HC Deb 09 June 1976 vol 912 cc1436-44

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for public supervision of annual elections to office in trade unions. I recognise that to raise the question of legislation concerning trade unions—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not fair for any hon. Member to have to try to address the House if there is a lot of talking going on.

Mr. Ridley

I recognise that it is entirely unacceptable to hon. Members opposite below the Gangway that any suggestion should be made about legislation in relation to trade unions. They had to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on this subject yesterday.

Nevertheless, trade unions should be accountable under the law in the same way as the rest of our organisations and institutions. Nor does it seem that the word democracy is particularly acceptable among the Red Flag brigade opposite. We have seen some fairly savage attacks—

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you ask hon. Members opposite to stop chattering? We cannot hear my hon. Friend's speech.

Mr. Speaker

No one would like to try to address the House with a lot of mumbling going on. I hope that hon. Members will listen. One never knows what one will hear.

Mr. Ridley

The Trade Union Democracy Bill, which I seek to bring in, is unacceptable to hon. Members opposite because democracy to them is more a means to an end than an end in itself.

In view of the absence of complaints about the lack of free elections in many Communist countries, I marvel how hon. Members opposite can treat democracy as a way of getting their will but as not being of any value once they have achieved that. We saw the way they flouted it the week before we rose for the recess.

The same thing is true in trade unions, and this is what prompts me to ask for leave to bring in my Bill. The Bill has simple and limited objectives. It will require trade unions to hold elections for their chief officers and members of their executive committees either annually or perhaps at slightly longer intervals. Such elections should be supervised by an independent body and there should be provision for postal voting for those people who are unable to turn out to vote in person. The secret ballot procedure should be used on all occasions.

The necessity for this procedure has been demonstrated by the very large number of abuses of union electoral procedures. I need only remind the House of the ETU ballot rigging case which is spelled out in an excellent booklet which I have here.

I also remind the House of the events of June 1975 about which a newspaper reported: Once again President of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, Mr. Hugh Scanlon, has used his casting vote in a manner that will effectively deny to many of his members that free, democratic expression of their collective will that he is so fond of proclaiming as their right. I also remind hon. Members of the fraud of 17th November 1974 when the chairman and secretary of a branch of the engineering union were gaoled for three years for rigging an election which returned a Communist to a top union job. A newspaper asked: Was one of the convicted ballot riggers near the truth when he said that this kind of practice is quite common"? The president of the engineering union, Mr. Hugh Scanlon, was elected by no more than 6 per cent. of the members of that union. The president of the Transport and General Workers Union, Mr. Jack Jones, was elected by no more than 19 per cent. of the members of that union. That is not something which should appeal to hon. Members opposite. They should be aware that democracy must not only be done but must be seen to be done if it is to be acceptable to those who have to follow their union leaders.

I do not say that many unions need this discipline imposed upon them. The vast majority of unions conduct their elections in an exemplary way, but it can no longer be held that this House has no responsibility to the ordinary working people who are members of trade unions and who will increasingly be asked to do things by their unions for which those unions were not originally established.

It is an extraordinary idea that people should be forced to join a union, pay subscriptions and abide by its rules and then be told that they must abide by a voluntary pay policy introduced by a Government. That is not the purpose for which unions were established. They were set up to improve the lot and the wages of their members.

Many people would say that in our present economic circumstances the pay policy and the unions' acceptance of it may be inevitable, but it is a road which, once set upon, leads to the sort of unions that exist in Communist countries—mere puppets of the State and instruments of the central authority of government. If unions are to be used in that manner, the first human right we must secure is for members of the unions to have an inexorable free right to choose their leaders and the members of executive committees who are to decide these matters on their behalf. Neither the shop floor Hitlers nor the sea-green incorruptibles who run trade unions can be allowed to escape from the discipline of having to be elected.

I believe that it will come as a breath of fresh air and a ray of hope to many millions of ordinary working people to have the right freely to elect those who will run unions on their behalf.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Nelson and Colne)


Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member seek to oppose the motion.

Mr. Hoyle

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I rise to oppose the motion seeking leave to introduce the Bill.

I rise with a certain amount of pride as a member of a trade union. I am vice-president of ASTMS and chairman of its parliamentary committee. I only wish that we had the same democracy in other spheres of life as we have in the trade union movement.

The hon. Member showed his complete lack of knowledge of trade unions when he referred to Jack Jones as the President of the TGWU. I should have thought that even the most junior schoolboy knew that he was the General Secretary. That shows the paucity of the hon. Member's case.

