§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I beg to move,That this House, being of the opinion that the extent of the powers, privileges and immunities now granted by law to trade unions is excessive and incompatible with the general interest and unity of the British nation, believing that the organisation of many trade unions is undemocratic and unresponsive to the needs 985 of their members, and being convinced that the present capability of certain trade unions to endanger life, to deprive citizens arbitrarily of their livelihood and to inflict hardship and misery upon the general public with impunity is unacceptable in a modern democratic state, therefore calls upon the Government to present legislative proposals designed to encourage the development of trade unions democratically controlled by their members, independent of political parties and operating within a fair and balanced framework of law.One of the advantages of coming first in the ballot for Private Members' motions is the near certainty that one will be called, but there were times earlier today when I thought that the House would be talked out on another subject. It also means that I do not have the agony of most Back Benchers in seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, nor do I need to be as brief as I normally am.
I hope that we can discuss the subject without the usual parrot cries about union-bashing and seeking a confrontation with the trade unions. It is a subject that raises problems well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House. I know personally many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and certain of them share my anxieties about the extent of trade union immunity. I therefore hope that we can discuss the matter impartially and seek to serve the general national interest.
I asked the Government whether they had any legislative proposals in this respect, and in a written answer yesterday I was told by the Minister of State, Department of Employment that they did not. So we know where we stand. They do not propose to take any action to right the wrongs and remedy the injustices that are so patently exposed in the industrial actions of the last few weeks and of which every citizen in the country is aware.
The decline in Britain's prosperity has been caused by a large number of factors, many of which are common to our European competitors. What puzzles most observers and is disturbing to our citizens is that our condition has progressively worsened while our European neighbours have grown more prosperous. As a result, we have fallen from being the country with the second highest standard of living in Europe to having one of the lowest. As my right hon. Friend the Member for 986 Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) wrote recently.Almost every year we have produced a smaller share of the world's goods and a larger share of its banknotes.That is an apt commentary on the state of Britain today. Yet there is nothing wrong with the quality of our people that makes them unable to compete on equal terms with those of every other European nation. There is no lack of natural resources or absence of technical skills or financial ability which would cause us to be bottom of the league.
Therefore, one is bound to conclude that it is the organisation of our resources that is the cause of our troubles. And the greatest drawback from which we suffer is the unwillingness of our trade unions to co-operate in getting the best out of our men and machines. Instead of helping to harness the wealth of this country to create more wealth, they spend most of their time fighting over who should get the biggest share of it.
The trade unions have a dominant role in British industry. No improvement is possible without their consent; and that consent is given only on terms which normally deprive the improvement of most of its value. Hence the closure of The Times, the world's greatest newspaper. That is the tragedy that we must seek to remedy in some way, the urgency of which becomes increasingly apparent every day. The irresponsible use of trade union power is the greatest single cause of our decline. Beside that, the problem of communication between management and employees—the subject referred to recently in a well-meaning speech by a Royal personage—is comparatively unimportant. The disability from which we suffer is not shared by our competitors in Europe and North America, because only we have seen fit to offer extraordinary legal powers and privileges to our trade unionists.
One can well see how this all happened. As is so often the case in the history of the world and in the development of the industrial society, we pay the penalty for having been the pioneers. We have not had the experience of others on which to draw in facing up to that phenomenon of modern industrial society—the development of the trade unions.
Our attitude to the trade unions in the nineteenth century was at first hostile. They developed a means of balancing the 987 strength of employers by combinations of employees. In the early days the unions did a lot of useful work, which led at the turn of the century to Parliament throwing a cloak of protection around them. The trouble is that the development of employers' associations and nationalised industries has led to the trade unions becoming monopoly suppliers of labour negotiating with monopoly employers. That statutory cloak of protection, which has been added to in recent years by this Government, has become a straitjacket restraining the freedom of the whole nation.
The biggest trade unions are concentrated in the public sector. They have to contend not with greedy private employers but with the Government themselves. The victims of industrial action in the public sector are the private citizens of this country.
Unfortunately, the trade unions now speak from a position of overwhelming strength and have produced the result that we have seen in our law. They compelled the Labour Government of 1969 to abandon their proposals for reform of the trade unions. They made the Conservative Government's Industrial Relations Act 1971 unworkable and then they brought that Government down in 1974.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
If the hon. Member accepts that less than half the people of this country who are gainfully employed belong to trade unions, and that of that number the Conservative Party claims that one-third are Tory voters, how does he arrive at the conclusion that the trade unions are the most dominant and decisive factor in British industry and that they make or break Governments?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
There are two reasons for this. First, the trade unions are concentrated in particular areas of our industries where they can wreak the most damage and have the most influence—the public sector. Secondly, they are still not democratically organised. They do not represent the true interests and needs of their members, and their leadership is not representative. Even if I have not persuaded the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), I hope that at least I have enlightened him.
988 The effect of the overwhelming power of the trade unions has been to control Government and to set aside Acts of Parliament. In more recent times the trade unions have actually dominated the economic, industrial and social policies of this Government. Clearly, that is a matter of concern to all of us. This extraordinary extra-parliamentary power is based upon the legal immunity which has been granted to the trade unions and which has caused the trouble. The immunity, which began with the Trade Disputes Act 1906, has not been given to any other bodies before or since. There is immunity in civil law for damage flowing from acts done in the furtherance of a trade dispute. That provision may have been justified at the turn of the century, but it has grown to unacceptable proportions now.
A man's business may be ruined because he is"blacked ", whether or not he is involved in the trade dispute. His job may be lost and his career prospects ruined if he is turned out of a closed shop. His reputation may be destroyed by the written or spoken word—and there is no remedy if the act has been committed in the furtherance of a trade dispute. Even if death and destruction result, there is no remedy. Several people have died in the recent industrial action by ambulance men and hospital workers whose lives could have been saved. Some died as a direct result of that action because life-saving equipment was not provided in time, or fuel or oxygen supplies were cut off. What can we say to the suffering relatives, the bereaved children and the sorrowing parents? Do we tell them that their loved ones have been sacrificed on the altar of trade union privilege, or that their deaths were not in vain because they served to gain for the workers involved some marginal improvement in their conditions of service? What we cannot tell them is to sue for damages and go to law to make those who were responsible for the tragedy—the damages, the injuries or the death—responsible in law. Trade unions are immune from such actions in law.
A careless nurse or a surgeon may be sued, but a trade union that deliberately deprives a hospital of the means of affording life support cannot be sued. It is intolerable that that situation exists in Britain today and it could not possibly 989 have been foreseen by those who framed the legislation three-quarters of a century ago.
The endangering of lives is particularly dramatic and tragic, but, as every hon. Member knows, trade union power is all-pervasive nowadays. Unions control so much of some industries that they control the conditions of work of all those engaged in it. The closed shop is an affront to free society. The injustice which is done to long-serving employees who are dismissed without compensation or redress because they refuse to join or—worse still—are expelled from a union stinks in the nostrils of free men. There should, in my opinion, be an equal right to join or not to join a union.
This all-pervading inhibition over the free movement of our people is a tremendous burden on our industrial efficiency. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), who is not here today, has given me permission to quote an example from his constituency. A constituent of his is employed by a firm of printers and is a member of SOGAT. He is seeking a job with another firm for which his special qualifications are particularly desirable. A vacancy exists in the firm but, unfortunately, it is earmarked for an NGA member. Although there are SOGAT members in the other firm, the man would not be allowed to resign his SOGAT membership and join the NGA in order to get the job. If he approached the other firm on that basis, the SOGAT members there would take industrial action, as this would upset the balance of power between the two unions.
It is the very fear of trade union action that leads to so much evil. We have all heard about the tax amnesty for casual workers on The Sun newspaper. No doubt other hon. Members have received letters from those who have been penalised by the Inland Revenue because of employing casual workers of whom they have not secured full details. The problem is widespread. For men to be excused income tax at the behest of the union is one of the worst examples of the tyranny of trade union power.
When trade unions behave in this way and are protected by the law from the consequences of their actions, it is no wonder that the law is brought into dis- 990 repute and others feel encouraged to flout it. When teachers go on strike and abandon their classes, it is no wonder that children play truant. When trade unions are endowed with these powers and protected by immunities, is it any wonder that they exploit them to the full for their own selfish interests?
Some unions are able to bring the country to its knees—lawfully and without the arrest of a single picket. What hope is there for a successful incomes policy while such powers remain unaltered? What hope is there for the code of conduct negotiated between the Government and the TUC? If that code is not in the interests of a trade union, the union has the power to flout it lawfully. Therefore, why should it bother with it? It is evident from present industrial action that the provisions of the White Paper are being totally disregarded
I acknowledge that, to their great credit, a number of trade union leaders recognise the dangers and the problems associated with the existence of such power in the hands of their less responsible colleagues in other unions. Frank Chapple has had the courage to say openly that the only way to achieve a real increase in wages is by co-operation to secure an increase in productivity and not by conflict. Tom Jackson and Sidney Weighell know that they represent workers most of whom will always be among the lower paid. Judging from what they have been saying, they recognise that the only way to improve that position is to achieve a general rise in the standard of living. That cannot be obtained by trying to force their members up the scale at the expense of others. They probably detest having to threaten and take industrial action, in response to the demands of the more irresponsible elements, when it damages the industry and its capability to employ those members and give them better wages.
Many trade union leaders recognise that the powers of trade unions are unsatisfactory and should be changed. But they cannot bring about that change by themselves—they need assistance from Parliament.
I am not satisfied with the proposals of my own party. They seem to have been formed soon after the February 1974 general election when the powers of militant trade unions were most terrifying. 991 There then seemed no hope for the return of a Conservative Government able to govern without the consent of the trade unions. As a result, the Conservative Party's proposals are limited to peripheral areas. These include extending the class of exemption from the closed shop to those who have well-founded, deeply-held personal convictions, limiting the number of pickets and providing certain measures to assist internally democratically organised trade unions—the secret ballot, and so on.
All those matters are useful and will go some way towards helping to solve the problem, but they do not strike at its centre. They do not seem to appreciate the urgency of the problem. In my view, they are too namby-pamby for words.
Nothing in those proposals will prevent the sort of industrial action that we have experienced in the past few weeks. I hope that the Conservative Party will not suggest that its proposals will suffice to reform trade unions so that they are made to serve the general interest. The proposals are made in ignorance of an important and conclusive change in public opinion since February 1974. In some ways, the electorate misunderstood the nature of the question that it was being asked in 1974 and returned an uncertain answer. It is now accepted that Parliament must get to grips with the problem, that legislative action must be taken and that it can be taken only by a Conservative Government.
I am not seeking such a change in the law that would cause trade unions to be disabled from exercising the fair exercise of responsibilities that have always been considered to be rightly theirs in the promotion of the interests of their members, though no doubt some Labour Members will accuse me of doing that. However, we must try to get the balance right because it has gone much too far in the wrong direction.
Some restriction on the immunity of unions at law is called for and would be overwhelmingly supported in the country. For example, the closed shop needs to be tackled on the basis of granting an absolute right not to belong.
The democratic structure and organisation of many unions leaves much to be 992 desired. If trade unions were more responsive to the needs of all their members and had better democratic structures and constitutions, the public interest would be better served. We may be undertaking greater risks. Some Labour Members are constantly saying that certain trade union leaders are very moderate and that, if the wishes of the members prevailed, industrial action would be far stronger. However, I say that, within the law, we should reform that structure, make it much more democratic and enable the membership to control the leadership because, in the long run, that will be in the public interest.
It is also wrong that an unreformed, undemocratically organised trade union movement should own a political party as our trade union movement owns the Labour Party. Nor is it in the interests of the Labour Party that that should be so. The Labour Party should be compelled to get on to the doorsteps of its members and be financed by willing contributions from hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens—in the way that the other two main political parties are financed. The Labour Party would find the experience refreshing as well as democratic and would rid itself of some of its general management committees which are dominated by extremists.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) is muttering something about Orpington. I am glad to take him up on that because the Orpington Conservative Association is a model of the sort of organisation that I commend to the Labour Party. It raises £14,000 a year from the subscriptions of 7,000 members and from innumerable jumble sales, coffee mornings, dinners and teas. Thousands of small sums are raised in that way. The association is all pervading in the political interests of my constituency. Out of the money it pays for a full-time agent, an office and headquarters and still sends £2,000 a year to Conservative Central Office.
I call that democracy, democratic organisation of a political party. If we had a few constituency Labour parties able to boast of that sort of record, we might be making progress.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I thought that my hon. Friend might like to draw breath for the second half of his 993 speech. Has he the figures of the membership of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party? If my memory serves me right, there are 300,000 card-carrying members of the Labour Party and more than 4 million members of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
That was a helpful contribution which has added to the political education of Labour Members. I am glad to see some of them here, because they at least wish to hear the arguments.
It must be accepted that it is wrong that the Government should be dominated by a one sectional interest. Parliament must bring it under control.
Many attempts have been made to reform trade unions. In comparatively recent times we have had the appointment of the Royal Commission under Lord Donovan, which produced a rather disappointing report. It was based, to a great extent, on an earlier report by the Committee of the Inns of Court Conservative and Unionist Society entitled"A Giant's Strength"which outlined moderate and sensible proposals for bringing trade unions within the law. It is not surprising that the Donovan report was disappointing, because many members of the Commission were trade unionists.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the report"A Giant's Strength"also said that free collective bargaining, which the Opposition believe in, leads, in the end, to strikes?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
No. The hon. Gentleman is quoting the report out of context. In a free market, collective bargaining could completely avoid strikes. It is under the imperfections of the market that we get strikes. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can discuss the report after the debate.
The most notable attempt at reform was made by the Labour Government in 1969. It was somewhat one-sided and did not go far enough, but it was perhaps the most honourable thing that any Labour Government have done. It attempted to reform the law relating to trade unions at a time when unions thought that, having created the Labour Party, they owned it and all its policies. Tributes are in 994 order for those who produced the White Paper"In Place of Strife ". With the reservations that I have outlined about its recommendations, I should like to read the second and third paragraphs because they represent what I believe is still a thoroughly commendable and non-party approach to these problems.
