Latest Public Sector News


Calls for cross-party reform as Lords back probe of Trade Union Bill

The Labour Party may have won a reprieve from a potential £6m cut, after the House of Lords backed, by 327 to 234, the appointment of a select committee to consider the impact of the Trade Union Bill on party funding.

Labour’s Baroness Smith of Basildon first suggested an independent body to examine the sticking points in the already controversial Bill, clauses 10 and 11. “These two clauses basically deal with how trade unions raise and spend their members’ money for political purposes,” she said. “The government contend that this has no direct bearing on political party funding – specifically, Labour Party funding – but both we on this side of the House and the trade unions contend that it does.

“I am not seeking today to make the case one way or the other, but I am seeking a way through that will allow us to consider the Bill in the normal way and, at the same time, provide for a Select Committee to examine this specific point.”

She argued that this aspect of the Bill will have a significant impact on the party’s resources and, in doing so, will “both disrupt the political balance in the UK and have a damaging effect on the electoral process and on our democracy”.

Labour had already argued that the Bill would slash its annual income by £6m as it would require Labour union members to ‘opt in’ to pay a levy to the party every five years instead of having it automatically deducted in their membership. It also gives unions only three months to get a member’s signature assenting to the levy.

Conservative Lord Forsyth argued that making a requirement to opt in “would be unfair” to Labour by reducing its funding and inevitably starting a debate about state funding of political parties.

“We are provoking a confrontation that will do none of us any good and certainly will not do the political system any good,” he said.

But the intellectual property minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, said the Bill would require trade union members explicitly on opt in to a political fund, which is “not the same as requiring opt-in to union donations made to a political party”.

“Under current trade union legislation, union members have the choice to opt out of contributing to a union’s political fund. However, that choice is on too many occasions difficult to exercise, and not made clear to individuals,” she said.

“So, to reply to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, we want to end that unfairness and provide full transparency by allowing union members an active opt-in to the political fund.”

She later claimed that the Bill, which Labour has already branded “draconian, vindictive and counterproductive”, sought to modernise the relationship between unions and their members and to redress the balance between the rights of unions and the rights of the general public.

But Lady Basildon said the key to the discussion was not what peers or ministers thought, but about a forensic assessment of where the Bill will have an impact on party politics.

“The minister [Lord Cormack] says no, and I say yes. Who is right? I do not think that we can reach a conclusion on that here, but a Select Committee could look into that impact and it can inform our deliberations on the Bill,” she concluded.

Lord Kerslake, former head of the Civil Service and now president of the LGA, reiterated his opposition to the Bill during the debate, calling the motion crucially important to “anyone who believes in an open, plural democracy”.

Calls for cross-party funding reform

Just shortly before the Bill was explored on the Upper Chamber, the Electoral Reform Society called on peers to favour setting up a cross-party committee to form part of a deal on party funding reform that would affect all political groups.

Katie Ghose, the Society’s chief executive, said: “There is growing appetite for reforming the way parties are funded, and you can see this among people from across the political spectrum. Measures in the Trade Union Bill to ensure union members have to ‘opt in’ to pay into political funds could form part of a fresh settlement.

“However, by targeting Labour and not tackling the issue in the round, the government is risking decades of parties indulging in tit-for-tat raids on each other’s sources of funds. We need all parties to get around the table and deal with this once and for all.”

Earlier this month, PSE also revealed that the Equality of Human Rights Commission found the other divisive clauses in the Bill to be in danger of imposing “potentially unlawful” restrictions on everyone’s basic human right to strike.

(Top image: TUC members queue outside the Houses of Parliament to lobby against the Trade Union Bill c. Anthony Devlin, PA Wire)


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

public sector executive tv

more videos >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been the r more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues t... more >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >