HC Deb 09 May 1978 vol 949 cc986-94

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Richard Page (Workington)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Trade Union Act 1913 in relation to the application of funds for certain political purposes to enable any member of the union to nominate a political party of his own choice to receive the political proportion of his individual trade union levy. In essence, the amending Bill would allow the individual to choose to which political party the political proportion of his trade union levy is donated.

I ask this for two very basic and simple reasons. The first is the fundamental right, in this still democratic country, for the individual to have freedom of choice—in this case the freedom to choose the direction of the political proportion of his trade union levy. The second reason is to bring about a greater flow of understanding between political parties, the trade union movement and trade union members.

I say this especially because I believe that there is a growing feeling amongst rank and file trade unionists that the trade union movement is tending to become not only establishment-oriented but a mere extension of the Government of the day. This is causing a consequential loss of independence of action and an increasing drift away from a basic tenet of the trade union movement, which is to protect and preserve the rights of the individual against unfair or unjust demands, be those demands be made by an individual employer, a company or the State itself.

As the law is at present, political funds must be kept separate from union funds and, naturally, only members paying the political levy may vote on matters concerning those funds.

Initially, I was very attracted to the line of thought that trade unions should have no political levy at all and be completely free and independent agents representing solely their members' best interests. With already one-fifth of the entire trade union movement having opted out of paying the political levy, and given the maintenance of the present rate of contracting out, this in practice could become a reality—a reality which brings with it a narrowing of the decision base within a union, which in turn means a movement away from the trade union movement's greatest asset, that of unity.

I submit that if the opportunity were given to the individual to choose any political party for the receipt of his contribution, it would lead to a far greater involvement and interest in trade union affairs. Participation leading to unity of action is the strength of the trade union movement, as I well remember when I worked on the production lines of a very large factory. These strengths can flourish and grow only if more and more members become concerned with the day-to-day activities of the trade union movement.

In turn, the trade unions have to reach agreements and bargains not only with employers but also with political parties of various persuasions. What better indicator could there be to both politicians and union leaders that the individual trade union member's view was represented by where he placed his contribution and not where he was told to place it?

I should like to have restricted the payment of these contributions only to parties represented in Parliament, first, so that such contributions could have a direct and immediate form of representation and, secondly, and possibly more importantly, to ensure that the extremist organisations of the Left and Right did not benefit. But to do so would mean in turn an abrogation of that basic right of freedom of choice which this Bill seeks to introduce and defend.

Greater influence and understanding between political parties and the trade union movement can be brought about only if there is genuine understanding on all sides of the composite views of the individual members. As more and more people join the trade union movement—an action which I encourage but certainly do not wish to compel—it is essential that everyone knows the groundswell of political opinion of union members and, equally important, that the individual knows that his views can help influence Government policy as well as that of his own union. If this Bill becomes law, I foresee a situation where the movement of the relative positions of the contributions to each party will be regarded by pundits as the most reliable indicator in assessing the effectiveness of various political policies.

As more and more people join trade unions, it becomes a "must" that the trade union movement has independence of thought and action with which to represent its members. This Bill seeks to achieve that, and I know that it will be supported by right hon. and hon. Members who believe in the principle of freedom of the individual and freedom of choice and that it will be opposed only by those who wish to bend the trade union movement to their own special purposes.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)


Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member seek to oppose the motion?

Mr. Rooker

I do, Mr. Speaker.

In the short time that I have been a Member of this House, I have not encountered a more stupid use of the Ten-Minute procedure than that made of it today by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Page).

It is worth putting on record what the Trade Union Act 1913 provides in respect of the political levy. A trade union fund shall not be used for political objects unless these objects have been approved by a resolution of the union's members in a ballot. Where such political objects have been approved, any money made available to further them must come from a separate fund, the rules of which must be approved by the certification officer. Any individual union member may contract out of making payments to his union's political fund without loss of other benefits, and agreement to pay the political levy cannot be imposed as a condition of union membership. Any individual union member aggrieved by an alleged breach of the rules made in pursuance of these provisions may complain to the certification officer, who has the power to order any breach to be remedied.

That is the present state of the 1913 Act, as amended and brought up to date. As I understand it, in the last two years the certification officer has received only 21 complaints from union members about the provision for contracting out.

This motion will be supported by those Opposition Members who are trying to tell the trade unions that they are not anti-trade union. We shall watch with interest to see how the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) vote today. This Bill seeks to make a fundamental change in our labour relations laws. Such a change was not put forward in the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. There was no attempt in that Act to introduce it. The Donovan Commission in 1968 looked in detail at the political activities of trade unions and the operation of the levy. It threw out all the recommendations of the Society of Conservative Lawyers bar one, and that involved the auditing of the political fund, which everyone accepted and which even the trade unions themselves wanted.

