HC Deb 08 March 1983 vol 38 cc694-5
6. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has any plans to meet the Trades Union Congress to discuss proposals on trade union reform.

Mr. Tebbit

I have invited the TUC to give me its views, but the TUC has preferred not to accept my invitation.

Mr. Hoyle

Surely the Secretary of State understands the reason. Why does he continue to attack the trade unions in the way that he does in spite of the fact that he says that there is no vendetta? Will he take into account the views of some of those who know more about the trade union movement than he does, and drop his half-baked crackpot schemes for the reform of the trade union movement, which are doing so much damage to industrial relations?

Mr. Tebbit

I hope, of course, that the trade union movement will change its mind. Certainly some distinguished members, such as Mr. Gavin Laird, think that it is ridiculous that the TUC should take the attitude that it does. In answer to what the hon. Gentleman said about listening to people who have some knowledge of the matter, I listened carefully, and I noticed that the chairman of the TUC, referring to his own union, said: Over the years we have suffered from extremism and communist power bids more than any other union. Referring to the extreme Left, he said: They want to use this power for their own political ends—it would be a disaster if they succeeded. I agree with the chairman of the TUC.

Mr. Timothy Smith

Is it not clear that the proposals in the Green Paper have substantial support among ordinary trade union members? In those circumstances, is it not a grave dereliction of duty on the part of the TUC not to discuss these proposals with the Government?

Mr. Tebbit

I agree with my hon. Friend. Every opinion survey shows that the proposed measures have great support among trade unionists. To be fair to Mr. Murray, I understand that he told the Select Committee last week that the TUC would be willing to talk to the Government, provided that Parliament repealed the 1980 and 1982 Acts. I must say that I think Mr. Murray has a slightly odd idea of the relative roles of Parliament and the TUC.

Mr. Varley

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that some of the hostility of the TUC towards him, and perhaps to some of his colleagues, is because they have given the impression over the past three years that their only policy towards the trade unions is mass unemployment, the whip of unemployment and oppressive legislation? Will he take this opportunity to say that what distinguishes a democracy and free society is the right to strike, as opposed to a dictatorship where that right is taken away?

Mr. Tebbit

What distinguishes a democracy is that there are free and fair elections and that the majority control the Government. That is why this Government have the right to legislate in accordance with the proposals that they put before and had endorsed by the people in 1979.