HC Deb 01 February 1977 vol 925 cc210-2
4. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if, in view of the fact that of the former employees of British Railways dismissed for refusing to join a trade union, six had between 13 and 19 years' service, five between 29 and 39 years' service and two more than 39 years' service, he remains satisfied with the operation of the law relating to closed shops.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Gow

Is it not shameful that employees of a nationalised industry, many of whom have given a lifetime of service to the industry, should be dismissed for refusing to join a trade union? Should not the founders of the trade union movement and the Government be deeply ashamed of the new tyranny that is building up in that movement, whereby it is a precondition of employment that a person should join a trade union?

Mr. Walker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that, somehow, there should be different rules for the conduct of industrial relations as between the public and the private sectors. I have explained to the hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions that these are matters—this was the situation prior to the Industrial Relations Act—where the parties themselves are responsible for the way in which they are conducted.

Mr. Hoyle

Does my hon. Friend agree that what causes annoyance to many trade union members are the free riders who are prepared to take advantage of all the benefits that are received from trade unions without paying contributions towards their upkeep?

Mr. Walker

That is an important factor to which Opposition Members must have regard.

Mr. Mayhew

Is it not the case that at least one of the employees of British Rail—namely, Mr. Webster, a constituent of mine—would have to sign what would be an untrue declaration in order to join the appropriate union? Is it not the case that he would have to sign a declaration to the effect that he approves of the aims and objectives of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association? Does the hon. Gentleman justify a rule that permits such a man to be thrown out of work after 16 years when he acts on grounds of conscience?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman talks of grounds of conscience—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members will permit me, I shall answer. The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act makes specific provision for a person to go before an industrial tribunal where his dismissal is related to his objection to joining a union on the grounds of having religious conviction. However, we have debated in the House the wide scope of a provision such as the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting. What we have done is to restore the law to the position that obtained before the disastrous Industrial Relations Act.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is never any sign of conscience on the part of such people when it comes to taking the wages that have been negotiated by other people? Does he agree that they never think of paying money to get those wages negotiated, and that that is the fundamental and real reason that they take the free ride?

Mr. Walker

There is much in what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Silvester

Is it not naïve for the Minister to suggest that there is no extra influence that he can bring to bear on nationalised industries? Does he believe that the present policy being pursued by British Rail is a proper one for them to pursue?

Mr. Walker

I say again that it would be quite wrong for the Government or anyone else to seek to lay down a way of conducting industrial relations in the public sector which differs from the way in which industrial relations are conducted in the private sector. Clearly we must have universal rules for the game. We have withdrawn the statutory obstacles that the Industrial Relations Act introduced, with disastrous consequences in the case of Mr. Goad. If the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) were here, I am sure that he would acknowledge that it is quite wrong to believe that the taking of statutory powers such as is suggested could have other than disastrous consequences, as in the case of the Industrial Relations Act, and be other than detrimental and harmful to industrial relations. I repeat that it is our policy to leave these matters to the good judgment and sense of the parties involved.

Mr. Mellish

is it not a fact that doctors, lawyers and all the other professions are in a closed shop? [Interruption.] Oh, yes, they are. Why is it that about 3 million people in two or three unions are constantly being attacked because one or two of them expect to get all the benefits but are not prepared to make any contributions? What about the doctors?

Mr. Walker

I shall not comment on the doctors or on any other profession. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members will gear their mouths to their brains they may learn something. When it introduced its Industrial Relations Act even the Conservative Party had to recognise that the closed shop was essential to the conduct of industrial relations in some sectors of industry and commerce. Therefore, in its Industrial Relations Act it made special provision for some groups to be treated separately and in a discriminatory fashion. Very often it was the professional groups that were given a shield and protection by the Industrial Relations Act, in a way that was denied to the majority of the industrial work force.

Mr. Gow

In view of the gravely unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.