§ 'No expenditure of monies by a trade union shall be held to be in furtherance of a political object if that expenditure is connected with a matter directly affecting the terms and conditions of employment of the members of the union.'—[Mr. John Smith.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take amendment (a) to the proposed new clause, after first 'the', insert 'security or'.
§ Mr. Smith
Let me make it clear from the start that I am happy to accept amendment (a) in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). It is convenient that we discuss both together.
Part III of the Bill deals with the Government's attempt to upset the political relationship between the trade union movement and the Labour party. This part of the Bill has nothing to do with industrial relations, for good or for ill. It has to do with party politics, and a party politics in which the Conservative party seeks to use its parliamentary majority to do as much financial damage as it can to the Labour party, through attempting to weaken the financial relationship between the trade unions and the Labour party.
The House will be aware that there are two parts to part III of the Bill. One seeks to have regular ballots, with one before the next election on whether there should be a political fund in the trade union. Another important part seeks to redefine the political objects under the Trade Union Act 1913. It is noticeable that the Minister of State, who has just addressed the House, has disappeared once again. He did that regularly in Committee. He appears to be under instruction that, because of the sensitivity of his position as chairman of the Conservative party, he should not come near part III. It is noticeable that he has vanished from the Chamber. It could have been no surprise to him that I was likely to raise this point, since I raised it every day in Committee when we were dealing with part III. He appears to feel some sense of shame in seeking to justify it. It is all the worse because, on Second Reading, when I made certain accusations about the Government's purpose in part III of the Bill, he assured me that I need not worry, and that it was a simple case of updating, the detail of which could be gone into in Committee. It is nothing of the kind.
Clause 15 embodies a major extension of what is described as political objects. Under the 1913 Act, political objects related by and large to the election of people to Parliament or to local councils, and most political funds have been seen in that context. The 1913 Act represents in a sense a compromise, in the circumstances of the time at which it was passed, between the claims of trade unions and those who were opposed to them. It has been worked one way or another over the many years since 1913. In the Bill, however, the Government seek a wide extension of what is described as political objects.
In clause 15(1) in particular the definition in the proposed new subsection 3(3) of the 1913 Act is widely extended to cover 685… the production, publication or distribution of any literature, document, film, sound recording or advertisement which … seeks to persuade any person to vote or, as the case may be, not to vote for a political party or candidate.This is the first time that included in the political objects is a campaign to get someone to vote against a political party. Since the Government of the day in the country will always be a political party, it amounts to saying that it is within the political objects of a trade union to run a campaign which might seek to persuade people to vote against the Government of the day. That is why this matter is of some constitutional significance, as well as of importance in trade union industrial relations.
The Government are seeking to circumscribe trade unions campaigning against Government policies which directly affect their members, for example, by cutting public expenditure, by the introduction of privatisation, by denationalisation, or by privatisation of welfare services as well as of industries—a range of policies that can have serious effects upon the members of trade unions. This could in many instances, as we know in the case of privatisation, deprive members of trade unions of their employment, or force them into accepting much poorer wages and conditions from employers who are different from those with whom they started in the public sector. To try to put restrictions upon trade unions in the way in which they campaign against Government policies strikes me as a doubtful proposition. Not only is it unfair as between employer and trade union, particularly when the Government are the employer, but it is constitutionally a bad thing for the Government of the day to do, because it is an attempt to circumscribe legitimate objections being taken to their policies.
New clause 4 therefore seeks to make an exception to that general proposition by making it clear that a trade union should be held not to be following a political objective if its expenditure on such a campaign concerns a matter directly affecting the conditions and terms of employment and, as the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar makes clear, the security of that employment.
Let us consider a number of examples. First, let us take the NALGO anti-cuts campaign before the last election. That organisation, which does not have a political fund, organised the campaign in protest against the Government's policies in the public sector. The Under-Secretary said in Committee that that would have been illegal under this Bill, if the Bill had then been enacted, so we now know that that is so.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Alan Clark)
I must correct the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I did not say that the campaign would be illegal. I said that the advertisement that I read out to the Committee would undoubtedly have to be paid for out of the political fund.
§ Mr. John Smith
So they can run some campaigns, provided Ministers approve the particular posters that they use. I do not think that the Under-Secretary can tell us that the campaign is all right, provided it has quite harmless posters, but that he happened to take the view that a specific poster struck him as unsuitable. The truth is that NALGO's campaign was largely embodied in these posters, and in the meetings that were organised around them. If the Minister checks the record, I think he will find that he admitted that the material used by NALGO in its 686 campaign would be struck out by the Bill. That gives the lie immediately to the claim made by the Minister of State, who is otherwise known as the chairman of the Conservative party, that no major change was made in the course of the Bill. Of course a major change is made in the Bill. That is why we are spending time on it in Parliament, and why we are going to the trouble of putting it before Parliament, not because of some minor technical modification to deal with changes that have happened since 1913. It is a major change in political balance, it is intended to be that, and the Government want to use their large majority to try to alter the relationship, not only between Government, employers and trade unions, but in the political dialogue in the country, by disadvantaging their opponents as much as possible.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that the Minister's intervention must surely give rise to the possibility that, if the clause is not agreed to, and if the union does not have a political levy at the end of the day, there will be so much ambiguity about the position that numerous court cases will ensue to try to decide whether a union is in a position to engage in action, such as against cuts and privatisation?
§ Mr. Smith
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who brings us to an important point about the practical working of the Bill. It is so wide in its expression, particularly the part that I quoted from clause 15, that no trade union would know in advance, even with the most expert legal advice, whether a campaign fell on the political side of the line or on the general fund side of the line. There would need to be a whole series of court cases to clarify what was meant. That is bad enough. However, it also involves the courts in giving opinions about what is political, which is the very thing that we ought not to be asking courts to do under our constitution.
We should not be seeking the opinions of judges on what is fair political expenditure. It is bad from the trade union point of view, therefore, and it must be bad from a national point of view, to have the uncertainty of the situation exposed, and to have judicial pronouncements made on such matters. Of course it will be very bad for trade unions which do not have a political fund.
As the House knows, many white collar unions, for example, have chosen not to have a political fund. On the whole, they follow a path of non-affiliation to any political party. As a consequence, they have no political fund. It means that the more things we describe as political, the less will unions be able to do them out of the general fund. Either they will have to acquire a political fund to make legitimate criticism of the Government of the day, or they will have to give up and eschew the possibility of making such criticism, and therefore not fight for their members.
The Government are, of course, a major employer, never mind a factor which affects the employment of people who are not employed by the Government. The public sector, even after the present Government have reduced it as much as they possibly can, is still a large employer, and some major trade unions have almost 100 per cent., if not wholly 100 per cent., membership in the public sector. Therefore, when the Government make a move, it seems to me legitimate that the trade unions should be able to protest as loudly and vigorously as they can. Indeed, that is part of the fabric of our democratic society.
687 I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept new clause 4, because it seeks only to build into the legislation some protection for a trade union that is involved in legitimately defending its members' interests by campaigning against Government policies.
§ Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify the implications of the new clause and its effect on any of the subsections of clause 15? For example, if any political party put into its party manifesto a provision that it would do whatever a particular trade union or the TUC told it, would that mean that any expenditure by any trade union in support of that party, under new clause 4, would rank as acceptable expenditure?
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentlman's intervention raises a hypothetical and ridiculous proposition and we should not waste our time dealing with such nonsensical points —I do not intend to do so. The hon. Gentleman had plenty of opportunity to follow up the details in Committee, but remained singularly silent. Now that he has a wider audience and some chance of publicity, he has suddenly come to his feet. Having listened to him, I can understand why he chose to be silent before.
The new clause seeks to give some protection when the balance of forces is heavily tipped against the trade unions. It is not as if trade unions were in some privileged position in the expenditure of money on political objects. They form the one set of organisations that is uniquely circumscribed by law on the expenditure of political funds.
All trade unions have to have a separate political fund, which has to be decided by a ballot of the whole membership of the trade union, and every member of the trade union is entitled to contract out of contribution to that fund. We know that all other free and independent organisations do not have such circumscriptions. Companies are not obliged to make their political contributions out of the political fund—they are allowed to dip into the general fund. They do not have to go and get the approval of the membership for that, but can do it by a decision of the board. Shareholders are not given the right to dissociate themselves from decisions with which they disagree.
I can tell the Government that the minimum that the Labour party will insist on for companies is that they must be required to have a separate political fund for any contributions that they make for political purposes and that that political fund must be sanctioned by some general measure of agreement within the company. Individual shareholders, and perhaps others, must be given the right to contract out. The Conservative party has chosen to enter this arena and to try to change the rules on trade unions and put them in an even more disadvantaged position. I warn the Government that the Labour party's reply is to apply the same principles to the people who finance the Conservative party. In the name of fairness, equity and parity, the same will be applied to companies.
Later in the day we shall no doubt hear a great deal of talk about rights and freedoms and about individual rights, but no voice will be raised among Conservative Members about the rights of individual shareholders and others who disagree with the contribution of funds out of the general 688 funds of the company—not out of the political fund—in support of the Conservative party and other Right-wing organisations.
For over 70 years, trade unions have been uniquely circumscribed, and if this Bill goes into law—even if this new clause is passed, because it does not cure the whole problem—there will be problems. For example, as we approach the next general election, trade unions in the oil industry might be campaigning for the reestablishment of a public sector oil company, which the Labour party will be proposing at the next general election. Such unions will be circumscribed because they will get the money for such a campaign out of their political funds. However, a multinational oil company —for example, an American one representing American shareholders—will be able to buy all the space that it likes in the press to campaign here. It will be able to defend its foreign-owned company rights while British trade unionists, living and paying taxes in Britain, will be circumscribed in their conduct of such a campaign.
The Conservative party, which is supposed to be the party of patriotism, is making this suggestion. It is more concerned, in that instance, with defending the property rights of foreigners than with defending the rights of British workers. I should like to hear my example contradicted by Conservative Members. Part III is a shoddy political manoeuvre through which the Government, with the advantage of their temporary large majority, intend to change the balance and framework of political life.
§ Mr. Gale
About 15 minutes ago, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will learn from the Official Report, he implied, as he is implying now, that this legislation is an attack on Labour party funds. By what arrogance does he assume that trade unionists, many of whom do not vote for the Labour party, would wish to contribute only to the Labour party?
