Lobbying Bill update: January 2014

A number of amendments were discussed during the early January House of Lords debate on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill that reflected the FDA’s concerns. Lord Monks (Lab) tabled an amendment addressing the issue of confidentiality of trade unions and union members, as well as the obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 that information of members is protected.

He questioned why trade union membership is being singled out for supervision and whether there was widespread public concern on the issue. He reflected points made by the TUC and FDA that “between 2000 and 2004, the last time that any records were taken, six complaints had been received by the certification officer, and there has been only one since, which is current.” He also commented that the provision in the Bill seems to put in place a “load of red tape on unions when generally the policy is against red tape and overregulation”. Lord Morris of Handsworth (Lab) took this point further, arguing that confidentiality is of the utmost importance and said that he had read nothing in the Bill which “gives any protection at all to the possible victims of this new office of assurer”.

Responding to these amendments the Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con) said that existing data protection rules are sufficient. He said that the intentions behind the amendments table are already covered in the Bill which explicitly states that the assurer will owe a duty of confidentiality to the union. He stated that a union could put in place additional protections as part of an assurer’s contract. He said that assurers are “prohibited in the Bill from disclosing member data unless in specific permitted circumstances”. He also offered assurance that the certification officer is subject to duties under the Human Rights Act 1998 to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. He said that the Government is confident that the certification officer is well placed to deal with sensitive information.

On the issue the self-certification threshold applying to trade unions with over 10,000 members, Lord Balfe (Con) asked peers to consider raising the exemption limit from the current 10,000 members to 40,000. He said that there are many professional unions that have very low turnovers. He said his amendment would mean that 37 unions would be exempt, but that it would ensure the low turnover, highly professional unions were not required to pay for an independent assurer’s certification of their membership register.

Viscount Younger of Leckie said that the primary objective is to supply assurance to union members and the wider public about the existing statutory requirement to maintain an up-to-date register of members. He said the requirement applies to all unions, regardless of size. He said that Government does not want to prohibit the creation of trade unions and undermine their ability to operate, and that where membership is small it is reasonable to rely on the union’s own assessment. He said self-certification of unions with more than 10,000 members becomes more challenging. 
The legislative process of this Bill continues and we are pleased that a number of Lords have taken up the issues we have raised. The FDA will continue to make relevant representations and seek changes to this legislative proposal.