”.

The Government want to introduce measures that will undermine health policy. To go back to Keith Joseph, he always argued that we should let managers manage. Managers want to manage in conjunction with trade unions, and the Government should butt out.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that trade unionists are real people, and that it is not only trade unionists who object to the Bill? The Government have significantly failed to secure any substantial employer support for these proposals, and many public and private sector employees object vociferously to the Bill and see it as completely unnecessary.

The last time I looked in the mirror, yes, I am a real person, like many other trade unionists in this country.

I am pleased that Labour amendments seek to restrict the application of provisions relating to facility time and check-off, and they will get our support. Once again, alongside the principled and substantive arguments that will no doubt be presented, it will come out that there is no mandate across the public sector for the Bill.

Is it not strange that a Tory party that always talks to us about regulation and red tape is today introducing more regulation and more red tape, and “choking the arteries of commerce”, as was once said in a famous TV programme in Scotland? We are looking at Tory dinosaur behaviour that goes back to the 1970s.

I think it is perhaps worse than that because such behaviour comes from a political party which has a laissez-faire attitude to the economy until it comes to the trade union movement. It goes from laissez-faire to Stalinism with no intervening periods whatsoever.

Is not a prime example of the unnecessary bureaucracy and complication of the Bill the arbitrary powers that are given to the certification officer for monitoring picketing? That is guaranteed to find failings and create fines.

It is even worse and goes even wider than that. Trade unions will be expected to make a contribution to the certification officer, but they will not be allowed to contribute to check-off, because that is to be banned across the board in the public sector.

New clause 2 would ensure that employers have a duty to ensure that union members can vote without fear of interference or constraint. That same duty is imposed on unions, and it is about what happens when an employer fails to comply with those duties by intercepting voting papers or emails relating to the ballot.

Does the hon. Gentleman share my feelings of irony that the Government have stated that trade union members will not be allowed to vote in an electronic ballot, yet they considered that to be perfectly legitimate for the London mayoral selection?

I agree with the hon. Lady, and that point was raised in Committee. We were told by Conservative Members that e-balloting is unsafe and insecure—I do not know what that means for the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. It came out that a trade union could email an employer and the police about picketing. Presumably that is safe and secure.

Will the hon. Gentleman say something about stewards having to register with the police and wear armbands just as they did in the 1930s in the occupied territories in Europe?

We will discuss that at a later stage. The hon. Gentleman’s point is about the increased capacity for blacklisting that is contained in the Bill, and I agree with him.

May I move on and make some progress? I apologise, and I will take further interventions later.

New clause 2 would modernise the law promoting democracy and inclusion—the word “modernisation” keeps getting used by the Conservatives in support of the Bill. Currently, all ballots and elections must be conducted on a fully postal basis. Unlike major companies and other membership organisations—including political parties—trade union members are not allowed to vote online. The Government have consistently described the Bill as an attempt to “modernise” trade unions, but to date they have not allowed trade unions to modernise into the 21st century by using electronic and workplace balloting.

The Government argue that the introduction of thresholds for strike action balloting would boost democracy, but that only stifles the possibility of workers’ voices being heard. If the Government were committed to boosting workplace democracy, they would allow secure workplace balloting and balloting by electronic means, as our amendment suggests.

Online balloting is more accessible and inclusive. Today, most people use electronic devices every day to make transactions and to communicate. We in the SNP use online ballots, and as we have heard, so did the Conservatives in the election of their mayoral candidate. Ballot papers are usually sent to members’ home addresses, which can lead to lower turnouts, especially when junk mail is flying through people’s doors on a regular basis and things can easily get dumped in the bin. Modern methods of voting are more efficient and help negotiations to move faster. Using only postal ballots could prolong the length of a dispute because they simply take longer.

According to the latest Ofcom figures, 83% of people now have access to broadband and 66% of households own a smartphone. Those figures are likely to be higher among those of working age, and they are set to rise rapidly. The 2014 Electoral Commission survey involved 1,205 adults aged over 18, and found that 42% of respondents felt that online voting would increase their confidence by “a lot” or “a little” in the way that elections are run.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the run-up to Christmas, people will be engaging electronically by purchasing goods and materials across the piece? I do not hear Conservative Members saying that there is something fundamentally wrong with that process, or saying, “We’re not going to have you doing that.” Is this not ridiculous? It is just a ruse to say, “We don’t want people to engage with trade unions.” That is what it is about.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps it is because Conservative Members fear the inevitable visit of three ghosts on Christmas eve.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with Electoral Reform Services, which has run more than 2,000 ballots, that there has not been a single security breach in all those ballots and that, therefore, it is a very secure mechanism?

I agree, and that evidence came out in Committee.

Workplace balloting is an available secure option that increases democracy in the workplace. The 1992 Act already permits workplace ballots to be used for statutory recognition ballots, under schedule Al. Workplace ballots of that nature are secure and overseen by qualified independent persons, usually Electoral Reform Services. The individuals and balloting agencies permitted to act in statutory recognition ballots are generally the same as those who act as scrutineers in industrial action ballots and other statutory union elections and ballots.

An analysis of Central Arbitration Committee reports indicates that turnout tends to be significantly higher in ballots where all workers voted in the workplace. Average turnout was 88%, and in combination ballots average turnout was 86.9%. The average turnout in postal-only ballots was 71.6 %. According to the TUC, there is no evidence that workers feel intimidated into voting a particular way when ballots take place in the workplace. Of the complaints that the CAC was asked to decide on, five were made by unions and one by an employer. None of the complaints was upheld.

We are told that electronic voting is not safe. Thousands of private sector, voluntary and political organisations use electronic voting every year. Electoral Reform Services alone manages more than 2,000 annually, and its report concludes that online voting is no less secure than postal balloting. It says:

“There are risks associated with electronic voting but these are essentially similar to the risks associated with any secure electronic process. Many of the risks are also of the same nature as the risks related to postal voting”.

The issue is not about online safety and security: the Government hope that people will not be bothered to buy a stamp, put it on an envelope and walk to the letterbox. That is the issue—not security. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

I do, and one of the increasing problems with postal balloting is the number of post boxes, which has fallen by 17% in Scotland in the last year.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill risks throwing away much of the positive industrial relations that have been established by trade unions, work that they do day in and day out? One problem is that the media like conflict, but the bread and butter tasks of the trade unions include spotting and defusing issues before they become problems. Merseyside Fire Brigades Union told me that its employers described its union reps as their best but lowest paid managers, such is their contribution to positive industrial relations. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we risk losing all that?

I agree with the hon. Lady. Without question, the Bill is ideological. Under a veneer of moderation, it is an ideological attack on a large section of society that stands up against exploitation.

The hon. Gentleman keeps saying that the Bill is ideological. Is it ideological for people who send their children to schools in my constituency who cannot get childcare during an unjustified strike with a very low turnout in a ballot? Is it ideological for hard-pressed commuters in my constituency who cannot get to work because of strikes called on ballots with low turnouts?

The problem with that analysis is that it is based on ignorance. The simple fact is that if a ballot has a low turnout, a trade union has to make a calculation. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), who is a former Unison president, can confirm that trade unions have, on occasion, not proceeded to industrial action if they do not have support for it. The biggest gamble that a trade union takes when it decides to take industrial action is how many people participate. If people do not participate, the industrial action falls and dies.

The contribution from the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) highlights the lack of understanding of the role of trade unions and of people who are working just to pay their bills. That lack of understanding shows why this Bill is so wrong.

It also shows complete ignorance of the principle of solidarity. Many of the people who are affected by industrial action, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) described, will be fellow trade union members.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the average time lost to strike action last year was less than a third of a second per member of the workforce?

Yes, and that evidence also came out in Committee. What is the great industrial chaos in this country that means that the Government need to intervene? There is none—

I shall try to entertain the hon. Gentleman. If he believes that turnout is so high for all these industrial actions, why is he so concerned about having a threshold that requires four out of 10 trade unionists to turn out and vote? If turnouts are high, where is the problem?

