IAN SPEAKS FROM THE FRONT BENCH AGAINST PART 3 OF GAGGING BILL

Ian Murray: It is a great pleasure to get to part 3 under your chairmanship, Ms Primarolo. I shall speak to clause stand part as well as to all the amendments in the group. It is totally inadequate that we are discussing part 3 of this hotch-potch of a Bill without having seen the impact assessment for part 3 or any results from the curtailed consultation that was put in place at the start of the process.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 987

It is worth putting the amendments into context. The past three days and the hundreds of e-mails that all Members have received from their constituents show how much of a dog’s breakfast the Bill is. It is in good company, following the hotch-potch of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill and the total shambles that the House witnessed during the passage of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. Part 3 of the Bill before us provides wide-ranging new powers to the certification officer on trade union membership lists, but no one, including officials of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the discussion paper, the explanatory notes, the trade unions and, I bet, even the Minister can tell the Committee what problem the Bill is trying to resolve.

The TUC stated in its evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee:

“As with part two we are unable to discern the problem that this part of the Bill is meant to remedy.”

Nigel Stanley from the TUC went on to say:

“We have asked BIS, the certification officer and ACAS through freedom of information requests whether they have received or made representations that we need to amend current powers to regulate union membership . . . We cannot find any demand for part 3.”

The only justification for part 3 has been the publicly stated view that it came out of a high-level meeting between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. What a contribution and combination that is. I wonder whether Lyndon Crosby was in the room at the time.

Without any rationale for the Bill coming from the Government, perhaps we have to look for our own rationale. The reason given for the Bill by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in its discussion paper is the potential for trade union activity to affect people’s daily lives. It says:

“The general public should be confident that voting papers and other communications are reaching union members so that they have the opportunity to participate”.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): My hon. Friend is aware, as we all are, of the clamour for at least 20 years for the reform of lobbying practices. Can he think of any demand for part 3? Is it not sensible to judge that this is merely an afterthought—a spiteful swipe at the trade union movement—in order to distract from the fact that the Bill does not address 95% of commercial corporate lobbyists?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is right. Parts 1 and 2 have been shown over the past few days to be utterly deficient. There is no evidence, no drive, no remedy to be pursued, no problem to be resolved that would justify part 3. There is legislation in place, which I shall come on to later, which shows that membership lists from trade unions are heavily regulated already. Part 3 is merely a legislative burden on the trade unions timed to deflect attention, as my hon. Friend says, from other parts of the Bill that are completely deficient.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): My hon. Friend hit the nail on the head when he said that part 3 came from the high-level discussion between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. This is a continuation of other Bills that have been introduced over the past

11 Sep 2013 : Column 988

three years on the constitution of this country. They all aim at one thing—giving advantage to the parties in the coalition in the upcoming general election. Yesterday we saw their attempt to hide from lobbying groups and not be answerable to them. Now they are trying to curtail the influence of the trade unions and the support that they give to the Labour party in particular to give their own parties an advantage. That is what this is all about.

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government cannot win the next general election on the arguments so they nullify the Opposition. It is ironic that part 3 heavily regulates trade union membership lists, whereas most of the stuff attacking workers’ rights came from the report written by a certain Mr Beecroft, who donated £550,000 to the Conservative party. The Bill deals not with the Beecrofts of this world but with the ordinary working people throughout the country.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC):Does not part 3 show that the Bill is partisan, and is it not one of the main reasons the Bill has lost the confidence of the public?

Ian Murray: Absolutely. Parts 1 and 2 have been shown to have lost public confidence. I am happy to be corrected, but since I came to the House in 2010 I do not think I have had this number of lobbying e-mails from concerned constituents who feel that they are going to be gagged by this Government. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), the governing parties cannot win the next general election on the arguments alone so they are trying to nullify the opposition, which is made up of trade unions, charities and lobbying organisations which do so much on behalf of our constituents throughout the country.

No evidence was put forward in the discussion paper to demonstrate that communications are not reaching trade union members or that there are shortcomings in the existing law relating to a trade union’s duty to maintain a register of members. Moreover, no evidence was produced to explain why the Government need to acquire yet further extensive powers over the lives of citizens and voters through this mechanism.

1 pm

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend find it as bizarre as I do that the Government are demanding that trade unions reveal their membership lists in detail, yet the Conservative party keeps its membership secret?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend makes an interesting intervention—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), a Lib Dem Minister, shakes her head—and he is absolutely right; the Conservative party refuses point blank not only to give us any details of its membership, but to tell us how many members it has. I believe that is either because it cannot tell us or because its membership lists are deficient.[Interruption.] The Government Whip chunters “Tell us yours” from the Treasury Bench, but essentially we are talking about the Conservative party.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 989

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in its justification for this part of the Bill, stated:

“The general public should be confident that voting papers and other communications are reaching union members so that they have the opportunity to participate”

because they affect everyday lives in this country. Well, if the governing party does not affect the daily lives of people in this country, I do not know who does. Perhaps we should extend the Bill’s provisions to that party. The only thing we know about Conservative party membership, of course, is that the average age is 68, which might tell us something about where the party is going.