Paragraph 2 says:Our present system of industrial relations has substantial achievements to its credit, but it also has serious defects. It has failed to prevent injustice, disruption of work and inefficient use of manpower. It perpetuates the existence of groups of employees who, as the result of the weakness of their bargaining position, fall behind in the struggle to obtain their full share of the benefits of an advanced industrial economy. In other cases management and employees are able unfairly to exploit the consumer and endanger economic prosperity. It has produced a growing number of lightning strikes and contributed little to increasing efficiency. There are still areas of industry without any machinery for collective bargaining at all. Radical changes are needed in our system of industrial relations to meet the needs of a period of rapid technical and industrial change.Paragraph 3 says:Until action is taken to remedy these defects, conflict in British industry will often be damaging and anti-social. The Government places the following proposals before Parliament and the nation convinced that they are justified on two main grounds. First, they will help to contain the destructive repression of industrial conflict and to encourage a more equitable, ordered and efficient system, which will benefit both those involved and (he community at large. Second, they are based on the belief that the efforts of employers, unions and employees to reform collective bargaining need the active support and intervention of Government.That is a fair statement of the problem, and it was made in 1969 by a Labour Government. We all know what happened to that attempt at reform of the trade unions. It was murdered by the trade unions.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
But is it not true that of the 26 recommendations contained in the White Paper, only two were opposed by the trade unions and they were willing to have the others? Why does not the hon. Gentleman comment on some of the White Paper's recommendations which were acceptable to the trade union movement? Would not that be more fair? What is more, is not it true that the 1971 Tory Act was based on two of the major recommendations in that White Paper which the trade union movement refused 995 to accept and that it was that Act which gave rise to the conflict between the Conservative Government and the trade unions?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I agree to some extent. If the Conservative Government had introduced legislative proposals based more firmly on the contents of"In Place of Strife ", they might have had more success.
However, the essence of the problem remains, and, although the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) may say that the trade union movement agreed with most of the proposals in that White Paper and disagreed with only two of them, the fact remains that reform of this sector of our life has to cover a great many areas, because trade union influence is all-pervasive. It is not possible to pick out a few areas with the consent of the trade unions and to make reforms. Action of that kind will only carry us further towards giving more and more power to one side of the equation.
Since 1974, this Labour Government have introduced further measures in the interests of trade unions. They have not limited the immunity of the trade unions. The balance has even greater inequality about it than was the case during the time of the Conservative Government.
There is no doubt that the Conservative Government tried to do too much too quickly and perhaps they did not consult enough. One fundamental objection may be that they failed to take sufficient account of"In Place of Strife"in formulating their proposals. However, they did their best. This Government have surrendered completely to the overwhelming power of the trade unions.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
Before the hon. Member passes from his very interesting remarks about"In Place of Strife ", let me reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) said by reminding the House that in 1970 my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) introduced a Bill for First Reading which contained about 90 per cent. of the recommendations embodied in the White Paper"In Place of Strife ". That is not a bad track record for the ultimate form of any White Paper. Unfortunately, the 996 Bill fell with the general election. But there was nothing in the Bill or in"In Place of Strife"which would have limited immunities for trade unions, nor anything which would have inhibited the closed shop.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I accept that last observation. I have already said that in some ways this was a one-sided effort and did not go far enough. But it was a notable attempt to bring some discipline into the chaotic system of industrial relations which existed even then, yet even a Labour Government could not enact it. I accept that a Bill was introduced, but we all know what happened to"In Place of Strife ", so do not let us try to deceive the public into thinking that the measure would have been enacted but for the general election.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
I suggest to my hon. Friend that those last two interventions might be compared to saying that an individual is fully clothed because he is wearing a great many clothes even though he has no trousers, whereas most of us would regard him as being naked.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I do not quite know how to reply to that intervention. Perhaps I had better push on with my speech.
In times when it seems that Parliament is unable to cope with the problem, in our history traditionally there has been one bulwark of our freedom and one guarantee that the rights of individual citizens will be protected. That has resided in the decisions of the judiciary. In this connection, we have had a number of remarkable judicial decisions quite recently. Judges have tried to come to the rescue of Parliament. One was reported recently, when giving a decision in a certain case, as saying:It must be presumed that Parliament would not legislate for its own destruction.That is a sentiment with which most right hon. and hon. Members will agree. However, we must not leave this matter to our judges. In the end, it is a question not of law but of political will. Those who have spent their political lives encouraging and protecting the growth of this tyranny will remain unwilling to tackle it. That being so, they should stand aside while the rest of us do our duty.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has spoken for about 47 minutes. I make no complaint about that. However, I ask the Chair, if I take much less time than that, to help the House to get a balanced debate not just as between one hon. Member and another but on the basis of the time taken by one hon. Member and another.
The hon. Member for Orpington put forward his proposals in a reasonable, quiet and persuasive manner. However, we all know that an hon. Member who wishes to make the most outrageous and controversial statements is well advised to do this in such a pleasant manner that the House allows him to get away with murder. I used to see this especially in local government debates when the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and the late Mr. James MacColl made the most outrageous remarks to each other with a smile and a polite gesture. The hon. Member for Orpington had a quiet and attentive reception because we respect him, and also partly because of the way that he presented the case, which, if he had done it in the style of a speech at a Nuremburg rally, would have resulted in uproar.
To sum up what the hon. Gentleman said, I adopt what the Scottish nationalists say about the English—" It is all the fault of them." In this regard the attitude is"It is all the fault of trade unionists, and the only way we can bring the ' Great ' back into Britain is by legislation, because these or those trade unionists can do nothing to help themselves and we must have legislation to put right what they cannot put right."
I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the actions of some trade unionists in some of the trade unions over the past few months. I have made my objections perfectly clear. But I completely reject the hon. Gentleman's wider criticisms, his broader implications and his proposed remedies.
The hon. Gentleman is not just an ex-colonial officer who has come back from Nigeria after serving there between 1950 and 1960. He is an experienced Member of the House. He is a very competent advocate. In fact, he is a far nicer man than his motion or his comments this 998 morning would lead us to believe. The truth is that he did his best with a bad brief.
I do not know who provided the hon. Gentleman with his brief, but I suspect that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) had little, if any, part. I see that the hon. Gentleman confirms this—the right hon. Member for Lowestoft had nothing to do with the brief which the hon. Gentleman presented this morning.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
May I go back for a moment to the hon. Gentleman's earlier words? I thought that he was paying some sort of tribute to my character, but then he suggested that what I said did not truly represent my opinions. In fact, it was precisely what I thought, and I have had no assistance, encouragement or discouragement whatever in what I have said.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpem)
Order. I think that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has clearly established that he is properly dressed—he has his trousers on—so everyone can be agreed and quite happy.
§ Mr. Ogden
I shall have to read that in Hansard to find out just what we have agreed.
At least we have it established that the opinions advanced by the hon. Gentleman are entirely his own and the information on which he based them has been provided by himself—though I must add that a collection of newspaper cuttings does necessarily offer the best way of formulating a policy on trade union legislation or anything else.
However, the hon. Gentleman confirms that his right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft, who has for some time been offering advice about the trade unions and industrial relations legislation, had no part in the case presented by the hon. Gentleman this morning. I have the impression that the hon. Gentleman spoke as reluctant prosecutor against a defendant whom the prosecutor knew to be perfectly innocent and most likely to be acquitted by any fair-minded jury, but we have better information now.
I take, first, the question of the closed shop. The hon. Gentleman may know, 999 as my hon. Friends certainly do, that I am a member of a closed shop, the National Union of Mineworkers. On many occasions over past years in this place I have had occasion to declare my interest. I have done so proudly. But I have no interest to declare this morning on behalf of my union, since my union has shown no interest whatever in the motion or this debate. Joe Gormley is no greyer, Lawrence Daly is not off his food, Arthur Scargill is not losing his hair, Les Story is not losing weight, and Mick McGahey has gone back to Scotland to get as far away from this motion as possible.
I say that simply to put on record that the views that I shall express are entirely my own, as the hon. Gentleman's were his own. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the National Union of Mineworkers, with some advantages because of its particular organisation, has shown itself to be a most democratic body. Decisions are taken not by a few people in an ivory tower at 222 Euston Road. Recommendations go through the federal structure of the union all the way up and down the line. There is a real balance and real democratic participation.
I come now to the motion, which was tabled on 14 March, just two days ago, and it appeared on the Order Paper yesterday for debate today. It is a particularly reluctant motion—hardly a clarion call saying"This is what we shall do on Friday; let all rally round the flag." It simply appeared on the back page of the list yesterday.
I can understand anyone's reluctance to sponsor or support such a motion. I do not want to go into detail, because the hon. Gentleman suggested that we should try to make this an informed debate, an exchange of information rather than an exchange of allegations and counter-allegations. We on these Benches should try to help the hon. Gentleman with a little information. It is too much to ask us to turn the other cheek altogether, and we should try to help him with some information.
I have two principal points to put, and I ask the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends to try to understand them. The Labour Party and the trade 1000 union movement grew not only from the organisation of trade unions in industry but from Nonconformism and a long background of history. Trade unionists—this may seem strange to some—are a family. We began with a family relationship in small lodges, branches and chapels, and in the trade union movement we think of one another as members of a family with a common cause. It is coincidence that we refer to one another as"Brother"or"Sister ". This is a key point which the hon. Gentleman ought to bear in mind.
As in any family, we have disagreements among ourselves about what we should do and how to do it from time to time. We have what my wife and I publicly call"exchanges of ideas "—lively rows. Of course, these happen from time to time, and things are better that way. But if anyone from outside the family comes in and says"You are making a right mess of things. This is what you must do ", the family rightly unites.
So it could happen that I spent the last 12 months up to October last year as a member of the national executive of the National Union of Mineworkers, because I happen to be chairman of the miners' group in this place—a much more exclusive group than any group of Old Etonians on the Opposition Benches, though not quite as exclusive as the Labour group of Old Etonians in the person of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)—and I could spend those 12 months as a full member of my national executive agreeing with my colleagues on production, investment and all manner of other things but disagreeing almost entirely with what half my national executive wanted to do over wages, free collective bargaining and the social contract.
No one ever suggested that my union card should be taken away. No one ever suggested that I should be disaffiliated or cease to be sponsored. Trade union colleagues look upon one another much as relatives do."We are stuck with them, so let us make the best of it." My union has never, ever, tried to tell me what to do or how to speak or vote.
I ask the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to try to understand this feeling and approach. When they come in from outside to tell trade unionists what to do, 1001 they can do more harm than good. Of course, they are affected by what the unions do. Of course, hon. Members are concerned about what the unions do. But they should recognise that their influence is limited.
In other spheres, hon. Gentlemen have influence in organisations to which they may belong. For example, barristers are concerned about demarcation disputes. So are solicitors. There are problems in the legal profession—the hierarchy, the discrimination, the artificial boundary between solicitor and barrister, the question of costs and the conduct of proceedings—all these things cry out for reform.
I could not do anything about that as a member of the National Union of Mineworkers, but the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) his hon. Friend the Member for Orpington and other lawyers could. They could help more than I could to open up that subject, to open up the City of London, to open up the structure of companies to more democratic shareholder control—let alone workers' control.
Here is a good example of the way in which control of policy and management might be influenced in one organisation, an organisation of which, I imagine, many hon. Members are members. Let them go down the road and try to get a colleague on to the elected committee or to the management team of the Automobile Association, and let them try to get a motion on the agenda for the annual general meeting of the AA.
The AA is a first-class motoring organisation, but its higher management is the tightest closed shop in Europe. We ought to take an interest in that sort of thing as well, not just in the trade unions.
I shall make no detailed reply to the dismal list of complaints set out in the first part of the motion. I happen to believe that a lot of our present difficulties and those in the near future will have come about because in September and October last year the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party conference decided to disagree with a major part of the Government's economic policies.
The industrial and social difficulties that we have experienced over the past few months will do little to bring about the objectives of low-paid workers. Those 1002 ways achieve little in the way of balance or compensation. If the actions which began to take place from January continue for much longer, we will have more unemployment and fewer public services. As we have seen from the public opinion polls, the political result would have been the return of a selfish, reactionary Conservative Government. In spite of the efforts of Conservative Members, such as the hon. Member for Orpington, they would not achieve the results that unions want. A Conservative Government would not help the low paid and the unemployed.
The hon. Gentleman has suggested that legislation is the answer. Part of the motion reads:therefore calls upon the Government to present legislative proposals designed to encourage the development of trade unions democratically controlled by their members ".Some Conservative Members have said that we have too much government. One of the results is that we tend to promise more than we can provide. We are expected to provide instant remedies for every problem. Perhaps we should put over the door at St. Stephen's"Please do not ask for credit as a refusal may offend." In the past, Governments of both parties have tended to offer instant solutions.
The hon. Member for Orpington says that it is possible to resolve the problems of the"democratic management"of unions—that is, if such problems exist—by legislation. It happens to be my version of Socialism—probably there are as many versions of Socialism as there are Socialists, just as there are as many versions of Conservatism as there are Conservatives—that it is not necessary for the State, the Government or Parliament to do for others what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves.
My union happens to be a good example of control by the membership of the union's officers and policies. That is historical. It has that tradition because that is what its members have wanted. The union is a federation. The union has advantages because it is built around pits. Other unions are more widely spread.
It has been shown in recent months by the members of the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union that it is possible to change the control of a union. That has been demonstrated 1003 by Equity and by the Civil and Public Services Association. When enough members attend a meeting and put their point of view, they can take control of the meeting. That has been demonstrated in other unions in other ways.