I will give the hon. Member for Hertsmere the benefit of my trade union experience. In localised disputes about local issues, turnouts go through the roof, in my experience. Lower turnouts usually happen in national, UK-wide disputes. Those issues can lead to low turnouts, but the key test is how well the trade union is organised. Turnout will be a lot higher in some areas than in others in such disputes.

The point about commuters was made earlier, although the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) may not have been listening. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) said, the transport strikes that are often prayed in aid of the Bill would have all crossed the threshold and were all legitimate strikes.

If the genuine motivation behind the Bill was to get turnout as high as possible, would not the Government put forward every possible means to allow members of trade unions to vote in ballots, including workplace balloting and e-balloting? In fact, they are doing the opposite.

I agree, and that is why we have tabled the new clause. If the Government were so concerned about participation, they would allow e-balloting and secure workplace balloting. If secure workplace balloting is good enough for recognition agreements, surely it is good enough for many of the other issues that trade union members have to decide on.

We were told in Committee that we cannot have online voting until 2020. Ministers have claimed that the Speaker’s Commission on digital democracy concluded that online voting could not be achieved before 2020, but it was concerned only with online voting in general or local elections, not trade union or any other ballots. The Commission reported on evidence from the Open Rights Group, which argues that online balloting in the context of a general election is far less transparent than ballot box voting. These arguments do not apply to trade union ballots, which are counted by the scrutineer in private.

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in taking interventions. Does he agree that trade unions prevent a significant amount of sickness absence in the workplace? I was a shop steward in a hospital for a number of years. By fostering good relationships between trade union members and management, I am confident we reduced significantly that burden on the workplace.

Yes, with my trade union experience I do agree with that. I would happily say that the best education I had was from the trade union movement, particularly, for example, when someone had a condition that came under the scope of the Equality Acts. I agree with every word that has been said.

As has been said, my hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. He will agree that very important points have been made about the double whammy on thresholds and not allowing online or secure workplace voting. Without being flippant, does he think the Government have assessed the risk of secure workplace balloting when it comes to English votes for English laws? There might actually be a risk of SNP Members voting on English laws after all, because the balloting might not be secure enough.

Indeed. I look forward to that test when the experiment, as I think Mr Speaker described it, takes place.

The Open Rights Group is also concerned that online voting in general elections does not justify the extra expense of developing new systems while the technology is in its infancy, as turnout is already comparatively high. This argument does not apply to trade union ballots, where postal balloting is more expensive and deters turnout. Unlike general election voting, the technology already exists and has been well used for over a decade by private companies, political parties and membership associations.

The hon. Gentleman and I have shared many an anecdote about this, both in Committee and elsewhere. He will recall that in Committee I raised a number of concerns from the Open Rights Group which called for prudence in the use of internet voting. Has he looked at that in greater detail?

The hon. Gentleman is right. I found it curious that when I googled my name I got a link to his website and it was the exchange that we had in Committee. In fairness, the same thing happens with the hon. Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens). The Open Rights Group is saying that trade union ballots do not apply in these cases, because there is the additional safety of a scrutineer and so on.

We are told that trade union ballots should be subject to tighter regulation than elections for officeholders in private businesses or non-governmental organisations. If the Government were genuinely concerned about levels of electronically based elections in the private sector, they would legislate for all bodies to be required to use postal-only ballots. They should also rerun the election for the Mayor of London using a postal-only ballot.

Labour’s amendments on balloting are in a similar vein. They can be broadly supported, as their intentions mirror that of our amendment. We are asking Members to vote for our catch-all amendments to make this draconian, Dickensian Bill a little bit better.

I rise to speak to new clauses 5, 6, 7 and 9. In overall terms and despite the heat coming out of the Bill, I think we can all agree that we have moved a very long way in industrial relations and strike laws towards consensus and away from the polarisation we saw in the early 1980s.

The Trade Union Act 1984 requirement for compulsory industrial action ballots to be put in place for there to be statutory immunity was a very significant step, although it did cement the rather odd situation whereby there is, technically, no right to strike. Rather, we give unions in certain circumstances statutory immunity for the tort—civil wrong—of inducing a breach of the employment contract. That being as it may, I think we can all agree that voting before a strike is vital, and that the vote itself should be carried out in a free and fair manner that reduces, so far as possible, any chance of coercion, threat or intimidation to the voter. It is certainly the case that the Bill addresses ballots insofar as voter turnout requirements and how the questions are put, but it does not address the question of how the ballot itself is physically conducted. This is now being put to the test by the Opposition in their amendments. New clause 7 argues for secure workplace ballots and new clause 5 suggests implementing electronic voting in ballots for strike action.

My first observation is that those two concepts do not necessarily sit very well together. Namely, if the Opposition believe that e-voting is the future and the way to go, why are they proposing returning votes to the place of work? The problem is actually more profound, of course. The security of a postal vote sent to a person’s home does remove a large area of risk in terms of intimidation that could attach to returning votes to the workplace. The benefits of the 1984 ballots and the use of post were hard won. They have been of great benefit to working people; not perhaps to the union organiser or the militant activist, but to the everyday working man and woman who has benefited from being able to reflect calmly on the merits of a strike ballot in the safety of their own home.

The hon. Gentleman refers to intimidation when people cast their ballot. Does he have any real examples of intimidation in ballots?

I am not here to accuse anyone. If the hon. Lady thinks that the 1984 legislation was introduced because there were no instances of intimidation at that time, we need to go back to the history books. I do not intend to do that today. I am not saying that postal ballots will always be free from intimidation, particularly if several members of the same family work in the same place. I appreciate that new clause 7 requires that votes at the workplace are private and free from unfairness, but the question is how far does that go? Does it cover only the voting room or the factory premises? What about beyond the factory gates and the pickets? I am concerned that this could be a retrograde step.

The hon. Gentleman talks about intimidation in the workplace. He is a lawyer. Let us have some evidence to back that up, rather than just putting it out there and casting aspersions. Get on and give us some evidence.

As I said before, we are looking at the optimum way of voting. The Opposition’s new clause 9 provides for the possibility of a combination of voting methods to be used, but I note that the combination is to be selected by the union. Unless I have read it wrong —someone might want to put me right—this could imply that workplace-only ballots could, in effect, be reintroduced via the back door. Again, I would see that as a step backwards that should not be supported.

On electronic voting, it could be said that this is where society is heading, a point made very strongly by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), and that union law should take the lead on something that will be generally adopted. I have not seen the most recent opinions of the Electoral Commission on e-voting, but I recall that it had serious concerns about its security a few years ago. Will the Minister please advise the House to what extent he has discussed this with the Electoral Commission, and whether he has reviewed the role of the certification officer with that of the Electoral Commission in the conduct of ballots? In that regard, if in the future we wished to move towards electronic voting generally, could this be effective for unions under existing legislation, such as the provisions in section 54 of the Employment Relations Act 2004? In other words, are the e-voting amendments required at all?

If only because of the technological changes, this has been a useful debate. However, I am not yet convinced, in terms of security, that the proposals are the correct way to go at the current time.

I declare an interest as a member of the Musicians Union and Unite, and I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

This group contains our new clauses 5 to 9 and amendments 7 to 9. It is good to return to the Bill after a jam-packed Committee stage, as it is clear from reading the proceedings that the Government did not provide sufficient time. The Minister said earlier that the proceedings finished early, but neglected to tell the House that they had run late the night before because the Government were afraid there was not enough time to conclude proceedings. He missed that bit out.

