Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I declare an interest as a member of the Musicians Union and Unite, and I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
This group contains our new clauses 5 to 9 and amendments 7 to 9. It is good to return to the Bill after a jam-packed Committee stage, as it is clear from reading the proceedings that the Government did not provide sufficient time. The Minister said earlier that the proceedings finished early, but neglected to tell the House that they had run late the night before because the Government were afraid there was not enough time to conclude proceedings. He missed that bit out.
Despite that, my hon. Friends on the Committee did a remarkable job, under severe time constraints, and I want to pay tribute to them. I am sure that other hon. Friends on the Committee will forgive me if I especially praise my Cardiff neighbours, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who meticulously picked apart the Bill from the Front Bench, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), who, despite her status as a new Member, brought her tremendous expertise and experience to bear in exposing the Bill for what it really is—an attack on the ability of trade unions to perform their proper role on behalf of their members, coupled with a grubby attempt to use a mandate acquired from 38% of those who voted in the general election in order to interfere with the funding of the main Opposition party. Their Cardiff constituents will be proud of my hon. Friends’ efforts to oppose this pernicious Bill. I only hope that I can add a little to their enormous efforts on behalf of working people and democracy.
Dawn Butler: This oppressive Bill will particularly affect women, as three quarters of trade union members are women. The Government talk about aggression, but the only aggression is coming from them and their attack on the rights of working people.
Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I well remember as a young boy how my mother’s trade union helped her when she got a hernia from lifting tables as a dinner lady. Without its help, she would never have got the support she needed, and might even have lost her job. That experience of what trade unions actually do is something that Government Members often do not understand.
James Cartlidge: Talking about women, who do we seriously think is most affected when schools close because of ballots with low support? In Committee, we heard about the effect of school closures in 2011 on millions of parents. In most cases, those strikes had the support of well under 40%.
Kevin Brennan: I take it, then, that the hon. Gentleman wants higher turnouts in ballots and so will be supporting our new clauses and amendments allowing for workplace balloting and e-balloting.
Paula Sherriff: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the worst aspects of the Bill is that it is being applied retrospectively? Five million long-standing union members will have their political fund subscriptions cancelled without their permission or that of their union. It is no wonder the Government want to scrap the Human Rights Act.
Kevin Brennan: I will not test your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, by straying from the amendments, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the retrospective elements are particularly pernicious. Governments should refrain from retrospective legislation. I cannot believe, either, that the time periods were recommended by officials. When I was a Minister in the Department, any time period for consultation on a major change to a system involving business was always at least 18 months, so I am shocked if officials have advised Ministers that two months is sufficient.
Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): The Government have often used the rhetoric of fairness in trying to conceal their savage attack on workers’ rights. Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposals to replace striking staff with agency staff are draconian? This measure was banned almost 10 years before I was born.
Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she will have a chance to develop her point further when we debate that very matter.
Joan Ryan: The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) talked about people voting in the safety of their own homes. Will my hon. Friend comment on that? It was a slur on trade unions and employers, because it implied that electronic or workplace voting was not secure and that unions and employers bullied people. That is not my experience of how unions conduct themselves and their ballots.
Kevin Brennan: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, workplace ballots take place all the time, as other hon. Members have pointed out, and have to be independently scrutinised and verified as fulfilling all the statutory requirements for fairness. So it is absolute nonsense to imply that there is anything unsafe about it.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I agree that this is a terrible attack on trade unions and their rights, but we also have not yet heard any evidence of a serious problem, which proves again that the Bill is a straightforward attack on the trade union movement.
Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is right. This is just what Tory Governments do, regardless of the evidence. They have not presented any evidence. I have read through the Committee proceedings and looked at the evidence given, but there is no evidence to support the changes in the Bill. It is a knee-jerk instinct, and that is greatly to be regretted.
We tabled many amendments in Committee, but, rather surprisingly, the Government did not accept any of them, despite the cogency of my hon. Friends’ arguments and their excellent drafting. We have therefore had to submit further new clauses. In answer to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), I have to say he has been in the House a long time and is very experienced. He knows that Report is not a repeat of Committee and that, given the extremely truncated time limit, it is necessary to focus on a small number of items. That makes no difference to the fact that in Committee we made clear our fundamental disagreement with the Bill in almost every respect.
