HC Deb 02 April 1984 vol 57 cc773-80

'For subsection (1) of section 3 of the 1913 Act there shall be substituted— If any trade union applies its funds in the furtherance of the political objects to which this section applies (without prejudice to the furtherance of any other political objects) rules shall be in force providing—

  1. (a) That any payments in the furtherance of those objects are to be made out of a separate fund ( in this Act referred to as the political fund of the union).
  2. (b) That any money in the political fund used in direct support of individual political parties or candidates shall be divided in proportion to the party preferences indicated by those members of the trade union who contribute to the fund.
  3. (c) That a member who decides not to contribute to the political fund of the union shall not be excluded from any benefits of the union, or placed in any respect either directly or indirectly under any disability or at any disadvantage as compared with other members of the union (except in relation to the control or management of the political fund) by reason of his being so exempt, and that contribution to the political fund of the union shall not be made a condition for admission to the union.".'—[Mr. Penhaligon.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Penhaligon

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

New clause 9 introduces a new concept by which we might improve the financing of political parties and the use of political funds and make the funds more relevant to the parties that the unions choose to support. It provides that the portion of the money that is used for the promotion of party politics shall be divided among the parties in proportion to the sympathies of the members of the union. In other words, if 25 per cent. of the Transport and General Workers Union say that they wish to support the Conservative party, 25 per cent. of the money that is used for the promotion of political parties goes to the Conservative party. If 97.4 per cent. support the Labour party, that amount goes to that party. I am keen to support similar measures that apply to companies.

New clause 9 would improve politics in Britain. The level of financing of British political parties has not been dealt with much today, but I believe that it is inadequate. I sometimes think that British political parties do not have the facilities and resources that they ought to have when preparing themselves for government. New clause 9 would help to improve the financing of parties and politics. It would also improve the contact between the unions and political parties, which is not as strong as it should be. If we took similar steps for companies, that would improve the contact between companies and political parties. The mixing, joining and exploring of ideas by unions or companies and political parties would enhance and develop the level of debate, comprehension and feeling for people's problems. I do not believe that any of us should be satisfied with the present level of British politics, as involvement in and financing of it are inadequate.

I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) on new clause 6. I agreed when he said that unions' political funds were too small. New clause 9 could encourage them to increase substantially because the system would be seen to be fair and the members of trade unions would see that they had an influence in the political spectrum.

The hon. Gentleman also said that working-class people want to send representatives to Parliament and to have an influence on it. I agree, but I do not accept the assumption of Labour Members that working-class views can be expressed only through the Labour party. That is manifestly untrue. I conclude that either the majority of trade unionists are something other than working class or that a large minority want their views to be expressed by representatives who are members of parties other than the Labour party. That is a straight mathematical fact.

The general election made that point more strongly than any election in the past 20 or 30 years. The opinion polls might not be accurate, but nearly all of them came to a similar conclusion. About 39 per cent. of trade unionists voted Labour. That was a bad year for Labour. I suspect that during the past 15 or 20 years that figure has been higher, but it has never been anything approaching 100 per cent. I can find no evidence of its having reached even two thirds. Therefore, there is clearly a substantial minority of trade union members whose politics are other than Labour. At the election a significant majority of trade union members wished to be represented in the House by hon. Members in parties other than Labour.

I cannot believe that 472 hon. Members are satisfied with the present way in which we finance politics. I have been a Member of the House for 10 years. You have been a Member of the House for somewhat longer, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I cannot recall a Division when more than 472 voted in favour of anything. That would be a new record of consensus in the House on the basis of, "I will not look in your cupboard if you will not look in mine."

This is an opportunity for the House to put the political levy on what most trade union members would recognise as a sensible basis, if they were given a ballot on it. If they do not want to support a party other than the Labour party, it is their privilege so to do, but they should have an alternative. To be fair, the amendment must apply to companies as well. The logic is that it should be done on both sides. I offer the new clause to the House towards 1 o'clock in the morning. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) keeps making criticisms, but I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman; he has rot been present for most of the debates.

I offer the new clause to the House for consideration and debate. It could help towards achieving an improvement in politics in Britain and prove to be the meeting of the various factions that dominate our politics.

Mr. Gale

I should like to give some support, but not complete support, to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). He raised the matter on Second Reading in November. He may recall that at the time I also offered him some support in saying that I believed, as he did, that a majority of the trade union movement no longer supported the Labour party. That fact was demonstrated in numerous opinion polls supporting exactly the legislation brought before the House tonight. It was also demonstrated emphatically at the general election last year.

