HC Deb 10 June 1964 vol 696 cc454-6

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that industrial courts, when dealing with the operation of the Fair Wages Clause in Government contracts, shall consider any discrimination against trades unionists. In short, the Bill will provide an amendment of Section 8 of the Industrial Courts Act, 1919, in order to provide for an extension of the definition of trades disputes to include this point. The Bill to some extent follows the ground of the Friendly Societies (Membership of Trade Unions) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) last Wednesday. It is aimed at the same targets, but by a different route. As my hon. Friend has therefore set out the background, it will not be necessary for me to deal with the matter at any great length, or detain the House for any time from the pleasures and delights of the Finance Bill and the new Clauses it is anxious to discuss.

My hon. Friend mentioned last week the activities of an employer-promoted organisation called the Foremen and Staff Mutual Benefit Society. This society is registered as a friendly society. It is available for any supervisory staff who are employed by the firms operating this organisation, and it provides for certain benefits to be paid as a friendly society towards its members.

I and my colleagues have no objection to these friendly society activities. If employers wish to organise a friendly society or a benefit scheme for their members, either out of sheer altruism or even because of their desire to obtain the loyalty of their employees, my colleagues and I have no objection. What we object to is a pernicious clause which provides that any member who, after admission to the society, joins a trade union— shall immediately resign from the Society and shall cease to have any claim on the funds of the Society either by way of benefits or return of contributions or premium or any part thereof or otherwise. In short, either a trade unionist is debarred from joining the scheme or, if a man becomes a trade unionist, he is expelled from the scheme and is denied any benefits, even the return of his own contributions.

I do not know what the ostensible justification is. I can only assume, since no other explanation is offered, that it is baldly a scheme to penalise, and therefore discourage, trade unionists, and that it is intended to be so by certain old-fashioned employers who wish to regard their supervisory staff as an extension of the employer's arm rather than as independent workers with their own rights of negotiation. My colleagues and I regard this as a complete anachronism. We believe that it should be brought to an end. In this I hope that I shall have the sympathy of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester mentioned last week, a communication was sent to the Prime Minister by the secretary of the Association of Supervisory Staffs, Executives and Technicians—here I must declare an interest, because this is a trade union of which I am a member, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester—complaining about the position and asking what can be done about this. The secretary received an extremely sympathetic reply from the Prime Minister, who, however, suggested that he thought that this matter could be dealt with under Clause 4 of the Fair Wages Resolution.

Unfortunately, this is not so. Clause 4 of the Fair Wages Resolution, as it exists at the moment, provides that recognition of trade unions is one of the matters that comes under the Resolution and can be dealt with by an industrial court or a court of inquiry, but it does not go further and prevent this penalisa- tion of trade unions, which obviously has the same effect as non-recognition, and is intended to have that effect.

Therefore, I hope that the House will provide me and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester with the facility to introduce our respective Measures. My proposed Bill would provide that the industrial courts and courts of inquiry shall, under the terms of the Industrial Courts Act, as it is proposed to be amended by my proposed Bill, extend to any discrimination against trade unions. This is obviously the more necessary since there has recently been some litigation in the courts to prevent the industrial courts from fulfilling that function, and even their rights and powers under Clause 4 have been questioned. It is all the more important that these should be not merely extended but should be also clarified.

I hope that, after my very short explanation of the purpose of the Bill, the House will provide the facility for me to introduce this Measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. J. Silverman, Mr. Diamond, Mr. Malcolm MacMillan, Mr. Rankin, Mr. Parkin, Mr. H. Butler, Mr. Ledger, Mr. Stonehouse, and Mr. Swingler.