Mr Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman says he does not have enough time, but how could he come to this place today having not tabled amendments on, for instance, trade union funding or the vote percentages? Everyone, including all the union members who have written to Members, has been talking about these things, yet there is not a single amendment dealing with any of them.
Kevin Brennan: There were many amendments in Committee, but I think the hon. Gentleman will find there is not enough time to discuss those amendments that have been tabled, let alone additional items. However, if he wants to lobby his Ministers and Whips for more time so that we can put down more amendments, I would welcome that.
New clauses 5 would permit electronic voting in trade union ballots for industrial action, and new clause 6 would permit trade unions to use electronic voting in all other statutory elections and ballots, including elections of general secretaries and political fund ballots. Throughout the Committee stage, the Government sought to dress up the Bill as some kind of modernisation, but their continued refusal to introduce e-balloting alongside secure workplace balloting clearly demonstrated they were not serious about modernisation. Online balloting can be as safe and secure as any other form of balloting, and is already used for a variety of purposes in the public and private sectors, including at J. P. Morgan Asset Management, Lloyd’s of London, Chevron and, of course, the Conservative party itself, which recently selected its London mayoral candidate by e-balloting.
If Ministers’ reason for resisting e-balloting in the Bill seriously was fraud and concern about what the Speaker’s commission said about voting in parliamentary elections, why would they employ the very same method in their own party elections? We all know that the real fraud is the fraudulent argument of Ministers. In reality, they want to discourage turnout and make the thresholds harder to reach. That is rule 1 from the Tory party political playbook: disfranchise those who might disagree with it.
Ruth Smeeth: Does my hon. Friend agree that there has not been a single case of fraud in online or workplace balloting, and that of the seven cases of bullying, harassment and other fraud taken to appeal, not one was upheld?
Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is right, and she probably also knows that most of those complaints about the conduct of ballots were made by trade unions themselves. I was going to make that point later, but perhaps there is no need to now.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): My hon. Friend has noted that none of the reasonable amendments put forward by Labour and other Members have been accepted. What does he make of the fact that combined authorities throughout England have stood in opposition to the fundamentals of this Bill, while the First Minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones stood up in the Assembly in Cardiff today and said he would oppose it? This shows that there is no respect and no attempt to find any consensus whatever.
Kevin Brennan: So much for the respect agenda, as my hon. Friend rightly points out.
Dawn Butler: Does my hon. Friend agree that those outside this place will look in bemusement at the argument that sitting in front of a PC and voting electronically will not be safe?
Kevin Brennan: Precisely, and I shall develop that a little further in a few moments. Under our proposals, electronic or workplace ballots would be overseen by an independent scrutineer, and before the ballots run, that scrutineer would confirm that the proposed method met the required standard, that all members entitled to vote had the opportunity to do so and that votes were cast in secret with the risk of any unfairness or malpractice minimised. That is the same standard as set out in section 54 of the Employment Relations Act 2004. None of that, however, matters to Ministers.
Julie Elliott: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as he said in Committee, the provisions in this Bill fly in the face of every other bit of legislation that this Government have brought forward, whether it be using online means to apply for benefits, filling in tax forms or anything else? It is entirely at odds with everything else this Government are doing.
Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is right, and for some reason, that does not seem to matter to Ministers—
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op) rose—
Kevin Brennan: I had not quite finished the sentence, but I will give way to my parliamentary neighbour.
Stephen Doughty: I thank my hon. Friend who is doing an excellent job as shadow Minister. He will know that I am transmogrified in my position, but it is a delight to be here speaking on this Bill again. Is not the greatest irony the fact that one of the architects of this Bill, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, stands up at the Dispatch Box at Cabinet Office questions extolling the virtues of the Government Digital Service and the digitalisation of online services in lots of highly secure and complex matters? That same Minister is one of the architects of this Bill, which does not allow e-balloting.