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman knows that trade unionists who do not wish to do so can contract out, as they do in large numbers. I would believe that the hon. Gentleman was being sincere if I saw him supporting a proposition which said that company shareholders should be given the same right as individual trade unionists, and which put the same obligations and circumscriptions on the sources of funds for the Conservative party as he is seeking to put on those for the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman must know that shareholders are not consulted. There is no special political fund, and the money comes out of the general assets of the company. It is legal for a board of directors to commit the funds of the company.
If the hon. Gentleman wishes, we could put trade unions in the same position as companies. Trade unions would therefore be able to make donations out of general funds without having a political fund. That suggestion can be considered in the future. We can either put companies in the same position as trade unions in the sense that both need political funds, or they can be put in the same position and pay political contributions out of general funds.
I finish with the proposition that if the Government reject the new clause, as amended, that will show that they are careless of the rights of trade unionists campaigning for the legitimate interests of trade union members against the Government of the day. We are talking about the plurality 689 of our democracy and the importance of people speaking out loudly, clearly and without restrictions, with their objections against the Government of the day. Our new clause seeks to preserve that essential liberty and to rescue from this shabby political manoeuvre some points of principle that might be of protection to the trade unionists in the future.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) for saying that he is willing to accept my amendment, which would allow trade unions to campaign freely for security of employment for their members, as well as, in the terms of the new clause, for the maintenance of standards of wages and conditions of their members. Before I refer to my amendment, I shall say a word or two about the new clause.
The rejection of the new clause would limit the powers, rights and opportunities of a trade union to campaign publicly about the wages and conditions of its members. There are some Civil Service unions which have felt from time to time that the Government have reneged on agreements reached between the Government as employer and the trade unions representing the civil servants through the machinery of negotiation in the Civil Service. There have been times when at least some, and sometimes all, Civil Service unions have claimed that the Government have reneged on agreements and that, as a consequence, the members of those unions are not being paid the wages due to them under the terms of the agreements covering Civil Service wages.
If the new clause is rejected, it will be impossible for the Civil Service unions to place an advertisement in the paper, for example, to say that the Government are reneging on their agreements. Civil Service unions do not have political funds. However, the Government could take all the advertisements that they wish, with no inhibition, to put their side of the argument, while the trade unions would be forbidden to use the same medium to put their case against the Government.
The Government would also have ample opportunities for putting their case verbally in exchanges across the Floor of the House by ministerial statements, and so on. The unions would not be permitted to pay £200 or £300 to hire Central Hall across the road for a meeting of their members to protest about the Government's breach of wages negotiations. The unions do not have a political fund and cannot hire the hall out of their general funds, even though the purpose of a meeting is, by definition, merely to protect the wages and working conditions of their members. That would be called a political meeting, but it is not political for the Government to do something similar.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The hon. Gentleman may have doubts, but, with great respect, he has come fresh to this debate. This is not a matter in which he has greatly specialised. I spent long hours discussing the Bill in the Standing Committee, and I have been involved in discussion on all the previous trade union Bills. I know them all by heart. I hope that the House does not consider it a piece of 690 arrogance if I say that there is a better than even money chance that I know a little more about this subject than the hon. Gentleman. He asked me the question in his usual courteous way, and we are old friends. My answer is, "Yes, I am 110 per cent. sure that what I am saying is right." A Civil Service union would be debarred from hiring the Central Hall, Westminster, to hold a meeting to protest about a reduction in the rate of increase in wages, though discussions are supposed to be allowed by the Civil Service's negotiating machinery.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's certainty that he is right. I should be grateful if he would point to the clause that makes his point, because it is certainly not said in the proposed new section 3(3)(e), as set out in clause 15.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I said that if the new clause was rejected that would be a sign of the Government's intentions. If the hon. Gentleman is right, there is no reason why the new clause should not be accepted. That is a clear test.
As hon. Members will have noticed, my amendment deals not with wages and conditions, but with security of employment. A proposal may be made to privatise the work presently being done by a royal ordnance factory located in a certain city. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people could lose their jobs. They have a right to campaign against any decision that would result in their losing their jobs. The city council, interested in the welfare of its people and the loss of some rateable value, could hold a town meeting to explain the consequence of the Government's proposal, and that would be all right. A trade union could not do the same.
§ Mr. Mikardo
If a trade union could do so, there is no reason why the new clause could not be accepted. A trade union could not hold that meeting, because such a meeting would be held to be a political act. If a union did not have a political fund, it would not be permitted to pay out of its general fund for the hire of the city hall to hold a meeting similar to that held by a city council.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I shall just develop this point. I shall gladly give way later, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
I shall move from that rather hypothetical example to matters about which I have first-hand knowledge, because they involve members of my union, amongst many others. Two or three years ago, one of the Government Departments was contemplating a purchase, which it subsequently made, of a new type of air navigation and control equipment. There were three tenderers—a Dutch manufacturer, and two British manufacturers. The Department appeared to be favouring the Dutch manufacturer because the two British manufacturers were tearing each other apart. The two British manufacturers got together to produce a joint tender, resulting in two tenders—one from Holland and one from Great Britain. Not surprisingly, the two British companies sought to use the influence which they could bring to bear on a Department through hon. Members by measures which are common, readily accepted and proper. They brought that 691 influence to bear to ensure that a British tender was accepted so that work could be provided in two factories in Britain.
The British firms briefed Members of Parliament, sent out circulars, made presentations and got in touch with the Minister concerned. That was fine. The unions that were worried about the jobs that would be involved in two factories in eastern England did the same. The Bill as it stands will mean that the unions will now be prevented from taking such action. How can that be right?
I have a more recent example. There is an argument about whether Stansted airport should be developed, or whether Heathrow should be further developed. That argument seems to arouse much passion. Last autumn the British Airports Authority, which is one of the parties to the argument, hired a hotel room at the venue of each of the party conferences. The BAA put on a presentation to show why it thought certain action should be taken at Heathrow. People were invited to hear the submissions. I went along from the Labour party conference, and the same presentations were held at the time of the Conservative party conference. The BAA showed us some pictures and graphs, and gave us a little speech. It gave us a drink and a snack as well, and there is nothing desperately wrong with that. The decision on the airport was of interest to the authority, and it made its presentation, without inhibition, from public funds.
The BAA's action was similar to that of the two companies which had tendered in my other example—Plessey and Marconi—which brought influence to bear out of their public funds. If it wished, the local authority controlling the area in which Stansted airport lies could make presentations giving the other argument, because rateable values in Stansted might increase. The local authority could take money out of public funds, albeit a slightly different form of fund.
Trade unions in Stansted wanting the area to be developed to provide employment could not make presentations at party conferences if they did not have a political fund. They would not be able to do it out of their general fund. They would not be able to campaign for job creation or — if they were on the other side of the argument—to provent existing jobs from disappearing, for one reason only—because they were trade unionists. If they were local authorities, companies or anyone else who thought that they had an interest, they could do it. Anyone can do it except trade unions.
The new clause is a test of the Government's bona fides and of whether they are trying to handicap the ability of trade unions to campaign for the security of their members' jobs, pay and conditions of employment. If the clause goes to a vote, the vote will be a test of the Government's honesty and sincerity.
§ Mr. Lightbown
I should like to discuss two points, but principally the one mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) about company contributions compared to trade unions' contributions.
Shareholders of private and public limited companies are well protected under existing Companies Acts. There is a requirement that any political contribution in excess of £200 made by a company must be clearly shown and declared on the balance sheet. Secondly, company 692 directors are required to use the companies' assets and resources properly. They are liable to up to seven years gaol for their improper use. If the donations—which can be made to all the political parties and not specifically to one, which is what we are talking about in relation to trade union political donations — are declared, shareholders have the right to question and caution their directors if they are not satisfied.
§ Mr. Winnick
If the hon. Gentleman considers that that is right for companies—we know that in practice all their contributions go to one party—would he agree that trade unions should be allowed to act similarly and that all the money spent for political purposes should come out of their general funds, provided that they explain what they have done and are willing to account to their annual conferences? If what the hon. Gentleman suggests is all right for companies he must agree, logically that it must be all right for trade unions.
§ Mr. Lightbown
I do not accept that all company contributions go in one direction. There is a great deal of evidence to prove that different political parties have benefited from donations from private and public limited companies.
The second point relates to——
§ Mr. Lightbown
I shall not give way, because I have given way once already and I wish to pursue this point further.
My second point relates to whether the union membership should decide whether to have a political fund. It is perfectly reasonable that it should be allowed to decide that matter. If it does, the use of the fund would require defining. I do not accept some of the subjective statements made by the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). I believe that he has been inadvertently misleading the House about the consequences of the Bill.
It is in the interests of trade union members that the use of political funds should be clearly defined. I believe that that is what the Bill proposes to do. It does not propose in any way to restrict trade union activities. The Bill proposes that if a union has a political fund it can be used for any political purpose but that if there is only a general fund, which belongs to the members, that must be used in the members' interests and not for a specific political purpose. That is the principle that the Bill embodies.
§ Mr. Tony Blair> (Sedgefield)
I suppose that it is a statement of the obvious to say that legislation such as this is a party political measure, but this is a particularly grubby party political measure. If we are to deal with the funding of political parties — that is what part III is about—it is absurd and hypocritical to deal with trade unions and their political funds but not to attempt to deal with the position of companies and the Conservative party. If Conservative Members do not like that, that is hard luck, because the Opposition will continue to say that it is disgraceful to introduce such a measure without attempting to deal with the position of companies.
If the best that can be said is what we have just heard from the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), our case is strong. If a shareholder does not like what the company has done, the shareholder has no option but to sell his shares and get out. Trade unionists can contract out of contributing to a political party and still retain the benefits of trade union membership.
693 It is absurd to say, as the hon. Gentleman did, that companies are somehow treated in the same way as trade unions. Of course they are not. Trade unions, unlike any other association, are restricted by special rules governing the setting up and administration of political funds. There is considerable feeling, right across the political spectrum, that the Bill is part of a series of measures designed to locate centres of opposition to the Government and suppress them. The Bill and its provisions are in line with the provisions now being introduced for local authorities.
There are three points on which perhaps all hon. Members could agree. I shall be interested to see whether Conservative Members disagree with them. First, it is extremely difficult to distinguish properly between a trade union's political and industrial activities. For example, a trade union that campaigns for particular working hours or wages is plainly conducting an industrial campaign. There can be circumstances where trade unions mount a campaign against a Government proposal—the abolition of wages councils—where it is extremely difficult to define whether it is a political or industrial campaign. Most people would agree that that can be a difficult distinction to draw.
