Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pedant's corner - are the rules being changed in breach of the rules?

Tomorrow the TUC Congress will be recommended to make Rule Changes to move - in effect - to a biennial Congress, with a smaller, slimmed down Congress in the alternate years, starting in 2011.

This decision will arise when Congress considers Paragraph 9.4 of the Annual Report of the General Council tomorrow morning.

I have previously expressed my point of view that this is a feeble move by the TUC which is hardly consistent with stepping up our opposition to Government cuts. There has been, to the best of my recollection, no vote at UNISON Conference, our NEC or at the TUC Delegation to support this move (which isn't technically a move to a biennial Congress but to vary the composition of Congress in the alternate years).

As a pedant relieved (as ever) of the stress of having to speak at the TUC by the wisdom of our leaders I have been looking at the Rules of the TUC to see if this change is being proposed correctly.

The Rules and Standing Orders of the TUC are available online (http://www.tuc.org.uk/the_tuc/tuc-16855-f0.cfm) and Rule 15 which deals with how to amend TUC Rules provides as follows;

"(a) The General Council may between each annual Congress make any amendment to the Rules and Standing Orders that they deem necessary subject to any such amendment being confirmed by the next annual Congress, providing that any such amendment shall in any event be binding upon all affiliated organisations and their members until overruled by Congress.
(b) Affiliated organisations may (subject to the provisions of Rule 23) put forward motions for the amendment of the Rules and Standing Orders for the consideration of such annual Congress."

The General Council Report is submitted in accordance with Rule 26(c) which provides as follows;
"GENERAL COUNCIL'S REPORT: After the opening of each annual Congress, the General Council shall present their report for the past year, which shall be laid on the table for discussion. The items of the report shall be discussed seriatim and not as a whole: each speaker to be limited to three minutes. Such report shall be given precedence over all other business provided that where a motion on the agenda bears directly upon any part of the report, such motion may at the discretion of the President be taken in conjunction with such part of the report."

There is therefore no provision of the Rules and Standing Orders of the TUC which permit the General Council to use their Report to place a recommendation before Congress as is proposed tomorrow.

The General Council could have used their power to amend the Rules under Rule 15(a) and then reported on that in their Report. Affiliates wishing to overturn that decision could then have done so in accordance with that Rule. It is clear from paragraph 9.4 that the General Council have not made a decision to amend our Rules but rather have made a decision to recommend such an amendment to Congress.

Alternatively the General Council could have used their ability to put motions on the Congress agenda in accordance with Rule 23(c) to have put such a recommendation before Congress.

What is quite clear is that the General Council may not circumvent the provisions of Rule 23 by smuggling a recommendation which requires a decision of Congress into the Report which they make in compliance with Rule 26.

Whether Congress will mind that the General Council is giving up more than a century of the annual parliament of our movement in breach of our democratically agreed Rules remains to be seen.

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