HC Deb 19 July 1967 vol 750 cc2205-29

(1) No local authority or body corporate or unincorporated association shall discriminate in the placing of business or of contracts against any corporate body on the ground that such body has or has not made contributions for political purposes within the meaning of section 19 of this Act or of section 3 of the Trade Unions Act 1913.

(2) Any person who is party to such discrimination shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £500.

(3) This section shall not apply to any political party or any branch thereof or any association or body corporate or incorporate formed to carry on or principally carrying on political activities.—[Sir J. Foster.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir J. Foster

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With the new Clause, we are discussing Amendment No. 47, in page 20, line 23, at end insert: (6) If on the ground that a company has or has not given money for political purposes any local authority or other body corporate or unincorporated association (other than a partnership) shall discriminate against such company whether by declining to contract with or to permit tenders from such company or otherwise howsoever, any member of such local authority or of the board of directors, council of management or other governing body of such body of persons who is party to such discrimination shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment. (7) The last preceding subsection shall not apply where the body or association discriminating in the manner in that subsection mentioned is a political party in the United Kingdom or is carrying on or proposing to carry on such activities as are mentioned in paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of this section. (8) For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that any dispute between a company and its employees arising in consequence (either alone or together with other matters) of that company's giving or not giving money for political purposes is not within the meaning of the Trades Disputes Act 1906 a trade dispute.

Sir J. Foster

The new Clause and the Amendment arise out of Clause 19, which provides that, in the directors' report, contributions for political and charitable purposes shall be disclosed. The object of the new Clause and the Amendment, doing it in slightly different ways, is to prevent discrimination. The discrimination which we have in mind is where a local authority, company, unincorporated association, or, in Amendment No. 47, a trade union, brings pressure on a company by refusing to contract with it and do business on the ground that it has made a political contribution to a particular party.

I assume that on both sides of the House that would be considered wrong. I assume that hon. Gentlemen opposite, just as much as my right hon. and hon. Friends, disapprove of discrimination against a company, whether it has contributed to the Labour Party or to the Conservative Party, and consider that it would be wrong for a local authority or company to refuse to allow that company to tender, or to select a tender at a higher price on the ground that the company had made a certain political contribution.

During the last 50 years of this century, we have been made much more aware of the evils of discrimination. We have an Act which provides against racial discrimination. Public sentiment disapproves of discrimination on the ground of religion against Catholics and Methodists in the matter of business, and people disapprove if a person is discriminated against on the ground of his Jewish faith.

There have been instances where discrimination has been practised in the sense that pressure has been brought to bear on companies because political contributions have been made in the interests of the Conservative Party. There have been instances of trade unionists on a building site threatening to strike and not fulfil their contracts because their employer has made contributions to organisations suspected of being in support of the Conservative Party. There have been instances, too, of local authorities indicating that they would not deal with companies which made contributions for political purposes.

Two or three years ago, there was a spate of inquiries from local authorities to the directors of certain big companies asking what political contributions they made. The only possible reason for the inquiries was that the local authorities in those circumstances would not have dealt with those companies in a business way, and that they felt that, if the companies subscribed to the Conservative Party, they could not do business with them. Another argument which they put forward was that if not all the shareholders were Conservatives, it was wrong that a company should subscribe to the Conservative Party, when it might be that a substantial proportion of the shareholders were Labour supporters.

The answer to that is that, as long as private enterprise subsists, it is in the interests of a company to subscribe to the Conservative Party or to organisations which further private enterprise, because the ideology of the Socialist Party is in favour of Socialism and nationalisation.

A few years ago, we had the case of Mr. Cube, where it was held that it was directly in the interests of the company to mount a campaign against the nationalisation of the sugar industry and that it was in the interests of Tate and Lyle to resist the principle put forward by the Socialist Party for nationalisation.

If a Socialist supporter is a shareholder in a private enterprise company, he must expect the company to defend itself against the principles of the Labour Party by subscribing directly to the Conservative Party or to organisations which exist to promote private enterprise. He is entering the private enterprise side of the economic sector, and he must expect the company to defend itself and promote its interests in that way. It is wrong, in my submission, to seek to bring pressure on a company by refusing to deal with it in a business way.

When the Minister of State replies to this debate, I hope that he will accept that principle as being a right one, and that he will say that he disapproves of local authorities, companies, unincorporated associations and trade unions bringing pressure on companies by refusing to do business with them with the intention of making them discontinue their political contributions.

If he accepts that principle, the next question which arises is whether he is prepared to do anything to stop it. The existing law, save in a rather unsatisfactory Section of the Trade Disputes Act and, I think, the Act of 1875, does nothing to prevent it A local authority can refuse to accept the offer to enter into a contract with company A and deal instead with company B, putting in its minutes that it does not want to deal with company A because it is a Tory—or Liberal or Socialist, as the case may be—company which has subscribed to the political party which it supports.

