HC Deb 02 April 1984 vol 57 cc721-40

'Notwithstanding the provisions of the Trade Union Act 1913, all members of a registered trade union shall be regarded as exempt for the purposes of payments made to the political fund of that trade union unless they have given written notice of their intention to contribute to the political fund.'. — [Mr. John Townend.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

8.30 pm
Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 8—Political contributionsFor sections 5 and 6 of the Trade Union Act 1913 there shall be substituted: (5) A member of a trade union may at any time give notice, that he wishes to contribute to the political fund of the union, and, on the adoption of a resolution of the union approving the furtherance of political objects as an object of the union, notice shall be given to the members of the union acquainting them of the procedures for contributing to the political fund of the union, and that an appropriate contribution form can be obtained by or on behalf of a member either by application or by post from the head office or any branch office of the union or the office of the Certification Officer. Any such notice to members of the union shall be given in accordance with the rules of the union approved for the purpose by the Certification Officer, having regard in each case to the existing practice and to the character of the union. (6) Effect shall be given to the wish of members to contribute to the political fund of a union by a separate levy of contributions to that fund from the members of the union who wish to contribute, and the rules shall provide that no moneys of the union other than the amount raised by such separate levy shall be carried to that fund.".'.

Mr. Townend

New clause 5 deals with a matter of principle—individual freedom of choice. I had always believed that that principle was close to the heart of the Tory party, and therefore I was saddened when I felt impelled to table this new clause. I am sure that many of my colleagues had hoped that the Government would have included a clause of this type in their draft Bill. It is especially surprising that the Government did not do so because, on numerous occasions during consideration of the Bill in Committee, my right hon. and hon. Friends made reference to the fact that the purpose of the Bill was to increase the rights of individual trade unionists rather than to reduce the rights and powers of trade unions.

New clause 5, as drafted, simply changes the present position whereby anyone who does not wish to pay the political levy must contract out and, if he does not, pays it automatically. The new clause provides that any one wishing to pay the political levy must contract in. We all know that in practice supporting and paying into the political levy means giving financial support to the Labour party. In a free society there is no reason why anyone should give financial support to a political party unless he has expressly indicated his desire to do so. The onus should not be on the individual who does not wish to make such a payment and who, to contract out, will inevitably give other people some sign of his political beliefs. I have as yet heard no argument that deals satisfactorily with that fundamental principle.

I shall consider first how the present system is working. The 1982 report of the Certification Officer showed that in the four largest unions over 90 per cent. of members were paying a political levy. In two of those unions—the Transport and General Workers Union and the National Union of Public Employees—no fewer than 98 per cent. of members were paying the levy. I am sure that no hon. Member on either side of the House believes that anything like that percentage supported the Labour party with their vote at election time.

It is clear, after taking into account support for the other parties—the Conservative and Liberal parties, the SDP alliance and the nationalists—that many hundreds of thousands or perhaps 1 million or 2 million trade unionists who do not vote for the Labour party at elections are paying the political levy that finances the Labour party. There are a number of reasons for that. Inertia is one reason. Many people are reluctant to take any action to do anything. Many trade unionists are ignorant of their rights, and I know that my right hon. Friend's agreement tries to deal with that aspect. Many trade unionists do not wish to make their political views known. Some are afraid of standing out in a crowd, of possible victimisation and, in extreme cases, intimidation. There is no doubt that in some factories considerable psychological pressure is put on people.

Mr. Evans

Where is the evidence?

Mr. Townend

The evidence is that 98 per cent of members of the Transport and General Workers Union pay the political levy.

The Government have decided that there is no need at this stage to legislate as I and some of my hon. Friends are requesting. The Government have come to an agreement with the Trades Union Congress to issue a statement of guidance to its members. That statement sets out the procedures that should be followed to ensure that trade union members are aware of their rights to contract out and that no obstacles are put in their way.

My first reservation about that agreement is that the TUC has no power to force its member unions to obey the agreement. On a number of occasions recently, we have noted solemn and binding agreements. There is a code of conduct for picketing, which at present does not seem to be applied very much.

Even if the agreement works to the degree hoped by the Government, it does not deal with the principle I raised. Is it right for an individual to be railroaded into giving financial support to a political party without his express agreement? In addition, the agreement does not deal with the problem of inertia. I suggest that it will not deal either with the problem of psychological pressure.

The union member contracting out will reveal to his trade union officials and his fellow members that he at least does not support the Labour party. He can keep his political views to himself at election time because of the secret ballot at the polling booth, but, if he wishes to withdraw from paying a political levy to the Labour party, his political attitude becomes known to others. In many cases, that will, whatever the guidelines say, affect his chances of being elected to union office.

Many of my hon. Friends will be expecting the Secretary of State to spell out what he expects to achieve from his agreement with the TUC on the implementation of the statement of guidance. Will he fix a time limit within which the unions must deliver? What criteria will he use when deciding whether the unions have delivered? Will he be satisfied if, for example, the percentage of TGWU members paying the political levy falls from 98 per cent. to 70 per cent.?

I turn briefly to some of the pragmatic arguments that the Government have been putting to me and, I believe, a considerable number of my hon. Friends in the past few days. It would appear that the Government's principal argument for not bringing in contracting in was that it was not in the Conservative party manifesto. I suggest to the House that no Government should be deterred from doing what is right in principle merely because the action is not stated in the manifesto. Unlike the Opposition, the Tory party has never been a slave to its manifesto. There are many precedents. During the previous debate some Opposition Members mentioned Winston Churchill's stand. During the late 1940s or early 1950s when Winston Churchill was the leader of the Tory party, our manifesto contained a commitment to bring back contracting in. We did not do that when we subsequently were returned to power.

Another argument which has been advanced by a number of people and which will no doubt be put forward tonight is that contracting in would be unfair to the Labour party. It could be seen by the country as an attack upon the Labour party and would offend the centre ground of politics. I would strongly challenge that view. Are hon. Members saying that fair-minded people feel that it is right or necessary for the Labour party to be financed by the subscriptions of people who are not prepared to give it their votes? When it comes to the middle ground, I notice from the amendment paper that new clause 8, tabled by the alliance, is in principle the same as my new clause. I suggest that the alliance could clearly be said to represent the middle ground in politics and therefore I trust that it will be joining us in the Lobby.

A third argument which has been used to persuade hon. Members not to vote for the new clause is that it will inevitably increase pressure for state funding of political parties. I cannot understand the thinking behind that argument. At the last election the alliance polled nearly as many votes as the Labour party. That showed that it was possible for a centre-Left party to poll a significant share of the votes without state funding or financial support from the trade unions.

I would remind hon. Members that between 1927 and 1946 we had a system of contracting in which worked satisfactorily. There were few complaints about it. It was changed in 1946 by the Labour party with the express intention of increasing its funds. Although there was no state funding and contracting in for almost 20 years this did not result in the financial collapse of the Labour party. In 1945, the Labour party won its greatest victory. Depending upon financial support from people who are not prepared to give it their votes could be debilitating for the Labour party.

When one reads in the newspapers published last weekend that Militant is on target to raise £1 million, it is clear that there is plenty of money for the Left to raise if it makes the effort. Many hon. Members might not be aware that even today in Northern Ireland the law provides for a system of contracting in. This is a matter of principle and a question of freedom of choice that is dear to the Tory party.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

As this is a matter of principle, will my hon. Friend also go down another road and hit on the head another important matter of principle? If—I emphasise the word "if'—there is any comparison between the contributions made by people to trade unions and those made by companies, in all equity, fairness and consistency, will he agree that at some stage we shall have to consider that matter but that it is not an argument against doing what he suggests?

Mr. Townend

I would agree with my hon. Friend. He makes a valid point. There is a difference between a limited company and an individual. When I spoke in Committee on this Bill, I issued a challenge to Opposition Members. I said that if they would vote for contracting in I would positively campaign to change the law with regard to political donations by companies. I know that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be wary of that but in my view it is not good for politics, on the Left or the Right, for political parties to be dependent on subscriptions unless they come from people who give them freely.

There has been a great deal of support for the principle behind the new clause. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that over 90 of our colleagues signed the new clause thereby signifying their support for the principle. Furthermore, a considerable number of Conservative Members have told me that they do not wish publicly to show their opposition to the Government but that they regret that the Government have not dealt with the matter as they believe it to be an important principle.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Why not have a secret ballot?

8.45 pm
Mr. Townend

In reply to that seated intervention, I say that if we had a secret ballot on this, I and the hon. Gentleman would not be the only ones to be surprised at the result; other Conservative Members might be surprised by the result.

Most of the Conservative trade unionists support the principle of contracting in. This morning in The Times, the leader, giving support to the new clause, finished with the words: The thing needs to be got right, and there will be no better time for getting it right than now. There is a compelling argument, which I know will not be supported by many of my hon. Friends but which I think is in the long-term national interest, which is why I believe that the time for action is now—the need to have an alternative Government to the present one who will not take the country down the irreversible road to Marxism.

At the moment, the only viable alternative is the Labour party, which has the most Left-wing leader in history and which is moving to the Left year by year. A system of removing contracting out and and removing the financial support of non-Labour members from the Labour party could result in speeding up the Labour party's decline and its replacement by the alliance as an alternative to the Conservative Government.

The long-awaited realignment of British politics would be with us. It would not just be good for the alliance, it would be good for the country. I suggest to my hon. Friends that it would also be good for our party because we will not be in government for ever. In any democracy, after five, 10 or 15 years there will inevitably be a change of Government. When that comes, if the only alternative is a Marxist Government who will attack democracy and our free-market economy, that will be disastrous for our country.

I should like to say to those of my hon. Friends who signed the new clause and those who expressed sympathy with its principle that they should seriously consider going into the Lobby with us this evening. There is no danger of the Government being defeated. I have no doubt whatever that the Labour party will be voting for its funds, so there will be an unholy alliance this evening. Indeed, I would suggest that the larger the vote for the new clause the stronger the hand of the Government in future negotiations with the trade unions, and the more the pressure will be on the trade unions to deliver the voluntary agreement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has so skilfully negotiated.

Therefore, I ask as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends as have the courage to do so, to join me in the Lobby and to put down a marker for the future.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

There they are on the other side of the Chamber — the rebels of the Tory party, the "bovver" boys who are really putting in the boot. They are the storm-troopers of the Conservative party. That is what it is all about. They do not have a clue about democracy, trade unions or representation of the workers. They do not have a clue about representing the workers. many of them have not had a tool in their hands— [Laughter]—only a—

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

"Keep it up, Frank."

Mr. Haynes

I always thought that Tories had that sort of mind. They have given the show away.

The new clause represents an attack on the Labour party. When the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) introduced a similar amendment in Committee, I told him that. A few moments ago he suggested that it was not an attack on the Labour party, but that it was a question of democracy and people deciding for themselves. He has a short memory, because in Committee he did nothing but attack the Labour party. In introducing the new clause, the hon. Gentleman was trying to face two ways. I have never known the trade anion movement to be attacked in the way that the Government and, in particular, the storm-troopers sitting behind the Secretary of State, are attacking it. However, the Secretary of State is being sensible about the issue.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Haynes

I have only just stood up. However, I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants to object about the storm-troopers, so I shall give way.

Mr. Hind

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hon. Friend?"] I am sorry. I forgot that I was not in court. The hon. Gentleman has spoken about storm-troopers, but what does he think of some of the flying pickets that are outside pits up and down the country? Would he call them storm-troopers? Are they full of the milk of human kindness and calmness, or are they really the "bovver" boys and storm-troopers that he should be talking about? There is a matter of principle which Conservative Members respect. I should like the hon. Gentleman to look——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief.

Mr. Haynes

I am surprised at such a suggestion from the hon. Gentleman. I have worked in the mining industry for more than 35 years and have been a trade unionist for more than 40 years. I have found the miner to be the most benevolent person in society. Conservative Members may laugh, but I am being serious. When a miner is in need of help he gets the support of his colleagues nationwide, throughout the industry. It is not right and proper to try to draw a red herring across our good argument against the new clause. But then, that is why the hon. Gentelman intervened. It was about the only thing that he could do. I would welcome it if the hon. Gentleman made a sensible contribution to our debate, but he just tried to trip me up, despite the fact that I am trying to make a sensible contribution.

The Bill, and particularly the new clause, show that the Conservative party is trying to destroy our nation's industrial relations—[Interruption.] That is the action that is being taken. I am sorry, but that is it. If Conservative Members talked to workers in their constituencies, they would get the message. I get the message — I got it last night — [Interruption.] The message was loud and clear. Miners are not accepting the Government's actions in respect of the mining industry. That is why there are flying pickets. Miners are defending their rights and jobs. It is the Conservative party that is trying to deny trade unionists their rights and their ability to defend their jobs. It is the party of unemployment and it will go on and on until the people of this nation wake up and get rid of it. Given the road that it is travelling, I am convinced that we shall get rid of it next time. We shall then have a Socialist Government to put the people back to work and to repair the damage done to the economy.

The new clause and the Bill will only make matters worse. The situation will only get worse as a result of them. Trade unions are having their rights taken away from them and are being shackled. Many years ago I saw a film — [Interruption.] Conservative Members think that it is a joke, but this is a serious matter. The film was called "Scarface" and it starred Paul Muni. The people in the prison were in chains. The Government, and in particular the new clause, are putting chains on the trade unionists of our nation.

If the Government go on in that way, the trade unions in the future will be known as the chain gang. I remember when what is now the Housing Finance Act 1972 was introduced under the Heath Administration. That was another example of chaining, but that Government had to change their mind. The present Government will have to change their mind about their attack on the trade unions through the Bill.

The hon. Member for Bridlington referred to the fact that the alliance won all those votes in the general election without depending on the political levy. He took a swipe at the Labour party, but did not mention his own party. Mention has been made of the amount of money that poured into the Conservative party fund, but only in terms of the people who own shares. We should not forget that even my hon. Friends contribute to Conservative party funds every time they buy a pint of beer, no matter what brew it is. One cannot go into a shop and buy something, no matter what it is, without contributing to Conservative party funds. The hon. Member for Bridlington said nothing about that.—[HON. MEMBERS: "He did."] The hon. Gentleman did not mention the consumer.

I have heard the previous Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), talking about people having to decide for themselves whether to pay the political levy. The consumer does not decide. No matter what the consumer picks off the shelf in the supermarket, he is contributing to Conservative party funds. He has no right to choose whether he does so or not. That is how unfair the system is and how unfair the effect of the legislation will be.

I appeal to hon. Members on the Government Benches—but it is no use appealing to the storm-troopers in the Chamber today. For me, the most embarrassing thing is that I shall have to go into the Lobby tonight. I shall have to do so in order to vote against that lot over there. The measure that they are trying to include in the Bill is vicious. I know that the hon. Member for Bridlington can be vicious verbally—I have heard him before—but this measure will be vicious in its effect on the ordinary person in the trade union movement.

9 pm

I have mentioned the CTU. That is infiltration into the trade union movement. It is the reason why we have Tories in the trade union movement. I remember the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) encouraging Conservatives to join trade unions years ago. That was how the CTU came about. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Members ask, "Why not?" I remember Conservative Members accusing the Labour party of containing extremists, but the Conservative party has encouraged people to join the trade union movement and be extremists. They are the people who will take the trade unions to court. It is a set-up. I shall never move from that position, and nor will my party.

Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Haynes

The hon. Gentleman did not make any speeches in Committee, and I shall not give way to him now.

We have heard mention of 10, 15 or 20 years, but after all the suffering that there has been since 1979, we shall soon be back in office to clear up the mess. We shall deal with the situation and establish fairness. My party believes in fairness. We will clip the corns of the big businesses which contribute to Conservative party funds. I said that in Committee, but I have a wider audience tonight. I tell the country what I tell my constituency party regularly—that we will clip the corns of the big businesses whose behaviour makes the Bill so unfair. The amendment is vicious and, much to my regret, I shall have to go into the Goverment Lobby in order to defeat it.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I get the impression that the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) opposes new clause 5, although I am not at all clear why. I hope to be able to show that there are some rather better reasons than those he has adduced for being against it. I am grateful for an opportunity to speak because I owe my hon. Friends an explanation as I originally put my name to new clause 5.

The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) reinforced my doubts about new clause 5. He asked several questions. The first was whether this was an issue of principle and whether there was a right of free choice which every trade unionist should enjoy with regard to paying a political levy. That freedom of choice exists. It might not be in the most perfect possible form, but the ability to contract out gives the individual an opportunity to exercise the freedom that my hon. Friend complains is lacking. We are arguing not so much about the principle as about the efficiency of the mechanism by which people enjoy it.

