Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 15th and 20th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
69: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Objects to which restrictions do not apply
(1) In section 72A of the 1992 Act (application of funds in breach of section 71), at the beginning of subsection (1) insert “Subject to subsection (1A),”.
(2) In section 72A of the 1992 Act, after subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) Expenditure of money on the following shall not be treated as spending on political objects—
(a) encouraging electoral registration, including campaigns aimed at increasing voter turnout amongst sectors and groups within the population;(b) encouraging the electorate to vote in national and local elections, including campaigns aimed at increasing voter turnout amongst sectors and groups within the population; and(c) encouraging the electorate not to vote for a political party or candidate.”(3) In section 83 of the 1992 Act (assets and liabilities of political fund), after subsection (3) insert—
“(4) Expenditure in respect of the items provided for by section 72(1A) may be discharged out of a union fund other than the political fund.””
My Lords, we had quite a lengthy discussion about this on the last day in Committee. I do not want to go through all the arguments again—sorely tempted as I am—but I do want to focus on the particular aspects of the amendments in this group, which relates to spending out of political funds that is not simply party funding. I know the Select Committee of your Lordships’ House will be looking at the impact on trade union political funds, of opt-in, and at how that might impact on party-political funding, but this will of course also impact on other elements of activity that unions carry out in the broader context of civil society and engagement. That is what the amendments are designed to focus on. I want to amplify some of the examples that unions have highlighted of the impact that a reduction in their political funds may have.
I know that it is difficult for some noble Lords to understand, but unions are expressing a collective voice. They are expressing the combination of opinions. It is not that they simply disaggregate views; their purpose is to gain strength by having a collective voice, so that the voice of the individual is amplified strongly in society. That is what the political funds have been so important in doing.
I want to run through some of the examples that many of us have read in briefings from both the TUC and individual unions. In 2010, we had massive campaigns prior to the general election supporting voter registration. Voter registration activity was conducted not only through workplaces, lay membership and lay officials but through materials and some door-to-door activity focusing on union members and stressing the importance of participation in general elections. That is an important role in civil society, bearing in mind that on all sides of the House we have legitimate, serious concerns about the engagement of people in the political process and, in particular, the serious decline in voting since the mid-1950s.
These activities are not limited to voting. Unions are trying to encourage people to become participants in the political process, to understand how important it is and to take the issue of holding public office seriously, trying to get a broader representation in public office—again, something that concerns noble Lords on all sides of the House. The impact of the changes could be seriously to limit the ability of unions to campaign on those issues and to build engagement.
We have heard that many unions have also focused their political funds on combating racism and the rise of the political right, particularly fascist parties. Unions have been at the forefront of campaigns against the BNP and, prior to that, the National Front. They have not only been challenging those far-right parties at election times, ensuring that people understand the implications of those parties, but taking that fight into the workplace, so that people are confronted with the issues in a much broader context. That has been particularly important in building stronger community links and understanding the dangers of racism and divided societies.
Political funds have also been used to address broader issues of inequality in our society. One of my proudest times was working with my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth to build equality structures within our union. They were not just internally focused but concerned how we develop gender representation. They meant encouraging individuals from underrepresented groups to take on public office, getting more women to stand for local councils, getting more BAME representatives on local councils and regional bodies, and working hard to ensure that we have broader representation in our society.
The fact is that, if there is a substantial reduction in the amount available in political funds, this really important work will be impacted. That is why we are suggesting that these amendments could solve the problem by ensuring that unions can participate and express their collective voice in civil society on these issues, and not be restricted. When the original political fund legislation was introduced, it was simple: political funds support parliamentary candidates and do not impose any other restrictions. It was clear that it was about party-political activity. But of course we have had changes in legislation, which have brought into scope a much broader range of activity into political funds.
One of the most impressive briefs I saw was from USDAW, which the Minister is fully aware of because—I have mentioned this on previous Committee days— USDAW and Tesco have worked in partnership over many years. In fact, Tesco has been particularly pleased, I think, with some of the political campaigns that USDAW has been able to focus on—in particular, Sunday trading, on which we will have a debate in the coming weeks. But there is also the issue with which Tesco has been particularly concerned in Scotland, of the SNP’s large retailers levy, or “Tesco tax”, first proposed in 2010-11. Tesco was very pleased that, in partnership, USDAW worked really hard to challenge the political parties on that aspect.
I wanted to focus in particular on how changes in legislation have brought into scope other activities. Of course, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act means that now any expenditure expressing a collective voice on referenda will come out of a political fund. So even when campaigning within unions it will be very difficult to judge that it is restricted solely to member communications. Potentially, if these provisions were in force now, a different voice, and an important voice in our civil society, would be severely restricted in the EU referendum on the case for jobs, employment laws and paid holidays. It would be severely restricted on all those matters, if these provisions came in. They are anti-democratic, imposing restrictions on civil society that would not be tolerated in many other countries, particularly countries that have Governments who do not like to hear opposition. I am sure that that is not the Minister’s intent, but it is potentially the impact of this legislation. In future referendums, the voice of working people would be severely restricted. That cannot be acceptable.
I conclude on a point that I have already made, on the role of trade unions in our broader community in building up people’s confidence and building up the opportunities for people to play a bigger role. It is a simple fact that the broadest representation in our local councils, in our regions and in Parliament has been achieved through trade unions, far more than by any other community organisation. It is that role of achieving the greater engagement of people that we put at risk, simply by wanting to restrict the opportunities of people contributing to a political fund. It is important that we focus on the issue so that we understand better that it is not simply just about funding political parties.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the coherent case made by my noble friend Lord Collins. I shall refer to two practical areas where I am deeply troubled about the implications of these clauses. I appeal to the Minister, whom I knew in her previous professional life in my role as a Cabinet Minister. I have always seen her as a source of reason and decency, and I hope she will prove me right in her handling of the Bill and in her acceptance of amendments.
I am referring to the role of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the struggle for freedom in South Africa and in particular to the crucial role played by British trade unions in that campaign. I see around me many noble friends who were leading forces in their trade unions. I shall not name them all, but I can see half a dozen on either side of me and in front of me. Now, everybody says they were against apartheid, but actually very often it was the churches, the trade unions and campaigners such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement— which was joined by many Members of Parliament, including Labour and Liberal Democrats but, I regret, very few Conservatives—which were the foot soldiers in that hard, long battle. The trade unions were crucial. I fear that this Bill would have caught them and, for example, prevented them providing much-needed funds to trade unionists being prosecuted in apartheid South Africa. They could not raise funds for their defence lawyers within the country because it was illegal for them to do so, and external funds coming into the country under apartheid was also illegal. The trade union movement in Britain provided much-needed, vital funds for those trade unionists’ freedom through various under-the-radar ways of channelling funds—Canon Collins’ fund and various other channels.
In the 1980s in particular the trade union movement played a crucial role in the phase of the anti-apartheid struggle that saw the eventual collapse of the apartheid regime and the liberation of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison. The trade union movement in Britain was crucial. Therefore, I urge the Minister to think very carefully about this and to look at whether the amendment submitted by my noble friend can be accommodated to ensure that such activity, which everybody now endorses, will still be legal and that the trade unions will not be restricted, hampered and straitjacketed in the way I fear they will be under this Bill.
Another area of campaigning was the Anti-Nazi League in the late 1970s. It was really important in defeating a worrying rise in the National Front, especially its appeal to working-class youngsters, who were sporting Nazi regalia at the time and had been caught up in that fashion. They were often unemployed skinheads and others. The trade union movement provided a much-needed source of funds in that campaign and, more recently, in the campaign against the BNP through organisations such as Unite Against Fascism. Whether that generosity would have been possible to the same extent under this legislation, had it been in force then, I rather doubt. I think it would have been caught, and I fear that will be the case in the future if this Bill is not amended. I ask the Minister to consider these arguments very carefully, to reflect deeply and to come back on Report with amendments that make sure that such campaigning will be protected under political funds, rather than enacting these draconian measures, which will restrict fundamental freedoms to organise politically for justice and human rights across the world and in our own country.
My Lords, I am advised that at the beginning of each week’s proceedings I should declare my interests as president of the British Dietetic Association and unpaid parliamentary adviser to the British Airline Pilots Association, which I duly do. I also give my warm thanks to the Minister, particularly at this point because in the course of the next couple of days she is probably not going to be too happy with some of the things I say. On this set of amendments, though, she might be.
As I read them, the amendments seek to exempt the expenditure from being counted as political expenditure; they do not ban the money being spent. My personal view is that the use of political funds has more or less got completely out of hand. Recently, noble Lords will have received from an organisation called HOPE not Hate, which was set up to combat racism, a glossy four-page booklet saying that we should vote against the Government’s views on electoral reform. I challenged this with the Charity Commission, which came back with some very wishy-washy arguments, to such an extent that its chairman has offered to look at the issue again.
I query how far these things are being pushed. In fairness, people do not join a trade union to campaign for whatever happens to be the favoured cause of the national executive of that union; they join, quite rightly, for social protection.
I remember that HOPE not Hate was very interesting at the time on the question of the electoral register. My question is: does the noble Lord accept that if he has a go at the trade unions, he has to have a go at the fact that an organisation such as the Institute of Economic Affairs can get charitable status? Do we not need a level playing field, and ought we not to freeze where we are until we have looked at what constitutes one?
I certainly agree that we need a level playing field. In the past, noble Lords have been treated to my views on political funding, which is out of line with regard to all the parties. I do not think that public money should be used for political funding, and there should be a severe limit on how much can be donated to parties, so we agree on that.
This clause, however, as I understand it, is not aimed at preventing unions contributing; it merely asks that they be exempt from contributing from their political funds. Personally, I do not accept that argument: if there is going to be a political fund, that is what it should be used for. I fully accept the work done by the trade union movement, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has outlined; it was considerable. I was a part of it at that time and I remember slightly more members of the Conservative Party than he does, but I will concede that they were not a majority at any point.
I also counsel that some of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord on the Front Bench were not strictly about political funds. The Minister will know that in the last few weeks I have introduced her to no fewer than 10 trade unions, all from what we would call the moderate wing of the trade union movement, and only one with a political fund—and that one not affiliated with the Labour Party. There is a consensus in certain quarters that a political fund is not necessary to defend the legitimate interests of unions’ members. That is possibly why the majority of unions do not have political funds. In short, they can do what they want to defend their own trade union members within their general fund. It is only when they want to step outside that and organise what I would call extramural activity, which is not often closely connected with the aims of their individual members, that we run into this sort of problem.
This is probably the only speech that I shall make that is helpful for the Minister, but I hope that she will resist this amendment and that the unions will continue to use their political funds for this. They should not be exempt.
My Lords, very often the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, makes points with which I strongly agree. He is right and very courageous to put forward his views on public money being used for the funding of political parties and on expenditure limits in elections. He and I could go a long way together in what he argues there. But what I do not understand in his logic is why—if people join trade unions to protect their interests in the context of the work they do; and should the bodies they have joined, which are representing their aspirations, come to the conclusion that it is necessary to have a healthy democracy, locally and nationally, for that objective to be fulfilled—parties should be constrained in making their contribution towards that work.
As many noble Lords will know, I spent a great deal of my professional life working in what used to be called the underdeveloped countries but which we now call weaker economies and all sorts of other polite words. In that context, there was a need not just for realising the importance of the redistribution of wealth in the world but to realise that if the people of those countries were to have a chance and make progress, they must have democratic systems. That argument—that we make an advance when we get a democracy established—has had great support from all political parties in this country. However, having done that sort of work for as many years as I have, I have always thought that there is a certain danger of naivety in the belief that, “Right; we’ve got an elected system established and we’re going to have elections—that’s the fulfilment of the task”. Of course it is not. There will be success only if there is a healthy and vigorous civil society that provides a context in which there will be understanding, effective argument and in which the ingredients essential to a working democracy can be advanced.
It therefore seems that if we look at our own country, we should be rather concerned. The noble Lord and I grew up over very much the same years and entered elected political activity in very much the same years—indeed, we knew each other a bit in those days. When you compare the proportion of the electorate who participate by voting in our general elections or, even more so, in our local elections, we cannot be complacent. What has happened is very sad. The full-hearted public participation in the democratic system seems to any outsider to be on the decline rather than advancing. I would have thought, therefore, that if we are all agreed that we need a healthy democratic system and accountability of government within our democratic system, civil society is more vital than ever in our own country in the role that it plays in encouraging participation in elections. Surely the special role the trade unions have to play is that they can bring home to people that these electoral systems and participation in those systems are not about something different from their working life—they are highly relevant to their working life. Whatever the arguments about supporting particular individual political parties—and of course there are different views about that; I have strong views but respect those who do not have the same views—it seems to me that we all agree that we need everyone in civil society to encourage participation in the democratic process. Whatever policies we may advocate, we need a healthy democracy and the accountability of government.
Looked at together with some other things that have been happening of late in the approach to government policies and in the approach to controls on, and regulation of, the activities of civil society, we should be a bit anxious about the ultimate objective here. I am quite concerned about this. Do we or do we not believe in a democracy? If we believe in a democracy, how do we encourage full participation in the democratic system? On the one hand, you argue the policies that you advocate and want to see; on the other hand, you want to make sure that whatever emerges is representative and rests on the full participation of as much of the population as possible in the democratic process.
The amendments put forward by my noble friend are the nitty-gritty of generating a healthy democracy with a contribution from the trade union movement. I hope that these arguments will be given very careful consideration by the Minister in her response and in the way she carries forward the Government’s position on Report.
My Lords, I share the view of the noble Lord and I hope that the Minister will consider extremely carefully the comments that have been made, particularly in relation to Amendment 69 but in relation to all the amendments. The real worry here is that the Government seem to regard the trade unions as a threat to be regulated, rather than as a key part of our civil society and as a key contributor to our democracy.
I note that the noble Lord from the Liberal Democrat Benches specifically says that he supports Amendment 69, which says that the application of funds should not be treated as spending on political objects if it is,
“encouraging the electorate not to vote for a political party or candidate”.
I seem to remember that a lot of unions encouraged people not to vote for his party or its candidates but he now appears to support trade union money being devoted to not supporting the Liberal Democrats. I agree that we should not support the Liberal Democrats but I am not sure I agree that it should be done in this way. Is the noble Lord speaking for his party when he says that political expenditure should be exempt for opposing him?
The point which we have made and which the former Deputy Prime Minister made in his representations to the Select Committee is not that we like the way that the trade unions operated against us, often to our disadvantage, but that, first, we believe that they have an important role to play in our democracy and, secondly, if any restrictions are to be put in place, they need to be put in place on a fair basis. However, that is not what is being proposed by the Government. They are proposing to restrict the actions of the trade unions through their access to funds but not the actions of the Conservative Party. As we are all aware, it is the Conservative Party which has massive dominance in terms of finance and which poses the real threat to people’s participation in a fair and equal way. That is the problem. In its manifesto the Conservative Party said that it believes in all-party talks on funding reform but it has done nothing to bring those forward. Our concern is about a fair approach to this process.
I ask the Minister in particular what objection there can be from the Government to the involvement of trade unions in seeking the registration of electors. That is a positive role, not a partisan role, and a very important one. I think that we all in this House want to have as many people on the electoral register as possible.
Will the Minister also tell me why, if this is to be maintained with all the consequent reporting requirements on the trade unions, it is right for those requirements to be imposed in relation to activities associated with electoral registration and why that should not fall in the same way, for example, on the Conservative Party outside election time? Is the Minister proposing that such measures should be complied with by the Conservative Party? If this is, as the Government say, all about transparency for the members of voluntary organisations, in this case the trade unions, then surely what is right for trade unionists must be right for members of the Conservative Party.
My Lords, I, too, want to look briefly at Amendment 69. When the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, introduced these amendments, he did so, if he does not mind my saying so, rather well—at least for the bits that he talked about, but it is the bit that he did not talk about that I want to draw to his attention. I will read to your Lordships from new subsection (1A)(c) proposed in Amendment 69:
“Expenditure of money on the following shall not be treated as spending on political objects— … encouraging the electorate not to vote for a political party or candidate”.
