HC Deb 12 July 1983 vol 45 cc763-76 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Tebbit)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on proposals for legislation on democracy in trade unions.

I am now able to announce the Government's conclusions following the consultations on the Green Paper "Democracy in Trade Unions" and to outline the legislative proposals I propose to lay before Parliament in the autumn. I am publishing today a paper explaining these propsosals and providing an opportunity for consultations on them.

Numerous detailed and thoughtful responses to the Green Paper were received from employers, employers' organisations and individual trade unions, including some affiliated to the TUC. These confirmed that there is widespread concern about shortcomings in trade union procedures for elections and for consulting their members on major issues, particularly on strike decisions. There is undoubtedly widespread support for legislation to safeguard the rights of members in relation to their unions.

As foreshadowed in our election manifesto, the legislation will cover three main issues: trade union elections, strikes and the political activities of trade unions.

First, elections. The legislation will require elections to the governing bodies of trade unions to comply with the following principles: voting must be secret and by ballot paper; there must be an equal and unrestricted opportunity to vote; and every union member should be able to cast his vote directly. These principles are not a legal straitjacket. They are the minimum necessary to ensure free, fair and democratic elections. Within them, trade unions will be free to constitute their governing bodies in the way they judge will best serve their members' interests, and to decide on the form of ballots.

Secondly, strikes. The consultations have shown continuing concern about the way in which strike decisions are taken. Accordingly, I propose that if a trade union orders or endorses industrial action by its members in breach of their contracts of employment without first consulting those members in a secret ballot, that trade union should lose immunity from the normal civil law consequences of its action. This will give the community more protection against irresponsible industrial action and provide new safeguards for trade union members themselves against being required to strike without their consent.

I also expect in due course to consult on the need for industrial relations in specified essential services to be governed by adequate procedure agreements, breach of which would deprive industrial action of immunity.

Thirdly, the political activities of trade unions. The Government accept that a trade union should be able to adopt political objectives and to set up a political fund. However, I believe that the authorisation of a political fund should be subject to a review by a periodic ballot of the membership. The present members of trade unions should not be bound for ever by a ballot that may well have been taken before any of them were born. I propose that the 1913 Act should be amended to require that political objectives and funds should be submitted to ballot at least every 10 years.

For some years there has been disquiet over the operation of the system for contracting out of the political levy. I therefore intend to invite the TUC to discuss the arrangements which trade unions themselves might take to ensure that their members are fully aware of their statutory rights and able to exercise them freely and effectively. I hope that the trade unions will be willing to take such steps. If that hope is disappointed, I would be ready to introduce measures, as we made clear in our manifesto, to guarantee a free and effective right of choice.

The events of recent weeks have made it abundantly clear that trade unionists are now insistent that they should have a greater democratic voice in the affairs of their unions, and the Bill which I shall bring forward will respond to that demand.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Conservative party, whose members do not have a vote in the election of their leader, and which is proud of a so-called shareholders' democracy which is totally dominated by a few institutions, is hardly in a position to lecture the trade unions or anybody else about democracy?

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that the Opposition are strongly in favour of union ballots but that we believe — [HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh?"] We have been having them all the time for the last 70 years; that is why we are in favour of them. But we believe that it is quite wrong to impose an artificial straitjacket on a variety of democratic practices which suit the needs of individual unions and individual union members.

Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that his proposals for compulsory strike ballots are workable when such proposals have been repudiated by the Donovan Commission, criticised by most employers and implicitly rejected in his own Green Paper as being impractical and likely in many cases—as, for example, in the classic 1972 rail ballot — to prolong rather than shorten disputes?

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

The hon. Gentleman does not believe a word of it.

Mr. Radice

Oh yes I do. Does the Secretary of State realise, however, that his proposal—

Hon. Members

Too long.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should be given a fair hearing.

Mr. Radice

In particular, does the Secretary of State understand that the proposal to withdraw immunities could greatly harm industrial relations?

On the question of political funds, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most fair-minded people —I do not include Conservative Members — will see his proposals as a one-sided attack on the Labour party? Would he not be in a stronger position if he had taken steps to make the donations to Tory funds—of £30,000 by Rank Hovis, £33,000 by United Biscuits and £30,000 by Glaxo, to give but three examples—accountable not just to shareholders but to the workers and consumers as well?

