HC Deb 28 May 1968 vol 765 cc1519-21
36. Mr. Ted Fletcher

asked the Minister of Power if, in the national interest, he will issue a directive to the British Steel Corporation that staff employed by the Corporation should be represented by a trade union of their own choice.

37. Mr. Victor Yates

asked the Minister of Power whether in Human Rights Year he will issue a directive in the public interest to the British Steel Corporation to recognise the right of its staff members to join a union of their choice and for that union to be recognised for negotiating purposes.

Mr. Gunter

No. Sir. The Iron and Steel Act, 1967, already requires the Corporation to consult the trade unions about the establishment of machinery for negotiation and joint consultation.

Mr. Fletcher

Does not my right hon. Friend consider it intolerable that thousands of clerical staff are being denied the right to join the union of their choice? Will he make representations to the Steel Board, particularly in view of the fact that the staff are now considering withdrawing their labour in support of a claim for recognition?

Mr. Gunter

My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity had a meeting yesterday with the interested parties. The matter is being followed up with the Trades Union Congress. That this is arising should not be placed entirely at the door of the Steel Corporation for there are certain difficulties, whether small or great, between the unions themselves.

Mr. Yates

Was it visualised by the Government when they nationalised the steel industry that the nationalised board should lay down an unjust regulation of this kind and refuse the right to members to join the union of their choice? Why should my right hon. Friend not ask the Board, in accordance with the wishes of those who believe in nationalisation, to allow them to join the union of their choice?

Mr. Gunter

I understand the views of my hon. Friend and I have a great deal of sympathy with him in this matter. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not want sympathy."] I have no power to direct the Board to do anything of this character. All that the Act obliges the Corporation to do is to seek consultation with any organisation appearing to them to be appropriate. I suggest to my hon. Friends that it would be better to leave this with the First Secretary of State, who is continuing her consultations with the Steel Corporation and the Trades Union Congress.

Mr. Mikardo

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Corporation is continuing the practice of the former owners of the steel industry by resisting any recognition of white collar unions and also the practice of paying money to an organisation which excludes from benefit any employee who is a member of a trade union? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Does he think that is a good way for a public corporation to behave? Is he telling us that he can do nothing about it?

Mr. Gunter

If that is the way it is behaving, of course it is wrong, but I do not know about it. I still suggest that the procedures which it would be best to follow would be the consultations with the Trades Union Congress and the Steel Corporation which are being held by my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State.

Mr. Ridley

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, with his vast experience of labour matters, that it is an absolute human right to be able to join the union of one's choice?

Mr. Gunter

I find the suggestion of the hon. Member impeccable and I am in entire agreement with him.

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