§ Order for Third Reading read.10.27 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Tom King)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must tell the House that I have not selected the reasoned amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal party.
§ Mr. King
This is, I hope, the final stage of the Bill in this House. It was carried on Second Reading by a majority of 169. I recognise that we may not have the same majority today as I believe that my earlier expectations will be fulfilled. When asked what I thought would be the attitude of the Liberals and Social Democrats, I made the rash forecast that they would probably vote for Second Reading and against Third Reading. I intend to claim a little money from some of my hon. Friends, as I believe that that prediction will prove to be correct.
§ Mr. King
I do not know how else the alliance can explain the force of its reasoned amendment. Nevertheless, we shall wait and see how the voting goes on this occasion. Naturally, I hope that alliance Members will stick to the consistency of their Second Reading vote.
The Bill has been very fully considered by the House. It has received 120 hours consideration—more than 100 hours in Committee. Notwithstanding the shouts of outrage that preceded the Bill and accompanied its earlier stages, the House will note that the Bill has completed its stages in this House without a guillotine and without any serious change in content. There has been a lot of talk, but I am sure that my hon. Friends who had the pleasure of serving on the Committee will agree that we heard precious little convincing argument and few convincing reasons for changing the content of the Bill. Anyone who studies the provisions in the Bill will understand why that was so. In the final analysis, it is difficult — as the Opposition have found—to argue against democracy and giving the members of a trade union a proper say in the activities of the leadership of their union and a right to decide whether the union should take strike action. Members of a trade union have rights, and the Bill seeks to ensure that they should be able to enjoy them.
§ Mr. King
I wish to speak briefly, so I shall not give way.
Opposition Members failed to persuade any member of the Committee who was of a fair and impartial frame of mind—I say that in as fair and independent a spirit as I can — that there was any reason why trade union members should not have the right to a fair and secret ballot to elect the principal executive committee of their union or why they should not be consulted before strike action was taken. Can there ever have been a time when 830 it would have been more difficult to argue that point? I doubt whether any Opposition Member would seek to argue it now.
Who can seriously deny the justice of a periodic ballot on the political fund? Could anyone seriously maintain that the result of one ballot held 70 years ago—the truth has now been revealed—is adequate justification for the existence of a political fund? Who could seriously maintain that if a political fund is to have credibility and validity, it will not be in a much stronger position if it is supported by a vote of the membership of the union taken more recently than 70 years ago?
On Second Reading, I said:It is still the case that most union leaders are elected by votes cast, often by a show of hands, at branch meetings held away from the workplace, despite all the evidence"—reinforced by Donovan—that branch meetings on average are attended only rarely by more than 7 per cent. of members.It is still the case that some of the largest trade unions use the block vote system of election despite all the evidence that the effect is to distort the result of elections and to hide the fact thatthe votes of six people can be converted into a card vote of 300, 400 or 1,000.It is still the case that most unions refuse to hold secret ballots before strikes and rely on rowdy open-air meetings which are a travesty of democracy."—[Official Report, 8 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 157–58.]The House knows from recent debates on the Bill that, in accordance with the manifesto, I had discussions on these matters with representatives of the Employment Policy and Organisation Committee of the TUC. The House will know that, in addition to our discussions on the political levy, very strong representations were made to me that we should amend parts of the Bill in the interests of a better understanding with the trade union movement.
I do not apologise for not being and not having been prepared to change the essential elements of the Bill. I know that I carry all of my right hon. and hon Friends with me when I say that I am not prepared to sacrifice the proper and democratic rights of union members. Opposition Members have another difficulty. I pay credit to their endurance in Committee and on Report, although I can give no credit to the quality of their arguments. They tried to establish that the Bill represents a massive interference or upheaval in the existing rules and regulations that guide and bind the conduct of trade unions. It is designed merely to establish the elementary principles of secret ballots and democracy which should be found in all unions and is already welcome and found in some. It is designed to establish those minimum standards within, as far as possible, the existing rules and procedures of trades unions.
The House will know that the Bill represents the third step in our step-by-step approach towards what we believe is a fair and proper balance in the rights and responsibilities of trade unions and the circumstances of their members. We have already taken steps to protect an individual's rights if he wishes not to join a union. The full impact of the second step that we have taken in regard to the closed shop has yet to take effect, but, from November this year, no closed shop will enjoy legal protection unless it is supported by the overwhelming majority of those who work in it. That will be a major step forward in the protection of individual rights. We have also taken action clearly to define the rights of pickets and the limits of secondary action. The Bill sets out the further stages which 831 define the rights that we believe belong to trade union members and establishes what we believe is a fairer balance in those rights and responsibilities.
I do not doubt that some Opposition Members will try to argue that the Bill represents an assault on basic trade union freedoms and rights. It represents some assault on some trade union leaders who have exercised power without reference to their membership — often to the great disadvantage of that membership and the trade union movement. I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) will listen to this point instead of mimicking away in a rather frivolous way, as I think he will understand it. Does any Opposition Member think that what is happening at the moment is helpful to the image of the trade union movement? Does anyone think that there is anything in this Bill which is half as damaging to the good name of proper and responsible trade unionism as the type of behaviour that we are seeing throughout the country and which is being condoned by trade union leaders?