We should not be surprised by the Government’s failure to provide any evidence, as we know that they run by opinion poll and anecdote. The House will recall the now infamous Beecroft report, which would take this country’s employment rights and health and safety landscapes back to the era of Queen Victoria. When Beecroft appeared before the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill Committee last year, he said that he had absolutely no evidence to back up such claims on compensated no-fault dismissal and the abolition of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, to name but a few, but that his assessments were based on anecdotal evidence and who he had spoken to. This “met a guy in a pub” type policy making is certainly not good government.

Dr Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): My hon. Friend raises some fundamental human rights issues. When I asked the Deputy Leader of the House yesterday why the Government had failed to produce a human rights memorandum, he failed to answer. Perhaps that speaks volumes—[Interruption.] I am not sure what the Leader of the House just said from a sedentary position, but perhaps he will want to respond properly in due course.

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will move on to clause 37 later this afternoon, when we will address some of the issues relating to confidentiality and the European articles. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House chunters from a sedentary position that we should speak to the amendments. As I understand it, Mr Speaker has grouped the stand part debate with the amendments, and I am addressing why I think clause 36 and part 3 of the Bill are deficient, which I think is perfectly appropriate.

I was talking about the Beecroft report’s ideological attack on working people and how the Government are making it easier to fire, rather than hire, employees. That is reflected in the thrust behind amendment 103— I say this for the benefit of the Leader of the House—and subsequent amendments in this group. The Government have yet again failed to produce any evidence whatsoever on what problem they are trying to resolve and what the impact will be on membership lists. Not only do they have no evidence, but, as I mentioned at the start of my speech, they do not even have an impact assessment for this part of the Bill and they have done no suitable consultation.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): My hon. Friend will remember that Adrian Beecroft appeared before the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill Committee last year. When asked detailed questions, he

11 Sep 2013 : Column 990

could give absolutely no evidence whatsoever for what he was suggesting, yet some of those suggestions can be found in this Bill today.

Ian Murray: Absolutely, which is why we should be addressing those issues in the Beecroft report, because they influence part 3 of the Bill. Perhaps Ministers, rather than chuntering from a sedentary position, might at last answer some of these questions when they come to the Dispatch Box.

I was talking about the lack of suitable consultation. As far as I am aware, the Government have still not published an impact or cost assessment for part 3 —[Interruption.] The Minister says that they have, but it was not there at 10.30 this morning. They did publish assessments for parts 1 and 2 back in July. In fact, the equality assessment states:

“A full impact assessment will be developed after, and informed by, a period of targeted consultation and engagement of a range of experts.”

But the Committee is debating this legislation before any of that work has been either completed or formally published.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): On the question of consultation, my hon. Friend has quoted from the TUC’s evidence, which was given to my Committee in very short order indeed, because the Committee decided that the House should have some evidence. The reality is that this part of the Bill appeared eight working days ago; it appeared just before the end of July, the day before the House rose, and Second Reading was the day after the House returned, so that is three working days, and that was a week ago. If one wanted part of a Bill to not be properly scrutinised, this is precisely how one would do it. Either this House will do the scrutiny properly, or the other place will do it in due course.

Ian Murray: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. As Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, he has done some wonderful work on the Bill, and at very short notice. It is a great credit not only to him and the Committee’s staff, but to the other Members who serve on it. He has demonstrated how the Government operate. If one wanted to put something through that was ideologically driven but did not want it to be scrutinised, one would do as the Government have done with this Bill.

Paul Flynn: Was not my hon. Friend astonished by the fact that, while 11 Conservative MPs last night voted against the low, mean attack on charities, not a single Lib Dem MP did so? Why does he think they are so enthusiastic to embrace their own extinction?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend tempts me to use unparliamentary language, but I will not go down that route. It is a fact that last night every single Lib Dem Member went into the Lobby with the Government to vote for part 2 and that it was only Conservative rebels who decided not to put up with the Bill. I think that is unfortunate.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

11 Sep 2013 : Column 991

Ian Murray: I will take one more intervention, but then I will have to make some progress.

Andrew George: I do not want to tempt the hon. Gentleman into using unparliamentary language, but he is factually incorrect. I do not wish to have yesterday’s debate about charities all over again, but the fact is that reassurances were given by the Government that there is a lot of work to be done, in which I hope we will all engage so that we can bring forward improvements on Report. I would have thought that we should all be working constructively towards that end.

Ian Murray rose—

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Perhaps we could return to clause 36 and the amendments before us. General Third Reading points about the entire Bill, or any comments about the whole part, are not in order.

Ian Murray: Thank you, Ms Primarolo. You are absolutely right. That would have tempted me to discuss the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) producing amendments to other Bills in Committee and then not following through on the Floor of the House.

I was talking about the Government’s failure to produce any evidence, which I think feeds into amendment 103, because it is critical to the operation of the entire part, in relation to clause 36. My second point about the Department’s consultation is that it has not published or responded to any of the responses. The only information that Members of the House have seen is when people who have responded to the BIS consultation have self-published them, and I do not think that is good enough.