We shall oppose these unworkable, unfair and ill-directed proposals when they come before the House in the form of proposed legislation. In the meantime, will the right hon. Gentleman consult the TUC on the principles of his proposals rather than insulting it from afar as he usually does? Of course, he will say that he has a majority behind him, but it consists of hard-faced men and a few women who look as if they have done well out of the Falklands war. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a democracy majorities should consult? If he believes, as I think he does, that the Polish authorities should consult Solidarity, surely he should follow that principle in his own country. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

Mr. Tebbit

Perhaps the kindest thing to say about the hon. Gentleman's contribution is that he clearly did not believe a word that he was saying. Regrettably, I do not think that he understood a word that he was saying, either. He asked that I should consult the TUC on the principles that 1 have set out. He seems to have forgotten that in January 1983 I published a consultation paper. I invited the TUC to consult upon it and it refused to do so. I am now offering it a second chance of consultation, which I hope it will accept.

The hon. Gentleman followed the famous legal maxim that, in the absence of a case, one should abuse the other side. He said little about democratic elections in trade unions. He slid over the need for trade unions to justify in public their immensely privileged legal status, which is something that companies do not enjoy.

The hon. Gentleman managed, with a great deal of effort, to name three companies which have given £30,000 to the Conservative party. He seems to have forgotten that at a meeting in an elegant, large country house the trade unions hand cheques for millions of pounds across the table, which are picked up at the drop of a hat.

Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)

If a union's members vote by a majority in favour of a pol:tical fund, would individual members be forced to subscribe to that fund whatever their political views?

Mr. Tebbit

No, Sir, and nor is that the position now in law. The 1913 Act provides specifically that union members who do not wish to pay into a political fund should be free not to do so. The problem is that that Act is not being observed in practice or in spirit.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

What evidence is there for saying that?

Mr. Tebbit

Mr. Gavin Laird told the Financial Times that he and his colleagues do everything that they can in their union to make it as difficult as possible for members who wish to avoid paying a political levy.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Having founded the Social Democratic party on the principles of one member, one vote and postal ballol:s—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

What hypocrisy!

Dr. Owen

—and having advocated over two years ago trade union democracy and the need to bring unions back to their members, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I welcome the fundamental aspect of the reform. However, I shall put a number of detailed questior s to the Secretary of State.

First, why has the right hon. Gentleman backed off postal ballots as the norm and gone only for secret ballot papers, bearing in mind that the 1980 Act provides money for postal ballots? Secondly, why has he decided to tone down his proposals over opting into a political fund? Surely the principle of opting in is right. Is the right hon. Gentleman afraid that that would mean that shareholders would have to opt into making contributions to political parties? Is that why he has backed off his earlier proposals? Thirdly, what does he mean by "political objectives" in the context of a political fund? Does he mean affiliation to a political party?

As six out of 10 trade unionists voted for political parties that are different from the Labour party, surely it is right that their views should now become the dominant factor and that they should not be forced to opt oLt of a political levy. Instead of going for consultations in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has implied, with only the ballot on the political fund being the critical issue, he should return to first principles and support opting in for both shareholders and trade unionists.

Mr. Tebbit

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his general support of the proposals. If he had been able to persuade his colleagues in the Labour Government's Cabinet to accept the need for these reforms, the Labour party's condition might now be a great deal better than it is. I do not think that postal ballots are the only means of ensuring fair elections. It is open to those concerned to have a postal ballot, and that may be the best way of proceeding. However, it may not be the only way, especially when unions have, for example, widely scattered memberships throughout the world. In those circumstances, a postal ballot may be extremely difficult to implement.

As for opting out of or into levies, I intend to give the TUC a chance to justify the way in which its affiliates operate and to suggest the changes which it might choose to bring forward to offer a free and fair choice. If it cannot justify the present system nor suggest changes, I shall be forced to legislate. Opting in will not be excluded from consideration but, first, let us see how we get on with consultations.

The definition of "political objectives" is contained in section 3 of the 1913 Act. However, I think that it would be useful if we had some further discussion about whether that entirely accords with the modern practice of determining what is or is not a trade union's political objective.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

First, I thank my right hon. Friend for setting out his proposals, for which Conservative trade unionists have been pressing for many years. Before he proceeds to legislation, what positive consultation—

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot accept a point of order in the middle of a question.