Secondly, it is wrong for anyone to attempt to restrict the ability of trade unions to campaign against Government policy. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with that proposition.
Thirdly, that proposition becomes particularly important when dealing with such a Government as this one. It is especially difficult to decide what a campaign against Government policy or the Conservative party is with a Government under whom party ideology is written into the very legislation that they introduce. This is a Government of conviction who express themselves in terms of their mandate. That being so, it is all the more important that we should have legislation that will enable trade unions to campaign contrary to that Government policy. Any legislation—I shall say later why this legislation does not do this—should enable a trade union to pursue its legitimate industrial interests and to campaign politically against the Government of the day, and any legislation that fails to do that is seriously defective.
The Bill introduces two major changes which greatly restrict the ability of trade unions to do that. First, whereas the Trade Union Act 1913 concerned campaigning in favour of particular political candidates or parties, this Bill introduces the novel concept of campaigning against particular political parties. That is an essential and major change. There is no doubt that its purpose is to catch anti-Tory campaigns. The fact that the Bill does not deal with the position of companies is particularly relevant. After all, trade unions will generally be opposed to the Conservative party —[Interruption.] The majority of trade unions are certainly opposed to the present Conservative party. The campaigns waged by the trade union movement have been waged against this Government. In Committee it was put to the Under-Secretary of State that the campaign of the National and Local Government Officers Association against Government cuts in the public sector was one of the main campaigns to be caught by the Bill. That point was accepted, and it had to be. The Bill is designed to deal with 694 campaigns against particular political parties, so we are perfectly justified in saying that its intention is to catch anti-Tory campaigns.
Secondly, the 1913 Act in general concerned campaigns in favour of particular political candidates or parties. But a broader subsection in that Act covered political meetings or documents of a more general nature. It had always been thought that the reference was to campaigns in favour of a particular political party, but that subsection widened the scope so that the reference was not just to elections but to campaigns of a more general nature. The trade union funding of the building at Walworth road—the Labour party's headquarters—was caught under that subsection.
That subsection of the 1913 Act made it clear that it was only if the main purpose of the campaign was party political that it was caught by the Act. There are no such words or qualifications in this Bill. The danger is obvious. When I listed the three propositions that I hoped that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber could accept, I pointed out that it was extremely difficult to decide which campaigns were against a particular Government and which were against a particular party. Campaigns will often fit into both categories. Let us take the example of NALGO's campaign against public sector cuts. This Government have strongly identified themselves with cuts in the public sector, so it is natural that when campaigning against such cuts, NALGO should say, "And this is a Tory Government measure." The legislation is seriously defective if it will not allow such campaigning. Our worry is that by removing the words "the main purpose of', such a campaign will be caught by the new definition in the Bill even if that part of the campaign which is anti-Tory is incidental to the main campaign.
In addition, a campaign may be said to be against the Government by implication. It may be said that the campaign is not expressly declared to be against the Government, but that the correlation between the Government and the particular policy is such that it amounts to a campaign against the Government. There is no safeguard against that.
The step taken at GCHQ is strongly identified with this Government. The trade unions may say that what the Government have done is wrong and that the people should remember to use their vote properly the next time there is a general election. How can it be said that that should be seen as unlawful unless unions have gone through the special and elaborate process of setting up a political fund? Yet that is precisely the sort of opposition to the Government that is at risk if the Bill is enacted unamended.
The purpose of the new clause is to focus attention on the ability of trades unions to protect the interests of their members, as they see it. Provided that they are protecting their job security and the terms and conditions of their employment, they should be permitted to run a campaign as they want, without needing to have a political fund. Trade unions are particularly disadvantaged. Other voluntary associations can run any campaign they wish, and can campaign as hard as they like on political subjects for or against political parties.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
That statement, which has been repeated at frequent intervals, is wholly untrue. 695 Many organisations are barred from similar activity, largely because they also benefit from the system. I refer to the many charitable organisations.
§ Mr. Blair
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman's point is. My point is that the trade unions, as voluntary associations, are in a different position from other voluntary associations. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was making my point for me. There can be no justification for trade unions being in that different position. However, if they are to be in it, their right to run a campaign that is both political and industrial should, at the very least, be safeguarded. The new clause seeks to do that. If Conservative Members oppose it, they will not dampen but increase the fears of many people, across a broad range of political views, who fear this Government as an authoritarian and repressive Government, uninterested in democratic rights.
§ Mr. Batiste
I oppose the new clause for a variety of reasons, which I shall deal with shortly. However, I wish first to deal with the point raised by the hon. Members for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). They said that without the new clause it would be impossible for trade unions to carry out their normal and traditional functions on behalf of their members from their general funds. The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar said that he knew by heart every trade union Bill that had been passed since he became a Member of Parliament. However, with great respect, he was invited to point out the clause that had that effect and refrained from doing so. I shall give way to him if he wishes to do that now.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I gladly respond. There are many examples, but I shall quote just two, because an intervention should be brief. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has just pointed out that at a protest meeting someone is sure to say, "This is a Tory Government measure." That carries with it the implication that those involved do not support the Tory party, and, in fact, support another party. Any aggrieved member can take the union to court.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman should look at clause 15, which contains the proposed new subsection (3)(d) to the 1913 Act. My union sponsors me, although I do not get any money out of it personally. Therefore, it contributes to the maintenance of the holder of a political office. On that ground I feel an obligation to argue in this place, when I agree with it, the case of the union. A company can hire any hon. Member without any restriction and pay him a subvention in just the same way. It can pay him out of its general fund, with no inhibition.
I have given two examples. I could give more if there were time.
§ Mr. Batiste
The hon. Gentleman's first point was that it might be mentioned at a meeting that it was a measure of a Conservative Government and that that does not fall within the confines of the proposed new subsection (3)(e), which refers to the expenditure of moneyin connection with any conference or meeting held by or on behalf of a political party or any other meeting at which business of a political party is transacted".To argue against the Government as a Government—whether Conservative or Labour, as in the past—does not imply any party political activity that requires the use of a political fund.
696 The comparison with connections with a business has been the traditional tactic of Opposition Members. Whenever they find themselves unable to debate the terms of the Bill, they raise the prospect of a Companies Bill. However, I want to deal with the present Bill and the new clause.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
My hon. Friend might wish to draw the attention of the House to the definition of "political office" in the proposed new section (3B). The definition is quite clear and does not include office within the trade union movement. Therefore, the point made by the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) was entirely false yet again.
§ Mr. Batiste
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. That point shows up many of the misconceptions raised by Opposition Members.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield refused to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who said that charities had traditionally managed, without any difficulty, to steer a proper course between pursuing their own interests and pursuing political interests. I do not see that there will be any difficulty for the unions either.
New clause 4 has been presented as a minor clause—a little clause in sheep's clothing which protects the traditional rights of trade unions. In fact, it is a ravenous wolf of a clause which strikes at the heart of what is set out in clause 15.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield gave the example of wages councils. Let us consider how it could be used to negate the whole of clause 15. I raised this point earlier in a question to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who declined to reply to it. Let us suppose that a trade union wishes to campaign against the abolition of wages councils. Hon. Members who have listened to debates in the past will know that I have considerable reservations about the wages councils. That is by the way. If a trade union wishes to campaign in favour of the retention of wages councils, there is no problem under clause 15. However, a trade union might ask the Labour party to include in its manifesto a provision that, if elected, a Labour Government would maintain or restore the wages councils.
New clause 4 says:No expenditure of monies by a trade union shall be held to be in furtherance of a political object if that expenditure is connected with a matter directly affecting the terms and conditions of employment of the members of the union".New clause 4 would take precedence over clause 15, and a union whose members were affected by wages councils could say that the result of the general election would directly affect the terms and conditions of its members and that, therefore, the general funds of the union could be used to contribute to the funds of the party, to pay expenses or to provide services for the party or to help with the candidate's expenses. The clause makes a dramatic and major change to the whole basis on which trade union law has operated since 1913.
§ Mr. Blair
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the hard case? If the Government announce their decision to abolish wages councils, and if trade unions decide to run a campaign against that decision and issue a statement saying that they will oppose the abolition of the wages 697 councils, which is a further Tory attack on the living standards of working people, will that be caught by subsection (3)(f)?
§ Mr. Batiste
In my view, anything which in the course of a campaign was directed against the Government as the Goverment or dealt with policy as policy would be a legitimate trade union activity. Only when the union went on to urge its members not to vote Conservative at the election would there be an offence against the provisions set out in clause 15.
§ Mr. Ashton
I wish to give a non-hypothetical example. Last week the National Coal Board used taxpayers' money to take advertising space in all the newspapers in the north of England to put the case for the closure of Cortonwood and other pits. That, presumably, would be a legitimate expenditure under the Bill. However, if the NUM took out an advertisement to reply to the NCB and to protest strongly about what it was doing, that would be political activity and would not be allowed.
§ Mr. Batiste
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point. I will take his example. If the NUM chooses to take out an advertisement——
§ Mr. Winnick
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the Department of Employment there is a Secretary of State and three Ministers, but there is not a Minister present today.
§ Mr. Batiste
If the NUM chooses to take out an advertisement to oppose Government policy as Government policy, that must be a matter for the union as a matter of ordinary trade union activity. If the NUM went further and if, for example, the Labour party manifesto made certain specific commitments to the mine-workers in relation to their terms and conditions, under new clause 4 the NUM could then use the whole of its general fund to support the Labour party in an election campaign. That is why I oppose the new clause.
§ Mr. Mikardo
It does not matter that I or my hon. Friend disagree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but in Committee the Under-Secretary precisely contradicted what he is saying. The NALGO campaign did not mention the Labour party or the Conservative party. There was nothing about voting. However, the Under-Secretary confirmed that under the terms of the Bill that campaign would be barred.
§ Mr. Batiste
I think it is perfectly feasible to say that a campaign could be run in either of two ways by a trade union. It could be run as charities run their campaigns on matters of policy, so that they do not offend against the political rules, or it could be run as a squarely political campaign designed to bring about the election or re-election of a particular Government.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
May I assist in the development of the argument? The House has heard the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) say that the NALGO advertisement said nothing about voting. In fact, it included a facsimile ballot paper and an exhortation to use one's vote.