Trade unions are already heavily regulated, not just with regard to membership, but in other areas, too. No other membership organisations, voluntary sector groups, businesses or, indeed, political parties in the UK are subject to equivalent rules. There are already extensive regulations through the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992 and the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998—a fact that the Government seem to have wholeheartedly disregarded in bringing forward the Bill—and the responsibility trade unions have to the Information Commissioner.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): When the hon. Gentleman refers to the 1992 Act, he is of course referring to legislation from the mid-1980s that was virtually lifted into that Act. Does he not think that it is now time for a general review of that 1980s legislation?

Ian Murray: If the hon. Gentleman wants to bring forward a general review of any legislation, he is more than welcome to do so. Perhaps in my haste I forgot to use the word “consolidated”. I was referring to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, because of course it consolidated lots of legislation from the mid-1980s.

It is self-evident that trade unions want to have good membership records; I cannot see why anyone would argue that they do not. It is in trade unions’ own interests to engage with members just as any voluntary organisation wishes to maximise membership fees and ensure that people want to remain as members. Unions

11 Sep 2013 : Column 992

are nothing without their members; they exist to represent their members. They invest in a wide array of ways of communicating with them—from printed magazines, leaflets and posters, to websites, social media and e-newsletters.

Let us look at what clause 36 proposes for unions with more than 10,000 members. Should political parties have to account for their members? On Second Reading, the Leader of the House said:

“Trade unions are influential participants in public life. They have an important role representing members’ interests both with specific employers and in wider public debate.”—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 184.]

Who would argue with that? On the certification of trade union membership details, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills discussion paper says on page 4:

“Trade union activity has the potential to affect the daily lives of members and non- members.”

Surely those definitions apply as much to political parties as to trade unions. Political parties represent their members’ interests, influence wider public debate and can affect the lives of members and non-members. Trade union members represent a very wide and varied section of the general public.

The House of Commons Library brief shows that there are 7.2 million trade unionists. They represent a cross-section of ages, are split evenly in terms of gender and are well represented in terms of race, disability and types of work. Surely trade unions are in a good position to influence and share public opinion. In sharp contrast, there is an organisation that is the complete opposite and totally unrepresentative—the aforementioned Conservative party, which refuses to say how many members it has.

Mr Allen: On a point of order, Ms Primarolo. My Committee looked at the White Paper on the lobbying Bill about 18 months ago. It made no mention of anything to do with the trade unions. The trade union provisions appeared in July, one day before the House rose—a bit about trade unions was bolted on to a Bill that all of us in the House had already dealt with as a lobbying Bill. Is it in order for those provisions to have been added when the House has been under the misapprehension that the Bill is about lobbying? Is this not a hybrid Bill and therefore disqualified from discussion in the House?

The Second Deputy Chairman: The hon. Gentleman is very experienced and has been a Member for a long time. As he knows, what he has asked is not a point of order. The House has given the Bill a Second Reading, and his points are for debate, if necessary, on the Floor of the House. They are certainly not a matter of order for the consideration of the Chair today.

Ian Murray: Thank you, Ms Primarolo, for that ruling on an important point of order. I remind my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, that other stuff has been bolted on to Bills, including the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill—disgracefully, the agricultural wages board was abolished at the last minute in the House of Lords without any political debate in this House.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 993

Before the Government start lecturing unions about transparency, they should take a long, hard look in the mirror, subject themselves to this legislation and publish their own membership audit certificate.

Mr McKenzie: Will my hon. Friend share with the Committee why he thinks a Government who came to power saying that they would cut and eliminate red tape should apply it to the trade unions?

Ian Murray: That is a good question. The Government have a policy initiative of taking out two regulations for every one brought in. Will the Minister say which regulatory burden she will be removing from the trade union movement, given the regulations that she has just put on the statute book? The Government have wholeheartedly refused to deal with zero-hours contracts, blacklisting, payday loans and the high cost of credit, but they are unnecessarily piling regulations on to the trade unions.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): Is not my hon. Friend’s point the fact that the Government do not want to regulate people such as Lynton Crosby, yet do want to punish trade unions, whose only sin is to represent the ordinary working person? The only things they have ever campaigned for are people’s right to work, the ending of zero-hours contracts, decent pay and conditions, and decent standards. They are being hit, yet all the rich lobbyists such as Lynton Crosby are allowed to get off scot free.

1.15 pm

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend tempts me to stray from the amendments, but she is absolutely right. Week after week, the Prime Minister tells us at Prime Minister’s questions how wonderful the car industry is. The car industry in this country was saved by a partnership of people who owned the car industry, the trade unions and the work force all working together. The industry survived and is now in a healthy position—all credit to all those involved.

Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on outlining why the unions are being singled out. If the issue is fairness, should not shareholders of every company be balloted every time approaches are made to the Government?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why I am so concerned that clause 36 has been added to this part of the Bill without discussion or proper consultation. There are already strict legislative mechanisms to look after trade union membership, but none at all to regulate shareholders or indeed members of the Conservative party. The fact that that party will not say how many members it has shows that we need regulation for that issue as well.