I hope that more trade union leaders and the party that claims the closest affiliation with the trade union movement will play a rather more active part in propagating a sensible balance of responsibility and respect for the rule of law and a recognition of the rights of individuals within trade unions who choose to work, as is illustrated by the present situation. That should be respected and encouraged. Those trade unions which accept the spirit of the legislation should recognise that in the long run they have much to gain and little to fear from a public recognition that their leadership is properly and democratically elected in a secret ballot and that industrial action is taken only with the full support of their members properly established through a secret ballot. That will command far greater credibility and respect and in the long run be far better for union members than the sort of behaviour that we see now and that Labour Members are seeking to support.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)
How often will Mr. Scargill have to be re-elected under this legislation?
§ Mr. King
He will have to come up for election every five years as a principal member of the executive committee with a casting vote, as the hon. Gentleman knows. He may like to check that, but he must distinguish between the structure of different trade unions.
In the final analysis—this has come clearly out of the meetings in Sheffield — the people who have the vote will determine the conduct of the trade union. We have thought about the matter carefully. It is the people who vote who finally determine the policy of their trade union, and the principal executive committee must be properly elected. It is in the interests of the trade unions and their authority that they are seen to be properly elected.
The Bill, the third step in our step-by-step approach, contains provisions which will improve the position of trade unions. Above all, it will give the unions back to their members. As I said on Second Reading, I am confident because I know that every proposal in the Bill is not some new startling revelation, never before realised by the trade union movement. Each of the proposals is already part of the constitution and practice of those trade unions which recognise the importance of more efficient 832 democratic procedures. We are seeking to bring the rest of the trade union movement up to the better standards of those which adopt those principles.
The Bill has illustrated clearly the gulf between the Government's view — which opinion polls show is widely shared in the country — and the Opposition's view. The Labour Opposition talk about the voluntary approach, but they believe, and showed during their term in office, that the role of law was to bolster the power of trade unions even against their members. We believe that the law should protect the whole community — employers, employees, union members and non-union members alike — from the abuse of industrial power. The Bill makes a further important step forward in getting that balance right. I have great pleasure in commending it to the House.
§ Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East)
The Secretary of State referred to the Second Reading, and to the consideration that has taken place since then, but hon. Members will remember that one very important incident is what took place at GCHQ. For a Secretary of State, in a Government who, by a unilateral act, deprived peaceful, law-abiding civil servants of the right to be members of a trade union, to talk about abuse of power, and to suggest that that happens only on this side of the House, shows what a one-sided view the Secretary of State has about the matter. He knows perfectly well that the present Government, without saying anything about the matter when they were elected, proceeded unilaterally to deprive trade unionists of an important civil right on that occasion, yet they present the Opposition and the trade unions as anti-democratic and somehow interested in the abuse of power. There has not been an action so redolent of anti-trade union hostility, and of the capricious use of arbitrary power, in the history of this country since the last war in regard to industrial relations matters.
It is, of course, the knowledge that this is the Government who unilaterally deprived trade unionists of their rights at GCHQ which gives the lie to the notion that somehow this is a Bill to advance the rights and interests of trade union members. The Government like to portray the leaders of the trade union movement as some sort of power-crazy barons who do not have to maintain their position in power by regular elections and who are there without any democratic backing or structure. I say, as I said to the Secretary of State on Second Reading — I think it bears saying again — that the trade union movement needs no lessons in democracy from the Conservative party, a party which has not shown itself addicted to the practices of democracy in its own internal functioning, and is not well placed to lecture others about it.
Indeed, if democracy and the election of people to positions regularly every five years is such a good idea, why is it confined to those organisations which are classified as trade unions by the certification officer? Why does not the National Farmers Union get a touch of this democracy, for example? As Conservative Members know, if the Bill were extended to cover the NFU, there would be a great cry from the NFU: "What business is it of yours to tell us how we run our affairs?". The Government would listen to that cry very carefully.
What the House must know is that this is not some way of inducing democracy in trade unions but that the 833 Government were put in an awkward situation when an amendment was proposed in Committee, and on Report, which stated that, if trade unions, under the very system the Government proposed, said that they did not want the Government's proposals for the constitution, they should be allowed to vote against them. What did the Government do? A Government that wanted trade unions to be controlled by the members could have given trade unions, on a ballot of all their members, the right to opt out of this legislation if they wanted to do so. But the Government voted that down, and used their massive majority in the House to deny that right to trade union members. That one act puts paid to the notion that the Bill is concerned with giving rights to trade union members.
