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Trades Union Congress 150th Anniversary

Volume 791: debated on Thursday 14 June 2018

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the 150th anniversary of the first Trades Union Congress and the contribution made by trade unions to industrial, social and political reform in the United Kingdom and internationally.

My Lords, I am pleased and proud to introduce this debate this afternoon, setting out for your Lordships the reasons why we should celebrate and welcome the continuing role of the Trades Union Congress and why we should promote the valuable role played daily, both nationally and internationally, by individual unions. I draw the attention of noble Lords to my interests as set out in the register.

We often hear people say that the unions are not what they used to be. That may be, but they are still here and, with just short of 7 million members, they are by a long way still the largest voluntary membership organisation in the United Kingdom. Back in 1994, Robert Taylor, then the labour correspondent of the Financial Times, wrote in his book, The Future of the Trade Unions:

“Over recent years it has become fashionable in many quarters to write off Britain’s trade unions, to deride them as obsolete institutions, out of touch with the new realities and incapable of change. Some critics have even suggested that they have completed the historical mission that many of them began in the last century. Not so. On the contrary most of them are still very much alive as they seek, in different ways, to adapt to the severe challenges that confront them through intensive global competitiveness and the adverse social consequences of an increasingly deregulated and polarised labour market”.

He went on to talk about the changed world of individual contracts, total quality management and performance-related pay schemes, and to say that these changes lead people to conclude—wrongly, in his view—that trade unions are anachronistic obstacles to the success of the market economy. In the 24 years since that was written, trade unions have not collapsed but terms and conditions for very many workers have become much more difficult. While capitalism has served those at the top of the tree very nicely, thank you, it has left many others in precarious employment with falling incomes and uncertain futures: we have zero-hours contracts; so-called self-employment; temporary and agency labour; and delivery drivers chasing their tails to keep up with the employers’ demands or else find money deducted from their pay packets.

The Government crow about the UK economy being in really good shape and constantly remind us that we have the lowest level of unemployment for 40 years. That is all well and good, but the “never mind the quality, feel the width” mentality does not bring stability to people’s lives, nor does it enable people to feel that they have a stake in either their employment or even the country.

The Government’s recently produced industrial strategy was big on the need to improve productivity but barely mentioned the role of the workforce, and certainly not the role of trade unions. Crucially also missing was mention of the importance of trained and experienced managers, when all the evidence tells us that good management, inclusive of the workforce, is what makes the productivity difference. As well as a coherent industrial strategy, a strategy towards corporate governance would not go amiss. The Government have recently announced the likelihood that companies over a certain size will have to publish their pay ratios. In my view, that is very necessary, but it is not on its own enough. If there is to be serious action to put the brakes on the massive gap between CEO rewards and the reward of the average employee, which has increased over the last 20 years from a ratio of 47 to 120 times more, there has to be a strategy to make that happen. Publication would of course help but my educated guess is that, without a plan, nothing much will change.

It is believed to be no coincidence that the massive income gap between the top and the average employee has grown at the same time as trade union membership and organised collective bargaining has decreased. All the evidence tells us that workers in union-organised workplaces will have better salaries, better terms and conditions such as holiday and sick pay, greater access to training and upskilling, and more chances at promotion and so on. Looking back over the years, there are numerous examples of trade union-initiated rights and services which have helped many thousands of workers to either gain redress or to be kept safe and dignified in their workplaces. Health and safety; the national minimum wage; employment protection; decent pensions; protection again sex and race discrimination; rights for part-time and temporary workers; equal pay; rights and protections when a company changes hands, the so-called TUPE regulations—the list could go on and on.

Some of these rights have come from Europe but, like TUPE and the equal pay for work of equal value regulations, they were introduced into British law only after union legal actions against the then Conservative Government. More recently, the right of a worker to have access to having his or her case heard at an employment tribunal was restored after legal action by the public sector union UNISON. Some of these actions may be irksome to government, but if we want a country at ease with itself and a population with confidence in society and in its place in society, we need our political leaders to be a bit more on the front foot in recognising the legitimacy of workers’ organisations.

Neither the TUC nor individual unions expect someone else to do their organising for them. There are good examples of current imaginative work. The TUC itself has a major digital initiative designed to increase the awareness of young workers and to help them engage with relevant unions. Unions21, a trade union think tank, is scoping, with the help of a number of general secretaries, ways of increasing understanding of and access to collective bargaining. The charity arm of TU Fund Managers, a financial company established more than 40 years ago by my noble friend Lord Christopher, is working with the Child Poverty Action Group to introduce training for union reps to enable them to help low-paid members understand and claim their in-work benefits. Those in-work benefits are required by those workers, because their employers are happy to pay rates that are so low they have to be subsidised by the rest of us taxpayers. So, yes, we are getting on with it, but we expect the country’s Government to provide an atmosphere of respect and a framework for the collective voices of working people to be heard by those who employ them.

This Government, however, have consistently failed to properly engage with trade unions. Not only are unions currently underrepresented on key public bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive and the Central Arbitration Committee, it appears that the Prime Minister has met Frances O’Grady, the current general secretary of the TUC, only once since she became PM. Ms O’Grady has met Angela Merkel, the President of Ireland and various other international leaders more times than she has met her own Prime Minister. The absence of any contribution to this debate from the Government Benches speaks volumes as to the interests and concern of Members of this Government in trade unions. I accept, of course, that a contribution will be made by the Minister who is here to reply, but that is a slightly different thing.

In her acceptance speech when she was elected as Prime Minister, Theresa May said:

“The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives”.

Providing a legal framework to enable working people to organise together to improve their lives would be a good start.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, for initiating this debate. It is a pleasure to speak on this important subject and, in doing so, to recognise the important contribution that the noble Baroness has made to the trade union movement. Her wisdom, knowledge, tenacity and sense of humour are well appreciated in this House and way beyond it as well.

By definition, we had unions before the TUC. Tom Paine’s pamphlet of 1772 making the case for a pay rise for customs officers, addressed to this House, was probably the beginning of collective bargaining. Sadly, he was sacked for his efforts—the shape of things to come—but he went on to better and greater things, as we all know. It was left to others to form the TUC, which today enjoys 150 years of progress for working people the likes of which Tom Paine would never have dreamed about. It is a beautiful and moving story of ordinary men and women, often facing serious wrongs and deep injustices, who learned that they could achieve more by standing together than they could alone.