Mr Allen: Could not the shadow Minister answer our hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) in this way? If on a lobbying Bill we are allowed to add in stuff about charities and trade unions, could not our hon. Friend produce another part to the Bill that addressed

11 Sep 2013 : Column 994

the issue he raises about shareholders? Obviously, that would be in order—anything can be added. Hon. Members from across the House could add stuff on child care, foreign policy or the Government’s war-making powers. Bringing forward a Bill and bolting on a part such as this at a very late stage is an abuse. It is surely not in order.

The Second Deputy Chairman:

Order. As I said to the hon. Gentleman, I will decide what is in order. If a Bill has unrelated purposes in it, that does not necessarily make it a hybrid Bill in procedural terms. It would be as well for us to concentrate on the points before us now.

Ian Murray: Thank you for that ruling, Ms Primarolo. All I would say is that my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) is one of the most experienced people in the House. Perhaps he could bring forward an amendment on Report to consider the issue of regulating shareholders.

Mr Hamilton: I’ll get on the phone.

Ian Murray: I am sure that he will be phoning round urgently to get that going.

Mr Djanogly rose—

Ian Murray: I will give way once more, and then I must make progress.

Mr Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that shareholder registers are much more highly regulated than union registers. That is one reason why we need to see the changes.

Ian Murray: I do not think that shareholders are balloted on remuneration; they do not have much ability to stop remuneration packages. They are not balloted on political donations or the overall direction of the company. In fact, individual shareholders in businesses are very weak indeed.

Mr Djanogly rose—

Ian Murray: I am happy to give way one last time to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Djanogly: The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 does deal with votes for remuneration. Indeed, companies have to have annual votes for political donations—unlike unions, which vote only every 10 years to see whether they have a political fund at all.

Ian Murray: At least when everybody is balloted on anything to do with trade union membership, it is completely and utterly transparent because it is already regulated. That is why we do not need this part of the Bill; trade unions are rather heavily regulated already.

I move on to amendment 104, on the membership audit certificate. The Bill states that a union must send any membership audit certificate in relation to the annual reporting period to the certification officer at the same time as the trade union annual report. That may be good and well, but there is absolutely no natural

11 Sep 2013 : Column 995

justice for the trade union itself; that point has been made forcefully by the National Union of Teachers. What if the membership certificate is challengeable? It would not be correct for a document of such magnitude to be delivered to the certification officer, with all their new regulatory, enforcement and investigatory powers, without allowing the trade union an opportunity to appeal what the certificate says.

 

There are no mechanisms at this stage for the union to make representations to the certification officer on the content of the certificate. That does not seem to be a proper process of natural justice or, indeed, fairness. The methods that assurers will follow to determine a membership audit certificate are not yet known. Moreover, given that there is already a well-established body of law covering the membership lists of trade unions, there should be a proper mechanism to appeal or challenge a certificate.

In the absence of a clear process, trade unions should have the right to challenge the certification officer’s acceptance of a membership audit certificate. This should involve a pause in publication and the right for the union to make representations on the content of the certificate, with ultimately, perhaps, an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, where qualified judges can make a determination that any qualifications on an audit certificate are valid and appropriate. The amendment would pause the sending of a membership audit certificate to the certification officer if the trade union is appealing the certificate or has indicated to the certification officer that he should not accept the certificate and the trade union will be appealing its content through a process to be determined. That is a fair and reasonable way to uphold natural justice and provide a degree of certainty in the system. I hope that the Minister will consider the amendment.

Since the Government have been unable to justify what this part of the Bill is trying to achieve and will not even tell us their party’s own membership levels, we must start from a position of determining whether the existing system is working. The Opposition will do that work for the Government if they are not willing to do it. As the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) said, since the mid-1980s every trade union has been under a duty to compile and maintain a register of the names and addresses of its members. That duty is provided for in section 24 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Under that Act, a trade union has a duty to maintain a register of names and addresses of its members and a duty,

“so far as reasonably practicable”,

to ensure that entries in the register are kept up to date. Section 24 also provides that a union must allow any member, on reasonable notice, to ascertain whether the register contains an entry relating to him or her and, if requested, supply a copy of any such entry. This means that the trade union has an existing obligation in law to ensure that its records are accurate.

The existing law specifies that there is an obligation to remove from the register the names of those no longer wishing to be members, that the primary responsibility for informing a union of a change of address is that of the member—I hope that hon. Members remember that part, in particular—and that there is a duty to secure an accurate register

“so far as reasonably practicable”,

11 Sep 2013 : Column 996

which permits a margin of error. The remedy for failure to comply with these requirements is by way of complaint to the certification officer or the courts. Section 25 of the Act states:

“A member of a trade union who claims that the union has failed to comply with any of the requirements of section 24…may apply to the Certification Officer for a declaration to that effect.”

The main thrust of amendment 103 is that, in our view, clause 36 is without foundation and encourages vexatious inquiries for no purpose. I also contend that it will not make membership lists any more accurate. I will be interested to hear whether the Minister has any evidence whatsoever that demonstrates that overlaying this law on to the existing law will make trade unions’ membership lists any more accurate.

