HC Deb 26 January 1977 vol 924 cc1516-27

4.28 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to redress grievances among persons dismissed from employment on being unfairly refused membership of employee organisations. I seek the leave of the House to introduce in advance of the Bullock Report one very small step towards industrial democracy, namely, the Dismissal of Employees (Redress of Grievances) Bill.

It is usually best for any private Member, seeking leave to bring in a Bill, to avoid any attempt at highly contentious or major legislation and, rather, to stick to the redress of an urgent and specific grievance. My Bill is designed to protect a fairly small number of individual workers against unjust treatment, whether by employers or by trade unions, in specific industrial situations. It stems directly from cases like that of my constituent, Mr. Anthony Buxton, a man with three children, who was dismissed from his job at a firm in Newmarket. By common consent, Mr. Buxton is a competent worker, whose services the firm wanted to retain. Unfortunately, he was not able to comply with the company's agreement with the local branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union to maintain a closed shop, and so after due notice he was sacked.

If Mr. Buxton had not been willing to join the union, neither he nor I would have felt able to complain. I freely admit that I am not an enthusiast for the closed shop, but the closed shop is legal; it is not uncommon and, wherever one has been agreed between a willing management and a clear majority of the work force, I see little alternative, in present circumstances, to accepting it. But Mr. Buxton was and is willing to join the union. I should make it clear that he was not enthusiastic, but at the end of the day he overcame his objections and applied in good faith to join.

Unfortunately for Mr. Buxton, his application was rejected. He then sought a personal hearing, but that, too, was refused by the shop stewards. He asked to be given reasons why he had been excluded from the union and therefore, as it turned out, from his job. I am sorry to say that the local shop stewards would not give him any reason, save only a passing remark that his previous refusal to join had brought the union into dispute.

Mr. Buxton then appealed to the regional office of the TGWU but it simply confirmed the decision of his local shop stewards. Thus, without a hearing, with no reasons given, Mr. Buxton, a worker with a wife and three children and no other means of support, has been sacked from his job under the terms of the closed shop contract that his employer had agreed with the union.

Many men and women in this country either have suffered or may suffer the same fate as that of Mr. Buxton. I do not say that there are thousands, there may not even be hundreds, but I have ascertained that there are certainly many scores.

This situation raises two points of principle. First, should any British worker be sacked by an employer who is willing to retain his services, even though he has sought in good faith to join the union with whom that employer has made a closed shop agreement? Second, is it right for this to happen without the dismissed employee being given any reason for his application to join the union being rejected and for his job therefore being taken away from him?

What worries me is the prospect that a few men behind closed doors can decide whether a person may or may not join a union and, therefore, where a close shop is operated, whether that person may or may not have a job. Suppose, for example, that the true reason why Mr. Buxton or anyone else was refused admission to the union was that its local officers disliked his morals, his politics, or even the colour of his hair. So long as they do not have to give any reason for rejecting him, that is surely unjust.

For example, my daughter, who is about to qualify as a shorthand-typist, might apply for a job with that firm. She is perfectly willing to join the union. I can assure the House that her record is impeccable. Yet if no reasons are required to be given, the local branch of the union could refuse to admit her, thereby preventing her from getting a job or working in any other place where that union has a closed shop, solely because, in secret, it was decided that its members did not want to work with the daughter of a Member of this House.

My Bill is in no way directed against trade unions. It does not attack the principle of a closed shop. Its sole purpose is to prevent abuses and, in particular, to ensure that men or women who are sacked because a staff association or a union refuses to admit them shall first have a right to be given reasons for their exclusion and that in certain circumstances they may have a right of appeal against dismissal if the reasons for their exclusion are shown to be frivolous or malicious.

The Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act—rightly, in my view—provide safeguards against discrimination in employment, and recent consumer protection legislation provides a right for anyone refused credit to require reasons for that refusal to be given to him so that he may seek redress in the event that he has been damaged. No less protection should be available to men and women whose employers dismiss them not because their work is unsatisfactory but solely because they are denied admission, with no reasons given, to a union that they are willing to join.

If the House is minded to allow me to introduce the Bill I shall be happy to accept advice and amendments from the Secretary of State and anyone else in the Government, and from the TUC. I ask only that its main principle be left intact. That principle is that no man or woman should lose his or her job in Britain simply because he or she is blackballed by a secret cabal.

