David Cameron as been accused of using the Tories’ first majority in 18 years to launch a “shamelessly partisan” attack on Labour funding that could deprive the party of millions of pounds in donations.
Under plans unveiled in the Queen Speech, the Government said it would legislate to force all trade union members to actively consent to their subscriptions being used for political purposes.
The move, if passed, is widely expected to result in a sharp fall in union donations to Labour which, over the past five years, have contributed more than £50m to the party. This represents around half of Labour’s income.
The plans could also affect the ability of unions to campaign more broadly on political issues and is certain to become one of the most contentious aspects of the Conservatives’ new legislative agenda. However, Mr Cameron will also face strong opposition to his plans to bring back the “snooper’s charter”, giving police and security services greater powers to intercept communications data. The Investigatory Powers Bill will grant police and the security services access to email and text message activity, as well as internet browsing habits.
Ministers, who are braced for a civil liberties row about the move, decided to press ahead with the measure shortly before they finalised the list of Bills in the Queen’s Speech. They rejected delaying the move or a phased introduction of the scheme, arguing that technology was moving so rapidly that delay could be counter-productive.
Other Bills likely to face a difficult passage through the new Parliament include plans to confiscate the pay of illegal immigrants, a crackdown on so-called non-violent extremists and restricting welfare payments still further.
There will also be Bills extending the right to buy to housing association tenants; an increase in free childcare for three and four-year-olds, and further Scottish devolution.
However, the Government confirmed yesterday that its most controversial legislation, which would scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, would be put on ice for at least another year while the proposals are put out to public consultation.
The Labour Party reacted with fury to the plans to restrict political donations which senior party figures fear could severely hamper their efforts to rebuild following a disastrous election defeat.A spokesman pointed out that the Government was doing nothing to tackle large political donations from business or millionaires, and went on to accuse Mr Cameron of trying to “rig” the system to favour the Tories.
“It’s one rule for the Tory slush fund, hedge funds and another for trade union members,” said Paul Kenny, the general-secretary of the GMB union.
“It is not sustainable to allow the elite and companies unfettered and unlimited rights to fund the Tory party, while shackling the bodies that have funded the political opposition to them for more than a century.”
The Bill will also introduce a 50 per cent voting threshold for union ballot turnouts. In addition, there will be a requirement that 40 per cent of those entitled to vote must be in favour of industrial action in essential public services, such as health, education, fire and transport.
A spokesman for the Unite union claimed that the Tories were “taking Britain back to the 1920s” with a “shamelessly partisan” agenda, but a spokesman for No 10 insisted the proposals were reasonable. “No one is suggesting that you should be able to opt in or opt out of paying your union subscription,” he said.
“If you are members of the union you pay your subscription. “The only debate is about the political levy. At the moment you are supposed to be able to opt out but there is concern that at the moment that isn’t being spelled out very clearly to new members.”
The major policies and likely opposition
Full employment and welfare benefits Bill
Working-age benefits, tax credits and child benefit are frozen for two years. The cap on the total amount of benefits that a household can receive is cut from £26,000 to £23,000. Trouble rating: 2/5
The Home Secretary will get powers to ban extremist (but non-violent) groups and premises used by radical preachers will be shut. Ofcom will get extra powers to act against channels that broadcast “extremist content”. Trouble rating: 3/5
Investigatory powers Bill
A new name for the “snooper’s charter”. The Government is braced for a civil liberties storm. Trouble rating: 4/5
This caps “golden goodbyes” paid to executives leaving the public sector to a level below £100,000. Trouble rating: 1/5
National insurance contributions Bill/finance Bill
The Tories’ election promise of a five-year “tax lock”, guaranteeing no increases in income tax, national insurance or VAT, is put into force. Trouble rating: 1/5
Cities and local government devolution Bill
This paves the way for directly elected “city region” mayors, with sweeping powers over transport, policing and economic development. Trouble rating: 2/5
This implements the Smith Commission’s recommendations on further Scottish devolution, but does not go far enough for the SNP, which demands protection from further UK-wide cuts. Trouble rating: 4/5
English votes for English laws
Not a matter for legislation, but the Government wants to change parliamentary standing orders to ensure no laws can be passed only affecting England without the “consent” of a majority of English MPs. But trouble could come if “consent” means Scottish and Welsh MPs would not be able to use their vote to “block” English-only legislation. Trouble rating: 3/5
European Union referendum Bill
Paves the way for an in/out EU referendum by 2017. It is now being supported by Labour, but the opposition wants to widen the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds. Trouble rating: 2/5
Free childcare is doubled to 30 hours a week from 2017 for the working parents of three and four-year-olds. Trouble rating: 2/5
Some 1.3 million housing association tenants will be given the chance to buy their homes at a large discount, while local authorities will have to sell high-value empty properties and use the money to build more affordable homes. Trouble rating: 2/5
An offence of illegal working will be created, and police will get the powers to seize wages paid to illegal immigrants. Trouble rating: 1/5
This gives local communities in England and Wales a veto on new onshore wind farms. Trouble rating: 1/5
Trade union Bill
Union votes for strike action in essential public services will only be legal if a turnout of 50 per cent is reached. The Bill also promises to shake up the way unions pay their political levy to Labour and other parties by replacing the current opt-out system with a requirement to opt in. Trouble rating: 5/5
Education and adoption Bill
Ministers are given powers to turn “coasting schools” into academies and the adoption system is overhauled. Trouble rating: 1/5
Presses on with building a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham. Trouble rating: 3/5
Police and criminal justice Bill
It limits the use of police bail without judicial approval, reforms the Police Federation and introduces sanctions on professionals who fail to raise the alarm about child abuse. Trouble rating: 1/5Reuse content