On Second Reading, the Leader of the House said of the clause:

“It will require trade unions visibly to demonstrate that they know who their members are and can contact them. The principle that unions must be able to contact their members”—

this is key—

“is well established in legislation.”—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; Vol. 184, c. 567.]

He is right; it is well established in law already. The facts bear this out, and I will give some of them to highlight how detailed membership information already is, as shown by the extensive annual reports published on the certification officer’s website. First, the certification officer’s annual report for 2012-13 says that 166 trade unions submitted returns—not membership lists but returns—recording a total of 7,197,415 members, a figure that does not appear to be inaccurate, compared with 7,261,210 in the previous year: again, a very exact figure. The largest reduction in membership was in the construction sector, which perhaps says more about the Government’s policies than trade union membership.

Secondly, the annual return has to include a copy of the auditor’s report on the accounts, allowing the certification officer to compare revenue from dues with the numbers reported. In 2012-13, the last full year for which returns have been published on the certification officer’s website, the returns showed that income from members increased by 1.3% to £873 million. The returns also show that the total number of contributing members was about 90.5% of the total membership, compared with 89.4% in the preceding year. There are a number of detailed reasons why those figures differ, but to go into them would rule me out of order. As I am trying to demonstrate, the information is already available in the public domain for anyone to dig into. It is on the certification officer’s website, transposed from the annual reports of each of the 166 trade unions that submitted their returns. I would think that any reasonably independent person looking at those publicly available reports would agree that the Government already have extensive information-gathering powers on the finances and membership of trade unions.

Significantly, in 2012-13 not a single trade union member lodged a complaint with the certification officer about the maintenance of the register’s names and addresses.

Mr Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman says that no one made a complaint. Can that not be turned around? If members of the public suffer when a service is removed because of a fraudulent union vote and they cannot go

11 Sep 2013 : Column 997

about their daily work, why should only members of the union be able to complain about that and ask for an investigation?

Ian Murray: Members of the public are suffering not because of the trade unions but because of the policies of the Government. While the hon. Gentleman continues to attack ordinary working people up and down this country, people will be looking at this at home and thinking how out of touch this Government are.

I repeat that in 2012-13, significantly, not a single trade union member out of the 7,197,415 members registered with the certification officer made one complaint to him about the maintenance of the registers of members’ names and addresses—that is, not one complaint from nearly 7.2 million people. Let me emphasise that the trade unions and the certification officer work very closely together because they have a mutual interest in ensuring that processes are accurate and transparent. The certification officer’s own figures bear this out, and it is worth recording them; it is a shame that the hon. Gentleman does not have a piece of paper and a pen to write them down. Some of the figures may shock Members because they reaffirm how much of this Bill is completely ideologically driven and total and utter nonsense.

In the past five years, the certification officer has had no complaints to adjudicate on from, if we take the figure of 7.2 million, a total of nearly 40 million people on the membership registers. In fact, he has had only six complaints since 2000. Five of those were dismissed and he did not even issue a declaration on the sixth. Only 10 complaints have gone to a decision since 1987.

Mr Djanogly: Is the hon. Gentleman maintaining that because union members are not complaining about their own unions everyone else should be content?

Ian Murray: I keep giving way to the hon. Gentleman to be polite, but his interventions are complete nonsense. We are talking about 7 million to 12 million people being on the registers of trade union members every single year going back to 1987. That information is verifiable under current legislation and publicly available on the certification officer’s website. Yet all the hon. Gentleman can say is that there is a problem. Why do we need this Bill to go beyond the existing legislation? I am happy to give way to him again if he wants to tell me, in no more than one intervention, why part 3 and clause 36 are necessary.

Mr Djanogly: People who are not members of a union may have a complaint against, for instance, a vote that is taken, and therefore a proper investigation procedure is needed.

Ian Murray: That has absolutely nothing to do with the registration of 7.2 million trade union members. If an individual member of a trade union on that list has a complaint, I do not see any reason why they would not raise it.

John Cryer: My hon. Friend will be aware that the legal strictures on trade unions with regard to balloting are among the tightest in the world; they are certainly

11 Sep 2013 : Column 998

the tightest in the European Union. I can think of one ballot for industrial action that was ruled illegal because a comma was in the wrong place. The idea that trade unions—this is the notion suggested by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly)—are conducting fraudulent ballots left, right and centre is simply illusory.

1.30 pm

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are getting to the crux of the issue, because it is becoming clear exactly why this part has been included in the Bill. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the accuracy or otherwise of the membership lists of trade unions. If the Committee does not believe me, it should listen to Lord Tyler, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on constitutional affairs, who said that one explanation for this part of the Bill is the role that some unions play in the Labour party:

“The third arm of the Bill is about ensuring that trade unions have accurate membership lists. We will listen carefully to what people have to say about how the detail of this is set up, but the principle seems beyond dispute. The membership numbers of a trade union have a bearing on how much money they can give to a political party through their political funds. In this sense, the trade unions have a unique role in UK politics. It is therefore important for transparency’s sake that the membership lists are accurate.”