I was also unsure when my hon. Friend said that pressures could be brought to bear—he asserted that they are brought to bear—on trade unionists who are known to contract out and that that would be cured if unions went over to contracting in. It would be possible, as anyone with some small experience of the way in which the Whips work knows, for those who are known not to have contracted in to be subjected to pressures which are not dissimilar from those which could be applied to those who have contracted out. I am not at all sure that the argument is convincing either way. I am disposed to welcome the agreement that my right hon. Friend has concluded with Trades Union Congress—that guidance should be available to all trade unionists on their rights and how they should exercise them — and to give that agreement a chance to work.

My hon. Friend's second question concerned the manifesto. I concede that it is possible to get over-excited about manifestos and, from time to time, things which would have been better left unsaid are said in manifestos and vice versa. Anyone in politics should work from such a premise especially those of us who are not in the happy position of taking part in the drafting of the manifesto. I always find it difficult to regard myself as bound by something which I have had no part in drawing up. That might be a tiresom independence in my spirit, but I am damned if I want anyone to slap a manifesto around my neck like a collar.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

What about the 10 commandments?

Mr. Onslow

The 10 commandments might or might not be a manifesto and I should not be in order if I pursued that point, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for hinting at how the debate might develop and hope that he gets a chance to speak.

The third question that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington asked concerned state funding. Like him, I see no great doctrinal barrier in the argument that new clause 5 would open the way to a fundamental review of state funding of political activity. Some such review might be timely and I should be glad to add to that debate. No Social Democratic Members are present. I must point out that they have no monopoly of keenness about adopting changes in the approach to political funding.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

They are not here.

Mr. Onslow

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that. The Government assure us that we shall discuss the deposit for parliamentary elections. It would be wrong if it were set so high that it would be possible to argue that a financial barrier was being put in the way of someone wanting to take part in parliamentary elections. It would be better to approach it on a different basis.

I have brought in that point because I want to assert that if we are to tackle state funding of political activities, we should not do so in a piecemeal way. If the new clause has the effect that is claimed for it, and if there is to be legislation, let it be taken on a comprehensive basis so that there is no question of obvious inequity in the finances of one political party being apparently singled out and the finances of others being left for another day. That would be wrong, and it would be seen to be wrong.

My hon. Friend mentioned timing. The Times editorial is always powerful to those who read The Times. To others of us the argument that there is never a good time to change from contracting out to contracting in may be persuasive. However, I do believe that time is of the essence in this case because of the point that I sought to make earlier. It is important to the Government and their supporters and to parliamentary and political life in general that the Trades Union Congress should be given time to show that it can deliver what it has undertaken to deliver.

As it is, if the new clause is incorporated in the Bill, it will have two effects. First — this is undesirable enough—it tells the TUC that we who voted the Bill in have no faith either in its intentions or in its ability to deliver. That seems to be a serious mistake, but it would be a more serious mistake if we told the Government that they should not have placed any confidence in the TUC and — [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right."] Some hon. Members may take that view, but I see no reasons why we should not at least now give the measure a chance to work. It is far better to give the TUC a chance to deliver rather than write off the forces of moderation in the trade union movement before they have even been given an opportunity to show what they can do, and act as recruiting sergeants for the militants, which is what I am afraid those who vote for the new clause may inadvertently be doing.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I was not a member of the Committee on the Bill as I was busy elsewhere dealing with transport matters. However" I bring to the House the background of my experience as the first London regional education officer of the TUC after it took over the work of the National Council of Labour Colleges. I have also been a railway worker.

I am told that in Committee hon. Members referred to the origin of the trade unions, which stems partly from the legislation of 1913, but mainly from the Osborne judgment of 1909. Many Conservative Members took part in the Committee, but many others will not be so familiar with that history. If they knew more about the history of the politically oriented side of the trade union movement and its continuous attachment to the Labour party, they would get things in better balance.

The press has commented upon the TUC's discussions with the Secretary of State. I have always admired the Secretary of State, whose abilities are undoubted. He has struck a balance in the present political climate on which he should be congratulated. Having watched him in all his other activities, I never thought that I would congratulate him on his ability to talk to the TUC. Len Murray once commented that having a conversation with the Prime Minister was like having a dialogue with the deaf. In turn, she said to me, "I did not know that Mr. Murray was deaf." We seem to have moved away from that situation with the Secretary of State's proposal at least to accept the goodwill of the TUC, which has clearly pointed out that its members—particularly new members—have an absolute right not to contribute to the political fund.

9.15 pm

In a sectional debate of this kind, it is pertinent to spell out how the Osborne judgment arose. It did so because a branch secretary of the old ASRS —a forerunner of the NUR, of which I was an active member for many years—objected to the union financing a general secretary. Mr. Bell, who was running for Parliament. That went through the various processes of law until it reached the House of Lords. It became known as the Osborne judgment. The political fund was embodied in the 1913 Act.

It also underscores the special and federal characteristics of the British Labour party, which cannot be compared with any other social democratic organisation in any part of the world, particularly in western Europe. Basically, the Labour party was, and is, a social democratic organisation. Some earlier social democrats were very much attached to the ideas of Karl Marx.

The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) does not seem able to seize hold of those facts of life. Were his intentions carried through, far from wiping out the Labour party they would stimulate it to work much harder than it does now. We have on many occasions heard the argument that the Labour party's funds might be weakened as a consequence of contracting in. That argument is akin to a historical shuttlecock. It was in the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927, which arose out of the 1926 general strike. At that time, it was regarded as a vindicative activity on the part of a reactionary Tory Government against the trade union movement and its political counterpart, the British Labour party. Thereafter, the whole movement was pledged to reverse the position, which is what it did after its magnificent victory in 1945.