The AUEW is the most democratic body in this country—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh. I only wish that the Tory Party would follow the union's example of having democratic elections for their members and that they would spend as much time examining the giant companies which dominate our society. The directors of those companies form self-perpetuating oligarchies. Many of them are not even resident in this country but exercise their power from such places as Detroit. Yet these are the people who are prepared to sell our economy short to make a profit. So few people attend the meetings of those companies which dominate our economy that the shareholders are not even adequately represented. If one is a shareholder of a company one cannot contract out of it political donation as trade unionists can. Why do hon. Members opposite not do something about that? They are not serious. It is like the censure motion that we are to debate today—sham fighting.

I should like to consider the stable which has produced the Bill. I am not a racing man, but if one is to bet on anything, one must know where it comes from. This Bill comes from someone called Mr. Stephen Abbott, an ex-Conservative Research Department officer and former industrial relations adviser to the present Lord Carr. He is recommending something which is done nowhere else in the world—voting under the supervision of a recognised independent body in ballots for national officers.

I can only presume that the motive behind the Bill concerns a lack of involvement by unionists. The hon. Member referred to the ballots in union elections. I am concerned about the interference of Conservative Central Office in union elections. They have tried to interfere in my own union's elections.

The ETU, which is a democratic union, put its own house in order. It does not need the assistance of the Conservative Party to do that either. The hon. Gentleman should also consider the law sug- gested in the Australian Parliament—not, in the view of many of us, the most progressive body in the world. But even the Australians turned down this suggestion as a gross interference in union affairs.

No other section of the community has been under the spotlight in recent years as much as the unions. The Donovan Commission sat for over two years but it did not make this suggestion. Nor was it made in the Tory Industrial Relations Act. Why did not the hon. Gentleman's own party put it forward? The suggestion is out of step with his party's thinking and that of his Front Bench spokesman. There were opportunities for making this sort of proposal on the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill and the Employment Protection Bill, yet it was never suggested.

The assumptions of the Bill are quite unjustified. Every member of a union has a right to participate in its affairs, to go to branch meetings, to take part in elections and to help to make policy at union conferences. That is a very democratic outlook. The proposal of supervision would be a gross interference in union rights and would not result in one more person voting. It would mean considerable extra expense for the union and would bring about no more democratic control than exists at present.

If people do not go to branch meetings, it is because they are satisfied with the way in which the affairs of the union are conducted. They have the right to go.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

This speech has to finish in at most four minutes. Would the hon. Lady be kind enough to raise her point of order afterwards?

Mrs. Knight

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Hoyle

I am only sorry that the Tory Party is not prepared to listen on the subject of union democracy. I can only think that their arguments are not strong enough. I ask the House to reject this mischievous Bill.

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 219, Noes 223.