7.0 p.m.

If that is so, and if the Minister does not intend to accept the Clause or the Amendment, I would like him to tell us why he proposes not to do so. In Committee, it was said that it was difficult to prove, but this is not a reason for not accepting the Clause. This is always the objection raised by persons who oppose a legal provision. They say that the dividing line is difficult to draw. In nearly all legal provisions it is accepted that this is so, but this is not a reason for guarding against a manifest evil. A distinction has to be made in law between men and women, but it is difficult to say whether a hermaphrodite is a man or a woman. A distinction has to be drawn between night and day, but at dawn and dusk it is difficult to say whether it is night or day.

If there is a clear case of discrimination, does the Minister disapprove of it? Is he prepared to adopt legislation which snakes it an offence for this discrimination to take place? It would be wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "This is really a question of expanding the Race Relations Act". It is not in the same category at all. This is discrimination in business, of which there have been signs in various quarters during the last few years, and which will be more likely to come forward if the list of political contributions is shown in the directors' report.

One can imagine that people who do not think clearly will take the view that it is a legitimate form of political warfare for a corporation, be it a local authority, or a company, or a semi-Government organisation, to try to bring pressure on private enterprise companies to prevent them from subscribing to political parties or to organisations whose aims are the furtherance of private enterprise.

I submit that the Clause should commend itself to the House, and I urge the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the two aspects of it which I have raised. First, does he think that discrimination on this ground is wrong? Secondly, if he does, is he prepared to make it an offence for such discrimination to take place?

Sir D. Glover

I make no apology for rising to address the House on this Clause. What worries me about the way our political thinking is going is that it is thought necessary for a Clause of this kind to be brought into a Bill of this sort in the House of Commons.

I have an enormous admiration for the battle which the party opposite has fought for many years to achieve its aims. I have not particularly supported some of its activities, but I think that this is democracy at work. It is only 67 years since the first Member of the party opposite came into the House, and now hon. Gentlemen opposite are in Parliament with a large majority. This is something which everybody who believes in democracy should want to see happen when people have a view which they want to express.

Until recently it had always been the view that whatever political view one held it had no injurious effect on one's social and economic activities. It is the provision in the Bill about the disclosure of political contributions which has made my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) put down this Clause, because there is a real fear that discrimination will take place as a result of this disclosure.

I think that it is the negation of the whole working of democracy to say that because a firm with a strong chairman—perhaps the hon. Member for Ormskirk —who holds his views passionately, wants to subscribe to the furtherance of the cause in which it believes so strongly, in the same way as trade unions want to achieve their objectives, it should be discriminated against. In a democracy, where the' whole basis of progress is hammered out by argument between the two sides, it would be a complete negation of our democratic society if there was even a suspicion that people were being discriminated against in their commercial activities because of their political allegiances.

Let us be honest. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have made speeches on this subject on a number of occasions. There is a growing feeling that a person can use his political power to coerce people into doing something which they should not do in a democracy. It seems to me that the whole basis of democracy itself is at risk. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to realise that in this Clause we are bringing in something which will make it clear beyond a peradventure that the Government of the day, and the party opposite, although they are asking for disclosure, are not in any way suggesting that that disclosure should be used as a political weapon in the commercial activities of a company. If this were to happen—and I say this with great feeling to hon. Gentlemen opposite—we would do a lot to ruin the whole basis of our commercial and industrial life as it has been carried on for the last 50 to 60 years.

Nobody can force a person to alter his political views. It may be possible to coerce him into not supporting them, but he cannot be forced to alter them, and if there was a feeling in the country that a person's political views were acting against his economic and commercial interests, we would eventually build up a very bitter form of society. If it has started, it is quite easy to stop it, because it is in its early stages. If there is any evidence of it, it is not extravagant, but because of the other Clauses in the Bill about the disclosure of contributions to political parties it is vital that Parliament should make it clear that, while it may be justifiable, in the interests of the shareholders—not in the interests of political parties—to know what the directors are doing with the money which they have earned, and, therefore, the shareholders might legitimately object if the money is being given to the Labour, Liberal, or Conservative Parties, it would be appalling if people began to think that they were going to lose not in respect of their lack of commercial ability or their inability to produce the best contract for building houses or to build a road, but purely because of their political allegiance.

If it became clear that that was happening we should have gone a long way down the road to ruining and breaking up the whole democratic society on which we have prided ourselves for so long. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the new Clause. It would be a disaster if it had to be voted against, but if the Government will not agree that since disclosure will be a necessary part of a company's activities it must also be written into the law that no discrimination shall be made against a firm because of its political views, and made quite clear that to use this as a political weapon will be outwith the law we shall have to divide.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, in the interests of our democracy, will find it possible to accept the Clause.

Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester) rose

Mr. Darling rose

Mr. Temple

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) for the way in which he moved the new Clause. At the same time, feeling charitable, I will come to the rescue of the Minister of State. He made his position and the position of the Government quite clear in Committee. He said that he was against discrimination of all kinds, and went on: The difficulty arises in finding suitable words to express this aim."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 18th April, 1967, c. 609.] I hope that when I rose to speak the Minister was trying to catch the eye of the Chair to say that he would accept the new Clause. He has a great responsibility, and I know that he feels that some safeguard of this nature should be written into the Bill. In my opinion the Clause provides a reasonable safeguard.

A point which was mentioned in Committee, but should be mentioned again—because several Members here today did not have the privilege of serving on the Committee during its 27 sittings—was that a list might be made of firms subscribing to a political party and it might become known that this list was available. Company directors or members of local authorities, or any corporate body, might know that certain firms who were tendering were subscribing to certain political parties.

In the case of a local authority it is customary for the clerk, at a certain juncture, to warn those who are about to select a certain firm for a tender that if anyone has a personal interest in that firm he should not take any part in voting or selecting. If there were a statutory provision in the Bill drawing attention to the fact that there should not be discrimination against a firm if it openly subscribed to a political party the company secretary, or the clerk to an authority, could point out to those concerned that at the moment when they were making their decision they would he acting contrary to the law if they had regard to the fact that a certain firm was supposed to have a political bias. It would be advantageous to have some kind of safeguard in the Bill.

Leaving aside that aspect of the question, there is another point which should not be disregarded, namely, the case of a foreign company which has an interest in this country. As far as I know, there is no provision in the Bill which says that a foreign company with a subsidiary in this country must disclose the fact that it makes a contribution to a political party here—neither is there any obligation upon a British company to disclose the fact that it is subscribing to a political party abroad.

I know that many international companies, so that they can have an influence in certain parts of the world, by custom make contributions to political parties. It may be that on occasions they subscribe to two or three political parties in he same country for this purpose. It would be a little unwise not to have a safeguard written into our own legislation against discrimination when subscriptions of the kind we are concerned with may be made by international companies elsewhere or by foreign companies operating n this country.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I shall be brief, not because I think that the Clause is unimportant but because it deaf with such a wide matter of principle that there ought to be no difference between us. I support the Clause not because I believe that there is any appreciable danger of discrimination being practised on a wide scale; indeed, one of the most satisfying features that I have always found in my political activities in this country is how rare the application of political discrimination is in other aspects of our national life. It is an entirely desirable characteristic, and one which we should at every opportunity seek to preserve and foster.

The Bill is largely concerned with the question of standards of behaviour. We are seeking to lay down these standards for companies and company directors on a more extensive scale than has been done previously. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) mentioned the Race Relations Act in passing. Perhaps it has a closer parallel with this Bill than at first sight appears. Many people wondered whether the codification of law governing race relations would serve any useful purpose. There is no doubt, looking back, that it has served a useful purpose. It has sought to create a situation in which there is a clear definition of what is right and what is wrong.

The main benefit that would accrue from the inclusion of this Clause in the Bill is that in our public life we should have a clear definition of what was right and what was wrong in respect of the disclosure of political activities. It would not be a desirable consequence if, as a result of the greater disclosure of political support, there should be one or two cases—I do not think that there would be more—where unwise and bigoted people sought to take advantage of or react to information which they did not have before. Without such a Clause, we shall have to wait for the pressure of public opinion, Questions in the House and possibly future legislation and the matter would be blown up far beyond the scale which one or two incidents could justify.

The Clause would round off certain other aspects of the Bill and would help to preserve a right and proper and sweet atmosphere in the conduct of our political debate and we should be smoothing the way for action which would be in proportion to the effects if some people were tempted by information made available to them by the Bill to act undemocratically and undesirably.

Mr. Darling

The hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir John Foster) asked me categorically to say whether we share his condemnation of political discrimination. I can give him that assurance immediately. The Bill makes companies disclose their political contributions and we think it desirable in company law that any company should be able to make any political contributions without further consequences. We say only that the fact of those contributions should be disclosed to the shareholders. I am sure that hon. Members opposite agree.

There seems to be a fear that, if companies disclosed political contributions, this would leave them open to the risk of political intimidation. We utterly oppose such discrimination, but this is not something new for us. Many of my hon. Friends have had personal and painful experiences of what we would prefer to call political victimisation and many of our parents and grandparents suffered sometimes savage and brutal victimisation for their political beliefs. This is not a new problem, but has been with us for years and has frequently been raised in the House.