4.36 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Tierney (Birmingham, Yardley)

I rise to oppose the Bill. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said that the Bill is a limited measure, not designed to attack the trade unions or the principle of the closed shop but simply to provide redress for those who lose their jobs, where a closed shop is operated, because of exclusion or expulsion from a trade union. That may or may not be so—

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

It is so.

Mr. Tierney

—but I remind the hon. Gentleman that in seeking leave to introduce a Bill on this subject he is reopening an issue that has been debated recently in the House at great length, particularly in our debates on the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act.

The arrangements made for dealing with cases like this—arrangements were made—were finally accepted by Parliament at that time. Those who risk dismissal from their employment because of expulsion or exclusion from a union are now well able to appeal to an independent review body, which was set up under that Act to hear such cases as the one raised by the hon. Member. It is independent of the TUC and of individual unions, and was appointed in consultation with the Chairman of ACAS and the Secretary of State for Employment.

The Bill would inevitably introduce statutory rules and sanctions, which formed a great part of the debate on the measure to which I have just referred and such provisions would single out the unions for special liability in law—a matter that the House recently decided against.

I should have thought that if the Industrial Relations Act taught us anything it taught us that there is no room for the law in industrial relations, and that industry should be left to solve its own problems. In Committee on the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, I listened for many hours to Conservative Members talking about freedom for people with strong convictions against joining trade unions. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has now produced a five-point plan to assist those people with strong convictions to avoid union membership.

Now, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has taken up the case of one of his constituents, who is said to have similar strong convictions about not joining a trade union. The individual concerned was a member of a union in 1957–58. He left his job in 1958 and when he did so he left the union. Between 1958 and 1972, he worked for two other employers, claiming that they were non-union shops, so he did not have to join a union at all. He took up another job in 1972 with the company mentioned by the hon. Member, and in 1976, when a closed shop was introduced, he applied for membership of the Transport and General Workers' Union and his application was refused.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why"]—That is the problem. Let us discuss it. We are talking about people with strong convictions. In this respect, the in-and-out record of this constituent over union membership shows no conviction either way—either to be a union member or not to be a union member.

It is well known in industry that there are those who spend a great deal of their working lives avoiding trade union membership. It is a matter of convenience and not conviction. These people use frivolous and sometimes malicious reasons for not joining. Some people who use these excuses to avoid joining a trade union talk about unrelated things, such as the colour of hair and the politics and morals of the shop stewards. In fact, they enjoy the excitement of a free ride, because their arms are short and their pockets are deep. They play a game of "catch me if you can". No one can claim that the trade unions are always wrong, and sometimes they get tired of appealing to individuals, so they say that they no longer want their membership, voluntary or otherwise.

Mr. Ian Cow (Eastbourne)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Am I not right in thinking that when an hon. Member seeks to oppose a Ten-Minute Bill he is restricted to opposing the proposals put forward? The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) is making a very powerful speech, but it is quite unrelated to the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths).

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

It is entirely a matter for the Chair. Interventions are not in order during Ten-Minutes Rule speeches. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Tierney) is responsible for his own objections to this Bill and for the arguments that he puts forward.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One of the weaknesses of the proposition is that we do not know exactly what is being put forward.

Mr. Tierney

Some people who successfully avoid paying their dues to trade unions feel that they must tell the shop floor about it. They boast about their achievements and they ridicule the rest and point out that they are paying for something which they are getting for nothing. I maintain that they are very disruptive on the shop floor. They disunite the shop floor and the harmony is gone. Production is affected. Then the management does the rest. Those men—not the union—go, and normally the management has no hesitation about this.

There are thousands of workers in industry who have strong convictions about trade unions but work in so-called nonunion shops. I wish that Conservatives would sometimes show the same concern for individual trade unionists who work in non-union shops. They must be very careful not to act like trade unionists for fear of reprisals from their employers but at the same time they maintain their trade union membership and hold deep convictions. They live in hope of the day when they can exercise this conviction in a free and positive manner in trade union shops. Why do the Opposition not show the same concern for such workers in the retail, catering and hairdressing trades, for example? Some nonunion establishments do not even receive wage council rates, known in the trade as "legal stingy minimum wage".