I had the honour to stand seven times for election to the other place. The first of those seven was the routine safe-loser seat that parties frequently invite prospective candidates to stand for, and I did very well in Stockton and Billingham—I lost by only 18,000. I won the other six. In those elections, there were people encouraging my constituents not to vote for me and there were people encouraging my constituents to vote for somebody else. I say gently, and with a good deal of warm feeling towards the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, that the noble Lord needs to make up his mind. He either says that the money cannot be spent or that it can be spent, but the logic behind new subsection (1A)(c) in Amendment 69 is totally inconsistent. I hope that your Lordships notice—I am trying to contribute to that noticing—the fact that he did not mention it, and that the contradiction was passed over by the more high-flown rhetoric and passionate exposition on other aspects of political funds. He needs to explain with a good deal more clarity than he has so far attempted, and I hope that the Minister will encourage him to do so, how this particular aspect of Amendment 69 is meant to hold together.
My Lords, I will contain my remarks to just a couple of points that have been made during the debate. I do not think this problem would exist if the Government were not actually trying to reduce the amount that is raised through the political levy. That is at the bottom of the story here. They are trying to reduce the political fund money, and these amendments—which I accept complicate the whole process of accounting for political funds—are being drafted only because trade unions are concerned about where will they get the funds for the activities they want to carry out if they are to lose so much funding and their political funds are restricted. So the issue is both the cost to trade unions of the bureaucratic requirements to comply with this legislation, and the fact—although the impact study will not admit this—that a major objective is to reduce the amount of money coming forward in the political funds.
The points have been very well made. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, made the point that those of us who believe in civic society support the principle that funds must be available in the political process, and one of the major sources of funds in our political system is the trade unions. If that source is being constrained by the opposing side—as it clearly is—then we regard that as unfair, unless they are also taking the opportunity to look at exactly what they are raising and spending in opposition to the trade unions and, indeed, the Labour Party and ourselves. We want to see fairness in this whole process.
There are quite strict requirements already in the system. The unions have ballots to support or not support the operation of political funds every 10 years, so there is accountability. They are required to account for this money. All the Government’s efforts are clearly designed to reduce the amount of money in the pool. For those reasons, we are opposed to this aspect of the Bill, and we hope that the Select Committee will find a much fairer way through it than the Government clearly are intending at the moment.
My Lords, I am unusually tempted to come into this debate, but it has had an international character and I will not delay the Minister for more than a minute. I support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said about civil society all around the world and the importance of trade unions, and I was very cheered by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, bringing me back to the 1994 elections in South Africa and all the work that he did and churches and trade unions alongside each other. I could not resist saying something about that, having been on the staff and the board of Christian Aid and seeing at first hand how the churches were woven into society.
Nor can I resist having a go at the Conservative Party and taking it back to those days when my father was a Member of Parliament for 21 years for the Conservatives. When they ousted him for being against the Common Market, they sent him up to Accrington. There, he needed to take a loudspeaker to the factory gate because trade unionists were behind gates and could not be approached, except through a megaphone. The Conservative Party has come a long way from there, but it is significant that today it is still catching up with everyone else.
My Lords, I support Amendment 69 because one of the greatest challenges that we face in our workplaces today is not strikes or boycotts but the new evil that is confronting our country: radicalisation. Anyone who thinks that radicalisation stops at the factory gate, or the gate of the bus garage, has got it wrong. It permeates our social activities and, indeed, our industrial activities. Therefore, we have to find a response to that evil. It can indeed pass from generation to generation and that is the prime objective. It means that we need strategies. We need to win the arguments and chart a new direction. But it also means that we have to find positive alternatives, which means winning the battle not just at the factory gate but inside the factories. That battle has to be built around people of like minds—people who find such ideologies totally unacceptable.
This is not just about leaflets and slogans; it is about the actions inside the workplaces—the one-to-one discussions, the meetings that are not advertised. Those are some of the tactics and approaches. Most of all, it is about the provision of education to those of positive thinking and progressive minds. We have to win those hearts and minds, young and old. We have to take charge of the education facilities that are offered in some workplaces. We must make sure that the political objectives are very clear for those people who want to be part of a progressive system.
I ask myself, how on earth do we arrive at these objectives if there is no resource to fight a counterargument and win the hearts and minds in a positive way? You cannot write it off on the basis that it is a political objective and use the political funds, because the Certification Officer in a new role may want to have a word to see exactly how the funds are disbursed. The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Collins is saying that we have to face many challenges but if we see them all as political objectives, we will have neither the resource nor the opportunity to make a real difference in changing hearts and minds, but more importantly, in changing actions and behaviour. For those reasons, I support Amendment 69.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for this lively debate, which builds on the debate we had on our second day. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his knowledgeable comments on some important union campaigns and for his Tesco tales. I always like the opportunity to commend the forward-looking work of USDAW. But I do not agree with the noble Lord’s suggestion that such campaigns would be stopped by the sort of transparency we suggest here. The campaigns may be worthy and legitimate, but they are political in character so they should be paid for out of the political fund, and that would include the important campaigns the noble Lord, Lord Hain, described and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, supported. I am with my noble friend Lord Balfe on this issue. They are legitimate activities, but members should know about and choose to opt in in support of such political causes.
We want in this Bill to give members more information about what unions are doing with their money so that they can make an informed decision on whether to contribute. We also want to ensure that a member’s decision to contribute to the political fund is done with their explicit consent. My colleague the Minister of State for Skills has set out his evidence to the Select Committee, which is of course considering these clauses. Indeed, we debated Clause 10 in some detail on the second day in Committee.
I should like to comment on Amendments 69, 70 and 71. A key part of our reforms concerns the provision of information. We have seen that some unions do not provide any detail about how their political funds are used in their returns to the Certification Officer, and I do not see how we can expect union members to make informed choices on this basis. Some unions, which I commend, already provide details about their political funds, so I do not see how making this position more consistent across all unions would be problematic. To pick up on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, the Bill uses the current six categories of expenditure that unions use to establish a political fund and require reporting against them. For example, as has been said, one category is payment to or expenses for a political party. That is a straightforward and I believe necessary piece of information for a union member.
We are not imposing new requirements on what counts as political funding; we are asking that union members be made aware of them. Unions are membership organisations run by and for their members. The Government have therefore always sought to strike a balance between trade union autonomy and the imposition of statutory requirements on the internal operations of what are essentially voluntary organisations.
My Lords, I have been following the debate with great interest. If the Minister’s argument is that union members are part of an organisation which they voluntarily join, would the Government therefore think it appropriate to impose on, say, a golf club—an organisation that consists of members providing services which are run for its members—precisely how it presents information to the members of that golf club about how it operates? If she is saying that it is appropriate for trade unions, why is it different for another organisation like a golf club?
My Lords, there have been a number of pieces of trade union legislation over the years and this is the latest iteration. It seeks to bring forward some sensible reforms which are mainly about transparency and obviously reflect manifesto commitments that were voted on last year. These amendments seek to reduce the categories of expenditure that count as political objects which should be made through a political fund. They are long-established categories in the legislation and I am not aware that they have proved problematic. The amendments would reduce the current level of accountability and transparency, and union members would no longer have a say over those areas removed by these amendments at the time of the political fund ballot.
I do not understand that point. One of the things that gets omitted in our debates about political funds is that trade unions are democratic organisations. They have rule books and they have democratic structures, right from the shop floor, all the way up. Decisions are made in an accountable way, so to suggest that there are somehow hidden processes ignores that. If the noble Baroness wants me to reiterate, unions have rule books that govern the relationship, not laws. If they were laws, we would be back in the days of the Soviet Union. They are independent, free and democratic unions that have rule books.
As it happens, we also have a Certification Officer who oversees those rule books, and if they are not complied with, members have the opportunity to challenge any decision. The noble Baroness is saying that decisions are somehow not transparent. What is not transparent in a democratic organisation like a trade union?
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I have given some examples today, and we have done so in the past where the good practice in transparency that is found in some unions is not practised elsewhere. This provision, along with others in the Bill, seeks to address that using, as the noble Lord acknowledges, the existing regulator in the form of the Certification Officer to make sure that individual members always know what they are opting in to and what political funds are being spent on, because we think that that is the right thing to do.
I think that I have responded to the amendments, and I urge—
I return to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, raised. People have been quite understanding about the purpose of these amendments because they are trying to generate a debate, but there is a specific question about voter registration—not about how you vote or who you vote for, but specifically about how, in civil society, we encourage people to register to vote. We have heard that that is covered; the Minister says that it is. I plead with her to consider that organisations such as trade unions have a duty to encourage their members to participate in the political life of this country. Will she please consider that specific element?
There is nothing to prevent any trade union encouraging its members to register to vote. It is not the job of the trade union movement to put itself in a position where it becomes the voter registration officer for the rest of the country. Even without a political fund, a union can encourage its members to vote and to register.
My Lords, to sum up, our provisions will not impact on what unions decide to spend money on or the causes they choose to support. We are introducing transparency, and it seems to me absolutely right to try. A series of amendments is linked to this point, trying to take things out. However, we are trying to ensure, on the existing basis, that people know what is being spent and have the opportunity to opt out.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. The debate has been worth while and I am glad that we tabled the amendments. They were designed to probe, to provoke and to get a better understanding of what the Bill could possibly lead to. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, said, the amendments would not be here if the Government were not proposing to change the system of opt-out to opt-in, which we, most unions, most independent observers, and even some noble Lords on the Minister’s Benches believe will impact on the total funds available for political purposes. We have a Select Committee looking at that impact and it will reach a conclusion, but the one thing I am pretty certain about is that that change will have an impact.
The purpose of the amendments was to focus on the areas of political funding that people do not normally consider. The amendments would not be here if not for the potential impact on the total funds available. This is about more than simply supporting political parties. It is about the role of trade unions in civil society. As my noble friend Lord Morris suggested, it is about challenging ideas and ideologies that are incredibly dangerous to our democracy. It is about supporting and encouraging people to participate in the political process. It is important in getting people to do the basic thing in terms of voter registration.
I appreciate the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney. On my part, kind comments are always appreciated. I accept that proposed new subsection (1A)(c) is a difficult proposition, particularly when, in the past, we have had two parties contesting seats, so saying do not vote for one is an obvious implication to vote for somebody else. I tabled the amendment to highlight the work that unions do, not simply in encouraging people to vote but also to challenge ideologies, particularly those far-right ideologies that lead to racism and splits in our communities. The trade union movement has been critical in binding communities together. The noble Lord will know of the role that trade unions have played in the peace process in Northern Ireland in trying to bridge communities and bring them together. A lot of that obviously involved political work. We shall shortly discuss transparency on another group of amendments, so I will have an opportunity to focus on those areas.
As I say, this has been a worthwhile debate which has provoked contributions. I hope that before Report the Minister will think hard about the proposals, particularly as regards encouraging people to register to vote. This is not about being partisan but about encouraging people to register to vote. In the light of those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 69 withdrawn.
Amendments 70 and 71 not moved.
Clause 11: Union’s annual return to include details of political expenditure
72: Clause 11, page 7, line 25, leave out “£2,000” and insert “£50,000”
My Lords, this group of amendments concerns transparency and reporting requirements. I hope the Minister will consider that I do not intend these remarks to be provocative but I want to better understand what the Government are trying to achieve by these reporting provisions. What does the Minister think is broken? She seemed to suggest that somehow there is hidden spending that members do not know about. The one thing that I am absolutely certain about is that members of trade unions know full well that their unions tend to support the Labour Party. If their unions did not tell them that, the media and the Conservative Party would, and, indeed, have been very good at doing so, ensuring that people are well aware of that. I have heard many people say that only 50% or 60% of union members vote Labour, and ask about the 40% or 50% who do not do so. Believe it or not, lots of trade union members may not vote Labour on occasion but are quite happy to support their unions’ campaigns and the political levy. In fact, I happen to know somebody who was a member of the Conservative Party, became a Conservative MP and continued to pay the political levy because he thought that it was right to do so given the role that trade unions play in civil society.
The Minister has already referred to AR21s—the annual returns that unions make—and the information in them. I used to frequent the Certification Officer’s website at regular intervals. I admit that I have not done that so much recently but this morning I went through it and through the AR21s. I also looked at the Certification Officer’s annual report. There is a variation in terms of what is contained in the AR21s. Certainly, there is not necessarily the breakdown that you would expect, but you can then go to the annual reports and accounts, which are fully audited.
I come back to the basic principle: what governs the relationship between a member and their union is its constitution; its rulebook. It is open to a member to challenge every element of activity through the regulator, the Certification Officer. Breaches of rules are dealt with through that. There is a suggestion here that something is not quite right; something is broken. How many complaints have we had? Where has the concern come from? I do not accept, for one moment, that people do not know that their unions are political. Apart from anything else, as we have heard previously in Committee, every 10 years a union is required to have a ballot on whether it has a political fund or not. It is disappointing that, despite all the publicity and campaigning efforts, the turnout for these ballots is low. Maybe the problem we need to address is how to encourage participation. The problem with the Bill is that, in every element, it does not address the issue of participation by saying that we need to do more to mobilise people. The Government’s response is to say that participation is a problem and we should have restraint and impose thresholds. This does not show understanding of the issues we are focused on.
The requirements in these clauses impose additional reporting burdens on unions that are not imposed on any other organisation. What would a ceiling of £2,000 mean in these terms? I will come on to the political party funding later, but it would mean hotel accommodation for delegations, training events, equipment, regional forums and booking stands at conferences. There could be a huge amount of specific detail which will not add to the member’s ability to make an informed choice about whether they participate in the political fund or not: it is purely more regulation. I thought that this Government—and the Minister in particular—were concerned to reduce regulation, but when it comes to the trade union movement that is not the case: it has all got to be added on to.
There is one thing which the Minister will not mention in this debate. There is a reporting requirement: there are AR21s and the detailed, audited annual reports and accounts, all democratically processed through the union’s constitution. It is all there, but if it does not give information in a way that the Minister suggests, a member is, of course, entitled, under Section 30 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, to inspect the relevant accounting record. There is no problem with the member being able to see anything. The trade union gives far more rights to a member than any other organisation. If that right is refused, the union can be referred to the Certification Officer. One can see, on the officer’s website, every single such complaint, whether acceded to or not. The Certification Officer, not requiring fines or penalties, can order the union to ensure that the accounting records are supplied to the member. Where is the transparency issue? I suspect it has more to do with some poor person in the Conservative Central Office research department who is told every election time, “Tell me how much Unite has given to the Labour Party—I want to know!”. I can hear the voices and I can hear that poor researcher thinking, “Where do I go? How can I make it easier?”. I suspect that is why this is in the Conservative manifesto. It has nothing to do with the rights of members, regrettably, or with increasing transparency. It has everything to do with burdening unions with more regulations and requirements.
I hope the noble Baroness will understand that the transparency issues in relation to trade unions are not simply about what the law can do. We should be defending the unions’ constitutions and rulebooks and stop interference from Governments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I intervene briefly to support, in general terms, what the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, has said. As noble Lords know, I am concerned about this Bill, particularly these two clauses. I also regret that we are having this debate at all this afternoon. We have, by a fairly substantial majority, of which I was not a part, decided that a Select Committee of your Lordships’ House should look into the issues that are brought to the fore by Clauses 10 and 11. That committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, is obliged to report to your Lordships’ House by Monday of next week. No latitude is given, even though, sadly, for reasons of his health, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has had to be replaced as a member of the committee by the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton. However, I understand that that is not in any sense impeding the progress or speed of the committee.
We will know next week what the committee of your Lordships’ House, on which there are distinguished representatives from all parts of the House, will recommend, so it seems to me that we are having this debate in a bit of a vacuum. When my noble friend responds, I should like her to tell us how the Government will manage the timetable for the remainder of the Bill after publication of that report. I hope she will be able to give a complete, unequivocal assurance that the report will be debated before we move on to Report stage. That seems to me absolutely essential. If she can give that assurance, we should not waste a lot of time today because we can then debate what the Select Committee of your Lordships’ House has recommended and the Government can respond, having reflected on that. I hope we will then be able to move forward.
As I have said, there are many things in the Bill that are not provocative or extreme. There are, however, things that give it the appearance of being a little mean and niggardly and they mostly—not entirely—centre on political funding and the deprivation of one particular party of a source of funding which we may regret but have to accept is there. That party should not be placed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other parties, and I hope we can get over that.
So I appeal to the Minister to give us an indication of how the Government intend to handle the Bill after publication of the Select Committee’s report. I very much hope there will be a proper opportunity to consider and debate it before we move on to what I hope will be a fairly expeditious Report stage.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for making those points about having this debate in a vacuum. I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Collins. I appreciate that the discussion on the role of the Certification Officer will take place on day four of Committee, but in case my silence was taken as meaning that the issue was not sufficiently important, I felt that I should place on the record that Clause 11 will provide the Certification Officer with new powers to investigate how unions’ political funds are used and where the money goes.