Despite that, my hon. Friends on the Committee did a remarkable job, under severe time constraints, and I want to pay tribute to them. I am sure that other hon. Friends on the Committee will forgive me if I especially praise my Cardiff neighbours, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who meticulously picked apart the Bill from the Front Bench, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), who, despite her status as a new Member, brought her tremendous expertise and experience to bear in exposing the Bill for what it really is—an attack on the ability of trade unions to perform their proper role on behalf of their members, coupled with a grubby attempt to use a mandate acquired from 38% of those who voted in the general election in order to interfere with the funding of the main Opposition party. Their Cardiff constituents will be proud of my hon. Friends’ efforts to oppose this pernicious Bill. I only hope that I can add a little to their enormous efforts on behalf of working people and democracy.

This oppressive Bill will particularly affect women, as three quarters of trade union members are women. The Government talk about aggression, but the only aggression is coming from them and their attack on the rights of working people.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I well remember as a young boy how my mother’s trade union helped her when she got a hernia from lifting tables as a dinner lady. Without its help, she would never have got the support she needed, and might even have lost her job. That experience of what trade unions actually do is something that Government Members often do not understand.

Talking about women, who do we seriously think is most affected when schools close because of ballots with low support? In Committee, we heard about the effect of school closures in 2011 on millions of parents. In most cases, those strikes had the support of well under 40%.

I take it, then, that the hon. Gentleman wants higher turnouts in ballots and so will be supporting our new clauses and amendments allowing for workplace balloting and e-balloting.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the worst aspects of the Bill is that it is being applied retrospectively? Five million long-standing union members will have their political fund subscriptions cancelled without their permission or that of their union. It is no wonder the Government want to scrap the Human Rights Act.

I will not test your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, by straying from the amendments, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the retrospective elements are particularly pernicious. Governments should refrain from retrospective legislation. I cannot believe, either, that the time periods were recommended by officials. When I was a Minister in the Department, any time period for consultation on a major change to a system involving business was always at least 18 months, so I am shocked if officials have advised Ministers that two months is sufficient.

The Government have often used the rhetoric of fairness in trying to conceal their savage attack on workers’ rights. Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposals to replace striking staff with agency staff are draconian? This measure was banned almost 10 years before I was born.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she will have a chance to develop her point further when we debate that very matter.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) talked about people voting in the safety of their own homes. Will my hon. Friend comment on that? It was a slur on trade unions and employers, because it implied that electronic or workplace voting was not secure and that unions and employers bullied people. That is not my experience of how unions conduct themselves and their ballots.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, workplace ballots take place all the time, as other hon. Members have pointed out, and have to be independently scrutinised and verified as fulfilling all the statutory requirements for fairness. So it is absolute nonsense to imply that there is anything unsafe about it.

I agree that this is a terrible attack on trade unions and their rights, but we also have not yet heard any evidence of a serious problem, which proves again that the Bill is a straightforward attack on the trade union movement.

My hon. Friend is right. This is just what Tory Governments do, regardless of the evidence. They have not presented any evidence. I have read through the Committee proceedings and looked at the evidence given, but there is no evidence to support the changes in the Bill. It is a knee-jerk instinct, and that is greatly to be regretted.

We tabled many amendments in Committee, but, rather surprisingly, the Government did not accept any of them, despite the cogency of my hon. Friends’ arguments and their excellent drafting. We have therefore had to submit further new clauses. In answer to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), I have to say he has been in the House a long time and is very experienced. He knows that Report is not a repeat of Committee and that, given the extremely truncated time limit, it is necessary to focus on a small number of items. That makes no difference to the fact that in Committee we made clear our fundamental disagreement with the Bill in almost every respect.

The hon. Gentleman says he does not have enough time, but how could he come to this place today having not tabled amendments on, for instance, trade union funding or the vote percentages? Everyone, including all the union members who have written to Members, has been talking about these things, yet there is not a single amendment dealing with any of them.

There were many amendments in Committee, but I think the hon. Gentleman will find there is not enough time to discuss those amendments that have been tabled, let alone additional items. However, if he wants to lobby his Ministers and Whips for more time so that we can put down more amendments, I would welcome that.

New clauses 5 would permit electronic voting in trade union ballots for industrial action, and new clause 6 would permit trade unions to use electronic voting in all other statutory elections and ballots, including elections of general secretaries and political fund ballots. Throughout the Committee stage, the Government sought to dress up the Bill as some kind of modernisation, but their continued refusal to introduce e-balloting alongside secure workplace balloting clearly demonstrated they were not serious about modernisation. Online balloting can be as safe and secure as any other form of balloting, and is already used for a variety of purposes in the public and private sectors, including at J. P. Morgan Asset Management, Lloyd’s of London, Chevron and, of course, the Conservative party itself, which recently selected its London mayoral candidate by e-balloting.

If Ministers’ reason for resisting e-balloting in the Bill seriously was fraud and concern about what the Speaker’s commission said about voting in parliamentary elections, why would they employ the very same method in their own party elections? We all know that the real fraud is the fraudulent argument of Ministers. In reality, they want to discourage turnout and make the thresholds harder to reach. That is rule 1 from the Tory party political playbook: disfranchise those who might disagree with it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there has not been a single case of fraud in online or workplace balloting, and that of the seven cases of bullying, harassment and other fraud taken to appeal, not one was upheld?

My hon. Friend is right, and she probably also knows that most of those complaints about the conduct of ballots were made by trade unions themselves. I was going to make that point later, but perhaps there is no need to now.

My hon. Friend has noted that none of the reasonable amendments put forward by Labour and other Members have been accepted. What does he make of the fact that combined authorities throughout England have stood in opposition to the fundamentals of this Bill, while the First Minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones stood up in the Assembly in Cardiff today and said he would oppose it? This shows that there is no respect and no attempt to find any consensus whatever.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those outside this place will look in bemusement at the argument that sitting in front of a PC and voting electronically will not be safe?

Precisely, and I shall develop that a little further in a few moments. Under our proposals, electronic or workplace ballots would be overseen by an independent scrutineer, and before the ballots are run, that scrutineer would confirm that the proposed method met the required standard, that all members entitled to vote had the opportunity to do so and that votes were cast in secret with the risk of any unfairness or malpractice minimised. That is the same standard as set out in section 54 of the Employment Relations Act 2004. None of that, however, matters to Ministers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as he said in Committee, the provisions in this Bill fly in the face of every other bit of legislation that this Government have brought forward, whether it be using online means to apply for benefits, filling in tax forms or anything else? It is entirely at odds with everything else this Government are doing.

I thank my hon. Friend who is doing an excellent job as shadow Minister. He will know that I am transmogrified in my position, but it is a delight to be here speaking on this Bill again. Is not the greatest irony the fact that one of the architects of this Bill, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, stands up at the Dispatch Box at Cabinet Office questions extolling the virtues of the Government Digital Service and the digitalisation of online services in lots of highly secure and complex matters? That same Minister is one of the architects of this Bill, which does not allow e-balloting.

One is not allowed to use the word “hypocrisy” in this House, so “irony” was the correct word for my hon. Friend to use.

As I was saying, none of this seems to matter to Ministers. Our new clauses also require unions to use postal ballots alongside electronic and workplace voting, where necessary, to ensure that everyone has a chance to vote and that members who may be absent from work due to sick leave or maternity, paternity or adoption leave will be able to vote. None of that matters to Ministers either. Our new clause allows unions to provide members with a choice of voting methods, including postal and electronic voting, and employers would be under a duty to ensure that union members can vote free from interference or constraints. The use of faster and more efficient balloting methods could also assist in the earlier resolution of disputes as ballots and subsequent negotiations would take place more quickly. But you’ve guessed it—none of this matters to Ministers.

I am sure that this Minister is going to trot out his line that he is not against e-balloting in principle, but that the Speaker’s Commission provided evidence of concerns about safety. However, the Open Rights Group’s evidence was based on comparison between general election voting in polling stations and online voting; it made no comment on the safety and security of wider forms of online voting. In any case, the commission’s report concluded that e-balloting should be available for all electors by 2020. The Minister could easily have allowed for the option for regulations to be laid within this legislation, which would permit e-balloting to commence when any concerns he had were satisfied.