Kevin Brennan: One is not allowed to use the word “hypocrisy” in this House, so “irony” was the correct word for my hon. Friend to use.
As I was saying, none of this seems to matter to Ministers. Our new clauses also require unions to use postal ballots alongside electronic and workplace voting, where necessary, to ensure that everyone has a chance to vote and that members who may be absent from work due to sick leave or maternity, paternity or adoption leave will be able to vote. None of that matters to Ministers either. Our new clause allows unions to provide members with a choice of voting methods, including postal and electronic voting, and employers would be under a duty to ensure that union members can vote free from interference or constraints. The use of faster and more efficient balloting methods could also assist in the earlier resolution of disputes as ballots and subsequent negotiations would take place more quickly. But you’ve guessed it—none of this matters to Ministers.
I am sure that this Minister is going to trot out his line that he is not against e-balloting in principle, but that the Speaker’s Commission provided evidence of concerns about safety. However, the Open Rights Group’s evidence was based on comparison between general
10 Nov 2015 : Column 276
election voting in polling stations and online voting; it made no comment on the safety and security of wider forms of online voting. In any case, the commission’s report concluded that e-balloting should be available for all electors by 2020. The Minister could easily have allowed for the option for regulations to be laid within this legislation, which would permit e-balloting to commence when any concerns he had were satisfied.
There is no genuine reason whatever why trade unions should be the only organisations in the UK that are required by legislation to use postal-only ballots for elections and ballots. If the Government were genuinely concerned about levels of electronically based elections in the private sector, they would legislate for all bodies to be required to use postal-only ballots. They will not, because they are not genuinely concerned. Thousands of private sector, voluntary and political organisations use electronic voting every year. Electoral Reform Services alone manage over 2,000 secure online ballots annually, and a recent report concluded that online voting is no less secure than postal balloting. In any case, union elections and ballots are more tightly regulated than voting systems used by other organisations, meaning even less chance of a problem.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. He says there is no reason, but if we look back to when the legislation was introduced in the 1980s, there was a reason. People were told then that ballots of this nature would deliver the turnouts, but why is this being pushed? It is a huge cost on the trade unions, so even if a union got the answer it wanted in a ballot, it would have cost a fortune to run that ballot, undermining the union’s capacity to work.
Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is clearly one of the Government’s motivations behind these amendments.
Workplace ballots should be permitted for statutory union elections and ballots. The 1992 Act already permits workplace ballots to be used for statutory recognition ballots. Workplace ballots of this nature are secure and are overseen by the qualified independent persons, who are generally the same as those who act as scrutineers in industrial action ballots and other statutory union elections and ballots. Well over 200 ballots for statutory recognition have been held, a quarter of which involve a combination ballot, including both workplace ballots and postal ballots for those absent from work when the ballot is taking place. An analysis of Central Arbitration Committee reports indicates that turnout was significant higher in ballots where all workers voted in the workplace, with an 88% average turnout, compared with 71% in postal ballots. There is no evidence that workers felt pressurised by this. In fact, people were less likely to vote for union recognition in workplace ballots than in postal ballots. As was pointed out, the Central Arbitration Committee has received only a handful of complaints, most of which were made by the unions, rather than individuals.
New clause 9 would allow trade unions to decide what balloting to use—balloting by electronic means, workplace ballots, postal ballots or any combination of those. Given the severe time constraints, which we have already discussed, it is not possible for us to divide this afternoon on all our new clauses on e-balloting and secure workplace balloting, but I want to place clearly on record our view that the Government’s failure to accept our very reasonable modernisation proposals, which would enhance trade union democracy, invites detailed further scrutiny of these issues in the other place. E-balloting and secure workplace ballots are distinct issues in their own right, but we recognise that, due to the Government’s timetabling, we are unable to vote on all our new clauses and amendments separately on Report without curtailing debate on other important issues in the Bill.
