HC Deb 13 March 1979 vol 964 cc270-7

3.33 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; and for connected purposes. In essence, this amending Bill will allow an individual to choose to which political party the proportion of his political levy is donated.

I move the introduction of this Bill for the second time not only because it was defeated in the last Session by literally a handful of votes but, mainly, because there has been a definite change in the relationship between the trade union movement and the political parties.

In the past we have all too often been subjected to the myth that only the Labour Party could work with the unions. As we look back over this our winter of discontent, where industrial unrest and strikes were—and are—the norm, as unions one by one move into line for conflict with the Labour Government, we see the destruction of that myth. We also see the necessity for a complete rethink by the trade union movement of its relationship with political parties. The Bill attempts to make a small, tentative step towards that reappraisal.

We must not be surprised by this period of conflict between Government and the unions. As the Labour Party moves further and further to the Left, with more centralisation and State control, each in turn threatens the independence and existence of the other. A union can work and survive only in a democracy. It needs no imagination to realise just how long our trade union movement could survive in a country such as the USSR.

The object of the Bill is based on two simple reasons. The first is the fundamental right, in this still democratic country, for an individual to have freedom of choice—in this case freedom to choose the direction of the political proportion of his subscription. The second is to bring about a greater flow of understanding between the political parties, the trade union movement, and, perhaps even more important, the grass roots of the trade union movement.

Under the law, political funds must be kept separate from union funds. Naturally, only those contributing to those funds may have the right to vote upon them. In practice that means the union leadership and not the rank and file.

Originally, when I moved the Bill in the previous Session, I was attracted to the line of thought that trade unions should have no political levy but should act solely and simply in their members' interests. With one-fifth of the trade union movement already opting out of the political levy, that practice, if continued, will become a reality, which brings with it the narrowing of decision bases within a trade union. That means, in turn, a move away from the trade union movement's greatest asset—unity.

It has been all too obvious over the past few months that there was a lack of liaison or good feeling between the leaders of some unions and their grass roots membership, as unofficial strikes were hastily made official. Surely, if the opportunity were given to the individual to choose a political party for the receipt of his contribution it would lead to a far greater involvement and interest within the trade union movement. Participation, leading to unity of action between officials and the rank and file, is the strength of the trade union movement.

Naturally, not all of the political levy is distributed direct to the political parties. A proportion is retained inside the trade union movement. However, the percentage distributed should be in accordance with the wishes of the union membership.

All trade unions must reach agreements and bargains not only with employers but with political parties of various persuasions. What better indicator could there be to politicians and trade union leaders of the individual trade union member's view than where he chooses to place his contribution, and not where he is told it will be placed?

Greater influence and understanding between those two sections will result if there is a genuine understanding of the composite views of individual members. As more and more members join the trade union movement it is vital that it should have independence of thought and action and should truly reflect the views of its members. The Bill seeks to achieve that. I trust that it will have the support of the House.

3.39 p.m.

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

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member seek to oppose the motion?

Mr. Rooker

I do, Mr. Speaker.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has again brought this motion before the House. On 9 May last year he moved exactly the same motion which was thrown out. His speech was the same. I, too, might fall into the trap of making the same speech, as I opposed the Bill on that occasion.

The hon. Member sought leave to amend the Trade Union Act 1913. Listening to the hon. Gentleman, one would think that there was no freedom of choice. The 1913 Act provides that a trade union's fund cannot be used for any political objective unless there has been a ballot by members to approve those objectives, but where such political objectives have been approved, any money made available must come from that fund alone. The rules of trade union funds were approved by the former Registrar of Friendly Societies and are now approved by the certification officer, who is independent. Any trade union member may contract out of making the political levy. There is no specific form to sign; only a letter is required. There is no con, and there are no secret forms that people cannot obtain. As I shall show, people contract out in their thousands.

Any member who is aggrieved over the use of the political fund can complain to the certification officer, the independent person set up by this Labour Government—not by a Tory Government. In the last two years there have been only 21 complaints to the certification officer about trade union political funds.

Why does the hon. Gentleman seek to change the 1913 Act only in respect of trade unions when the very same section in the 1913 Act also covers political funds of employers' organisations? He has not come forward with a proposal to change the rules relating to employers' organisations, which have considerable political funds in this country, amounting at present to about £250,000. There are only four employers' organisations with political funds. There are 81 trade unions with political funds.