Mr. Renton

What positive consultation will my right hon. Friend undertake with individual trade union leaders as well as with the TUC, which seems to be totally dyed in the wool on this issue, bearing in mind that those leaders know that the wish of their members is to make the new arrangements workable and practicable as qu Ickly as possible?

Mr. Winniek

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Secretary of State should answer the question before I take the hon. Gentleman's point of order.

Mr. Tebbit

I am always open to representation from individual trade union leaders as well as from the TUC in speaking collectively for them. I am open also to representations from individual trade unionists. We know that at the last election more trade unionists voted against the Labour party and for the proposals than voted for the Labour party and against them.

Mr. Winnick


Mr. Speaker

Order. Am I anticipating the hon. Gentleman's point of order by asking for shorter supplementary questions?

Mr. Winnick

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a debate towards the end of the previous Parliament, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) contributed to it as president of the Conservative trade unionists' association. Thereafter I went to the Library and learnt that the hon. Gentleman has a number of business interests. I returned to the Chamber and raised a point of order, and I raise the same point of order today with you, Mr. Speaker. If an hon. Gentleman speaks on these matters, must he not declare a substantial business interest which, after all, is listed in the Register of Member's Interests?

Mr. Speaker

Order. In answer to the hon. Member, and for the benefit of new Members, the rule is that the interest of every right hon. and hon. Member should be registered. It has never been the practice to declare such interests at Question Time.

Mr. John Evans

First, I declare that I am a member of the engineering section of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers and an officer in the union. [Interruption.] I pay the political levy and have done since I was 16 years of age.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is aware that nearly four fifths of all strikes in Great Britain are unofficial and are settled within three working days, and that the second of his proposals will add to the number of unofficial disputes? He says that if a union endorses industrial action it will be in danger of losing its immunity from the normal civil law consequences. The result of the proposed legislation will be an increase in the number of unofficial strikes. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that?

Mr. Tebbit

No, of course not. The hon. Gentleman has not understood what the proposal is about or how it will work. If an unofficial dispute arises my proposals will make no difference so long as the union does not endorse it. If the union endorses the dispute, its funds will be at risk unless it undertakes what would appear to be the elementary democratic practice of ensuring that a ballot of those being called out on strike is taken.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour party seems to be prepared only to accept the system of democracy that operates in the National Union of Mineworkers and in certain African states—one man, one vote, once?

Mr. Tebbit

The sooner all trade unions accept that they should ensure that their members effectively elect their leadership, the better it will be, and the sooner that is done at regular intervals, the better it will be.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)

Does the Secretary of State appreciate the simple point that true democracy consists of allowing people to make their own decisions about the rules governing the affairs of the organisations of which they are members?

Is he aware that every trade union incorporates in its rules provisions under which a majority of its members can change those rules if they wish? How can he pretend that it is democratic for the Government, or indeed the House, to impose rules upon people when they do not want them? If he is intent on imposing further shackles on the trade union movement, will he admit openly that that is what he is doing and stop trying to shroud the matter in a spurious cloak of democracy?

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman would have made an interesting speech had he been a Member of the House before the 1832 Act. Presumably he would have claimed that the House should not engage in democratic practices, such as the secret ballot, and should not listen to anyone advocating it. He seems also to be making the case that we should repeal the Companies Acts and allow shareholders to behave exactly as they wish without any legal restraint.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, whatever the views of the Labour party were in the past, it ought to recognise today that what he is saying is reasonable and would be accepted by most people? As to the political levy, would it be appropriate to lay down a rule that the result of each vote should be announced to the country so that the proportion of members for and against paying the levy might be known?

Mr. Tebbit

I take my hon. Friend's point entirely. It is a matter that we could well take into account when we frame the legislation.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

The National Union of Mineworkers elected and re-elected me by private individual ballot every two years before I became a Member of the House. Everyone in the NUM has for many years had the opportunity to avoid paying the political levy—very few do, I am glad to say. They have the opportunity of individual ballots all the time. Does not the Minister believe that the Government would be better off today if they were to do something about the criminal levels of unemployment instead of mischief-making within the Labour movement, which can look after itself and has done for many years?