Our amendment 7 should be read in tandem with amendments 8 and 9, all of which relate to this Bill’s undermining of the devolution settlement and conflict with the Government’s own professed localism agenda. Our amendments are designed to ensure that the provisions do not apply to services that are either wholly or partly devolved to the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, English local authorities and the Mayor of London.
Chris Stephens: The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) managed to ascertain from the UK Government that a UK Government Minister would decide the facility time for health workers in Scotland and Wales. Does the shadow Minister think that is fair?
Kevin Brennan: I am coming on in a few moments to talk about the so-called respect agenda, and I hope that I will then answer the hon. Gentleman’s point. Our amendments would ensure that devolved Administrations could decide how best to engage with their staff and trade unions when delivering devolved public services, rather than being subject to a highly partisan central diktat—I believe this what the hon. Gentleman was referring to—from a Government in possession of no mandate in many parts of the UK.
I can recall the Prime Minister travelling to Wales when he was first elected, and declaring that when it came to Wales and the other devolved Administrations, he would govern on the basis of respect. He called that his “respect agenda”. With that promise in mind, the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, wrote to the Prime Minister expressing his concerns about the Trade Union Bill and its complete lack of respect for the role of the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales. He pointed out that the Supreme Court, in its judgment on the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill, ruled that depending on a UK Government Bill’s impact on devolved services, it could be subject to a legislative consent motion, even if it could also be classified as relating to matters that were otherwise reserved. Our Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, wrote today to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, calling for a legislative consent motion; she has also called for Scottish local authorities, regardless of political persuasion, to refuse to implement changes when there is no consent.
I want to make it clear that our commitment to solidarity for all workers means that Labour opposes the Bill on behalf of workers and trade unions throughout the United Kingdom. We believe that simply devolving employment and industrial relations—for example, to Scotland—would play into the Conservative Government’s hands, and would result in a race to the bottom on workplace rights and privatisation, which could only have a detrimental impact on workers throughout the UK.
Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Welsh Government will present a legislative consent motion in relation to Wales? I can assure him that he will have the support of Plaid Cymru if they do.
Kevin Brennan: I think that I would be equally guilty of arrogance were I to assume the role of devolved Ministers in the Welsh Government. However, the letter from the First Minister clearly indicated that a legislative consent motion was under consideration.
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews, made it clear in his oral evidence to the Select Committee that he, too, was considering the matter. He also said today that the Bill, unamended, was
“an all-out assault on the devolution settlement”.
Kevin Brennan: I am always slightly nervous when I give way to my hon. Friend, because his expertise on all these matters is so thorough. He is absolutely right.
Alan Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me again. Is he aware that the Bill is opposed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, whose human resources spokesperson is none other than a Conservative councillor by the name of Billy Hendry?
Kevin Brennan: If that is the case, it does not surprise me, although it might surprise some Members. I should have thought most Conservatives would believe that arrangements entered into voluntarily, at a local level, between an employer and employees should not be interfered with by central Government. I should have thought that that was in the DNA of Conservative principles. Surely Conservatives believe that voluntary arrangements and transactions between parties that are entered into freely, and are not immoral or criminal, should not be tinkered with by central Government. That is what is extraordinary about some of the provisions in the Bill, which illustrate the blinkered nature of the Government’s views on trade unions and their role in our society.
Mr Jim Cunningham: Taken in conjunction with the Government’s wish to pull out of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the cuts in legal aid, the Bill constitutes a direct attack not only on the trade union movement, but on the general public in general terms.
Kevin Brennan: I am sure that many of those human rights implications will be examined further in the other place, although the unfortunate time constraints prevent us from doing so here. No doubt many of those in the other place will consider the Bill with a great deal of interest.
Under current legislation, trade union workplace representatives have a right to reasonable paid time off to perform duties, which has huge benefits for employees and employers alike. Clause 13 could allow the Government to set a cap on the percentage of the employer’s pay bill that could be invested in facility time. It would also give the Government power to impose an arbitrary limit on the amount of time that union officials could spend not just negotiating improved pay and conditions, but training, promoting learning opportunities for the workforce, accompanying people to grievance and disciplinary proceedings, and carrying out health and safety duties.