If the members of a union want a secret ballot, they can have one. Every registered trade union must ensure that its rules and regulations conform to a national policy. If enough members of a union want something, they can achieve that within the organisation without recourse to parliamentary impositions. My union has used postal ballots. We use an outside body—the Electoral Reform Society—to control and organise ballots.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
The hon. Gentleman speaks as a member of a wealthy union that is able to afford postal ballots quite easily and has an honourable record in furthering them. However, I and many other trade unionists come from unions that feel financial constraints about ordering postal ballots when ballots will strain trade union funds. Is he aware that Conservative proposals to make funds available to trade unions that wish to have secret ballots but feel financial constraints are not hostile to unions?
§ Mr. Ogden
I am not saying that that proposal is hostile. The hon. Gentleman says that I am a member of a wealthy trade union. It is wealthy because the members pay for their union membership. We do not try to get it on the cheap. Fortunately, millions of miners in the past have put into union funds their halfpennies, pennies and twopences. Those contributions are in the kitty. The membership pays for its union. Members put their hands in their own pockets. I still think that the members of too many unions want the services of the union on the cheap. Too often, in Britain we try to get something for nothing. That applies to all political parties and to most trade unions.
We hear trade unionists complaining about union levies when the levies are less than the price of the pints that they are holding in their hands. The proposition of the hon. Member for Orpington is"If you are not prepared to pay for what you want yourself, go to the Government and they will pay for it ". That 1004 may be Conservative policy, but I believe that it is not necessary for the State to intervene and to do what people can do for themselves.
The organisation of every registered trade union is fair and democratic. The policies of unions are decided not by a few officers in headquarters or by those who attend the party conferences. Policies are decided in the branches and lodges, as the policies of my party are decided in the ward Labour committees. We should be saying loud and clear that too many are more concerned about watching"Coronation Street"or"Crossroads"than attending their union or party meetings.
I went to a meeting in St. Paul's church school, West Derby, a fortnight ago. There were about 100 persons at the meeting. Those 100, divided into four wards, could have taken over the whole of the Liverpool, West Derby Labour Party or Conservative Party. That would be the result if they went to their party meetings one night a month. If that happened within the Labour Party in West Derby, those 100 could control my constituency Labour Party. That is a fact. We know what has happened in other areas. The 100 did not want to do that. The opportunity is theirs and not mine. We ought not to complain about those who attend meetings and decide policies.
We should be encouraging participation. Participation is hard work. It means giving time and dedication. At the meeting to which I have referred I received complaints from those representing a Civil Service union and from many others. There were those who were worried that I might be taken over by Left-wing militants. All that they have to do is attend meetings once a month. There is no alternative to that form of participation.
The remedy of"We shall do for you in Parliament what you are not willing to do for yourself by getting off your bottom"is not enough. I remind Conservative Members of some words of Sir Winston Churchill. I happen to agree with them completely. Those words are—" liberty to man requires eternal vigilance ". Those who want something and are prepared to do something will get their way by means of democratic persuasion. There is nothing wrong with the 1005 trade union system if those who want a fair and honest system will work for a fair and honest system. The offering of legislation is no substitute for that.
§ Mr. Gorst
Earlier the hon. Gentleman made the fair comment that a trade union is rather like a family. He explained a reference to brothers and sisters- If that is a fair analogy—I accept that it is—why should not the Government of the day, who are entitled to intervene in"family"affairs to decide to whom various things will be paid and what shall be done within the family, concern themselves with the aspects of the family to which the hon. Gentleman has been referring and which affect the nation as a whole?
§ Mr. Ogden
In my way, not in the hon. Gentleman's way. Everyone can act for himself or herself if a little time, effort and trouble is taken. The hon. Gentleman's case is that unions are not democratically controlled. My case is that unions are democratically organised and controlled by those who have enough interest, time, dedication and willingness to work to organise and control them. There is nothing wrong with the organisation. It is rather like complaining about a tennis club that is making the wrong decisions. If people do not attend meetings, they cannot expect to have a say in the decisions of the organisation to which they belong. In the Scottish devolution referendum it was said that"Don't vote"meant"Don't know ". At elections in Merseyside we say"The only votes that count are those that go into the box. If you don't vote, don't complain."
The decisions that are made inside unions or any other organisations are made only by those who take the trouble to attend meetings and have their say and cast their votes. The proposals in the motion are no alternative to people doing for themselves what they are capable of doing if they are prepared to give a little time and attention to helping themselves.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on his success in the ballot, his choice of subject and his interesting and stimulating speech.
It is a privilege for me to follow in debate so experienced and respected a trade unionist as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). I am not a trade unionist but I have no bias against trade unionists. Indeed, my bias is the other way, for many reasons.
In my youth I studied nineteenth century industrial relations as a special subject at Oxford. I studied the 1869 Royal Commission report and the 1871 Act. It is always dangerous to claim to be the only Member to have done something, because one is nearly always wrong, but I am probably the only Member of the House to have read the report on the conditions of the hand loom weavers.
I was brought up with a background of collective bargaining. For many years my father played a prominent and agreeable part in collective bargaining in the building industry. For that reason, in my early days in the House, I was privileged to be on friendly terms with the prominent trade union leaders of that time—thosesimple great ones goneFor ever and ever by.I am a believer in the efficacy and desirability of employee participation in industry and of pursuing sympathetically studies of models in other countries to see how far we can absorb and adapt their practices for our own situation.Be totheirvirtues very kind;Be totheirfaults a little blind.There are virtues in plenty and there are faults. It is a service to the trade unions to identify the faults and encourage correction.
I am sorry that my suggestions come from outside the family but they come from a sympathetic outsider. I reciprocate with the hon. Member for West Derby. I shall be willing to consider any suggestions about the improvement 1007 of procedures in my own profession. The public are increasingly aware of the faults. The general good will towards trade unionism is in danger of erosion, and in this country no institution can prosper in the long term except on the basis of good will.
There is an instinctive antipathy to any exercise of power without responsibility. The public apprehend such a situation in the trade unions today. They represent a twentieth century case of the over-mighty subject. The traditional practice of the British people is to bring over-mighty subjects, be they persons or institutions, within the law. The Master of the Rolls recently addressed the following words to the Attorney-General:Be you never so mighty, you are not above the law.The law operates traditionally to protect the individual citizen against the State and against those mighty elements within the State which might otherwise exercise power without responsibility or redress. The trade union movement is one such mighty element within the State—indeed, it is the main one. It is right therefore that we should review the law to see whether arrangements can be improved to bring increased protection to the individual and unorganised elements in society without prejudicing the proper functioning of trade unions or diminishing their usefulness.
The greater the power, the greater should be the accountability. This restraint in the exercise of power, which runs like a golden thread through British history, is epitomised in the words of the greatest Englishman. Some of his words gave the title to the Conservative lawyers' pamphlet. The words were put by Shakespeare into the mouth of Isabella in"Measure for Measure ". They were:Oh! it is excellentTo have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannousTo use it like a giant ".
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
I recollect being told by one of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleagues that he was also a poet when he was at Oxford.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
I do not think that I can aspire to that. The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) is always kind to me. He was kind enough 20 years ago, when he contested 1008 my constituency, not to take it away from me.
It is illuminating to consider the trend respectively of trade union and company legislation since 1871 when the original Act was passed. In that century there have been two sharply divergent trends—an interventionist trend in respect of companies and a relaxation of control in respect of trade unions. The internal conduct of companies increasingly is regulated by law. Their rules are subject to table A of the Companies Act. Active intervention is taking place now on insider dealings and other matters. There are many restraints on the internal conduct of companies. This is in the interests of consumers and is based on the philosophy of protecting individuals against powerful organisations. That trend is generally accepted.
But the position is wholly divergent for trade unions. In the century since 1871 there has been not an advance in intervention for the protection of individuals but a significant retreat. The trade unions now have freedom from control in their internal affairs, in stark and striking contrast to what obtains for companies. That is out of line with the broad philosophy of the age.
This dichotomic position, favouring the trade unions and exempting them from any control of their rules and internal conduct in the interests of democratic propriety and natural justice, was established in the 1976 amendment Act. This is curious. From the earliest days in the 1871 Act there was a statutory prescription in regard to trade union rules and their contents.
This was reviewed by the Donovan Commission. I pay tribute to Lord Donovan, who was a dear and valued friend, as a Member sitting on the Benches opposite in earlier days and as a member of my profession. The Commission found that the trade union rule books generally fell far short of satisfactory standards of clarity. In paragraph 649 it recommended that the requirements could and should be revised with a view to ensuring better safeguards for individual members.
The Commission made a particular recommendation on the disciplining of members in paragraph 651. That recommendation was enacted virtually ipsissimis 1009 verbis in section 6 of the 1974 Act, in subsections (11) and (13). Section 6(13) is of particular interest because it states:In making provision for any hearing or determination of any question, whether in relation to an alleged offence, appeal or dispute, the rules shall be so framed as not to depart from or permit any departure from the rules of natural justice.That excellent provision—put on the statute book by a Labour Government—safeguarding the rights of individual members of trade unions and natural justice, was repealed by section 1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976, as, indeed, was section 5, which provided for the rights of workers in regard to arbitrary or unreasonable expulsion or exclusion from trade unions. For good measure—or perhaps bad measure—section 1 also repealed the power of the Registrar of Friendly Societies to remove a trade union from the list on the ground thatits rules do not comply with the provisions of this Act ".In my view, these 1976 repeals were a retrograde step. It is of fundamental importance to restore a statutory provision as to union rules in order to safeguard the position of individual trade union members and to ensure that the citizen does not forfeit his rights as a citizen or the protection of natural justice when or because he joins a trade union.
A restoration of a rule making such provision would be a very simple statutory exercise. So would be an addendum to deal with the question of secret ballots before strikes. Again, this is an essential and obvious protection for the individual trade union member and for society at large.
After all, if the practice of parliamentary democracy requires a secret ballot in parliamentary elections to protect the citizen from possible interference, intimidation, victimisation or the like, surely the same should apply here. There would be no problem in drafting or giving effect to this desirable improvement. Section 6(1) of the 1974 Act said:The rules of every trade union and employers' association shall contain provisions in respect of the matters mentioned in the following subsections of this section ".There followed 13 subsections, of which the last three were additions following the Donovan report. All that is required, 1010 therefore, is the restoration of this section, plus a fourteenth subsection imposing a duty to include in trade union rules provision for a secret ballot prior to strike action.
These improvements are fundamental. They will obviously benefit individual members of trade unions. They will also benefit trade unions as a whole by helping to remove the odium which in this country always attaches to the exercise of arbitrary or irresponsible power. They are also of fundamental importance, in my view, in the context of the closed shop,
Today there is a mounting hostility against the closed shop and deep resentment about some of its workings. But what is not certain is that this hostility would extend to closed shop arrangements which safeguarded the rights of individual members in the way that I have proposed. The hostility is not so much to the concept of the closed shop as such. The hostility is to a position where a member can forfeit his union membership without the protection of natural justice and democratic procedures and thereby, because of the operation of the closed shop, lose his job and his right to work. That is what is resented—naturally, rightly, deeply and inevitably. But that is not to say—and here I do not go the whole way with my hon. Friend—that the advantages to collective bargaining of an improved, modified, system need necessarily be lost if the proper safeguards are introduced.
That was certainly the view taken by the Donovan Commission at paragraph 602, where it said:In our view prohibition of the closed shop must be rejected. It is better to recognise that under proper safeguards a closed shop can serve a useful purpose and to devise alternative means of overcoming the disadvantages which accompany it.That is the approach which I have suggested today. These safeguards are, I think, necessary and minimal, but they must be introduced speedily. Every week of delay strengthens the hostility to the closed shop concept and ensures that, if left unsafeguarded and unreformed, the electors will demand its total prohibition, because the temper of this people will not stand tyranny by whomever it is exercised.
My advice would be: do not at this moment get embroiled in the general argument about the closed shop as such. 1011 Let us have urgently these safeguards and reforms which can so readily be achieved, and see whether it is possible, with the aid of them, to retain a form of convenient and acceptable collective bargaining, freed from arbitrary procedures and denial of individual rights which characterise and disfigure it at this time.
I conclude with a word on picketing. There is no doubt that picketing has become liable to abuse and has, in the form of secondary picketing, departed from the contemplation of the original concept. I am awaiting from the Secretary of State an answer to a specific case which I have referred to him from my constituents in this regard.
The words which give rise to difficulty are the words in section 13 of the 1974 Act—In contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute "—as being necessary to establish exemption from liability in tort. Those words are, in fact, as old as the Trade Disputes Act 1906, and were authoritatively interpreted shortly afterwards by Lord of Appeal Lord Shaw in Conway v. Wade, in 1909 Appeal Cases. Recently they have been explained in the Court of Appeal in Beaverbrook Newspaper v. Keys and in the MacShane case, and at first instance by Mr. Justice Ackner in the United Biscuits case.
It is clear from these judgments that immunity depends on the question of remoteness. This is natural, since all liability in tort is subject to the test of remoteness. It would appear, therefore, that there should be reasonable protection against secondary picketing under the law as it stands, with the aid of proper judicial interpretations such as we have been having of the wordsfurtherance of a trade dispute ".Nevertheless, I think that what people as a whole want to see is a clear prohibition of secondary picketing so as not to put unoffending people, not parties to the dispute, at the mercy of flying pickets and the like. What is required, therefore, is a simple avoidance of doubt statutory provision so as to provide expressly that immunity be restricted to pickets who are parties to the dispute and premises which are in the ownership of parties to the dispute. Again, it would be 1012 a simple as well as a salutary statutory provision.
Progress on these lines in regard to picketing, in regard to secret ballots, and in regard to rules giving the protection of natural justice to the citizen, the union member, would not be inimical to trade union activity. On the contrary, it would be beneficial. It would lead to a greater acceptance of the great position of trade unions in society, to a diminution of the present resentment felt by the public, and to an easing of the task of those statesmanlike trade union leaders and representatives who seek to avoid counterproductive, irresponsible or arbitrary action and the abuse of trade union power for political ends.