But no party or Government over the last 100 years, since this issue has been raised, has legislated to stamp out discrimination by making it a criminal offence. I will not say that previous Governments or Parliaments were indifferent, for they were not, or that they did not care about the treatment of people whose beliefs offended what one might call the tyrants in authority. However, even if they were not indifferent, they failed to legislate.

I would refer to the lesson which can be learned from occurrences in my part of the country, next door to the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Northwich, which were known, in capital letters, as "THE GREAT INTIMIDATION SCANDAL". It provides a solution, I think. Perhaps I should declare a slight interest, as my grandfather was one of the victims, which is why I am very interested in it.

The incidents happened in Crewe, which was a railway company town, owned and run severely by the London and North Western Railway Company. It owned most of the town, the gas works, the water supply, even the Anglican churches, for which it appointed the parsons. When the town was incorporated, it resorted to every possible device, including savage intimidation, to keep the town council in the hands of the councillors whom it had nominated and financed and who were promoted by the local Conservative association.

The situation became so bad that Mr. Gladstone had to intervene. One or two men who had lost their jobs committed suicide and about 100 workmen were sacked at one go, of whom only one was a Tory—the Conservative secretary of one of the ward committees—and he was quickly reinstated. Through their trade unions, and so on, the workmen made representations to the directors about all these evils. When the Press got the facts, the story circulated and questions were asked in the House.

Mr. Gladstone intervened in a letter to the Press, in which he said: The case at Crewe…is so scandalously bad that you must forgive me for saying that I am compelled to suspend my belief until I know what any such among the officers of the London and North Western Railway Company as are included in the charge have to say upon it. They, the paid servants of a great commercial company, which is not, I apprehend, a Primrose League, are accused of allowing their own political opinions to weigh, and to weigh penally, in the employment and promotion of workmen; which IF IT BE TRUE, IS NEITHER MORE NOR LESS THAN A SHAMEFUL MALVERSATION IN A PUBLIC TRUST. He ended: Therefore as I have said, I suspend my opinion until these very grave and quite sufficiently particular allegations have been answered. The result of Mr. Gladstone's intervention—there are still many Gladstones among us for this kind of thing—was that the directors had to admit that, in Glad-stone's own words, their managers at Crewe were in this matter …IN THE LAST DEGREE SHAMEFUL AND UNWORTHY. Then they put a stop to political intimidation.

It was public opinion and Mr. Glad-stone's God-like wrath which drove the intimidation out and brought tolerance in. I am convinced that this is still at least part of the solution. If practical legislation were possible, I would legislate immediately, but the new Clause shows how difficult it is to legislate—

Sir D. Glover

I am very interested in and greatly sympathetic to the right hon. Gentleman's story, but he is losing sight of the fact that it is much easier to arouse public sympathy for people than for amorphous companies.

Mr. Darling

I am not sure that I would agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he has a point. In a company town of the kind which I have mentioned, victimisation went much further than men being thrown out of their homes and losing their jobs. Yes, I would agree with him, but public opinion now is more quickly, if not more easily, roused on all kinds of issues. Television and radio discussions were unknown then and, although doing their job, the newspapers cid not have the coverage and the ability to rouse public indignation in the same way.

But this is only a partial solution. I have to be concerned with the proposal before us, new Clause No. 29. Whatever its virtues, I have to stick to the argument which I gave in Committee, that it will be almost impossible ever to prove under the Clause that a contract had been rejected on political grounds.

7.30 p.m.

I can give an example from my constituency. We have had a housing scheme built by a private contractor. There are technical defects in the houses, or they were shoddily built with wrong materials and possibly bad labour. There is agitation going on in which my political party in the constituency is very interested, to the effect that the local authority must never give a contract again to this firm. If that happens—I am not saying whether it should happen; I am expressing no opinion—and if this Clause is on the Statute Book, even though it might be justified in not giving a contract to that firm because of its record of bad workmanship, the fact that a political party had taken part in the agitation would be taken by the firm to try to show that it was political discrimination which made the local council take its decision.

I do not think that that will happen. I merely give it as an example of the difficulty of ever being able to say that any contract or business arrangement was cancelled for political reasons. If it is possible to legislate against not only political discrimination, but against religious and racial discrimination, we should do it, and I hope that that legislation will be introduced, but I do not think that we can do it on the basis of the new Clause.

I turn to what seems to me an alternative to the new Clause—the latter part of Amendment No. 47, which proposes an addition to Clause 19, on which, as the hon. and learned Member for Northwich said, the question of trade disputes arises. It is true that political contributions could be hypothetically one of the reasons for a trade dispute. I cannot see any group of workmen, or any trade union officially, ever causing a trade dispute on the ground of political contributions alone. But we must bear in mind that we are here taking a trade dispute out of its appropriate legislation.