It is essential to remember that today, after 150 years, those deep injustices and serious wrongs still exist, both in the UK and throughout the world. The struggle continues and people still fight for basic trade union recognition—for example, at the present time, the workers at McDonald’s are unable to get the business to recognise them and their union for collective bargaining purposes. Do not let anyone tell you that there is no need for trade unions any more.

As a romantic amateur historian, I am now tempted to speak on the area that I like best—the lessons of the Tolpuddle martyrs; why Francis Place was called the tailor of Charing Cross; who supported the matchgirls’ strike; and whether Jack Jones invented the shop stewards’ movement—but I will resist the temptation on the basis that most noble Lords on this side of the House already know these stories better than I do, and noble Lords in the rest of the House, however few there may be today, would be bored.

More importantly, and seriously, this is a time when the trade union movement faces difficult and complex problems, some of which have been outlined by my noble friend Lady Prosser. It is a difficult time for trade unions and we need to address some of the issues. I see these challenges to the world of work in three ways—the first being the world of work as we thought we knew it and in which we have lived for a long time. However, with the fall of the House of Fraser, New Look and Poundland, more and more companies from the world that we thought we knew—and the jobs we did not particularly like—are falling away; we are losing them. Only this week it was announced that Jaguar Land Rover is leaving the West Midlands and going to Slovakia.

Secondly, there is the world of work that we are trying to come to terms with—we are not there yet—which is characterised by short-term contracts, insecure work, no proper benefits, the gig economy and an increase in mental health issues. All these problems are mainly unchecked, continue to accelerate, and are growing at a pace.

Thirdly, there is the world around the corner, the third world—not the Third World as we know it but a new third world here—of robots, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology and automatic vehicles. I could go on and on about this world, which we read about but do not know very much about.

The collision of these three worlds presents a huge and complex challenge for all of us—trade unions, employers and the Government—and it is the big thing we need to address. How are the trade unions going to meet these challenges? Certainly we cannot meet them on our own. I will come back to this issue.

Turning briefly to the TUC, whose anniversary we are celebrating, we have an outstanding leader in Frances O’Grady, one of the best leaders that any of us has ever seen. Its annual report shows that the organisation is making serious and often successful efforts to come to terms with many of the problems that we will face in the future. I celebrate that today and thank Frances and the trade union movement for doing that important work.

However, there are a couple of areas where we could make improvements, and I would like to make a few humble and simple suggestions. The big theme in my comments is to ask how we can make a difference in this new world. For example, for more than 20 years I have thought, and others may have thought—heretically—that unions should have outside representation on their executive councils. Unions do not like to hear this but it would include people with the same values and beliefs but from different walks of life. Many of us have seen that arrangement work in other organisations and how powerful it can be to bring people in from outside who do not actually belong to the team. They can add something of value and importance in helping people to think differently.

For example, Frances said this week that the unions are having trouble recruiting young people—so put young people on to executive councils. Do not have a young people’s advisory committee or a young people’s conference—have them on the board of directors. There you will get change from the top and they will get real and lasting change. I can remember in 1975 when my union, NUPE, took the immensely bold step of reserving five seats for women on its executive council—it was revolutionary in those days—and the decision completely changed the union. It had struggled to relate to its women members but, from then on, women started to take power in the union and everything changed. It was amazing how the change happened, and it spread from there throughout much of the trade union movement. So it is important that we consider how we can effect change and do things differently.

It is also important that the unions keep up their leadership development. Trade union leaders are often too busy with the needs of the organisation to think about their own development. Many of the generation of trade union leaders taking part in today’s debate had the benefit of enhancing our abilities through the Cranfield training programme. It was of enormous benefit to me because I learned so many new things. I was challenged by a great deal of change and issues that I did not know anything about. It was enormously beneficial. When I became general secretary of the Labour Party, the national executive went to Cranfield and there were clear benefits at that time. I do not see any mention of it in the annual report but I offer as a generous and humble suggestion the idea that perhaps the trade union movement could reinstate that initiative.

I said earlier that I would return to the three colliding worlds of work which create huge problems for unions, employers and the Government. I say to the Government that it was a big mistake to proceed with the Trade Union Act 2016—I hope that they understand that now—because its provisions are divisive and damaging in the world of work. They were given wise advice at the time by a number of people, some of whom are taking part in this debate today. I can remember the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, advising the Government strongly from these Benches, in a packed House, about the importance of building involvement and partnership at work and not to include the damaging provisions in the Bill. Obviously, the Government failed to listen.

However, it is not too late. My second theme is that it is not too late for the Government to change their mind and start taking constructive action. During the leadership campaign—the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, is right—the Prime Minister pledged not only fairness for working people but that she would introduce worker and consumer representatives on consumer boards. She repeated it several times. I could not believe it. I thought, “My God, the Conservative Party is waking up to the real world. It will outmanoeuvre us on this. We should have done this decades ago and now the Conservatives are going to do it”. Obviously it did not happen. It was not to be. However, I say to the government Benches that there is still time to do that.

There is still time to do things differently and still time to make a change. We have to do something different in the three colliding worlds that I have explained. We cannot go on with a community in which the general secretary of the TUC meets the German Chancellor more often than she meets her own Prime Minister. We cannot tolerate that any more. We have got to have a proper dialogue between the trade unions and the Government. It is not too late to start. It requires a leap of imagination and faith. We can talk about cultural issues, about education and schools—we do not have to go in on a hard collective bargaining agenda. The Prime Minister could call Frances in and say, “Come on, talk to me about life and some of the things we need to do—outside the collective bargaining and the hard stuff—where we can work together and do things”. That needs to happen and it is my strong message from this debate today.

My Lords, I too would like to express my gratitude to my noble friend Lady Prosser for initiating this debate and I add my congratulations to the TUC on reaching the ripe young age of 150. As we have heard, the trade union movement has gone through some difficulties in recent years. I was around when we celebrated 100 years of the TUC, when we were substantially bigger in terms of membership. It was then the largest voluntary movement in the UK, but it is interesting to note that it is still the largest voluntary movement in the UK. It is not down and out, rather it is still alive and fighting. If we take a sensible and pragmatic approach to the issues and problems we have, I am one of those who is confident that the trade union movement has a role to play in the way described by my noble friend Lord Sawyer, and indeed with changes coming in certain areas, there may be an even greater role for it to play if it is able to adapt itself to them.

