HC Deb 19 July 1983 vol 46 cc168-9
11. Mr. Bill Walker

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has any plans to introduce measures to make trade unions more accountable to their members.

14. Mr. Ward

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received on the method of election of trade union officials.

Mr. Gummer

More than 150 organisations and individuals submitted comments on the Green Paper "Democracy in Trade Unions". The consultations showed very wide support for legislation to safeguard the democratic rights of trade union members. The Government's proposals for legislation in these areas were published on Tuesday 12 July.

Mr. Walker

I thank my hon. Friend for that comprehensive answer. Has he noticed that in this very dry spell of weather some of our wetter colleagues appear to be drying out on the subject of trade union legislation? Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members fail to understand the difference between companies, from which shareholders can withdraw their shares, and trade unions, from which membership is withdrawn at the peril of losing one's job?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that there are very few people who do not think that democracy in trade unions is a good thing.

Mr. Ward

My hon. Friend will be aware of the general welcome for the proposals, but is he aware of the concern that any secret ballot should be adequately supervised from the moment the ballot papers are printed until the moment that they are counted? Will he give an assurance that that will be the case?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks the truth when he says that people are very concerned about the conduct of such ballots. It is sad that in this country any such suspicions should be held about the trade union movement. We shall look to the trade union movement to ensure that such suspicions are eradicated.

Mr. Skinner

Have the Minister and his Friends on the Government Front Bench considered extending this type of democracy to Freemasons?

Mr. Gummer

Freemasons are not, as I understand it, a responsibility of this Department.

Mr. Canavan

Nor are the trade unions.

Mr. Gummer

We are dealing with an organisation that has considerable influence and considerable privileges before the law, which Freemasons do not have.

Mr. Eggar

Has my hon. Friend noticed that the number of votes pledged by trade union leaders in the Labour leadership contest already almost exceeds the total number of votes cast at the last election for the Labour party?

Mr. Gummer

I have noticed that. I have also noticed that many of the contenders for the Labour party leadership are insistent on one man one vote when their election comes up, but are not quite so insistent on having one man one vote on matters of trade union legislation.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Minister aware that last Saturday the Prime Minister appointed a vice chairman of the Conservative party? How many ballots and votes did the sheep on the Government Benches have on that appointment? Why are not the same principles applied to the appointment of the vice chairman of the Conservative party as are applied to trade union leaders?

Mr. Gummer

I have sat in the House for nearly nine years and I have often heard the hon. Gentleman say how important the trade union movement is. He has never told me how important the Conservative party is or how important Freemasons are. The one difference between the trade union movement and the Freemasons and the Conservative party is that the trade union movement has legal immunity, and legal immunity means special responsibility.