Mr. Tebbit

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. When I see that in the north Wales area of the National Union of Mineworkers over 99 per cent. of the members were affiliated to the Labour party and paid the political levy—which suggests that no more than 1 per cent. of them, at most, voted Conservative, SDP, Liberal, Welsh Nationalist or anything else—I find it difficult to believe that it was a completely free choice by the members involved.

Mr. John Ward (Poole)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the proposals as far as they go are welcome, industry will be disappointed that there has been no decision to take action to ensure that, once agreements are made between unions and employers, they are kept or union immunities will be withdrawn? Further, where the public sector is involved, there should be some restriction on strikes which hold the public to ransom.

Mr. Tebbit

On my hon. Friend's second point, he will recollect that I have said that I shall be inviting trade unions to discuss with me methods by which we might seek to avoid needless disputes in essential public services. On his first point, of course it is open to both sides in industrial agreements to decide that those industrial agreements should be enforceable at law. Under the 1971 Act, they were presumed to be enforceable at law unless the parties decided otherwise. During the period of that Act's effectiveness, the experience was that virtually every agreement had attached to it the condition that it was not legally enforceable.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Will the Government require exactly the same procedure to end an official strike as to call it?

Mr. Tebbit

No, Sir. That is a matter for the trade union concerned. We shall require that a union should not enjoy immunity from the normal civil law —[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would listen for a moment, he might understand. The question is whether a union should enjoy legal immunity for breach of contract. There is no breach of contract once the strike is over and so the question does not arise.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

May I probe a little further what my right hon. Friend had to say about essential services being offered agreements whose breach would lead to loss of immunity? Which essential services had he in mind? In particular, will he try to include the Health Service so that the cruelties that were perpetrated on the old and infirm against the wishes of most members of NUPE and NALGO shall not happen again?

Mr. Tebbit

It is too early to detail which services might be categorised as essential. My proposal is that we should consult on whether procedural agreements at least should be observed on pain of loss of immunity if they were broken. I believe that the trade unions will recognise the public interest in that matter. There are good grounds for believing that the trade unions understand it, which is demonstrated not least by the fact that they have sought to introduce voluntary arrangements among trade unions for the avoidance of needless public suffering during disputes. Unfortunately, those voluntary arrangements have not always worked, as we saw during the health workers' strike and the recent water strike.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Is the Secretary of State aware that on the shop floor a large number of strikes start with no real involvement of the official trade union structure? Is not the net result of these proposals to tell the official trade unions and the official negotiators to keep out when the strikes start and to allow the shambles of an unofficial strike to become a permanent feature of our industrial relations?

Mr. Tebbit

No, of course not. There is nothing in the proposals to inhibit the trade union leadership from coming in when there is an unofficial dispute to seek to organise. to settle and to ensure that procedures are observed. The proposals simply provide that, if the union seeks to support such a strike, it will lose its immunity unless a ballot of the members is conducted.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places.

Mr. Budgen

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the closed shop were made unenforceable, and if trade union menbers could leave trade unions with which they disagreed, the trade unions would be reformed according to the wishes of their members and not according to the external application of the law?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend may not have given sufficient attention to the 1982 Act and the provisions that will come into final effect in November next year, when closed shops that have not been supported by a ballot of the members concerned will no longer have legal immunity. That, combined with the measures already undertaken in the 1980 Act, will, I think, ensure that closed shops have to carry the overwhelming support of the members concerned or they will simply disintegrate.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

The Secretary of State said that it is too early to give a list of the essential services from which the right to strike will be withdrawn. How does he expect the country to believe him? Is he not refusing to give the answer because included in his hit list is the nursing profession, and the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are about to perpetrate the greatest act of betrayal of the nursing profession by using the establishment of the review body on nurses' pay to withdraw from the nursing profession the right to strike? Would not the right hon. Gentleman be more honest with the House and the country if today he were to gi%e the hit list that he and his Department must have?

Mr. Tebbit

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has slid back into the misleading hyperbole that was the common currency of the Labour party during the election. I have said nothing whatsoever about any proposal to withdraw the right to strike.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be welcomed by rank and file trade unionists in Burton upon Trent, who are fed up with the lack of democracy in the Transport and General Workers Union? Is he further aware that if Opposition Members had to raise their money by knocking on the doors of ordinary people they might find that the policies which they adopt are more in accord with the wishes of ordinary people?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. I recommend Opposition Members and my right hon. and hon. Friends to read the leader of the Daily Mirror of 7 July, which is headed "When will they ever learn?" If ever there was a plea for democracy within the trade union movement from the newspaper that is one of the few friends that the movement has left, that was it. Many Opposition Front Bench Members must echo that view, particularly as they approach the leadership election of their party.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the trade union movement was formed to protect the interests of the working people and has been responsible for improving their living standards over many years? Is not the Government's present role to shackle the trade union movement so that they can carry out a campaign against the working class and cut their living standards?