There is no genuine reason whatever why trade unions should be the only organisations in the UK that are required by legislation to use postal-only ballots for elections and ballots. If the Government were genuinely concerned about levels of electronically based elections in the private sector, they would legislate for all bodies to be required to use postal-only ballots. They will not, because they are not genuinely concerned. Thousands of private sector, voluntary and political organisations use electronic voting every year. Electoral Reform Services alone manage over 2,000 secure online ballots annually, and a recent report concluded that online voting is no less secure than postal balloting. In any case, union elections and ballots are more tightly regulated than voting systems used by other organisations, meaning even less chance of a problem.

My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. He says there is no reason, but if we look back to when the legislation was introduced in the 1980s, we see that there was a reason. People were told then that ballots of this nature would deliver the turnouts, but why is this being pushed? It is a huge cost on the trade unions, so even if a union got the answer it wanted in a ballot, it would have cost a fortune to run that ballot, undermining the union’s capacity to work.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is clearly one of the Government’s motivations behind these amendments.

Workplace ballots should be permitted for statutory union elections and ballots. The 1992 Act already permits workplace ballots to be used for statutory recognition ballots. Workplace ballots of this nature are secure and are overseen by the qualified independent persons, who are generally the same as those who act as scrutineers in industrial action ballots and other statutory union elections and ballots. Well over 200 ballots for statutory recognition have been held, a quarter of which involve a combination ballot, including both workplace ballots and postal ballots for those absent from work when the ballot is taking place. An analysis of a Central Arbitration Committee reports indicates that turnout was significantly higher in ballots where all workers voted in the workplace, with an 88% average turnout, compared with 71% in postal ballots. There is no evidence that workers felt pressurised by this. In fact, people were less likely to vote for union recognition in workplace ballots than in postal ballots. As was pointed out, the Central Arbitration Committee has received only a handful of complaints, most of which were made by the unions, rather than individuals.

New clause 9 would allow trade unions to decide what balloting to use—balloting by electronic means, workplace ballots, postal ballots or any combination of those. Given the severe time constraints, which we have already discussed, it is not possible for us to divide this afternoon on all our new clauses on e-balloting and secure workplace balloting, but I want to place clearly on record our view that the Government’s failure to accept our very reasonable modernisation proposals, which would enhance trade union democracy, invites detailed further scrutiny of these issues in the other place. E-balloting and secure workplace ballots are distinct issues in their own right, but we recognise that, owing to the Government’s timetabling, we are unable to vote on all our new clauses and amendments separately on Report without curtailing debate on other important issues in the Bill.

Our amendment 7 should be read in tandem with amendments 8 and 9, all of which relate to this Bill’s undermining of the devolution settlement and conflict with the Government’s own professed localism agenda. Our amendments are designed to ensure that the provisions do not apply to services that are either wholly or partly devolved to the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, English local authorities and the Mayor of London.

The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) managed to ascertain from the UK Government that a UK Government Minister would decide the facility time for health workers in Scotland and Wales. Does the shadow Minister think that is fair?

I am coming on in a few moments to talk about the so-called respect agenda, and I hope that I will then answer the hon. Gentleman’s point. Our amendments would ensure that devolved Administrations could decide how best to engage with their staff and trade unions when delivering devolved public services, rather than being subject to a highly partisan central diktat—I believe this what the hon. Gentleman was referring to—from a Government in possession of no mandate in many parts of the UK.

I can recall the Prime Minister travelling to Wales when he was first elected, and declaring that when it came to Wales and the other devolved Administrations, he would govern on the basis of respect. He called that his “respect agenda”. With that promise in mind, the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, wrote to the Prime Minister expressing his concerns about the Trade Union Bill and its complete lack of respect for the role of the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales. He pointed out that the Supreme Court, in its judgment on the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill, ruled that depending on a UK Government Bill’s impact on devolved services, it could be subject to a legislative consent motion, even if it could also be classified as relating to matters that were otherwise reserved. Our Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, wrote today to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, calling for a legislative consent motion; she has also called for Scottish local authorities, regardless of political persuasion, to refuse to implement changes when there is no consent.

I want to make it clear that our commitment to solidarity for all workers means that Labour opposes the Bill on behalf of workers and trade unions throughout the United Kingdom. We believe that simply devolving employment and industrial relations—for example, to Scotland—would play into the Conservative Government’s hands, and would result in a race to the bottom on workplace rights and privatisation, which could only have a detrimental impact on workers throughout the UK.

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Welsh Government will present a legislative consent motion in relation to Wales? I can assure him that he will have the support of Plaid Cymru if they do.

I think that I would be equally guilty of arrogance were I to assume the role of devolved Ministers in the Welsh Government. However, the letter from the First Minister clearly indicated that a legislative consent motion was under consideration.

The Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews, made it clear in his oral evidence to the Select Committee that he, too, was considering the matter. He also said today that the Bill, unamended, was

“an all-out assault on the devolution settlement”.

I am always slightly nervous when I give way to my hon. Friend, because his expertise on all these matters is so thorough. He is absolutely right.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me again. Is he aware that the Bill is opposed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, whose human resources spokesperson is none other than a Conservative councillor by the name of Billy Hendry?

If that is the case, it does not surprise me, although it might surprise some Members. I should have thought most Conservatives would believe that arrangements entered into voluntarily, at a local level, between an employer and employees should not be interfered with by central Government. I should have thought that that was in the DNA of Conservative principles. Surely Conservatives believe that voluntary arrangements and transactions between parties that are entered into freely, and are not immoral or criminal, should not be tinkered with by central Government. That is what is extraordinary about some of the provisions in the Bill, which illustrate the blinkered nature of the Government’s views on trade unions and their role in our society.

Taken in conjunction with the Government’s wish to pull out of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the cuts in legal aid, the Bill constitutes a direct attack not only on the trade union movement, but on the general public in general terms.

I am sure that many of those human rights implications will be examined further in the other place, although the unfortunate time constraints prevent us from doing so here. No doubt many of those in the other place will consider the Bill with a great deal of interest.

Under current legislation, trade union workplace representatives have a right to reasonable paid time off to perform duties, which has huge benefits for employees and employers alike. Clause 13 could allow the Government to set a cap on the percentage of the employer’s pay bill that could be invested in facility time. It would also give the Government power to impose an arbitrary limit on the amount of time that union officials could spend not just negotiating improved pay and conditions, but training, promoting learning opportunities for the workforce, accompanying people to grievance and disciplinary proceedings, and carrying out health and safety duties.

Furthermore, as was pointed out in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, the clause establishes a democratic deficit. First, Ministers will be able to use secondary legislation to restrict or repeal trade union rights, so this place will have no opportunity to amend that legislation. Secondly, the clause will prevent democratically elected devolved Administrations from deciding how to manage their employment relations in their workplaces, and how to engage with their own staff. Thirdly, it will enable the Government to pick and choose politically which local authorities it will force to impose a cap. That is an extremely dangerous precedent.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the “reserved powers” elements of the Bill show that the Government intend to use that opportunity?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right; I do not think that those provisions would be in the Bill if the Government did not intend to use them. Parliament should not grant the Government those reserved powers on any assumption other than the assumption that they intend to use them. Conservative Members should think very carefully about what they are granting in this Bill.

There are significant questions to be asked about the legal basis of such a change in relation to European Union law on health and safety representatives, on the rights of trade union representatives to facility time during consultations on collective redundancies, on outsourcing, and on rights protected by the European convention on human rights and the International Labour Organisation conventions. Moreover, according to research commissioned in 2007 by the Department of Trade and Industry—now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—workplaces with facility arrangements have lower voluntary exit rates, which leads to significant savings in recruitment costs.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the cuts in facility time, along with the employment tribunal charges, will deter women from pursuing cases of maternity discrimination? The number of those cases is apparently rising, but women have not been receiving justice recently.