To those who complain that a modest measure of reform, designed to promote democratic procedures and to control arbitrary or unjust action in the interests of the individual, would weaken trade unionism. I would say that an excision of some of their current powers and privileges would leave them a healthier organism.
If I may be permitted one more Shakespearian citation, I commend the exhortation of Hamlet to his mother when, on his rebuking her for her misdeeds, she said:Oh Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain ".He replied:O throw away the worser part of it,And live the purer with the other half.Queen Gertrude did not take Hamlet's wise advice and suffered in consequence for not doing so. I respectfully urge the trade unions and the Government to be wiser and to take the advice proffered while time still allows.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
I am glad to follow the contribution made by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). I knew that his contribution would be profound, because I recognise that over the years he has participated in the affairs of Conservative Members of the Inns of Court.
My ability to quote Shakespeare is tremendously limited. My wife had a better formal education than I did and is therefore better able to spot quotes from Shakespeare. However, I recall that in 1013 my maiden speech in the House I quoted from Shakespeare. I understand that it was from Shakespeare, but I have not since been able to locate where it occurs, despite research in the Library. It was to the effect:Take physic, pomp;Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel ".That passage was quoted by the late Lord Samuel at the time that a memorial bust to Keir Hardie—the first leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party—was being placed in the House of Commons.
My main criticism of the contribution of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) is that it was excessive and out of the world of the concrete reality of what is likely to occur and what is feasible in industrial relations in this country.
I bring to the debate a background of experience which I suggest is not to be sneezed at. I am carrying my fully paid-up membership card of the Transport and General Workers' Union. I am sponsored by the TGWU, but I was not a sponsored Member when I first came to the House. I was a member of the National Union of Railwaymen at that time. However, because I was not on the railway payroll, I was not eligible for sponsorship. One of my proudest recollections is that I was chosen to represent the constituency in which I was born in preference to the journalist aspirant, the legal aspirant and another aspirant sponsored by a trade union which regarded the seat as its own. Despite that, the local constituency Labour Party preferred me, though very narrowly. Otherwise, I should perhaps have been back in Hertfordshire, East. I think that I was en route to Harrow, East. I moved from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency to Hertfordshire, South-West with the disastrous result of a 10,000 Tory majority against me. I have now got it in reverse. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman were to contest Ealing, South-all against me at the election, I think that he would suffer a worse disaster than I suffered in Hertfordshire.
The hon. Member for Orpington appealed for a serious and rational debate. He said that he hoped we would approach the debate seriously and would accept everything he said as being sin- 1014 cerely meant. Reference has been made to the hon. Gentleman's character as a pleasant man. I have always found him to be pleasant, but even pleasant men do not always get things quite right.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has got things quite right today. His presentation of the motion was excessive and it is unlikely to succeed in the light of the discussion in Parliament on industrial relations. Because the motion is wide-ranging, it inevitably raises a whole host of questions. I should like to deal with some of them.
I was a London regional educational officer of the TUC and an organiser of the National Council of Labour Colleges for 10 years. The bulk of trade unions are affiliated to that organisation. When I went to the TUC I gained knowledge of industrial relations by participating in trade union summer schools at which I learned a great deal of what went on in all sections of industry, particularly in the minds of leading people in industry.
I have never been down a pit, but I learned a great deal about the coal mining industry from discussions with members of the National Union of Mineworkers who attended the summer schools. I learned about the great fraternity and family spirit of the coalfields through listening to them, although I often thought that, by and large, they did not know much about industry outside the coal mines.
We brought together within the fraternity of the trade union movement those who were likely to play leading roles in the years to come. Therefore, I think that I may say that I have a fairly broad understanding of the general tone of thinking at that level. It is that level—the leadership level—which counts. That is the level at which many men and women start to hold responsible positions within the movement.
Such knowledge is held in varying degrees by most, but not all, of my hon. Friends. Some of my hon. Friends are lawyers and are therefore not members of trade unions. Hovever, they are members of their own professional organisations within the legal framework. The legal profession is certainly a closed shop. As the right hon and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East generously said, many legal practices are open to serious question. I have had recent 1015 experience through constituents' complaints about the legal profession. However, I do not wish to labour that point today, because this is a proposition on the need to reform trade unions. In fact, it is not that proposition at all. It is a proposition to extend the law. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was much more on the beam in addressing his mind to the question of reforming trade unions than his hon. Friend the Member for Orpington, who had the good fortune, by the luck of the ballot, to introduce the motion.
We could not have a prepared speech for this debate, even from the Trades Union Congress, because we did not know exactly how the hon. Member for Orpington would present his case. However, I must say that we have anticipated him pretty well all the way along the line. Whether he wanted to be party to it or not, there is an orchestrated activity on the Opposition Benches. Every now and again we get a Ten Minute Bill popping up. Only the other day, the question of the political funds of trade unions and the manner in which they are collected was raised. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know that a great history is attached to this. The House firmly rejected the proposal that those funds should be disturbed in any way.
In the Conservative Government's Industrial Relations Act 1971—which I label for shorthand, the IRA—that proposition was not put forward. It was left to the Liberals to put forward a proposal, which did not go through, that the relationship of the political funds and the method of collecting them should be changed. Throughout history this has been a kind of shuttlecock. I do not think that the official Opposition seriously propose to disturb that arrangement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who successfully opposed the motion the other day, was not quite right. In fact, the political funds were built up out of legal necessity, not simply because the unions thought they would have to go off at a tangent into politics. It was the Osborne judgment of 1909, when a railway worker challenged the right of his union—the old 1016 Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, the forerunner of the National Union of Railwaymen, which started in 1913 to spend its funds to get the general secretary of the union into this place. That was the origin of the Osborne Act. Arising out of that, eventually, came the separation of expenditure and the necessity to create a special political fund. The usage of that fund is exceedingly limited.
The House should be reminded that many of the unions have political funds as required by law under the contracting-out procedure, which, after the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927, became a contracting-in procedure. Many Conservatves would like to turn the clock back. I do not think that most of the saner Opposition Members think that agitation along those lines is worth a candle because it might bring a reaction. Inevitably it raises the question of contributions to Conservative Party funds.
I feel justified in mentioning that because the hon. Member for Orpington treated us to a description of how the income of his own constituency Conservative Party was arrived at. He told us about rummage sales and so on. In"The Money Programme"on television recently we were given an insight into the considerable contributions made by the top companies to the funds of the Conservative Party.
I claim to be a very ardent Socialist and one who wishes to carry on with the class struggle and to resolve it. Long before the arrival of the Labour Party and the political development of the Labour movement, the trade unions were in being. There were craft organisations and then the general workers' organisations developed, of which my own union is an example. The unions, because of legal attacks on the trade union movement, were pushed towards the concept of independent Labour politics. That is the history.
Opposition Members who come to the House with proposals for not just minor legal changes but massive legal changes, such as we had in the 1971 Act, cannot shut their eyes to the message of history. I have described the main characteristic of the development of the British trade union movement and its alliance with the Labour Party. 1017 The essential and unique feature of the British Labour Party is that it is a trade union creation and is sustained substantially by the trade union movement. Not all the trade unions affiliated to the TUC are affiliated to the Labour Party, but it seems that all unions worthy of that name affiliate to the TUC. We had a recent breakthrough with the National Union of Teachers, which had previously not been involved in the main stream of the trade union movement for many years. The National Association of Local Government Officers, which caters for local government officers high and low, is a warm-hearted affiliate of the TUC.
Perhaps a Conservative Government will have to go about their task in a different way, should the unhappy day arrive when we return to a Conservative Government. But certainly the historical development of Britain shows that there will always be a special relationship between the trade union movement and a Labour Government, because the trade union movement is, by and large, led by Socialist thinkers who want not merely to keep the status quo but to change society. None of those thinkers—even members of the Communist Party—is advocating a violent overthrow of society as we know it. That is a piece of mythology inside the Tory Central Office. Everyone believes in the concept of peaceful change. Of course, some people want to make basic changes in society much more rapidly than others. I wish to see changes made more rapidly than some of my colleagues, and I shall continue to argue those matters.
Of course it is much better if trade union reform is obtainable—and it seems to be moving that way—through the trade union structure, which is homogeneous in an extraordinary way. The oldest trade union movement, based on the oldest trade union society, is not bedevilled, as in other Western European and competitive countries, by a Catholic, Communist or Socialist centre of trade union action. Here we have a ready-made instrument, if we know how to use it, but it will not be used by incursions of law.
All Labour Members have vivid memories of marching hour by hour through the Corridors of this place singing"The Red Flag"when we opposed every particle of the 1971 Act. The Tory Government brought trouble upon themselves 1018 because they would not bend to any amendments from the then official Opposition. They enshrined the closed shop in their legislation. I know that some hon. Members have arrived in the House since the 1971 Act. The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, knows that I have reminded him on more than one occasion that the 1971 Act accepted the closed shop. The Act also included what I think was an idiotic proposition—that if one did not wish to belong to a trade union one should contribute one's union dues to a charitable organisation. Can the Opposition give any examples of an individual who objected to belonging to a union paying the equivalent of his union contributions to a charitable organisation and thus avoiding being described by the other workers as a free rider?
I do not like the closed shop being imposed by management, but management will logically say"We do not want to have a lot of silly strikes just because there are a few free riders here. It is much better to have a closed shop agreement." A union-management closed shop agreement is often initiated by the management.
The newspaper industry has been to the fore in our thoughts recently. I do not say that management likes all aspects of the closed shop as it affects the industry, but generally it likes the idea because it would not want to have newspapers close down every few minutes because of one printer, one man in a shop that was otherwise thoroughly organised, might decide that he did not like the look of the father of the chapel and would no longer pay his trade union contributions, thus causing all the other workers to say that they would not tolerate a free rider who wanted to obtain everything he could from agreements with the employers negotiated by the union.
For these reasons, the closed shop par excellence is going ahead. This poses questions. The Opposition's grouse about these developments has a certain philosophical basis. The closed shop brings about a sense of responsibility. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East has said that employee participation enters upon what has been the exclusive role of the shareholders. We do not see strikes of directors, though they 1019 often fall out with one another, try to slit each other's throat, take each other to courts and so on. From time to time the newspapers give us an insight into what goes on.
There is talk of a handful of people running trade union affairs and there being no true democracy. That is underscored in the motion. In fact, we all know that companies are run by a relative handful of people. Most of the shareholders could be absent from the country. Much of the company edifice is not democratic. There are block shareholders.
Democratic principles have been enshrined in the trade union movement throughout its history. The movement has the one member, one vote principle. Equality of the sexes existed in the movement long before there was legislation on the matter. It was based on the idea of the rate for the job, irrespective of sex, or age for that matter. If a young man was doing what was recognised within a trade or occupation as an adult job, he had to be paid the rate for it.
A union would not earn respect within the TUC unless it was democratic. The TUC makes a clear distinction between free trade unionism and company sweetheart associations, which are not free to bargain seriously with employers in the collective bargaining sense. The TUC also draws a distinction between free trade unionism and trade unions in other lands that are excessively geared to the State machine. I think that that is the correct balance.
If I complain about the motion and the arguments of the hon. Member for Orpington, it is because he has gone too far. As he made his speech, it was clear to Labour Members that he had not been involved in the trade union movement. If he had, he would not have made the silly mistakes that he did.
The hon. Gentleman's broad proposals do not fit in with the current thinking of the Opposition's spokesman on employment matters, the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I hope that there will not be a Conservative Government or a Conservative-led House of Commons after the next election. Many of the recent upheavals will be seen as mere skirmishes if one wing of the Conservative Party 1020 gains control to the extent of involving the law excessively in trade union-employer relationships. If it does that, it will have learnt no lessons from the 1971 Act.
From having free arrangements and free associations in Britain, we leapt to having the most oppressive legal system imaginable. The right hon. Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), then Solicitor-General and now Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, was the main architect of that repressive legislation. I do not say that he was insincere, but because of his lack of experience in industrial relations he thought that he could wrap the matter up nicely within the concept of legal interference. He could not, as was later proved.
The hon. Member for Orpington told us how nice Sidney Weighell of the National Union of Railwaymen, Tom Jackson and other trade union leaders are compared with some of their colleagues. But a feature of the 1971 Act was that it was opposed by the whole trade union movement. The then Prime Minister understood that his right hon. and learned Friend handling the Bill had gone too far. We now belatedly learn that the then Secretary of State for Employment, now Lord Carr, is supposed to have said that. During the passage of that Act we tried to show the concrete realities. We pointed out that if the law made it hard for workers to strike, other means of obstruction, of fighting the employer, would develop.
I should like to dwell on the fetish of the compulsory ballot. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) pointed out, ballots have been traditional in the coalfields and other sections of industry. Elsewhere they have not been traditional. I wonder whether hon. Members who make a fetish of the compulsory ballot realise that there is also a role for leadership.
The trouble with the Tories is that they think of a bunch of woolly-headed militants calling the workers out at the slightest provocation, with gay abandon. They think that the workers all come out like a lot of sheep. That is not so. There is always a build-up to an industrial dispute. We have traditions of plant bargaining and plant disputes, with the democratic indication being given in the factory yard.
1021 No doubt a Tory Government would bring in a law to govern these matters, but have they considered the practicalities? If not, they should have a word with those who are in industrial management. What will happen if a union has to operate a ballot before it can call a strike? In the first place it will take a long time to organise because one will not be balloting merely the members who attend one meeting. I gather that the Tories would like postal ballots, or even a process that would involve knocking on people's doors—which is not a desirable practice.