§ Mr. Batiste
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. That point shows how fundamentally Opposition Members have sought to misrepresent the facts throughout the debate on the Bill.
Far from demonstrating the bona fides or otherwise of the Government, new clause 4 is designed to change radically the whole groundwork of the law on political contributions by trade unions. It may be dressed up to look innocuous, but its effects would be far-reaching and damaging, and it should be rejected.
§ Mr. Gordon Brown (Dunfermline, East)
Without realising it, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) made the Opposition's case, as he advocated that trade unions should publicise the contributions that they receive and be free to rescind their political funds. That is exactly the case under the 1913 Act. The problem is that the Government are trying to go even further than the detailed restrictions in the 1913 Act. The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) appears to misunderstand the Bill's scope. He seems not to realise that, in 1913, political funds were designed to cover the election expenditure incurred by candidates for a political office. In 1984 we are witnessing political funds being regarded as having to cover election expenditure incurred by candidates for political office and other expenditure for all activities, whether that be supporting a political party or opposing the Government of the day. By widening what is construed as a political objective, the Government are narrowing the scope for political activity by trade unions. All that we have heard today is designed to obscure the central issue of the Bill, which is to ensure that trade unions, the political donations, activities and representation of which are already regulated by the Government down to the minutest detail, are to be subjected to even more detailed restrictions.
The essence of clause 15 is that if a trade union has no political fund or has one but loses it as a result of the Bill, it will lose its right to dissent from the Government. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) made it clear that, although any company can give any amount of money without restriction to support privatisation, a trade union such as NALGO will, as a result of clause 15, be denied the right to protest against a Government who impose privatisation. Indeed, because of the Employment Act 1980, the Post Office Engineering Union is powerless to take industrial action against privatisation because the courts deemed such action political. If the Bill is passed, by 1985 such a union in similar circumstances—without a political fund and with its members' jobs and livelihoods at stake—will be unable to take industrial or political action to oppose privatisation. Under the Bill nurses could be prevented from defending the Health Service against the Government without risk of litigation. Loyal civil servants in the royal dockyards who are members of politically unaffiliated trade unions could be prevented from opposing the Government even when, as now, that Government are threatening their jobs and national security.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East said, the Bill has nothing to do with improving industrial relations or the giving of new rights to individual trade unionists but everything to do with stifling political activity. It is designed to disable, if not destroy, by a crude political bank raid, the Conservative party's political opponents. This partisan and sectarian 699 Bill should be seen by Conservative Members in its historical context. It will irreversibly disrupt and destroy a legislative compromise that was first agreed in 1913 and reaffirmed as a lasting settlement on political funding after the second world war. It was a compromise that was introduced by Sir Winston Churchill in 1911 and again commended by him to the House in 1951 as a well established custom. He said:Matters affecting the interests of rival parties should not be settled by the imposition of the will of one side over the other".Many supporters of the Conservative party recognise, as Sir Winston Churchill would have, the inequity of the Bill. They know that what is seen as good for trade unionists among Conservatives might, if extended to the political generosity of companies, be far from good for the Conservative party. Trade unions must establish separate political funds before being able to give a penny to a political party. They must ballot their members to initiate those funds. They must report in detail to a Government-appointed officer on all of their political activities. Members of trade unions can already unilaterally opt out of the union's decision with regard to political funding and appeal to four courts and tribunals to do so. Is it therefore even-handed for limited companies to have the unlimited right to give unlimited amounts of money to the Conservative party? Trade unions can already abandon their political funds as a result of no more than a routine conference decision but are to have to ballot their members every 10 years. Almost every public issue on which unions want to campaign could now result in a change to their political fund. Is it therefore right that there are no controls on the hundreds of companies that make donations to the Conservative party?
There is a free-for-all in company contributions. There is no need for a separate political fund, a ballot of shareholders to initiate it, no provision for any individual shareholder to opt out, no policing of such contributions by any officer of the state and, most relevant of all to new clause 4, no mention of party political objectives in any memorandum of association of any company that makes a donation to the Conservative party. A future Labour Government will have to change that. The House should be aware that there are legal experts who believe that companies that have no stated political objective in their constitution but give money to political parties do so quite illegally. The House will know that, last year, the League Against Cruel Sports Ltd. was prevented from donating money to the Labour party on the grounds that it was a limited company, that the objective was political and that political objectives were no part of the league's purpose as a company. The law that governs the League Against Cruel Sports must also govern Plessey, Consolidated Gold Fields, Trafalgar House, Taylor Woodrow, Pritchard Services Group, the builders, the oil companies and the privatised defence contractors who have given more in one year to the Conservative party than one trade unionist will give to the Labour party in his working life.
Ministers have argued in defence of the Bill that it is necessary to curb widespread abuses in the trade union movement. If there are abuses in the funding of political parties they are confined almost entirely to the companies that donate to the Conservative party and yet remain above the law. What possible argument can the Government advance for this new intrusion into the political affairs of 700 the trade union movement? A Royal Commission, reporting on trade unions and the propriety of their political contributions, concluded that there was no evidence that the protection afforded to individual trade unionists was inadequate and that there was no evidence that existing safeguards were ineffective. When did a Royal Commission report similarly on company contributions? Year in, year out, a Government-appointed officer adjudicates possible complaints from 7 million trade unionsts, receives an average of only 20 and only one or two each year are worthy of futher investigation. When will Britain's shareholders enjoy similar safeguards?
§ Mr. Brown
I shall give way soon.
Where is the evidence of the need to change the nature of political funding? A Select Committee which investigated the political contributions of trade unions heard the Engineering Employers Federation say that it had no evidence that trade unionists were paying such contributions unwillingly. Could a Select Committee say the same for the millions of small investors in pension and insurance funds, who are unwittingly contributing to the Conservative party and cannot look to anyone to protect their right to abstain from donating to the Conservative party?
By widening the definition of political activity with a view to limiting the political activity of trade unions, the Government are trying to suppress—as has become all too familiar recently—the previously uncontested right of trade unionists to dissent. They are pursuing what the Foreign Secretary has admitted is a goal of apolitical trade unionism. They are seeking radically to change the nature of political life throughout the country.
Before us we have a massive plan for state intervention to regulate in the minutest detail the open, honest and humble contribution of 7 million trade unionists to the Labour party, while on the other hand—Ministers must answer for this—there thrives a free market in political donations to the Conservative party, a clandestine form of competition that all companies are encouraged to enter, in which the prizes are knighthoods, peerages and tickets in the privatisation lottery; even shipyards and dockyards are sold off at bargain basement prices.
The Government's proposals are so obviously partisan, so nakedly punitive and so blatantly unbalanced in their effect on the finances of the political party that I represent that they are a disgrace to our parliamentary democracy. The House should have the good sense to throw them out.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
It is one of the sad aspects of political debate that the Opposition appear to be using at all levels of attack the deliberate policy of misleading people about the result of the Government's policies. That is unfortunately true of the Greater London council in its absurd campaign against the abolition of the GLC. It is bombarding the people of London with lies and deceit about the Government's plans in that respect. I was saddened to hear the same tactics being followed in the debate.
I shall bring us back from the wild flights of fancy that Opposition Members have been following to clause 15, which the debate is supposed to be about. It limits the expenditure of general union funds for political purposes. 701 I refer to political purposes as defined in that clause, not to a wider definition, as the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) seemed to suggest. I shall answer the three specific points that he put. He requested that someone should do so, and it gives me great pleasure to oblige him.
First, he suggested that there would be difficulty in distinguishing between political and industrial objects of trade unions, which may or may not conflict with the Bill. In the wider terms of what is or what is not a political act, the hon. Gentleman would have a valid point, but in relation to the Bill, the political objects are defined narrowly in clause 15. In any debate as to whether an act is in contravention, that definition of "political object" applies, not a wider definition. It is clearly set out in clause 15, particularly in paragraphs (d), (e) and (f), which have given rise to specific disagreements between both sides of the House. However, the political purposes are clearly defined, and there should be no disagreement.
§ Mr. Blair
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there must be a party political aspect, but it is not a party political aspect for or against. Perhaps he will deal with the specific point that I put to the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste). The Government might seek to abolish the wages councils, and the trade unions might campaign against that. It might not be specifically said that people should not vote Tory, but it might be attacked as an unjust Tory measure. Is it not at least arguable that that now falls within paragraph (f)?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
Clearly it does not, as long as the trade unionists avoid linking that to an invitation to vote or not to vote for a political party. Paragraph (f) is clear on that point. There must be a specific attempt to persuade a person to vote or not to vote for a political party or candidate.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I cannot go on giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I am afraid that that debate will have to take place outside the Chamber. His definition is subjective. It is clear that the circumstances to which he referred do not fall within that paragraph.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether it was right for a trade union to be able to campaign against Government policy. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister would agree with me about this. Of course it is right that trade unions should be able to campaign against Government policy. That is where the right hon. And learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) have entirely misunderstood the meaning of the clause, or they have understood it and chosen not to say so in the debate.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
That is what I hope I have just said. Of course that is legitimate in so far as it affects the union's membership. That is what it is allowed to do by the Bill. However, it cannot use the funds as a political weapon to take party political sides in an election contest. It is right that the unions should be prohibited from doing that.
702 Therefore, the ability of a trade union to campaign against Government policy is a matter that we have been debating. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East suggested that one of the results of the Bill was that if the British Telecom unions disagreed with the privatisation of that firm, they would be prohibited from fighting against it by producing pamphlets and from properly protecting the jobs of the union members. Under paragraph (f), which concerns documentation, that case does not arise. Those people are perfectly entitled to put forward the arguments for or against any item of Government policy as long as it has nothing to do with the election of the Government or any candidate who belongs to that party.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I accept the hon. Gentleman's illustration of a privatisation measure. A measure might be brought forward in the final Session of a Parliament and the union concerned might say to the workers, "You must resist this measure brought forward by the Conservative Government at all costs." If someone goes to court after that, the counsel might state that the union said, "If there is a Conservative Government, this measure will be passed, so you should vote for another party if you do not want that measure." It is not what the hon. Gentleman or I interpret but what the courts interpret that is important.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make a point abainst the Bill, but not that one. Provided that the pamphlet was aimed at the legitimate union business of protecting the jobs of the members, the union would be entitled to take that action, but it could not go beyond what I believe is a clear and acceptable line, and use the pamphlet as a weapon with which to launch a political campaign for the destruction of the Government in an election. I was dealing with the points that the hon. Member for Sedgefield made earlier.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I cannot continue giving way, but I might give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a moment.