In some trade unions the number of people paying the political levy is so small that it is embarrassing to tell the House about it. In my own trade union, the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staff, only 37 per cent. pay the levy. That cannot be evidence that people cannot contract out, or that the present Act does not work satisfactorily. In the Transport and General Workers' Union, on the other hand, 96 per cent. of the members pay the levy—and why not?

As I said last year, in reply to the hon. Gentleman, the reason why trade unions had to set up political funds initially was that they wished to use the constitutional process in this country. That is why the Labour Party was created. The trade unions did not want to take to the streets. They wanted to put people into this place so that they could change the laws. They found that they could not do it, because the judges stopped them. That was why they had to set up their political funds.

It is a total error to believe that all this money comes to the Labour Party. If a trade union wants to hold a weekend school for its members in order to explain to them, for example, the legal process in this country, or what the machinery of democracy is about, it has to use its political funds to fund that school. That money does not come to the Labour Party; it is money spent in the cause of democracy. I do not see any problem about that.

The hon. Gentleman has given no good reason why there ought to be a change in the existing rules. He has not brought forward proposals to deal with the employers' organisations. I mentioned last year the 83,000 shareholders of GKN who cannot get into the annual general meeting. It is not held in a big enough place, in case everyone turns up. It is well known that, due to apathy, people will not turn up. It is the same apathy that causes the shareholders not to put pressure on companies to stop sending money to the Tory Party.

Why should my constituents have to pay more for their goods because companies send contributions to the Tory Party? Members of trade unions pay the political levy knowingly, in a free democracy, and with a right of choice to do so. They pay that money knowing that it goes to the Labour Party and to their trade union. When they spend money in the supermarket or the pub, why should they be forced to pay money to the Tory Party? They cannot opt out of that payment, whereas they can opt out of paying the political levy. No one can opt out of paying money in that way to the Tory Party.

This is where my hon. Friends and I are falling short. We should be introducing Ten-Minute Bills. We should be putting down amendments, approved by the Government, to the Companies Bill in Standing Committee, to corral the companies and make them opt out of paying to the Tory Party the money that our constituents spend in supermarkets, pubs and so on.

I ask my hon. Friends to throw out this Private Member's Bill. It is an attempt to distort the law in an unfair and dishonest manner, which was not even tried by the Tories in their Industrial Relations Bill in 1971.

The Donovan Commission examined the question of the allocation of political funds, and all the evidence indicated that no change was required. In fact, since the Labour Government came into office in 1974 it has been made easier to contract out of the political levy. That is why in ASTMS so many members contract out of the political levy. That is why members of other trade unions also contract out.

People already have freedom of choice, Mr. Speaker. This Bill is not required. I call on my hon. Friends, and on anyone else who is interested in good industrial relations, to throw it out.

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 162, Noes 200.