Mr. Tebbit

It is a curious shackle to lay upon a democratic organisation that it should consult its own members.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many millions of trade union members and their families will welcome the restoration of liberty and democracy to the trade union movement? When my right hon. Friend uses the words "industrial action", does he include strikes, go-slows, works-to-rule and industrial blacking? Will he consider making the accounts of trade unions subject to audit, as companies' accounts are? If he has considered that, why did he not think it advisable to introduce that proposal in this measure?

Mr. Tebbit

On my hon. Friend's first question, the measure will cover industrial action short of withdrawal of labour as well as withdrawal of labour. Secondly, to a large extent, the accounts of trade unions are already governed by both rules and the activities of the certification officer. I have no wish to interfere in their internal affairs other than to the extent that is necessary to ensure that fair elections are held. If those fair elections are held, those who democratically represent their membership must be trusted to look after the accounts of the organisation or to face the members at the end of their spell of office.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

The Secretary of State said that people who wanted to contract out of the political levy would be able to do so irrespective of the result of the ballot. If the result is negative, will those who want to contract in be able to do so and continue to pay the political levy? If so, is not that another backdoor method of saying that people will have to contract in rather than contract out?

Mr. Tebbit

I hope that I have followed the hon. Gentleman's question. If the political fund is reauthorised and is therefore a properly authorised fund, the only question that arises is the mechanism by which people pay into it. Whether that is contracting in or contracting out, the requirement is that there should be a free, fair, informed and unfettered choice—

Mr. Barron

There is.

Mr. Tebbit

On the contrary. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is not so, otherwise trade union leaders such as Gavin Laird would not say that they made it as difficult as possible and the National Association of Theatrical, Television and Kine Employees would not say that it was utterly unworried as long as three years had elapsed during which members were unable to get back the political levies that were taken from them against their will. The one area in which it may be essential to do something to improve the accounting practices of trade unions is in the way in which they account for their political expenditure. It is essential that that should be clean, open and transparent.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that much of the legislation is necessary because it is practically impossible for the ordinary union member to influence a change in his own union's rules? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend assure me, as a member of three trade unions and someone with no business interests whatsoever, that he will include in the legislation provisions to give the ordinary union member the chance to demand of his executive a strike ballot?

Mr. Tebbit

If the governing bodies of trade unions are democratically elected, that is the best way to ensure that the union is run in accordance with the members' wishes. To go too deep in legislation into exactly what the rule book should say would be dangerous and wrong. However, there is no reason why the privilege of immunity from the civil law should be extended to a trade union that pushes men and women out on strike without asking them first.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

Did the Secretary of State notice a few weeks ago that the company that employs the president of the CBI balloted its shareholders about a controversial wage increase for the chairman of that company? The result was 5 million votes in favour of the wage increase and 200,000 votes against. Is that a model for the type of open individual ballot that the Secretary of State is proposing? Does he agree that, unless the Government do something about that bogus type of company democracy, his proposals will be seen for the vindictive and partisan attack on the Labour movement that they are?

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman has still failed to understand that the Companies Acts govern companies' behaviour in many areas but that companies do not have extended to them legal immunities for breach of contract. If trade unions were to say that they did not want legal immunity to breach contracts we might be able to regard them in a slightly different light. However, while they have that privilege, they are set aside and above other citizens and it is only right that their affairs should be subject to scrutiny. Above all, it is right that their members should have a right to free and fair democratic elections.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many union members will be glad that they will soon have some safeguard to help them vote against strike action which they used to have to do at a mass meeting? Is he further aware that that protection against intimidation will be welcomed by many union members?