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) was asked on Second Reading, as he was asked repeatedly today, what justification he had for saying that the majority of trade union members would wish to contribute to Labour party funds. No such evidence has been forthcoming. Therefore, there is a case to be made for saying that there should a division of funds. In that respect I agree with the hon. Member for Truro.

However, as a trade union member, I do not believe that this is a matter for legislation. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has secured satisfactory agreement from the TUC and there is now the possibility of legislation that will give the trade union member the right and ease to opt out of the political levy. That being so, it is my view that any trade union member who wishes to do so should now exercise that right, opt out of the political levy and, if he chooses to do so, privately contribute to any political party of his persuasion.

12.45 am
Mr. Holt

I have long held the view that Liberals have a policy for each day of the week and for every person to whom they speak. Paragraph (b) of the new clause makes clear how out of touch with the reality of dealing with people in the workplace the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) is. He suggests that any money in the political fund should be used in direct proportion to the party preference of the members of the union who have contributed to the fund. That would preclude floating voters and would prevent a change of mind for all time.

The new clause reflects a lack of reality. It would be a stupid proposal to make at any time, but it could have been made in Committee. However, the hon. Gentleman was absent from the Committee for nine times as many hours as he was present. Consequently, he did not learn the little that he would have picked up from listening to the contributions of Labour and Conservative Members which were directed to trade unions and trade union management.


This mischievous clause is designed to secure some little blessing to the Liberal party at a late stage in our consideration of the Bill. The Liberals are ineffective in every way, and the clause underlines the fact that they are

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I must take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) on the political levy. When I was a more regular attender of my trade union's meetings I used to pay the levy. I paid it because I realised that if I and others ceased to do so the control of the fund would pass entirely into the hands of those who held political views with which I profoundly disapproved and who had aspirations that, in many instances, left me thoroughly contemptuous.

It was extremely useful to be in a position in which it was possible to argue against the madder uses of the fund. It is worth remembering that in many unions the political levy is not automatically attached to the Labour party. In many instances only a comparatively small proportion of the levy is contributed to political parties. It is used for a variety of political purposes which have nothing to do, necessarily, with the support of a particular political party.

Active members of trade unions who regularly attend branch meetings can do much worse than subscribe to the levy. If they keep an eye on the purposes for which it is used, they will often be able to influence their branches to make much better use of the moneys.

I have some sympathy with the argument of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) only because it would be much more satisfactory for those who are sharply against the Labour party if the political levy were distributed among other political parties. However, that is a wholly impractical proposition and there is little likelihood that such a scheme could be implemented. If we are active trade unionists, we must ensure that we attend branch meetings and persuade our fellow trade unionists to accept a view that the majority of trade unionists accept, which is that there are political parties that will represent them more effectively than the Labour party.

Mr. Alan Clark

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) moved the new clause in a rather specious manner. It is completely unacceptable, for it goes far beyond the principles established in the 1913 Act. It would impose heavy administrative and expenditure burdens on trade unions, which is not part of the purpose of the Bill. It would oblige them to become the collecting agents for political parties, which is no part of our objective.

I understand the motivation behind the clause. The Liberal party has decided that it is time that it got its hands on some of the money that has been so readily available from this source, the political fund. It has devised a method of doing so that embodies the curious anomaly that the clause, if it were accepted, would remove the need for trade unions to consult their members on the establishment or continuation of the political fund. If they would content themselves with the fact that they were getting a piece of the action, they would not bother any longer whether it was with the consent of the members or not that the political fund existed.

I entirely agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). If individual trade unionists want to contribute in proportion to different political parties, they have a very simple solution—simply to contract out and subscribe in the ordinary way as ordinary citizens do.

The 1913 Act did not tell trade unions how they should spend their money, whether on political matters or anything else, and it is not our intention to start to do so now.

Mr. Evans

Paragraph (b) is the heart of the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), and I am sure that I am not alone in regarding it as a nauseating new clause. We listened earlier to the hon. Member for Truro denouncing the collection of the political fund as a fraud, and he made a great deal of play about unions such as the Transport and General Workers Union——

Mr. Penhaligon

A fiddle.

Mr. Evans

I am sorry—a fiddle. There is not much difference between a fraud and a fiddle, is there? I withdraw the word "fraud" and substitute 'the word "fiddle". The hon. Member attacked unions such as the National Union of Public Employees.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) poured hatred and contempt on the trade union movement and all its works. However, it appears that all the high principles about attacking the political funds and attacking trade unions for their links with the Labour party disappear when apparently the Liberals can get their hands on some of the money. It appears that their principles are not very high.