Furthermore, as was pointed out in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, the clause establishes a democratic deficit. First, Ministers will be able to use secondary legislation to restrict or repeal trade union rights, so this place will have no opportunity to amend that legislation. Secondly, the clause will prevent democratically elected devolved Administrations from deciding how to manage their employment relations in their workplaces, and how to engage with their own staff. Thirdly, it will enable the Government to pick and choose politically which local authorities it will force to impose a cap. That is an extremely dangerous precedent.
Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the “reserved powers” elements of the Bill show that the Government intend to use that opportunity?
Kevin Brennan: The hon. Lady is absolutely right; I do not think that those provisions would be in the Bill if the Government did not intend to use them. Parliament should not grant the Government those reserved powers on any assumption other than the assumption that they intend to use them. Conservative Members should think very carefully about what they are granting in this Bill.
There are significant questions to be asked about the legal basis of such a change in relation to European Union law on health and safety representatives, on the rights of trade union representatives to facility time during consultations on collective redundancies, on outsourcing, and on rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Labour Organisation conventions. Moreover, according to research commissioned in 2007 by the Department of Trade and Industry—now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—workplaces with facility arrangements have lower voluntary exit rates, which leads to significant savings in recruitment costs.
Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the cuts in facility time, along with the employment tribunal charges, will deter women from pursuing cases of maternity discrimination? The number of those cases is apparently rising, but women have not been receiving justice recently.
Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend is quite right. Other Members have also drawn attention to the degree to which the Bill discriminates against women in the workplace.
Jo Stevens rose—
Kevin Brennan: I will give way to my hon. Friend and neighbour.
Jo Stevens: Is my hon. Friend aware of any other cases in which the Government have retrospectively interfered in private agreements between consenting parties in order to undo them?
Kevin Brennan: My research may have been inadequate, but I have not come across any such examples. However, the Minister must have dozens. Surely he would not single out one particular group in society for this draconian treatment unless he were meting out such treatment to other organisations as well.
Lucy Frazer rose—
Kevin Brennan: Oh! The hon. and learned Lady has an example.
Lucy Frazer: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when an employer and an employee enter into a contract, it is agreed between them that the employee will turn up for work and will not engage with others to disrupt the employment—[Interruption.] May I finish? The unions’ power to engage in collective activity is an exception to that principle—an exception that must be exercised only in circumstances in which it is justifiable and legitimate.
Kevin Brennan: I understand the basis on which, under our law, it has, for more than 100 years, been possible to undertake industrial action lawfully. The hon. and learned Lady may well know that it was a judgment in the part of the world that I represent—along with my hon. Friends the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth and for Cardiff Central—that, more than 100 years ago, led to the requirement for changes to ensure that, as in any civilised democratic society, working people had the right to withdraw their labour if they were involved in a trade dispute. I hope the hon. and learned Lady is not suggesting in any way, shape or form that there should not be that right. As I said earlier, if she was serious about wanting more people to be involved in decisions around trade disputes—in balloting and so on—she would support our new clauses and amendments, which allow for workplace balloting and e-balloting, and easier access to democracy for the people she purports to speak about.
Rachael Maskell: Does my hon. Friend agree that having facility time improves industrial relations in the workplace and therefore lessens industrial action?
Kevin Brennan: I agree; there is plenty of evidence that it saves money and facilitates good industrial relations. It is draconian and illiberal of the Government to interfere in voluntary agreements between employers and employees by means of central diktat in this way, and as regards their reputation, I believe that they will live to regret that.
Chris Stephens: Surely the biggest impact on individual contracts will be where it is written into employees’ contracts that they can have their trade union subscription deducted from their salary. The cost of that to other public sector employers will be considerable, as they will have to issue new contracts.
Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman must be a mind-reader; I am coming on to that shortly.
Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab) rose—
Kevin Brennan: I give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee, whose expertise it will be interesting to hear.