My hon. Friend is quite right. Other Members have also drawn attention to the degree to which the Bill discriminates against women in the workplace.

Is my hon. Friend aware of any other cases in which the Government have retrospectively interfered in private agreements between consenting parties in order to undo them?

My research may have been inadequate, but I have not come across any such examples. However, the Minister must have dozens. Surely he would not single out one particular group in society for this draconian treatment unless he were meting out such treatment to other organisations as well.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when an employer and an employee enter into a contract, it is agreed between them that the employee will turn up for work and will not engage with others to disrupt the employment—[Interruption.] May I finish? The unions’ power to engage in collective activity is an exception to that principle—an exception that must be exercised only in circumstances in which it is justifiable and legitimate.

I understand the basis on which, under our law, it has, for more than 100 years, been possible to undertake industrial action lawfully. The hon. and learned Lady may well know that it was a judgment in the part of the world that I represent—along with my hon. Friends the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth and for Cardiff Central—that, more than 100 years ago, led to the requirement for changes to ensure that, as in any civilised democratic society, working people had the right to withdraw their labour if they were involved in a trade dispute. I hope the hon. and learned Lady is not suggesting in any way, shape or form that there should not be that right. As I said earlier, if she was serious about wanting more people to be involved in decisions around trade disputes—in balloting and so on—she would support our new clauses and amendments, which allow for workplace balloting and e-balloting, and easier access to democracy for the people she purports to speak about.

Does my hon. Friend agree that having facility time improves industrial relations in the workplace and therefore lessens industrial action?

I agree; there is plenty of evidence that it saves money and facilitates good industrial relations. It is draconian and illiberal of the Government to interfere in voluntary agreements between employers and employees by means of central diktat in this way, and as regards their reputation, I believe that they will live to regret that.

Surely the biggest impact on individual contracts will be where it is written into employees’ contracts that they can have their trade union subscription deducted from their salary. The cost of that to other public sector employers will be considerable, as they will have to issue new contracts.

I give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee, whose expertise it will be interesting to hear.

Following on from the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), does the shadow Minister agree that the hallmarks of a good, productive, innovative economy are collaborative, harmonious industrial relations? The likes of Airbus with Unite, and Community throughout the beleaguered steel industry, will help to make sure that we can stay competitive. Trade unions are good for not just individual workers but for a modern, productive economy.

Yes, and they would be part of an industrial strategy if this Government believed in one, but instead, the Government are basically walking across the street to pick a fight where no provocation exists.

Let me make a bit more progress, because I want other colleagues to have an opportunity to participate in this section of the debate.

Negotiations between employers and unions can play a very positive role in workplaces. The Welsh Government realised the value of such benefits, and based relations with trade unions on a partnership approach. As Carwyn Jones said in his letter,

“it cannot be right for the UK Government—blind to policy priorities and devolved service delivery reforms in Wales—to specify how much union ‘facility time’ devolved public sector employers should allow. Nor am I convinced that the intention to end ‘check off’ arrangements for trade union subscriptions in the public sector is necessary or appropriate. The Welsh Government operates these arrangements as part of its approach to effective social partnership and is not seeking to change this.”

Despite this, the Tory Government plough on. This is not the agenda of respect. This is an attitude of contempt towards devolved Administrations. Since I have referred to “check off”, I will now move on to amendment 9—

I rise to offer my hon. Friend support. Some 60 local councils and NHS organisations agree with the point he is making on behalf of Carwyn Jones. The leader of Enfield Council has said:

“It would seem rather farcical to expect a Council to develop efficient organisational structures, internal employee consultation and negotiation systems, and deliver million pound services to the public but deny its right to set the level of facility time appropriate to meeting these objectives.”

I have been both a shop steward and the leader of a council, so I have seen this from both sides. Let me explode the myth: most good employers in big companies will say that facility time saves them money; they do not want hundreds of their employees disrupting the foreman when he is organising production. It is apparent that those on the Conservative Benches do not have any experience of industrial relations or employment practices.

If it was felt there had been abuse in some areas, that could be dealt with, but to legislate to outlaw something of this kind is shocking. Yet that is, in effect, what the Government are doing.

The point is that under the law, a human resources director of a large company would still have to consult individuals. Through collective consultation, a lot of agreements can be made very quickly; the union can communicate with its members very quickly and negotiate with an HR director. With this legislation, an HR director will have to go round to every single employee. We are talking about the NHS, and councils that have several thousand employees. That will cost vast amounts of money, take vast amounts of time and leave the Government and those employees in a really peculiar situation in which they could be taken to judicial review.

As ever, my hon. Friend brings his vast experience of these matters to bear in the debate.

Our amendment 9 would ensure that the ban on check-off arrangements would not apply to services that were wholly or partly devolved. In Committee, the Government introduced a new clause—it is now clause 14 of the Bill—to prevent all public sector employers from deducting union subscriptions via the payroll. The proposed ban is clearly designed to target union finances and to make it harder for individuals, including lower-paid workers, to access union representation in the workplace. Under the clause, the Government will be able to introduce regulations imposing a ban on check-off arrangements across the entire public sector.

The Government claim that that will save the taxpayer £6 million, but many unions already cover the cost of check-off services. There is a real risk that if the ban on check-off services comes into effect, the Government— and therefore the taxpayer—will actually incur costs, potentially including legal costs arising from the need to compensate trade union members for the loss of their contractual right to have their union subscription deducted at source.

The proposed ban on check-off arrangements has been introduced without consultation with employers, without engagement with the unions and without any proper assessment of its impact on employment relations. It was not in the Conservative party’s manifesto or in the Queen’s Speech, and there was no reference to it in any of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultations or the impact assessments that accompanied the Bill. I note the concern that has been expressed by Conservative Members on this matter in amendments that we will consider later today.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when many organisations already make provision for payroll deductions for credit unions, charitable giving, cycle schemes and for many other purposes, it is an absolute farce for the Government to suggest that it places a burden on such organisations to make deductions for trade union subscriptions?

I have to disagree with the hon. Lady: it is a tragedy rather than a farce that the Government are doing this. I understand the point that she makes.

My hon. Friend has already punched holes in the figure of £6 million and the calculations that underpin it. Does he agree that if the Government are to have any credibility, they should also publish an estimate of the extra costs that the taxpayer will be landed with as a result of the increasing unrest and decreasing co-operation that these ridiculous arrangements might engender in the public sector workforce?

I do indeed. My hon. Friend represents an area that has many trade union members, and he is absolutely right. It is shocking that the Government have not published those figures. I hope that the Minister has deep pockets, because he might well have to dip into them when he finds out how much this policy is going to cost.

Some councils actually make money from check-off arrangements. One or two examples have been given to me of councils not only repaying the costs of check-off but getting extra funding that supports council services.

The hon. Gentleman is right. As I have said, he has put his finger on the matter in his amendment, which we will discuss later. His intervention now has drawn to my attention the point that the state should not be interfering in this kind of voluntary transaction, which is entered into freely by all the parties concerned and which is neither illegal nor immoral. What is wrong with an employer in the private or public sectors voluntarily agreeing to help to collect trade union subscriptions, as part of an attempt to maintain good relations with its employees, in exchange for an administrative payment? In what other field would a Conservative Government legislate to ban a simple, mutually beneficial transaction of this kind? The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on spotting that flaw, and the basic illiberalism, at the heart of this measure in the Bill.

I, too, disagree slightly with the shadow Minister: I do not think this is a tragedy; I think it is sinister. In a collective bargaining unit that had a staff association alongside a trade union, it would be permissible for the staff association subs, but not the trade union subs, to be collected from people’s salaries. Is that not biased?

I am not going to escalate our dispute as to whether this is a farce, a tragedy or simply sinister, but the hon. Gentleman is right.

In Committee, we raised this issue about other things that can be collected centrally by an HR department or the payroll. For example, some members of staff may be chartered accountants or nurses who pay for their qualifications on an annual basis through their payroll, and that would not be affected but their trade union membership of course would be.