I agree with Lord Tyler that it is important that the lists are accurate, but they are already heavily regulated in law. I think this has more to do with the Government’s obsession with the Labour party and trade unions than with legislating to help hard-working, ordinary people.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I had hoped that we would get an explanation as to why this part of the Bill is essential. If the only argument that can be made is that the public should be able to complain about a controversial ballot, surely if it was that controversial it would be taken up by the trade union movement and a trade unionist would object to it rather than wait for a member of the public to do so.

Ian Murray: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. No general secretary of a trade union, whether it is affiliated to the Labour party or not, would take strike action on the basis of a 51:49% vote of its membership. It would also be concerned about the legality of its membership list if any of it was found to be inaccurate, but the point is that legislation on the accuracy of membership lists already exists. It is in the union’s best interests—this has nothing to do with strike action—to have and maintain accurate membership lists, because it wants to communicate with its members, and it is also in the members’ interests to ensure that the unions have accurate details.

Yasmin Qureshi: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill was supposed to deal with moneys being exchanged so that people could pursue personal agendas to, in effect, line their pockets? We have heard about lobbying scandals, but the Bill was never intended to cover trade union members who write to their local MPs to say, “I don’t agree with zero-hours contracts,” or, “My pay is absolutely rubbish; could you please fight for my pay and my terms and conditions?” That is not what the Bill was meant to be designed for, yet it is being used as a weapon to hit the ordinary working person.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 999

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am not even sure whether Government Members have read amendment 103, because it agrees with the need for a process, but only if a proper complaint is made and verified and the certification officer decides that the process has to be followed. There is nothing wrong with that. It is incredibly transparent.

Mr Frank Doran (Aberdeen North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is right to highlight the very small number of complaints made to the certification officer. I have in my hand the text of a speech that was given at a conference that I organised for trade unions and at which the certification officer spoke. The certification officer had done an analysis of complaints and, importantly, highlighted a small number of cases. He found that

“some of the allegations are clearly made with a view to cause problems for the union and not necessarily because of concern for the member’s interests”,

and that

“some of the allegations of irregularities come from those involved in the irregularities”.

There was nothing of any substance in most of the complaints made.

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is right. Our amendment would allow people who have a proper complaint about a trade union’s membership list to make it through the normal channels, and the certification officer would then determine whether the complaint was vexatious or had merit before, on top of all that, deciding whether to instigate a process. If people wish to make legitimate complaints about a trade union’s membership, this Bill gives them a mechanism to do so, but our proposal is that they should be able to do so only if the professionalism of the certification officer proves that that process it is required. Given that there have been only 10 complaints since 1987, I think the certification officer is pretty wily in determining what is and what is not a vexatious claim.

Mr Anderson: It is interesting that my hon. Friend has gone back to 1987, because the root of the original establishment of this law in the 1980s was a direct political attempt by the then Conservative Government to get trade union members to undermine their own union. There was a backlash after the miners’ strike when the then Government instigated the setting up of the scab unit to try to undermine the trade union activities of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The issue here is that only a small number of people complain to a certification officer. Does my hon. Friend know—if the Minister were listening, she might be able to answer as well—whether there is any evidence that the certification officer has raised concerns? Has he said that this is not working and that we need to change it? My understanding is that that has never happened.

Ian Murray: The trade unions have complied with the legislation, with bells on, every single year since it was introduced in the mid-’80s, and the published figures are available to the public from the certification office. As I have said, the TUC made a freedom of information request to the certification officer asking whether he had recommended a change in the law to the Government, and he replied that no discussions had taken place. That underlines my hon. Friend’s point.

Mr Allen: My hon. Friend is making a powerful and compelling speech. I am tempted, as the organiser of the highly successful 1985 political fund ballots, to venture into all our yesterdays, but I will limit myself to one question. He is telling us that there have been no complaints whatsoever, yet the lobbying Bill has a big part on trade unions. Has he noticed that, although complaints have been made over and over again about lobbying, big business, money and sleaze, they do not appear in a Bill that is called the lobbying Bill, and that something about which there have been no complaints has a big section in it? Is he able to explain that to me?

Ian Murray: I am delighted that this Committee sitting has allowed the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee a little walk down memory lane with regard to his organisation of ballots in the mid-’80s. He is right that there is no compelling evidence. Of the hundreds and hundreds of e-mails I have received from constituents about the Bill, not one has mentioned part 3, because the public are concerned with lobbying, which is what this Bill was supposed to address.

As I was saying, only 10 complaints had gone to a decision since 1987. As my hon. Friends have suggested in their interventions, we must wonder whether the certification officer needs any of these powers, given the level of activity there is on membership lists. Indeed, the certification officer has less work to do in this particular area than the Leader of the House has in counting support for the Bill. People will be asking themselves whether the powers are unnecessary and disproportionate, and the answer is clearly yes.

Let us reflect again on what the Leader of the House said on Second Reading:

“All we are doing is asking unions to provide an annual assurance that they are doing everything that they can to ensure that they know who their members are and how to contact them.”—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 185.]