Mr. Tebbit

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Once again, he has made an important point with great clarity. It is difficult to find a case of a company intimidating its shareholders into withdrawing their labour or even withdrawing their money.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Is is not a fact that the Government are now so dizzy with success as a result of the general election that they are stretching themselves far beyond the point where industrial peace can be observed? Is not what has emerged today a declaration of war on the unions? Does the Secretary of State remember that it was the trade unions that built the Labour party— not the other way round? The Labour party will preserve those unions as the apple of its eye. Is he aware that today he has launched a recipe for a struggle on a grand scale—not a recipe for industrial peace? Is he further aware that that battle will be fought in the House and outside? Is he aware that he has launched a recipe for massive industrial unrest?

Mr. Tebbit

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we are dizzy with success, there are some who would think he was befuddled with failure. When he talks of the Labour party being the apple of the trade unions' eye—

Mr. Flannery

The other way round.

Mr. Tebbit

Even if it is the other way round, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing on earth that can preserve a rotten apple.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the misery that so-called kangaroo courts cause many people? A notable example was the case of a constituent who, at the age of 21, was deprived of his job for ever by a kangaroo court of the Transport and General Workers Union. Will my right hon. Friend consider ways in which to bring kangaroo courts more within the law as there was nothing that Parliament or the courts could do in that wicked and unjust affair?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend refers to a case with which I am not familiar. However, it is certain that the law now extends much greater protection to those who are dealt with in a kangaroo court way. The final sanction of such a so-called court is to take away the member's union card. There is now considerable protection against such an eventuality.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

By how much will unemployment be reduced as a result of the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman has announced today?

Mr. Tebbit

In so far as it is quite clear that they will have a considerable effect on improving industrial relations and bring about a more responsible attitude towards industrial disputes, whatever effect they have will be positive.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Secretary of State aware that the trade unions were involving themselves in internal democracy at least one century before the Tory party got round to electing its leader? Is he further aware that if he dropped his bigoted attitude and started to realise what happens in the companies that his right hon. and hon. Friends are involved in he would find that, if democracy needed to be developed, it should be developed in the City, in multinationals and the rest where even elementary forms of democracy do not exist?

Mr. Tebbit

Of course, I am prepared to believe that that is the hon. Gentleman's opinion; but it was not the opinion of the electorate on 9 June.

Mr. Skinner

Has it not been typical of the two most recent Tory Governments and at least one earlier one—that between 1966 and 1970—to canvass the idea that the way in which to get the economy right and growing is to attack the trade unions and use them as a scapegoat? Is it not worth noting that when the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor introduced what is known as the "Prior Bill" we were promised that unemployment would go down, whereas it went up? When the right hon. Gentleman introduced another Bill in the previous Government to attack the unions and use them as a scapegoat, we were promised again that unemployment would decrease, but still it rose. What guarantee can he give that, when this third Bill becomes an Act, it will result in fewer than 4 million unemployed? Can he give such a guarantee? Will he give a guarantee to the miners and many other workers to the effect that, when they go into the pub and buy a pint, they will be allowed to hold a ballot on whether the brewer should be allowed to send money to Tory party funds?

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting concept—that it is for the customer to decide what the profits of the company should be devoted to. If he really believes that, he must believe that the customer also has a right to say what the wage earner should spend his wages on. I do not believe that he really wants that.

The measures that I ant proposing today are not about economic policy. They are about something of which the hon. Gentleman has little understanding—democracy.

Mr. Skinner

I have stood in far more elections than the Secretary of State.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

When the Secretary of State imposes what he calls the elementary democratic rights of workers, meaning the right to hold a secret ballot on whether to hold a strike, is he aware that they might exercise that same elementary democratic right not to return to work even though they have been recommended to do so by the unions? Is he aware that there might be some prolonged strikes as a direct result of his proposed legislation?

Is the Secretary of State further aware that there are some people in industry who might not like what he calls elementary democratic rights? The result could be a rash of unofficial strikes. Whatever the purpose of this legislation is, it will make the lives of trade union general secretaries and officers much more difficult as they will find it harder to control dissident elements in their membership.

Mr. Tebbit

If the legislation were to make the life of general secretaries more difficult, that would probably have a good deal of public consent. However, I do not believe that it will, and I do not believe that it is desirable to make their lives more difficult. I want to make their lives easier in that I want them to be assured that they have the support of their membership and the strength that flows from that.

I am not restricting anybody's right to go on strike or to come back off strike. I am saying that a union should not enjoy legal immunity for supporting a strike unless—

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

The Secretary of State is destroying rights that trade unionists have enjoyed for 100 years.