A trade dispute is defined for the purposes of the various Acts in which trade disputes are covered—the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, and the Trade Disputes Act, 1965—as any dispute between employers and workmen or between workmen and workmen which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of employment or with the conditions of labour of any person". A dispute between workmen and employers arising from the employers' making political contributions would not seem to come within this definition of a trade dispute.

The purpose of the Amendment is to dispel any doubt which there might be about that matter. It would bring a dispute on the basis of political contributions into the definition of a trade dispute. But, because it relates to a dispute arising in consequence either of the making of the contributions or of the making of those contributions together with other matters, it would also have the effect of taking a genuine trade dispute out of the Acts when the making of political contributions was alleged to be one of the matters giving rise to it. This is not appropriate for a Companies Bill in which we are essentially dealing with other matters and are not concerned with trade disputes.

As I say, if it were possible to legislate in a wider sense to ensure that throughout our social and economic life there shall be no political, religious or racial discrimination, I would support that legislation to the hilt. But I do not think that the new Clause or the Amendment would achieve the purpose which the hon. and learned Member for Northwich has in mind which I wish very sincerely to support.

Mr. Corfield

My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) said that it would be a disaster if we had to divide on this proposal. I would endorse that remark. I am sure that the Minister of State is entirely with us in spirit if not in the wording of the Clause.

I accept that in the past there has been a good deal of discrimination, or, to take it much further, savage discrimination or victimisation, but I think that most people would agree that we have eliminated it from our society. The recent instances which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) gave as examples of local authorities' inquiring of these matters of companies with which they intended to contract and of trade unions inquiring of companies about whether they were making political contributions were a throw-back to the past, although we should be on our guard against reproducing something which in my view, has been stamped out by the force of public opinion.

The main function of Parliament, despite what the Press may say, is to lead public opinion. What we say may not have the same effect as it had in the past, but it still has some effect and it should be our aim to ensure that it has a greater effect as a leader of public opinion. Although the Minister of State is absolutely sincere, the fact is that there are Ministers in the present Government who are on record as stating that one of the objects of including the necessity to disclose in the Bill is to ensure that companies are brought to account and are discriminated against in this connection. I therefore hope that we shall not miss the opportunity of making it clear that we strongly disapprove of these things.

One of the difficulties which we face is that we have to think of a different situation as between Government Departments, on the one hand, and local authorities and other bodies, on the other. Government Departments remain responsible, through their Ministers, to Parliament. I am not one of those who think that the concept of Ministerial responsibility has been entirely whittled away. I know from my experience on the back benches and as a member of the former Conservative Government that when a Member of Parliament makes a strong case that something has gone wrong and can persuade the Department that there is a prima facie case that injustice has been done, the Civil Service tradition is such that it will literally, to use an old cliché, leave no stone unturned to find out what has gone wrong and to put it right if it can.

However, how many of us can put our hand on our heart and say that we have never tabled a Question to a Minister about something which has happened in a local authority or some other public body only to be told, correctly, that the Minister has no responsibility? The net result is that nobody has responsibility. The only responsibility is to say to the electors, "You had better have a new council next time". There is no immediate safeguard whatever. All such bodies, whether they be public bodies of the nationalised industry type or local authorities, are using public money and it is particularly important that they should be seen not to discriminate and it should be brought home to them that this is something of which Parliament and the nation disapproves.

We have included in our Amendment all other corporate bodies. The question of individuals raises much greater difficulties. It is sometimes even legitimate to discriminate in the sense that we say, "There is a young man who is doing very well. I should like to help him if he came my way". In a sense, one is discriminating if one gives a degree of favouritism to that man. One may be influenced by happening to go to the same church or attending the same political meetings as that man, although I see nothing evil in that.

When it comes to the larger contract, and particularly when public money is involved, the standards of public life could be involved and this is a subject on which Parliament should make it clear that we do not approve and are not prepared to sanction such actions. I doubt the Minister's suggestion that our proposal, if accepted, would result in a legitimate trade dispute being taken out of the purview of the Trade Disputes Act.

When a similar Opposition proposal was moved in Committee it contained the words: …on this ground whether alone or among any other ground… At that stage the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that those words could easily be interpreted as saying, "If one man says, 'I do not like this firm because it is Conservative in its politics', even though everybody may know that the firm cannot be relied on for good workmanship and everyone would agree that the firm should not be employed again "—then, this would bring the decision within the new Clause and an offence would have been committed. But we have removed what the Minister considered to be offending words.