As part of their annual return, unions will be required to report to the CO on how all expenditure from their political funds has been used, who it has been paid to and for what purpose. This is not even-handed, as the Government claim. It might apply to employers’ associations in theory. However, none of the 94 employers’ associations listed by the Certification Officer currently has a political fund—not one. Instead, companies choose to make political donations individually or via other channels. These measures will create significant new administrative burdens for unions, as my noble friend Lord Collins said. They will need to collate detailed information on political expenditure at branch and regional level, and the Government will be able to monitor how unions spend their resources and will invite significant public scrutiny of how unions choose to use their political funds.
In itself, this might not be of significance to anyone outside the trade union movement—if it was the only thing in this area relating to the subject. However, if you combine it with the ability of anyone outside the trade union to launch a complaint, it starts to look like an attack on trade unions. The Government may not be concerned about strangling trade unions with all the extra red tape under the guise of consistency of information, which is what I think the Minister is concerned about with these amendments, but they should consider very carefully how this will change the nature of the function of the Certification Officer. It will become a much more political position and because this function will be essentially one-sided, it will lead to accusations of political bias.
My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, have said.
I thought that the Conservatives were in favour of reducing regulation and bureaucracy and simplifying the way we go about things. That seems to be with the complete exception of the trade unions—I wonder why. It is not realistic or proportionate to require all items of expenditure in excess of £2,000 to be reported to the Certification Officer. How is he going to cope with this? It is mammoth and unnecessary bureaucracy, whereas if you were really intent on having greater scrutiny, you would have a review of the categories of expenditure and you would look to see that there was greater transparency. But to require every invoice over £2,000 in a total expenditure of more than £20 million—the bureaucracy just beggars belief. We know that the Government failed to consult the Certification Officer on the implications of this—that has come out in the work of the Select Committee. They seem to be blindly going ahead without any comprehension of the workload and the way in which the trade unions will be bogged down in the bureaucracy of fulfilling all these requirements.
For those reasons, the Government must question whether it really is necessary to put this bureaucracy on the unions. Is the figure of £2,000 realistic? In the other place, the Minister sort of said that this figure of £2,000 was comparable to that for company donations to political parties that have to be declared. The type of expenditure we are talking about here is not just donations, but all trade union expenditure. That will vary, as speakers have already said, from sending people to political conferences, to paying for stands as part of campaigns and hiring vehicles—or whatever it is—but it is all very detailed expenditure. Is the Certification Officer meant to go through all these invoices and check that they have been done properly?
We have seen the great difficulty the Conservative Party already has with its invoices, and now it seems it will impose this on the trade unions. We should not forget that the Electoral Commission is already looking at all political donations in excess, depending on the recipient, of £1,500—£7,500 for the national parties—so all the information is there. Have there been discussions with the Electoral Commission and has it been consulted on the twin track of bureaucracy the Government are now imposing on trade unions—through the submissions they already make to the Electoral Commission and the excessive ones they are now going to have to give to the Certification Officer? Have they also found out from the Certification Officer what dealing with all this extra work is going to do to his staffing and expenditure requirements?
My Lords, I rise to oppose the proposed amendments to Clause 11. We discussed tangential matters on earlier days, but this focuses on the core issue of transparency. I think that of the 25 unions with political funds in the UK, 10 are not affiliated to the Labour Party and the remaining 15 will fund political campaigning unconnected to the Labour Party. We are not talking here about the donations to a political party, which are of course disclosed very easily, normally being large sums of money, but the amounts which, given that the amendments to Clause 10 will not happen, will be within the political fund. This is about understanding what those payments from within the political fund will be. It is very difficult to know what they are at the moment.
Doing some desk research, one can see the nature of the recipients of the fund but one cannot see the amounts. In the past, of course, these have included campaigns which all of us would approve of, encourage and welcome, such as those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, against apartheid or the BNP. Currently, as far as I can see, they include campaigns supporting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, opposing outsourced contracts in the public sector, opposing welfare reform and, in particular, opposing Israel in the sense of supporting BDS—boycott, divestment and sanctions—as well as just general funding of think tanks.
Union members might be happy with all of this, but do they not deserve the right to know the amounts that are being spent on these causes? I take the point from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that there is the requirement for a ballot, but that ballot is open for, I think, about three weeks. The last one, for Unison, was in May, I think, and despite being open for three weeks, it attracted only 18% support. It is not clear that people are focusing on what is going through the political fund.
I come back to the point that there is a tendency to forget one fundamental principle: unlike the Conservative Party, for which the noble Lord is treasurer, trade unions are fully democratic in terms of their structures. Decisions to spend on particular issues stem from the branch structure or the workplace structure, all the way up to the executive. These decisions to spend on particular things are taken not in isolation but within the constitution and the rulebook. If people query whether they have been made in accordance with that constitution and rulebook, members have a remedy.
I do not think anyone is suggesting that these are improper payments; the suggestion is that there is a lack of transparency as to what they are. I am not sure I take the point about the Conservative Party being undemocratic, but we will leave that for a moment. The noble Lord invited me to look at the accounts on the Certification Officer’s website, and I have done so. The total political funding is about £24 million. The largest fund is that of Unite, with £7.8 million of income. When one tries to understand the expenditure within that, one sees that it simply states that political fund expenditure was £1.17 million and that expenditure under Section 82 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 was £3.82 million. No further information is supplied, other than the quite interesting information that Unite has in its balance sheet of the political fund £14.8 million. It is much the same for other unions—I have been through quite a few of them.
The point remains that I am sure that many members of unions would like to know and to have reported where their money is spent. Are all union members who are working on Trident submarines happy that union funds are spent supporting CND?
The noble Lord is a director of companies. Would he say, in the interests of transparency, that for a company with a turnover of, say, £20 million, he would require to see every invoice over £2,000, or rather, as an accountant, would he seek to improve the categorisation of that expenditure? The Government are demanding that we have every invoice over £2,000 revealed, rather than improve the categorisation.
Let us pose a question to which the noble Lord may know the answer. He is a treasurer of the Conservative Party. Local associations hold substantial funds, but Conservative Central Office appears not to know just how much they have or how they spend it. Perhaps he could enlighten the House now: how much is held in funds of local associations of the Conservative Party?
Perhaps I can help my noble friend by saying that the Conservative Party has a democratic structure where the local bodies have a much higher degree of autonomy than in the Labour Party, in which everything is centralised. I doubt that CCO knows how much money Cambridge Conservatives, of which I have the honour to be president, has, because we are not required to divulge it. All donations have to be declared, but a different structure exists.
I am aware of all those sayings, and I see some of the difficulties that noble Lords opposite mention, but when I was secretary of the Royal Arsenal Co-op political fund, we had to submit full accounts to the central board, which detailed far below £2,000 in expenditure, so I really do not see the great difficulty in submitting these returns.
I take the point that £2,000 is a low threshold, and willingly take on board the discussion over the amount, although £50,000 is far too high. I do not agree with the proposition within the amendments. However, I ask the Minister to consider carefully Clause 11, perhaps at Report, to ensure that all payments from political funds other than to political parties are covered in that clause.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate but, having heard the contributions, I felt that I ought to get up and say that the general view of this Bill and these clauses is that unions are being put in a spiteful straitjacket for no really good reason. I speak as a former union-sponsored Member of the House of Commons, and I assure Members here that unions do not hand out money on a plate. They hand out money to be spent on proper political organisations, and they are entitled to support candidates who will support working people in the House of Commons.
People seem to have forgotten that the whole raison d’être and beginning of the Labour Party was the unions deciding that workers in the United Kingdom needed representation in Parliament. That is why they set up the Labour Party and, since they set it up, they are entitled to support it; indeed, they have a duty to do so, and they do support it—that is their proper role. I deplore the way in which some people attack the trade unions on the basis that they are not properly controlled. Of course they are properly controlled; there are branches, executive committees and auditors, who have the duty to see that money contributed is properly spent. They are under very good control indeed—far better control, I might say, than many industries in this country. I hope with those few words I can give some assurance to those who are worried about how members’ money is spent by the trade unions, because trade unions are very careful of the funds that they spend and the membership has an absolute right, as the auditors do, to examine the accounts of a trade union at any stage.
My Lords, I start by making a general point. Over the last few years, we have seen a step change in the way that the Government, businesses and other organisations provide information to the public. Such transparency strengthens the public’s trust in organisations, can help to drive efficiency and encourages greater public participation in decision-making. As I have said before, we want to give union members more information about how the political fund is used so that members can make an informed choice on whether to contribute.
As far as I am aware, trade unions are the only type of organisation in the UK that collectively spends millions of pounds, as my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley has reminded us, on political activities, using funds taken from members on the basis of presumed consent. That is why the Bill ensures that unions respect the principles of transparency. There are also restrictions on companies when they make political donations. Our proposals build on current practice in relation to expenditure on political objects and are similar to the current reporting requirement on political expenditure by companies, where the threshold is, of course, £2,000. I know what the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, said, but I think that there is a strong logic there.
We have looked at the annual returns that the 25 unions with political funds provide to the Certification Officer, whose work, as the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, said, we will discuss in more detail on day 4 in Committee. We do not expect that unions that currently comply with good practice will have a problem with our proposals but, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, made clear, there is a significant variation in the amount of information on political fund expenditure that unions make available. Take the Communication Workers Union: it provides a very detailed breakdown of spend on political objects, including on election campaigns, affiliation fees and delegations to conferences, whereas the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers gives no breakdown at all. We need more consistency so members can see what is happening and whether they want to contribute.
The ballot the noble Lord mentioned takes place every 10 years, which is not very often. Our review of the forms for online membership of the 25 unions with political funds showed that 12—nearly half—do not mention the existence of a political fund.
Amendments 72 and 73 would not support the transparency we need. Amendment 72 would increase the threshold by 25 times. That would dramatically reduce the supply of information, especially as Amendment 73 would also limit reporting to the overall amount of expenditure.
My noble friend Lord Leigh asked about coverage. As I think we have already said, we are not amending the categories of political objects in the current legislation. They have been in place for 30 years. Campaigns mentioned today, such as those which support anti-racism—for example, HOPE not hate—are considered political in nature and must be made from the political fund. That is the approach taken by the Certification Officer, but I will certainly make the check my noble friend requested.
My noble friend Lord Cormack asked about the consideration of the report by the Select Committee on Clauses 10 and 11. I noted what he said, but arrangement of House of Lords business is a matter for the Chief Whip and the usual channels. Of course we will consider what the Select Committee report says, but we have a manifesto commitment to implement a transparent opt-in process for contributing to a union’s political fund, so our consideration will be in the context of the manifesto commitment as noble Lords would expect.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to set out why I believe so strongly in the need for and value of transparency and consistency generally and in the information that unions make available to their members. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I appreciate the Minister’s sincerity, but I find it a little galling when I read the newspapers today. When she uses the term “the transparency we need”, does she reflect on the Government’s intention to review the Freedom of Information Act, which could possibly lead to less information being available to the public? Please do not simply focus on the trade union movement. Let us all judge ourselves on everything.
The purpose of this debate was fundamentally to look at the regulatory burden that will be imposed on trade unions. I appreciate the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Leigh. From the comments the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, and I made, there is clearly an issue over the £2,000 reporting limit. It will require substantial numbers of invoices to be produced and accumulated. It is not really going to be about transparency in the choices that members may make. I come back to the fundamental issue that the Electoral Commission compiles all donations to all political parties, and the Labour Party is not the only recipient of trade union money. Other, smaller parties have received funds from unions with political funds. In fact, the union that was a major player in the establishment of the Labour Party is no longer affiliated to the Labour Party, disappointing as that is.
The fact is that huge regulatory burdens are being imposed on trade unions beyond what is proportionate. I am going to grasp the one element where there is cross-party consensus: £2,000 is not proportionate for the total spend for political funds. I plead with the Minister to look at that aspect before we come back on Report. In the light of her comments, though, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 72 withdrawn.
Amendments 73 and 74 not moved.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12: Publication requirements
74A: Clause 12, page 8, line 13, after “authority” insert “specified, or of a description specified, in the regulations”
My Lords, I have listened to and reflected carefully on concerns voiced in the other place about the importance of public authorities knowing whether or not they will be required to publish information. I have tabled amendments to provide such clarification.
Regarding the information required for publication, I have written this week to various interested Peers around the House setting out the details of the information requirements that the facility time regulations will require public sector employers to publish. In addition, I have enclosed a copy of the skeleton regulations on check-off to be made under Clause 14. I have placed copies of these letters in the House Library, and I hope that noble Lords will find that the draft framework sets out an appropriate and reasonable range of information.
Noble Lords may be reassured to know that a significant part of the public sector already recommends the publication of such a set of information as best practice. The Civil Service has now published such data each quarter since the start of 2013, and English local authorities publish their data as part of the Local Government Transparency Code 2015. The Department for Education also recommended in its 2014 guidance that all schools should publish facility time data.
Government Amendments 74A and 78A respond to the observations of those who have taken an interest in which public authorities are required to publish information. The amendments will ensure that only those public authorities set out in regulations will be captured by Clause 12. This will enable the regulations to provide the level of clarity that has been demanded. The amendments also allow stand-alone public authorities to be specified in the regulations, in addition to categories as currently drafted. The intended amendments will bring the regulation-making provision more closely into line with comparable provisions in the clause on check-off.
Our approach to the drafting of the facility time regulations will bring two positives. First, as I have said, we have listened carefully to the concerns raised about the potential scope of the regulations. I assure the House that it is our intention to draft the facility time regulations in order to provide complete clarity as to which public sector employers are in scope, in the way that we have for the skeleton check-off regulations, which, as I said, I have placed in the House Library. Secondly, these regulations will apply only if an employer has 50 or more employees, and only if the employer has at least one trade union representative. The narrower focus is both reasonable and proportionate and will help to manage any burden on smaller public sector employers.
I hope that noble Lords will also welcome the fact that we have listened to and reflected carefully on concerns voiced in the other place. There will be just one set of regulations, and those will be laid by the Minister for the Cabinet Office. This is instead of individual Ministers making regulations for each sector and will avoid any disparities when implementing.
Amendment 89C simply brings Clause 13 into line with our proposed amendments to Clause 12. It allows for standalone public authorities to be specified in regulations rather than just categories, as currently drafted. I ask for noble Lords’ approval that these amendments stand part of the Bill. Shortly I will make available the draft skeleton regulations for facility time publication.
Amendment 74A agreed.
Amendment 75 not moved.
76: Clause 12, page 8, line 18, leave out “, or relevant union officials within specified categories” and insert “and”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 76, which also stands in the names of my noble friends Lord Mendelsohn and Lord Collins, I will speak to the other amendments in this group, and will especially oppose that Clause 12 stand part of the Bill. We see no need at all for this provision.
Clauses 12 and 13 are some of the most pernicious in this rather nasty little Bill. Why? They undermine good industrial relations—we are talking about facility time. They give enormous and unnecessary powers to Ministers over areas that are none of their business; they were introduced without proper consultation—just a rather hurried, minor one over the summer, in contradiction to Cabinet Office guidelines on consultation; they are not based on any evidence; they have not been demanded by public sector employers; oh—and they were not in the Conservative manifesto.
Clause 12 would require public sector—very widely defined—employers to log, detail and publish how much time union reps spend on facility time. This is time which allows union, safety and learning reps to do their job, to speak for or advise the workforce and to contribute to healthy industrial relations. Worse is that Clause 13 gives a Minister, not managers, a wide-ranging power—indeed, a blank cheque—to cap such rights to facility time to an arbitrary and undisclosed amount for an unspecified group of employees. That is why I want to make some general points about both clauses, as they explain both these amendments and those in subsequent groups.
The main issue is that the question of how to decide and document facility time is one for management, not for Ministers. Managers know the geographical spread of their workforce, the current issues, the challenges and the types of problems on which they need to work with workforce reps, and virtually every manager knows that their own staff negotiate far better than full-time officials. These lay reps are of and from the shop floor. They understand the business and, importantly, they will be there during the implementation of any agreement, to iron out any creases and to ensure that any deal sticks. As the Royal College of Nursing says on what lies behind our objection to Clauses 12 and 13, “The RCN’s lay members take time and effort to advise and represent their colleagues, while the union itself invests in these reps to bring skill, knowledge and experience to the workplace, facilitating effective partnership working”.