The Bill is unnecessary. It is quite unnecessary for the hon. Member for Workington to use the time of the House to put forward this proposal and seek to bring it into law. If a trade union member does not want to pay the levy, he does not have to. Any argument about the necessary forms not being available simply does not hold water, because there is no proper form for purposes of contracting out. All that is required is a letter using the form of words contained in the 1913 Act.

The individual trade union member is free to contribute to any political party. He does not have to be a member of a trade union to contribute to a political party. For that reason alone the Bill is unnecessary.

But there is another factor. It is that if union members do not like the rules of their union, they can seek to change them through the democratic processes of their union. They can seek to abolish the political fund if they so desire and can obtain a majority in support of such a proposal. It is open to any union member to do that.

A further argument in opposition to this motion is that, as I have said, current legislation provides for a statutory form of complaint. It is not a union-dominated form of complaint. The certification officer can look into complaints and put matters right if there has been an infringement of the rules.

The comments of the hon. Member for Workington show a great deal of ignorance of the operation of the political levy. It is not simply the proportion of the trade union subscription involved in the political levy at which the hon. Member's Bill is directed. I take exception to the words in the Long Title which speak of the "individual trade union levy". It is a trade union subscription, and there is a difference between a levy and a subscription. However, the political levy part of the subscription does not pass automatically to the political parties. It stays in the political fund of the union, and only a very small part of that goes to the political party, which in the great majority of cases, of course, is the Labour Party.

But if legislation of this kind were brought into being, the trade union movement would be forced back to the position that it was in during the last century. That, of course, is what the Opposition want. They want the trade unions not to use the constitutional processes. The very reason for the Labour Party's existence is that the trade unions needed a constitutional voice. They did not want to take to the streets. They wanted to use democratic procedures and, therefore, they took steps to form and to use the political levy to put forward candidates to this House. That is how the Labour Party came into being.

There is a strange omission from the hon. Member's proposals. He does not mention company donations to political parties. There is no procedure by which a housewife, purchasing soap powders, can say that she does not want to pay the part of the price that goes to the Tory Party. There is no provision for 83,000 GKN shareholders to turn up to the company's annual general meeting in a small hotel room somewhere in the West Midlands in order to cast their votes against donations to the Tory Party.

If the hon. Member had shown any degree of seriousness in wishing to improve industrial relations, he would not have brought forward this crazy proposal in the first place. Having brought it forward, he should have had the wit to make it double-edged. For that reason I seek to oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Commitees at Commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 194, Noes 200.

