HC Deb 15 November 1977 vol 939 cc272-3
9. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many employees of British Railways have been dismissed for refusing to join a trade union; and whether he will make a statement about Government policy towards such dismissals.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Grant)

Information as to the number of employees dismissed by individual employers is not available to me. The Government's policy on the closed shop remains that outlined in the Adjournment debate with the hon. Member, to which my hon. Friend replied on 7th April 1977.

Mr. Gow

May I tell the Minister, since he has not bothered to find out, that the number of employees dismissed by British Rail for refusing to join a trade union is now 40, and that of those five had between 29 and 39 years' service and two more than 39 years' service? Will the Minister not improve upon his Pontius Pilate attitude and express the view that these dismissals are wholly unjustified and unjustifiable?

Mr. Grant

We naturally regret that it has not been possible for such differences to be resolved. However, there is no requirement on employers to notify these matters to the Government, whether they are in the private sector or the public sector, and we would not wish to draw a distinction between them.

Mr. Walter Jonnson

Is my hon. Friend aware that, for many years, the people about whom we are talking have accepted the benefits of trade union representation without paying one penny piece towards it, and that a democratic decision has been taken by the trade unions concerned that they will have nothing more to do with these parasites?

Mr. Grant

The Government's position on this matter is quite clear. We regard it as one between unions and management, and I should have thought that Opposition Members would have learned the lessons from 1971 of trying to interfere in these matters.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Would the Minister care to point out to the unions in British Railways that if only trade unionists travelled on the railways they would be in a worse state for earning profits, and half of the workers in British Railways would not have jobs?

Mr. Grant

I find it difficult to see the relevance of that.

Mr. George Rodgers

Does my hon. Friend agree that over the years a multitude of decent people have lost their jobs simply because they were members of trade unions? Does he further agree that this position still obtains at Grunwick? What further steps is he taking to meet that situation?

Mr. Grant

Much as I sympathise with the general tone of my hon. Friend's question, I do not believe that the Grunwick situation arises on this Question.

Mr. Prior

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that nothing does the trade unions more harm than the sort of action that has been taken in the case of British Rail? Why do the Government not at least bring pressure to bear upon employers who enter into union membership agreements which are so restrictive on the rights of existing employees at the time when such agreements are entered into? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that a trade union has to exact the terms of the union membership agreement to the extent of 40 people out of 220,000?

Mr. Grant

I have already pointed out that we do not think it right to put pressure on either employers or trade unions in the fashion that the right hon. Gentleman suggests. It would be interesting if the House could learn from the right hon. Gentleman what his party's policy is because, although it has been spelt out in "The Right Approach", when one hears the right hon. Gentleman speak about it he talks of seeking to ensure things. He has not told the country what that policy will be.

Mr. Gow

I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.