HC Deb 19 July 1983 vol 46 cc161-3
5. Mr. Lennox-Boyd

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has received any representations from the Trades Union Congress with regard to Her Majesty's Government's proposals for trade union reform.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Tebbit)

I regret that the TUC declined to participate in the consultations on the Green Paper "Democracy in Trade Unions". I have, however, told the TUC that I would welcome its comments on the proposals for legislation in this area which I announced to the House last Tuesday.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

When my right hon. Friend meets leaders of the TUC—I am sure that he will—will he consider suggesting that when all the hubbub has died down, the shouting has stopped and my right hon. Friend's proposals have become law, they will find that their leadership is renewed and invigorated as they will discover that they are acting with a clear mandate, having been elected by a majority of their members and, if they want to call an official strike, it will be a clear request from a majority of their members — [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Moreover—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that one question is fair. Not more.

Mr. Tebbit

I assure my hon. Friend that I shall make those points. They can be put simply — democracy would be no bad thing in the trade union movement.

Mr. loan Evans

Is the Secretary of State aware that the trade union movement is democratic, that the members determine the constitution and that if he wants to introduce secret ballots—which some unions already have—they can decide the issue at their annual conferences? Is he further aware that they have a perfect right as a democratic movement to say that they do not want secret ballots if the majority say so? Why is the Secretary of State dictating to the trade union movement?

Mr. Tebbit

I do not think that to suggest that there should be democratic elections is the mark of a dictatorship. I have often quoted from the Dispatch Box the words of the chairman of the TUC. He said that in the past and, indeed, until now, the extreme Left had lied, intrigued, manipulated and resorted to intimidation to get its way.

Mr. Prentice

Has my right hon. Friend noted the admirable speech of the general secretary of the Civil and Public Services Association? Does he welcome it as a sign of the type of new thinking that is needed for the trade union movement, and does he agree that it could help it take a more modern role and escape from the shop-worn and outdated concept of a labour movement with political and industrial wings?

Mr. Tebbit

I read Mr. Graham's speech with great interest. It shows the extent to which new thinking can be engendered among leaders of trade unions once democracy begins to haunt the counsels of the TUC.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

If the Government want to introduce more democracy and change the basis of political contributions, why is the Secretary of State not introducing measures to make the prior approval of shareholders necessary for contributions to the Conservative party? Why is he not changing to a system of opting in for the trade unions?

Mr. Tebbit

I have not excluded a system of opting in, but, in view of the representations that various people made to me and, not least, what was said in the House by Labour Members and those who represent trade unions, I thought it right to consult the TUC first to see whether it could find a way in which the rights of trade unionists could be assured without changing completely to contracting in. I wait to see whether it can.

The hon. Gentleman knows that political payments by companies are governed far more tightly by the Companies Acts than are contributions of trade unions under the Trade Union Act 1913. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take the matter further, I am sure that he can table a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Needham

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the trade unions are crucial and vital organisations in the future of this country, and that they can never play their proper role until the public accept that their leaders are democratically elected, and seen to be so?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend is right, but what is perhaps just as important is that trade unionists themselves have demanded these reforms.

Mr. Varley

Is the Secretary of State aware that trade unions need no lessons from him about democracy, and certainly not from the Tory party, which is riddled with privilege and thrives on patronage? Does he realise that no one will take the right hon. Gentleman seriously on political levies unless at some stage he announces to the House of Commons that he will introduce legislation to make it possible for shareholders to contract out of paying political donations to the Tory party?

Mr. Tebbit

Trade unions may not want my advice on democracy, but it is certain that they need it badly. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, as he looks at the block votes of a few hundred thousand here and there that will be cast for or against him when he stands for election in the Labour party, may well be converted to my view.