The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar made two other points in his speech. He referred to a union hiring a hall so that it could argue against the Government's line on privatisation and matters affecting the trade unions. He said that it would be prohibited by the Bill from renting the hall, and that it would be a political object under clause 15. I challenged the hon. Gentleman, and he could not respond.
The definition under clause 15 paragraph (e) is:in connection with any conference or meeting held by or on behalf of a political party or any other meeting at which business of a political party is transacted.If the union combined the meeting with a party political meeting of the Labour party, that would be prohibited. I believe that it would be entirely wrong for the union to do that. A trade union is supposed to represent all its members' interests irrespective of its own political views. That is why Opposition Members and Conservative Members differ.
§ Mr. John Smith
As the hon. Gentleman is giving assurances about how harmless this legislation will be for trade unions, will he give some guidance as to what it is supposed to achieve? What mischief is it supposed to deal with? What campaign by trade unions would justify this legislation?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
A trade union campaign aimed deliberately at this Government, or, in future years, conceivably at a Government of which the right hon. and learned Member was a member. That is unlikely, but it is not entirely impossible. Were that the case, it would be wrong for the trade union movement to get politically involved in that campaign and to use its general funds—voted for other purposes — for the purely political purpose of destroying that Government. That is the evil we aim to avoid.
It is precisely that evil which the amendment of the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar seeks to bring into being. The hon. Gentleman suggested that under this legislation there could be some difficulty in the courts as to what might or might not be a political objective, but that is nothing to the confusion that will be caused by new clause 4. Almost anything might be included in the wide definition of what the general fund could be used for for purely political purposes. That is the difference between Opposition Members and Conservative Members.
We believe that the trade unions have an important role to play, but that it is to look after the rights and interests of their members in relation to their own jobs. Opposition Members see the trade unions as an additional functional part of the Labour party. They wholly ignore the vast numbers of trade union members who do not support that party and who wish to support other parties. Every trade union measure put before the House by the Government is viewed by the Opposition only in terms of how it will affect the Labour party, not how it will affect the rights of the members of the unions concerned.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)
I am interested in what Conservative Members have been saying, but I keep asking whether this legislation will lead to good industrial relations on the shop floor. As someone with direct experience of industrial relations I find that the answer that constantly emerges is, "No, it certainly will not."
My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) is right to talk of lawyers becoming involved. I appreciate the difficulties that can arise when lawyers interpret legislation. However, most lawyers whom I know have some knowledge of industrial relations law and, therefore, are entitled to give a legal definition and advice.
The problem with industrial relations legislation is that every odd bod involved is only too willing to interpret each of piece of legislation. For example, I used to be a NUPE official representing cleaners. As a result of cuts in Government expenditure, the Highland, regional council decided to reduce cleaners' hours simply to be loyal to the then Government. That was a joke, because although the members of that council called themselves independent, they were really Tories, even though they claimed to be loyal to a Labour Government. It is true that a Labour Government at that time made the cuts, but they are not like the cuts that are being made now. At least the last Labour Government restored the cuts, whereas it is the philosophy of this Government to cut local government expenditure irrespective of need.
Some of the people I represented, who worked 17 hours as part-time cleaners, had their hours cut to nine. In many cases, widows and women forced to maintain a family had their hours halved. They went on strike, and my job was 704 to report to my headquarters and recommend that the strike should be made official. The union supported me, and distributed literature in support of those members.
The personnel officer of the Highlands regional council said, even though legislation of this kind did not exist, that it was a political strike. He tried to argue that the strike had nothing to do with people fighting for their livelihoods. Under this Bill, that person would be able to say that it was a political strike, and the union and the cleaners would be taken to court. Surely, that is not what we want in industrial relations.
Those cleaners' hours were cut as a consequence of a political decision by the regional council, and in a sense the reaction of the cleaners was political. Therefore, anyone with this legislation to hand could say, "This is a political strike." In this day and age, I know of very few strikes in which there is not some political involvement. Even in private industry, Government finance is usually involved. Therefore, someone could go to court and say, "This is a political dispute."
The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders' dispute, in which I was involved, was a political action. All the unions represented in those shipyards lobbied Parliament and distributed leaflets and newsletters, all of which were aimed at the Government. They sought support from the Opposition, because they knew that a political decision would keep those shipyards open.
In the steel industry, coal mining, shipbuilding and the building industry, there is a political input——
§ Mr. Martin
I shall not give way because many hon. Members wish to speak and the Minister wishes to reply.
It will be difficult for any trade union to distribute literature without fearing that it will be taken to court for doing so.
Only a few weeks ago—every other hon. Member probably had a similar experience—various workers in my constituency approached me just before the Budget, which always has implications for various industries. The tobacco industry is located in my constituency, and the tobacco workers' union rightly approached me and expressed worry about what the Chancellor might do. That union would be perfectly entitled to distribute literature before the Budget asking its members and families to approach their Members of Parliament, and even to write to Ministers, about it. No hon. Member would argue that that was not political literature. It is. It is directed at politicians, but that union would be entitled to get involved.
A union should be entitled to have a political fund. Even if the white collar unions do not pay a contribution to the Labour party, they should be allowed a political fund. Then, when literature such as I have described is distributed by those unions, there can be no dubiety as to the purposes for which the money is spent.
Conservative Members have spoken of companies publishing their accounts annually. If they knew more about the trade union movement, they would know that every trade union affiliated to the TUC publishes its accounts annually, and every union member is entitled to examine those accounts and, if need be, to demand an audit.
§ Mr. Martin
I shall not give way. The hon. Member has not been in the Chamber throughout the debate, and now he is seeking to interrupt Opposition speakers.
The Minister told us in Committee that even if unions do not have a political levy — even if the members decide that they do not want to be affiliated to the Labour party—they can affiliate to political organisations. That makes nonsense of the Bill. When I asked the Minister whether it would be all right for any union to affiliate to the campaign for a Scottish Assembly, he said yes. That is an honourable organisation and I have no complaint about it, but how can it be said that it is non-political?
I can think of umpteen organisations to which my union is affiliated. Many unions are affiliated to organisations abroad, such as the campaign for hospitals in Vietnam. It could be argued that such campaigns are political. The Minister is telling us that it is all right for unions to affiliate to such bodies but that they must not distribute literature which in some way criticises the Government. That makes nonsense of the whole legislation.
§ Mr. Winnick
It is interesting to note that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is not present. I understand that that is because it is considered somewhat indelicate for him to be present at such proceedings. The same point applied apparently in Committee. It is disgraceful that the chairman of the party in office should be involved in a Department which is introducing legislation affecting the finances of the main Opposition party. I can well imagine what would happen if the reverse were the case and if a Labour Government had a Minister in office who was the chairman——
§ Mr. Winnick
In a moment. If a Labour Government had a Minister who was the chairman of the party and he was introducing legislation affecting company donations to the Tory party, I wonder what Conservative Members would say.
§ Mr. Winnick
The hon. Gentleman is being so naive that it must be deliberate. We all know that the purpose of the legislation is to try to cripple the Labour party's funds. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, he must be extremely naive.
The Under-Secretary of State is now present and will, I presume, reply to the debate. I wonder to what extent he is an authority on trade union matters. I read the profile on him in the House Magazine. There was a great deal about his early life and about his going to Annabel's and taking £50 from the barman if he was short of funds. There did not seem to be anything about activities before he came to the House which had any possible bearing on industrial relations or trade union matters—unless the barman at Annabel's is somehow involved in industrial relations.
706 It is a fact — I do not think that even the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) would wish to deny it — that no restrictions on companies are being introduced in the Bill. As my hon. Friends have rightly said, the position is extremely unequal and unfair. Shareholders have no say whatever in whether a donation is to be made. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may mutter but the facts are perfectly clear. Companies make donations—inevitably they are either to the Tory party or to the front organisations connected with it—and they do so without any consultation with shareholders. Moreover, no shareholder is in a position to say, as a trade unionist can, "I wish to contract out." No shareholder has that right. [Interruption.] I repeat that no shareholder has that right. He can sell his shares, but if he wishes to retain his shares for good, sound commercial reasons and does not wish in any way to be involved in a donation to the Conservative party, he is not in a position to contract out. If Conservative Members believe that shareholders should be in a position to contract out, obviously they should have tabled an amendment which we could be debating today. No such amendment has been tabled.
§ Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a shareholder has the right to call an extraordinary general meeting if he or she wishes, and that at an annual general meeting the shareholders have the right to question the validity of any donation made by the company?
§ Mr. Winnick
Would the hon. Gentleman be quite content if the same rule applied to the trade union movement; in other words, if there were no political fund, and if donations were made from the general fund but with the sort of caution or reservation that the hon. Gentleman says exists in the commercial field? If the hon. Gentleman believes that what is happening in the company world is perfectly all right, all we ask is that the same should apply in the trade union world, but I have seen no such suggestions or proposals by way of an amendment or new clause from the Conservative Benches. I am grateful to Conservative Members for strengthening our case and the point that we are trying to establish—that the present law is unfair and unequal.
It is wrong that trade unions should be subject to so many restrictions which at the moment—I say "at the moment" because obviously the position is likely to change in the event of a Labour Government — companies do not have applied to them. That is what is wrong. If there were to be any justification at all for legislation, it is precisely to put that position right. What is happening at the moment—
§ Mr. Winnick
I have been advised not to give way, simply because of the shortage of time, and not because of the strength of argument of Conservative Members, but the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) is so keen and so anxious to intervene that I am sure that even my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench will forgive me if I give way to him.
§ Mr. Tracey
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. A few minutes ago one of his hon. Friends told us very clearly that a limited company called the 707 League Against Cruel Sports recently had some donations to the Labour party ruled illegal by the courts. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is telling us that the law does not ban such contributions. How does he square those points?
§ Mr. Winnick
I have not heard of any contributions made by companies to the Tory party or its front organisations being declared unlawful in any way. It is interesting that the only illustration that the hon. Gentleman can give relates to a charity that wanted to donate to the Labour party, and whose action was found to be unlawful.
It is clear that if the new clause is not accepted, a union without a political fund will have great difficulty in indulging in campaigns, because they are likely to be considered unlawful. There are many matters about which unions may wish to campaign, including privatisation and Government cuts in public spending. Unions may wish to organise advertising and protest rallies.
