Tuesday, October 27, 2015
The Committee, the amendment and the threat to DOCAS
While the Today Programme is explaining statutory instruments and a Tory Government is finding out what it's like not to have a majority in the Lords, those of us preparing for Monday's lobby of Parliament should be paying attention to another aspect of our (unwritten) constitution.
The (Anti) Trade Union Bill is at Committee stage in the House of Commons. This is what happens between the second reading of a Bill (when the Commons has its first significant vote on the principle of some primary legislation) and the third reading (which concludes the passage of a Bill through the House).
In Committee a small group of Members of Parliament, allocated by the whips in proportion to the weight of each Party in the Commons, scrutinise the Bill "line by line" and consider amendments.
It's worth visiting the website to see how the debate has been going in this Committee - http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/tradeunion.html.
A small diligent band of Labour MPs make repeated, informed comments and propose reasoned amendments, whilst eloquently condemning the Bill itself. In this they are supported by a smaller number of Scottish Nationalists.
From time to time one of the majority of Conservative MPs on the Committee says something stupid, but generally, with the exception of the Minister (who intervenes to refute what has been said - and often to say that he'll get back to the Committee with an answer to a question which has him stumped) the Tories stay mostly silent and just vote down the sensible amendments.
One amendment they won't vote down will be the amendment which will prohibit "relevant public bodies" from making deductions from wages or salaries in respect of trade union subscriptions (the text is in the link at the top of this blog post).
Although the primary legislation will simply create a power, which individual Ministers may then use to bring regulations specifying which are "relevant public bodies " - so Royal Assent to the Act itself will not directly start the clock ticking on withdrawal of DOCAS by any particular employer (or category of employer), the existence of this power on the statute book is a dagger to the membership (and purse strings) of our movement as other proposals in the Bill threaten our rights to take both industrial and political action.
Therefore, this proposed amendment is one more reason to redouble our campaigning against this pernicious Bill. No one has asked for this amendment and (on my reading of the minutes of the earlier sessions of the Committee at which witness evidence was taken) no one has made the case for it.
This amendment is also, without doubt however, a clear indication that, should these powers reach the statute book we must immediately commence arrangements to ready ourselves for the shift to direct debit - including detailed pilot projects and a major organising campaign modeled on the Australian experience.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.