Trade Union Officials (Public Funding): 26th October 2011

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Burley
I will in just one minute.

The upshot of all the extra money provided to the unions is that a huge amount of money is freed up, whether from the direct grants or the union fees, that the unions can use on political campaigns. If their other costs are paid at the taxpayer’s expense, the unions can use the rest of their income for political activities.

Ian Murray
rose—

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab)
rose—

Mr Burley
I will not give way.

I would be grateful if the Minister could address the distinction between paid time off for union duties and unpaid time off for union activities. What are the Government doing about union officials who play the system and use their paid time off for political activities?

Further, are the Government planning to mandate public bodies to record more accurately what time is taken off for political activities, which should not be funded by the taxpayer? We know from a written answer from the Department for Communities and Local Government that public bodies do not even bother recording union time accurately.

Anna Soubry
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Burley
I will just read this out and then give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

“if he will issue guidance to local authorities on the use of (a) facilities, (b) resources and (c) staffing time for trade union duties and activities.”

The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), replied:

“The TUC have estimated that there are 200,000 union representatives in workplaces across the United Kingdom. Information on the amounts spent on paid time”

on

“the provision of facilities for trade union officials in the public sector is not widely recorded or transparent…Estimates have suggested that…‘facility time’ is more prevalent in the civil service than the rest of the public sector and the private sector, with civil service departments spending, on average, 0.2% of annual pay…on facility time, compared to 0.14% in the”

whole public sector and just

“0.04% in the private sector…We would actively encourage local authorities to reduce the amount of facility time to the norm of private sector levels.”—[Official Report, 25 October 2011; Vol. 534, c. 126W-27W.]

Anna Soubry
I hope that as a shop steward I represented my members with integrity, vigour and some success. I never took a single penny piece from the public purse. Does my hon. Friend, who has so commendably introduced this Adjournment debate, agree that unions would advance their cause if they stopped taking public money? If they did that, more people might join them because they would not be seen as extensions of the Labour party.

Mr Burley
My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is the point that I was trying to make. My direct question to the Government is this: are they willing to go further and change the 1992 Act, so that trade unions should fund all their activities from their subs? There should be no taxpayer subsidy for those who take time off to spend on union activity.