Opinion polls show that the most respected and loved organisations in this country are the NHS, the Royal Family, the BBC and HM Armed Forces. I do not think that there is much of the trade union movement in the Royal Family and unfortunately forces are not allowed to organise themselves into trade unions, which is what happens in many places elsewhere in Europe. However, the NHS and the BBC are substantially populated by members of trade unions. It is interesting to note that what the public like most of all have trade unions active within them. Those trade unions are active in the TUC and play a major role in determining its policies. What is the common theme in the organisations I have just mentioned? They are not in the business of profit, of taking people over, making themselves bigger or looking to capitalise. They are in the business of serving: they endeavour to serve the public. They try to make the UK a healthier, happier and better place to live. In turn they work with the TUC which basically was formed to bring together organisations that initially were about protecting terms and conditions but saw that they had to work across a broader front.

The TUC oversaw the formulation of the Labour Party. The 1899 Congress decided that it had wider ambitions that it needed to pursue on behalf of the British populace beyond looking simply at terms and conditions, but in regard to general social, education and health developments. To do that, it formed the Labour Party, which of course has made such a major contribution to the quality of life that we now have in this country. It is not perfect— far from it—but it has made major contributions, particularly in the 1940s in the areas of health, welfare and employment. That led to the creation of the NHS, which we will be celebrating in July.

As my noble friend Lady Prosser pointed out, rather than being a narrow organisation, the TUC has broadened its outlook. It is also very much an internationalist organisation. We now have the trade unions being very clear indeed about where they see the interests of their members lie in various different countries. As regards the current big issue, that of Brexit, they are in favour of internationalism rather than narrow nationalism.

However, there is no point in denying that the trade union movement has problems. The membership is ageing and it is finding it difficult to recruit younger people. It is therefore good to see that the TUC is doing its utmost to effect a breakthrough in that area. It is particularly good these days at advancing women’s causes, perhaps more than almost any other major organisation in the country. Frances O’Grady has given a strong lead and is a very good role model indeed for women elsewhere.

The other issue which I think we have a problem with confronting is that of how to deal with multinational corporations, but governments have that problem too. We are struggling to come to grips with it. Looking further ahead, as my noble friend Lord Sawyer did, we have the issue of technological change in all its different forms. The trade union movement has changed in recent years from being active primarily in manufacturing and services and has moved into the public sector. We now have more people in trade unions in the public sector than the private sector. Looking to the future, it would appear that in many respects, manufacturing will continue to diminish as AI takes over more and more functions which are carried out using hands rather than brains. That in turn will affect the trade union movement.

In the longer term, we will continue to have a need for people to work in the public sector in health, education and security. These are areas where machines cannot do the work. When someone has a mental health problem, they need an individual working with them, not a machine. It is true that technology can help, but in education we need the presence of people around us. We do not have enough teachers, nurses and doctors. Across the public services, which are the core of providing us with a good society, there is a shortage of people rather than too many. If we look further ahead, we will see that while there may be diminishing demand on the manufacturing side, the public services and entertainment areas will need more and more people to fill more and more jobs. These are the areas to which I hope that the trade union movement will increasingly pay greater attention in the future.

I think that the unions may have to be more flexible. My noble friend Lord Sawyer has advanced ideas about how they may look at themselves and seek to make changes. All of us would endorse that and say that they must look beyond seeing themselves as being devoted to collective bargaining. Five million people are now self-employed, which reflects a massive change that has taken place in recent years. Many of them are poorly paid, which is not what we normally think about the earnings of self-employed people. This is an area in which the trade union movement could be doing more work. I think that there are greater opportunities for partnership and for the trade union movement to look to support and engage with co-operatives. I know that that is an old-fashioned term, but when we look at organisations where employees own and run the business, we can see that they are extraordinarily successful. There are many opportunities in those areas for changes to take place. I would encourage the trade union movement to look at whether it could become a leader on that front rather than a follower.

Finally, I turn to the TUC itself. It is a great institution which has made a huge contribution to the social development and well-being of our country. Many leaders from the trade union movement have moved on to roles in public life and politics, and that should continue. It is a great pity that the Prime Minister does not meet with the trade union leadership in the way we have seen in the past, and I hope that the Minister will respond to the questions which have been raised about that. In this, the 150th anniversary year of the foundation of the TUC, I hope that she will do something for the organisation by meeting not only the general secretary, but perhaps have the general council come to meet her in Downing Street.

We now have a diminishing band of trade unionists in the House of Lords; in particularly the number of women trade unionists has regrettably declined due to some recent deaths. Again, while we are trying to decrease the size of the House and some changes will have to be made to ensure that new blood comes in, I suggest that the Prime Minister might look at whether we could have some women trade unionists to fill the vacancies which have arisen. I am not talking about a great number but we have not appointed many trade unionists for many years. Trade unions are an integral part of society and the way that it is has developed over the years; I believe that they will continue to be so in the future.

We see capitalism expand and socialism, on the face of things, decline. We are going in circles. We are reaching a point where there will be difficulties in the coming decade, with our so-called strong leadership, as we swing to the right. A turn to the left will come as night follows day, and the trade union movement will still be around, providing support, assistance, encouragement and direction for the people of this country. I hope that the Government might reflect on their attitude to the trade union movement and give a stronger supporting hand than they have been prepared to give in the recent past.

My Lords, it gives me special pleasure to speak in support of this Motion. We are indebted to my noble friend Lady Prosser for initiating this timely debate to celebrate the TUC’s 150th anniversary. I am glad to see that my noble friend and long-term colleague Lord Monks, a former TUC general secretary, will be summing up. As has been said, his successor-but-one, Frances O’Grady, has risen to the challenging task and become highly respected in the wider community.

In 1968, I was four years into my first job at the TUC and played a modest role in the organisation of the TUC’s centenary in Manchester; it was 100 years since 1868, when the TUC was founded there. The first meeting was in a different building, but the centenary was in a well-known venue, Belle Vue. The climax of that celebration entailed a young member of staff being instructed to borrow a white shire cart-horse—as in Low’s famous cartoon—from one of Manchester’s breweries. The planned highlight of the proceedings was for the horse to be led round the amphitheatre to a standing ovation from the crowd of 5,000, with the added injunction from Mr Victor Feather, “Make sure, lad, that the ‘orse don’t misbehave”.