Division No. 200 AYES [4.10 p.m.
Adley Robert Gray, Hamish Newton, Tony
Alison, Michael Grieve, Percy Nott, John
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Griffiths, Eldon Onslow, Cranley
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Grimond, Rt Hon J. Page, John (Harrow West)
Atkinson, David (Bournemouth, East) Grist, Ian Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Awdry, Daniel Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell) Page, Richard (Workington)
Banks, Robert Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Pardoe, John
Beith, A. J. Hampson, Dr Keith Parkinson, Cecil
Bell, Ronald Hannam, John Pattie, Geoffrey
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Penhaligon, David
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Percival, Ian
Benyon, W. Hastings, Stephen Peyton, Rt Hon John
Berry, Hon Anthony Hawkins, Paul Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Biggs-Davidson, John Hicks, Robert Raison, Timothy
Blaker, Peter Hooson, Emlyn Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Body, Richard Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Rhodes, James R.
Boscawen, Hon Robert Howell, David (Guildford) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Rifkind, Malcolm
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Hurd, Douglas Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Braine, Sir Bernard Hutchison, Michael Clark Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Brooke, Peter Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Brotherton, Michael James, David Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bryan, Sir Paul Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Sainsbury, Tim
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Jessel, Toby Scott, Nicholas
Buck, Antony Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Budgen, Nick Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Shepherd, Colin
Burden, F. A. Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Shersby, Michael
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Kershaw, Anthony Silvester, Fred
Chalker, Mrs Lynda King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Sims, Roger
Channon, Paul Kitson, Sir Timothy Sinclair, Sir George
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Knight, Mrs Jill Skeet, T. H. H.
Clark, William (Croydon S) Lamont, Norman Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Langford-Holt, Sir John Spence, John
Clegg, Walter Latham, Michael (Melton) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Cope, John Lawrence, Ivan Stanbrook, Ivor
Costain, A. P. Lawson, Nigel Stanley, John
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Le Merchant, Spencer Steel, Rt Hon David
Crawford, Douglas Lester, Jim (Beeston) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Crouch, David Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Luce, Richard Stokes, John
Dodsworth, Geoffrey McAdden, Sir Stephen Stradling Thomas, J.
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James McCrindle, Robert Tebbit, Norman
Drayson, Burnaby McCusker, H. Temple-Morris, Peter
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Macfarlane, Neil Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Dunlop, John MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Durant, Tony McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Thompson, George
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Mates, Michael Wall, Patrick
Eyre, Reginald Mather, Carol Walters, Dennis
Fairbairn, Nicholas Maude, Angus Warren, Kenneth
Fairgrieve, Russell Mayhew, Patrick Watt, Hamish
Farr, John Meyer, Sir Anthony Weatherill, Bernard
Finsberg, Geoffrey Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Wells, John
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Welsh, Andrew
Fookes, Miss Janet Moate, Roger Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Forman, Nigel Molyneaux, James Whitney, Raymond (Wycombe)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Monro, Hector Wiggin, Jerry
Fox, Marcus Montgomery, Fergus Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) More, Jasper (Ludlow) Winterton, Nicholas
Gardiner, Edwards (S Fylde) Morgan, Geraint Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Younger, Hon George
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Goodhew, victor Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Goodlad, Alastair Mudd, David Mr. Timothy Smith and
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Neave, Airey Mr. Robin Hodgson.
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Neubert, Michael
Abse, Leo Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Buchan, Norman
Allaun, Frank Bidwell, Sydney Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)
Anderson, Donald Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Campbell, Ian
Armstrong, Ernest Blenkinsop, Arthur Carmichael, Neil
Ashton, Joe Boothroyd, Miss Betty Carter-Jones, Lewis
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Bradley, Tom Cartwright, John
Atkinson, Norman Bray, Dr Jeremy Castle, Rt Hon Barbara
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Brown, Hugh D. Provan) Clemitson, Ivor
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Bates, Alf Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Cohen, Stanley
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Concannon, Rt Hon John Hughes, Roy (Newport) Radice, Giles
Conlan, Bernard Hunter, Adam Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Richardson, Miss Jo
Corbett, Robin Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cowans, Harry Jeger, Mrs Lena Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Robinson, Geoffrey
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) John, Brynmor Roderick, Caerwyn
Crawshaw, Richard Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rooker, J. W.
Cryer, Bob Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rowlands, Ted
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Judd, Frank Sandelson, Neville
Dalyell, Tam Kelley, Richard Sedgemore, Brian
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Kerr, Russell Selby, Harry
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lambie, David Sever, John
Deakins, Eric Lamborn, Harry Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lamond, James Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Silverman, Julius
Dempsey, James Lee, John Skinner, Dennis
Dewar, Donald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Doig, Peter Litterick, Tom Snape, Peter
Duffy, A. E. P. Loyden, Eddie Spearing, Nigel
Eadie, Alex Luard, Evan Spriggs, Leslie
Edge, Geoff Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Stallard, A. W.
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) McCartney, Hugh Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
English, Michael McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stott, Roger
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) McElhone, Frank Swain, Thomas
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McNamara, Kevin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Evans, John (Newton) Madden, Max Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mahon, Simon Thorne, Stan (Preston S)
Flannery, Martin Mallalieu, J. P. W. Tilley, John (Lambeth, Central)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marks, Kenneth Tinn, James
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Torney, Tom
Ford, Ben Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tuck, Raphael
Forrester, John Meacher, Michael Urwin, T. W.
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Mendelson, John Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Mikardo, Ian Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Mitchell, Austin Ward, Michael
George, Bruce Molloy, William Watkinson, John
Ginsburg, David Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Weitzman, David
Golding, John Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Wellbeloved, James
Gould, Bryan Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Gourlay, Harry Moyle, Roland Whitehead, Philip
Graham, Ted Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Whitlock, William
Grant, George (Morpeth) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Grocott, Bruce Newens, Stanley Willams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Noble, Mike Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Oakes, Gordon Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Hardy, Peter Orbach, Maurice Wise, Mrs Audrey
Harper, Joseph Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Woodall, Alec
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Ovenden, John Woof, Robert
Heffer, Eric S. Padley, Walter Wrigglesworth, Ian
Hooley, Frank Park, George Young, David (Bolton E)
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Parry, Robert
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Pavitt, Laurie TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Huckfield, Les Pendry, Tom Mr. Dennis Canavan and
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Phipps, Dr Colin Mr. Neil Kinnock.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Tellers are in the wrong union.