Mr. Darling

The Opposition's proposal still contains the words …it is hereby declared that any dispute between a company and its employees arising in consequence (either alone or together with other matters) of that company's giving or not giving money for political purposes is not within the meaning of the Trades Disputes Act 1906 a trade dispute. It is still too wide.

Mr. Corfield

I was referring to new Clause No. 29 and not to Amendment No. 47. As the Clause stands, discrimination must be on the ground of political contributions. If there are perfectly legitimate other grounds, I cannot see why our proposal can be read as saying that this amounts to an offence, merely because somebody happens to dislike the political colour of the company.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, in the proposed new subsection (8) from which he quoted, the words in brackets were not removed and I also agree that there might be some doubt that what he suggests may be the result, may indeed be the result. But the object is a simple one, namely, that it should not be right or proper for a trade union, having made inquiries about whether or not a firm may intend to make political contributions to a party of which that union disapproves, then to regard that as a ground for strike action.

Similarly, we would agree that it would be wrong for any firm to take lock-out action on the ground that a trade union made political contributions, or that individuals made contributions to, say, the Communist Party—and probably most of us would feel somewhat against that. This should not be the basis of discrimination in matters of a man's livelihood or business.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept our proposal, remembering that these words were used by the present Minister of Technology: Just as Government contractors are disqualified from election to Parliament, they should also be prohibited from making direct or indirect political contributions to any party fund". There are a number of other quotations that I could make, but I will not delay the House. The mere fact that that was said makes it important that the Government should make it clear that they disapprove and that their principles are firmly those which we have set out.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Having sat through 72 hours of the Standing Committee proceedings, I feel qualified to take up 30 seconds of hon. Members' time, particularly since I feel provoked by the attack that has been made on local authorities or members of local authorities.

The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) and the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) were uncharacteristically naive in their comments about local authorities and contracts. Having sat for about 15 years as a member of a city council and having been present at the opening of literally hundreds of contracts, I cannot believe that what hon. Gentlemen opposite are saying or implying could possibly happen.

If one had a situation in which the clerk to the authority read out lists of tenders from a number of firms and announced, "This is the lowest tender", and some politically motivated person on the committee said, "But this firm makes a contribution to the Conservative Party", or whatever it might be, and urged that the tender be not accepted, the consequences would be numerous. To begin with, the clerk would remind the members of the committee that somebody at central government level—if not the district auditor—would have something to say if they did not accept the lowest tender.

Mr. Corfield

I am sure that this argument is valid in cases of open tendering. However, with selective tendering—a system which is common—that argument would not apply.

Mr. Cant

That is true, but the ultimate sanction is an obvious one. These committees are comprised of members of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties. I am sure that the Conservative local press would make considerable political capital out of the fact that members of the committee, perhaps in the ruling party, had allowed such a thing to sway them in making their decision.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Would the hon. Gentleman deal with the case where the lowest tender is obviously unsatisfactory? There may be something against the firm. The lowest tender is not always accepted in local government, even with full competitive tendering. Surely the real reasons could be hidden from political motivation.

Mr. Cant

If the lowest tender is not acceptable, a strong case must be put forward before one goes on to the next tender on the list. To suggest that, in some way, one could insinuate political motivation into a decision to select a particular tender is naive. The reasons must be good and they must be stated explicitly if the lowest tender is not acceptable.

Sir J. Foster

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) is being naive. The point of discrimination is more in the realm of a different type of case. The hon. Gentleman envisages a situation in which, because a firm has made a political contribution, the selective tender is not accepted. However, it does not operate that way. It is intended to prevent the company from making any further political contributions. The firm is told, "We do not see why the profits you make out of, say, this Labour-controlled authority should go partly to the Conservative Party. If you go on making political contributions we do not see how you will be able to get any more tenders". That is the way in which this discrimination is exercised.

Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)

Is it the Conservative Party's case that we should have general legislation against discrimination, including racial discrimination, or just on this specific point of political discrimination?

Sir J. Foster

At this point in this Measure we are considering a narrow question Of discrimination. We are concerned here to prevent discrimination against companies on the ground that they have made a political contribution. The issue is as narrow as that. I am sure that we all share a dislike of discrimination in other spheres.

Let us take one thing at a time. Let us take the Amendment as being aimed at a particular kind of discrimination. What is behind a lot of discrimination is the preventing of further political contributions; the attempt to prevent a particular party from getting the sinews of war from companies. That is the area in which discrimination works much more largely than is represented by councillors saying that a particular tender is not to be accepted: "If you think that you are going to build houses for this local authority you are very much mistaken, because you are subscribing to the XYZ organisation", which is thought by hon. Members opposite to be a front for the Conservative Party when its real objects are to preserve private enterprise. That sort of thing is objected to. As I say, trade union members on a building site have said to a firm, "We are not going to work if you continue to subscribe to this organisation". That is clear discrimination.