I want to make a point that has not been made. For 150 years, the TUC has been the single national trade union centre in Britain. There are not many of them in the world. Some statistician will tell me that there are three or four, but there are not many—and certainly none of them are significant. The TUC has been a national centre for all that time with voluntary affiliation—a national centre that is not white collar versus blue collar, Catholic versus Protestant or communist versus social democrat. It is the TUC and it is a very broad church. I remember a debate some years ago about whether we should accept an invitation to visit to Moscow. We had a long discussion that went round in circles. Somebody then said, “Well, I don’t see what we’re arguing about. We always accept an invitation to the Scottish TUC, so why shouldn’t we accept an invitation to go to Moscow?” So a broad church indeed.

In 1968, two other things happened that are worth a brief mention. First, it was the year of the publication of the royal commission report on trade unions, chaired by Lord Donovan. I was involved in the follow-up to that. In contrast to where we are now, I recall people saying not that the TUC and its unions did not lack self-confidence but that they were overconfident. The central issue then, largely in the private sector, was how far the shops stewards’ committees fitted into industrial or national agreements.

As my noble friend Lady Prosser said, when people say that trade unions are about usefulness, I am sure that everyone in the Chamber—and outside it, too—will accept that the need is undiminished and there are difficult practical challenges in the labour market. But the famous pendulum has swung too far. We are now in what we might call a phase of capitalism that is absurdly unbalanced, in terms of income distribution, takeovers and mergers being based only on share prices. The only stakeholders are probably algorithms—and this cannot last.

The gig economy has been mentioned. Today, that Marxist newspaper, the Financial Times, wrote a powerful editorial saying that the Supreme Court made a necessary decision yesterday when it ruled that someone who worked for Pimlico Plumbers was indeed a worker and that a contract of employment existed. A range of ideas to somehow undermine the labour market is developing, but that is not what people at work want. No one thinks that people like to be on a zero-hours contract; some people, such as students, may occasionally want them, but you cannot get a mortgage on a zero-hours contract. Like many other things, this requires legislation. I hope that the Minister in his reply will acknowledge that the Government will look at the merits of proposals for legislation to deal with some of these things now.

We have a fight-back in place. We have had two very useful reports in the past 10 days. One was by the TUC—Turning the Tide: Reviving Collective Bargaining and Voice at Work—which made some very interesting suggestions. The other was by the IPPR—How Stronger Unions Can Deliver Economic Justice—and made a range of proposals. The TUC believes that there is scope for doubling the coverage of collective bargaining in the private sector within five years, and describes this as challenging but achievable. We certainly have to present those challenges in concrete terms and see what it is needed. Voluntary collective bargaining remains the best way to do things. One reason is that we know that employers are always quick to complain about trade unions being overly powerful, but if they sign an agreement, we know that they can operate it. It is not an imposition because they as well as the trade union have signed it. That is so obvious but it is often overlooked as part of collective bargaining.

Another sharp contrast with the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s is the absence of a Ministry of Labour—a point that was picked up by the IPPR. That absence is virtually unique in the OECD. This gap has sent all the wrong signals to Whitehall about employment standards, training standards and the responsibilities of employers; because Whitehall does not have such a Ministry, it is not seen as the place to be in terms of subject matter in the hierarchies of Whitehall. That is a huge mistake that must be rectified.

I cannot go into detail about all these legislative proposals, but I will confirm what my noble friend Lord Sawyer said: the idea of representation on boards of directors is one whose time has come and is overdue. It would make sure that there is a voice in the boardroom that says it is absurd that people should keep score simply by saying, “I need 1.5 million”, and then somebody says, “Well, I’ve got 2.5 million”, and so it goes on. In some cases it is billions, not millions. This is a far cry indeed from the truism in the 1950s and 1960s, when I grew up, that the ideal is that we are all in this together and we are one happy family. No one thinks that is the model nowadays. It was always slightly dubious at the time, but it certainly is not what people even aspire to nowadays. Again, that has to change.

So I hope that we will be able to put together a Bill to cover some of the proposals that are being made. I ask the Minister: will he and the Government agree to look at the merits of proposals in this field as and when they are put forward in terms of legislation?

My Lords, I welcome this debate, led by my noble friend Lady Prosser, on the importance of, and differing contributions to many aspects of life by, the trade union movement. Although the number of members involved in trade unions has declined since the 1960s, their role is nevertheless very important.

I personally learned about the importance of trade unions when I was a student at Cambridge University in the 1960s. Then, all engineering students were encouraged to join a student society called “Human Relations in Industry”—a very idealistic title. Its president was Professor Kirkaldy, who was the Montague Burton professor of industrial relations. We used to organise joint meetings of leading trade unionists and management. For example, one of the famous evenings was when we discussed industrial relations in the shipbuilding industry. That was particularly notorious. Interestingly, by the end of the 1960s, notwithstanding perturbations in Paris and elsewhere, the bulk of the ambitious students were moving into becoming management. Au contraire, there were some informal groups of very left-wing students.

A few years later I began to see this from a practical point of view when I was a junior research engineer in the large Central Electricity Research Laboratories of the CEGB. I was able to see how a large, successful, science-based, nationalised industry could be a great success based on excellent collaboration between management and the staff. The staff were represented by the trade unions. I was an active member of the Electrical Power Engineers’ Association and for my final few months I was the chairman of the Guildford and Leatherhead branch.

An important role of the trade unions, as seen by then a very junior engineer, was holding meetings addressed by very senior managers coming down from London about the strategic developments of the CEGB as its technology changed and new investments had to be explained. These meetings explained the related decision-making going on in Parliament, which led to the CEGB moving to nuclear energy, as well as coal and oil. In fact, that was when I began to understand what subsequently became Pepper v Hart: many decisions being taken were not in the Bill, but were what the Minister said. If they said, “We are going to have nuclear power”, we had it.

Equally important for staff were the trade union-led discussions about pension schemes. That has been one of the tragedies of the last 20 to 30 years: many pension schemes have failed. The role of the trade unions has not been as strong as it should be.