Division No. 172. AYES [4.00 p.m.
Adley, Robert Grylls, Michael Newton, Tony
Aitken, Jonathan Hall, Sir John Normanton, Tom
Alison, Michael Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Onslow, Cranley
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Page, John (Harrow West)
Arnold, Tom Hannam, John Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Pattie, Geoffrey
Awdry, Daniel Hawkins, Paul Percival, Ian
Baker, Kenneth Hayhoe, Barney Peyton, Rt Hon John
Banks, Robert Hicks, Robert Pink, R. Bonner
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Higgins, Terence L. Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Hordern, Peter Prior, Rt Hon James
Benyon, W. Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Berry, Hon Anthony Howell, David (Guildford) Raison, Timothy
Biffen, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rathbone, Tim
Biggs-Davison, John Hunt, David (Wirral) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Blaker, Peter Hunt, John Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Body, Richard Hurd, Douglas Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hutchison, Michael Clark Ridsdale, Julian
Bottomley, Peter James, David Rifkind, Malcolm
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Jenkln, Rt Hn P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Jessel, Toby Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Braine, Sir Bernard Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Jopling, Michael Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Buck, Antony Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Budgen, Nick Kaberry, Sir Donald Sainsbury, Tim
Bulmer, Esmond Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine St. John-Stevas, Norman
Burden, F. A. Kershaw, Anthony Scott-Hopkins, James
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Kimball, Marcus Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda King, Tom (Bridgwater) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Churchill, W. S. Kitson, Sir Timorthy Shelton, William (Streatham)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Knight, Mrs Jill Shersby, Michael
Clegg, Walter Lamont, Norman Silvester, Fred
Cope, John Lane, David Sims, Roger
Cordle, John H. Langford-Holt, Sir John Sinclair, Sir George
Cormack, Patrick Latham, Michael (Melton) Skeet, T. H. H.
Corrie, John Lawrence, Ivan Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Costain, A. P. Lawson, Nigel Speed, Keith
Crouch, David Le Merchant, Spencer Spence, John
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Lloyd, Ian Sproat, Iain
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Loveridge, John Stainton, Keith
Drayson, Burnaby Luce, Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward McAdden, Sir Stephen Stanley, John
Durant, Tony McCrindle, Robert Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Macfarlane, Neil Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Elliott. Sir William MacGregor, John Stokes, John
Eyre, Reginald Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Stradling, Thomas J.
Fairbairn, Nicholas Madel, David Tapsell, Peter
Fairgrieve, Russell Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Fair, John Marten, Neil Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Fell, Anthony Mather, Carol Tebblt, Norman
Finsberg, Geoffrey Maude, Angus Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Tugendhat, Christopher
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mawby, Ray Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Fookes, Miss Janet Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Viggers, Peter
Forman, Nigel Mayhew, Patrick Wakeham, John
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Meyer, Sir Anthony Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Wall, Patrick
Fry, Peter Mills, Peter Warren, Kenneth
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Miscampbell, Norman Weatherill, Bernard
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Wells, John
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Moate, Roger Whltelaw, Rt Hon William
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Monro, Hector Wiggin, Jerry
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Montgomery, Fergus Winterton, Nicholas
Glyn, Dr. Alan More, Jasper (Ludlow) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Goodhart, Philip Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Goodhew, Victor Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Younger, Hon George
Goodlad, Alastair Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Gorst, John Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Mudd, David Mr. Ian Gow and Mr. Nicholas Ridley.
Gray, Hamish Neave, Airey
Griffiths, Eldon Nelson, Anthony
Grist, Ian Neubert, Michael
Allaun, Frank George, Bruce Parry, Robert
Anderson, Donald Ginsburg, David Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Archer, Peter Gould, Bryan Pendry, Tom
Ashley, Jack Gourlay, Harry Penhaligon, David
Ashton, Joe Graham, Ted Perry, Ernest
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Grant, George (Morpeth) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Bain, Mrs Margaret Grant, John (Islington C) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Grimond, Rt Hon J. Price, William (Rugby)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Bates, Alf Hardy, Peter Reid, George
Beith, A. J. Harper, Joseph Richardson, Miss Jo
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Hatton, Frank Robertson, John (Paisley)
Bidwell, Sydney Hayman, Mrs Helene Robinson, Geoffrey
Blenkinsop, Arthur Healey, Rt Hon Denis Roderick, Caerwyn
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Heffer, Eric S. Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Henderson, Douglas Rooker, J. W.
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hooley, Frank Roper, John
Bradley, Tom Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Huckfield, Les Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Ross, William (Londonderry)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rowlands, Ted
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Sandelson, Neville
Buchan, Norman Hunter, Adam Sedgemore, Brian
Buchanan, Richard Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Selby, Harry
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Campbell, Ian Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Canavan, Dennis Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Cant, R. B. Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Carmichael, Neil Johnson, James (Hull West) Sillars, James
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jones, Barry (East Flint) Silverman, Julius
Cartwright, John Jones, Dan (Burnley) Skinner, Dennis
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Judd, Frank Small, William
Clemitson, Ivor Kaufman, Gerald Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Kelley, Richard Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cohen, Stanley Lambie, David Snape, Peter
Coleman, Donald Lamborn, Harry Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Conlan, Bernard Lamond, James Stoddart, David
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Leadbitter, Ted Stott, Roger
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Strang, Gavin
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Strauss, Rt Hn G. R.
Crawford, Douglas Lipton, Marcus Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cryer, Bob Lomas, Kenneth Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Loyden, Eddie Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Thompson, George
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Davles, Ifor (Gower) McCartney, Hugh Tierney, Sydney
Deakins, Eric McCusker, H. Tinn, James
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McElhone, Frank Tomlinson, John
Dempsey, James MacFarquhar, Roderick Tomney, Frank
Dormand, J. D. Mackenzie, Gregor Tuck, Raphael
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Urwin, T. W.
Dunlop, John McNamara, Kevin Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Dunn, James A. Madden, Max Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Eadie, Alex Mahon, Simon Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Edge, Geoff Mallalleu, J. P. W. Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Marks, Kenneth Watkins, David
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Watkinson, John
English, Michael Maynard, Miss Joan Watt, Hamish
Ennals, David Mikardo, Ian Welsh, Andrew
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Millan, Bruce White, Frank R. (Bury)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) White, James (Pollok)
Evans John (Newton) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Whitehead, Phillip
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Molloy, William Wigley, Dafydd
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Moonman, Eric Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Newens, Stanley Wise, Mrs Audrey
Flannery, Martin Noble, Mike Woodall, Alec
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Oakes, Gordon Woof, Robert
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Orbach, Maurice Young, David (Bolton E)
Forrester, John Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Ovenden, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Freeson, Reginald Paisley, Rev Ian Mr. Russell Kerr and Mr. Stan Thorne.
Freud, Clement Pardoe, John
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Park, George

Question accordingly negatived.