Whatever the hon. Member for Bridlington and his hon. Friends think they may be doing, they will not eradicate the British Labour party. It has been argued that Labour party funds are derived more from individual membership and local fund-raising activities than from the affiliated trade unions attached to it. However, it does not necessarily follow that one must affiliate to the Labour party. Historically, that has always been the sensible thing to do, but I recall that when one Labour Government operated a so-called incomes policy—it was really wage restraint, against which I was a rebel — some of the smaller unions disaffiliated from the Labour party as a consequence, they still had their political funds to use as they thought best under the democratic facilities of every trade union movement.

I have a profound interest in these matters. I came here as a NUR member, and later I transferred to the Transport and General Workers Union. I am now sponsored by that union, which has the biggest group of trade union members in the House of Commons. It is a very sensible and well-balanced group of hon. Members. However, that will be challenged if the funds of the trade unions are weakened, for within those organisations is the democratic machinery to establish the rules under which they proceed.

Set against the background of history, the whole affair is seen as a rather vindictive act on the part of a section of Conservative Members who do not understand the whirlwind that they will reap in consequence of the action that they are seeking to take today. My comments do not, of course, apply to those Conservative Members who will be supporting the Government tonight. If the section of Conservative Members to whom I refer were simultaneously proposing legislation to prevent limited liability companies from making their very big donations to the Tory party —donations donations without which the Tory party could not exist—the position would be rather different. From time to time we see the list of donations made by those companies to the Tory party, and we also see the special privileges and honours that are given to the heads of the industries concerned. They make handsome contributions to the Tory party and what happens thereafter is a quid pro quo. [Interruption.] I repeat that if those Conservative Members who are challenging the Government's position this evening were simultaneously coming forward with proposals to democratise the position, and making suggestions simultaneously with regard to companies' funds and trade union funds, they could be given a degree of credibility that we cannot give them tonight.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)


Mr. Bidwell

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) made some valid points in his very spirited speech. It is correct to say that the Government tonight are acting a little more sensibly than they have done of late, and I have no doubt that, when the Minister has made his statement on the position, sensible Conservative Members will be joining me and my hon. Friends in rejecting the ultra-Right wing Members of the Tory party, who will be deservedly defeated in the Lobbies.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me to speak, and you have probably done so because I have indicated that it is my wish to speak this evening. I doubt whether you called me because you assume that everyone in the House wishes to speak unless indicating otherwise. That is what we are talking about tonight—whether we opt in or opt out.

When we vote at an election we do not cross out the names of the people for whom we do not wish to vote. We positively vote for those for whom we wish to vote. Likewise, when we belong to a club or society that may organise a dinner or an outing, it cannot be taken for granted that we shall all support what is proposed for a week's time or a month's time. We are invited to indicate whether or not we support what is proposed.

Therefore, we have nationally a system of opting in and positively identifying those things that we wish to do. We do not in this country have a system of opting out. Therefore, it is quite inappropriate to have a system of opting out in regard to a political levy—particularly when the political levy, if it is collected, goes to only one political party.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) has said, there were at the last general election perhaps 3 million trade unionists who voted for the Conservative party and perhaps another 1 million who voted for the SDP. Therefore, nearly half the trade unionists in this country did not support the Labour party, which benefits from the political levy.

The Labour party may think that it has a freehold on the trade union movement, but it may not even have a leasehold and, if it does, it may be only a short leasehold. It certainly has no right to expect automatically to collect a ground rent.

A system of opting out is not in line with the Conservative philosophy of individual freedom or with our national philosophy of indicating positively what we wish to do. The opting-out system is as unacceptable as having books or Christmas cards put through one's door on the basis that one will pay for them unless one says otherwise.

I understand that the TUC has told the Secretary of State that it will ensure that opting out is made easier in future. But can the TUC deliver that promise? It has previously made promises that have not always been honoured and it has not always had the power to deliver what it promises.

If my right hon. Friend is to have the support of every Conservative Member, we must be satisfied that the promises from the TUC are gilt-edged and we shall look to the Secretary of State to ensure that he gets what has been promised. I am frightened about the coercion that might be exerted on those who opt out. If coercion can stop people earning £140 a week or more in the coalfields, I am sure that it could be used to ensure that people pay 35p or 50p a week for the political levy.

I am not against trade union membership. On the contrary, I am for it. I am not against employers collecting the political levy if that is the wish of union members. However, the levy should be collected in the same way that employers collect for savings plans or holiday schemes. Employees should positively indicate that they want to pay the levy.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I am following my hon. Friend's argument with interest, but, if trade unionists are to be required to give a positive indication of their desire to pay the political levy, must it not follow that shareholders should also have to make a positive indication, presumably by way of a special resolution, that they wish their companies to do the same thing?

Dr. Clark

I do not argue against that view, but I am talking about opting in and opting out in trade unions and not in companies.

If those who favour the opting-out system believe that a large number of trade union members would continue to pay the political levy under an opting-in system, they need not fear a move to such a system. However, if they do not believe that trade union members would continue to pay the political levy if the system were changed, they must consider whether it is right to continue to support the opting-out system.

I am strongly inclined to support new clause 5 and I will do so unless we have a solemn and gilt-edged promise from the Secretary of State that if the TUC does not give a secure promise or does not keep its promise in the future, he will bring in legislation to ensure that the opting-out system is replaced by the opting-in system.

9.30 pm
Mr. Fatchett

As he moved the new clause, the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) showed the two sides of his character:on the one hand as the alleged champion of the individual, and on the other—this came towards the end of his speech as the mask fell away —as someone who wanted to attack the finances of the Labour party.