This is a cost-effective way of managing any organisation. Such input towards good relations is as true for small unions, such as the FDA; with just 20,000 members, it has only 30 employees, meaning that most work is undertaken by lay officials. Similarly, for the podiatrists, who have fewer than 10,000 members, facility time is vital, as that organisation is too small to have many union officials, so it is heavily reliant on learning, equality, safety and union representatives. It is a professional body committed to improving standards, which is what its members’ facility time is all about.
I therefore ask the Minister, where on earth is the evidence that we need Clause 12 to report on time spent on representation, safety or learning? Research at City University London shows that facilities for union reps in the public sector are very similar to those in the private sector, and from neither have we heard, nor have the Government demonstrated, calls for change. Indeed, evidence points the other way, with facility time being beneficial to the safety of work environments, staff welfare and, consequently, particularly in the case of the health service, patients. For that reason, the RCN has warned that Clauses 12 and 13 may have unintended consequences for patient safety. The benefits of facility time are well known to anyone with an ounce of management experience, which I would have assumed included the Minister. Therefore, Amendment 78 would require these benefits also to be documented.
Facility time allows reps to engage in meaningful negotiation with employers to facilitate, innovate and change. They often do so far more effectively than full-time union officials, who may arrive at the workplace only on the morning of a negotiation, whereas employee reps well understand the work situation, their colleagues’ roles and the crunch issues, and they often find imaginative ways around a problem. Certainly, when representing members in either grievance or disciplinary matters, lay reps have a far better grasp of the intricacies of a particular situation than any outside trade union official, no matter how well briefed. So lay involvement usually leads to earlier intervention and fewer tribunal cases and appeals.
Furthermore, unions have a positive record in promoting skills and training and in improving industrial relations. That means higher morale, which is better for employees and employers. It also means less sick pay, more productivity and, in the case of the health service, better patient care. ACAS has shown that union representation helps communication, improves workforce engagement and ensures that employees’ concerns are listened to and addressed before they become a problem. Crucially, union input at times of restructuring, relocation, job evaluation, performance measurements, grading and similar issues is invaluable to staff and employers alike.
The City University London research has shown that a large proportion of public sector management agrees that union reps can be trusted to act with honesty and integrity, and also that they work closely with management to introduce change. BIS’s predecessor, the DTI, found cost savings associated with union representation, with fewer tribunal cases, fewer injuries, fewer work-related illnesses and lower dismissal rates. Why do the Government want to undermine that?
We heard in the debate on a previous group about the red tape being put on trade unions, but the red tape involved in Clause 12 should worry every employer caught by this. In this case, it is the employer rather than the trade unions that will have to produce endless extra paperwork. Despite all the Government’s commitment to cutting red tape, to less regulation and to reducing bureaucracy, here they are demanding extensive new documentation from a range of small, medium and large employers. The list we were sent yesterday gave nine possible pieces of information to be documented, including the distinction between facilities provided for duties and those provided for activities. I am sure that employers, head teachers, housing association CEOs and university deans have better things to do with their time than to try to document, let alone monetarise, all that.
I note that the Government’s impact assessment suggests that,
“it is not expected that the proposed legislation will result in a significant impact on trade union representatives carrying out their trade union duties for which there is a legal entitlement to reasonable paid time off work”.
That begs some questions. First, what evidence do the Government have that the proposed legislation will not result in a significant impact on union reps carrying out duties for which there is a legal entitlement, and what do they consider “significant”? Is the real attempt behind this to reduce such facility time and, if so, why? Do the Government propose to measure and monitor the impact of this change, and how are they proposing to do so?
The impact assessment also suggests that it will cost employers £2.2 million to familiarise themselves with the new rules and £2.4 million to report a year. It is very hard to believe that this is not an underestimate given how much information will have to be collected, which the Government seem to say will take only eight hours per employer. Is that true for employers with thousands of staff and hundreds of reps? Even if that figure is accurate, why impose it on employers with no related benefit? Because, of course, the published information will show nothing. A high level of facility time might be needed where lots of meetings are taking place because of large-scale redundancies, mergers, relocation or indeed sudden scale-ups following flooding or foot and mouth disease. What does a high level of facility time for safety and union reps indicate? It could indicate really meaningful negotiation on new standards, job evaluation or workplace education, or it could indicate poor management causing lots of grievances and sicknesses. Or maybe it indicates lazy union reps pulling a sort of sickie because they prefer endless meetings rather than nursing patients or teaching children. I have a feeling that the Government think it is the last one. I tend to think it is one of the first two.
Above all, the amount of facility time and the way of documenting and accounting for it should be a matter for management, not for Ministers. As managers themselves, the Government can already embed, and have embedded, levels of facility time in their own departmental agreements with the unions. If they want to, they can count, negotiate away, reduce or increase those levels. So the Government have always been able to cap facility time for their own employees. This clause is about the public sector outside of central government, which surely ought to have the freedom, as does central government, to decide what is best for its own workforce and circumstances. Management really do know best, and it should be left to them.
With regard to local councils, as the Minister has said, the Local Government Transparency Code already requires information on facility time, so there is no need to include them in the Bill. Hence Amendment 87, tabled by my noble friends Lord Beecham and Lord Harris. On local authorities, perhaps I might refer to one notable local government leader, John Pollard, the leader of Cornwall Council, who the Local Government Chronicle lists as one of the top 25 most powerful people in local government. He recognises the positive contribution that local trade union members make in their workplaces in Cornwall. The council places great value on the constructive relationships it has with local unions and the commitment of those members to the delivery of good-quality services. The council says that its good record of addressing employment issues is helped very much by locally determined facility time arrangements. Therefore, Cornwall Council is extremely worried that this Bill would hamper its discretion in agreeing working arrangements with the unions. Its members find that the Bill is totally inconsistent with the Government’s localism principles and their commitment to devolution. It wants to protect its local discretion with regard to facility time.
Our principal fear is that this provision on facility time, rather than encouraging good employer-employee relations, will undermine them. It will disrupt existing relations which, on the whole, are good. How much better it would be if the Government sought, if not industrial democracy, at least co-operation, which does not happen by accident. Smoothing day-to-day working relationships and building good relations leads to happier workforces. We know that turnover in organisations with no union reps is higher than in those with union reps. It is an indication of the work that they do to facilitate really good working relations. Facility time reductions will come at the expense of constructive industrial relations and undermine good joint working between unions and employers. The whole idea of documenting facility time can only be a run-in to the next clause, Clause 13, which gives the power to cap it, with no evidence and to the detriment of industrial relations.
In view of the powers proposed, which are extensive and uncertain in scope, our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has called for regulations under this new section to be by affirmative procedure. Our Amendment 83 allows for this, and we assume that it will be accepted by the Minister today. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment so expertly moved by my noble friend Lady Hayter, and I refer to my entry in the Members’ register in doing so. Listening to my noble friend, I was struck by the chasm between the Bill’s punitive restrictions and the realities of management and industrial relations on the ground. I will refer to two personal experiences in this: one as a Cabinet Minister, the other as a trade unionist.
As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, with my noble friend, who was a Minister alongside me, I oversaw a budget of £140 billion and a staff of more than 100,000 at the time, in 2007-08. It was very apparent to me and my Permanent Secretary—at the time it was Leigh Lewis, who was very respected, including by me— as well as to his senior managers that facility time for union representatives was often crucial in resolving grievances and local disputes, which otherwise could have got out of hand. Sometimes these grievances resulted from personality clashes, not only from management’s side but from the union or staff side, and union representatives with facility time played an indispensable role. I am absolutely confident, from direct experience of working with the senior managers at the DWP, that union representatives played an indispensable role in resolving matters which would otherwise have escalated and sometimes taken a great deal longer to resolve. There was a network of representatives, known to management as well as to staff members. If something came up, staff could immediately contact the representatives, who would normally be available because of facilities arrangements. On the other hand, if something came up that management was concerned to pre-empt or to resolve, it could contact somebody to sort it out. This is common-sense industrial relations. Again, I am sorry to refer to our previous lives—myself as a Cabinet Minister and the Minister as a senior manager in an important private-sector organisation dealing directly with trade unions—but she must know that what I am saying is true: facility time helps the smooth running of organisations in the public sector as well as in the private sector.
In the DWP, it was not always plain sailing. We had to deal with the PCS union, and senior managers had their frustrations with that; frankly, sometimes I shared those frustrations. There was the odd abuse—there often is, in all forms of life—but those abuses could be dealt with by the unions and managers concerned. But with trade unions playing the role which they were founded to play, and which their members insist, through accountability mechanisms, they always play—that is, to represent their own staff—I would have thought that managers would welcome facility time, particularly when, as my noble friend Lady Hayter so aptly put it, it should be for management to decide these matters, not for statutory obligations, imposed sometimes through draconian regulations which we have not even seen but which are hinted at in this Bill and look draconian as a result. That seems to be very negative and reactionary indeed. That is the first example.
The second goes back to my experience as a trade union officer, initially with the Union of Post Office Workers, which I joined in 1976 as a research officer—which is now of course the Communication Workers Union. It was apparent to me then working within the union and subsequently from a parliamentary relationship that union representatives in the Royal Mail and the other organisations that the union represented played an absolutely vital role in promoting industrial stability. The Government seem not to recognise that. Unions are seen in this context as almost subversively irresponsible bodies that have to be whipped into line through draconian legislation instead of organisations that play a vital role in our society in ensuring that we move forward in a progressive manner. The very same union members are delivering a commercially successful outcome in the case of private sector organisations and ensuring in public sector organisations that there is efficient delivery of public services.
The role of union reps is especially important in the Royal Mail, which has such a time-sensitive function and is involved in the delivery of millions of items a day. If disputes happen, that whole process is badly disrupted. I have seen time and again experiences where union reps on the spot, known by all concerned, can resolve matters in the sorting office or other areas where the union is represented. They play a vital role in health and safety work—recognised union reps with the facility time to learn all the legislation and acquire the experience to apply it—to ensure both that employers are protected from action that could otherwise result and that employees are protected. They play a vital role in training and upgrading of skills, which I would have thought the Government would want in the public sector as well as in the private sector. Yes, there are arguments and disputes, but the truth is that 99% of those are resolved with the union representative who has the facility time to resolve them playing a vital role. The other 1% are escalated, but that is life.
I have concentrated on the advantages for employers of facility time, but what about the advantages to and the rights of employees to have proper representation? To be frank, many of them pay their subscriptions and forget about their trade union membership until a problem hits them and then they need someone whom they can go to. This Bill is blowing up out of all proportion some of the concerns that Conservative Ministers may have. The proof of my argument, surely, is to be made in respect of the Royal Mail and British Telecom, both of which contain members and employees that the Communication Workers Union represents. Those very same facility time arrangements that applied under public ownership when they were nationalised industries now apply under privatisation. In other words, these were not subversive arrangements that had to be crushed with a great big anvil in the public sector. They were so sensible that, in the private sector, they were maintained. They made commercial sense and they still make commercial sense, just as they meant public sector efficiency when in the public sector.
A further problem now arises under this legislation. I have looked at the almost Henry VIII provisions under the regulation powers granted by the Bill, particularly in the new Section 172A(9) introduced by Clause 12. This has provoked a whole series of questions for the Minister to consider and answer, if not in reply to this debate then in writing, for which I would be grateful. New Section 172A(9) deals with an issue,
“in relation to a body or other person that is not a public authority but has functions of a public nature and is funded wholly or partly from public funds”.
Let us take the example of the Post Office. It is 100% publicly owned, but it is not clear whether it will be caught by these regulations, as it operates in a commercial sector. It is increasingly a shop-front activity. Crown offices are more often franchised out to the private sector now, as are all sub-post offices, for the delivery of public services that the Post Office is charged with. Would it be affected by these regulations or not? That question should be answered. Will the facility arrangements that apply very successfully to Post Office counters and the Post Office generally be chopped under the Bill, even though some of its services are franchised out?
Then there is the Royal Mail. It is of course now privatised, but it is VAT-exempt for products such as first-class and second-class stamps, parcels and other products that are covered by the universal service obligation. That obligation uniquely applies to Royal Mail compared with competitor mail operators, of which there are many. Does that mean that Royal Mail, despite being privatised, will be caught by the regulations and in particular by new Section 172A(9)? Finally, British Telecom has long been privatised, but its Openreach, which is the part of British Telecom that delivers the engineering connections to people’s homes and private premises, is in receipt of some public funds for the delivery of superfast broadband. Otherwise, it would not have reached all these remote, hard-to-deliver-to areas for broadband. Would it be caught by these regulations or not? These questions point to the Minister reconsidering the whole of these clauses. This draconian attempt to restrict facility time is reactionary and punitive and, I may say, unbecoming of this Minister.
My Lords, I may embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Hain, by saying that I agree with every single word of the first 10 minutes of his speech. I certainly did not agree with the last bit and his suggestion that BT Openreach had achieved its objectives. I advise him to travel more widely in the country and he will get a very different response to that.
With great respect, I must say that the noble Lord did not talk about the clause at all. He made a moving speech in favour of the opportunities of facility time. I agree with him entirely. I worked for a long time in the private sector in the printing industry. We had it there, and it was very important. The value of responsible trade unionism is something that I have always respected and is enormously important. Listening to the noble Lord, one would have thought that somehow Clause 12 abolished facility time. But it is not that at all. Noble Lords who came in half way through this speech may have wondered whether that was going to happen. All that the clause is saying is that there should be transparency and that bodies funded by the taxpayer—public bodies for which the taxpayer is paying—should be prepared to say how much facility time is offered to the trade unions. How much is paid for out of taxpayer-funded money to provide trade union services within their organisations? I am not suggesting for one moment that if those figures are then published there should be an instruction to say, “And the figure should be nil”. That would be extremely unwise. Facility time has a valuable function to perform.
I listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. We were given one of those speeches which suggest that this marks the end of civilisation as we know it. In my previous incarnation, when I did employment, I listened to the speeches on the Trade Union Act 1984 and I was told that it would mark the end of civilisation and the destruction of all responsible trade unionism. I listened to Mr Tony Blair and Mr Gordon Brown promising—as new Members of Parliament on that occasion, making their early speeches in the Commons—that it would be repealed immediately. Of course, as we know, it never was, and I am prepared to take any bet in this House today—although I am probably not allowed to do so—that no responsible Government would repeal this provision in respect of facility time, requiring public sector bodies that are publicly funded at least to publish the details of how much facility time they offer within their organisations.
My Lords, I hesitate to question the assumptions being made by the noble Lord, Lord King, because he is a resident of my own diocese. However, it seems that he may be missing the point. The transparency that he speaks about is quite appropriate, but I thought that the aim of Clause 13 in particular was to assess the cost of facility time and possibly for the Minister to restrict it. That is what is being seen as the threat by trades unions. The noble Lord is quite right in one way, but this carries with it a threat. It would be interesting to know how much it will cost a Minister and his staff to vet all this stuff, but I think that that is where the threat lies and that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, have been talking about.
If the right reverend Prelate will allow me, we are actually on Clause 12, which is about transparency. He is quite right to say that Clause 13 raises a different issue, but this debate is on amendments to Clause 12 and a Motion tabled by the noble Baroness that the clause should stand part. That is the issue I am addressing.
The other interesting fact here is that this is not some sort of great leap into the unknown because, as noble Lords know, this is already happening because it has been introduced in the Civil Service. I have not heard either the noble Lord, Lord Hain, or the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, say that it has caused riot and confusion within the Civil Service. My understanding is that what has actually happened is that following the publication and examination of the figures, there has been quite a significant reduction in expenditure on facility time. I have seen this happen, as has anyone who has worked in a big organisation or in industry. I had facility time in a factory for which I was responsible and I saw what happened there. It started off as quite a modest enterprise. Then one rather powerful shop steward, or father of the chapel as they were called in the printing industry, established a position of his own so that he managed to turn what was meant to be a part-time activity into a full-time one; that was all he did. He then persuaded the factory manager that he was a very busy chap and was getting older, and asked if he could have someone else to help him.
I thought that the right reverend Prelate was going to accuse me of encouraging gambling in your Lordships’ House, so I will not indulge in another bet. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, that I favour facility time, but I know what is going to happen and I am absolutely sure of it. We will find that when these figures are published, there will be a huge variety of situations. Some managements will have kept reasonable control over the amount of facility time by starting out with the best of intentions and ensuring that it is properly monitored. That is probably what happened in Cornwall, if I may say to the noble Baroness. I believe that they are already required under local government regulations to publish their arrangements. I expect that the leader of Cornwall Council, if that is the person to whom she referred, is probably rather proud of the efficiency of the arrangements. What we will find as a result of this transparency is a huge variation.
We cannot walk away from the actual figures. I do not know if they have been challenged, but I have some figures which show that the cost of facility time in the Civil Service was running at £36 million. Since publication of the figures and some further negotiation, the cost has come down to £10 million, and the saving to the public purse is now more than £50 million. If that is right, what responsible Government or Parliament or House of Lords would walk away from saying, “If that is the case in the national public Civil Service, do we not have a duty to see whether other publicly funded bodies that are organised in this way are being run efficiently in this respect?”. That is why I say that this provision will not be repealed. We will find that some public bodies are being run very efficiently and have a sensible balance in the amount of necessary facility time that is paid for out of public money and that some others are being grossly excessive. Even before publication we will find that changes will be made to ensure that the figures are not wildly out of place with those elsewhere.
I support facility time, and I support the recognition that public bodies should publish their figures so that people can see the amount of facility time being taken and then stand up and be prepared to justify them. I am prepared to stand up with those organisations in support of a sensible amount of facility time.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord King, and I accept entirely that he is genuine in his support for facility time, but I am afraid that I share the doubts of the right reverend Prelate that we may be seeing the first instalment on an instalment plan to dilute further the position of trade unions and their capacity adequately to represent their members. In addition to the Government’s naked attempt to damage their political opponents through legislation in relation to the political levy, about which we have heard this afternoon and about which even some of their own MPs and some Members of your Lordships’ House opposite have misgivings, as again we have heard today, we are seeing a trend in legislation that is clearly hostile to trade unions—all trade unions, not just those affiliated to the Labour Party or which might, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Collins, lend their support to other political parties.
The Royal College of Nursing is not known for its militancy or left-wing politics, but it has circulated to Members of your Lordships’ House a 13-page briefing setting out its concerns about the provisions in the Bill relating to facility time and what they might lead to. Under legislation by a previous Conservative Government, of course, trade unions are able to negotiate with employers for union representatives to have time to work with employers and union members on matters affecting the workplace. The college says, “The ability of the health service to transform and improve, without protected facility time for union representatives to enable smooth transition to facilitate learning and ensure safety is a significant cause for concern”. It cites a number of hospital trusts, including one from my own region of South Tees, that strongly support facility time, as does the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. There is also research demonstrating a much lower turnover of staff in organisations with union representatives which it is estimated saves the NHS £100 million a year, while government research confirms major savings in relation to work-related illness, accidents and employment issues.
The noble Lord, Lord King, calls for transparency, while the Government have themselves produced reports and information about the effect of facility time that support its continuation. Some 91% of public healthcare service managers agree that trade union representatives can be trusted to act with honesty and integrity. The RCN calculates that the impact of union reps on the turnover of staff and the cost of replacement by agency staff is alone to save the service £112 million a year.
Yet, the Government propose to take powers to impose a limit on the amount and cost of facility time for the National Health Service. It is not just a matter of providing information; they are taking the powers to impose a limit on the amount and cost of facility time. They would enact this by secondary legislation, which usually undergoes minimal scrutiny, certainly during its passage through the House of Commons and to a lesser extent here. They would be able to restrict the right of union reps to paid time off, and even to rewrite collective agreements and contracts of employment. Studies show that this is likely to result in greater cost, rather than savings.
As is the case with check-off, where the employer deducts union dues from wages and passes them on to the union, there is an issue of principle here. Public or private employers, councils and health service trusts should be free to determine what policy to pursue and not have decisions imposed on them by the Government —a Government who profess their belief in and support for localism, but which, at virtually every opportunity, certainly under the previous Secretary of State for local government, took powers to control the most minute detail. Obsessions with weekly bin collections were the least of the previous Secretary of State’s concerns in that respect.
As an example, my authority is renegotiating its facility time scheme. This authority, with approximately 8,000 or 9,000 employees, which is about half of what we were only a few years ago, will have the equivalent of 5.9 full-time staff paid for, with 3.6 in addition paid by the city’s schools, which, of course, are free to engage or not with facility time—a tiny fraction of the council’s workforce and a total cost of £135,000, which is substantially less than 0.1% of the council’s budget.
During the long period in which I was leader of Newcastle City Council—too long in the opinion of some people, not necessarily exclusively belonging to the opposition parties in the council chamber—I never found facility time to cause problems. On the contrary, it helped councillors and officers to make the best of difficult problems as they arose, whether they affected particular groups, or, critically, promoted efficiency and protected services.
Clause 12 appears to be based on unproven estimates of the cost and ignorance of the benefits of a properly developed scheme. It is the more objectionable because, once again, any change will be made by secondary legislation. As the Delegated Powers Committee points out, new Section 172A(9) contains a wide power to treat, for the purpose of the Bill, a person,
“that is not a public authority but has functions of a public nature and is funded wholly or partly from public funds”,
as a public body. As the committee points out, this would appear to extend to private companies or non-profit organisations to which services are contracted, or voluntary organisations receiving grants. The Minister earlier gave assurances about that. If she is right in what she said—and if I am right in understanding her— and the concerns raised by the committee are not really valid, I hope that such assurances can be embodied in the Bill. Let us have in the Bill what is and what is not to be included if this part of it goes forward. The committee points out that such bodies would be caught by publication requirements. That is why it concluded that if these measures go ahead they should do so by the affirmative procedure. If the Minister is unable to assure your Lordships that the Bill will clarify matters, I trust she would accept that the affirmative procedure should be available.
Clearly, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Hayter. My Amendment 87 seeks to exclude councils, the National Health Service and the Greater London Authority from the clause’s provisions. That is partly because local government is accountable to the public anyway, to the auditor and to audit committees. I should say that I am a member of the audit committee in Newcastle City Council. A degree of scrutiny is already available in local government, if required, but it seems to me unnecessary for the Government to extend its provisions in this respect to bodies that are accountable in a variety of ways. Even the health service is, to a degree, accountable to local government because health scrutiny committees can look at these matters—again, I serve on a health scrutiny committee in my authority. The Government’s concerns here are, to put it mildly, exaggerated. I hope that the Committee will either persuade the Government to change their position, or, if necessary, pass amendments requiring them to do so.
My Lords, I support the Government’s position and these clauses. I strongly associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord King, who put the argument perfectly. We are talking about a taxpayer subsidy for trade union activities, the amount of which we do not know—it may be tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of pounds a year. Nobody knows. It seems to me perfectly equitable to ask local authorities and taxpayer organisations to say how much that subsidy amounts to. It may well be, as my noble friend said—
I have seen the impact assessment, but I do not think that it is particularly specific about how much is spent. Once the regulations are published we will know how much is spent across the piece. It is a taxpayer subsidy. It may be justified; we do not know. There are some egregious examples of abuse of the facility, which I referred to in my speech at the start of the scrutiny of this legislation, which are well known and have been well publicised.
We spent the previous couple of hours talking about the campaigns that trade unions run and the tens of millions of pounds they spend campaigning against Israel or whatever. That is perfectly proper and it is their right to do that, but they cannot argue on the one hand that it is in their members’ interests to spend lots of money campaigning on these various issues, but on the other that they need a taxpayer subsidy to represent their members in the workspace because they do not have enough money left in their coffers to pay for this facility themselves.
Of course expenditure on health and safety activities is justified and I would support it, but equally, I would not support the activity of organising political demonstrations. The noble Lord will be aware of the famous case from which these reps derive their name, that of Jane Pilgrim, the nurse in the London hospital who has not done any nursing for about seven or eight years, who was supposed to be representing her union’s activities, but managed to find the time to organise demonstrations against Jeremy Hunt when he visited the hospital in that area. It is her right to do that—it is a free country—but it is not her right to do that while paid for by public taxation.
Figures have been released. In the Metropolitan Police there are 57 full-time equivalent employees engaged in trade union activities. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has 78 full-time equivalent employees engaged in trade union business. I find it hard to believe that they need so much free time and have received so much subsidy for their activity in those organisations. It may well be justified, but we will see whether it is when the regulations are published. We will be able to compare how much the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spends with equivalent fire and rescue services. We will be able to compare how much Newcastle City Council spends on its trade union subsidies against maybe better local authorities and how much they spend at all. It will bring transparency to the whole process.
I understand why the Labour Party wants to try to maintain this subsidy, but it seems to me that the central Civil Service has managed to save £57 million by the publication of these figures, as my noble friend Lord King made clear. If there are equivalent sums to be saved in other parts of the public sector—it seems to me that the central Civil Service still manages to function, trade unions are still represented, the world has not come to an end—perhaps we can also save equivalent amounts of money in other public sector organisations. Until the figures are published and we know how much is spent, we will not know that.
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee that I did not have the opportunity to speak on Second Reading. I declare my interests. The first is a practical and domestic one in that my wife is a lay official of a trade union, works in a hospital and has a certain amount of facility time which she devotes to representing individuals, primarily at hearings of one sort or another, or to sitting on partnership boards. Most of those activities are conducted in her own time. Rather like Lady Eden, I am aware of the Suez Canal flowing through the living room in terms of the detail and nature of those cases.
As regards my own personal involvement, I have been a member of a trade union all my working life. When I was very young, I was a branch official for various periods. However, the experience I want to bring to this debate is of my 24 years as a member of a local authority, 12 of which were as a council leader and, indeed—given the contribution that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has just made—my period as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. He cited in that connection the shocking statistic of 57 people being on full-time release in the Metropolitan Police. I do not know whether that figure is correct; I would need to check my files. However, given that that organisation has expenditure well in excess of £3 billion, the relevant expenditure is way less than one-tenth of 1% of the organisation’s expenditure. That organisation is enormously complex and many issues arise all the time. It is extremely important that its disciplinary matters and grievances are properly handled. My experience as a council leader, and, before that, of chairing committees, showed me how valuable and important the use of facility time was in improving the effective running of the organisation.
The noble Lord, Lord King, has done us all a service by telling us why he also supports the principle of facility time. However, he did so in the context of arguing that this clause, and the amendments we are considering, are completely irrelevant to whether or not one thinks that facility time is a good thing.
However, the question that the Minister has to answer is: what is all this about? We have a Government who are committed to reducing costs and bureaucracy. Therefore, various government departments have put out edicts that certain sorts of statistics and performance measures should no longer be collected. Indeed, the Home Secretary made a great point about the waste of police time collecting information which the Home Office always used to collect and no longer requires. In some instances, after five years in office, she is now starting to reinstate that because the relevant information is rather important and she wants to have it. However, this Government are committed to reducing the amount of information collected. So why, in this one area, are the Government saying that it is so important and there is such a big problem that they need to reverse their policy and collect the relevant information? The only real purpose there can be for collecting this information lies in the next clause of the Bill—the clause that I think the noble Lord, Lord King, suggested was perhaps a little bit over the top, but I may be putting words in his mouth. So the only purpose of collecting the information and of the legal requirement is to create a framework whereby some of the expenditure in this area can be capped. My experience is that that would be counterproductive, costly and inefficient for the organisation.
I recall on a number of occasions sitting on disciplinary hearings where the person who was potentially being disciplined, or perhaps witnesses, were clearly so emotionally involved and wound up by what was happening that without the assistance and support of a lay official the evidence and discussion would have gone on interminably. I remember one occasion which did go on interminably simply because the person concerned had declined to have a lay representative or official with them. Lay officials help to codify things and sometimes explain to a member that perhaps their case is not quite as strong as they feel on an emotional level that it might be. Sometimes they explain to members why they are in that situation. That is what local lay representation is all about. I have also been present when a full-time official from the area or regional office has represented someone. I say with all due respect to my noble friends who have served in this capacity that it was always more useful to have a representative who knew the local environment and was part of what happened locally. That is why the service is so valuable, particularly when grievances between groups of employees are involved—I say this having experienced the “Suez Canal in my living room” scenario as much as anything else—where the local lay official is often able to make progress so much easier when rather heavy-handed management intervenes, as is sometimes the case.
My other experience which I think is relevant to this issue is of dealing with big issues in a local authority, when we needed to introduce major changes. We made what we thought were very significant and substantial cuts, although I suspect that local authorities now face cuts of even greater proportions. I valued being able to talk to the local representatives on facility time, explain to them what was happening and take them through it. They did not like it. They would much rather it was not happening. In some instances, they would have much preferred the council to act illegally rather than doing what we needed to do to balance our budget. However, that dialogue was an important part of setting the parameters and making sure that the changes that needed to be made could be implemented sensibly. That is why participation in the partnership structures in the health service is so important. The note we have all had from the Royal College of Nursing spells this out. That takes time. Sometimes I think it takes a lot of time because local management is not quite sure what it wants, but the important thing is that there is an involvement at that stage and that people are able to feed in their experience and local knowledge. Often, the trade union lay representatives on facility time have a better understanding of the circumstances and the changes than the management representatives who are trying to bring them about.
As regards public safety, a significant amount of facility time is devoted to health and safety matters affecting not just employees but the public, particularly in the NHS and local government. That is what people are engaged in. Are we saying that those public bodies carrying out their responsibilities in respect of health and safety should no longer have the support of local lay representatives, who, again, will have an intimate knowledge of the way things operate and of the particular problems that may arise? Yes, of course, the management structure can set up its own people to do that work but I suspect that that would cost more and be less effective and less useful.
I thank the noble Lord for giving the most brilliant support to the point I wanted to make. He is not frightened to stand up and say why this issue is important and why facility time is vital to an organisation. He is not frightened of this being made public. It has been made public as regards the Metropolitan Police. He will be able to explain why it is necessary and why it is a real benefit. I strongly support that.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that support. I was about to conclude by saying that I rather wish that the noble Lord was the current Secretary of State because I would then be much less concerned about the context in which this clause sits within the Bill. If we had a Secretary of State who unequivocally understood the value of facility time, as the noble Lord, Lord King, clearly does, I would be much less worried that there is some hidden agenda behind the inclusion of this clause. I suspect that, as my noble friend Lady Hayter made clear, the real reason behind all this is to provide the framework for the capping which is intended to follow. That is why we have to be extremely cautious and extremely clear about this clause. I hope the Minister will accept some of the amendments or, perhaps, abandon the whole project.
Before I make any comments in relation to the speeches that have gone before, I echo the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and apologise to the House for not being present and participating at Second Reading, for other reasons. I come to this House with many years’ experience of trade union negotiation. I also sat on the Back Benches when my noble friend Lord King was Secretary of State for Employment. I wish I had heard from the Labour Benches then all that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has said this afternoon. At that time, it was all sorts of vitriol and condemnation. The noble Lord certainly did not get the expressions of support he has just received. I have experience of negotiating with a large number of trade unions, face to face, over a number of years. In this House—and particularly in the other place —I have so often been depressed that in these debates we have a lauding of every trade union on that side and no condemnation of management on this side.
When I negotiated, I was involved in the removal of two managers because they were so bad at managing in their negotiations with the trade unions that they endangered relationships. We should be honest on both sides that we know there have been bad trade union officials and bad managers. I have unhesitatingly admitted—I will go no further than that—that I have been involved in removing two managers because they were so bad at trade union relations. I worked for many years in the oil industry and in the distributive trades. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is not in his place, because I negotiated with Alan Law of the Transport and General Workers’ Union in the West Midlands. I think it would be fair to say—and recognised on the Benches opposite—that he was a man of a certain repute. Earlier on in Committee, I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, referred to mine winders. I know about these, because I was involved in the heavy engineering industry at the time and I negotiated with the trade unions who made them in factories in the Midlands.
I do not want to duplicate the comments made by my two noble friends. However, it is right that we should have a clear indication of the cost which taxpayers are required to pay to cover facility time. I am as passionate about facility time as Members on the opposite side. I was once a guest speaker at the General and Municipal Workers’ Union conference, to give the management perspective. One might say that I was there on facility time from management. I do understand every ounce of the sincerity shown in relation to identifying good, useful, constructive, long-term facility time, whether it is for paid officials, lay ones or part-time ones. However, let us be honest with ourselves. There are occasions when it runs riot. In the private sector, that is a decision for management; in the public sector, it is a cost for the taxpayer. We have a right to know when that cost applies. I note from her comments that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has done a lot of research. However, a letter was sent from the Minister to Sir Alan Meale, the Member of Parliament for Mansfield, some five months ago, identifying the difference in costs per hour between the private sector and the Civil Service. The noble Baroness did not quote it: my noble friend Lord King made reference to it. That is an indication of why Clause 12 is in the Bill.