That is almost a one-paragraph description of the current legislation that trade unions abide by, including the Data Protection Act and their responsibilities to the Information Commissioner’s Office. The current law prescribes exactly that. It says that trade unions should ensure that they do all that is—we will come back to this terminology again—“reasonably practicable” to maintain their membership lists.

While the Government trumpet the slashing of red tape for business, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) said—and for “slashing red tape” read “demolishing workers’ rights back to what they were in Victorian times”—they are imposing a completely unnecessary burden on trade unions to resolve a problem that does not exist. Indeed, officials at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills cannot tell us what the problem is.

Amendment 103, with consequential amendment 121, would result in part 3 of the Bill coming into force only if a complaint was received and verified by the certification officer as a valid compliant, and if the certification officer felt that a membership certificate process was required. That goes back to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran). The trade unions have absolutely nothing to hide. The amendment would mean that part 3 would come into force only if a verifiable and non-vexatious claim came forward.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1001

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Is there not a legal contradiction in the Bill? A trade union has a duty under the Data Protection Act to keep in its records, but not to divulge, personal and private details relating to each member. If the Bill is passed, it will give the certification officer, the certification officer’s staff and the new assurers access to that information. That is a huge contradiction and I believe that it contravenes European law. Should we not consider that at the first possible opportunity?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is right that there are contradictions with the Data Protection Act and an inconsistency with articles 8 and 11 of the European convention on human rights. Those matters will come up when we discuss clause 37 and the cluster of amendments to it. Those inconsistencies highlight the way in which part 3 has been completely rushed through, without any proper consultation or dialogue with the people who are involved. There is also no identifiable problem that will be resolved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) has just informed me that, as of 1.35 pm this afternoon, the Vote Office still did not have an impact assessment or a response to the consultation. [Interruption.] The Minister might say that that is not correct, but that information must be available to Members. If it is available, I wonder whether the Minister’s office could photocopy two dozen copies and pass them around.

Ian Lavery: It is extremely important with Bills of this nature that there is consultation with all parties that could be affected. Part 3 was introduced in July without any prior notification. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said, there have been only eight working days since then. There has been a lack of consultation and there might not have been any. We have received legal advice that, because this is being done without prior consultation, it could violate the rights to privacy and freedom of association that are enshrined in the European convention on human rights. What is my hon. Friend’s view of that?

Ian Murray: There is a very strong view that part 3 contravenes the European convention on human rights. The Committee will discuss that in some detail when it considers clause 37. That just shows how part 3 is being rushed through.

I say to the Minister that I am happy to pass around a hat so that Opposition Members who want to see the impact assessment can pay for the photocopying and so that her office does not have to waste paper. Perhaps she could come to the Dispatch Box and tell us whether it is available.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I will happily explain. The assessment has been in the public domain for more than eight days on gov.uk. My understanding is that it has been sent to the Vote Office, but we are investigating whether there has been a problem in communication.

Ian Murray: Problems of communication are not the responsibility of the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool, the staff in my office in Edinburgh and the office of the shadow Business Secretary have

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1002

been searching for the impact assessment. I think that the Minister might be referring to the equality assessment, not the impact assessment. We will wait for it to be photocopied and handed round.

Mr Allen: When my hon. Friend gets an impact assessment, would he mind popping one over to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, because we are meant to be doing some of the scrutiny of the Bill?

Ian Murray: We are compiling a rather expensive list of photocopying.

Jo Swinson: I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that although he has been searching so hard for the impact assessment, he clearly has not looked on gov.uk, which one might have expected would be an obvious place to look.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): It should be in the Vote Office.

Jo Swinson: I happily accept that it should be in the Vote Office. We are looking into that now.

Ian Murray: I have looked at the pages of the gov.uk website that relate to the Bill incessantly over the past week or so. The only thing I have been able to find is the equality assessment for the Bill. As far as I am aware, the impact assessment is not there. I am not trying to be difficult with the Minister. If it has been published on the website, we would certainly be talking about its contents.

1.45 pm

Mr Djanogly: On process and transparency, will the hon. Gentleman advise the Committee who drafted the Opposition amendments? Was it the unions that gave them to him? If so, which unions, or was it union-paid lawyers? That should be reported for the purposes of transparency.

Ian Murray: That kind of intervention is pathetic. Let me put it on the record, in front of the Committee and the country, that I drafted all the Opposition amendments personally because I take an interest in the Bill and it is part of my shadow ministerial portfolio. I did every single bit of the work myself. I also refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have a £2,000 constituency development programme with the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. That is as far as my responsibilities go in declaring such issues.

If the hon. Member for Huntingdon would like a crash course on how to write amendments, I would be happy to meet him this evening. Perhaps he could then write some amendments to make the Bill better. All I would need to do is show him how to spell the word “delete”. That would certainly make the Bill better. [Interruption.]The Government Whip chunters that we should have declared our interests at the start. He will not even tell us how many members the Conservative party has, never mind anything to do with the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. We are absolutely transparent and people can look at my entry.