It is entirely appropriate from time to time for payroll to be used in this way. Often, members pay into a credit union through their payroll. These things should be encouraged; they are very good for industrial relations.

This ban was not included in the Conservative manifesto or the Queen’s Speech, and no reference was made to it in any of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultations or the Department’s impact assessment. As we have heard, there have been concerns among Government Members about this move as well. It is almost universally opposed, except by the TaxPayers Alliance, known colloquially as the tax-dodgers alliance, which gave evidence during the oral evidence stage.

In pressing ahead, the Government have failed to secure substantial employer support for their proposals, with many employers, particularly in local government and the health sector, having expressed concern that they could undermine positive industrial relations, which are vital for the delivery of quality public services. Is it any wonder that that is the case, given that employers and trade unions were not consulted? We believe these provisions are unnecessary and draconian, and I give notice that we may wish to press amendment 9 to a vote later—for some strange parliamentary reason, it does not come at this knife.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this further complicates the situation in the health environment when people pay not only a levy for the industrial support of a trade union, but a professional levy that goes towards the professional support they have with their work?

My hon. Friend highlights the lack of thought, consultation and proper scrutiny that has gone into this proposal. It is unravelling by the minute as hon. Members bring their expertise to bear on the implications that it has out there in the real world.

Let me draw attention to some of the other amendments in this group. The Scottish National party has tabled a raft of amendments, some of which were moved in Committee. I understand that the SNP may wish to divide the House on new clause 2, which is in the spirit of our new clauses 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Given the time available, if the SNP does that, we will support it in lieu of our new clauses—the same applies in respect of new clause 10. At this point, I should allow somebody else an opportunity.

Trade unions play an important role in protecting the rights of employees: through their collective power, they have the ability to balance the scales against an employer, who invariably has greater economic and social power than the employees in its workforce. Last week, I met a few trade union officials from my constituency, and was struck by the passion and desire they have to do their job in representing others. But therein lies the crux of this legislation: it is a union’s job to represent its workforce, so its actions must represent their wishes. It is important that when a union has the power to bring a school, hospital or factory to a temporary standstill, its actions actually reflect the will of its members. I say that for three reasons.

I ask the hon. Lady to let me develop my argument a little further. First, those who suffer most in a strike are not the employees or employers but the public. The employees do not suffer, because any loss of income from the strike may well be covered by the union. The employers of the large concern do not suffer, because they will be paid their salary in any event. It is the public, and only the public, who suffer, first as the consumer and later, when the bill comes in, as the taxpayer. The public end up picking up the tab for both sides.

In the winter of discontent, the main victims of the low pay offensive in the public service were the old, the sick, the bereaved, children and the poor. It is not only this Government who have made the point that it is right that action by a trade union should reflect the mood of its members. The need for democratic accountability by the union was also recognised by the Labour Government. Their White Paper in 1998 entitled “Fairness at Work” specifically drew attention to the need for accountability:

“Laws on picketing, on ballots before industrial action and for increasing democratic accountability in trade unions have all helped to improve employment relations. They will stay.”

It is for that reason that it is right that these measures, which are right as a matter of principle, should apply to the whole of the UK .

That legislation was brought in during Baroness Thatcher’s period of Government. Is the hon. and learned Lady saying that she was wrong, incorrect or flawed in any way for bringing in that legislation?

The legislation that we have at any time must reflect the position of the country at the time. This is the place in which we find ourselves, and this is the Bill that is right for the moment.

I will not give way, as I wish to press on.

I was not a member of the Bill Committee, but I have read some of the submissions on this issue from the unions. The Fire Brigades Union said that it had met the thresholds in its recent ballots. Such unions, which are already ensuring an effective turnout, need not be concerned about this proposed legislation. Furthermore, they do not need to be concerned about the provisions as they currently stand, unamended in the Bill. Indeed, where it is right that action should be taken—it is clear that this method of negotiation is needed—they should be confident that their members will make every effort to vote for it.

These measures are meant to ensure that, where there is not such support, the interests of the public are protected and weighed into the balance. In one intervention in this debate, it was suggested that the thresholds have been met in transport. In fact, the bus drivers strike earlier this year took place at the behest of a turnout of 21%, inconveniencing all the workers who were attempting to get to work. Transport for London reported that there were 6.5 million passengers in London who needed to make alternative arrangements.

I am sure my hon. and learned Friend will agree that those people will be among the most vulnerable and lowest paid in the city who rely entirely on that transport system.

That is absolutely right. When there are strikes, the people who suffer are the low paid workers who have to get alternative childcare, whose hospital appointments are affected and who cannot get to work.

I will not give way, as I want to continue.

Although it may be possible to increase methods of voting, we need to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in place. New clause 5 suggests that electronic means should be provided as is determined by the unions. In an area potentially rife with practical concerns, we need to be sure that there will be no issue with the amendments before they are allowed. If the unions have the power to bring major industries to a standstill, they need to exercise that power responsibly and democratically. It is essential that any ballot is seen to be conducted fairly and transparently. If there is any risk, or perceived flaw in the ballot, the legitimacy of the ballot may be in question. The vote that is taken by the union members—

I am about to finish.

The vote taken by the union will not garner public support and public trust that the representation of the unions demands, and it is for that reason that we should pass clauses 2 and 3 without amendment at this stage.

This is a Bill that nobody has asked for and that nobody wants. Even the latest polls in the national press show that the general public are opposed to this union-bashing Bill—this gagging Bill part two. It was the deputy chairman of the Conservative party who said it was about time that we stopped bashing the trade unions. Let us be completely clear on this issue. It is undoubtedly a ferocious, full-frontal attack on the 6 million-plus members of the trade union movement. I take exception to some comments that have been made, not by everybody on the Government Benches but certainly by a number who seem to want to distinguish between trade union members and ordinary people. The trade union members that I know and mix with are more than ordinary people; they are absolutely fantastic individuals who go the extra mile to try to help colleagues at every opportunity.

A good friend of mine, a local community activist in my constituency, is very proud of her roots. Her mum is Evelyn Allard, one of the Dagenham women who took industrial action in pursuit of equal pay. Does my hon. Friend agree that under this Bill the employer might have prevented such an action from even starting, let alone succeeding, and the Bill will therefore have a particular impact on women?

There is no doubt about that. I fully concur with my hon. Friend about the impact this will have on women in particular. Whether we like it or not, the Bill will have a disproportionately negative impact on women in the workplace.

Getting back to these ordinary people, trade union members are taxpayers. They want their children to get to school in the morning, to counter the argument made by a number of Members on the Government Benches. Do people think that trade union members do not have children?

Does my hon. Friend agree that the tone of this debate is very similar to that on working tax credits? How do Conservative Members think they can make the case for working people if they are going to be ideologically driven on the subject of working people? It does not make sense.

I fully agree and hope to develop that point.

This is the gagging Bill, part 2. It is about disarming any dissent, particularly in the public sector. When we look at the thresholds, the ballot provisions, the measures on agency workers and all the new clauses and amendments, we begin to see the big picture. The Bill is about criminalising working people and eradicating any resistance, particularly in the public sector and particularly with regard to women. Why are the Government bashing low-paid people in the public sector, imposing pay restraints on them and coming up with crazy ideas about stripping tax credits from hard-working, low-paid people? They do not want to give those people the right to fight back. That is what the Bill is about. It is about eradicating that dissent while the Conservative Government keep their foot firmly on the necks of the low paid who are struggling even to make ends meet.

My hon. Friend is right about the way that people are being treated at work, but the other disgraceful thing about the Bill is that it is a clear attempt to break the relationship between the trade union movement and this party. It is about undermining this party, which represents the people he is talking about, so it is not only the trade unions that will be affected but every man and woman in this country. If this party is less strong, the Conservatives will continue to discriminate against working people.

Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the Bill’s provisions on opting in to, rather than out of, the political fund. There has for many years been a gentlemen’s agreement that political funding should be decided on a cross-party basis. Many Conservative Members would agree that this is not the type of Bill into which they should insert a clause which would so greatly restrict the finances of an opposing party that it would struggle to fight a general election. As well as tackling the issue of dissent, the Bill is an attempt to ensure that the Opposition do not even have the finances to fight. It is about the Conservatives believing that they have the right to rule—not govern, but rule, and that is quite different.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. I cannot help reflecting on the comments of the hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), who said that legislation should be appropriate to the time. We are in a time when industrial action in this country is at an all-time low. What problem to do with industrial action is the Bill trying to sort out?

We are in a time when more than a million people, most of them in work, are claiming family tax credits, and more than a million people who are in work and have families need to use food banks. I mentioned gagging and eradicating dissent. The Bill is about keeping people quiet.

The hon. Gentleman has slightly widened the debate, with tax credits and so on. He talks about us putting our foot on the neck of the poor. Does he think we are doing that by delivering the record lowest number of workless households that this country has ever seen?

That comment would give me the opportunity, if the Deputy Speaker were to allow it, to diversify my contribution. The Conservative Government have increased to record levels zero-hour contracts, lower-paid work and the number of apprentices, but before Mr Deputy Speaker chastises me, I will move on from that immediately because it is nothing to do with the Bill.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that 788,000 days were lost last year in strike action, at a time when every party in this House says that productivity is key?

If that is the figure, so be it, but in every case industrial action would have been taken through the legal process and as a last resort by individuals who need to take strike action to make their voice heard. We have the most restrictive anti-trade union legislation in the western world, and to take a day’s action or any other type of action, workers have to go through all the hoops set out in legislation.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The hon. and learned Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer) commented on statistics and days and hours lost. My hon. Friend will recall from Committee that the hours lost in the provision of transport in London were for reasons other than industrial action. The overwhelming majority of time lost is due to breakdowns, signal failure, overcrowding, leaves on the line and so on. Industrial action has accounted for barely 2% or 3% in most of the past 10 years. Is that not the fact that we are dealing with today?

I fully accept that. If we want to talk about productivity, we need to look at that, instead of trying to highlight something that is not really a problem.

Days have been lost through industrial action because the negotiators, whether that is the Mayor of London or the Secretary of State for Health, refused to come to the negotiating table, refused to talk to the trade unions, and have been spoiling for a strike, as we are seeing now over the junior doctors contract. Surely the Bill should be about improved industrial relations which give a voice to working people, as opposed to crushing that voice.

I entirely agree. As I said earlier, does anybody want this Bill? Has anybody asked for it? Even some of the major Tory party donors have said it is purely union-bashing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said, and he was absolutely right, that is what Tories do. [Interruption.]

The Minister just said that the Tories voted for it at the last election. You did not declare that as a policy prior to the last election. You also did not declare the NHS Act or the changes to the tax credits. If you are so proud of this planned legislation, why did you not declare it before the general election?

Order. First of all, I am not responsible. I want to clear that up. [Interruption.] No, “you” refers to me. Mr Blenkinsop, you were wrong: it is not me. It may be those on the Government Benches, but you said “you”. Secondly, we need to speak about the amendment. I have allowed some latitude, Mr Lavery, because you have been tempted away, and I know that you want to get back to where you were.

That is absolutely correct, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think the reason my hon. Friend spoke in the way he did is that Government Front Benchers were having a separate conversation and not listening to a single word he was saying. That is not unusual.

This Bill is simply here to do three things: to restrict the right to organise, to restrict the right to collective bargaining, and to restrict the right to strike action. I did not serve on the Bill Committee, but I listened to many of the arguments in the evidence sessions, which were quite enlightening. I think the Minister himself would say that the Government found it extremely difficult to get anybody who had a clue what the Bill was about to speak for them at the evidence sessions. One of their witnesses, the chief executive of 2020Health, spoke about facility time. Facility time is a huge issue in this Bill, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) said. He asked my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) whether it is right that Government Ministers can intervene to dictate on facility time in Scotland and Wales. I would ask whether it is right that Government Ministers can intervene in facility time in any workplace anywhere in the UK. The answer, quite simply, is that it is not right: they should keep out of the workplace with regard to the likes of facility time.

The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) pointed out that that self-same witness had no idea what life and limb cover was, nor did she know that it has been in existence since at least the early ’80s, if not the late ’70s, as a TUC agreement with the emergency services to make sure that there was always cover in the event of an emergency. The fact that witnesses called by the Government had no idea about long-term existing legislation shows how poor this Bill is and how poor the Minister’s work on it has been.

This individual, who runs a private health organisation the length and breadth of the UK, was asked if she had read the Bill. She said, “Not really.” She was then asked, “Have you read most of the Bill?” “Not really.” “Do you understand what facility time is?” “Not really. What is facility time?” She did not even understand life and limb cover, which is integral to trade union law, whereby if there is a problem that is a life and limb issue, trade union representatives will break off industrial action to ensure that people are safe. And, let me say, she was the best witness we had.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the existence of facility time is beneficial to the good running of any public authority or business, and that eroding it will cause immense difficulties in terms of productivity if union representation cannot be provided for union members in the workplace?

Absolutely. Many, many papers have been presented by professors, doctors and other experts with regard to facility time. There have been many battles on industrial relations problems over many, many years—decades and decades—resulting in a decent industrial relations policy that allows for facility time. Facility time could involve, for example, discussions on health and safety, avoidance of industrial disputes or avoidance of the progression of court cases. It is not about people sitting in an office on the telephone organising disputes—quite the opposite; it is about trying to avoid these disputes.

When I was a council leader employing thousands of staff, facility time was given to cope with all the casework as a result of the then Government forcing cuts on local government that led to many redundancies. We had to triple the amount of casework time, which was crucial in ensuring that that terrible period of redundancy was managed in a humane way that helped people.

I agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments. If the Government start to decide how much, or how little, facility time individuals should have, there will be a breakdown in communication between the trade unions, the workforce and, indeed, the employers. In local government and the NHS, facility time is much valued and to the benefit of the general public.

If we applied the 40% and 50% thresholds to members of the coalition Cabinet prior to the election, not one of them would have been elected. We have to be fair and consistent with regard to thresholds. The average turnout for the police and crime commissioner elections was 17%, but nobody is saying that we should not listen to anything they have to say. The Government themselves were elected by only 24% of the electorate, but not many people are saying—although a lot of people are wishing it—that they should not have the right to govern. Fairness should prevail.

There have been many discussions about how e-balloting would provide for a much bigger turnout. That is what the Conservative Government want, and I agree: we want more people to participate in the ballot, hence the threshold issue. It is terribly unfair to suggest that e-balloting is not a secure way to ballot individuals, because it is.

The hon. Gentleman has been talking about the time we are in. It is pretty clear, as I understand it from what Labour Front Benchers are saying, that we are in a time of increased militant union activism. The shadow Chancellor has said:

“We will support all demonstrations in Parliament or on the picket line. We will be with you at every stage.”

Can the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) not see that what we are trying to do is to protect the public through increased accountability and transparency?

I do not recognise the words of the hon. Gentleman, who usually addresses issues in a much more productive way.

On protecting the public, we ought to remember that when we fought in this place to ban hunting with dogs, it was the Tories—not trade unionists—who let the protesters on to the Floor of this House. When Conservative Members talk about freedom of speech, perhaps they should remember some of their own past activities.

That is a fair point, well made by my hon. Friend.

There are lot of examples of e-balloting, including its use in mayoral elections and by the Central Arbitration Committee. I am a great believer in balloting in the workplace and, indeed, in a hybrid of both methods, to make sure that people actually get involved in such important ballots.

What kind of society are we moving towards when, under the proposed 50% and 40% threshold rule, a strike would be illegal even if 79% of the votes cast were in favour of strike action?