From the hon. Gentleman's point of view, the new clause represents an attack on Labour's finances. Indeed, he makes no bones about that. He has an unlikely dream, though I suspect that, after many years in the political wilderness, dreams are all he is left with. As part of his dream, he wants to see the Labour party replaced by the Liberal-SDP alliance. I suppose that the first stage in that dream would be for the Liberals and Social Democrats to join together. The second stage—in effect this is the purpose of the new clause—is that by attacking the Labour party, the main Opposition party and weakening its finances, the point is reached at which it is unable to be regarded as an alternative to the Government.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)


Mr. Fatchett

I shall give way later.

In the first part of his speech the hon. Member for Bridlington tried to establish himself as the champion of the individual. Has he given a number of hostages to fortune, or does his record live up to him being regarded as a champion of the individual? For example, does he support members of the Conservative party who are asking to see the accounts of their party—some of them have been asking to see the accounts for the last three years — or does he agree with the treasurer of the Conservative party, that to reveal the accounts might give ammunition to Tory opponents?

Was he a champion of the individual over the events at GCHQ, when people's basic and fundamental rights to belong to a trade union were taken from them? I suspect that he was not. Indeed, I suspect that the vast majority of those who support his new clause are not champions of individual trade unionists.

Does the hon. Member for Bridlington champion the cause of the 3.5 million people in Britain who want the right to work and are currently unemployed? I do not see any sympathy for them on the Conservative Benches. Those individuals deserve concern, but they will not get it from the hon. Member for Bridlington and those who support his new clause.

As for the support of the hon. Member for Bridlington for democracy, are we likely to see that manifest itself in the democratic elections in the metropolitan counties and for the GLC in 1985? Will we then see him supporting the rights of individuals to cast their votes?

I suspect that the opening part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was designed to gain for him a little favour among his hon. Friends. He wanted to come over as a nice guy. Perhaps he has been on a salesmen's course and has been told that, after knocking, he should get his foot in the door and — despite all the obvious limitations in the hon. Gentleman's case—try to appeal as a nice guy to the prospective purchaser.

As the hon. Gentleman went on, the real truth slipped out. He was making an attack on the finances of the Labour party. We can reach that conclusion because he produced no concrete evidence of people being denied the right to opt out of paying the political levy.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)


Mr. Fatchett

I gather from that remark that the hon. Lady has evidence available to her. If so, why has she not brought it forward?

Mrs. Knight

The evidence is so thick on the ground that only the thick do not notice it.

Mr. Fatchett

Without wishing to comment on the nature of that thick evidence, I can only conclude that, with all the evidence around her feet, the hon. Lady has not had time to look at it. Has she noticed, for example, that 2 million people have opted out of paying the political levy? They have not had any trouble in doing that That is concrete evidence in the opposite direction. I was the treasurer of a trade union branch in which 70 per cent. of the members did not pay the political levy. I should have liked more of them to pay it, but none of them had any difficulty in opting out in that branch. I speak from experience in these matters. I doubt whether there is much of that on the Tory Benches.

Mr. Tracey

Does the hon. Gentleman remember Jack Cleminson, who spent 13 years trying to recoup the political levy money that had been wrongly deducted from his pay?

Mr. Fatchett

I wish to cite concrete evidence in the other direction. In the 1960s, the Donovan commission interviewed Robert Carr, then Conservative spokesman on employment. Mr. Can claimed that evidence was thick on the ground that people were being denied the right to contract out. Clearly, not many Conservative Members have read the Donovan report. Referring to Mr. Carr's evidence, it said at paragraph 923: He thought … that he might be able to supply details of specific cases if given the time"— an expectation apparently not fulfilled as the commission reached the firm and clear conclusion that there was no evidence of abuse in relation to the right to contract out.

I suspect that some Conservative Members could have given evidence to the more recent Select Committee investigation at which oral evidence was given by the director general of the Engineering Employers Federation, Dr. James McFarlane—not, I suspect, a Labour party supporter or one keen to see as many people as possible paying the levy. He, too, was asked whether he could provide evidence, as he, too, had claimed that it was thick on the ground— it is when people are asked to give concrete examples that their case fails—but replied: Not anything that I think you would recognise as evidence". On so many occasions Conservative Members have failed to provide evidence, showing clearly that facts and evidence will not move immobile prejudice one iota— and there is plenty of immobile prejudice on the Tory Benches today.

There is one compulsory political levy in this country —company donations to the Conservative party paid for by shareholders who do not have the right to opt out, consumers who do not have the right to opt out and employees who create the companies' wealth but do not have the right to opt out of seeing that wealth go in donations to the party which has achieved a total of 4.5 million unemployed. When the Labour party returns to office in 1987, we must tackle that abuse. I hope that the hon. Member for Bridlington will help us, given his objection to compulsory political levies and donations.

Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)

I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) on a very good speech, but I do not intend to vote for his new clause. I agree with his general attitude towards the political levy. It is absolutely wrong that for about 50 of the past 70 years many trade unionists have been under pressure, great or small, to contribute to a party that they do not support.

I do not accept the evidence of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). As this debate has gone on over the years, the Donovan quotation is always trotted out. But there are two truths which cannot be gainsaid. First, time and again Labour Members say that contracting out would be a "body blow" to their finances. Why should it be a body blow if there are not now people subscribing who would not spontaneously subscribe? The second unanswerable piece of evidence is the fact, as has been said several times tonight, that there are unions—not every union of course—in which 80, 90 even 100 per cent., of the members pay the political levy. As we all know, in the last election fewer than 40 per cent. of trade unionists voted Labour. Clearly, there is something fishy there. Just as we all smile when we hear of a Communist dictator getting 100 per cent. of the votes, it is just as ridiculous to assume that when it is said that 100 per cent. of a trade union's membership wants to pay the political levy, somebody somewhere is not being pushed along towards that end.

