13 November 2013
Part Three of the Lobbying Bill, which proposes tightening regulation on trade union membership registration even further, could be seen as nothing more than provocation by some sections of society if it goes through in its current form.
This was one of the opinions brought up in the House of Lords when Part Three was debated on Monday (11 November 2013). Lords moved amendments to improve the Bill, including setting the commencement date in January 2016 rather than May 2014, and giving trade unions the chance to see reports of errors in their membership registers before they are sent to the Certification Officer. Each of the amendments was withdrawn following a refusal to engage by the government’s representative.
Labour peer Lord Whitty said the government “will need to think of a fairly long timescale for implementation. If they do not, they will be in trouble not only with the trade unions, but with a large chunk of civic society and those who expected this Government to deliver on lobbying in way that actually adds up to something”.
“In that case, the Bill will be seen as a damp squib on the one hand and a provocation on the other. I do not think that this is in the Government’s interests,” he added.
There was some cynicism regarding the government’s plans to introduce as much of the Bill as possible immediately in May 2014, as this could be seen as a tactic to affect the chances of the Labour Party in the 2015 General Election. The rush with which the government have propelled the legislation through parliament so far has already drawn wide-ranging criticism, and even the Coalition-formed Regulatory Policy Committee – led largely by business leaders – has given the government a ‘red card’ for its ineffective attempt at an impact assessment measuring Part Three’s burden on trade unions.
Labour peer Lord Monks noted that the figure estimated by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills of £461,000 is known to be an underestimate, and the true cost to trade unions will be much higher.
In a comment that raised concern within the Lords, Viscount Young of Leckie, speaking on behalf of the government, promised “a revised copy of the impact assessment [will be placed] in the Libraries before the legislation is commenced”. The implication of this is that the impact assessment may not be available during the debate of Part Three and may only be used to inform secondary legislation once the Bill has gained Royal Assent.
Young also complained that a short consultation with trade unions during the summer months had failed to provide sufficient data for a fully considered impact assessment. He was reminded that asking large organisations to respond to a complex request over a matter of weeks is bound to fail.
At the end of the debate, Lord Monks put one of the central issues with Part Three of the Lobbying Bill succinctly when he said: “The view on our side, which has been consistently expressed, is that this is a remedy that is looking for a problem to solve. There is no requirement for it. As the impact assessment says, there is nil effect and nil impact. For a Bill that is so marginal to anything important, it is extremely disappointing to see a department that is committed to economic growth and stirring the British economy to a higher level of performance wasting time addressing a non-problem.”
Indeed, it seems the government’s insistence to put so much effort into increasing red tape on trade unions to a level beyond that which any other organisation is expected to adhere to has no good justification. Part Three of the Bill has no mandate, is not responding to any known issue, and at the worst appears to only give ministers ideologically opposed to the labour movement the pleasure of costing trade unions money and time.