That is absolutely correct and spot on.

I will very briefly mention one other issue. The Conservatives are suggesting something that happens nowhere else in society—that those who do not cast a vote will be classified as voting no. That is outrageous and horrendous. It is undemocratic. It is against International Labour Organisation conventions and against European Court of Human Rights decisions. That will— I repeat, will—be challenged.

I end by simply saying that, in my view, there is no place in today’s society for this unbelievably brutal attack on hard-working men and women in the workplace. I predict one thing: that when ordinary people are pressurised too much, there will be a reaction. I predict from the Floor of the House of Commons that there will be civil disobedience because bad laws need to be changed.

I will speak primarily to amendments 15, 16 and 21, tabled by the Scottish National party, which relate to the clauses on thresholds and the termination of the ballot mandate. My understanding is that if they were added to the Bill, they would, in effect, be completely redundant because they would require the provisions to be agreed by all the devolved authorities and, interestingly, by the Mayor of London, who I expect would very strongly agree.

It was a privilege to serve on the Public Bill Committee, my first as a Member of Parliament. I can genuinely say that I, for one, have a great admiration for the union movement. As a new MP, I found it stimulating and interesting to cross-examine the five most powerful union leaders. I went up to them afterwards and shook their hands. In fact, Sir Paul Kenny, perhaps sensing my inexperience in these matters, asked me whether I would like to come and join him on a picket line to find out what it was like. I am not sure which picket line he was referring to—perhaps the Chief Whip’s—so I declined it on that occasion.

Well, he gave me an invitation.

I must confess that there are many parts of the Bill on which I would not have been an expert had I not sat on the Public Bill Committee, but many members of the public think the same. If we were to talk about parts of the Bill to people who were not au fait with the details of unions or who were not themselves unionised, they would not necessarily be familiar with or see its significance. I do not say that with any disrespect to such issues, which I recognise are important to many Opposition Members.

For most members of the public, the key issue is the threshold. This is about the large strikes that, although relatively small in number, have had a massive impact, such as the London tube strikes. I would say to the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), who made a very impassioned speech, that if he wants to see fury and people considering civil unrest, he should go and watch London commuters trying to fight their way on to a bus because the tube was out of action because of a ballot on lower than the threshold we will require.

Too often, we hear Labour Members talk about the inconvenience of a strike. In fact, a strike can cause major disruption. Surely we should focus on that. We need clear accountability to ensure that such disruption is minimised wherever possible.

My hon. Friend puts his point very well.

I would remind the House that when we took evidence, we heard from Roy Rickhuss—I hope I have pronounced that correctly—the general secretary of the Community trade union. He is of course very busy, at this very difficult time, with the steel industry. When asked about thresholds, he said that

“it is about having proper industrial relations and having a partnership approach. I do believe a threshold of 50% plus one is fair and reasonable, because that is what we have—that is our democracy.––[Official Report, Trade Union Public Bill Committee, 13 October 2015; c. 26-27, Q66.]

The hon. Gentleman has commented a few times about the fury of commuters. I understand that completely; we are commuters as well. If the provision goes through and the Bill is enacted, and a strike then takes place legitimately, is he really saying that that the people he represents will no longer be furious?

No, I am not saying that. If the strike took place with the strong support that has to be achieved under these provisions, the public would at least understand that it had full consent. They are angry about the strikes—we heard about them in evidence given to us by bus companies, rail companies and others—in which, on relatively small turnouts, massive disruption has been caused to millions of people.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill does not ban or prohibit strikes, but ensures that the hundreds of thousands or even millions of people who are affected by strikes in vital public services can be reassured that there is a genuine mandate for such action?

My hon. Friend puts it extremely well.

I finish with this point. The hon. Member for Wansbeck asked what support there was for the Bill. We have heard from the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, bus companies, rail companies and, above all, the people who use the services. Even Len McCluskey issued a letter to the Committee supporting the 50% threshold. I accept that that was with e-balloting, but there is strong principled support across the country for changes on thresholds. I will leave it there.

I need to clarify the point about Len McCluskey. Unite the union suggested that discussions should take place. It wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting that thresholds would be irrelevant if the Government introduced e-balloting in the workplace. That was the precondition.

I thought it was fair to give way to the hon. Gentleman, given that I had mentioned him a couple of times, but the best person to take those points forward is the Minister. On that point, I am happy to conclude.

On Second Reading, I asked a question to which I have had no answer to date. Quite simply, what problem is this proposed legislation designed to solve? What calamity do we have in our land in the field of industrial relations that means that the Government of the day must prioritise this legislation? I cannot find any. The average worker in the United Kingdom goes on strike for one day every 15 years. It is therefore ridiculous that this matter should be the priority of the Government.

I believe that the only reason the Bill is before us, with so few Government Members listening to the debate, is purely ideological. I do not say that all Members or all strands of the Conservative party are against trade unions, but there most definitely is a strand that is very unempathetic to trade unions and that sees the ability of people to combine together in the workforce to prosecute their interests as an impediment on the rights of employers to make their profits and run their enterprises as they see fit. There is a hostile attitude to trade unions. That, unfortunately for the working people of this country, is the strand within the Tory party that is in the ascendency and in the driving seat in respect of this legislation.

It is a great irony, is it not, that to introduce this legislation, the Conservative party will have to have an unprecedented degree of state interference in the affairs of private enterprise? There will have to be state regulation of trade unions that is more akin to a totalitarian than a democratic regime.

I support the SNP amendments that would require consent from the local and devolved authorities in the United Kingdom for the provisions of the Bill to be implemented. In parallel with this discussion, we have been having a debate on the Scotland Bill about the competences and authorities that should go to the Scottish Parliament. In fact, we argued that this entire area should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament simply because it would mean that proposals such as this Bill would never see the light of day. However, we know that there is not a majority in this House for devolving these powers and I want it to be clear that we are not arguing for that today.

What we are arguing for goes to the heart of the debate in this country about who runs public services. It has been the will of this Parliament that many of our public services should be devolved to local and devolved administrations. It is therefore not right for this Parliament to hinder the ability of the managers of those services to deliver them by interfering and setting requirements on the most important resource that is available to them: the workforce. Just because the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has a problem managing relations on the London underground, the rest of country should not have to suffer.

A series of amendments seek consent on each of the major provisions in the Bill. I will speak about some of those measures, but I will try not to repeat what has already been said by my hon. Friends, much of which I completely agree with. A number of mechanisms in the Bill are designed to make it harder for a trade union to win a ballot to go on strike—let us be clear about that objective. However, Conservative Members are mistaken if they think that that will make a problem go away.

It seems that among the authors of this Bill there is great ignorance about the process of managing industry. Often, if a concern or dispute arises among the workforce, and members go to their trade union and the union decides to do something, that can be a way of resolving a dispute or problem to the benefit of the industry or service concerned. The additional measures in the Bill will make it harder for unions to go on strike, but that will let problems fester and dysfunction continue, which will not benefit the trade, industry or service in which the dispute is taking place. When a union eventually passes those hurdles and gets a mandate for a strike, that strike will be bigger, longer and more vicious than it ought to have been had the matter been attended to at an earlier stage. I contend that measures that the Government think are about making it harder for unions to take strike action will have a deleterious effect on industrial relations and make it harder for the management of public or private services to deliver and get the consent of their workforce.

Given the way that the issue is being discussed, it seems that Conservative Members conceive of facility time as some sort of stipend whereby union officials spend all day organising strike action and trying to bring industry to its knees. It is nothing of the kind, and if those Members had worked in a public service for one day, they would understand that often, union stewards and officials play an extremely constructive role at local level in the delivery of that industry or service. In many ways, their role can be described as that of a welfare officer, and officials often help out individual employees who may have problems with management or at work, but who may also just have personal problems that are affecting their work.

When giving evidence to the Bill Committee, the general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, John Hannett, said that trade unions are problem solvers rather than problem causers. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?