The Conservative Party has not worked out the machinery to be used in ballots. It has certainly not considered the realities of the situation. One would have to leave it to the workers to determine whether a ballot was desirable. Sometimes a ballot is desirable, but at other times it is not. Let us remember what happened in 1971 when the railway workers were in dispute. The then Secretary of State for Employment ordered a ballot under the Industrial Relations Act. What happened? Many railway workers, who had been only lukewarm to the idea of taking industrial action, changed their view when their union was ordered to conduct a ballot. They felt that the integrity of their union was at stake, especially when that attack came from a Tory Government, and they rallied to the support of the union to sustain an industrial dispute on which initially many had not been too keen.
Most Conservative Members who are present at this debate are legal theoreticians. It is a pity that we do not have more participation in our debates by those who are involved in industry on the management side, because they are the people who have to deal with the concrete reality of industrial relations.
I wish to allow other hon. Members to contribute to the debate, so I shall conclude my remarks. I shall not go into the ways in which the Conservative Party obtains its funds, but I wish to correct the hon. Member for Orpington on who brought down the Conservative Government in 1974.
§ Mr. Bidwell:
It is not correct to say that the miners or the trade union move- 1022 ment brought down that Government. It was the public who led to the downfall of that Government. There was a natural swell of sympathy for the miners, who were regarded as a special case. They were regarded as an integral part of the British economy and had to be paid the rate for the job. That is particularly the case when a nation's fuel supplies are threatened from outside its own shores.
No doubt the Tory contributors to this debate believe that some mileage is to be gained from this motion in influencing the electorate. I do not think that is correct. When the industrial upheaval subsides and when the new-found relationship between the Government and the trade union movement is firmly anchored, it will be seen by the electorate that a Labour Government are much more likely to look to matters that need to be changed I refer to the reorganisation of the trade union movement, including possibly fewer unions—and, indeed, the trade union movement has been advancing towards that view for some time.
In our mature society we need co-operation between workers and employers, and we require massive investment in industry. We also need to shed the heavy weight of our defence burden—a burden out of all proportion to our industrial capabilities. We shall achieve these objectives only through good relationships between the trade unions and the Labour Government. This motion demonstrates that this country will never achieve such a relationship with a Tory Government, who will be influenced by so many Tory backwoodsmen.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) will forgive me if I do not refer to all the points he made in his speech. However, I shall pick up some of those points as I go along.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on choosing this interesting topic for debate. However, I sympathise with the Minister of State, Department of Employment, who must have spent many hours listening to debates on industrial relations.
It has become a habit for hon. Members at the outset of their remarks to state 1023 their credentials. For the last 25 years, with one short interregnum, I have been a member of the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union, and subsequently of its successor APEX. Mention has been made of the"brother and sister"attitude in the unions and the sense of"family ". The reason why I resigned from the Clerical and Administrative Workers' Union was that I was the only Member of Parliament not invited to that union's celebration party when the Labour Government marked their victory in 1964. I feel that I should have been invited, even if eventually I had decided to refuse.
The House might also like to know that for the last 30 years I have been engaged in the same firm in the manufacturing industry dealing with the problems that arise in the plastics and rubber industry.
Where do the seats of power and the strengths of the trade unions lie? I believe that the strength lies in the basic, instinctive, and sometimes blind, loyalty of members to their unions. However, the greatest weakness is the failure of so many trade union members to participate in union activities.
Where does the power lie? Does it reside with the general secretary? I do not think that that is the case. General secretaries offer the view that they are merely used as postmen or co-ordinators of views. Does the power lie with the TUC? Again, the answer is in the negative. Mr. Murray has said time and again that power does not reside in his hands, although he may have a little influence here and there. Does it lie with the national executives of the unions? It is sometimes with the shop stewards, or, as the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) said, power is now on the shop floor. Alternatively, is it with the individuals at any particular moment? I hope that Labour Members will not consider me unduly cynical or offensive, but, thinking it over in the past few days, I have come to the view that trade union power lies with whichever group inside the movement is currently the most militant. I may be wrong, in which case I shall be corrected later, but I believe that it is militancy that demonstrates power in the trade union movement.
1024 Many people object to the politicisation of the trade union movement. The hon. Member for Southall was proud of the affiliations of certain unions to the Labour Party through the TUC. But the great weakness in the increasingly intelligent electorate in the country and membership of trade unions is their view that the trade union movement has to be dominated, as it so patently is at present, by members of the Labour Party. A movement has already started where people are offended by that. They feel a great sense of frustration, if they are not Labour supporters, at the obvious Labour inclination of the trade unions that they support. The sponsorship by trade unions of Members of Parliament has been mentioned. Members sponsored by trade unions are not desirable, but Ministers sponsored by trade unions are unacceptable. When an hon. Member becomes a Minister he resigns his business activities, and he should also instantly resign from his trade union affiliation. That is the first reform that I proposed.
There is a growing frustration and impatience in the trade union movement with the activities of some of the union leaders, who are often far more militant than the members and do not always express the views of their membership. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) was right that members should take more interest. The movement towards moderation in trade union activity has been spearheaded by Conservative trade unionists. Over the past two or three years they have again and again had the courage to go to meetings and stand up for what they believe, and Labour Members will understand that that is necessary when confronted by extremists. It is significant and important that the Trades Union Congress is taking a more positive interest in the activities of Conservative trade unionists in discussions and correspondence. That is healthy. Conservatives are as much trade unionists as are members of the Labour Party and others. Opinion is starting to rally to the Conservatives, the many moderates in the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and others who may be political agnostics.
I should like to see a reform of the political levy. Although it is not part of the policy of the Conservative Party, 1025 when we are returned not later than 7 November, the time has come to change the practice of contracting out to contracting in. The political funds built up should be distributed by an annual decision by the branch or individuals concerned as to which recognised political party they should go to.
As I wish to give other hon. Members the opportunity to participate in the debate, I shall not enlarge, embroider or explain in detail. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) made a characteristically urbane, brilliant but frighteningly clear speech. He said that, although the closed shop is an affront to fairness, it is irrelevant to try to introduce legislation to abolish it. But personal safeguards must be introduced for individuals threatened by the closed shop and the Conservatives in many instances have pledged to do that.
Hon. Members opposite may not have heard so much of these discussions as we have in the Conservative Party. First, we want to see a ballot with an overwhelming majority in favour before a closed shop is introduced. Secondly, in firms where that closed shop agreement is voluntarily made between the employer and the unions, employees must be protected so that if they do not wish to join they cannot be compelled to do so. Thirdly, there must be appeals to the court against expulsion or dismissal, with possible damages against the union or the employer. Fourthly, there must be an annual or periodic review of the existence of the closed shop. Fifthly, those with deep personal convictions other than religious ones should not be required to join.
The hon. Member for Southall did not know of any examples of a closed shop being, so to speak, opened. But not far from here the Greater London Council with the agreement of six or seven unions has opened the closed shop. Those who do not wish to become a member of the union can and shall make a payment to a nominated charity.
Conservative trade unionists are a growing body in influence and prestige, and they have put forward a five-point industrial relations programme. First, there should be secret ballots in union affairs, and that has been carefully thought out by practical and experienced 1026 men. Secondly, there should be an end to secondary picketing. Thirdly, there should be more employee participation. As an employer, one is critical of the failure of so many employers to give a lead in participation. Fourthly, there should be a reduction in direct taxation so that work can again be made worth while. I was amused the other day to hear it said"If I earn more than someone else, it is a differential. If someone earns more than me, it is an anomaly."
Fifthly, there must be an attack on unemployment. The attack on unemployment will succeed only if we create more new jobs. This is a vital opportunity for the creation of new work in new fields. It can be done. It was done and will be done again by the Conservative Government. Between 1952 and 1956 the Conservatives created 1 million new jobs in the private sector. Between 1959 and 1964 and then again between 1971 and 1974, we averaged 23,000 new jobs a month in the private sector. This is the way to increase opportunities for young people.
Like many Members of the House, I have had the opportunity to attend meetings at St. George's House, Windsor Casle, where subjects such as power and responsibility in our society have been discussed. These meetings provide a remarkable opportunity and do a successful job in bringing together the law and trade unions and other people who are supposed to hold differing views. These views can be reconciled in calm surroundings.
One of the first htings I heard at one of these meetings was an expression of sadness about the low status of manufacturing industry in our national life, compared with its status in other countries. Brighter young people in schools and universities are advised to go into professions such as teaching, research and commerce. When there is a good harvest people are happy for the farmers, but when industry is successful there is a feeling that profits are too high or that capitalism is unacceptable.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, we must have a psychological revolution. We do not need a new industrial revolution. I pray that the psychological revolution will be 1027 introduced soon after the new Conservative Government come to power.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby)
I join with the many hon. Members who have paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) for introducing this debate. As the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) said, it has been an important debate, and this is reflected in the cool approach adopted on both sides of the House. There has been a real shift of opinion on these matters. That shift has obviously gathered momentum in recent weeks, but it has been developing over the past few years.
Our discussions have centred on the extent to which it is appropriate for the Government and Parliament, by legislation, to intervene in or affect the conduct of trade unions, both internally and externally. We have had a number of analogies used today. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) used the analogy of the family. He said that the family was able to look after itself and should not be interfered with by outsiders. However, as has since been pointed out by other hon. Members, the family is not allowed totally to deal with its own affairs. There are interventions. A truer analogy was that put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who contrasted the increasing freedom of action of the trade unions with the increasing degree of intervention in the operation of companies.
The hon. Member for Southall talked about excessive involvement of the law. However, the interesting thing is that the Prime Minister himself pointed out earlier this year that the Labour Government had introduced as much, if not more, legislation on this subject as previous Conservative Governments. In fact, the only difference has been the direction in which the legislation has been tilted. There is a very wide degree of support in the country at large for further changes.
A recent ballot showed that 91 per cent. of the trade unionists who took part agreed that strikes should not be called until there was a postal vote of members. In the same survey 80 per cent. approved of a banning of secondary picketing; 76 1028 per cent. thought that there should be a limit on the number of pickets allowed at any location; and 57 per cent. thought that the right to strike should be removed from certain key industries in return for guaranteed wage increases. Thus, there has been a shift in public opinion, and by far the most nationally significant feature of this shift is the recognition of the need for change by the Trades Union Congress itself.
Earlier this year we saw an extremely significant development when a rash of industrial disputes took us to the brink of chaos and anarchy. At that point the trade union movement itself shrunk from the abyss. It was rightly terrified of the way things were going and saw the need for action in a whole range of areas where previously it had been reluctant to act. As a result we had the famous concordat between the Government and the TUC. We have rightly criticised that document as amounting to no more than a set of aspirations recorded on paper rather than a series of actions which would actually lead to change in the life of the nation.
However great our criticisms of that document as a response to the crisis, it is nevertheless a step forward in the sense that at least it represents an agenda for reform. When we have the trade union movement and the Government accepting the need to set out an agenda for reform, we can take gratification from the fact that the arguments that we in the Conservative Party have been putting forward for so long are securing important and widespread general acceptance.
If one looks at the range of points mentioned in the concordat, one sees that it is not just an agenda for reform, but a formidable one. I do not accept that this amounts to reform itself. Nor do I accept that the points in it are sufficient to deal with our present problems. But the problems are mentioned—the need for the dependability of agreements freely entered into; the need for adequate procedure agreements; the need to avoid inter-union disputes. Those are all vitally important. The special needs of key industries are also to be found in the concordat.
We are told that the TUC accepts the vital necessity of maintaining supplies and services that are essential to the health 1029 and safety of the community. One practical aspect of that is the difficulty facing groups of workers in deciding how far to press their claim by industrial action where that could directly affect public health and safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington referred to that point. The concordat is a little coy in the terms of reference but at least there is recognition of the problem.
The subject of secondary picketing and the general conduct of picketing is included:Unions should in general, and save in exceptional circumstances, confine picketing to premises of the parties to the dispute or the premises of suppliers and customers of those parties.I am deeply unhappy with the formulation, but at least it recognises that picketing should be regulated to some extent.
The document contains a clear recommendation that union rules should provide for strike ballots. Again, the detailed language is a little coy about the closed shop, but the document is driven to state that there are aspects of the application of the closed shop principles that have caused concern. That is a masterly understatement, but it is important for its inclusion in the first place.
What is the approach of the Conservative Party? There has been a massive change in public opinion towards the case that has been patently and consistently put forward by the Conservative Party—assisted by, among others, the Conservative trade unionists to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) has rightly drawn attention. As an incoming Government, we shall have to take action. It is important that we should apply a clear set of principles and not just seek to hit out in all directions in an attempt to solve the problem. Some of the principles will inevitably and necessarily involve legislation. Other principles can be interpreted and given form in a variety of ways and to a greater or lesser extent.
The right way to proceed is to make clear the principles and priorities and then to arrange the fullest possible consultations with all parties involved as to the extent and manner in which to proceed. The consultations will be not a substitute for firm and effective action but a necessary prelude. If the TUC feels that 1030 some of the areas of concern that have been mentioned in the debate can be adequately dealt with by its own action, we as an incoming Government will be more than interested to see its proposals for handling the matter and for any legislation.
There are four principles that should underlie the approach that we bring to these matters: first, to handle the abuses of power that have arisen as a result of the present state of the law; secondly, to provide adequate protection for the rights of the individual; thirdly, to further and encourage in every possible way democracy in the trade union movement to the fullest extent; and, fourthly, to encourage and assist the trade unions to assume responsibility for the actions that they take industrially.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
My hon. and learned Friend has stated lucidly and clearly the four principles that he is putting forward. Surely the prologue, before those principles are initiated, must be to ask the trade unions to justify the legal immunities which have been enshrined in the law and to say whether they are in accordance with modern needs. Surely that must be the condition precedent before it is considered whether there has been an abuse of such power.
§ Mr. Brittan
The first of the principles which I enunciated—to consider whether there have been abuses of power—involves asking that question. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington said, that there have been extraordinary legal privileges extended to the trade union movement of a character not extended to any other body in our society. The desirability or otherwise of retaining to the full extent the privileges which were earlier introduced can be questioned but, without doubt, the extension of those privileges and immunities in 1976 by the present Government is well nigh indefensible.
