HC Deb 07 December 1966 vol 737 cc1361-70

3.41 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to trade unions to make it unlawful for any member of a trade union to contribute to the political fund of a trade union unless he has signified that he is willing to do so, and for other purposes. The momentousness and urgency—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House insisted that Ten Minute Rule Bills should be taken at this time of the day, rather than at 10 o'clock. It must be consistent and maintain order.

Mr. Iremonger

With reference to your call to order, Mr. Speaker, I was just saying that the momentousness and urgency of the next business is such that I shall move this Motion with the utmost dispatch. But the essential rights and liberties of our own people in this country, with which the Bill is concerned, are not trivial matters, even in the perspective of the rights and liberties of people in other parts of the world, for whom we have assumed responsibility.

The situation which the Bill seeks to remedy is as follows. When a trade union has a political fund, every member of that trade union automatically pays a contribution into that fund as part of his membership dues which are collected from him. This is so, in the case of certain of the nationalised industries, even to the extent of the political contribution being stopped out of a man's wages, as though it were on a par with Pay As You Earn Income Tax or National Insurance contributions.

If any member of a trade union is unwilling, on the grounds of conscience or conviction, to pay this contribution, and so support a particular political purpose, he has to take the positive and active step of refusing to pay. In many cases, he may have to do this by personally confronting a trade union official who may be an important person in his life and may resent his refusal. In other words, under the present law, a man who may object or be indifferent to a particular political purpose is obliged to support it with a contribution in cash regularly and continuously unless he "contracts out" of doing so.

My Bill would relieve such a man of that obligation, and would put upon the willing supporter the onus of "contracting in" to pay a contribution to the political fund, the purpose of which he actively approves. The Bill is founded simply on the proposition—as many of the people we represent believe—that the present arrangement is wrong in principle and that the reverse would be right.

The Motion does no more than offer the House an opportunity, sometime in the future, on Second Reading of the proposed Bill, to debate that proposition. The House might feel, after such a debate, that the present arrangement is right in principle and that it ought to continue. The House might feel, after debate, that the present situation is wrong in principle and that it ought to be reversed. I am not asking for a decision on that now. In this Motion I am merely asking the House to allow the question to be debated and considered, some time in the future.

In doing so, I would say no more to the House than this: it is not self-evident that the present situation is right. Its rightness calls for explanation and vindication. It is necessary to justify what might seem to some to be an infringement of the liberty which we otherwise seek to preserve in the secrecy of the ballot. It is necessary to justify what many people suspect may develop into a form of intimidation. It is necessary to justify what to some may seem a questionable situation which may arise in a closed shop, that is to say, when membership of a particular union is a condition of employment, when influential trade union officials may hold—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Speeches under the Ten Minute Rule are not usually interrupted in this way.

Mr. Iremonger

I am obliged, Sir. I hope that I am not provoking hon. Gentlemen opposite.

I was saying that a questionable situation may arise when membership of a particular union is a condition of employment. Influential union officials may possibly hold political views strongly opposed to those of the member of the union who wants to "contract out" of paying the levy. It is necessary, then, finally, to justify what might seem a questionable bias against electoral equity when the negative forces of intertia are caused to work positively and financially in favour of one Parliamentary candidate in a contested election.

These are all matters which the House ought to consider. I am sure that no hon. Member would believe the House to be so infirm and so palsied as to suggest that this is a matter which ought to be deferred until the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Organisations has reported. The House ought not to deny to any hon. Member who feels that he can do so an opportunity to justify a seemingly questionable situation. And no hon. Member should be tempted to vote for a refusal to debate this matter simply because he might calculate that, if such a system lends itself to corruption and is allowed to proceed under the protection of the House, he might gain from it.

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Speaker


3.47 p.m.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

Has the hon. Gentleman finished?

First of all, I think that anyone proposing to bring in a Bill like this, or anyone opposing such a Bill, should state his interest. I wish to state mine. I joined a trade union in 1918, 48 years ago. Since the age of 21, the earliest that I was allowed to do so, for 43 years, I have contributed to the political levy. It may be said that, as a sponsored A.E.U. Member of Parliament, I have an advantage from this and I have, but I still account it a great honour that those with whom I worked are prepared nationally to support my candidature. I have never known—I speak from practical experience to the hon. Gentleman and not with innuendo, or from ignorance or prejudice—any person who has contracted out to be discriminated against within my union.

Indeed, the lie is given to this in a Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), supported by others—including the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Crawley), who voted in favour of the 1946 Act—which calls attention to the 1,556,000 members who have contracted out. What sort of spineless individuals does the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) speak for?

A word or two is necessary on the history of this matter. Until the Osborne judgment, trade unions had always considered that they had the right to use the funds for political purposes. The Osborne judgment of the House of Lords, by a majority decision, ended that belief and gave rise to the Trade Union Act of 1913. It was largely a political decision. The 1913 Trade Union Act allowed a political fund following a ballot of members, and allowed the dissenters to "contract out".

