HC Deb 06 November 1979 vol 973 cc207-8
6. Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what current proposals he has for legislation on the closed shop.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

Copies of the working paper giving details of the proposals for legislation on the closed shop were placed in the Library of the House on 9 July this year.

Mr. Morris

Will my hon. and learned Friend take note of the strong case for any closed shop agreement to be renewable by a vote of the work force, say, every three or five years?

Mr. Mayhew

The question of periodic reviews of closed shop agreements was considered in the working paper to which I have referred. We believe, that there are different aspects of the handling of closed shops already in existdnce which call for a certain amount of care. Therefore we propose that a code of practice, which we promised to introduce, is probably the best method of giving advice on that matter.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the Minister agree that the closeness of the vote at the CBI conference this morning indicates the deep divisions amongst employers on the principle of the closed shop? In view of the closeness of that vote and the outright opposition of the trade union movement, should not the Government bury any proposals that they may have on altering the principle of the closed shop?

Mr. Mayhew

The principle of the closed shop is not threatened by anything proposed in the working paper. What is proposed is that where it is intended to introduce a closed shop there shall be proper safeguards for those already employed.

Mr. Skinner

Start with the barristers.

Mr. Mayhew

In so far as there is a closed shop in the provision of legal services, that has just met with considerable support from a distinguished Royal Commission.

Mr. Bulmer

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that during the recent engineering strike people who wished to go to work were prevented from doing so by fear of losing their union cards? Will he seek to ensure that any group of workers in a closed shop who feel that they are being called out in breach of an agreement or without adequate consultation are given the right to call for a secret ballot?

Mr. Mayhew

One of the most important proposals in the working paper is that which provides for a statutory right of appeal if somebody considers himself to have been unreasonably expelled from a trade union. That is half the sting of a closed shop.

Mr. Beith

How are the Government getting on with their defence of the closed shop in the British Rail case at Strasbourg?

Mr. Mayhew

The Government thought it right to be represented at Strasbourg and to take up the Commission's offer of a further oral hearing. The Government came into that case at a late stage and inherited a situation where great injustice had been occasioned to British Rail employees. That injustice would not have arisen had the proposals which we have put forward already been the law. The situation will not arise again.