Mr. Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not an abuse of the normal rules that a speech allegedly opposing the application should not deal at all with the subject raised in the Bill? Surely that must be an abuse of the rules.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Yardley must relate his argument to the Bill.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We listened quietly to the application for the introduction of the Bill, right to the end. Constant interruptions have gone on during the opposing speech of my hon. Friend, to such an extent that it is difficult to follow him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The point is taken, but the hon. Member for Yardley must relate his arguments to the Ten-Minute Bill. I trust that he will draw his remarks to a conclusion shortly.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that the convention in the Fen-Minutes Rule procedure is that the hon. Member introducing the Bill puts his argument in terms that he thinks fit in relation to his own Bill, and that he is not interrupted by points of order? Is it not also the case that the same treatment should apply to the hon. Member opposing the Bill? I suggest that the same treatment should be accorded to both sides of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I entirely agree. Both sides should be heard.

Mr. Hayhoe

Is the Lord President saying that anyone can make any speech he likes, referring to any matter he likes, as long as he prefaces his remarks by saying that he opposes the Ten-Minute Bill? It must be a rule of the House that the opposition to a Ten-Minute Bill must be relevant to the application that has been made. The speech that we have been listening to is an abuse of that procedure.

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has always been the arrangement in the House that when a speech is made on a Ten-Minute Bill, interruptions that would take place normally in other circumstances are avoided, otherwise it might cause hon. Members submitting Ten-Minute Bills to be constantly interrupted from the moment they start. The same principle should apply to the hon. Member opposing the Bill. All we ask is that Conservatives should apply the same rules to hon. Members on this side of the House. If these interruptions in Ten-Minute Bill speeches are to continue, does it mean that the conventions of the House have been altered?

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

The Leader of the House has missed the point. It is not so much a convention as a precaution that the Speaker or Deputy Speaker, when calling upon the hon. Member who is opposing the application for a Ten-Minute Bill, asks him whether he seeks to oppose the motion. That means that the Speaker expects the hon. Member to oppose the motion and not to oppose something which has not been put. If the hon. Member who purports to oppose the motion in fact discusses something else, surely it is a breach of order, and if there is a breach of order. whether it be by the Opposition or anyone else, the attention of the Chair should be drawn to it. and the Chair should be invited to rule upon it, as I would respectfully say you have done. Mr. Murton.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The relevance of the remarks is of course a matter for the Chair, and the House must understand that. Interventions are dealt with in "Erskine May". They are out of order. It is hoped that the good manners of the House will prevail and interruptions will not take place. That sums up the matter. I suggest to the hon. Member for Yardley that he draws his remarks to a conclusion as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Tierney

I am sorry that I cannot say something that pleases the Opposition. I shall continue to oppose the motion. We on the Government side of the House are as concerned as the Opposition about freedom and the problems of persons who find themselves, in this kind of situation, being excluded from trade union membership, especially for reasons that are frivolous or malicious.

We also believe that this problem cannot be dealt with through statutory requirements. The Independent Review Committee should be given a fair chance. The committee was set up only a few months ago, and it is too early to make a judgment on its success or failure.

I understand that the case to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention, involving his constituent, has been referred to the Independent Review Committee. I am pleased to hear that. I have spoken to hon. Members who are sponsored in this House by the Transport and General Workers' Union and I am told that between 1972 and 1976 the hon. Gentleman's constituent was approached on numerous occasions to join the union. He steadfastly refused—whether through morals, politics, or the colour of his hair—and applied to join in 1976, when it was convenient for him to do so.

I understand that the Transport and General Workers' Union is glad of the opportunity to put its case to the Independent Review Committee. The union is ready to make a full and detailed statement. Three other unions at the place of work fully support the action taken by the TGWU.

Most people in the House feel confident that the present arrangements will be successful in dealing with problems of this kind. The House only recently came to a decision on these matters, when the Independent Review Committee was brought into being. If and when there is evidence that the system is not working, the Government have indicated that they are prepared to reconsider the

matter. Should that time come, I am sure that both sides of the House will remind the Government of their promise, but there is no case for reopening the issue now. Therefore, I ask the House to oppose the introduction of this 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 164. Noes 153.