Mr Wright: Following on from the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), does the shadow Minister agree that the hallmarks of a good, productive, innovative economy are collaborative, harmonious industrial relations? The likes of Airbus with Unite, and Community throughout the beleaguered steel industry, will help to make sure that we can stay competitive. Trade unions are good for not just individual workers but for a modern, productive economy.
Kevin Brennan: Yes, and they would be part of an industrial strategy if this Government believed in one, but instead, the Government are basically walking across the street to pick a fight where no provocation exists. Let me make a bit more progress, because I want other colleagues to have an opportunity to participate in this section of the debate.
Negotiations between employers and unions can play a very positive role in workplaces. The Welsh Government realised the value of such benefits, and based relations with trade unions on a partnership approach. As Carwyn Jones said in his letter,
“it cannot be right for the UK Government—blind to policy priorities and devolved service delivery reforms in Wales—to specify how much union ‘facility time’ devolved public sector employers should allow. Nor am I convinced that the intention to end ‘check off’ arrangements for trade union subscriptions in the public sector is necessary or appropriate. The Welsh Government operates these arrangements as part of its approach to effective social partnership and is not seeking to change this.”
Despite this, the Tory Government plough on. This is not the agenda of respect. This is an attitude of contempt towards devolved Administrations. Since I have referred to “check off”, I will now move on to amendment 9—
Joan Ryan rose—
Kevin Brennan —but prior to moving on, I will give way to my right hon. Friend.
Joan Ryan: I rise to offer my hon. Friend support. Some 60 local councils and NHS organisations agree with the point he is making on behalf of Carwyn Jones. The leader of Enfield Council has said:
“It would seem rather farcical to expect a Council to develop efficient organisational structures, internal employee consultation and negotiation systems, and deliver million pound services to the public but deny its right to set the level of facility time appropriate to meeting these objectives.”
Kevin Brennan: The leader of the council has put it succinctly and appropriately.
Mr Jim Cunningham: I have been both a shop steward and the leader of a council, so I have seen this from both sides. Let me explode the myth: most good employers in big companies will say that facility time saves them money; they do not want hundreds of their employees disrupting the foreman when he is organising production. It is apparent that those on the Conservative Benches do not have any experience of industrial relations or employment practices.
Kevin Brennan: If it was felt there had been abuse in some areas, that could be dealt with, but to legislate to outlaw something of this kind is shocking. Yet that is, in effect, what the Government are doing.
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The point is that under the law, a human resources director of a large company would still have to consult individuals. Through collective consultation, a lot of agreements can be made very quickly; the union can communicate with its members very quickly and negotiate with an HR director. With this legislation, an HR director will have to go round to every single employee. We are talking about the NHS, and councils that have several thousand employees. That will cost vast amounts of money, take vast amounts of time and leave the Government and those employees in a really peculiar situation in which they could be taken to judicial review.
Kevin Brennan: As ever, my hon. Friend brings his vast experience of these matters to bear in the debate.
Our amendment 9 would ensure that the ban on check-off arrangements would not apply to services that were wholly or partly devolved. In Committee, the Government introduced a new clause—it is now clause 14 of the Bill—to prevent all public sector employers from deducting union subscriptions via the payroll. The proposed ban is clearly designed to target union finances and to make it harder for individuals, including lower-paid workers, to access union representation in the workplace. Under the clause, the Government will be able to introduce regulations imposing a ban on check-off arrangements across the entire public sector.
The Government claim that that will save the taxpayer £6 million, but many unions already cover the cost of check-off services. There is a real risk that if the ban on check-off services comes into effect, the Government— and therefore the taxpayer—will actually incur costs, potentially including legal costs arising from the need to compensate trade union members for the loss of their contractual right to have their union subscription deducted at source.
The proposed ban on check-off arrangements has been introduced without consultation with employers, without engagement with the unions and without any proper assessment of its impact on employment relations. It was not in the Conservative party’s manifesto or in the Queen’s Speech, and there was no reference to it in any of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultations or the impact assessments that accompanied the Bill. I note the concern that has been expressed by Conservative Members on this matter in amendments that we will consider later today.