Conservative Members, some of them lawyers, have said that such action would not be unlawful. However, I submit that some of the comments made by Conservative Members and the intervention by the Minister, who spoke about the NALGO campaign, demonstrate that a number of campaigns would be considered unlawful. For example, a Government may introduce in the final Session of a Parliament a number of privatisation measures. The unions involved might consider them wrong and against their members' interests. If those unions campaigned against the proposals and invited Labour Members to help them, it is suggested that it would be easy for a union with no political fund to justify expenditure from a general fund on such action? Would it not be relatively easy for the Freedom Association or another such group to ensure that a member took his union to court? Such pitfalls and legal minefields cause deep anxiety to Labour Members. That is why the new clause was tabled.
If the new clause is not accepted, there are bound to be a number of court cases involving trade unions that do not have a political fund. Lawyers will be kept busy interpreting the Act and the unions will find themselves in court on numerous occasions.
We were told at the last election that the advent of a Labour Government would bring about almost an east European state in this country. It is interesting to note that this Government, having been re-elected with a larger majority, are constantly eroding civil liberties. In a host of ways—with the trade unions at GCHQ and through the abolition of the county councils, which, no doubt coincidentally I am sure, are Labour-controlled — the Government are taking measures and decisions that undermine the freedom of our fellow citizens.
The Bill is yet another illustration of the way in which freedom is being undermined by a Government who are almost corrupted by power. Conservative Members may feel complacent with their majority, but I have seen Governments with large majorities lose them at a subsequent general election. If the Government continue to abuse their power, and do all that they can to undermine their opponents and to cripple the finances of the main 708 Opposition party, they may find that on their ultimate day of judgment—the next general election—they will be effectively punished for that abuse of power.
§ Mr. Ashton
The one question that we hope will be answered in this debate is, what are the Government scared of? Why are they so frightened of the current balance of power?
The Government have the backing of about 85 per cent. of Fleet street and about £20 million of funds. Compare that with the resources available to trade unions and the money that the Labour party receives to fight elections. The Government's proposal is the action of a mean and petty-minded Administration with too much power and virtual moral corruption. They cannot bear to leave the situation as it is.
Parliament consists of a series of lobby groups. The place is run around pressure groups, and trade unions are but one such group. For all its faults, the system tends to work. Many Conservative Members represent pressure groups. Let us not kid ourselves that pressure groups do not give them funds for their campaigns or give money to Tory party headquarters.
All of us are susceptible to the lobbying that takes place just before the Budget. We are invited to lush lunches so that the banks or building societies can try to brainwash us. I do not go to such lunches, but some people think that hon. Members are like sheep who will do as they are asked in return for a three-course lunch.
The lobbying, persuading process goes on all the time. The Bill mentions action thatseeks to persuade any person to vote or … not to vote for a political party or candidate.Why do not the Government take action on the lobbying of hon. Members? Why do not we have a register of lobbyists? We have read lately the saga of Mark Thatcher seeking to persuade people that Cementation should be given a contract. Immediately, the gag was put on everyone. No one dared say a word. The newspapers were criticised for trying to reveal what that persuasion was all about. If a trade union tries to do the same thing that Mark Thatcher did, it will be hauled before the courts. The wording of the Bill is so loose that any lawyer or judge could read into it anything that he chooses.
Every trade union now has its own magazine. Probably about 10 million copies are printed every month. Most simply give lists of long-serving members or explain what has been happening at various branches. But some launch campaigns. My union had a campaign about British Aerospace. It put tremendous pressure on its members and advised them to lobby Conservative Members who have aerospace interests in their constituencies. Because of that, many Conservative Members raised matters in the Chamber. Perhaps the Government were happy to accept that sort of attempt at persuasion, but if the trade union magazine had advised union members to lobby Conservative Members against the Trade Union Bill and the union paid for the magazine out of its general fund, it would be hauled up before the courts and would probably be fined.
It seems that our side of democracy must constantly be curtailed. Any amount of mailbag bumf may be sent to hon. Members from the friends of the Conservative party. We all receive mail from lobbyists. Every week in The House Magazine there is lobbying material from the NFU, 709 which will be arguing strongly against what the Government announced today, the Police Federation, which sends us its magazine, and various other lobbyists.
I sat on the Select Committee on Members' Interests. We considered the lobbying of Parliament and wanted to have a register of lobbyists, but it was impossible to define who was a lobbyist. Is a man who takes you for a drink in the House to bend your ear a lobbyist? Should a free trip abroad be included in a register? Should the register include campaign funds from Rank, Hovis or the brewers, who gave £50,000 to the Conservative party to try to persuade the Government not to increase the price of beer in the Budget? They suggested cutting the price of a bottle of wine by 18p and they got their way. Perhaps the fish and chip manufacturers did not lobby as hard or pay as much cash and perhaps that was why a tax was put on takeaway fish and chips.
Lobbying takes place all the time and it is naive for anybody to think that it does not. Yet the tight controls are put only on trade unions. The gag is being put on. We have lived with such actions all our lives. The press, television and radio constantly denigrate trade unionists and make them out to be enemies of the people. We see the same sort of propaganda barrage that was used by Goebbels and is now used by South Africans against black people.
The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Miller) laughs. Many people have made fun of trade unions, but they go on for ever. The hon. Gentleman may laugh as much as he likes, but he will not defeat trade unionism in this country.
The Bill is an attempt to gag trade unions and put them in court. Every time they protest, campaign, print leaflets, march down the street or lobby Members of Parliament, a Tory Member will run to the courts, backed by the Freedom Association, saying, "This is a political activity which is breaking the law." The judges will warn the unions not to break the law and say that if they continue with the activity, it will represent a contempt of court. We shall have NGA-type disputes with Mr. Eddie Shah all over again, with £500,000 fines and the rest.
The Bill is designed to provoke more contempts of court, with heavier fines on trade unions until they are bankrupt. In other words, it is a denial of free speech. Trade unions will be denied the right to print leaflets, campaign and advertise. It is legislation against any concept that we in Britain have known.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Two main attacks on the clause were made by Opposition Members. The first claim was that something similar did not apply to company law. I should have thought that a distinction could be drawn between a person who buys shares in a company and a person who works for a company and is therefore unable to withdraw from that company in the way that a person can who has bought shares in it and wishes to dispose of them. [Interruption.] There is no obligation on anybody to purchase shares in any company, whether or not he objects to the activities of that company.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The hon. Gentleman is not answering my point. A man may have his pension money invested in a pension hind. Any idea that he can control where that investment goes is a fairy tale; 99 out of 100 people do not even know where their pension fund money is invested. People, unwittingly, are therefore supporting the Tories, whether they like it or not.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
I do not regard the references of Opposition Members to company law as an objection to the clause. Indeed, I would not object to a similar provision having an application to company law. Either way, that does not affect the usefulness of a provision such as this.
Exaggerated fears have been expressed about the ability of a union to exert itself effectively in the interests of its members' wages, conditions and the rest. The second objection of the Opposition, in other words, is that the provision would have an adverse effect on the proper objectives and activities of any efficient trade union. We can envisage circumstances in which a thinly disguised document dealing with wages and conditions of employment would really be a polemic against the Government of the day, and hence a political document. The clause does not destroy the right of a trade union to exert itself in the proper functions of a trade union on behalf of the conditions and earnings of its members.
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
I have enjoyed this more than many debates in the House. I have listened to Conservative Members arguing in favour of the Bill, fundamentally on the premise that the system that now exists means that many members of trade unions who do not support the Labour party in effect provide funds for that party and its campaigns. That, they say, should be stopped. Labour Members have argued that much the same can be said of the large donations from big business to the Conservative party.
We on the Liberal Bench take the view that both of those arguments are right, that what the Socialists say about Conservative fund-raising is true and that what the Tories say about Labour fund-raising is equally true. However, almost everything else that Conservative and Labour Members say on the subject is nonsense.
We in Britain have a corporate system of politics. We have the two big power masters of politics — the company owners and company unions — with their poodles here arguing vehemently, as they have today, to prop up the present system. I cannot demonstrate better how ludicrous the system is than by referring to the position in my constituency, where the dominant union, the Transport and General Workers Union, provides a substantial sum of money to the Labour party each year, and the company for whom many of the members of that union work, English China Clays Limited, gives a substantial sum to the Conservative party each year.
There are no signs of either side supporting either party in the ballot box when the great day comes; if they did, I should no longer be in the House. However, both feel that they must be part of this crazy business of each supporting its side in the battle between those who wish to see more or less state control, as the case may be.
I suspect that the Minister knows what is required but cannot get the solution past his master. What is needed is for Britain to face up to the way in which the political parties in general are financed. If the United States can face up to that problem, I do not see why we cannot do likewise and pass the necessary legislation.
§ Mr. Ashton
Is it not a fact that the alliance went to the electricians' union to see whether it would give it some cash? If the alliance had been offered cash, would it have taken it?
§ Mr. Penhaligon
I have not said that either side is immoral in receiving cash. I am simply referring to the corporate nature of the system under which we operate. For example, at the last election the post office workers ran a brilliant campaign against the desire of the Tories to lop off British Telecom. Their leaflets were well prepared and their arguments well adduced, and I concurred with them. If the sole desire of the POEU had been to defeat that proposal by the Conservatives, it should have given some financial assistance to other political parties that agreed with its aim. It chose not to do so simply because of the corporate nature of British politics.
We must face up to this dilemma. I believe that most hon. Members, if they are not talking to the bosses of their parties, recognise that if parties on both sides of the House were less dependent on their political paymasters, we should have a better system in Parliament and Government. The Government are, therefore, dodging the main issue, which is the financing of the political parties in Britain. On the whole, politics in this country will not improve by being even worse financed than it is at present, which I fear will be the result of what the Government propose.
§ Mr. Winnick
Is it not a fact that the Liberal party, when in a different electoral position, received substantial contributions from companies and industry in much the same way as the Tory party receives contributions now, and that there were no complaints from Liberals at the time? Is it not also a fact that SDP Members, when in the Labour party, made no complaint about the link between the trade union movement and the Labour party?
§ Mr. Penhaligon
I too can read the history books. I was born in 1944 and I do not recall the Liberal party ever receiving money from anyone. My contribution to the debate, foolish though it may seem, is designed to raise the level of debate and to consider the general interests of the great society we seek to represent.