Division No. 89] AYES [3.45 p.m.
Adley. Robert Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell) Nelson, Anthony
Alison, Michael Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Neubert, Michael
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hampson, Dr Keith Page, John (Harrow West)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Hannam, John Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Bain, Mrs Margaret Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Page, Richard (Workington)
Banks, Robert Haselhurst, Alan Parkinson, Cecil
Beith, A. J. Hawkins, Paul Pattie, Geoffrey
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Hayhoe, Barney Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Henderson, Douglas Prior, Rt Hon James
Berry, Hon Anthony Hicks, Robert Raison, Timothy
Biggs-Davison, John Higgins, Terence L. Rathbone, Tim
Boscawen, Hon Robert Holland, Philip Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bottomley, Peter Hooson, Emlyn Reid, George
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Howell, David (Guildford) Rhodes James, R.
Braine, Sir Bernard Hutchison, Michael Clark Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Brittan, Leon Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Brotherton, Michael James, David Ridsdale, Julian
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Rifkind, Malcolm
Bruce-Gardyne, John Jessel, Toby Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Carlisle, Mark Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Kershaw, Anthony Sainsbury, Tim
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) King, Tom (Bridgwater) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Clark, William (Croydon S) Knight, Mrs Jill Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Langford-Holt, Sir John Shelton, William (Streatham)
Clegg, Walter Latham, Michael (Melton) Shepherd, Colin
Cope, John Lawrence, Ivan Shersby, Michael
Costain, A. P. Le Marchant, Spencer Silvester, Fred
Crawford, Douglas Lester, Jim (Beeston) Sims, Roger
Critchley, Julian Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Sinclair, Sir George
Crouch, David Lloyd, Ian Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Luce, Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James MacCormick, lain Stanley, John
Durant, Tony McCrindle, Robert Steel, Rt Hon David
Dykes, Hugh Macfarlane, Neil Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Stokes, John
Eyre, Reginald McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Stradling Thomas, J.
Fairbairn, Nicholas Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Tapsell, Peter
Farr, John Marten, Neil Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Mates, Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Mather, Carol Thompson, George
Fookes, Miss Janet Maude, Angus Townsend, Cyril D.
Forman, Nigel Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Waddington, David
Fox, Marcus Mayhew, Patrick Watt, Hamish
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Meyer, Sir Anthony Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Freud, Clement Mills, Peter Whitney, Raymond
Fry, Peter Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Wiggin, Jerry
Glyn, Dr Alan Monro, Hector Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhart, Philip Montgomery, Fergus Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Goodlad, Alastair Moore, John (Croydon C) Younger, Hon George
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gray, Hamish Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Mr. Andrew MacKay and
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Neave, Airey Mr. Tim Smith.
Grist, Ian
Abse, Leo Bray, Dr Jeremy Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Allaun, Frank Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)
Anderson, Donald Buchan, Norman Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Buchanan, Richard Cryer, Bob
Armstrong, Ernest Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)
Ashley, Jack Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)
Ashton, Joe Campbell, Ian Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Canavan, Dennis Deakins, Eric
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Cant, R. B. Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Carmichael, Neil Dempsey, James
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Carter-Jones, Lewis Dewar, Donald
Bates, Alf Cartwright, John Dormand, J. D.
Bean, R. E. Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Clemitson, Ivor Duffy, A. E. P.
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Eadie, Alex
Bidwell, Sydney Cohen, Stanley Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Coleman, Donald English, Michael
Blenkinsop, Arthur Conlan, Bernard Ennals, Rt Hon David
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Corbett, Robin Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)
Bradley, Tom Cowans, Harry Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Evans, John (Newton) Lofthouse, Geoffrey Sandelson, Neville
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) McCartney, Hugh Sedgemore, Brian
Faulds, Andrew McDonald, Dr Oonagh Selby, Harry
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. McElhone, Frank Sever, John
Flannery, Martin McKay, Allen (Penistone) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Maclennan, Robert Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Ford, Ben McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Forrester, John McNamara, Kevin Silverman, Julius
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Madden, Max Skinner, Dennis
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Marks, Kenneth Snape, Peter
George, Bruce Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Spearing, Nigel
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Spriggs, Leslie
Ginsburg, David Maynard, Miss Joan Stallard, A. W.
Golding, John Meacher, Michael Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Graham, Ted Mikardo, Ian Stoddart, David
Grant, George (Morpeth) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Stott, Roger
Grocott, Bruce Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Strang, Gavin
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Hardy, Peter Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Morton, George Tierney, Sydney
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Tilley, John
Home Robertson, John Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Tinn, James
Hooley, Frank Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Tomlinson, John
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Newens, Stanley Tuck, Raphael
Huckfield, Les Noble, Mike Urwin, Rt Hon T. W.
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Oakes, Gordon Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Hunter, Adam Ogden, Eric Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) O'Halloran, Michael Ward, Michael
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Orbach, Maurice Watkins, David
Jeger, Mrs Lena Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wellbeloved, James
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Ovenden, John White, Frank R. (Bury)
John, Brynmor Palmer, Arthur White, James (Pollok)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Park, George Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Parker, John Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Parry, Robert Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Pavitt, Laurie Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Judd, Frank Price, C. (Lewisham W) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Radice, Giles Woodall, Alec
Kinnock, Neil Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Lambie, David Robertson, George (Hamilton) Young, David (Bolton E)
Lamond, James Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Leadbitter, Ted Rooker, J. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roper, John Mr, Russell Kerr and
Litterick, Tom Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Mr. Stan Thorne.

Question accordingly negatived.