HC Deb 21 March 1978 vol 946 cc1301-3
2. Miss Richardson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will now initiate discussions with the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress about opportunities for members of the Armed Forces to join independent trade unions.

3. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has had from the TUC about trade unions in the Armed Services.

7. Mr. Litterick

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will initiate discussions with the TUC about opportunities for members of the Armed Services to form and join independent trade unions.

Mr. Mulley

I have no plans for discussions with the TUC on this matter.

Miss Richardson

That is a short but not very sweet reply to a very genuine Question. As my right hon. Friend has no plans to invite the TUC to discuss this very important matter with him, will he tell the House what facilities he would be prepared to provide in order to make a reality of his often-stated view that Service men have the right to belong to a trade union?

Mr. Mulley

As my hon. Friend knows, Service men have a right to join trade unions, and a number of them do, particularly in order to safeguard their trades, and so on, when they return to civilian life. But active trade union organisation of the kind that I think my hon. Friends have in mind, according to my own evidence and advice, is not demanded or required by the Services at present. It would also be necessary to have legislation before a trade union could operate in the way that I think my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Hoyle

How does my right hon. Friend arrive at the view that the Services do not want this? Would it not be better to give the trade unions facilities to recruit, so that we would know? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that those NATO forces that have trade unions have far higher wages and salaries than have our Armed Forces?

Mr. Mulley

I think that it would be premature to allow recruiting facilities until it was quite clear to the members of the Armed Forces what benefits could arise and what the trade unions could do for them. Under existing legislation, that would be very little.

As I have also said, the Armed Forces are concerned that many of my hon. Friends want to reduce our defence expenditure and that this means a shorter career or redundancies for the Service men concerned.

Mr. Litterick

Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is nothing in Queen's Regulaions to prevent a member of the Armed Forces either from retaining his trade union membership, if he had it before he joined the Services, or, indeed, from joining a trade union while he is in the Armed Services? Furthermore, will the Secretary of State confirm that it is the case that a member of the Armed Forces who is a member of a trade union may, in a situation in which he is faced with a court martial, choose a trade union-appointed lawyer to defend him?

Mr. Mulley

Members of the Armed Forces can retain their membership of trade unions if they so wish. In the case of court martial proceedings, counsel is made available through military circles, but if the Service man concerned wants someone else to represent him, he may choose someone else.

Mr. Viggers

Is the Secretary of State aware that the very last thing that the men and women of the Armed Services want is a Socialist press gang to take them into trade unions, and that because of that the Secretary of State has a special duty to be fair to the Services in terms of pay and conditions?

Mr. Mulley

I certainly agree with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's observation. It is my intention that the Services shall have a fair deal when we get the recommendation of the Armed Forces Pay Review body—I hope quite soon.

As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the emotive terms that the hon. Gentleman and some of his friends use are not at all helpful to a rational approach to what is a serious problem.

Mr. Alan Clark

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to remind his hon. Friend how many of the Warsaw Pact countries, towards which they show such feelings of warmth, allow the members of their Armed Forces to join independent trade unions?

Mr. Mulley

I think that the definition of "independent trade unions", in any aspect of activity within some Eastern European countries, might be a matter of debate, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is putting the matter in an emotive way and not a serious way, which is not helpful to our discussion.

Sir Ian Gilmour

As it is clear, as the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends have said, that the members of the Armed Forces show no desire to join a trade union—[HON. MEMBERS: "HOW do you know?"]—and as—

Mr. Litterick

How long is it since the right hon. Gentleman was in the Army?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We shall need a Speakers' union at this rate.

Sir Ian Gilmour

As those hon. Members asking this Question are among those who are most hostile to Western interests and less concerned than almost anyone else with the interests of the Armed Forces, would it not be a fair inference to draw that their wish to introduce trade unions into the Armed Forces is a desire to damage them?

Mr. Mulley

I do not think that it would be right to draw that inference, nor do I think that it would be right to suggest that all of my hon. Friends and hon. Members in all parts of the House are not anxious to see the Armed Forces get proper remuneration.

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