Then, after returning to Cambridge University, I was involved with trade unionists in many different aspects of science and technology. In one case I worked with BALPA—the British Airline Pilots Association—on the problems of landing at Heathrow with all the wakes of the big new hangars there. That was an interesting example of the trade unions working with academia, government agencies and industry. I also learned about another important aspect of the trade union movement: collaboration at a local level. I was very interested, from the environmental point of view, in the questions of traffic and air pollution. We co-ordinated meetings with the Cambridge trades council, the city council and the chamber of commerce in developing a very early stage of pedestrianisation and traffic management. Such activity up and down the country is a very important part of trade unions’ role. In fact, the trade unions could be more visible in this aspect of their work.

Some 25 years later, when I was head of the Met Office, I met the trade unions on my first afternoon for tea. I was then responsible for chairing meetings between the trade unions’ representatives and management. These meetings were organised in parallel with direct meetings between staff, the chief executive and senior management. This has always been the parallel process in companies, particularly in the public sector. It was very important to have the two. As was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Prosser, new management techniques began to be developed, from cascaded management to total quality management—even the business of social and psychological methods in management. It was very interesting. They do it slightly differently in France, but many countries have moved in that direction.

As my noble friend Lady Prosser said, we could do more to introduce these techniques, and not just become behindhand. But it is the UK’s position, and the labour movement has not been particularly strong in wanting to introduce company law so that employees have representatives on company boards. The trade unions did not particularly welcome the recent tentative statement by the Prime Minister that the UK should consider this change. As noble Lords will have read, the newspapers—the Daily Telegraph, in particular—realised that this was a bit too much for the Conservatives as well.

The trade unions have a big role and influence in this country, but not at the same level as in Germany and some eastern European countries, where companies have supervisory boards. The role of the trade unions there has been very strong and guided the policy of big business and industry in dealing with very difficult problems. Germany essentially avoided the disruption that UK industry experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, and its long-term social, economic and political consequences. The TUC and the trade union leaders were not able to agree on the UK moving to the German model. We had the Bullock report, but that was not unanimously agreed to, which was a great loss. But the trade unions have had a very positive role in working with organisations of the European Union, thanks to the strong guidance of Jacques Delors—of whom the famous British newspaper said, “Up yours, Delors”. It was very interesting that at this time he completely changed the attitude of the trade union movement in the UK to Europe: it became very pro-Europe.

At that time our trade unionists were working hand in glove with the organisations of the European Union—it was quite different from the situation over here in the UK. What one hopes, of course, is that with Brexit—or despite Brexit—we will have learned something from the closeness between the trade union movement and the European Commission and have the same kind of closeness in Britain. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that, if not those of Mrs May.

One of the big questions for this debate is how the trade unions will work with the Government, industry and civil society in future. Will we be even more positive when all employees have greater information? For example, employers might, as they do in the public sector—or used to—inform all members of staff when they join that they can join a trade union and that the subscription could be organised by the management of that organisation. The TUC, of course, in the wider roles mentioned by other noble Lords, has been very effective on social and human questions—in reducing prejudice and maintaining human rights—but trade unions also need to address technical and social issues, some of which I have mentioned.

I am a member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, which has discussed the extent to which we should have trade unions involved or giving evidence to our committees. I believe that more of that should happen. For example, the role of the trade unions must be very strong in the questions of data availability and the secretive use of data by employers. In the last year or two there has been serious potential malfeasance in the use of data in the construction industry, and that has to some extent been resolved.

In general, workers should have more data about their employers and about the business of their employers, and not suddenly be told, like today, of 4,000 people losing their jobs. There needs to be much more openness about the plans moving forward. Those aspects of business, especially the financial business that affects companies, need to be explained to the staff. I believe we still have a long way to go in that respect. I reiterate that there is much more we should do in terms of information to staff. Does this mean that the UK will follow other countries by introducing other methods by which much more data is available? One of the questions is, is the trade union movement in favour, as I am, of identity cards? It is quite interesting that there is a considerable move: even those who were against identity cards realise that this may be one of the most effective ways of solving security and other problems.

Finally, I look forward to the response of the Minister. I hope he will explain what view the Government take about increasing responsible trade union membership, and how they will encourage the trade unions to work with the public and private sector and to have a greater role in public decision-making, which should include meeting government leaders.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, on securing this debate and I also congratulate the TUC on reaching 150 years. By the time the noble Lord, Lord Monks, sits down, we will have had the benefit of at least 150 cumulative years of trade union representation.

For my part, I can contribute only five to that sum. My period as a trade unionist coincided with another period of new technology. We have heard a number of Peers mention the implementation of new technology, but as father of the chapel, my job was to negotiate the implementation of single entry key journalism. So far, so good, but when I tell noble Lords that the person I was negotiating against was Lord Howie of Troon, they will understand that it was a challenging job. Will sadly passed from this House last week, but the fact that we managed to reach agreement and remained friends is perhaps also credit to the fact that trade unions have to be about relationships. A good trade union is about having a relationship between workers and management.

I will not be telling the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, that trade unions are no longer needed. One of the saddest things about this debate has been the number of times people who so strongly support trade unions have had to qualify that by saying, “We still need them”. Actually, it should be taken as read that we need trade unions to represent people. The Liberal Democrats are absolutely committed to sustaining, improving and supporting the work of trade unions. We defend free speech and the right of association, and the rights and interests of employees, who should be properly represented. Obviously, the unions are a very important part of that. That said, a number of speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, have talked about the weakness of the unions. We need to think about how public life can embrace unions to take them forward into the next phase. As a number of your Lordships have said, capitalism has changed. Clearly, unions are changing and must continue to change to represent that.

The noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Brooke, highlighted the internationalism and Europeanism of the trade unions. Your Lordships would expect a Liberal Democrat to say that we appreciate the way in which trade unions have consistently made the case within the Labour Party for closer co-operation with the European Union, going right back to the 1980s. This really did help usher in the Social Charter and policies such as the working time directive, which have made significant improvements to the lot of many workers in this country. It is a shame that the Labour leadership continues to ignore the trade unions’ urge to remain part of the single market and the customs union, but no doubt we can discuss that in another debate.

Trade unions have been under fire. We can talk about a lot of legislation. I will mention only the Trade Union Act 2016, which was a partisan measure designed to weaken the influence of trade unions. It created unusual and unique barriers to the ability of unions to make decisions. The Liberal Democrats blocked many of those provisions in coalition, which the then general secretary of the TUC acknowledged. But I ask the Minister: what has this Act achieved, other than creating even more of a “them and us” attitude? The Conservative Party is wrong to think that business does not want unions and that good business excludes unions. We know that some of the country’s best businesses are the ones that have good, functioning, strong unions. It is very sad that that attitude still seems to prevail.