The only reason why the 1976 Act was passed was a stubborn and obstinate insistence to extend the law in the widest possible way to deal with every conceivable action that a trade union could take and give immunity to it. It is ironic but just that the Labour Government have reaped the harvest of that legislative error. As a result, they have been faced with secondary picketing on a massive 1031 scale which has caused great disruption to the country and—of infinitely lesser importance—immense damage to the prestige of the Labour Government.
That sort of secondary picketing should and must be regulated. The Conservative Party is open to suggestions from the TUC or the Government as to how that should be done. The extension of immunity for introducing breaches of all kinds of contract, rather than only contracts of employment, is the principal feature of the 1976 Act. That cannot withstand scrutiny.
I accept what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East has said about where picketing should be allowed to take place and who should be allowed to engage in it. The definition of a trade dispute was also extended by the Government in each of these areas. Power has been extended further and further at precisely the moment when it was clear, beyond all else, that what the trade unions were not short of was the power and privileges to secure their ends.
One of the most notorious examples of the operation of trade union power is that of SLADE, to which reference was made in a debate last week. The practice of SLADE was not to recruit members from among the work force but to go to the employer and say"It it true that we have not got one member here, but unless you institute a SLADE closed shop and make all your employees members of SLADE your products will be ' blacked ' throughout the industry."
Last week, and on previous occasions, the Minister indicated his disquiet and displeasure at such conduct. The Minister had undertaken to examine the matter and last week he said that the union had not been insensitive to the complaints, but it could not do much about it because there was a proposed merger with the National Graphical Association. The Minister said that, as that possibility was out of the way, Mr. Jackson and his colleagues weredeveloping an approach to the union's positive objectives in a manner that should avoid the complaints that have been made.I urge the Minister to be more specific. What did he mean by the wordsdeveloping an approach to the union's positive objectives "?1032 What is SLADE doing to stop the wholly indefensible practices that have been condemned on both sides of the House? The Minister cannot accept such a statement. If he has been given something more specific, we should like him to tell the House, and if he has not had anything more specific what does he intend to do? The Minister said that Mr. Jacksonhas made it plain to me that he is anxious to achieve this "—that is, the union's positive objective—without returning to the conflict experienced in 1976."—[Official Report, 8 March 1979; Vol. 963, c. 1617.]The time for statements of that generality is long since over and the time for action by SLADE and report on that action by the Minister has long since arrived. The Minister cannot be surprised that the House should show its concern about the abuse of trade union power and the extent of privileges when that sort of action is taking place.
The second principle to which I referred was protection of the individual, and it is largely in the area of closed shops that action is required. Our concerns have been succinctly set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West. There is no need to repeat them at length, but the crucial aspect is that if someone is thrown out of a union or not admitted, and there is no good reason for that, it is intolerable that he should not have a right of appeal to an independent court of law. Greatly as we are interested in the observations of Lord Wedderburn, a committee chaired by him is not a substitute for a court of law and cannot be seen to be an adequate substitute.
It is also intolerable that those with objections on grounds of conscience should be required to join a trade union and that a long-serving employee working for British Rail or any other concern should be compelled to join a trade union when a closed shop agreement is entered into. We are committed to preventing that from happening in future, and any suggestion that that is unreasonable is not capable of sustained defence.
Indeed, it will be necessary to go further and to repeal section 58 of the Employment Protection (Amendment) Act so that anyone who has been dismissed as the result of a closed shop would at least have the right to take his case before 1033 an industrial tribunal and seek, if not his job back, at least compensation.
The third principle to which I referred was democracy. No one suggests that trade unions are undemocratic organisations. No such wild allegation has been made, but I suggest that there is ample room for extending a greater measure of democracy at all levels in trade unions, whether in relation to the election of officers or decisions about strike ballots. After all, one of the recommendations in the concordat between the Government and the TUC calls for strike ballots.
Let us look at the facts of trade union elections. Clive Jenkins of ASTMS, Geoffrey Drain of NALGO, Alan Fisher of NUPE, Bill Sirs of ISTC and Lord Allen of USDAW were all appointed by the national executive committee of their unions. David Basnett of the GMWU and Tom Jackson of the postal workers' union were elected by the unsatisfactory system of the block vote. Jim Slater and Moss Evans were elected by shows of hands on ballot at branch level. Only Frank Chapple and Terry Duffy of the major unions were elected by a postal ballot.
Support for the postal ballot by a Government is an entirely reasonable measure to ask for and to provide. It is not an attack on the trade union movement. Some of the most distinguished trade union leaders do not regard it as such. Bill Sirs has been quoted as saying that he does not think that secret ballots should be compulsory but that he supports the proposition that the State might contribute towards holding ballots. He says that an organisation such as the TUC should be the body responsible for conducting them at the behest of individual unions. Terry Duffy has said:The thread through the cloth of democracy is to have a strong union movement and I see no reason why we should not receive state aid.Even the Prime Minister has said that he would listen if the TUC approached him on the matter. However, that is too coy an attitude.
It is not exactly a draconian piece of governmental intervention to say that, faced with that degree of support, the next Conservative Government will introduce legislation to provide financial assistance for trade unions that wish to hold postal ballots. The only respectable objection to 1034 such ballots is their cost, and the comparatively low cost of giving that assistance would be a small price to pay for adding greater democracy to the conduct of trade union affairs.
The fourth principle to which I referred was increasing responsibility. Of course, trade unions should have the right to call their members out on strike. No one seeks to challenge or dispute that as a general principle. However, in a modern society, in which all our interests are so interrelated, a union has immense power when it calls a strike and it is right that it should show responsibility in calling for strikes or other forms of industrial action.
It is not unreasonable to say that if a union calls a strike it should accept the financial responsibility for doing so. If I were a trade unionist, I should be ashamed of the State having to support either my fellow members or their families. That ought not to be a State responsibility. It ought to be the responsibility of the trade union movement.
We are talking not about authorised bodies with no funds but about bodies that are often extremely well endowed. It will not do to say that they are not all well off because many of the wealthiest trade unions, which have substantial funds, have not provided adequate strike pay because they know that their members can call on the State for assistance. That is an abdication of the responsibility which should be accepted by the trade union movement.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the miners to have postal ballots? Does he not know that the vote in many postal ballots does not reach 40 per cent. yet miners average 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. in pit ballots?
§ Mr. Brittan
The hon. Gentleman will have noted that I have made no criticism of the democratic procedures of the NUM. There are many other things that one could say about the union, but I have not criticised its democratic procedures.
It is reasonable for unions to assume the financial responsibility for their actions, and it is also reasonable that if members of a trade union, plainly acting on behalf of the trade union, break the 1035 law by, for example, engaging in unlawful secondary picketing, the trade union should be responsible for their actions and the union's funds should be at risk. That is a reasonable limitation. Without it, there is no protection against maverick power being exercised to the detriment of literally millions of people. As a society we cannot accept that.
If we operate on the basis of the four principles which I have suggested, if we legislate where legislation is necessary, and if we consult about the form that legislation should take when it is not possible for the trade union movement to repair the ills of its own accord, I believe that we shall be taking a great step forward. A little humility is called for. I am not saying that all that happened in 1971 was right; but I hope that we shall perhaps see a similar recognition from the Government Benches that all that happened in 1976 was not right either.
If we proceed in the way that I have described, we shall not solve all our grave industrial and economic problems, but I believe that unless we proceed on those lines we shall not begin to solve them.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
I fear that we have discussed these matters recently perhaps too often, but I am glad to be able to discuss these very serious issues covered by the motion in the more relaxed atmosphere that we have on a Friday than might obtain on other days of the week.
Although I may not have agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said, I join the general tribute to the way in which he presented his arguments.
I intend, first, to make a general observation about my own approach to the role of the law in industrial relations. I must also comment on one or two of the specific matters raised in the debate, but I hope that I shall be excused if, out of deference to those hon. Members still waiting to speak, I do not try to comment on them all. Then perhaps I may be allowed to comment generally on the terms and tenor of the motion.
1036 I deal first, then, with the role of the law in industrial relations. It is true that some people on both sides of industry want nothing more of the law in these matters than that it should leave them alone or that its intervention should at most be minimal. I do not share that view. Even if we wanted to keep out the law, it is there as a matter of fact because the courts have established the law and Parliament has had to introduce legislation if only to offset some of the judgments made in the courts. The law is there as an established fact. The more relevant and appropriate question to which we should address ourselves concerns the kind of law that it is.
If we start from the proposition that the primary objective of statute law introduced by Parliament ought to be at least to mitigate and minimise the damage done by bad industrial relations, the kind of law that we have learned not to have is the kind of law which was introduced in 1971. There is wide acceptance that in many ways it prejudiced the atmosphere in which industrial relations were conducted and that the way in which it led directly to industrial conflict did not encourage improved industrial relations.
The kind of law that is based on the assumption that trade union power in industrial relations has grown excessively and therefore should be curbed and that the law should be used as an instrument to curb it adopts the false approach which underlay the introduction of the 1971 legislation.
I accept the view of those who say that there has been a shift of power in industry and that in some cases that new power is used irresponsibly. However, in my view, rather than seek to curtail the power, we should be attempting to link with it the responsibility which often is not present. We ought to take such further steps as are available to us to ensure that power is more closely allied to a responsibility which often is not exercised.
It is for that reason that I was glad to hear reference made to employee participation. In our proposals for employee participation, there is a general acceptance that there is common ground between the two sides of the House. That is why I am anxious to see employee participation developed in a way which links responsibility through involvement in 1037 decision making with the exercise of power.
The kind of law that I want to see is one which reflects an understanding of the underlying causes of industrial relations disorder and, where it can, seeks to strengthen those who seek to play a more constructive role in industrial relations. In short, a beneficial role for the law is one which I want to see developed. That was the philosophy which underlay the Employment Protection Act 1975 and to some extent the 1976 Act, too. Both Acts reflected many of the recommendations of the Donovan Commission which had carried out a more thorough diagnosis of our industrial relations ills than we had had for 100 years and had made a constructive prescription. The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) criticised the extension of the immunity for trade unions embodied in the 1976 Act. However, it was a very firm Donovan proposal.
I turn to one or two of the specific matters raised in the debate. I was chided about the limitations of my statement about SLADE in our debate last week. I mentioned in that debate that I had had meetings with Mr. Jackson, the general secretary of the society. I have had a further meeting with him since. I repeat that the union has not been insensitive to the criticisms levelled at it and at its tactics, and Mr. Jackson has given me a copy of an article which will appear in the union's journal this week.
That article reads as follows:There are a number of problems inherent in the present system which have arisen. Firms are included on the Fair List which are not really ' fair ' in ordinary SLADE terms, either because they are not wholly SLADE organised, do not have a proper Chapel organisation, or they do not recognise and operate appropriate Agreement terms of employment. Some with SAU members increasingly do work which is properly the work of other SLADE sections, and the existing labelling system sometimes confuses proper SLADE organisation.There is also evidence that the blanket compulsion imposed upon people by the labelling system produces a resentment which is not helpful to good and solid TU organisation. We are therefore discontinuing our participation in the present joint trade list and labelling system. We are, of course, maintaining the closest possible co-operation and liaison with our colleagues of the NGA and discussions with them arising from the SLADE decision are continuing. We are also maintaining and progressing SLADE organisation in Studios and Agencies.1038In the meantime, and pending further advice, no further labels should be issued; members, chapels and firms are advised they should ensure that in the absence of a label the full name and address of their firm should be attached to any work they produce so that its origin can be checked in case of query; and members and chapels receiving work of doubtful TU origin should check and report to their Branch Secretary so that appropriate inquiries can be made; in the meantime and pending these inquiries such work should continue to be handled and produced.I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept, as I do, that although it may not go so far as he and his hon. Friends would like, that statement marks a significant shift in the union's attitude and policy, and it is one which, I believe, fairly reflects the kind of criticism and comment which has been made in the House and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Brittan
The Minister will recall that one of the major criticisms of SLADE is that it has sought to establish a closed shop in a situation in which it does not actually have members of the union at the place of employment. Will he agree that what he has just read out does not bite on that, and may we know what steps he is taking to get an undertaking from SLADE that action of that sort will cease?
§ Mr. Walker
The statement does not mean that. It does not mean that SLADE will not seek to recruit in studios, and neither does it mean that SLADE will not seek to establish closed shops. What it means is that the method by which it sought closed shops in the sort of situation to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers—the tactics which it has used in such circumstances—will be dropped. As SLADE recognises fairly in its statement, that does not lead to good solid trade union organisation, and it recognises that the further development of union membership, with growth by recruitment, and the establishment of closed shops must rest on the argument for trade unionism and union participation.
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will read the statement. If he requires any further assurance, Mr. Jackson will, I believe, be quite happy to give it to him. I believe that he will find that that is what it means.
I take up the point twice made about the Trade Union Act 1913, which made 1039 provision for the establishment of a separate political fund where a union sought it. I think that there is some misunderstanding here. Until the 1913 Act, a trade union was able to spend its general funds on whatever objectives it thought appropriate, including political objectives. A trade union, obviously, can legitimately have political interests and objectives quite apart from its wish to spend money directly on such purposes as sponsoring Members of Parliament, municipal councillors and others. Obviously—this was clearly the case in 1971—trade unions have a direct interest in legislation before Parliament.
It would be monstrous to say that a trade union should not spend any money at all on defending its legitimate interests in those fields. But the 1913 Act sought to do just that. It was a restrictive measure which provided that a trade union could spend on political purposes only moneys specifically subscribed for political purposes.
