Lobbying Bill passes, but with changes
This week saw crucial debates on the Lobbying Bill, including the provisions in Part three that imposed unnecessary red tape on union membership systems in ways that threatened the confidentiality of union membership.
We were never going to make much headway in the House of Commons where this partisan bill was inevitably whipped, but thanks to the campaign of which you have been an important part we made real progress in the House of Lords.
Our campaign helped to brief Peers on the dangers for trade unions, and working with a dedicated group of opposition Peers including former TUC General Secretary (Lord) John Monks, we managed to force the government into major concessions.
We’d like to thank you too for helping to keep the issue alive by not letting up on public pressure. Our anonymous petition, protesting at the threat to confidentiality of union membership was part of that.
Lord Monks received the petition on Tuesday, and referenced it in the debate, saying:
This morning I received a petition organised by the TUC and others. It is signed anonymously by nearly 12,000 people. They do not give their names, they give their occupation and location details. The trade unions have got the information about their names. The individuals trusted the unions with this information. They do not trust these public officials who the Bill proposes to turn loose on union membership records. This is not an academic issue. We currently have over 2,000 cases in the construction industry of allegations of blacklisting—of people who have been out of work, in some cases for years, because of misuse of confidential information, allegedly by some of the most prestigious names in the construction industry.
After concern from peers from all parties, the government made commitments on protecting confidentiality, though not nearly as strong as we wanted to see.
But crucially though, we won agreement that changes to union membership management should be delayed long enough to give unions reasonable time to implement them, according to their rulebooks. This will not only save unions hundreds of thousands of pounds in hosting emergency rule change conferences, but also puts implementation back beyond the end of this parliament, giving us the opportunity to argue for repeal if the political landscape changes after the election.
While we always knew we had strong arguments on our side, we were worried that Part three would be overshadowed by the concern about the rest of the Bill. But the support for the petition and the lobbying that many directed to Peers made sure our arguments were heard.
Unions have also been closely involved in the wider campaign around Part one and Part two of the Bill, where Peers forced concession upon concession out of the government, particularly on Part two that restricts campaigning by non-party groups such as unions, charities and pressure groups during elections.
It’s still a total dog’s dinner of a Bill of course. Part one – the register of lobbyists – is totally ineffective and will do next to nothing to scale back the influence of money on politics. Even despite a brilliantly effective campaign Part two still imposes unnecessary and onerous restrictions on campaign groups, particularly for local campaigners speaking out in election periods. And Part three is still a pointless and partisan collection of red tape, designed to hamper the effectiveness of trade unions.
There is a still a while to go in Parliament, and MPs are still trying to reject two of the amendments Peers made to Part two. The Bill is now going back and forth between the houses, and our friends at 38 Degrees are calling on MPs to drop their demands (you can help them here).
But thanks to a huge public campaign, including charities, unions and community groups, the government has had to severely restrict what it had set out to do. We’d like to thank you again for the part you played in this.