My Lords, there is one difference missing here. We are, essentially, talking about good employee relations and resolving problems. We are not necessarily talking about management and unions. We should be directing our energy and thought processes towards how to get the best employee relations and, thus, the best-quality service for the taxpayer. When a trade union representative engages in bargaining with an employer, we surely do not expect the trade union to pay for it. If we did, we would expect the taxpayer to look at how much time was spent by the employer’s side. In other words, could it be that the amount of time employers spend on employee relations should be equal to the amount of time the trade unions spend? Should it be the same, because all parties are there at the negotiations?
One point which has not been made is that the time trade unions spend when they act in negotiations to improve employee relations is not just facility time, it is something else—employee relations time. The two things can be quite different. We are surely not going to argue that when all trade union representatives are employed and engaged in improving the quality of public services the trade unions ought to pay for it. That is my first point: it needs to be carefully looked at because it is not a simple equation. Secondly, if we had all the information on facility time which the Bill would allegedly provide, what would that tell us? Would it tell us about: the quality of the negotiations; what was being talked about; whether the time was usefully spent? It will not tell us that at all. It will not give us any—or only crude—information about facility time.
The Civil Service example, which the Minister seems quite pleased about, is a separate case. I do not know anything about Civil Service employee relations. I know a lot about employee relations in the health service and local government and I know that, by and large, they have been extremely good for many years and continue to be so. There are no employers in the health service or local government who want this piece of legislation. In the private sector, the decision about how much facility time is spent is for employers to make. Why is that not the case in the public services? Do we have different standards of quality employee engagement in public and private sectors? Of course we do not: none of us believes that. It is up to the employer to decide on the amount of facility time and to account for the quality of work that comes out of that time. That is where we ought to be heading. The Bill does not take us in that direction. It is a crude, unnecessary measure and I agree with the speeches made on this side, particularly that by my noble friend Lady Hayter. As somebody who worked in this sector for many years, I can say that it was a great speech: she hit all the right issues and said all the right things.
It is not necessary to have been at Second Reading to participate in Committee. No noble Lord should feel guilty about it: it is not a problem. The House is delighted that the noble Baroness is speaking to amendments in Committee, despite not being at Second Reading.
I joined the Royal College of Nursing in 1957 and I am still an active member and fellow of the college. I support all that it does on both the professional and labour relations sides. I have also been chairman of a trust and of a regulatory body, so I have had a considerable amount of management experience. Had I been present at Second Reading, I would have spoken clearly against Clause 12 because, in my experience, it is important that the culture of the organisation is maintained by good relationships throughout it. It is there with labour relations and the trade unions. If we do not pay attention to that, we fail in any innovation or forward movement. Particularly in the health service, we are talking about patient safety and high-quality care. I believe managers are beholden to ensure that in their business plan they allow an allocation of money for facilities for staff to participate. Even up to board level, I always had a member of staff present at the board meeting. We will be doing an injustice, particularly to a large part of the health service, if we reject the fact that staff need that facility time, particularly as they are the lower-paid portion of the health service and public service.
We must not forget that there are care homes that are not part of the public service, or that we have problems with the private sector as well in terms of its being able to ensure that its labour relations are correct and staff are able to participate. We cannot go on having strife between management and staff. We have to tackle this and the Bill is the opportunity to do it. I ask the Minister to pay some thought to what I have said, particularly in terms of the large workforce in the health service. However, every workforce needs to be able to participate and give satisfaction in whatever the job is, getting a high standard and ensuring that there is a culture of working together.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 87 in particular, but before I do so I shall address a few remarks to the noble Lord, Lord King. The example of the Civil Service is clearly what underpins this part of the Bill as far as the wider public sector is concerned. The noble Lord, Lord King, said that there had been a significant reduction in the cost to the Civil Service since facility time was reduced. That is true, of course, but there has also been a reduction in the representation of civil servants by the people to whom they have previously looked for assistance in times of difficulty. The staff rep is basically a mediator and part of the HR process. In many cases, issues that may go to the grievance procedure are dealt with before that, which is to the benefit of the Civil Service as a whole, management and employees.
I know for a fact that at HMRC, since the reduction in facility time, staff reps have had considerable difficulty getting time off for union work, particularly for looking after individual cases. In some ways the most important part of such work is looking after individuals who, for whatever reason, do not feel confident enough to look after themselves. There have been other reductions as well—that is natural. So I say to the noble Lord, Lord King, and other noble Lords who have highlighted the Civil Service as an example: if you cut the time available, thereby saving the Civil Service money, a situation results in which civil servants do not get the representation that they have a right to expect.
I shall focus on Amendment 87 because it concerns an area that has not yet been highlighted in this evening’s debate on facility time for representatives. The specific impact assessment on the part of the Bill on facility time—not the overall one—contains a table listing the number of public sector bodies affected by this measure. I was surprised, as noble Lords may have been, that they totalled 21,000, 20,000 of which are state-funded primary and secondary schools.
Many primary schools in particular are small and de-delegate their union facility arrangements to shared local authority organisations. School employers recognise the benefit of this as being cost-effective and efficient. Part of the benefit of what is known as de-delegation—an ugly word but it seems it is quite effective—is that it allows joint local authority organisations to use the paid release of experienced, trained and accredited trade union representatives. In some circumstances this is done on a full-time basis because it is to everybody’s benefit. The Bill’s prohibition of full-time release would seriously undermine the availability of trade union representatives to attend meetings at which they are required to represent the interests of school staff. That means not simply teachers but all the other categories of staff so essential to a school’s day-to-day functions. It could lead to the need for trained and accredited union representatives in each individual school, which would surely lead to an increase in costs at those schools at a time when they are already under considerable financial strain.
I understand that the Government want generally to weaken trade unions through this Bill, but did they really intend that local schools should be forced to provide local representation at least at an acknowledged cost when it is already being provided more effectively by other means? The Bill puts that at risk and it puts at risk collective agreements on facility time to which employers and unions have signed up. There is no justification for the Government interfering in agreements that unions and employers are content with and regard as beneficial to the smooth running of schools.
There is of course the wider issue that the provisions apply only to public sector workers, which means that their right to representation is unfairly limited compared to other workers. That is very much to be regretted; it is unnecessary and unacceptable that the Bill is creating a two-tier workforce in this area. Perhaps this reflects the Government’s view that imposing bureaucracy, red tape and what they like to refer to—and regularly do—as burdens is unacceptable when it applies to the private sector, but acceptable when applied to the public sector and the trade unions that seek to represent public sector workers.
I referred earlier to the impact assessment on facility time. Under the heading “The rationale for intervention” on the issue of facility time, the impact assessment says:
“The whole public sector needs to ensure it delivers value for money; it is unacceptable that taxpayers’ money should be spent without proper monitoring and control”.
On the face of it, that sounds perfectly reasonable; I do not think anybody could seriously disagree with it. However, I shall return to that point. The impact assessment also contains a section entitled “Problem under consideration”. I suggest that it is a problem only in the minds of government Ministers, but it states:
“The cost of facility time in the public sector is paid for out of public funds”.
That is not terribly revealing; everything the public sector does is paid for out of public funds. It goes on:
“There was inadequate monitoring and control of this spending in the Civil Service and evidence (including research carried out by the Taxpayers’ Alliance)”—
which is accused of many things but balance is not one of them—
“suggests this remains the case in the wider public sector. These measures will extend this publishing requirement to the wider public sector, in the interests of transparency and accountability”.
So transparency, accountability and value for money are the three pillars on which this attack on the ability of trade unions to represent their members adequately is supposedly based.
When it comes to these pillars, some consistency is required. I shall limit my one comparison to the schools sector, on which I am focusing. There are now some 5,000 academy schools, which annually receive around £20 billion of public money. Yet transparency and accountability are next to non-existent as far as academy schools are concerned. Try seeking the detail of the operation of the regional schools commissioners. Try seeking information on the decisions made by the academy chains. In many cases it is almost impossible to judge whether value for money is achieved, due to the lack of information made publicly available. This is for £20 billion of expenditure. That is surely a much more urgent target for legislation, yet the government impact assessment estimates the potential saving from cutting back on facility time in the public sector at around £100 million. I will not say that £100 million is an insignificant amount, but some balance is required here.
The impact assessment estimates that the percentage of the public sector pay bill spent on facility time is around 0.14%. With the Civil Service figure now roughly half that, it suggests that bringing the wider public sector into line would deliver that £100 million—give or take—saving. Yet there is neither rationale nor explanation in the impact assessment as to how that figure is arrived at.
Returning to education, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers cites the DfE’s own statistics on school spending, which show that the per pupil rate for the teaching staff pay bill is £2,500. So the average cost of trade union facilities currently constitutes 0.07% of the total pay bill—remarkably, exactly the same figure as applies now in the Civil Service.
For that and other reasons that I have referred to, I believe there is a pressing need for education and indeed other public bodies listed in Amendment 87 to be excluded from the Bill.
My Lords, part of the problem here is that the Government have a bit of history to live down on this. As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, this clause is about the publication requirement—it is not about the detail, which comes in Clause 13—but I can understand why people are a bit suspicious.
When I started doing trade union work for the Conservative Party back in 2008, a huge number of Questions were being put to the then Labour Government about facility time. At one time, I asked the honourable Member in the House of Commons whether he had calculated how much cost he was generating in finding out about the cost of facility time. But if you look back to the records of 2008 to 2010, you will find 400 or 500 Written Questions asking various things about the facility time. I am not surprised that the trade union movement got a bit suspicious about what was going on. It is similarly unhappy about this.
I do not think that anyone would justify the examples given by my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan. Those were unacceptable. But the question is: whose job is it to sort out the unacceptable? My view is that if there is sufficient publication of what is happening, it is then up to the bodies concerned to sort it out. After all, facility time is something that comes from the employers locally to the unions. Clearly, there have been examples where the employers—not the unions—have bought off trouble by giving facility time that might not be justified. It is not all on one side. As has been mentioned many times, the fact is that facility time—which equals local representation rather than someone from the hierarchy of the union—is often far more effective in sorting out disputes.
It is also extremely useful for smaller unions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned a couple of the smaller unions, which, in the interests of fairness to all sides, have also written to me, so I will not repeat what she said. I will use the example of the union of which I am president, the British Dietetic Association. It has 10,000 members, very thinly spread around the country, the vast majority of them in the National Health Service. Because it is a union of 10,000 members—which also, incidentally, acts as a professional organisation —it does not have many staff. It relies to a very large extent on its local representatives gaining local knowledge to help sort out the generally minor problems that come up at a local level.
One difficulty that some people have, in my party particularly, is that they imagine that unions spend all their time on class warfare. In fact, in my experience—and I was for a time a lay union official—they spend most of their time dealing with and sorting out extraordinarily mundane difficulties in the interface between the troubled worker and the troubled institution. I am afraid I find it very difficult to attach the words “taxpayer subsidy” to the time that is given. Local authorities, as employers, are required by law to have facility agreements and to involve trade unions in a quite wide range of processes and activities involving staff. It is a legal requirement. Whether they are in the public or private sector, they have to involve union officials in certain areas, such as redundancy, disciplinary procedures and grievance procedures. If it is a legal requirement, it cannot be a taxpayer subsidy.
I have a letter here from the Conservative leader of North Yorkshire County Council. He says:
“North Yorkshire County Council has some 22,000 staff including 5600 teachers and in the current climate there is a cost benefit analysis to be considered in relation to whether facilitating trade union input at work is a good thing or not. Our experience at a local level is positive … Since 2010 there have been over 200 service restructures, affecting over a third of the workforce in some way with a proportion of our staff going through potential redundancy processes … To date all changes have been delivered in the timescales set … We have worked closely with Unison as the locally recognised union to deliver the savings”.
This is the Conservative leader of a county council, a very responsible official looking after a lot of people. He ends his letter by saying that,
“the local unions have been a real asset in delivering the changes needed and I hope this will continue for the foreseeable future”.
I have never met Councillor Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, but I venture that he probably knows how to handle his local facility time better than someone working off a spreadsheet in an office which is probably some way away from there.
By all means let us have transparency. That is a good thing. But let us not use transparency as a weapon to try to force out the best of what we have had. A British Dietetic Association lay official said to me recently, “The atmosphere at the moment is a bit difficult. I’m not sure I want to put my head over the parapet”. If a feeling gathers that we do not want to put our heads over the parapet, industrial relations will suffer. They will get worse, not better, because situations that would have been solved by the input of someone who knew what was going on locally will be referred upwards to full-time union officials who probably will not have the time to do the job properly anyway; industrial relations will deteriorate and the employers will lose out.
I was very impressed by the words of my noble friend Lord Hayward, who clearly has a lot of experience in this field. I counsel the Minister to let us have transparency, by all means, but let us not use transparency as a way of yet again making life difficult in an area of industrial relations which, overall, actually benefits from the ability of unions and management to negotiate sensible levels of facility time to help employees and employers deliver their targets.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, for putting some balance into the debate. I have a lot of respect for his experience. He called for honesty. I could say a few words about my experience when I was chair of ACAS of certain behaviours on both sides of industry but I do not think it would be a good idea or take the debate forward, but I would be very happy to have private discussions with him at some stage so that we could swap examples. I am also very grateful to my noble friend Lord Harris, who reminded me what it was like to be a lay union representative, which I was for 33 very long years, for both NALGO and UNISON. I was not a full-time official; we prided ourselves on dealing with our problems without needing a full-time officer.
This issue of transparency needs to be looked at in the context of the Trade Union Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, touched on this just now. This is not just about transparency being a good thing, so that everybody who undertakes a fishing expedition can find out wicked things about what certain individual trade unionists are up to; the context is that the Bill appears to be a general attack on the trade union movement. The context is the clause that is coming up next, which talks about cutting, curtailing and capping facility time. One of the things that I worry about is that facility time should be seen in the light of a cost-benefit analysis. Nothing has been said by the Front Bench on the government side about the positive work that is done by union officials and the savings that are made by union health and safety representatives and union learning reps, through saving time dealing with grievances, redundancies and reorganisations.
There were times during my trade union lay career when I was accused of being a management stooge because I was delivering an unwelcome message to the members about what was practical; there were times in ACAS when I was accused of being a management stooge because I was not in a position to agree with everything that the union said; and there were times when I was accused of being a union stooge because of my background and because I did not always entirely accept what the management argument said. It is extremely important that we keep on reminding ourselves, in the context of the Bill, that things of this kind are not just about saying, “Oh let’s get some information; it’ll be a jolly good idea”. It is more like a scene from an Arnold Schwarzenegger film with him standing there, fully armed, and saying, “We are not going to do you any harm, just give us the information”.
My Lords, I share experience of the print industry with the noble Lord, Lord King, although mine is slightly more recent than his, I think. I know the benefit of union facilities. I also accept that both management and unions should question those facilities from time to time to ensure that they are efficient and the money is well spent. It also has to be said—here I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Hayward—that if we just look at this from a slightly anti-union perspective, we will not take into account the fact that, often, more union facilities are needed when the management is poor. I do not know the detail, but I suspect that in the modern successful car plants we now operate in this country, they will have union facilities but not to the degree that they needed them in the 1960s and 1970s when they had all their problems. They will now have much more professional management and, indeed, much more professional union representatives.
Union facilities are also a factor in change. When you are undertaking a lot of change, you need more facilities, such as when you have redundancies because skills and so on are changing. I remember in the print industry taking union delegations abroad to try to negotiate manning agreements on the basis of what our competitors were doing on machinery. Noble Lords may remember that. It took a lot of time and cost to do that, but that was because we were conducting major changes.
I also find it extraordinary that a Conservative Government can advocate another layer of bureaucracy to achieve this so-called change, but that is what they are doing. The impact assessment says it is going to cost £2.4 million to have the information collected regularly. The initial cost of getting that information together will be over £2 million and then there will be another £2 million going on. The Government also say that they expect there will be £100 million of savings. I accept that is not insignificant and that it is important to have those changes, but I question, when we are trying to find £35 billion of cost savings in the public sector, with all the change that that requires, whether this is the priority. I suspect we are just going up a blind alley here, and it is wrong.