Looking forward, there is a lot of work to do. We have talked of some things today. As Liberal Democrats, we are happy to work with the unions to try to bring about some of the changes we think will embrace the new future that a number of your Lordships have mentioned. Worker representation and corporate governance are absolutely central. We read and talk about a crisis of confidence in big business in this country. One way of addressing that is to modify the way in which business is run, boards are constituted and the wider stakeholder group, beyond shareholders, is represented in that. Of course, employees are a major stakeholder in any business. Unions are not there to wreck the business. Trade unions have as much interest in the success of a business as the owners. I would like to think of trade unions representing the owners in the case of more employee share ownership.

Trade unions can work, and in my experience have worked, to eliminate unproductive working practices but of course the benefits of that process have to be shared equitably across the concern. A well-functioning economy is one where the stakeholders of a business are much better represented within the management of that business. Liberal Democrats support bringing management and employee interests together; for example, by promoting different models of enterprise such as mutuals or co-operatives. As we move forward into the new world, we should look at how those new models can be encouraged. Perhaps the Minister can say what the Government’s position is on those kinds of business models.

At the same time, as a number of speakers have said, we have to develop new categories of workers. The Supreme Court judgment yesterday is one element of that. Again, I think there was a union involved in bringing that case. But there needs to be a categorisation of employees that recognises the nature of the gig economy. Unions, political parties and perhaps the legal system have to fight to make that real. When there is a downturn, workplaces are happier, more productive and more resilient if employees are treated as partners in those enterprises. Unions, working properly, can of course help to create that.

Strengthening worker participation is important. We strongly support staff representation on remuneration committees. We believe that has to be part of narrowing the gap mentioned just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser. All UK-listed and private companies with more than 200 employees should have at least one employee representative on the board.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, pointed to the German and Dutch models of supervisory boards. I have had quite a lot of experience working in businesses that had those kinds of models, which deliver a much more considered type of management. It sometimes takes longer to make decisions, but the need for management to bring consensus into decision-making is really important. The trade unions within the supervisory boards have that important role. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what has happened to some of the proposals that the Prime Minister brought with her when she entered 10 Downing Street. She talked a good story about changing corporate governance and about worker representation. So far, we have seen none of that.

My final point is about ownership. We on these Benches are committed to giving staff in listed companies more rights to request share schemes. Worker share ownership is a liberal, pro-business response, which certainly helps address low productivity and inequality. I conclude, for the first time in my career as a Peer, by quoting John Stuart Mill, who was a passionate advocate of workers owning their own companies. In his words—not mine, please—he said that,

“the relation of masters and workpeople will be superseded by partnership”,

and,

“association of the labourers with the capitalist”.

There is a strong liberal tradition that runs through trade unions. We continue to support the need for trade unions and congratulate the TUC on its first 150 years.

My Lords, I start by declaring an interest. I am the oldest living former general secretary of the TUC, a position that I am in no hurry to relinquish. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Prosser, a very good friend and close colleague for many years, for initiating and so skilfully introducing this debate to celebrate, as we do today, the TUC’s 150th birthday and the contribution it has made to the well-being of this country in so many fields of public life.

My noble friend Lady Prosser has, by the way, been a doughty and effective champion of rights for women. The progress made by women in the trade union movement, so that today there are more women members than men within the TUC, is in no small measure due to the efforts of my noble friend and others who have led the way in making the TUC more equal and more representative.

I am also grateful to the other speakers. A range of views have been articulated, all of them constructive. I will not go through them all but there were plenty of ideas there, which people will look at with great interest in the trade union movement. I am sorry to say that it is a bit of a pity, but perhaps not a surprise, that apart from the Minister, who has his job to do, there were no Conservatives down to speak. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, is now looking for an invitation, but I am afraid that no trade unionist can miss the opportunity to get off work early, as we are likely to do this afternoon.

What we have lacked in quantity, we have made up for in quality in the debate. Manchester was the TUC’s birthplace all those years ago. As many noble Lords can tell, it was also my birthplace. I recall with pride that in 1968, on the occasion of the TUC’s centenary when, as my noble friend Lord Lea said, the celebrations were located in Manchester, my father, a parks superintendent, designed and installed in a central city park a floral clock with the TUC logo to celebrate those first 100 years. Little did he or I know that, two years later, I would have a job with the TUC.

In its 150 years, the TUC has had its ups and downs, but it has proved pretty resilient in the face of the great economic change from the UK as the undoubted, yet-to-be-challenged workshop of the world to the predominantly service economy of today. It has stuck up for working people in slumps and booms. It has seen its membership grow, contract, grow again and contract again. It gets written off, as we have heard from other speakers, but it has always found a means to bounce back. Six million people just cannot be wrong in this day and age when voluntary organisations generally are under threat, as far as keeping going is concerned, in a more individualistic and atomistic world than was perhaps the case in the earlier years of our lives.

I am glad that the efforts and determination of the current general secretary, Frances O’Grady, have been referred to in this debate, particularly her new initiative to attract to union membership young people isolated, vulnerable, uncertain about their prospects and perhaps burdened with debts which earlier generations did not have to anything like the same extent. In this precarious labour market, setting off on your own is a pretty daunting prospect unless you have pretty unique skills that are attractive in the labour market. Frances is proving a great asset to the TUC, and on this side of the House and, I hope, more generally in the country, we are very proud of her. As a former general secretary, I am proud of the staff who support her and do a very good job.

Since the 1980s, we have seen certain features which characterised the Victorian labour market—casual working, low pay, arbitrary action and degrees of exploitation by unscrupulous employers—coming back into today’s labour market. I am not pretending that we are back in Dickensian England, but they are features of today’s labour market which Dickens and the delegates to that first TUC in 1868 would recognise. I pick out one central point in particular: it is now clear that the rise in inequality since the 1980s coincided with, and was perhaps partly caused by, a decline in trade union membership and the coverage of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining now covers only about 30% of workers, and outside important exceptions, such as engineering and steel, industry-wide agreements have disappeared in the private sector. The bargaining that does take place is at the lower company and plant levels. This is obviously often very vulnerable to changes in management styles and policies, personality changes and particular changes such as outsourcing, privatisation, the use of agency labour and the rise of zero-hour contracts.

