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What is going on in the House of Lords?

Last night, the Government was defeated in the House of Lords on the Trade Union Bill – not just once, but three times over.

Lords voted for three amendments to the Bill, on e-balloting, political funds and facility time in the public sector.

From the Government’s refusal to allow unions to ballot members electronically (sorry, was that the Tory candidate for mayor who was selected in an electronic ballot?), to their spiteful attack on union reps in the public sector (TUC figures show that for every £1 spent on time off for union work in the public sector, between £2 and £5 is saved thanks to the benefits of good industrial relations), to their partisan move to cut off union funding to the Labour Party, the House of Lords voted clearly that the Trade Union Bill has got it wrong. There couldn’t be a clearer message to the Government that it’s time to drop this Bill.

But what does this mean? Have we won on some of these issues?

Well, we’ve won some votes, and we won them decisively – and that’s significant. The work done by our campaigners, by unions and by the Labour team in the House of Lords has paid off, and the Government are coming under real pressure to have a rethink in some of these areas.

The amendment on the political fund that the Lords passed last night includes some modest changes. It would mean that only new members of unions would have to opt-in to political funds, and it increases the transition time a little from the derisory 3 months set out in the Bill. It would also allow members to opt-in electronically, and removes the need for members to renew their membership of the political fund (in writing) every 5 years. It’s an improvement on what is in the Bill at the moment, but it’s not a miracle cure by any means: the opt-in stays; democratic, collective decision-making is undermined; and the Labour Party will still be hit, while Tory coffers remain untouched.

And we’ve still got ping pong to deal with. Yes, you did read that correctly. Ping pong. After the Easter break, the Lords will vote on a few more key amendments and then Parliament will begin to bounce the amendments back and forth between the Commons and the Lords. If the Commons reject an amendment, and if the Government refuse to compromise, then the Lords vote again. If they back it again, the Commons vote again... and so on, until one House backs down.

So, while we will admit to a little bit of celebrating last night, there’s still work to do. We need to keep making the argument against the whole Bill, and we need to keep campaigning to win more amendments in the Lords, and then to win them all in the Commons. We’ll be in touch soon with ways our activists can continue to help us win these battles.

It’s clear from the big, cross-party majorities against the Government last night that we really are winning the arguments. We can’t stop now. 

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