The strategy is also wrong. I do not know how the health service manages. I am amazed when I listen to debates in this House on the health service, because more regulations and requirements are always being put on people who should be concentrating on care. I do not know how people actually carry out their roles in the health service under all this regulation. We have to question whether we actually want all the ongoing bureaucracy involved in collecting all this information on these facilities every year. If the Government really think that there is a lot of money wasted on union facilities, why not have a one-off review and expose it? The Government could achieve the change they want and the cost savings, but probably without the ongoing regulation and information-gathering that this proposal is going to require for ever more and for no clear purpose.
We also have the example of the Cabinet Office producing all these changes to facilities. Why do we have to legislate to get change in the public sector? Why can we not just have managers do it? Why do the Government not initiate these sorts of reviews so that they can get these savings? Why does there have to be an ongoing burden of regulation to get change? It is madness, and the Conservatives should question themselves about this further bureaucracy they are imposing on the public sector. In time, what will happen of course is that when they want to blame all this bureaucracy on somebody, they will come up and impose the cap. That is what will happen and that is why we are very worried about that clause.
As has been said in this debate, this one-sided approach is worrying. It is wrong as a concept because you could get this by having, as I say, a one-off review. It does not need the regulation and of course it is very one-sided: it is basically saying that excessive facilities are the fault of the trade unions, when actually anybody who has worked in industry knows that this should be about partnership, and that unions and management have an interest in using them most effectively.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. I believe that our proposals can save money, strengthen people’s trust in government and encourage greater public participation in decision-making. We have already made changes in the Civil Service in relation to facility time, and it is in the spirit of this Government’s transparency agenda that we are introducing publication requirements for public sector employers elsewhere.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned the Conservative manifesto. The provisions in the Bill reflect that manifesto, on which the Government were elected, which said that we would,
“tighten the rules around taxpayer-funded paid ‘facility time’ for union representatives”.
We therefore have a democratic mandate in this area. As my noble friend Lord King said, we are not abolishing facility time. We value the role that public sector unions can play, but we need to know the costs in the public sector—the cost to the taxpayer, as my noble friend Lord Hayward said so clearly.
These regulations will bring transparency across the whole public sector. For those who currently publish facility time information, it will bring a consistency of reporting which will allow taxpayers to compare the various employers which they fund. For those not currently publishing data, it will bring them in line with local councils in England, government departments and other organisations such as Transport for London. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, asked about the Post Office, Royal Mail and BT Openreach. They are not caught by the provisions now that we have clarified their scope.
Responsible public sector employers—they, not Ministers, are the managers, by the way—should already know what time and money they spend on facility time. Many already formally record the information. It is not onerous for the Civil Service to publish it and nor should it be for other public sector employers. Where an employer has trade union representatives, it is hardly bureaucratic to expect that it should know who they are and what they do. Any employer, especially one which delivers a service to the public, should know how much time its staff spend delivering the role that they are employed to do. It should, therefore, also know how much resource is spent on facility time.
The Bill simply requires the publication of that information so that the public will also have access to it. Transparency breeds greater accountability and public scrutiny that ensures that taxpayers’ money is used effectively and efficiently. Public sector organisations are becoming more transparent. For instance, government departments publish the salaries of the highest-paid senior civil servants and, beyond the public sector in England, NHS Wales publishes its expenditure data. As an ex-civil servant, I was always a bit worried about the great transparency drive that we started when we came to power in 2010, but it has been a very good thing and I am glad to see it extended here. I was also grateful for the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, who brought her experience to our debate. The NHS is the biggest employer group in the UK and delivers such valuable front-line services.
Let me be clear here. Transparency is not the same thing as seeking to reduce or remove facility time. The Government do not view facility time simply as a cost. I echo the positive points made by several noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Donaghy. We recognise the value of facility time and do not for one moment wish to suggest that it is simply a drain on the public purse. There is the work on improvement in skills, especially for the disadvantaged, which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned. I know that facility time is used to very good effect on trade union duties, such as during employer restructuring, which the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, talked about; for health and safety, as several noble Lords said; and when accompanying an employee to a grievance hearing, which was always a valuable service in my experience over many years in both industry and the Civil Service. We expect such valuable facility time to continue—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said, such duties are not exclusively performed by trade union representatives. Where I am less sure of the value to the taxpayer is where it funds trade union activities such as attending conferences or voting in union elections. We do not seek to ban the reasonable use of facility time; we want greater transparency and public scrutiny.
I turn to some points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on local government. The aim of the facility time regulations is to ensure consistency of approach across the public sector. The Local Government Transparency Code requires only a high level of information. As for monitoring the impact on unions, the Government will be able to use the transparency data to monitor the impact of the changes, as will members of the public and parallel institutions with an interest, such as neighbouring councils.
On evidence, in the Civil Service, we introduced the requirement to publish similar information three years ago. We have seen significant savings for taxpayers—cumulatively, £52 million, to respond to my noble friend Lord King. We reduced spend by nearly three-quarters, from 0.26% of the pay bill spent on facility time down to 0.07%. That approach in turn helped the Civil Service to identify and reduce inefficient spending. For instance, it was found in one department that more than £400,000 of taxpayers’ money in one quarter alone had been spent on sending union representatives to the annual conference at the seaside. This transparency also showed that 200 civil servants, paid for by taxpayers, did no regular Civil Service work at all.
Perhaps the Minister can help me to understand her argument. Let us say that in a local authority, professional architects went to their conference to improve their architectural skills, and a trade union representative went to a conference to improve their ability to be a good trade union representative. Would they both be paid for by taxpayers’ money, or would one be right and one wrong?
I do not think we are requiring anything here; we are introducing a level of transparency, and how it would be recorded would be set down in the regulations. That is the point that I am trying to make. I can see that there could be value in a conference. Indeed, I have spoken at trading standards conferences in my time; they can be valuable. That is the sort of thing I had in mind.
The public sector as a whole spends an average of 0.14%—that is, £200 million—of its total pay bill on facility time. Civil Service transparency data is available on gov.uk, which shows the costs of facility time in Labour councils such as Bristol City Council, which spent 0.09% of its pay bill on facility time and employed 107 representatives, eight of whom spent the majority of their time on trade union work. By contrast, Suffolk County Council spent just 0.05% of its pay bill on facility time.
In London, local government displays significant variances. Lambeth Council spends 0.33% of its pay bill, or £281,000 a year, on facility time; Tower Hamlets spends 0.15%. At Transport for London, facility time costs £4.1 million a year, which is 0.3% of its pay bill. Those are large figures when one considers that Wandsworth Council spends just £22,000 a year, or 0.01% of its pay bill, on facility time.
Amendments 76 and 77 would limit the range of information published to just the total number of union representatives and the total cost of facility time. To promote reasonable transparency and accountability, there needs to be an appropriate level of detail published. That is to improve efficiency and is not—as was suggested by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Harris—just as a trigger. That is a separate provision, which we will be debating in a later group. The inefficiencies identified in the Civil Service would not have come to light if only the total cost of facility time and number of union representatives had been published. A single cost figure for a large council and another single figure for a small government agency are just not comparable. That is why we propose the publication of the data as set out in the annexe to my letter.
Amendment 78 would expand the range of information that relevant employers should be required to publish to include cost savings and the value of facility time arrangements. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for any employer to quantify the efficacy or value of existing facility time arrangements. Unlike calculating the cost of salaried facility time, this strikes me as an exercise for an academic. It would be unreasonable to expect every public sector employer to undertake calculations that would be so burdensome. Of course, should employers feel able to estimate the information suggested in the amendments, they are free to do so.
With regard to the proposed amendments to the public authorities which could be required to publish information, Amendments 83 and 84, I acknowledge that some types of employer are clearly understood to be a public authority, such as government departments or local authorities. For other public sector employers, such as academy schools, the position is less well understood. I hope that noble Lords are reassured by the government amendment brought forward today which will enable the regulations to be drafted so that they apply only to those bodies specified either individually or by category. If I may, I shall take away the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, on primary schools, because I am not quite sure where that falls, in the light of that letter.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee set out in its 15th report on 4 December the view that the powers to specify the information to be provided were properly exercisable using the negative procedure, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, reminded us. The committee expressed concern that the regulations could be extended to private companies receiving a small amount of public funding—we had some examples earlier —and, in turn, the reserve power to cap facility time could be applied to those organisations. Amendments 83 and 84 reflect similar concerns. I hope that noble Lords will accept that by amending the Bill as proposed and as agreed, and largely mirroring the regulations for Clause 14, we have taken a reasonable and proportionate approach to capturing only those public authorities that should rightly be accountable to the taxpayer.
On Amendment 87, I believe that when a public sector employer grants paid time off for facility time, regardless of the sector of the employer, it still represents a cost. Much has been said about the Government’s localism agenda, but the Local Government Transparency Code 2015 already requires facility time information to be published as best practice. We are simply asking that this information be meaningful enough for the taxpayer to see how resources are being allocated, and that the format be standardised across the public sector to allow proper comparison. Also, given that the practice already applies to local authorities, the Civil Service and schools, there seems no reason why a major publicly funded employer, such as the NHS, should be excluded.
We have debated this matter well and at length and for today I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, as the Minister said, this has been an interesting debate, but I have to ask one question—where on earth this all came from. I am getting a bit jaded, I guess. A couple of weeks ago we finished debating the charities Bill in this House and a couple of days later—I think that it was a Saturday morning—I woke up to hear that the Government had announced changes to charitable law or, at least, to charitable practice. They suddenly announced that they were going to stop any charity getting government money from using any of it to influence either Europe or indeed Parliament in its work. The press release began with the words, “The Institute of Economic Affairs”, and went on to say what the Government were going to do. Today we have something where the evidence given in the impact assessment is from the Tax Payers’ Alliance. So I am beginning to wonder why this Government can seem to jump and follow when those outside bodies try to influence them, but somehow when trade unions or charities want to do the same it gets them very nervous.
This point was best put by the noble Lord, Lord King. I am not particularly responding to him, but he encompassed so well whether Clause 12 is simply about transparency, so I shall respond to how he put it. If it was just about transparency, I wonder why the Government’s own explanation says that it is,
“to encourage those employers to moderate the amount of money spent on facility time”.
So in the Explanatory Notes it is clear that it is not just about transparency; it is with a view to moderation—by way of instalments, as my noble friend Lord Beecham said.
The whole point about transparency is to encourage efficiency of use. I explained by reference to what has been happening in the Civil Service that there have been some advantageous changes. That does not mean to say that this is not worth doing and that we do not value many of the facility time activities.
I am sorry to intervene in this debate, but I wonder whether I could make an additional point. Many of the bodies to which the Minister refers would already be covered by existing legislation. If those bodies are receiving grant in aid from government, by a simple stroke of the pen the Government could add a couple of paragraphs to the contract requiring them to publish the cost in the interests of transparency. So why is primary legislation required?
And the intention is clearly to moderate—it is not just about transparency. In fact, I thought that the Minister actually undermined her own case at the very end when she read out all those statistics from local government, because that has all existed but actually no one has gone looking. They do not look over each other’s shoulders, and it has not had the effect that she supposedly wants from this—that they will be competitive as to how little they each get away with.
We believe that by setting it out in a clear way and doing the numbers on a consistent basis we will get a much better idea about what works and what works less well, making the sort of comparison that I should like to see across the public sector. That is against a background and experience of improvements having been made within the Civil Service, where some of these changes have already been introduced.
As I hear from behind me, who says they are improvements? The point is that for local government, as the Minister says, the statistics are already there, and it has not led to a levelling up, levelling down or averaging out. So it is not just about transparency—it is clearly about moderating.
Yes, it was a point that I made in my original case—that is why we do not think, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, that it is just about transparency. We have a feeling that these are two of the same bits, which is why there is great nervousness about this.
In a sense, this is the same issue that my noble friend Lord Sawyer, raised. If you are going to talk about transparency in terms of saying which trade unionist will go off to a safety conference, that gets listed. But I used to work in the health service, and doctors were always going on very nice “continual professional development”, often in ski resorts. If we are going to have transparency, maybe we should look at some of that. Why are we picking on one particular small element for all this transparency, with the list of nine things that have to be covered? It is the employers who will have to do this. Why not perhaps look at the gender pay gap in some of these organisations? That might help and give us the tools to improve the situation of women. Or maybe we should look at diversity statistics and make more of these organisations that are not all covered by that. That sort of transparency should help much more.
Maybe we should look at the compensation paid by some of these organisations, where employers have not been very good. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, would say that not only did he remove those two people but there was quite possibly compensation that went with it that was not declared. So there are other ways. The interesting thing is why on earth we are picking up on just this aspect, if not for what my noble friend Lord Beecham said—that it is the trailer for Clause 13.
What the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said about fire, rescue and police is really important. But this is a management issue. I started by saying that good management manages this—it does not need an outside Minister at 30 Whitehall, or wherever it is going to be, to be able to set this down. We will come on later to which organisations are covered by this, and I shall not respond to that at the moment. There will be some organisations that the Minister has not even heard of, let alone visited, but she will still have the ability to put a cap on that. This is about management. It is something the Minister should keep well out of and leave to good managers.
It is fairly clear that we will be coming back to this at a later stage, but at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 76 withdrawn.
Amendments 77 and 78 not moved.
78A: Clause 12, page 8, leave out lines 36 to 39 and insert “may make different provision for different employers or different categories of employer”
Amendment 78A agreed.
79: Clause 12, page 8, leave out lines 42 and 43
My Lords, rather than looking at the types of organisations that are covered, this amendment looks at the role of safety and learning reps. My noble friends Lord McKenzie of Luton and Lady Donaghy have put their names to it.
The role of safety and learning reps is probably unparalleled. Having worked a lot with trade unionists from other countries, I know one of the things that they have learned from us is how it has improved the workplace. The work these reps do benefits the whole organisation enormously. Our fear is that it will be at risk if these representatives are denied the time to undertake this work and to do it at a high standard.
There are some workplaces where safety representatives are particularly important, where there is heavy machinery is one, but also in hospitals where there are drugs, surgical equipment, radioactive equipment and very pointy needles often with nasty things on them, so safety is clearly particularly important. I shall take just one example which could affect any one of us. It is when firefighters come to our homes to put out fires. Safety is key to their lives, but it impacts on our property and often our lives. The Fire Brigades Union is a proud and active trade union, but it is also the professional voice of firefighters and has a key role in improving health and safety. It trains highly qualified serious accident investigators who work with fire authorities to investigate incidents where firefighters have been injured or killed in order to identify problems and implement improvements. Our fear is that any restriction on facility time for health and safety reps—that could be without even Clause 13, just that they are concerned about what it looks like on paper—could come at a very high price, particularly in safety-crucial industries, such as fire and rescue. Cuts in any such time could stop FBU reps investigating incidents thoroughly and consequently retraining or redesigning protocols.
The amendments in this group would exclude safety and learning reps from these provisions. Both contribute to the success of the relevant businesses as well as to the wider economy. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments 87A, 89A and 89B, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Donaghy, and in support of Amendments 79 and 80A to which we have added our names. Our focus in this contribution is health and safety and particularly the role of safety reps. I should make it clear that focusing just on that does not mean that we resile from the broader issues of representation and facility time which have been argued so effectively by my noble friends.
I came at this issue and learned about health and safety not through long active work in the trade union movement, like a lot of my noble friends, but as Minister for Health and Safety in the DWP under the tutelage, for a period, of my noble friend Lord Hain, who is not in his place. I understood from that the importance of partnership working, the role of the HSE and, in particular, the role of safety reps and the contribution they can make.
Anything this Bill does that potentially undermines that role and undermines health and safety should be opposed as rigorously as we can. If we need reminders about the impact of health and safety, let us look at the statistics for the economy as a whole, not just the public sector. Despite the fact that we are recognised around the world as having a very good and effective health and safety system, in 2014-15 142 workers were still killed at work, 1.2 million working people suffered a work-related illness, 611,000 injuries occurred at work according to the Labour Force Survey and 27.3 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury at an estimated cost, according to the HSE, of something like £14.3 billion. There are still around 13,000 work-related deaths, predominantly from cancer caused by past failures to address health and safety issues. I return to the point that anything that undermines good health and safety potentially has very substantial costs for our economy, individuals and employers.