In 1927, in revenge in the aftermath of the General Strike, the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act was brought in to reverse this. Those who were in favour of a majority decision were compelled to "contract in". In 1946, following the overwhelming victory of the Labour Party, this was again reversed. The 1913 position was restored and members could "contract out". The hon. Member for Ilford, North wants to turn the clock back 40 years, to 1927.

Are there any abuses of the present law? Let us get away from the tittle-tattle, innuendo and nonsense and consider the only evidence which is worth quoting to the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "The right hon. Gentleman's?"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite had better be quiet and listen to this, because it was the evidence given by the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies to the Royal Commission on Trade Union and Employers Associations. He said: No union, registered or unregistered, may spend money on political objects unless a resolution for the furtherance of those objects has been approved by a ballot vote of the members. The ballot vote has to be taken under rules approved for the purpose by the Registrar, who is forbidden to approve them unless satisfied that every member has equal right, and, if reasonably possible, a fair opportunity of voting, and that the secrecy of the ballot is properly secured' (Trade Union Act 1913, Sections 3(1), 4(1)). The Registrar went on: If the resolution is passed, the union has"— I repeat "has"— to adopt rules approved by the Registrar providing for a separate political fund; for the right to contract out of contributing to that fund; that a contracted-out member is not to be victimised; and that contribution to the fund is not to he a condition of admission to the union … Model rules for the above purposes are issued by the Registrar and have been adopted by unions with only minor variations. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Ilford, North.

The Chief Registrar went on: A member who alleges that he is aggrieved by a breach of any of these rules may complain to the Registrar, who after hearing the complainant and the union may, if he thinks a breach has been committed, 'make such order for remedying the breach as he thinks just in the circumstances'. The order is enforceable in the county court. What is the result of that?

The Chief Registrar continued: Complaints necessitating a formal hearing do not average more than one or two in a year. That means that of the 1½ million members contracting out, not more than one or two have been complaining each year to the Registrar. He continued: On a rough estimate some 20–30 letters of complaint are received each year. Of these some are obviously misconceived "— as misconceived as the argument of the hon. Member for Ilford, North and the majority of the rest are satisfactorily settled after correspondence with the union. As we see, these people have a number of built-in safeguards. I refuse to believe that people who feel strongly on this issue—and many of my hon. Friends do feel strongly; and I have worked with and represented people on the shop floor

—are as spineless as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Hon. Members

Too long.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Chair will control the length of a speech in opposition. The right hon. Gentleman has one minute more.

Mr. Pannell

I will use that one minute to ask the House to compare this with the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite get their funds.

Compare these built-in safeguards with their hole in the corner, hand in the hat system—the Economic League and the Aims of Industry. Compare it with the subventions of Fisons, of Ipswich. I ask the House to compare all these things and I hope, in doing so, that we can say that this business has been buried.

However, the Leader of the Opposition said something last week that should be remembered. He said that one thing that was called for more than anything else was a complete recasting of trade union legislation. Is this where he begins? Is this where we go for the first instalment; into the Lobby? I ask the House to reject the Motion and I assure the Leader of the Opposition that we will watch which way he votes today.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 131, Noes 281.