It is a bit much for the Social Democrats to support the new clause. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), in a telling contribution, made a valid point about floating voters. He was also accurate when he said that the matter should have been raised and discussed in Committee.

It is always very difficult to work out precisely how much time an individual Member spends in Committee. Suffice it to say that on part III of the Bill we had eight votes. The hon. Member for Truro was present for none of them, and the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth), representing the Social Democratic party, managed to be present for one vote. The rest of their attendance in Committee was on a par with that.

The links between the Labour party and the trade union movement are well understood by everyone in Britain, even by those who oppose them. We in the Labour party are proud of those links. We are proud of the financial links that exist between the trade unions and ourselves and we want to retain and strengthen them.

Those are the facts, and it is obvious that the Liberal and Social Democratic party alliance has neither principle nor consistency in relation to the new clause that it has moved. The truth is that it wants to get its hands on some of the brass. For that reason, I hope that the whole House will join in killing this ridiculous new clause stone dead.

Mr. Penhaligon

I am now more encouraged than I was. It has been said that we want the money. I do not deny that. We want only what people are willing to give us, just like any other party in this House. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) says that the whole thing will fall down administratively because of what will happen when people want to change their minds. Under the new system in which the Government have so much faith, people will contract in and out. I presume that it is as possible to float in and out of the Labour party as it is to float between the Labour party, the Social Democratic party, the Conservative party, and so on.

I am glad that the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) noticed that the new clause would not abolish the ballot. I think that the best solution is to have political funds set up but to require that people have to contract in. Under the system that the Government are pushing through, 51 per cent. of trade unionists might vote against a political fund and 49 per cent. for a fund, and that 49 per cent.—which could be a lot of people in the big unions—would be denied an opportunity to make a contribution.

Therefore, I offer to the House a solution that should please the Labour party, because it would make it easy to set up a political fund, and would enable the amount contributed to political parties to reflect the support for those parties. I am confident that the new clause will receive overwhelming support.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 12, Noes 436.