I put to the House with great vigour and total conviction my belief that the domination of our politics by corporate donations to the two sides works against the interests of much of British politics and that the only way out of the difficulty is some form of state financing of political parties, which the Conservatives accepted when they were in opposition.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
I attended quite a few of the meetings, although I confess that I spent a fair proportion of the latter period of the Committee trying to alter the Chesterfield result—with some effect, as it turned out. One of the reasons why the alliance does so much better at by-elections is that it is the only time when we are on a par financially with the other two parties, which must frighten both of them out of their wits. If only the same were true at general elections.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
This part of the Bill simply updates the 1913 Act. The Government have been at pains to avoid 712 departing from the principles of that Act. We have merely brought them up to date in the belief that no reasonable person could object to their being applied to new generations of trade union members.
The new clause, whether amended or not, is unnecessary, because the new definition of political objects makes it clear that it is concerned with party political matters and not with industrial or other more general political matters. The new clause would allow a whole range of party political expenditure to be met from general funds on the ground that it was connected with matters directly affecting terms and conditions or security of employment. That would be to move right outside the provisions of the 1913 Act and would thus be unacceptable.
For motives of their own, doubtless connected with an incipient propaganda campaign to frighten trade union members into voting for the continuation of the political fund, the Opposition have suggested that trade union expenditure relating to any kind of political matter will be caught by the new definition and that campaigns about job losses, employment legislation and the like will all have to be financed from political funds.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) made two main points. He said that the purpose of this part of the Bill was to upset the relationship between the Labour party and the trade union movement. I shall return to that later. To give him credit, he stayed away from the arguments advanced by many Labour Members to the effect that the Bill would inhibit perfectly ordinary non-party political campaigning. He alleged, however, that clause 15 contained an innovation with regard to voting against a political party, but plainly an injunction which says, "If you do not vote Conservative your job will be at risk, so watch out," is party political and would have been covered by the definition in the 1913 Act.
The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) cited a series of situations which he claimed would be caught by the new provisions in clause 15, but I believe that every one of them would in fact be perfectly legitimate. He said that the clause would limit the right to campaign publicly about wages and conditions, but it plainly would not. He said that an advertisement to the effect that an employer was reneging on an agreement would be caught, whereas plainly it would not be caught. He said that hiring Central Hall to put the case relating to industrial conditions or the like would be caught by the provisions, but it would not be caught.
§ Mr. Mikardo
If a union believes that some of its members will lose their jobs as a result of Government action and hires Central Hall for the speakers on the platform to explain why they believe that the union members will be disadvantaged, all it needs is for one bod in the middle of the hall to shout out, "Brothers, all you have to do is vote Labour and get the Government out," and there will be a court action the next week.
§ Mr. Clark
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but he is simply not right. The proposed new subsection (3)(e) to the 1913 Act clearly refers toany conference held by or on behalf of a political party or any other meeting at which business of a political party is transacted".If Central Hall is hired for such a meeting, that will be caught, but if is hired by the union merely to publicise its 713 terms and conditions or whatever, that will not be caught. The same applies to all the examples that the hon. Gentleman cited. His final example was that of a union mounting a campaign to stop a Ministry of Defence contract being placed abroad. That is perfectly legitimate and there is no intention or provision in this part of the Bill to deal with it.
The hon. Member for Sedgfield (Mr. Blair), like his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East, claimed that the Bill dealt with the funding of the Labour party. In the one example that he gave, he queried the legitimacy of a campaign against the abolition of wages councils. It may be helpful to enlarge on exactly what the Opposition mean by a campaign. There are only two elements in a campaign. The first consists of meetings. The second is publicity — media material, propaganda, advertisements, and so on. Both are clearly covered in the new definition. A meeting held by or on behalf of a political party must be paid for out of the political fund. The production, distribution and so on of material designed to persuade people to vote for or against a political party must also be paid for out of the political fund. A campaign that does not include those two elements, however—a perfectly legitimate campaign to change pay and conditions and contracts and so forth—can legitimately be met out of the general fund.
§ Mr. Blair
If in a campaign against Government policy the union does not expressly ask members not to vote for that party, but the policy concerned is stigmatised, for example, as Tory party policy, is there not a danger that the union could be said by implication to be asking people not to vote Tory?
§ Mr. Clark
That is perfectly true. There may be high points or low points in a campaign, depending on the aspect from which they are regarded, when the advertisement, meeting, agitation or whatever is overtly party political. In those circumstances, it would not be legitimate for them to be paid for other than out of the political fund. That is all. The NALGO advertisement with which the Opposition made such great play was part of a campaign which may in part have been legitimate, but to the extent that it included an advertisement with a facsimile ballot paper and urged members to use their votes it was plainly party political and would thus be covered by clause 15.
The hon. Member for Dunfermiline, East (Mr. Brown) used a very revealing phrase when he referred to a union losing its fund as a result of Government legislation. If a union loses its political fund it will be the result not of Government legislation but of the union's own membership rejecting the concept. The sooner that he accepts that and accepts the legitimacy of what we are doing, the more enlightened he will become.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) said that we were impeding unions that were entitled to have a political fund. The only entitlement to a political fund after the Bill will be that arising from the endorsement of a union's members. The hon. Gentleman gave the example of a campaign for the Scottish Assembly being inhibited by the Bill. It certainly would not. That would be a perfectly legitimate campaign, not a party political one. As to entitlement, the members of his union will determine that entitlement, not the Government.
714 The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) did not really speak to the clause at all. He made some interesting digressions about the House of Commons being an assembly of lobbyists, the majority of whom were perpetually taking three-course lunches. He disclaimed falling into that category, and I am glad to join him. Whether we are in a minority, I rather doubt. That seemed to me to be the sum total of his contribution.
I do not share the low opinion of the majority of Conservative Members of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), despite the personal remarks that he sometimes makes about me. However, he, too, spent most of his time arguing about the concept of campaigning. He must understand that campaigning will not be affected by the Bill. Only party political campaigning will be affected, and that is no different from the provisions of the 1913 Act.
The one consistent theme that has pervaded the arguments of Labour Members is the contention that the Bill is an attack on the finances of the Labour party and an attempt to sever the link between the Labour party and the trade union movement. I do not deny the validity—or even the desirability — of that historic and long-established link between the trade union movement and the Labour party, the recognition of which is implicit in the 1913 Act. I hope that I have enough sense of history to recognise that those have been of demonstrable and permanent value to our country.
However, time has moved on and it is at least questionable whether the Labour party or the trade union leadership actively serve the interests of individual trade union members as those individual members may wish. There is abundant testimony to that not only in the opinion polls but in the presence of so many Conservative Members in the House following the last election. Therefore, is it not at the very least reasonable to offer those members the chance of confirming the arrangements for a political fund which was given to their forefathers in the 1913 Act over 70 years ago to decide whether a portion of their subscription shall go into a fund with party political objectives? That is all we are doing. After a long interval, and as was clearly the intention of the authors of the original Act, we are only giving them an opportunity to confirm or reject the existence of the fund. No amount of verbiage or dissimulation by Labour Members can conceal that. Far from concealing it, it reveals that many of them are deeply apprehensive that the result of the periodic ballots will be that the majority of the members vote against the existence of a political fund. If they are not going to, hon. Members have nothing to worry about. If they do reject it, surely no hon. Member would wish to subsist on levies for which the majority have not given their consent.
In essence, the new clause is a cover for allowing political objectives to be paid for out of the general fund —by definition, in circumstances following a rejection by a majority of the membership of the political fund—and we find it completely unacceptable.
§ Mr. Evans
The House of Commons has now been considering the Bill for almost five months. Tonight we have arrived at the heart of the Bill — the general question of the rights of trade unions to defend themselves and to defend and promote their members' interests in whatever way is required, whether it be industrially or politically.
715 In the past five years, with two Acts of Parliament, the Government have considerably circumscribed the right of trade unions to defend themselves industrially. In part III we are seeing the Tory party's determination to limit a trade union's ability politically to defend itself and its members.
We have seen in Committee that there are two prongs to that attack. The first prong is to demand periodic ballots to maintain political funds. What is the origin of the demand that there should be ballots of members of trade unions which have political funds within a short of space of time of the Act being passed and then at 10-year intervals? The attack has come from the Tory party, the Liberal party, and, as we have seen, from the Social Democratic party. A leading article in The Times today puts in a nutshell the campaign that has been carried on by those parties against political funds. It said:Individuals who object to having their money taken for the coffers of parties they oppose have always had at least the right to opt publicly out of the process. But in practice it has often taken considerable moral fortitude to do so, and it has meant risking the hostility of workmates and even effective exclusion from the union's counsels.That sentiment is undoubtedly shared by large sectors of the Tory party in the House and in the country. That is a pack of lies. There is not a shred of factual evidence to justify any of those three comments. No moral fortitude is required by any individual to contract out of the political levy. Nor is there any hostility by anyone's workmates to anyone who contracts out. To exclude anyone from the union's counsels for not paying the political levy would be illegal. Everyone who has studied this aspect of trade union law knows that.
Tories are constantly boasting, as the Minister has just done, about the percentage of trade unionists who vote Tory——
§ Mr. Mikardo
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to my hon. Friend for interupting him. I am trying hard to follow what he is saying, but I am inhibited from so doing by the buzz of conversation from many Tory Members who are technically not in the House. Would it be possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to persuade them to move a few yards southwards to the other side of the door?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has a valid point and I hope that notice will be taken of it.
§ Mr. Evans
The Tory party is constantly boasting about the percentage of trade union members whom, it alleges, vote for it. In the next breath it is ranting about trade unionists being too terrified to opt out of the political levy. Of course, those two points do not tally. In this day and age no one of whom I am aware in the trade union movement is in the least alarmed about contracting out of the political levy if he so desires. The reason for the constant repetition of that canard is to mask the obvious. There is no complaint from trade unionists who pay the political levy about the method by which the political levy is deducted. There is no complaint about the existence of a political fund from contracted-out members of a union, even in those unions where fewer than 50 per cent. pay the political levy, despite the Tory campaign.