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1003

Mr Allen: Given that my hon. Friend has been so busy drafting his amendments, he might not have heard all the proceedings over the past two days. I advise him to be very careful about offering to draft amendments for the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), because he may end up becoming a lobbyist under the definition in the Bill. As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said the other day, he could end up with the IPSA of lobbying looking at what he is doing. I therefore advise him to tread carefully.

Ian Murray: I am delighted that my hon. Friend intervened, because it allowed me to look at the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Huntingdon cannot draft his own amendments and would like a crash course from me, given that he received a £21,406 donation from a legal firm only a few years ago. Perhaps it is lobbying him about the Bill. Perhaps he would like to stand up and correct the record.

I forget where we were, but I will go back to discussing amendment 103 and consequential amendment 121. Amendment 103 would prevent vexatious claims. The Lib Dem Minister should think about that carefully. The principle behind introducing the draconian fee of £1,250 for people who want to seek justice through an employment tribunal was that it would prevent vexatious claims. A Bill that deals with trade union membership lists should therefore deal with the fact that vexatious claims might be made to the certification officer. The amendment would resolve that by giving the certification officer the power to consider whether vexatious claims had been made.

Secondly, the amendment would prevent third parties from submitting unwarranted queries. Interestingly, third party submissions are mentioned in the consultation but not in the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister could address that point when she comes to the Dispatch Box. The amendment would reduce unnecessary costs for trade unions. The Government parties tend to forget that any additional costs for trade unions from draconian legislation—there is no evidence for the Bill and it does not resolve any identifiable problem—is merely pushed on to the 7.2 million members, whose membership fees are then increased.. Any additional costs hit ordinary workers who are already engulfed by the Government’s cost-of-living crisis.

The amendment would give the certification officer a mechanism to take complaints—he must ensure that they are verified as competent and of a sufficiently serious nature to warrant the commencement of the complicated process.

Yasmin Qureshi: Does that measure not confirm to the country at large that the Government are not bothered about the ordinary person’s living standards, and that the only people they are concerned about are the rich and powerful?

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend makes the point for me, but it is true that the 7.2 million trade union members will be worse off as a result of the measure, because the burden of any significant additional costs on trade unions from duplicate legislation—they already conform through the Data Protection Act and the Trade Union

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1004

and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992—will be passed on to the membership in the form of membership fees.

I therefore ask the Minister to answer a number of questions on this group of amendments. Has the certification officer asked for the additional powers? Has the certification officer approached the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to say that those powers are necessary, and that he would like the Government to legislate to ensure they are introduced? Has DBIS consulted the certification office, trade unions and other relevant organisations on whether the powers are required and, if so, why? Have there been meetings between certification office and DBIS officials on the subject at which anyone described a need for a problem to be resolved? Have the Government considered the two-out, one-in regulation policy, or demonstrated what measures will be removed to alleviate the burden of regulation on trade unions? Lastly, will the Minister give the certification officer additional resources to deal with the problem? If the answer is yes, there will also be an onus on trade unions to find additional resources.

Amendment 106, on additional resources, is fairly standard and self-explanatory. The new bureaucratic process will be costly for trade unions, and those costs will ultimately be passed on to the trade union membership. At a time when we should do all we can to encourage a healthy trade union membership in the UK, we must not put the burden of this ideologically driven policy on to those hard-working members. Under the amendment, a charge to cover the costs of production can be levied. There is a reasonable charge for accessing Companies House information on companies—the hon. Member for Huntingdon is interested in those regulations. That principle should be continued in the Bill. I believe the charge is £1 or £2 to access basic information from Companies House. The amendment would make the Bill consistent with section 30(6) of the 1992 Act—this has been discussed at great length by my hon. Friends—which states:

“Where a member who makes a request for access to a union’s accounting records is informed by the union, before any arrangements are made in pursuance of the request…(a)…of the union’s intention to charge for allowing him to inspect the records to which the request relates, for allowing him to take copies of, or extracts from, those records or for supplying any such copies, and…(b)…of the principles in accordance with which its charges will be determined…then, where the union complies with the request, he is liable to pay the union on demand such amount, not exceeding the reasonable administrative expenses incurred by the union in complying with the request, as is determined in accordance with those principles.”

Clause 36 is barely consistent with the 1992 Act. The amendment is a way of resolving that and other inconsistencies.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House said:

“It is a Bill that the Government should be ashamed of. It is incompetent. It is rushed. It has been developed in a high-level meeting between the Prime Minister and his deputy, but with no other consultation. It is a sop to vested interests, an illiberal attack on democratic debate and involvement, and a cheap, partisan and cynical misuse of the legislative process for the Government’s own ends.”—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 199.]

The Bill is a partisan attack. Clause 36 and the rest of part 3 of the Bill are completely and utterly unnecessary. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister forget

11 Sep 2013 : Column 1005

that the people they attack are the people who deliver the mail, serve in the shops, teach our children, care for the sick, look after the elderly, clean our streets, assemble our cars and build our bridges. They deserve better than to be subjected to another piece of the Tory ideological jigsaw.

CONTACT IAN