Division No. 219] [12.55 am
Alton, David Freud, Clement
Ashdown, Paddy Howells, Geraint
Beith, A. J. Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Kennedy, Charles Wallace, James
Kirkwood, Archibald
Penhaligon, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Mr. Michael Meadowcroft and Mr. John Cartwright.
Steel, Rt Hon David
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Aitken, Jonathan Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Alexander, Richard Clarke, Thomas
Amess, David Clay, Robert
Ancram, Michael Cockeram, Eric
Anderson, Donald Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Ashby, David Cohen, Harry
Aspinwall, Jack Coleman, Donald
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Colvin, Michael
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Conway, Derek
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Coombs, Simon
Baldry, Anthony Cope, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Corbyn, Jeremy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Corrie, John
Barnett, Guy Couchman, James
Barron, Kevin Cowans, Harry
Batiste, Spencer Craigen, J. M.
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Cranborne, Viscount
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Crouch, David
Bellingham, Henry Crowther, Stan
Bendall, Vivian Cunningham, Dr John
Benn, Tony Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Bermingham, Gerald Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Berry, Sir Anthony Deakins, Eric
Bevan, David Gilroy Dixon, Donald
Bidwell, Sydney Dobson, Frank
Biffen, Rt Hon John Dormand, Jack
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Dorrell, Stephen
Blair, Anthony Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Dover, Den
Body, Richard Dubs, Alfred
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Duffy, A. E. P.
Bottomley, Peter Dunn, Robert
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Durant, Tony
Boyes, Roland Dykes, Hugh
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Eadie, Alex
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Eastham, Ken
Bray, Dr Jeremy Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Bright, Graham Eggar, Tim
Brinton, Tim Evans, John (St Helens N)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Evennett, David
Brooke, Hon Peter Eyre, Sir Reginald
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Fairbairn, Nicholas
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Fallon, Michael
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Farr, John
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Fatchett, Derek
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Faulds, Andrew
Bruinvels, Peter Favell, Anthony
Bryan, Sir Paul Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Buck, Sir Antony Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Budgen, Nick Fisher, Mark
Burt, Alistair Flannery, Martin
Butcher, John Fletcher, Alexander
Butterfill, John Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Caborn, Richard Forman, Nigel
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Forth, Eric
Campbell-Savours, Dale Foster, Derek
Canavan, Dennis Foulkes, George
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Fox, Marcus
Carttiss, Michael Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Freeman, Roger
Chapman, Sydney Fry, Peter
Chope, Christopher Gale, Roger
Churchill, W. S. Galley, Roy
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Garrett, W. E. Leadbitter, Ted
George, Bruce Lee, John (Pendle)
Glyn, Dr Alan Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Godman, Dr Norman Leighton, Ronald
Golding, John Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Goodhart, Sir Philip Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Goodlad, Alastair Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Gorst, John Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Gould, Bryan Lightbown, David
Gower, Sir Raymond Lilley, Peter
Grant, Sir Anthony Litherland, Robert
Greenway, Harry Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Gregory, Conal Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Grist, Ian Lord, Michael
Ground, Patrick Loyden, Edward
Gummer, John Selwyn Lyell, Nicholas
Hamilton, James (M'well N) McCartney, Hugh
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) McCrindle, Robert
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) McCurley, Mrs Anna
Hampson, Dr Keith Macfarlane, Neil
Hanley, Jeremy MacGregor, John
Hannam, John McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Hardy, Peter MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Harris, David MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith McKelvey, William
Haselhurst, Alan Maclean, David John
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk) McTaggart, Robert
Hawksley, Warren McWilliam, John
Hayes, J. Madden, Max
Haynes, Frank Madel, David
Hayward, Robert Major, John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Malins, Humfrey
Heddle, John Malone, Gerald
Henderson, Barry Maples, John
Hickmet, Richard Marek, Dr John
Hicks, Robert Marland, Paul
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Marlow, Antony
Hill, James Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hind, Kenneth Martin, Michael
Hirst, Michael Mates, Michael
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Mather, Carol
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Maude, Hon Francis
Holt, Richard Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Home Robertson, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hooson, Tom Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Howard, Michael Meacher, Michael
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Mellor, David
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Merchant, Piers
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Michie, William
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Mikardo, Ian
Hunt, David (Wirral) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Hunter, Andrew Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Miscampbell, Norman
Jackson, Robert Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Janner, Hon Greville Moate, Roger
Jessel, Toby Montgomery, Fergus
John, Brynmor Moore, John
Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Moynihan, Hon C.
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Mudd, David
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Murphy, Christopher
Key, Robert Neale, Gerrard
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Nellist, David
King, Rt Hon Tom Nelson, Anthony
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Neubert, Michael
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Newton, Tony
Knowles, Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Knox, David Normanton, Tom
Lamont, Norman Norris, Steven
Lang, Ian O'Brien, William
Lawler, Geoffrey O'Neill, Martin
Lawrence, Ivan Oppenheim, Philip
Ottaway, Richard Spencer, Derek
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Parris, Matthew Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Parry, Robert Squire, Robin
Patchett, Terry Stanbrook, Ivor
Patten, John (Oxford) Stanley, John
Pavitt, Laurie Stern, Michael
Pawsey, James Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Pendry, Tom Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Pike, Peter Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Pink, R. Bonner Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Pollock, Alexander Stott, Roger
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Stradling Thomas, J.
Powell, William (Corby) Strang, Gavin
Powley, John Straw, Jack
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Taylor, John (Solihull)
Prescott, John Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Proctor, K. Harvey Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Radice, Giles Terlezki, Stefan
Raffan, Keith Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Randall, Stuart Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Rathbone, Tim Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Redmond, M. Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Tinn, James
Renton, Tim Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rhodes James, Robert Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Tracey, Richard
Richardson, Ms Jo Trippier, David
Rifkind, Malcolm Trotter, Neville
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Twinn, Dr Ian
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Robertson, George Viggers, Peter
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Waddington, David
Roe, Mrs Marion Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Rogers, Allan Waldegrave, Hon William
Ross, Ernest (Dundee W) Walden, George
Rossi, Sir Hugh Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Rowe, Andrew Wall, Sir Patrick
Rowlands, Ted Waller, Gary
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Ward, John
Ryder, Richard Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Sackville, Hon Thomas Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wareing, Robert
Sayeed, Jonathan Watson, John
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Watts, John
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Weetch, Ken
Sheerman, Barry Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Shelton, William (Streatham) Welsh, Michael
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wheeler, John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Whitney, Raymond
Shersby, Michael Wiggin, Jerry
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wilkinson, John
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood) Winnick, David
Sims, Roger Wolfson, Mark
Skeet, T. H. H. Wood, Timothy
Skinner, Dennis Woodall, Alec
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury) Woodcock, Michael
Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E) Yeo, Tim
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Snape, Peter Young, Sir George (Acton)
Soames, Hon Nicholas
Spearing, Nigel Tellers for the Noes:
Speed, Keith Mr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. Archie Hamilton.
Speller, Tony

Question accordingly negatived.

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