One has to examine with a great deal of care the right hon. Gentleman's line of argument. First, he gave us a very interesting historical account of the great discrimination practised by the London and North-Western Railway Company at Crewe because people there were voting Liberal. Political feeling ran high, and public opinion stopped that discrimination. The right hon. Gentleman then said that part of the solution was public opinion. I do not believe that it is easy to whip up general public opinion throughout the country on the ground that a local authority has warned a company through councillors speaking unofficially that it is not likely to get any more tenders if it continues to subscribe to the Conservative Party—or to the Liberal Party, or the Communist Party or the Labour Party. Public opinion is not there.

The Minister then said that the discrimination would be awfully difficult to prove; that with a lot of legislation which creates offences or makes things illegal it is very difficult to prove the act that is in contravention of the legislation. That, however, is not a good argument against the legislation, because a lot of legislation is educative. It is meant lo warn people. If people know that something is wrong and that legislation has made it illegal, they are much more careful about not acting in that way, and a lot of people who have muddled thinking see where right and wrong is. I am sure we all remember the lady who said, "Of course I know the difference between right and wrong, but I can never remember which is which".

People who do not think very clearly may believe that in a tough fight it is, perhaps, legitimate to go for firms subscribing to the Conservative Party. They think, "That will teach them to do it. We are a Labour council and we do not see why the profits on our tenders should go to the pockets of the Conservative Party." They may think that quite innocently, but it helps people to realise what is right and wrong when they see it provided for in legislation. Again, if there is a blatant piece of discrimination we all look rather foolish if we have to say that there is no law to prevent it.

I would therefore meet the right hon. Gentleman's objection that it is difficult to prove—

Mr. Barnett

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is pursuing a most interesting argument. Is he now telling us that it is the genuine view of the party opposite that, because it is educative, it does not matter that a piece of legislation is difficult to prove? That argument, taken to its logical conclusion, would have some most interesting effects on our future legislative programmes.

Sir J. Foster

I do not think that I quite understand the hon. Gentleman, but let me give him an instance. In most civilised countries it is a road traffic offence to block an intersection. We have all suffered the annoyance of a bus or lorry drawing across us when the traffic lights are in its favour and preventing us from getting across when our traffic lights are green. All Ministers of Transport, Conservative and Labour, have raised the objection against me that it is no use legislating, because the legislation is difficult to enforce. But I am sure we would all agree that if that were made an offence it would prevent, or very much reduce, the practice, because then, the moment someone blocks an intersection, people hoot their horns, shake their fists, and ask "What do you mean by doing that?". There is the force of opinion in the surrounding traffic. That is what happens in France and America. They do not prosecute everyone who blocks an intersection in New York, but such is public opinion that, the moment a man does it, he backs out again. How many people do we see backing in that way in this country? We have to say, "Do this" and "Do that". People do not practise it naturally.

The same thing applies in this case. If discrimination were made an offence, people who now innocently think it a fair fight and a tough thing to do would see that it was wrong, and those who knew that it was wrong would be careful not to continue the practice—

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

On that basis, would the hon. and learned Gentleman consider that our anti-litter laws are so successful?

Sir J. Foster

It is better to have a not-so-successful anti-litter law than not to have one at all. That is the point. The law is difficult to enforce, there is a lot of litter about but, gradually, the law is educative. The hon. Gentleman is by his question recommending that we should abolish the anti-litter law and that rather proves my point because, with respect to him, it seems to me to be an absurd conclusion.

The right hon. Gentleman, having told us that discrimination is difficult to prove, gave us an illustration. He said that a firm might have built badly and that there were objections to it on that ground, but that if some councillors said that there were a lot of Conservative, Communist or Labour people in the firm, it could bring that forward. He said that that was difficult to prove, but he then added that, because of the legislation, it would be easy for the company to allege against the corporation something that the Minister agreed was difficult to prove. He switched his argument 180 degrees. The company would not be able to prove discrimination there, because the corporation would be able to reply that the building work had been slipshod.

It is disappointing that the Minister of State should oppose the narrow reform we seek. There are many instances of discrimination against which it may be difficult to legislate, but it has been possible to legislate against it in the United States. It is for the courts to say what is or what is not discrimination. I am sorry to say that it is the refuge of the diehard, of the ultra-Conservative, of whom I disapprove, to say that it is difficult to legislate against something because it is difficult to prove the act. That

has been the objection to many worthwhile reforms. I am really sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, who has a liberal heart, so that I often join with him in needed reforms, should on this occasion have put this ultra-diehard view that, because it is impossible to prove the discrimination, he is against any legislation about it at all.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 115, Noes 189.