The second prong of the Tory attack, to limit trade unions' ability to defend their membership, or to promote 716 their interests, is the vast widening in clause 15 of the definition of political objectives. It is now widely accepted that clause 15 considerably re-draws the definition of political objectives, notwithstanding the fact that the Under-Secretary in his opening remarks said that all that was being done was to update the 1913 Act, a point that his hon. Friend the Minister of State, who once again was not present during the debate, made on Second Reading. Indeed, the Under-Secretary admitted in Committee that the NALGO campaign would have been the first to be caught by the new definition, and that is what he admitted tonight, whereas the NALGO campaign was not affected by the previous definition, of which the Minister is well aware. That is a major change in the widening of the definition of political objectives. NALGO would be informed that any campaign of that nature to defend its members against Government actions would have to be paid for from a political fund. NALGO has no political fund, and therefore—this is where one reaches what the Tory party seeks to obtain — there would be no campaign of that nature against the Tory party.
Many other unions in the public sector do not have political funds. The National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Woman Teachers, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education and virtually all the Civil Service unions do not have political funds. Many of those unions have been at the forefront in seeking to defend their members against the Tory party's attacks on their jobs and their terms and conditions in the past two to three years. It should be appreciated by all Conservative Members that, of the 462 organisations listed as trade unions by the certification officer at 31 December 1982, only 62 had political funds. Once the Bill goes on to the statute book, almost every union will need a political fund if it is to defend itself against attack from the Tory Government. It will be a question not of affiliating to the Labour party, but of acquiring a political fund to defend the union's members. Any question of affiliation to the Labour party is very much a secondary issue in the major argument that the trade union movement will have to face up to in the next two to three years. Indeed, the whole range of activity carried on by trade unions in the past out of the general fund will have to come out of the political fund in many instances in future because of the way in which the new subsection (3)(f) of the 1913 Act has been rewritten in clause 15.
It is important to look at the Opposition's objection to the rewriting of section 3 of the 1913 Act, as laid out in clause 15. The area that is causing so much concern is embodied in paragraph (f). It should be appreciated that the Opposition spent a considerable amount of time in Committee seeking to persuade the Government to drop the words in line 10,or, as the case may be, not to vote",so that it would have readseeks to persuade any person to vote for a political party or candidate.That at least would have been a clear definition of what would be involved in political activity. The inclusion of the wordsor, as the case may be, not to votehas aroused grave suspicions at every level in the Labour movement about the impact and effect of the Bill. The new clause seeks to qualify the Government's intention. It seeks to lay down that trade unions, provided that they are 717 putting forward arguments that will seek to protect the terms and conditions and security of their members, will not then be charged with committing a political act.
Another element involved in this area is that trade unions which have a political fund will be badly affected with regard to what expenditure can come out of the general and political funds. I submit that many things—for example the lobbying of Members of Parliament on privatisation methods, the lobbying of Parliament on the London Regional Transport Bill and the lobbying of Parliament on the royal ordnance factories—which have been paid for out of the unions' general funds in the past will have to be paid for out of their political funds in the future.
I am pleased, and I acknowledge this to the Under-Secretary, that amendment No. 40 has been tabled. I hope that this will mitigate some of the fears of the Opposition expressed in Committee on union activities in lobbying party conferences, and so on. I hope that amendment No. 40 will meet our objections, but we shall have to wait and see.
If more money has to be spent out of political funds by those unions that have political funds, it is self-evident that less money will be available for unions to affiliate to the Labour party. That is an additional element in the Government's attack which is aimed at weakening the major Opposition party. The 1913 Act was an acceptable compromise. Broadly, it equated political activity with every aspect of promoting the candidature of an individual or office. national or local, and it recognised the historic links between the unions and the Labour party. After 70 years, the Tories hope to smash that relationship. It is a blatant and obvious attack upon the funding of the Labour party. As my hon. Friends have said, any consequential legislation will have an impact upon companies. It is disgraceful that organisations such as the Campaign Against Building Industry Nationalisation— CABIN—which were operative during the 1979 general election, and spent hundreds of thousands of pounds campaigning against the Labour party's nationalisation policy in relation to the building industry, will be able to carry on in future. The Freedom Association, Aims of Industry and other Right-wing organisations will also be allowed to carry on their activities. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said in opening the debate on new clause 4, there will be the scandal of a multinational oil corporation, whether it be American, German or French, being able to attack the Labour party to the utmost, and to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in a campaign to attack it in a general election, yet the trade unions with members in that industry will be unable to seek to protect those members by urging them to vote for the Labour party.
My view—and at this stage it is my view only—is that the Labour party should learn the lessons demonstrated by the Tory party. We should abolish the political fund, and we should place trade unions in future on precisely the same footing as that of any other organisation in the country, by giving them the right to spend their money in the way that they and their members see fit.
The new clause, which has not been accepted, has laid bare the Government's strategy. We shall campaign on clause 15 throughout the country in the next two or three 718 months. Its purpose is to cripple the Labour movement, which will be clear after tonight. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the new clause.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 172, Noes 343.721
|Division No. 217]||[8.19pm|
|Abse, Leo||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Golding, John|
|Adley, Robert||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Anderson, Donald||Hardy, Peter|
|Ashton, Joe||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Barnett, Guy||Haynes, Frank|
|Barron, Kevin||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Bell, Stuart||Home Robertson, John|
|Benn, Tony||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Blair, Anthony||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Boyes, Roland||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||John, Brynmor|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Lambie, David|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Lead bitter, Ted|
|Caborn, Richard||Leighton, Ronald|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Campbell, Ian||Litherland, Robert|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Loyden, Edward|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Clarke, Thomas||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Clay, Robert||McKelvey, William|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cohen, Harry||McTaggart, Robert|
|Coleman, Donald||McWilliam, John|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Madden, Max|
|Conlan, Bernard||Marek, Dr John|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Martin, Michael|
|Corbett, Robin||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Meacher, Michael|
|Cowans, Harry||Michie, William|
|Craigen, J. M.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Crowther, Stan||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Nellist, David|
|Deakins, Eric||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Dewar, Donald||O'Brien, William|
|Dobson, Frank||O'Neill, Martin|
|Dormand, Jack||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Douglas, Dick||Parry, Robert|
|Dubs, Alfred||Patchett, Terry|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Pendry, Tom|
|Eadie, Alex||Pike, Peter|
|Eastham, Ken||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Prescott, John|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Radice, Giles|
|Fatchett, Derek||Randall, Stuart|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Redmond, M.|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Rees, Rt Hon M. ("Leeds S)|
|Flannery, Martin||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Foster, Derek||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Foulkes, George||Robertson, George|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|George, Bruce||Rogers, Allan|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Ryman, John||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Tinn, James|
|Sheerman, Barry||Torney, Tom|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon R.||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Wareing, Robert|
|Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)||Weetch, Ken|
|Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)||Welsh, Michael|
|Silkin, Rt Hon J.||White, James|
|Skinner, Dennis||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)||Winnick, David|
|Snape, Peter||Woodall, Alec|
|Spearing, Nigel||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Stott, Roger||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Strang, Gavin||Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. Don Dixon|
|Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Adley, Robert||Colvin, Michael|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Conway, Derek|
|Alexander, Richard||Coombs, Simon|
|Alton, David||Cope, John|
|Amess, David||Cormack, Patrick|
|Ancram, Michael||Corrie, John|
|Ashby, David||Couchman, James|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Critchley, Julian|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Crouch, David|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Baldry, Anthony||Dover, Den|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Batiste, Spencer||Dunn, Robert|
|Beith, A. J.||Durant, Tony|
|Bellingham, Henry||Dykes, Hugh|
|Bendall, Vivian||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Benyon, William||Eggar, Tim|
|Berry, Sir Anthony||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Evennett, David|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Fallon, Michael|
|Body, Richard||Farr, John|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Favell, Anthony|
|Bottomley, Peter||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Forman, Nigel|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Forth, Eric|
|Bright, Graham||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Brinton, Tim||Fox, Marcus|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Franks, Cecil|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Freeman, Roger|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Fry, Peter|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Gale, Roger|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Galley, Roy|
|Budgen, Nick||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Butcher, John||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Butterfill, John||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Carttiss, Michael||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Cartwright, John||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Gorst, John|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Chapman, Sydney||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Chope, Christopher||Greenway, Harry|
|Churchill, W. S.||Gregory, Conal|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Grist, Ian|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Ground, Patrick|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Cockeram, Eric||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Major, John|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Malins, Humfrey|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Malone, Gerald|
|Hannam, John||Maples, John|
|Harris, David||Marland, Paul|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Marlow, Antony|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Mates, Michael|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Mather, Carol|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Hawksley, Warren||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Hayes, J.||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Hayward, Robert||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Mellor, David|
|Heddle, John||Merchant, Piers|
|Henderson, Barry||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Hickmet, Richard||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Hicks, Robert||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Hill, James||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hind, Kenneth||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Hirst, Michael||Moate, Roger|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Holt, Richard||Moore, John|
|Hooson, Tom||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Hordern, Peter||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Howard, Michael||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Mudd, David|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Neubert, Michael|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Newton, Tony|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Normanton, Tom|
|Hunter, Andrew||Norris, Steven|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Onslow, Cranley|
|Irving, Charles||Ottaway, Richard|
|Jackson, Robert||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Parris, Matthew|
|Jessel, Toby||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Pawsey, James|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Penhaligon, David|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Pollock, Alexander|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Porter, Barry|
|Key, Robert||Powell, William (Corby)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Powley, John|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Kirkwood, Archibald||Price, Sir David|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Knowles, Michael||Raffan, Keith|
|Knox, David||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Lamont, Norman||Rathbone, Tim|
|Lang, Ian||Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Renton, Tim|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Lester, Jim||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Lightbown, David||Rost, Peter|
|Lilley, Peter||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Lord, Michael||Ryder, Richard|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|McCrindle, Robert||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|MacGregor, John||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Maclean, David John||Shersby, Michael|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Silvester, Fred|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Sims, Roger|
|Madel, David||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Viggers, Peter|
|Speed, Keith||Waddington, David|
|Speller, Tony||Wainwright, R.|
|Spencer, Derek||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Walden, George|
|Squire, Robin||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Stanley, John||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Steen, Anthony||Wallace, James|
|Stern, Michael||Waller, Gary|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Walters, Dennis|
|Stevens, Martin (Fulham)||Ward, John|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Stokes, John||Watson, John|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Watts, John|
|Taylor, Fit Hon John David||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Wheeler, John|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Terlezki, Stefan||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Wilkinson, John|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Wood, Timothy|
|Thurnham, Peter||Woodcock, Michael|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Yeo, Tim|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Trippier, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Trotter, Neville||Mr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
|Twinn, Dr Ian|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.