HC Deb 04 July 1978 vol 953 cc223-5
15. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with the TUC and the CBI about the operation of the closed shop.

Mr. Harold Walker

None, Sir.

Mr. Gow

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that there should be discussion between his Department and the TUC about the way in which the closed shop is being operated? Will he consider the way in which 40 former employees of British Rail were dismissed because they refused to join a trade union and how two other employees of British Rail were dismissed because they resigned from a union? Does he think that that is a fair operation of the closed shop?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman repeatedly raises this issue in the House. I must tell him what I have said on every previous occasion—namely, that these are matters for the collective bargaining process and for decisions between employers and unions.

Mr. Mates

What is the hon. Gentleman's opinion?

Mr. Walker

As for British Rail—

Mr. Mates

What does the Minister think about it?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) will know that British Rail cases have been lodged with, and are immediately before, the European Courts of Human Rights. Therefore, it might be inadvisable for me to comment on the cases. I am sure that the TUC and the CBI are well aware of the views of the hon. Gentleman and myself. I again express the view that those engaged in negotiating for union membership agreements and in implementing them will seek to do so in the traditional, reasonable, flexible and tolerant manner.

Mr. Ron Thomas

Will my hon. Friend refute the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) at the beginning of Question Time that trade union membership agreements in the Press industry have some sort of connection with a lack of freedom of the Press? Will he make it clear that we do not have a free Press because the hulk of the newspapers are controlled by a small number of powerful individuals, and that that has nothing to do with trade union membership agreements?

Mr. Walker

Yes. I remind the House that the statutory requirement to produce a Press charter goes beyond the application of the Press charter to closed shops and the Press. It deals with the wider issues of Press freedom and improper pressures from any source. When we lay the draft charter before the House, I assure the House that it will contain provisions to avoid improper pressures from whatever source. I hope that those concerned about the closed shop will not allow that concern to be used in a way that will reject the valuable safeguards for the freedom of the Press that we shall propose.

Mr. Silvester

If it were the decision of the European Court to go against British. Rail, what action would the Government be prepared to take that they are not prepared to take now?

Mr. Walker

The House will recognise that it would be most imprudent for me to speculate on the possible outcome of judicial proceedings that have yet to take place.