So far as Amendment 87A is concerned, I will address in a moment the reason why we consider that health and safety reps should be removed from the scope of Clauses 12 and 13 but, should that view not prevail, we consider that the publication requirements concerning time spent by safety reps and their costs would not show a meaningful picture without recognition of the benefits which they bring to an organisation, a point that has just been made by my noble friend Lady Donaghy. These benefits accrue to the employer, employees and more widely. As a former health and safety Minister, I recall a case where there were problems with a construction site where a crane collapsed and killed somebody walking in the street nearby, so it is not just employers and employees who are affected by this. It is simply a nonsense to look at costs of safety reps without looking at the other side of the question. Of course that begs the question of how you construct this requirement, and that would have to be dealt with in regulations, but it is perfectly possible to flesh out rules that would require some balance if this publication is to take place. What lessons do you learn in terms of the time that safety reps spend for an employer? You cannot just look at the time or the cost without understanding the risk profile of the business environments in which they are working.
Amendment 89A would remove from Clause 13 the prospect of a Minister making regulations which restrict the right of safety reps to time to carry out their duties. Amendment 89B would prevent the time costs of safety reps being included in the calculations which can be used to restrict facility time. On this point, I am grateful to Hugh Robertson of the TUC for focusing on this matter and reminding us that time off for health and safety reps to perform their functions is not strictly facility time but a separate legal requirement of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and of the European framework directive. Indeed, it would be a breach of European legislation—long may this be relevant—to restrict or cap the time that safety reps take. It has been suggested that the Government accept this view. I think the Minister may have expressed that; perhaps she will take this opportunity to confirm that. So if there is no intent to restrict the time of safety reps, why not remove them from the scope of Clause 13? If that is the case, the Bill allows a back door to impose a de facto restriction on the time of safety reps which would be in breach of legislation if imposed directly. The mischief is that the Government are saying that health and safety reps can have as much time off as they need, but the total amount of time that a union can have off will be capped, so the Government are trying to force unions to restrict the time themselves by saying that time spent by health and safety reps will come off the time available to other representatives. This must be opposed.
The Robens report on health and safety, which led to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, was clear that an effective health and safety system requires the involvement of all the workforce, and that health and safety systems work best when trade unions and employers work together. This has proved to be the case, which is why the Act gave legal backing to union safety reps. This is all in the context that it is of course the duty of the employer to ensure, so far as reasonably practical, the safety and welfare of all his employees. It is not for Ministers to intervene or to take over that responsibility, or to second-guess employers. Employers have the legal responsibility, and that is as it should be: those who create the risks should have the responsibility for managing them.
We know what health and safety reps do. It is massively effective, saving countless numbers of people from injury and ill health, let alone costs to the benefit system and the NHS, and indeed preventing the human tragedy that comes with accidents or fatalities in the workplace. There have been numerous studies over the years underlining the benefits that union safety reps bring to employers and society. Indeed, over a decade ago the then DTI estimated their value to society to range up to £578 million per year. Although for manufacturing an earlier study found that employers with health and safety committees had half the injury rates of employers who manage without, the Health and Safety Commission—before its merger with the HSE—produced a declaration stating:
“Trade union safety representatives, through their empowered role for purposes of consultation, often lead to higher levels of compliance and better health and safety performance than in non trade union systems”.
The current HSE website cites a large body of evidence that points to the advantages of involving workers in health and safety risk management. Trade unions covering the public and private sectors can offer countless examples of the benefits of health and safety reps making workplaces safer, as well as identifying the training that they undertake and encourage in others—in many instances, as we have heard, spending their own time on it. We should be supportive of these systems and not, because of some antipathy to health and safety or to trade unions, seek to chip away at what has been achieved. Given the acknowledged benefits that safety reps can bring to the workplace, it is perhaps surprising that more is not being directed to ensure compliance with the legal requirement for employers to consult with employees on matters of health and safety.
We should genuinely be proud of our health and safety system but never complacent, as the costs of failure can be high. We should be encouraging safety reps to play a full part in securing the safety of our workplaces, rather than seeking to embroil them in a bureaucratic process that devalues their efforts. Have 20,000 schools, many of them riddled with asbestos, not got better things to do than form-fill for the Secretary of State?
My Lords, I address the House as a former Minister for Health and Safety. I agree with almost all of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. Health and safety in this country has received a pretty bad press for quite the wrong reasons, but health and safety in the workplace is something that we should be immensely proud of. I think it is still true that the United States has about four times the number of accidents in the construction industry, for example, that we do here. We have a proud record in what we do but it is not a record to be complacent about; the noble Lord rightly said that this is something that you have to keep on about all the time.
So I do not rise with any antagonism either to the health and safety laws or to the very important role that trade unions play in ensuring that, in workplaces up and down the country, these laws are adhered to and employers take their responsibilities seriously, and indeed that work people take their responsibilities seriously. Very often, when employing in these circumstances, I found that it was the trade union representative who did most to ensure that, for example, people used hearing protection, which is always such a difficult thing to get many people to wear. Indeed in one factory, when I was Minister for Health and Safety, I found that the staff failed to put the earplugs in their ears but put them in their noses because they did not like the smell of the oil, which was not the purpose of the whole process.
The trade unions play a hugely important part in this. However, I do not understand why in those circumstances we should be ashamed of saying how much time it takes. We should be wanting to say how much time it takes, generously speaking of it and being able to point to businesses and parts of the public sector that do not seem to do as well as others. I am not afraid of transparency in this area. I know that there is a feeling on the Benches opposite that that it is all designed to stop things, but I am not sure that that is true.
I share very much the Minister’s point about anything that starts with a comment from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which means that it is probably fallacious; its use of words, and certainly of figures, is almost universally to be questioned, at the very least—rather less so than the IEA, but I would certainly be careful about relying much on its figures. I seem to remember some figures produced by the TaxPayers’ Alliance showing the suggested cost of the necessary green measures on energy efficiency being entirely wrong, and I want to take that opportunity to say so.
Does the noble Lord accept that there are plenty of ways to promote good health and safety practice without forcing safety reps through the processes in the Bill, with the risks that run from the subsequent clause, under which they could be restricted?
There are plenty of good ways, but I have to say to the noble Lord, having said that I agree with so much of what he has to say, that in the world of the internet, when everyone expects to be able to know everything, it is an odd argument to say that we should not know how much time is spent on this. I just think that that is not of 2016; it is the kind of argument people used 20 years ago. Today we need to know. We need to use those figures in order to point out that this borough spends very little time on health and safety while that borough spends much more, and it is about time that I as a taxpayer in a particular borough could say, “I don’t think my council is behaving properly”. If I do not have the figures then I cannot make that point.
I quite agree with the noble Lord about the consequences if this were used to push down the unions, but I have no evidence whatever that this Government, or any previous Conservative Government, have done that on health and safety. All I am saying is that I know of no evidence of that. I can imagine that in some areas suspicions might arise, and indeed I might find myself equally suspicious, but on this particular measure I do not think that is a fair assertion.
Still, it gives me an opportunity to say to the Minister something that I think needs to be said more often. Just because certain popular newspapers find ridiculous things that health and safety has insisted upon, and just because it is true that many local organisations fail to do the things that they used to because some unnecessary intervention by health and safety has suggested that it might be dangerous—children might fall over or something untoward might happen—that does not mean to say that we should not continually press for better health and safety in our workplaces. I particularly want to make the point about health and safety as far as hearing is concerned; we still have far too many people who retire to an old age of deafness because the health and safety provision has not been satisfactory.
In supporting my noble friend’s view about this amendment I would like to hear from her a very robust defence of the need for health and safety, the role of trade unions in ensuring that, and a determination to use the knowledge which we get from the Bill to ensure that those public sector bodies which do not treat this seriously enough can now be pinpointed because we shall know that they are not giving the time off which they should for the trade unions to play the part that they ought to play on health and safety.
My Lords, these amendments aim to remove from this clause elements of facility time that are used on health and safety. I suppose that our attitude to this just depends on how we view the status of health and safety activities. I wonder whether the Government are saying that health and safety should be part of the same category as everything else that trade union representatives do. It is of great credit to employers and trade unions that the health and safety record of this country’s workplaces has improved so much over the last 20 years, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said. Let us also not go back to those dark old days he describes, when employees could be regarded as some kind of an expendable commodity. They are costly to recruit and train, they have fewer days of sickness absence if other health and welfare issues are attended to, and they work harder for an employer when they are properly regarded and looked after.
We understand that no element of facility time should have carte blanche to take up as long as anyone wishes. There has to be a balance. Nevertheless, we do not want to go back to restrictions leading to short cuts and more risks. Therefore, to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, if we could have some kind of a robust explanation from the Minister as to why specifically health and safety is included in this clause, I think everyone in the Committee would rest easy.
My Lords, I should be clear that I do not support the Government’s intention—I still think it is their intention—to reduce facility time in the public services in principle. It is a matter for employer and employee to agree between them. Even the claims of cost saving in the Civil Service which were made in the last debate made no attempt to produce a cost-benefit analysis, which includes the undoubted benefits of facility time to the employer. The attempt to aggregate all facility time, including that of health and safety representatives and union learning reps, is cynical. The Government will decide what are “unacceptable inefficiencies” in the system and what is,
“poor value for money for the taxpayer”.
One wonders how objective that will be. It is to be hoped that the benefits, including staff satisfaction, improved health and safety and learning, will also be taken into account.
It is clear, as has already been said, that those employers with the best health and safety record welcome and support union safety representatives. Workplaces with union safety representatives have half the serious injury rate compared to those without. They also have lower rates of occupational illness and disease. The 100,000 health and safety representatives also save the economy millions of pounds and help to develop a positive safety culture in organisations and the reporting of injuries, and risk-awareness.
I will give two examples of health and safety partnership between employers and UNISON, my former union. In 2015, over 1,000 employees took part in a high-quality dementia awareness training in conjunction with the Open University in a range of workplaces. More partnership work is planned with the Open University around mental health awareness and autism awareness. While days lost through strike action amounted to 0.8 million, those lost through injuries or illnesses caused by work were 29.2 million—more than half because of “stress, depression or anxiety”, according to the CIPD. I am not trying to claim that health and safety representatives in most of the public services face the same physical hazards as, say, the construction industry. However, promoting well-being at work leads to huge savings for the employer. No attempt has been made by the Government to assess the benefits of this work.
A recent report by the CIPD, Growing the Health and Well-Being Agenda, reveals that the average cost of sickness absence alone is £554 per employee per year. This is the tip of the iceberg, as it does not cover the “indirect costs” of ill health,
“such as lost productivity, impaired customer service and lower employee morale”.
If you compare that cost of £554 per employee with the estimated cost of the apprenticeship levy and the national living wage at approximately £483 per person it illustrates the importance of well-being strategies and the link with day-to-day management.
I turn to union learning reps, because I have an amendment in the same group. It is important to place on record the important work undertaken by union learning representatives and their involvement in lifelong learning. A recent report by Exeter University also documented the significant added value which employers and individuals derive from projects provided by the Union Learning Fund. The report found that each £1 invested from the fund generates a total economic return of £9.15. The authors of the research estimate that £5.75 of that return goes to individuals in the form of improved prospects of employment and higher wages and £3.40 to employers, resulting from the greater productivity of a better skilled workforce—less output lost as a result of working time taken off to engage in learning.
I will give an example of other partnership deals, first, with Stoke Mandeville Hospital and local learning agreements with Sodexo and Carillion. One member, Louise, said of her own experience:
I left school at the age of 14 with no qualifications as I never sat my GCSE – I was a very rebellious teenager! … I took an NVQ2 admin course at college … I started working for the council in July 2009 … and was fortunate to work with UNISON ULRs [union learning reps], who encouraged me to do my level two adult literacy and numeracy in 2010” … I became lead ULR in January 2014 and began the digital champion project with the help of branch, ULF and UnionLearn funding, which is still going strong … By November 2015, I was already looking for my next learning mountain to conquer and I start an Institute of Leadership and Management leadership and management qualification this month”.
Louise went on to say that it was the investment of time by the union learning reps at the beginning which helped her life improve, and of course I pay tribute to her own commitment and dedication to lifelong learning. The investment of time in lifelong learning pays enormous dividends for our society, and nothing should be done to inhibit the work of union learning reps, which a cap on facility time will almost certainly do.
My Lords, I want to underline one point: British health and safety standards are the bedrock of European health and safety standards. The Single European Act—a great achievement of the Conservative Government at the time—allowed standards for health and safety to be set across Europe. I know that noble Lords opposite are delighted that the working time directive falls under this heading, and a lot of other things fall under it too. It demonstrated that if we had good health and safety regulations and other countries were brought into line with our standards, that would be in the interests of Britain. We raised standards across the European Union. There are not too many areas in the labour market where we have done that—in many areas we have tried to reduce them—but in health and safety we are top of the league.
Therefore, I hope that anything that the Government do in this area will continue the traditions of previous Conservative Governments, distinguished representatives of whom are sitting on the Benches opposite, and maintain high health and safety standards. We cut them at our peril.
My Lords, these amendments all seek to limit the information published under our transparency regulations by excluding certain types of trade union representative. I start by agreeing with the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Donaghy, about what health and safety and union learning representatives do for their organisations. The debate that we had about the dangers in the NHS, about heavy equipment and about many other areas showed how important health and safety is. Of course, there are duties on employers as well. If you sit on a public body or on a company board, you take these matters very seriously in this country, and that is a good thing. As my noble friend Lord Deben said, we have a strong record, although we always need to keep working at it. He gave examples of where trade union reps are very helpful in enforcing the detail of health and safety, which is so important. As the noble Lord, Lord Monks, said, we have taken our fine traditions in this area to Europe, and that has been important as well.
I also commend the work that the TUC and Unionlearn do right across the public and private sectors in working with adults who lack basic skills in numeracy and literacy, including peer support from union learning representatives.
Those sentiments do not jar with what we are proposing. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, an employer must allow union representatives as much paid time off work as is necessary or reasonable to perform their statutory functions and duties, and we are not proposing to change this rule. We simply want to ensure—
The answer, which I suppose relates mainly to Clause 12, is that we want to ensure that the time that union representatives collectively spend on union duties and activities during working hours, at taxpayers’ expense, is justifiable and accountable and represents value for money. Clause 12 enables Ministers to make regulations requiring specified public sector employers to publish information relating to facility time for those representatives.
Equally, if the reserve powers in Clause 13 were ever required, they should logically apply to all types of facility time, whatever legislation the rights are granted under and whatever category they fall into in the public sector. In a sense, no area is more immune to attracting inefficient or unaccountable spend than any other type of facility time. Where facility time is found to be at an acceptable level and adds value to the organisation, we expect it to continue, as I have already said. The way that I see it is that the benefits of transparency and accountability do not vary according to the type of work undertaken by, or designation of, a union representative engaged on facility time.
Where one found a public service in which the amount of time spent on health and safety was manifestly below what would normally be expected, would not the fact that you had these figures enable people to complain about that, pointing out that this would be dangerous and that the situation ought to be improved?
That is not the current proposal.
Amendment 87 would require employers to publish an estimate of the cost savings and value of facility time taken under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. That would be significantly burdensome for public sector employers to calculate. It would be very much a subjective calculation, and we have already been round this circuit. Should public sector employers believe that they can estimate the information suggested by these amendments, then they may do so, but it would not seem reasonable to require every public sector employer to make this calculation.
Finally, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, for her interesting comments. I agree with much of what she said about the importance of tackling illness at work, about the days that can be lost through illness, which is bad for productivity and growth, and about what can be achieved by focusing on health and well-being. However, I do not think that that affects what I have said on these amendments and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister and am grateful for the contributions to this debate. The problem is that what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said flies in the face of what the Government have said. As I said in the debate on the previous group, they stated that the whole idea of this provision is to promote transparency so as to encourage employers to moderate the amount of money spent on facility time. That is the aim. It is not to increase the amount spent; it is to moderate and reduce it. It is impossible to see Clause 12 without looking at Clause 13. Clause 12 is the way into Clause 13. We will come to Clause 13 after the next debate and will have very serious questions to ask about how on earth the man in Whitehall who knows best can lay down a maximum amount of time that can be spent by a health and safety or learning rep in Newcastle working in a care home or whatever. It is beyond belief that that will happen.
Sadly, the point of this transparency is not to show how well these things are being done; it is an introduction to moderating the amount of time available to health and safety and learning reps, and it is a lead-in to the ability to cap that time under Clause 13. We will come back to make that point when we reach Clause 13 later this evening, because we are extremely worried about safety reps being caught by any cap on the amount of time that they can spend on that activity. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 79 withdrawn.
Amendments 80 and 80A not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.49 pm.