The results of that are now clear. The share of wages and salaries in the national income has been falling. Real wages have been stagnant and insecure contracts are increasingly the norm, especially for the young. I acknowledge that the flexible labour market, much lauded by many over the past 30 years, has a good side—the high level of employment has been impressive—but it has a dark side that has permitted exploitation and arbitrary treatment on a grand scale. It is also, unfortunately, linked to poor productivity and poor training, and the economic performance of this country leaves a lot to be desired. In particular, it cannot be a cause for celebration of the flexible labour market that it takes the average UK worker five days to do what a French or German worker does in four. That is a pretty damning statistic.

Meanwhile, as others have said, top executive pay continues to spew out lottery-winning sums to executives whose performance is often ordinary and in some cases downright dismal. I accept that the trade unions have not yet been able to arrest these trends. The collapse of traditional manufacturing industries, the restrictions imposed by a whole series of hostile laws from a succession of Conservative Governments—we have heard the latest one, the Trade Union Act 2016, mentioned today—and the focus of many managements on short-term shareholder value have all been factors in this weakness. In fact, it has always seemed to me that every time a Conservative Government want to cheer up their constituency associations, while at the same time not spending any money, they introduce a Trade Union Act. Give the unions a kick, we squeal and people in the constituencies think that is pretty good—a pretty unfortunate way to run the country.

I am not just talking about Conservative Governments. New Labour was very different, introducing a lot of welcome steps. I was a strong supporter of that Government on the public sector, the national minimum wage, new rights for trade union recognition and a whole raft of individual rights on maternity, paternity, time off and so on, which were very impressive. However, they were too cautious in promoting a new, fairer settlement generally at work and in arresting this trend towards greater inequality and insecurity. Maybe we thought the good economic times of the early part of this century would run for ever, but they did not. We crashed and we are now left with this picture of insecurity and inequality.

On the question of the flexible labour market, it has been a matter of great frustration for me that we in this country have not been able to emulate other economies in northern Europe such as Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia and introduce European-style social partnership with extensive collective bargaining, strong consultation and a move towards decision by consensus, including having workers represented on the boards. I am sure that that remains the way forward, but too often the UK has preached deregulation to our EU partners or even bragged about the lack of protections and rules for workers and, implicitly perhaps, about the weakness of British trade unions.

My time is up. I was going to conclude by saying that it was the speech of Jacques Delors at the TUC that led the British unions to embrace the EU, as others have said. Delors outlined a powerful single market combined with a lively social dimension, with a range of rights and opportunities. It was important that that initiative should not falter but it did, and the result has been the fact that in too many working-class communities the vote to leave was a reaction against seeing a Europe that did not seem to be doing too much for workers.

Stanley Baldwin has never received rave notices for his performance as Prime Minister, derided by Winston Churchill and Lord Birkenhead, who said:

“I think Baldwin has gone mad. He simply takes one jump in the dark; looks around and then takes another”—

a bit like the Brexit negotiations at the moment, by the way. However, Baldwin was consistent in some respects. He was aware that something had to be done after the General Strike to improve matters and he encouraged collective bargaining, strengthened the new Ministry of Labour and built up joint industrial councils. Crucially, he consulted the TUC, even on the induction of King Edward VII. Baldwin’s worries about employers if left unchecked seem to me to be very contemporary. Maybe the Minister can tell us if the Government are giving any consideration to a little bit of “back to the future” and the Stanley Baldwin lesson.

My Lords, I echo other noble Lords in offering my thanks and congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, on introducing the debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, in paying tribute to her union record. I also offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Monks, on being the oldest living former general secretary of the TUC—long may he continue to be so—and thank him for welcoming my noble friend Lord Hunt to these Benches. Perhaps I may deal with the complaint that has been made that there seems to be a lack of representation on these Benches. It is worth pointing out to the House that the debate was tabled only two days ago. It is often difficult, as I am sure that representatives of the trade union movement would acknowledge, to make people available at short notice. The noble Baroness had similar problems in that two of her speakers seem to have dropped out.

I do not complain about this, but much of the debate has been spent raising and addressing points that might have been best addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, as a former general secretary—or perhaps we could pass them to Frances O’Grady, the current general secretary, as much of the debate has been directed at the problems that trade unions themselves face, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, when he talked about technological change and the need to get people into unions. The noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, also talked about problems of recruiting. I must say that those are not problems for the Government to address, but for the unions themselves to address.

To avoid misunderstanding here, we are not asking the Government to do the job but to get rid of some of the obstacles. One example is the right of unions to go to a workplace to talk to representatives and others.

My Lords, recruiting is a problem for trade unions to address; I do not believe that there are the obstacles that the noble Lord suggests.

There has also been considerable reminiscence—again, I make no objection to this. We went back to 1968 and heard about the activities of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, who was involved in the 100th anniversary. Those were the years, I seem to remember, of In Place of Strife. We have had much trade union legislation since then, although In Place of Strife did not get as far as it might have. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, remembered his time as chief executive of the Met Office, negotiating with the unions there. I can add my own memories as a Defence Minister in the 1990s, chairing jointly with Jack Dromey—before he was an MP, when he was working for the unions—one of what used to be called the Whitley councils. I think it was the last one to be co-chaired by a Minister. I pay tribute to Jack Dromey for guiding me through that process in my short time there.

The debate has been useful. It gives us all, including the Government, a chance to express our appreciation of the important work that the Trades Union Congress does and to celebrate those 150 years. On behalf of the Government, I offer my congratulations to the TUC on its achievements and recognise the importance of its contribution. I restate our commitment to continue close working with the TUC and unions more generally.

My right honourable friend Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was at the reception on 6 June to mark the 150th anniversary of the TUC. He said:

“It’s absolutely fantastic to be here this evening to celebrate 150 years of the TUC. While it’s true to say that—from the beginning—the TUC has been associated with ‘that other party’. It’s also true that the appreciation of what the TUC does transcends what side of the House we sit on or the colour of the membership card in our pocket”.

I echo the words of my right honourable friend on that occasion.

That first-ever Trades Union Congress was a historic moment. It brought together delegates representing nearly 120,000 workers to discuss issues, including working hours, apprentices and technical education. Those topics are just as relevant today, and so too, is the TUC. It has shaped our society over those 150 years. The TUC and union campaigning provided the impetus for the National Health Service. It drove the Equal Pay Act in the 1970s, and the introduction of the national minimum wage in the 1990s.