DivisionNo.48.] AYES [4.52p.m.
Adley, Robert Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Percival, Ian
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hampson, Dr Keith Peyton, Rt Hon John
Banks, Robert Hannam, John Prior, Rt Hon James
Berth, A. J. Havers, Sir Michael Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Benyon, W. Hayhoe, Barney Raison, Timothy
Berry, Hon Anthony Hodgson, Robin Rathbone, Tim
Biffen, John Holland, Philip Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Biggs-Davison, John Hooson, Emlyn Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Blaker, Peter Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Body, Richard Howell, David (Guildford) Rhodes James, R.
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hutchison, Michael Clark Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Rifkind, Malcolm
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) James, David Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Braine, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Brittan, Leon Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Jopling, Michael Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Brotherton, Michael Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Host, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Kaberry, Sir Donald Sainsbury, Tim
Bulmer, Esmond Kershaw, Anthony St. John Stevas, Norman
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Carson, John King, Tom (Bridgwater) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Kitson, Sir Timothy Shelton, William (Streatham)
Churchill, W. S. Knight, Mrs Jill Shepherd, Colin
Clark, William (Croydon S) Langford-Holt, Sir John Shersby, Michael
Clegg, Walter Lawrence, Ivan Silvester, Fred
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Le Marchant, Spencer Sims, Roger
Cope, John Lester, Jim (Beeston) Sinclair, Sir George
Corrie, John Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Skeet, T. H. H.
Costain, A. P. Loveridge, John Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Crouch, David Luce, Richard Spence, John
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Macfarlane, Neil Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) MacGregor, John Sproat, Iain
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Stanbrook, Ivor
Drayson, Burnaby McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Steel, Rt Hon David
Durant, Tony Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Mates, Michael Stradling Thomas, J.
Elliott, Sir William Mather, Carol Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Emery, Peter Maude, Angus Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Eyre, Reginald Mawby, Ray Tebbit, Norman
Fairgrieve, Russell Meyer, Sir Anthony Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Finsberg, Geoffrey Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Miscampbell, Norman Townsend, Cyril D.
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Monro, Hector Wakeham, John
Fookes, Miss Janet Montgomery, Fergus Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Freud, Clement Neave, Airey Walters, Dennis
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Neubert, Michael Weatherill, Bernard.
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Newton, Tony Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde) Nott, John Wiggin, Jerry
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Onslow, Cranley Winterton, Nicholas
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Younger, Hon George
Goodhew, Victor Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Page, Richard (Workington) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Pardoe, John Mr. Eldon Griffiths and
Grylls, Michael Penhaligon, David Mr. Ian Cow.
Allaun, Frank Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Archer, Peter Blenkinsop, Arthur Buchan, Norman
Ashton, Joe Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)
Bates, Alf Bray, Dr Jeremy Campbell, Ian
Canavan, Dennis Hayman, Mrs Helene Parry, Robert
Cant, R. B. Heffer, Eric S. Pavitt, Laurie
Carmichael, Neil Hooley, Frank Pendry, Tom
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Price, William (Rugby)
Cartwright, John Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Richardson, Miss Jo
Clemitson, Ivor Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Cohen, Stanley Hunter, Adam Roderick, Caerwyn
Coleman, Donald Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Rooker, J. W.
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rose, Paul B.
Corbett, Robin John, Brynmor Rose, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cowans, Harry Johnson, James (Hull West) Rowlands, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Sandelson, Neville
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sedgemore, Brian
Cryer, Bob Kaufman, Gerald Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Dalyell, Tam Kerr, Russell Sillars, James
Davidson, Arthur Kilroy-Silk, Robert Silverman, Julius
Deakins, Eric Lambie, David Skinner, Dennis
Dormand, J. D. Lamond, James Small, William
Eadie, Alex Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Edge, Geoff Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Snape, Peter
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Spearing, Nigel
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Lipton, Marcus Spriggs, Leslie
Eilis, Tom (Wrexham) Litterick, Tom Stallard, A. W.
English, Michael Loyden, Eddie Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Ennals, David Mabon, Rt Hon. Dr J. Dickson Stoddart, David
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stott, Roger
Evans, John (Newton) MacFarquhar, Roderick Strang, Gavin
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Madden, Max Tierney, Sydney
Flannery, Martin Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Tinn, James
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tomlinson, John
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Maynard, Miss Joan Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Forrester, John Mikardo, Ian Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Watkins, David
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) White, James (Pollok)
George, Bruce Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Gilbert, Dr John Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Golding, John Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Gould, Bryan Newens, Stanley Wise, Mrs Audrey
Gourlay, Harry Noble, Mike Woodall, Alec
Graham, Ted O'Halloran, Michael Woof, Robert
Grant, John (Islington C) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Grocott, Bruce Palmer, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Park, George Mr. Hugh McCartney and
Harper, Joseph Parker, John Mr. Sydney Bidwell.
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Eldon Griffiths, Mr. Arthur Jones, Mr. F. A. Burden, Mr. John Cope, Mr. David Price, and Mr. Ian Gow.