But neither the Act nor, to the best of my knowledge, any trade union rules—this certainly applies to the great majority of trade unions—laid down that the money must be spent on the Labour Party as such and it would be equally misleading to believe, as some hon. Members opposite do, that somehow all the money paid into the political fund accrues, either directly or indirectly, to the Labour Party. That is not so. Money from the political fund is spent by the the trade unions on all kinds of educational activity, political education, and so on.
It is perfectly legitimate for us on these Government Benches to do as we have sought to do recently—that is, to draw attention to the present inequity as between the two sides of industry, the trade unions and the employers. The employers are not subject to any such restriction. I shall not rehearse the argument delivered far more ably than I could do by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) a few days ago, but I remind the House that the Conservative Party thinks that there should be restrictions on trade union expenditure on political objectives, but it does not seek to lay the same restrictions or obligations on companies to have a political fund and spend on political 1040 objectives only such moneys as have been specifically subscribed by shareholders for political purposes.
Apparently, the Opposition believe that companies should be free to spend money as they wish on political objectives—presumably, only so long as those are political objectives in which they have a common interest.
I turn now to the question of the closed shop, and, since we have discussed it so often, I shall deal with it briefly. I understand, of course, many of the criticisms made about the closed shop. From time to time when we have debated these matters in the House I have expressed my own concern that where a closed shop is established or practised this should be done in a flexible and tolerant manner, as has been the long-standing tradition in the past.
I have to repeat again that, essentially, in what we did in fulfilling our commitment to repeal the Industrial Relations Act—our oft-proclaimed commitment stated in manifestos—we put the law back to what it had been for many years. We did not introduce any significant change in the law that encouraged closed shops.
§ Mr. Brittan
On reflection, does the Minister agree that that is a misleading statement? The 1971 provisions on unfair dismissal were not repealed. By specifically providing that it was fair to dismiss an employee because he would not join a union, the Government were introducing something that did not exist prior to 1970. That could not have existed because there were no unfair dismissal provisions. Therefore, to put the matter in the way chosen by the hon. Gentleman is seriously to mislead the House.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not accept that charge. I said that there have been no significant changes in the law. I readily accept that there was the change to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, but I doubt whether that was significant. The remedy created by the 1971 Act against unfair dismissal did not exist prior to that Act. However, the law had a relevance to the closed shop prior to the 1971 Act. The Government have said that they wish to be and are neutral on the closed shop.
Why did we take the attitude that was taken about the unfair dismissal provisions and allow that there should be fair 1041 dismissal on the ground that a person refused to join a trade union when a union membership agreement or closed shop existed? The Government wished to preserve their neutrality because to do otherwise would enable the person thus dismissed to go before a tribunal on the ground of unfair dismissal. That would have put the employer in an intolerable position. He would have been trapped between the law and the agreement into which he had entered voluntarily. Secondly, it would have acted as a positive disincentive for any employer to enter into a closed shop agreement. To that extent we would have been creating a statutory position where the obligation on the employer would have deterred him from entering into a closed shop agreement.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Does my hon. Friend agree that it needs to be spelt out to the public as a whole that closed shop agreements are often preferred by managements to the prospect of workers fighting every other day for 100 per cent. trade unionism against the free rider?
§ Mr. Walker
I had intended to turn to another topic in deference to those who wish to contribute to the debate. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) prompts me to make a point that otherwise I would not have made. I draw to the attention of the House the interesting research that has been carried out by the Social Science Research Council's industrial relations research unit at Warwick university. An interesting article appeared in New Society of 15 February. Part of the article stated:There are more positive reasons why employers have been willing to conclude closed shop agreements. The survey found that almost three-quarters of the employers interviewed saw advantages in the closed shop.The author of the article, writing on behalf of the Social Science Research Council, concluded as follows:any future legal assault on the closed shop will prove even more a fiasco than before.I did not want to rake over the old embers of the Industrial Relations Act. Surely the Opposition should have learnt by now from their experience of that Act, but apparently they have not. The available research shows that the closed shop flourished despite what the hon. 1042 Member for Orpington wants and which was embodied in the 1971 Act—namely, the statutory right to join or not to join a trade union. In spite of that provision in the 1971 Act, there were still disputes about enforcing closed shop agreements that proved unamenable to the law.
I turn my attention to compulsory ballots. I am sponsored by the AEUW. My union elects not only its general secretary and president through postal ballots but every full-time officer. I do not object to postal ballots. I see nothing wrong with them. I see nothing wrong with having ballots about strikes. However, is it right to impose such ballots by law?
Under the Industrial Relations Act the compulsory strike ballot proved to be counter-productive. One could ask whether a compulsory ballot should be taken before strikers return to work. Who will determine which question is posed in the ballot? That is important. Any astute trade union leader worth his salt could frame the question in such a way as to obtain the answer that he wanted, as do the small business businesses bureau and other organisations which carry out ballots.
The solidarity of the trade union movement is such that a resounding"Yes"would result if the general secretary or executive council asked members"Do you support your executive council in any action that they deem to be appropriate in support of our claim? "
What do we do about lock-outs? Should there be a ballot about a lockout? The Times is not being published because of a lock-out, not because of a strike. I do not know who would ballot whom in that situation. We have no objection to ballots when people want them. If the unions want them, we shall look sympathetically at requests for assistance.
§ Mr. Walker
I am not sure that I understand the hon. Member. The rules are laid down in statute. ACAS has an obligation to ascertain the opinions of 1043 workers. It is not for ACAS to decide whether a ballot is used.
I turn to the motion generally. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), with his customary erudition, used the phrase"dichotomic position ". The Opposition are mainly concerned about controlling what they see as the unbridled power of the unions, particularly over their members. But with equal frequency the Opposition talk of the need for unions to be responsible for and to control their members so that they stick to agreements. They talk of the need to streamline the structure and numbers of unions.
Sometimes discipline is necessary to control members or to overcome opposition to the rationalisation of union structures. But we weaken internal discipline when we attack union membership agreements or give support to breakaway or dissident groups.
It is necessary to achieve a balance. I was pleased to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East refer to the unions as being democratic bodies. They represent the interests of diverse groups. Within any union those diverse interests must be balanced against the overall needs of the organisation and of the community. Unions have to grapple with the balancing problems each day. We do not say that they always get it right. But the proposals in the motion show scant recognition of the need for this type of balance. The Opposition often fail to understand the conflicting pressures.
The Government's attitude should be well known. We understand the need for a reform in industrial relations. Section 1 of the Employment Protection Act gives that task to ACAS. The Donovan Commission was set up by a previous Labour Government. Its central message was that reform should be voluntary, aided perhaps by the appropriate legal framework. That remains the Government's approach.
Nothing that I have said is intended in any way to reflect anything other than my concern that changes are needed concerning the number, the structure, the attitudes and the other aspects of trade unions. But changes are needed not only in the trade unions. There are many other aspects of our industrial relations system which call out for improvement. 1044 There is no room for complacency about the state of industrial relations in this country, not merely now but over the last few years, with the number and frequency of strikes and other industrial action, and the damage they do. We have all seen practices which none of us would wish to condone. There are too many strikes, and too many disputes which are solved in the wrong way.
I doubt whether the remedy lies in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Orpington and his hon. Friends. I believe that both their diagnosis and their prescription are wrong. The Industrial Relations Act 1971 proved that. I find it astonishing that they should once again be seen to be starting off along the road that leads inevitably to the same disastrous consequences as the 1971 Act. Perhaps the better way, as I have said before, is the voluntary one.
I conclude with some words that I have used in the House on a previous occasion, I think as long ago as 1970. I said that there are those who believe thatlegislation which cannot do anything but control and supervise the activities of trade unions is the only answer if the unions are to play their proper part in society…. They are suggesting a surgical operation. The surgeon's knife is a drastic instrument. It often saves lives, but it can often kill, despite the skill of the man who applies it. The slow process of the physician who advises a course of treatment to enable the patient's own body to overcome its infirmity is very often the better treatment…. May I look at the alternative, and this, broadly speaking, is for the Government to assist not only the trade unions but also the employers to put their house in order and to establish a closer working partnership if we are to face the challenge of the Common Market and all the rigours that lie ahead. And this, of course, has to be done not by passing Acts of Parliament—Acts of Parliament seldom make men good—but by persuasion and by constant appeal to common sense and to common interest. This is precisely the policy that the Government is now actively pursuing. Remember also…that the employers have responsibilities in these matters. The employer must take the lead in securing better industrial relations, and this, quite frankly, does not always happen…. There are faults in the way the trade unions conduct their affairs, but their leaders are in the large majority honourable men for whom I personally have a high respect. There are things wrong. If we could put them right by some dramatic intervention, I should certainly want to do so. But you cannot deal with human problems like that. I believe that the painstaking, though unspectacular, ways in which we are trying to remedy weaknesses in our industrial relations arrangements are most likely to produce results in the 1045 end…. If this policy on which we have embarked fails, then of course they are right: legislation may well be the only answer. But in my opinion, this would be a tragic day that would divide and weaken our free society, and I pray that it does not come.Those were not my words. Those were the words of Lord Blakenham, when he was Mr. John Hare, the Minister of Labour. They are as wise, as sensible and as relevant now as when they were uttered, and I commend them to the House.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)
In view of the short amount of time available, I intend to scrap most of the speech that I intended to make. I congratulate the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) on winning first place in the ballot. I agree with some of the things he said, but I think that his motion is badly phrased. It will exacerbate the situation and lead to confrontation, and it is not in the best interests of industrial democracy. If this country is to make any progress at all, we must have some sort of moderation in all these things. He said that he thought that the proposals of the Tory Party—and particularly of the Tory Party Front Bench—were namby-pamby.
Then I listened to the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, South (Sir D. Walker Smith), who was fair and moderate. The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) was also moderate to some extent. When I compare their speeches with those of the hon. Member for Orpington, I recognise that this is not a problem which will be easily solved. It will be difficult if we are to avoid the intolerance of people such as the Grunwick employer and violent secondary picketing. We must try to find a happy medium.
Many Opposition Members refer to to trade unionists as though they are people apart from the rest of society. We are part of society. We contribute in the same way as others to the benefit of this country.
It is only within the last 100 or 120 years that working people have attempted to organise themselves. Others have been organised as far back as Magna Carta. The barons organised themselves against King John. Different sections of society have organised themselves to achieve 1046 some kind of fair play or privilege from the powers that be. The last section to do that was comprised of working people. They tried to organise themselves in trade unions in order to get a better life.
One hundred years ago this month, after the lockout of agricultural workers in Kent and Sussex in 1878–79, such workers were forced to accept a reduction in pay from two shillings and sixpence to two shillings and twopence a day. Over 500 families were evicted and had to go to New Zealand to find work. That kind of thing went on in this country during the last century.
If we want not violence but moderation, we must be careful how we handle this problem. I think that the hon. Member for Orpington wants us to go back to the seventeenth century. He talked about trade union tyranny. There is more tyranny in this world than trade union tyranny. Ordinary people have been oppressed for centuries. Working people have begun to get their rights only in the last century.
I declare a vested interest. I have been a member of the General and Municipal Workers' Union since February 1926. The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby referred to David Basnett, the general secretary of that union, and his election to that position. I participated in that election. The election procedure in that union is almost the same now as when it was formed. I do not suggest that there is not room for change. The point is that David Basnett was elected by a vote in all districts which gave him a majority over five other candidates. Therefore, it was wrong of the hon. and learned Gentleman to draw a distinction between the ways that different unions operate. There is room for improving the balloting system in the trade union movement. There is also room for improvement in many other sections of society.
For example, shareholders in a company or those who buy a company's products are not asked whether they are prepared to contribute to Tory Party funds. The man who buys a pint of beer in a pub is not asked whether he agrees that part of the money that he pays for that beer should go towards Tory Party funds. People who go into Marks and Spencer are not asked to sign a form saying that there should be a reduction 1047 from the price of articles being bought because they do not agree with Marks and Spencer contributing to Tory Party funds. The same comment can be made of many other enterprises. That goes on not only in trade unions but in commerce. Provided that a firm shows a good return and makes a handsome profit, with which I am in agreement, shareholders will not complain.
The problem will be solved not by extremism but by moderation on both sides. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East and the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby adopted the right approach, because they realised that a dog-in-the-manger attitude would lead only to confrontation with either the employer or the employee. That is what we want to avoid.
If the closed shop were done away with tomorrow, as many hon. Members have advocated, many of the large firms would complain immediately. Firms such as ICI can negotiate agreements with responsible trade union leadership and are happy to do so. They do not want shop floor negotiations in a thousand and one different plants. Large firms want to conduct negotiations themselves, on a national basis.
What is being asked for is industrial anarchy. If this country is to get out of the slough of despondency it is sometimes in, we must be prepared to recognise that closed shops are beneficial both to employers and employees.
Now, ladies and gentlemen—I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that I was at a public meeting. It sometimes sounds like one in the House on a Friday. I suppose that this could be called a mass meeting with the large number of hon. Members present. On a Friday we have subjects that we can talk about and are sometimes of benefit to people outside. I have no doubt that many hon. Members are thinking of the coming election. Somebody mentioned 7 November. I am not particularly thinking of that, because I am in the fortunate position of not having to face the hustings. Friday is a fine time for such subjects as we are discussing today.
Let us remember that if we are to have some form of industrial democracy, some 1048 form of collaboration, in order to increase our prosperity, extremisms are out. We must be moderate. We do not want vast changes. We must talk to each other and reach agreement. Unless we can do that, the situation will get worse.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I was a former neighbour of the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), and I agree with what he said. This is a matter which must be settled, eventually, by co-operation and agreement. Earlier, the Minister said that he was prepared for change but that he wanted to see that change made voluntarily. I do not say that legislation is the ideal solution, but if the unions will not reform voluntarily I am afraid that legislation must be introduced. But I put that as a second alternative. Obviously, voluntary change would be better for everyone.