I probably differ from my hon. Friend because of our different backgrounds in industrial relations. I do not claim to know more about industrial relations than he does. He has been my neighbour in Yorkshire for a long time. He has been an active and effective chairman of the Humberside county council and I do not doubt that in that capacity he has a lot to do with trade unions. My industrial relations background is over many years in the textile industry in the West Riding. However, tonight I am more conditioned by my experience as Minister of State, Department of Employment in the early 1970s. In that position I had a lot to do with the 1971 legislation. That Act was not an unqualified success but not because we had not put a lot of thought into it. Never has a party prepared more for legislation than we did for the Act of 1971. For three or four years previously Conservative Members worked hard researching for it and we knew exactly what we would do when we got into power. But if I were asked now why things did not go so well I would say that we tried to do too much at one time. We put several major reforms into one Bill and it was too big a helping to swallow. If I had to do it again I would do it in several Bills, one after another.

That is why, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), who is now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, introduced the step-by-step approach I thought that he was right to do so. As each step is made, in whatever Bill, there is always a group, as there is tonight, which says, quite reasonably, that reform is too slow. Each time that happens and each time we have a minor rebellion, we never know who is right and who is wrong. We shall never know whether those who say that we are going too slowly are right, because it cannot be proved.

However, in my view since 1979 industrial relations in Britain have improved a lot. Unlike Labour Members, I do not put that down to the fact that trade unionists have become cowed by unemployment. The totality of legal reforms have been effective. All Britain saw on television the disgraceful violence being perpetrated on a small company in Warrington. Everybody knew that that was wrong. The matter was finally dealt with in the courts. The National Graphical Association was heavily fined, and nobody with a reasonable mind could have said that justice was not done.

We now have a distressing miners' strike. It does not bear much resemblance to the previous trouble, in that at least we are trying to operate the law. The police are enabling people to go to work. At the same time the National Coal Board is not necessarily using its powers of injunction. The board has the powers, if it wants to use them, and that is very healthy. The step-by-step approach in my view has produced results. Now we come to the next step, and the Secretary of State has decided on this agreement with the TUC. I agree with him, and I think that he should be allowed to go ahead. The Times today speaks of the solemn and binding agreements of the past. Those solemn and binding agreements got a bad name because they were always a face-saving device of Governments who were losing a battle. This time, we are speaking from a position of great strength. We are making this offer. If things go wrong, there are steps that we can take. I put my faith in the Secretary of State to monitor this with great severity. I believe that there is a good chance of winning, and he should be given a chance to win.

9.45 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

It is good to hear the hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) putting such faith in the Secretary of State, but I and my hon. and right hon. Friends will be voting with the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), because we have more confidence in new clause 5, which we believe sets out to do a number of valuable things.

The three reasons why we shall support new clause 5 are as follows. First, we believe that the present system distorts the political picture, and unfairly benefits one political party. Secondly, we think that the present system works unfairly from the members' point of view. Thirdly, we think that the present system offends the concept of a secret ballot.

I have listened carefully to the contributions that have been made from both sides of the House, and to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), who referred to the Osborne judgment, and the history of how the contracting-out and contracting-in debate began during the passage of the Trade Unions (No. 2) Bill 1912. I have taken the trouble to refer to the debate which took place in the House in 1912. Indeed, the same dilemma faced the House in those days that faces the House tonight. The then Attorney-General, Sir Rufus Isaacs, in commending the Bill to the House, said: I found it quite impossible by any definition to draw the line between what is industrial and what is political. I am speaking not only of what I have done myself, but with the assistance of many who are well qualified to incorporate definitions in a Bill. We have all arrived at the same conclusion, and I am quite certain that it will be unanimous, that you cannot say that at a particular point a thing ceases to be industrial and becomes political." — Official Report, 6 August 1912; Vol XLI, c. 2980.] That is a problem that has beset the trade union movement in terms of its role in British industry for the last 70 years. Indeed, one has only to consider the grey area that exists at present with regard to the miners' strike—this was mentioned earlier—to realise that that narrowly drawn definition of what is political and what is industrial is often crossed.

In the city of Liverpool last week, I saw an example of how trade unionists were used for political reasons and how political funds were clearly manipulated for purely political objectives, something that had nothing to do with good industrial relations. If it were not for the great milestones in trade union history, and the battles that had to be fought, and were won, from the Tolpuddle martyrs onwards, I am sure that we would never have been agreeing to the establishment of political funds at all. However, they are a fact of life. It is worth our while tonight, therefore, to consider whether they are operating fairly, or whether it is high time that we reformed the way in which they operate.

I would argue, as did the hon. Member for Bridlington, for a system of state financing of political parties. I also think that far too much reliance——

Mr. John Townend

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I did not argue for a system of state financing but for a change from contracting out to contracting in, which would not necessarily bring about a system of state financing.

Mr. Alton

I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I hope that one day he will be converted to the cause to which many of us were converted many years ago. It would end the reliance of the Labour party on trade unions and of the Conservative party on big business if we had a proper system of state financing of political parties.

What is more, political parties should put more reliance on their own fund raising and not on putting their hands into other people's pockets. The old adage, "Whose bread I eat, whose song I sing," is true and one need only look at the state of British politics to realise that. The trade unions supplied 80 per cent. of the Labour party funds. At the end of 1982, 59 unions had political funds, 82 per cent. of the members paid the levy, and in 1981, some £4.8 million was spent from the political fund of the trade unions, almost exclusively on the Labour party. However, many of those who contributed towards that political fund did not vote Labour.