Division No. 222.] AYES [3.55 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Higgins, Terence L.
Astor, John Digby, Simon Wingfield Hirst, Geoffrey
Awdry, Daniel Eden, Sir John Hornby, Richard
Baker, W. H. K. Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Howell, David (Guildford)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Errington, Sir Eric Hunt, John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Farr, John Hutchison, Michael Clark
Berry, Hn. Anthony Fisher, Nigel Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Bessell, Peter Forrest, George Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Biffen, John Fortescue, Tim Jopling, Michael
Biggs-Davison, John Fraser, Rt.Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Bossom, Sir Clive Giles, Rear-Adm Morgan Knight, Mrs. Jill
Braine, Bernard Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Lambton, Viscount
Brinton, Sir Tatton Glover, Sir Douglas Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Goodhart, Philip Langford-Holt, Sir John
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Gresham Cooke, R. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Bullus, Sir Eric Grieve, Percy Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
Campbell, Gordon Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Longden, Charles
Cordle, John Hall-Davis, A. G. F Lubbock, Eric
Corfield, F, V. Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Crawley, Aidan Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)
Crouch, David Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Cunningham, Sir Knox Harrison, Brian (Maldon) McMaster, Stanley
Currie, G. B. H. Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Maddan, Martin
Dalkeith, Earl of Hastings, Stephen Maginnis, John E.
Dance, James Hawkins, Paul Maude, Angus
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Peyton, John Temple, John M.
Mills, Peter (Torrington) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Thorpe, Jeremy
Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Tilney, John
Miscampbell, Norman Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Ridsdale, Julian Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Walters, Dennis
Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Royle, Anthony Weatherill, Bernard
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Russell, Sir Ronald Wells, John (Maidstone)
Neave, Airey Sandys, Rt. Hn. D. Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Nicholls, Sir Harmar Scott, Nicholas Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Onslow, Cranley Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Sinclair, Sir George Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian Smith, John Woodnutt, Mark
Osborn, John (Hallam) Steel, David (Roxburgh) Worsley, Marcus
Osborn, Sir Cyril (Louth) Stodart, Anthony Wylie, N. R.
Page, John (Harrow, W.) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Pardoe, John Tapsell, Peter TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart) Mr. Robert Cooke and
Peel, John Teeling, Sir William Mr. T. L. Iremonger.
Albu, Austen Dobson, Ray Hoy, James
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Doig, Peter Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)
Alldritt, Walter Driberg, Tom Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Allen, Sholefield Dunn, James A. Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Anderson, Donald Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Hunter, Adam
Archer, Peter Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Hynd, John
Armstrong, Ernest Eadie, Alex Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)
Ashley, Jack Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Janner, Sir Barnett
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Edwards, William (Merioneth) Jeger, George (Goole)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Ellis, John Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. English, Michael Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)
Barnes, Michael Ennals, David Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Barnett, Joel Ensor, David Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Baxter, William Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Beaney, Alan Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Jones, Rt.Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)
Bence, Cyril Faulds, Andrew Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Fernyhough, E. Judd, Frank
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgston) Finch, Harold Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)
Binns, John Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)
Bishop, E. S. Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.) Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
Blackburn, F. Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Lawson, George
Blenkinsop, Arthur Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Leadbitter, Ted
Boardman, H. Foley, Maurice Ledger, Ron
Booth, Albert Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Lee, Rt. Hn, Frederick (Newton)
Boston, Terence Forrester, John Lestor, Miss Joan
Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert Fowler, Gerry Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Fraser, John (Norwood) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bradley, Tom Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton) Lipton, Marcus
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Freeson, Reginald Lomas, Kenneth
Brooks, Edwin Galpern, Sir Meyer Loughlin, Charles
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Gardner, Tony Luard, Evan
Buchan, Norman Garrett, W. E. Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Garrow, Alex Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Ginsburg, David Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. McBride, Neil
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Gourlay, Harry McCann, John
Cant, R. B. Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) MacColl, James
Carmichael, Neil Gregory, Arnold Macdonald, A. H.
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Grey, Charles (Durham) McGuire, Michael
Coe, Denis Griffiths, David (RotherValley) McKay, Mrs. Margaret
Coleman, Donald Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
Concannon, J. D. Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Mackie, John
Conlan, Bernard Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mackintosh, John P.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Maclennan, Robert
Crawshaw, Richard Hamling, William McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Hannan, William McNamara, J. Kevin
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) MacPherson, Malcolm
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Haseldine, Norman Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Dalyell, Tam Hattersley, Roy Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Hazell, Bert Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Heffer, Eric S. Manuel, Archie
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Henig, Stanley Mapp, Charles
Davies, Harold (Leek) Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Marquand, David
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard
Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Hooley, Frank Mayhew, Christopher
de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey Horner, John Mendelson, J. J.
Dell, Edmund Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Mikardo, Ian
Dempsey, James Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Millan, Bruce
Dewar, Donald Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Dickens, James Howle, W. Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Redhead, Edward Thornton, Ernest
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Rees, Merlyn Tinn, James
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Rhodes, Geoffrey Tomney, Frank
Moyle, Roland Richard, Ivor Urwin, T. W.
Murray, Albert Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Varley, Eric G.
Newens, Stan Robertson, John (Paisley) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Oakes, Gordon Rodgers, William (Stockton) Wallace, George
Ogden, Eric Roebuck, Roy Watkins, David (Consett)
O'Malley, Brian Rose, Paul Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Oram, Albert E. Ross, Rt. Hn. William Wellbeloved, James
Orbach, Maurice Rowland, Christopher (Meriden) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Oswald, Thomas Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.) Whitaker, Ben
Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Ryan, John White, Mrs. Eirene
Padley, Walter Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Whitlock, William
Paget, R. T. Sheldon, Robert Wigg, Rt. Hn. George
Palmer, Arthur Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E. Wilkins, W. A.
Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Shore, Peter (Stepney) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Park, Trevor Short, Rt.Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Pavitt, Laurence Silverman, Julius (Aston) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Skeffington, Arthur Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Pentland, Norman Slater, Joseph Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Small, William Winnick, David
Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Spriggs, Leslie Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Steele, Thomas (Dumbartonshire, W.) Woof, Robert
Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael Yates, Victor
Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Stonehouse, John Zilliacus, K.
Price, William (Rugby) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Probert, Arthur Swingler, Stephen TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Randall, Harry Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.) Mr. Ben Ford and
Rankin, John Thomson, Rt. Hn. George Mr. Stanley Orme.
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