Kirsten Oswald: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when many organisations already make provision for payroll deductions for credit unions, charitable giving, cycle schemes and for many other purposes, it is an absolute farce for the Government to suggest that it places a burden on such organisations to make deductions for trade union subscriptions?
Kevin Brennan: I have to disagree with the hon. Lady: it is a tragedy rather than a farce that the Government are doing this. I understand the point that she makes.
John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend has already punched holes in the figure of £6 million and the calculations that underpin it. Does he agree that if the Government are to have any credibility, they should also publish an estimate of the extra costs that the taxpayer will be landed with as a result of the increasing unrest and decreasing co-operation that these ridiculous arrangements might engender in the public sector workforce?
Kevin Brennan: I do indeed. My hon. Friend represents an area that has many trade union members, and he is absolutely right. It is shocking that the Government have not published those figures. I hope that the Minister has deep pockets, because he might well have to dip into them when he finds out how much this policy is going to cost.
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Some councils actually make money from check-off arrangements. One or two examples have been given to me of councils not only repaying the costs of check-off but getting extra funding that supports council services.
Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman is right. As I have said, he has put his finger on the matter in his amendment, which we will discuss later. His intervention now has drawn to my attention the point that the state should not be interfering in this kind of voluntary transaction, which is entered into freely by all the parties concerned and which is neither illegal nor immoral. What is wrong with an employer in the private or public sectors voluntarily agreeing to help to collect trade union subscriptions, as part of an attempt to maintain good relations with its employees, in exchange for an administrative payment? In what other field would a Conservative Government legislate to ban a simple, mutually beneficial transaction of this kind? The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on spotting that flaw, and the basic illiberalism, at the heart of this measure in the Bill.
Chris Stephens: I, too, disagree slightly with the shadow Minister: I do not think this is a tragedy; I think it is sinister. In a collective bargaining unit that had a staff association alongside a trade union, it would be permissible for the staff association subs, but not the trade union subs, to be collected from people’s salaries. Is that not biased?
Kevin Brennan: I am not going to escalate our dispute as to whether this is a farce, a tragedy or simply sinister, but the hon. Gentleman is right.
Tom Blenkinsop: In Committee, we raised this issue about other things that can be collected centrally by an HR department or the payroll. For example, some members of staff may be chartered accountants or nurses who pay for their qualifications on an annual basis through their payroll, and that would not be affected but their trade union membership of course would be.
Kevin Brennan: It is entirely appropriate from time to time for payroll to be used in this way. Often, members pay into a credit union through their payroll. These things should be encouraged; they are very good for industrial relations.
This ban was not included in the Conservative manifesto or the Queen’s Speech, and no reference was made to it in any of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultations or the Department’s impact assessment. As we have heard, there have been concerns among Government Members about this move as well. It is almost universally opposed, except by the TaxPayers Alliance, known colloquially as the tax-dodgers alliance, which gave evidence during the oral evidence stage.
In pressing ahead, the Government have failed to secure substantial employer support for their proposals, with many employers, particularly in local government and the health sector, having expressed concern that they could undermine positive industrial relations, which are vital for the delivery of quality public services. It is any wonder that that is the case, given that employers and trade unions were not consulted? We believe these provisions are unnecessary and draconian, and I give notice that we may wish to press amendment 9 to a vote later—for some strange parliamentary reason, it does not come at this knife.
Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that this further complicates the situation in the health environment when people pay not only a levy for the industrial support of a trade union, but a professional levy that goes towards the professional support they have with their work?
Kevin Brennan: My hon. Friend highlights the lack of thought, consultation and proper scrutiny that has gone into this proposal. It is unravelling by the minute as hon. Members bring their expertise to bear on the implications that it has out there in the real world.
Let me draw attention to some of the other amendments in this group. The Scottish National party has tabled a raft of amendments, some of which were moved in Committee. I understand that the SNP may wish to divide the House on new clause 2, which is in the spirit of our new clauses 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Given the time available, if the SNP does that, we will support it in lieu of our new clauses—the same applies in respect of new clause 10. At that point, I should allow somebody else an opportunity.