HC Deb 05 December 1957 vol 579 cc605-7
50. Mr. Farey-Jones

asked the Prime Minister if he will move for the appointment of a tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to inquire into the recent conduct of the affairs of the Electrical Trades Union.

The Prime Minister

I have seen reports of some recent elections in this union which are bound to cause public concern. Nevertheless, I do not think that on the facts before me the appointment of a tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, would be appropriate.

Mr. Farey-Jones

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the grave and deep anxiety expressed from every part of the country and every section of the community? Is he also aware that there are millions of proud citizens in this country who do not necessarily seek to interfere with the affairs of the trade unions but who will not tolerate Communist domination in any of our traditional institutions?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, but on the particular form of dealing with this problem, after much thought I think that the reply I have given is the right one. I believe that this is a problem which is taken very seriously in all parts of the country and in all parts of the House. It is intolerable that great unions should become dominated by Communist leaders, especially as we believe it—as, I think, they do themselves—to be against the wishes of the members of the union. But there are appropriate methods which should be given a full chance to operate before more drastic action can be considered.

Mr. Lee

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no matter how undesirable we may feel the appointment of Communist officials to be, when all is said and done it is a matter for the members of the union concerned? Is he further aware that we do not believe that the machinery of the 1921 Act, or, indeed, legislation of any type, can be appropriate to this type of case, that the Trades Union Congress already has the necessary powers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not use them?"]—to make investigations on its own, and that in any event all trade union rules must be submitted to the Registrar-General?

The Prime Minister

What the hon. Member has said merely shows that this is a matter which it is primarily the duty of the members of the union to cure, but for which other bodies have a responsibility which, I feel sure, they will not shirk.

Mr. Mawby

While agreeing with my right hon. Friend, does he agree with me that a point is reached where members have their powers so reduced that they are completely impotent? Will he further agree that, as the only member of this union in the House, I have every right to ask a supplementary question? As I am the only member of the union in the House, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend does not agree that there is danger in the fact that I may be the only member of that union not likely to risk his livelihood by indulging in just criticism? Therefore, would it not be a good thing for the T.U.C. to use its good offices to investigate this matter to make certain that members of that trade union can a least be assured that they have an opportunity to express themselves in a proper manner?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I think that the whole House has much sympathy with the view put forward by my hon. Friend. A great responsibility lies upon the men of the union to do their best to eradicate anything wrong or improperly done. It is up to organised labour in the first instance, at any rate, to take the necessary steps.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that if, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) alleges, the rights of the members of this union are being reduced or in any way curtailed, those rights being enshrined in the rules of the union which have to be submitted to and approved by the Registrar-General, he has the duty and responsibility to report the matter not only to the House but to the Registrar-General? Is not that the advice which should be given to members of this union if the rules are being broken?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. That is the formal and legal position, but no doubt the right hon. Gentleman himself is somewhat disturbed about what has been revealed. I believe that he and his friends can be most useful in getting the trade union movement in general to try to put right anything that is wrong.

Mr. Griffiths

Is the Prime Minister aware that we are concerned about the trade union movement but, from our experience, we believe that these matters are better dealt with by the trade unions themselves?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. That is true, if they are dealt with.

Mr. Shinwell

When the right hon. Gentleman referred to public concern about this matter, was that statement based on newspaper reports or because he had previously sought to make investigations into this matter and ascertain all the facts? Is it not a little unwise and premature to pronounce on a matter of this sort before ascertaining all the facts and even attempting to find out what the union officials have to say?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that when I said that this matter caused concern I was going beyond what would, I know, be the views of very responsible leaders of the trade union movement.