Division No. 479.] AYES [8.0 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Gurden, Harold Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Baker, W. H. K. Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Peel, John
Balniel, Lord Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Pounder, Rafton
Bell, Ronald Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Hawkins, Paul Pym, Francis
Bessell, Peter Hill, J. E. B. Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Brinton, Sir Tatton Holland, Philip Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hunt, John Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Bryan, Paul Hutchison, Michael Clark Robson Brown, Sir William
Buchanan-Smith, A lick(Angus, N&M) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bullus, Sir Eric Kaberry, Sir Donald Royle, Anthony
Campbell, Gordon King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Russell, Sir Ronald
Cary, Sir Robert Kirk, Peter Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Cooke, Robert Knight, Mrs. Jill Stainton, Keith
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Lancaster, Col. C. G. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Corfield, F. V. Langford-Holt, Sir John Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Costain, A. P. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Temple, John M.
Croethwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Currie, G. B. H. Loveys, W. H. Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Dalkeith, Earl of Lubbock, Eric Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Dance, James McAdden, Sir Stephen van Straubenzee, w. R.
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) MacArthur, Ian Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Aahford) McMaster, Stanley Ward, Dame Irene
Elliott, R.W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Maginnis, John E. Weatherill, Bernard
Emery, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Webster, David
Errington, Sir Eric Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Fortescue, Tim Mills, Peter (Torrington) Wills, Sir Cerald (Bridgwater)
Foster, Sir John Montgomery, Fergus Worsley, Marcus
Gibson-Watt, David Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Wright, Esmond
Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan Nabarro, Sir Gerald Wylie, N. R.
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Neave, Alrey Younger, Hn. George
Glover, Sir Douglas Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Gower, Raymond Nott, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grant, Anthony Onslow, Cranley Mr. Jasper More and
Grant-Ferris, R. Osborne, Sir Cyrll (Louth) Mr. Timothy Kitson.
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Page, Graham (Crosby)
Abse, Leo Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Boyden, James Darling, Rt. Hn. George
Alldritt, Walter Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)
Allen, Scholefield Bradley, Tom Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)
Anderson, Donald Brooks, Edwin Davies, Harold (Leek)
Archer, Peter Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Dell, Edmund
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Buchan, Norman Dempsey, James
Bagler, Gordon A. T. Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Doig, Peter
Barnett, Joel Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Dunnett, Jack
Baxter, William Cant, R. B. Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)
Beaney, Alan Carmichael, Neil Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)
Banco, Cyril Coleman, Donald Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Corlan, Bernard Edwards, Robert (Bllston)
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Corbet, Mrs. Freda Edwards, William (Merioneth)
Blackburn, F. Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Ellis, John
Boardman, H. Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony English, Michael
Booth, Albert Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Ennals, David
Ensor, David Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Lawson, George Pentland, Norman
Evana, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Lestor, Miss Joan Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Faulds, Andrew Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, s.)
Fernyhough, E. Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Finch, Harold Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Price, William (Rugby)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lomas, Kenneth Probert, Arthur
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Loughlin, Charles Rankin, John
Foley, Maurice Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Ford, Ben McBride, Nell Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Forrester, John McCann, John Robertson, John (Palsley)
Fraser, John (Norwood) MacColl, James Rose, Paul
Galpern, Sir Myer Mackintosh, John P. Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Carrett, W. E. MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles) Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Gourlay, Harry McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Sheldon, Robert
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) McNamara, J. Kevin Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Gregory, Arnold MacPherson, Malcolm Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Grey, Charles (Durham) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mallalleu, J.P.w. (Huddersfiletd, E.) Slater, Joseph
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Manuel, Archie Small, William
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Mapp, Charles Snow, Julian
Manning, William Marquand, David Spriggs, Leslie
Harper, Joseph Mendelson, J. J. Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Millan, Bruce Swingler, Stephen
Hart, Mrs. Judith Miller, Dr. M. S. Thornton, Ernest
Haseldine, Norman Milne, Edward (Blyth) Tinn, James
Heffer, Eric S. Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Tomney, Frank
Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Molloy, William Urwin, T. W.
Horner, John Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Howie, W. Moyle, Roland Wallace, George
Hoy, James Murray, Albert
Huckfield, L. Newens, Stan Wellbeloved, James
Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) White, Mrs. Eirene
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby,S.) Whitlock, William
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Norwood, Christopher Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Hunter, Adam Ogden, Eric Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Hynd, John Orbach, Maurice Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Orme, Stanley Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Oswald, Thomas Wmterbottom, R. E.
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Owen, Will (Morpeth) Woof, Robert
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Padley, Walter
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Page, Derek (King's Lynn) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Kelley, Richard Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Mr. Ernest Armstrong and
Kenyon, Clifford Park, Trevor Mr. Harold Walker.
Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)