We are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stan-brook) for introducing this subject, especially on a Friday, because, as the hon. Member for Battersea, South and the Minister said, it gives us a chance to discuss this vital subject in a very calm and relaxed atmosphere. I agree with the words that the hon. Gentleman used. He said that we have the resources to create wealth and provided we have union, management and worker co-operation we can have prosperity. I think that the key to the whole matter is a combination of agreement to create prosperity. That must be done, in the end, by consent and agreement.
However, I am worried about public opinion, which has undoubtedly turned against unions as a result of recent events. I shall not go into that at present, because time is short. I should like to return to the analogy that was made earlier regarding the surgeon and the nurse in a hospital. If the surgeon slips with a knife or the nurse makes a mistake, both are liable in tort for what they have done. How equally liable is the man who refuses to take a patient to a hospital, or somebody who refuses to do a menial job in a hospital? I am convinced that immunity should not apply to one section and not to the other. It is one of those things that we must reform.
There is no doubt that trade union reform is called for. As a result of recent events, I think that the public are behind 1049 such a change. I hope, as I said earlier, that any change will be voluntary. However, I am sure that it will not be. I believe that in the end we shall have to do something by way of legislation. Historically, trade unions were created because some employers abused their powers. Present circumstances are different, so there is a good reason for altering the unions' powers—certainly their immunity from the law.
What is the function of a union? In my view, it is to regulate terms, conditions and payment between master and man. It is not to dabble in politics. A union's primary job is to look after those whom it represents.
The unions were established to create a barrier between themselves and the employers. There is one disadvantage in that. We all know that not everything is right with management. Management needs to be overhauled. Co-operation is necessary. I never want to see a barrier between management and the men it employs. I want to see them able to associate. I do not want to hear any union people asking management"What are you doing here? "
There must be a three-sided co-operation between management, union and employee. I am sure that the firms that are doing best are those that have direct contact between the top brass—the boardroom—and the shop floor.
I am in favour of a secret ballot, with the forms being sent to the members' homes, and with independent scrutineers. If Government funds and free postage are necessary, it is worth providing them, because I am sure that such a ballot is essential.
There should be enforcement of contracts, where they exist. If a union breaks contracts, it should be liable in the same way as anyone else would be liable. The political levy must be examined.
The closed shop can cause misery to its victims. I do not believe that in a free society we have the right to have such a thing as the closed shop. The hon. Member for Battersea, South is right. It may be convenient. Perhaps there are big firms that would like to have a closed shop, but we are here to represent not a small section but all the people of this 1050 country. If it is in the country's general interest, it is our job to see that the closed shops are abolished. I am not interested in the big battalions.
I turn to the law on picketing. My wife and I were victims of the recent secondary picketing. It is wrong. In the scuffle that I had, I wondered how I would like to be driving through in a lorry, having my numbers taken and my name known, and being blacked. This is not the sort of society that the country wants. Such incidents have made people believe that there should be some reform of the trade unions.
We have far too many trade unions, and we should reduce their numbers. Management has to negotiate with too many. In Germany there may be only two unions in one factory, and it is much easier to negotiate.
There is also the question of strike pay. The unions should be powerful enough to pay for the families of those on strike. They should not look to the taxpayer. I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) has at last come out with this. It should be a question of pride. The unions have the funds, and they should use them for that purpose.
§ Dr. Glyn
The hon. Gentleman will have to ask my Front Bench. I am not on the Front Bench; I am speaking for myself. However, sometimes I like to echo what I hear.
There should be in this country a small body of people who by law are not allowed to strike. I refer to the workers who control key industries. Nobody should be held to ransom by a small section of the community, and surely that is in the interests of everybody. Equally, I should like to see a voluntary corps of people who are able to step in to carry out work during a strike or national emergency. Such a voluntary body would be able to step in in a hospital or anywhere else to fill the gap.
The country is sick and tired of secondary picketing, fed up with school closures, and bored with hospital waiting lists which are growing longer all the time. Legislation is not the answer to the problem. 1051 Those who represent unions and management must realise that, unless they work together, we shall never have industrial peace. Without such peace, there is no hope for an expansion in productivity. It is that expansion which will give trade unionists, and indeed all of us, a better standard of living. The unions must realise that there has been a great deal of feeling in the country against them. They must respond to that feeling and reform their own house. If they do not do so, I look upon a Tory Government to do the job for them.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
I wish to deal with the four themes of this debate: first, the place of law in industrial relations; secondly, the subject of power; thirdly, the subject of democracy; and, fourthly, the role of the trade unions.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) appeared to assume that the law was the answer to all our trade union problems, real or assumed. However, the hon. Gentleman is excluding other means of dealing with these matters. Clearly, there are other ways—for example, that of voluntary co-operation. A good example is the document referred to as the concordat between the Government and trade unions, which is a fine document and a good basis on which to proceed in future.
In any case, there is law and law. The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that the kind of legal changes he would like to see made in industrial relations would be backed by sanctions. He was talking primarily about criminal rather than civil law. The law may have its place in industrial relations and trade unionism, but the kind of law at which we should aim is one that will enable and encourage co-operation. That is precisely the kind of industrial relations law which has been pursued in the lifetime of the Labour Government. I refer to the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act and the Employment Protection Act, both of which are based on the philosophy of co-operation rather than confrontation.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of individual rights, and referred to the judges as the bulwark of individual rights.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I said that, when Parliament fails to deal with these matters, the judges are brought in.
§ Mr. Clemitson
There are a number of people who are in business to protect individual rights, including Parliament and the judges. I do not wish to criticise the judges, but I emphasise that the trade unions also exist to protect individual rights. Over the years the trade unions have been the primary means by which many people have acquired rights and privileges. That should not be forgotten.
§ Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)
My experience with constituents who have to deal as individuals with trade unions is most disappointing. When a constituent has had an individual right, the unions have never been helpful.
§ Mr. Clemitson
Nobody is suggesting that trade unions are perfect institutions—far from it. We are considering today how to improve them and make them more democratic. On the Labour Benches we are not suggesting that trade unions are perfect institutions or instruments, and the major consideration is how to improve them.
The hon. Member for Orpington used such phrases as"overwhelming power"and"extraordinary power ". He even talked of the tyranny of trade unions. He suggested that the major reason for our economic decline is the unwillingness of trade unions to co-operate in getting the most out of men and machines. In the debate it has been frequently suggested that trade unions have become too powerful, and that the balance of power between employer and trade union has tilted too far in their favour.
Perhaps the acid test of trade union power is how much its members earn. I shall not pursue that, but I note from a recent study of new earnings that about the highest paid manual workers are coalface trained miners. Their average earning last year were £109 a week. That might sound a lot, but it is way below the earnings of Members of this House.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
That is an extremely high figure, and perhaps my hon. Friend would tell us where it came from.
§ Mr. Clemitson
It is average earnings, not wages, for coal-face trained mine 1053 workers. I do not begrudge them £109 a week. I would not go down a pit for £400 or £500 a week. But here we have a body of people who are regarded as having one of the most powerful unions in the country, and even on that figure their earnings are way below those of many trade union critics.
The whole approach of this thesis on power is wrong. It is negative and sterile. It should not be a quantitative approach of too much or too little power. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment said that we should seek to devise ways to channel the powers of trades unions towards constructive directions. We must consider how trade unions can more fully participate in industry instead of exercising only a negative power of veto, as at present.
Thirdly, one criticism of trade unions that we have heard this afternoon is that they are not sufficiently democratic. The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) gave examples of trade union leaders who were elected by what he felt were less than perfectly democratic means. Trade unions are perhaps not as democratic as they might be, but in essence they are democratic. Perhaps it does not quite work out in practice as we would wish, but in essence the trade unions are democratic organisations.
If that is so, why are the Conservatives partial in their criticism of the unions? If they want trade unions to be more democratic, why do they not apply the same criteria to companies and the way in which they are organised? Surely what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Perhaps Conservative Members should seek to democratise the way in which companies are run with the same vigour and fervour. If they did, I might be more inclined to listen to their criticisms.
The question of the secret ballot has been raised over and over again. Surely the question is not whether secret ballots are desirable—many trade unions already have them—but whether they should be imposed by law. The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby is shaking his head and I know that that is not official Conservative Party policy, 1054 but I also know that many Back Bench Tories would be in favour of that.
Finally, I turn to the role of the trade unions. I indicated dissent when the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) said that trade unions should stick to their job of negotiating pay and conditions and not meddle in politics. It is ironic that trade unions are often criticised by Tories for acting selfishly. They cannot have it both ways. Either the trade unions should be purely self-centred groups, getting as much as possible out of the system for their own members, or they should be organisations that are concerned about the welfare of all people, not only in this country but in the Third world as well. That is exactly what the trade unions are, and may they long continue to be so.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
I want to put a slightly different perspective on this motion. There is nothing objectionable to any hon. Member about groups of men combining together to take collective action. Nations do it and we applaud the result, describing it as patriotism. It has been regarded as both commendable and constructive throughout the nineteenth century and this century for workers to take collective action and to form trade unions in order to fight exploitation. Society has approved it, Parliament has legislated for it, and great benefits for many people have resulted from it.
However, whenever approval for collectivism is granted there must always be a firm proviso—that nothing must be done which allows the rights or freedom of ordinary citizens to be diminished in any way. Whenever nations suppress the rights of individuals, and whenever unions suppress those rights, they receive and deserve censure from all quarters.
It is a strange anomaly that we should educate our children to use their minds in school and afterwards in the world, but once they are outside in the big, wide world we surround them with pressures designed to dimish their capacity for independence. They are made to feel that individualism is an anti-social form of self-indulgence. That is an insidious development which has been getting out of hand.
1055 Nowadays we talk of mass communications, bulk buying, group therapy, comprehensive schools and collective bargaining. The theme is bigness and the concept is mediocrity and sameness. The ideal of being distinctive and original is no longer at a premium. Exceptional people are discouraged. Self-reliance and independence are strangulated.
The debate belongs within the context of that depressing trend. It raises, in the most specific form, a question about the need to reform the most powerful collective force in our society—the trade unions. I do not have time to deal with the faults and the reasons why trade unions succeed. However, as a result of what has happened in recent weeks, many now believe that there is a need to rectify the position. What is desirable and necessary is one thing; whether it is practicable is another.
The first and foremost prerequisite for any reform is what was described on another occasion as the full-hearted consent of the British people. Secondly, the public should not be cushioned or sheltered from the consequences of what an unreasonable or selfish union seeks in pursuit of an unjustifiable demand. If changes in the law affecting trade unions are to be practicable, public opinion must be rallied and persuaded of the necessity for those changes. If it is not, disruptive forces can counter-attack with impunity.
My main concern is that some of the legal immunities which are not afforded to other citizens should not be available to trade unions. Everyone should be equal before the law—specifically the trade unions. Before Labour Members raise the dog-eared and time-worn protest that we have heard throughout the debate that there is no place for the law in relations between employers and employees—
§ Mr. Gorst
If the hon. Gentleman did not say that, some of his hon. Friends did.
Let me remind Labour Members that trade unions obey the law and that they have on occasions pressed for changes in the law. Why otherwise did the hon. Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and for Darlington (Mr. 1056 Fletcher) seek last year to change the law when they found it not to be to their satisfaction following the Grunwick dispute? At that time, the law was obeyed and it is obeyed now. Therefore, the law is effective with the trade unions.
It is the most basic concept of a free, civilised society that if a man breaks the law we punish him with, say, a fine or imprisonment. If an organisation causes damage, it is made to pay damages. I believe that, in exactly the same way, trade union property should be sequestered if the union causes social, personal or commercial damage.
While I have been an hon. Member, I have been involved in passing legislation that demanded truth in advertising—the Fair Trading Act—truth in lending—the Consumer Credit Act—the disclosure of true facts for the purpose of collective bargaining—the Employment Protection Act—and other measures requiring that there should be truth. Why should there not be an obligation on all parties in an industrial dispute to ensure that there is truth in industrial relations?
There is no such requirement on a trade union. A union official may falsify the facts and cause damage to a firm's business, but the victim has no recourse in law. That is not merely an unfairness. It does not damage only the firm's commercial prospects. Just as undesirably, it can sour personal relations for long after a dispute has been formally resolved. It is not only business firms which may be affected. Taxpayers, ratepayers, pensioners and the sick can all be innocent victims and all ought to have redress in law.
Over many years, the trade unions have embodied the great ideal that, through combined efforts, large and small groups could improve the conditions in which they spend their working lives. At times in our history when social and industrial injustice was rife, that notion generated great self-sacrifices and immense fervour among many people. But such anomalies have long since ceased to disfigure society.
§ Mr. Gorst
The surge towards collectivism has not diminished. Its momentum remains, even though its justification 1057 may have abated. The consequence is that we are faced with a growing and heartless tyranny which has been shorn of its original moral justification. The solution does not lie in eliminating or destroying trade unions, and it would not make sense to return to the days of unbridled selfishness. What is required is that a proper balance should be struck between individualism and collectivism.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)
The debate has been constructive in parts, and I am pleased that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) raised this subject and that we have been able to discuss it on a Friday because we seem to have more enlightened debates on Fridays. Hon. Members do not seem so concerned to try to score political points, though some are inevitably raised.
I am a member of a trade union, the British Association of Colliery Management. I was once branch president of the National Union of Mineworkers and for a short time about 180 of us working in industrial relations for the National Coal Board were members of the Labour Staffs Association.
The association continued in existence for a while until one year when our colleagues in the NUM and the colliery deputies accepted their pay awards, but we took our offer to arbitration. The arbitrator said that our case was unique and excellent and that, if our colleagues had not accepted their pay offers, he would have had no alternative but to grant our full claim. Some weeks later the employer decided that the association could no longer be a trade union organisation. The case was that we were not large enough, having only 180 members, to be a trade union organisation. But I suspect that the real reason was that we had won an arbitration case, although nothing resulted from it. That is another aspect—not of a trade union but of an employer. Therefore, when we talk about industrial relations, do not let us talk about trade unions as though they were the only—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.