Mr. Tebbit

The right hon. Gentleman, who is in his latter days, should not intervene in matters which he has almost given up any hope of understanding. If he had had as much personal experience of strikes, including taking part in them as me, he might understand the problem a little better.

I propose that a union should have civil immunity for the organisation of a strike only when a ballot has been held.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Why does not the Secretary of State legislate for political funds in the case of companies, to be authorised by 10-yearly ballots of shareholders?

Mr. Tebbit

For several reasons. First, I am the Secretary of State for Employment, not the Secretary of State for Trade. Secondly, there does not seem to be a raging horde of shareholders demanding such action, whereas many trade unionists believe that this should be done, as was reflected in the result of the general election.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

In view of the Secretary of State's recent conversion to and passion for democracy, will he include in the legislation a commitment to compulsory secret ballots among workers before plant closures, company mergers, the export of capital from companies and the election of company directors? Or is his so-called passion for free, fair and democratic involvement of workers a one-sided form of democracy—a unilateral form of industrial democracy?

Mr. Tebbit

My view is that those who own assets should have control over them. Therefore, a company's assets should be controlled by its owners, and the unions should be controlled by their members. I am sure that that is right, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

Will my right hon. Friend kill the myth about companies by reminding the House that under the Companies Acts companies must hold an annual general meeting at which shareholders can object to directors' salaries and to donations to charities and political parties? If there is an upsurge among shareholders against their directors making donations to political parties, they have a democratic right each year to voice their antagonism. The fact that at few annual general meetings shareholders object to subscriptions to political parties is proof that shareholders are happy with their directors' actions.

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend is right. Whereas the political levy frequently amounts to as much as 7 per cent. of the trade union subscription, the political contributions of companies are typically never more than one part in 100,000 of the company's turnover.

Mr. Winnick

Further to my previous point, Mr. Speaker, I understand that hon. Members need not declare an interest when asking questions. This is a controversial subject. Several hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, would not deny that they are involved in companies, and they have rightly included such involvement in the Register of Members' Interests. The problem is that some of those companies make donations to the Tory party. By so doing, they show political prejudice against the Labour party. Is not it odd and unfair, Mr. Speaker, that, during exchanges on this controversial subject, Conservative Members can make their points without Hansard showing that they have commercial interests which are against the Labour party? Therefore, Mr. Speaker, will you reconsider the position and explain why, if it is right for hon. Members to declare their interests when speaking in debate, it is unnecessary during exchanges such as those we have just had?

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman thinks it through, he will understand that if every hon. Member were to declare his interest before he asked a supplementary question few hon. Members would be called. All right hon. and hon. Members have access to the Register of Members' Interests, and my previous ruling has been of long standing.

Mr. Radice

Will the Secretary of State answer a few questions about compulsory strike ballots, because he has not been clear? Will they extend to other forms of action, short of strikes? How can he be certain that such ballots will not prolong strikes? Does he not agree that his proposal to withdraw immunity is a built-in legislative incentive to turn all disputes into unofficial strikes? Is he prepared to consult the TUC on the principles of the legislation, which undermine basic union rights and which the Opposition strongly oppose, or will he consult the TUC only on the details of the political fund?

Mr. Tebbit

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had latched on to the fact that I offered consultation on the principles last January, but the TUC said that it did not wish to consult me on such matters. However, I made it plain in my statement that I shall welcome consultations and that I shall be happy to hear the views of the trade unions about the way in which the three main items which were the subject of a clear commitment in the election manifesto on which the Conservative party was returned should be carried out.

As the hon. Gentleman described them as "compulsory strike ballots", clearly he has not yet understood what I said. There is no provision for compulsory strike ballots.

Mr. Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I realise, Mr. Speaker, that you are not responsible for ministerial answers, and the Secretary of State for Employment is the last person for whom I would wish you to take responsibility, because I have great regard for you. During an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), the Secretary of State described the trade union movement as a "rotten apple". The entire House heard him say that. Would you, Mr. Speaker, give the Secretary of State the opportunity to withdraw that disgraceful remark? If he does not withdraw it, we must assume that his attack on the trade unions is, as we all suspect, a personal vendetta.

Mr. Tebbit

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to make it plain that the rotten apple to which I referred was the Labour party, not the trade union movement.