One has only to look at the MORI poll on how trade unionists voted at the last general election to realise how much money taken from people who paid the political levy is given to a party that they do not support. In the general election last year, some 31 per cent. of trade unionists voted Conservative, some 39 per cent. voted Labour and some 29 per cent. supported the Liberal-SDP alliance. It is particularly interesting to look at how women members of trade unions voted. Some 34 per cent. of them voted Conservative, 34 per cent. voted Labour and 31 per cent. for the alliance.

In the south of England, the position was even more distorted, with the Conservative party polling 35 per cent. of trade union votes and the Liberal-SDP alliance and the Labour party both polling 32 per cent. However, almost all of the political funds went into the coffers of the Labour party. Therefore, my first argument is that the political fund distorts the picture and unfairly benefits one party.

My second argument is that the present system is not working fairly. Some unions clearly ensure that people are left with no choice but to remain in, or people are never made aware of their rights. The unions have never fully explained the pronounced disparity between the way that the levy is operated in one union and the way it is operated in another. In one third of the unions with political funds, the proportion of members contributing to it exceeded 90 per cent., in 14 it was over 95 per cent., while in 11 it was under 40 per cent.

Some hon. Members explain this away by saying that some members will not feel it incumbent on them to contribute, and they feel no pressure to join, and we have heard the experiences of someone who collected the levy. If one looks at the other side of the argument, one wonders how such hon. Members can explain why in the Wales area of the National Union of Mineworkers, all 100 per cent. of the workers pay a political levy, when in the Durham area only 37 per cent. contract to do so and in the Northumberland area only 36 per cent. Surely it is not a problem of regional disparities, but that in one area more pressure was placed on members than in the other area.

Mr. Evans

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that in the Durham and Northumberland areas of the NUM, the members have two options? They can opt to pay either for the national fund or for the area fund. Some members opt to pay for both funds, but some opt to pay to the national fund and not to the area fund. It is not that 30, 40 or 50 per cent. of the Durham miners opt out of paying the national political levy but that they decide not to pay both political levies.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Gentleman will find that in 14 unions the proportion was over 95 per cent. What the hon. Gentleman says does not apply to all of those. It does not apply either to the Transport and General Workers Union, where only 1.6 per cent. of the members contracted out —1,668,713 of the 1,695,818 members paid the levy in 1981 to just one party. The psephological evidence is clearly against that.—[Interruption.] That just does not square up. Labour Members who are making so much noise know that that is the truth. Contracting out is more difficult in some unions than in others. Many unions do not take adequate steps to ensure that their members know that they can contract out and how to do so. Many do not even know that they are paying a political levy. It is normal practice for unions to compound normal subscriptions and contributions to the levy to produce a single contribution rate. Many members do not know that they are paying the levy when they pay that compounded contribution.

The principle of the 1913 Act was that no trade union member should be obliged to support financially any political organisation if he did not wish to do so. Clearly, that principle is being violated.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) should not read her newspaper in the Chamber.

Mr. Alton

That is the second reason why hon. Members on both sides of the House should support the new clause.

My third reason for supporting new clause 5 is that the political levy offends against the concept of the secret ballot. It is thoroughly objectionable that any individual should be forced to reveal his political views by openly avoiding paying a political due. That action makes him a marked man. The reality of life on the ground is that many people may have good reason to keep their political sympathies to themselves.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

What does the hon. Gentleman know about life on the ground?

Mr. Alton

I shall give the hon. Gentleman one example of life on the ground, because he asks for it. Last week, one of my constituents in Liverpool, who is a head teacher at a primary school, telephoned me telling me that she and her colleagues had been told by the caretaker, a member of a different union, that, because they had decided not to participate in the day of action last Thursday, their names would be taken if they went in to work. If there were later to be school closures and redundancies they would be the first on the list. That is the type of intimidation people face. I am concerned about individual rights. Life on the ground is about such threats against people.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

Name them.

Mr. Alton

I shall name them. They include the moderate members of the Labour party who refused to vote last week for illegal measures. Those moderate members refused to vote for an illegal budget. They were told by a Labour politician, who said that he had the mass backing of the trade union movement behind him, that the moderates would have to face 50,000 people when they went into and came out of the union meeting. He told them that, if they did not do what he wanted, they would become political lepers. That is what it is like on the ground. That is why some people are marked men. Their political sympathies should be safeguarded.

The courts are an unrealistic remedy in a world where employment prospects are limited and fear is the order of the day. Contracting out is a semi-public act and can, undoubtedly, lead to victimisation. Ultimately, this matter should be left to each individual. The Guardian said: Nearly half of all trade union members would vote against their union having a political fund if given the chance to do so, according to a Marplan poll … And nearly threequarters think donations to the Labour Party ought to be a matter for individual rather than corporate union decision. Instead of doing what trade union, and even many Government, supporters wanted, the Government have taken the line of least resistance — a statement of guidance. It will prove to be ineffectual and simply cosmetic. That is why I and my right hon. and hon. Friends shall vote with the hon. Member for Bridlington for the new clause.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)

Many Conservative Back Benchers are profoundly disturbed at the failure of a Conservative Government to accept and adopt the principle of contractingin.

We are not natural rebels. We do not seek the martyrdom that others seem to find in perpetual criticism of former ministerial colleagues. We are loyal to our party and to its principles, and wish to remain so. One of the supreme principles of the Conservative party—the one on which we stand apart from and above the Labour party—is our belief in and commitment to the freedom of the individual.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.