In 2007, the TUC said that smoking in public was a risk to workers’ health. Whatever our view on the ban on smoking in public, it was something we strived to do, so we can be grateful for that. The TUC’s arguments led to the subsequent smoking ban. In 2011, following a TUC campaign, agency workers gained the right to receive the same treatment as permanent staff carrying out the same work. The TUC, as many noble Lords said, works in international fora, and the training and assistance it provides to trade union organisations around the world has earned it international respect.

It is not just workers who have benefited from 150 years of the TUC. The Trades Union Congress has been essential to the democracy that we recognise today, particularly, as the noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Monks, made clear, through the founding of the Labour Party at the beginning of the last century. But democracy is not just about political parties and elections. Trade unions have represented their members and lobbied for wider changes in society. They have campaigned on other issues, such as equality for women and other groups, combating modern-day slavery or tackling child poverty—again showing how they can effect change to the benefit of us all.

Of course, since the beginning, the central focus for unions has been work and the workplace. Over the decades they have improved the working lives of their members, and—I want to make this clear—this Government hope to see that continue. I believe that unions have been most successful when they have engaged constructively with employers, the Government and other parties. For example, the success of our car industry has been built on good industrial relations. I am sure that many in this House will remember what it was like before.

Many employers and their representative bodies, such as the CBI, have also recognised the constructive role that unions have played. Throughout the country, trade union health and safety representatives have made our workplaces safer. Not only does this benefit workers, it contributes to our economy through reduced accidents. I believe that we now have an enviable safety record in which we should all take pride, and I want to thank the unions for their role in achieving that. They have also invested in people, working to develop the skills of their members.

Unionlearn, mentioned in a previous debate some years ago on this very subject, is an excellent example of this. It has helped to engage more than 50 trade unions in more than 700 workplaces. It has helped establish 600 union learning centres, where its representatives help those with low literacy and numeracy. Unionlearn projects have also helped recruit and support thousands of apprentices. For these reasons, the Government will continue to support Unionlearn with over £8 million pounds in the next two years.

Today, we continue to work closely with the TUC, and we listen to its advice on a range of issues. I want to thank the TUC, and in particular its current general secretary, Frances O’Grady, for the co-operative approach that it has shown over the years. We should congratulate the TUC on following the Conservative Party in electing its first female general secretary. Perhaps the Labour Party could follow suit in due course; there are lessons to be learned from both the TUC and the Conservative Party. I stress that we have engaged with Frances O’Grady. The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, complains that there has been only one meeting between my right honourable friend and Ms O’Grady, but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy met her as recently as April. My right honourable friend David Davis also met her in April, and there have been other meetings with Ministers over the course of this year.

I have to confess that I have not yet met her since I moved to that department, but I did meet her briefly in my time in the Home Office, in a previous incarnation in government, when she was assistant general secretary. I shall certainly pass on concerns that she would like—or noble Lords would prefer—another meeting with my right honourable friend. There might be slightly too many tanks parked on too many lawns at the moment, and other matters to attend to. However, we will certainly continue to engage with the TUC and the general secretary, and we are grateful for the chance to do that.

Obviously, there will continue to be disagreements, in the spirit of general debate. But in the spirit of this debate, I do not want at this stage to dwell on them. I shall move on to the TUC’s significant concerns about the changing nature of the world of employment. It made significant contributions to the Matthew Taylor review and supported the work of the Low Pay Commission. Again, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has highlighted the importance of the worker voice in the industrial strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, regretted that there was no mention of the trade union side. We will continue to develop work on the Matthew Taylor report. As noble Lords will be aware, we made our first response to it in February, and we will continue to develop it over the course of the coming months.

Frances O’Grady has also attended the task force that has advised on the impact of Carillion’s insolvency on small firms and employees, making as always very useful and insightful contributions. Again, on behalf of my department, I thank the TUC and the wider union movement for their help in putting our industrial strategy into place.

I do not want to go over all the arguments, but I appreciate that not all noble Lords in this House are happy with the Trade Union Act 2016. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, mentioned it, as did noble Lords from the Labour Benches. I do not think that now would be the right time to rehearse all those arguments again, but it has ensured that, from now on, when strikes take place they will have the support of a reasonable proportion of the workforce. It is not right that public services are disrupted by strikes that have little support from the workforce. No doubt, there will be other opportunities and moments to discuss that and other changes in due course.

Today we have celebrated the achievements of the TUC and the wider movement. As Frances O’Grady has recently said, this anniversary is not just about the past. It was she who said that the unions themselves need to look to the future. Our economy and our society, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, made quite clear, are constantly changing, and unions—like the rest of us—will need to adapt in order to maintain relevance in the future. I have every confidence that the TUC will adapt to the future and that the cart-horse from the Low cartoon mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, when he went out to try to find one to take part in the 100th anniversary, will be able to adapt itself into whatever type of horse is necessary to deal with the future.

I think the TUC also has the right approach. Under Frances O’Grady, the first woman general secretary of that great movement—I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, is very pleased that the TUC has reached that stage—the TUC has led on constructive engagement with both employers and the Government, which I believe must be the way forward for the union movement as a whole. Again, I thank the noble Baroness for introducing this debate—I do not think I have to beg to move, so I will sit down at this stage.

I thank the Minister very much indeed, and of course all contributors to the debate. I think that I did say in my remarks that we in the trade union movement do not expect the Government—or anybody else, for that matter—to do our organising for us, but what we look for is a framework that welcomes the contribution of the trade union movement.

Despite the warm and much appreciated words of the Minister, there is an atmosphere out there that we all feel—it is not imagined; it is there. There has been enormous difficulty for the TUC in getting its representatives appointed to public bodies, despite the fact that these people come with much knowledge, experience and expertise. There is an atmosphere—to use the phrase that has become a little fashionable at the moment, there seems to be a “hostile environment”—which is something that I am sad about. It means that government departments and Ministers are missing out on being able to make use of and benefit from the vast experience and knowledge of those people who come through the trade union movement. It is a bit of a sadness but, having said that, the debate has aired a lot of knowledge and information, and I once again thank noble Lords for taking part and thank the Minister for his reply. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 4.32 pm.