§ Mr. Winnick
When it comes to a lack of democracy, is there not yet another illustration of what is happening in the real world? What sort of democracy is there for the people who work on the The Observer, the journalists and other staff, when their paper is being sold over their heads, simply because the present owners, Lonrho, do not like an article carried by the editor? Why should Mr. Maxwell be allowed to take over the newspaper without any consultation with the staff? Is that not an illustration of a lack of democracy which exists in our society?
§ Mr. Smith
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the selective use of certain principles by the Government. The Government are all for democracy when it comes to the internal workings of trade unions, but they are totally against any democracy at the work place. This is so not only in the case of The Observer, although my hon. Friend's point is well taken. It applies also to the Vredeling proposals, where the Government threatened to veto for the entire European Community elementary steps towards industrial democracy at the work place.
Why is democracy good for trade unions but bad for employers? Why are the Government so anxious to confer rights upon trade unionists in their capacity and function within the union, but consistently deny them rights in their relationships with employers? The answer is that they are for employers and against trade unions. That is the beginning and end of our understanding of the wisdom of this part of the Bill.
The Secretary of State skipped quickly over part II, which relates to pre-strike ballots, and made an oblique reference to the miners' strike. He knows as well as anyone that if the Bill were law today it would make no difference to the strike. The only effect that it would have would be to entitle the National Coal Board to sue the National Union of Mineworkers for damages, and since the NCB has already made it clear that it will not do that under the Employment Acts 1980 and 1982, what difference would this Bill have made? It is completely irrelevant, even for the Government's purposes, and I am surprised that the Secretary of State was so politically stupid as to bring the miners' strike into this debate. He skipped over it quickly, but he knows that the Bill, which he said would make such a difference to British industrial relations, would make no difference to a strike which he tried, for reasons of political prejudice, to bring into the debate.
When one examines part II, one wonders why the Conservative contribution to industrial relations will be to deprive people on official strike of legal protection but to confer it upon people on unofficial strike. That must strike 834 us as odd. Not only do we give a practical incentive to workers in dispute to go on unofficial strike, but we confer special legal privileges on them which we deny to people on official strike. One need not be too bright — even Conservative Members should recognise it—to work out that the result will be the most massive practical and legal encouragement to unofficial strikes in the history of industrial relations.
Part III reveals the real wickedness of the Government. It has nothing to do with industrial relations but has much to do with politics and with the Conservative party's desire to minimise the financial resources that the Labour party has at its disposal in conducting its work as a party and in carrying out its functions as Her Majesty's official Opposition. The Conservatives have decided that it would be a clever idea to put the Labour party in difficulty with the trade unions by causing ballots to be held between now and the next general election in all trade unions as to whether they continue to have political funds. Their hope is clear: that some trade unions will decide not to continue their political funds. They say, "What is wrong with that? Should not people be asked regularly about the contributions made by them or in their name to a political party?"
That would be a convincing reason if the Conservative party applied the principle generally. If the Secretary of State says to me, as I believe he did, "Why should not trade union members be asked regularly whether they wish to contribute to a political party?", I am entitled to ask him, "Why should not shareholders of a company be asked regularly whether they want the assets of the company to be contributed to a political party?" Will the right hon. Gentleman get to his feet now and tell me the difference between trade union members being asked regularly and shareholders of a company being asked regularly?
§ Mr. Tom King
The difference is that shareholders must be asked every year whether they wish contributions to be made. What is more, the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows—this argument is not new, because we have been over the ground in Committee—that the directors of a company are liable to criminal law if they fail to disclose to their shareholders that such a donation has been made. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot be suggesting that trade unions should be under a similar obligation.
§ Mr. Smith
The Secretary of State is right. We went over the matter at length in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman was not there for most of the time, so this is all new to him. That is why it is important that he hears it from me, as he did not before. It is important that he understands these matters. To suggest that there is a parallel in the law between trade unions and companies is ridiculous. I shall tell the Secretary of State what the legal position is at the moment. The trade unions are the only organisations in this country that have to create a separate political fund when they want to contribute to political organisations. Every other organisation, whether a limited company or a voluntary society, can use its general fund for political purposes.
§ Mr. Smith
I shall not give way just now, as I should like to educate the Secretary of State.
835 Trade unions are the only organisations specially selected to be required to have a political fund. That political fund can be established only by a ballot of all the members of the organisation, and every single member can opt out of that contribution. No other organisation in British society has been so specially regulated and controlled by law — trade unions have been thus controlled for 71 years, since the Trade Union Act 1913.
Over that whole period, the only restriction introduced for companies was that they have to report every donation of over £200 in the annual accounts the year after they make it. All they have to do is disclose. To pretend that somehow that obligation to disclose is parallel with a legal requirement to acquire the consent of the membership and to allow each member to dissent shows that the Secretary of State has no capacity to understand the elementary rules of logic, never mind the elementary principles of language.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with two points? First, does he apply the same logic to, for example, the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, which strikes me as an exact parallel with companies? Secondly, will he deal with the problem that I faced when I voted for the general secretary of my trade union? I asked why he did not state on the trade union membership card that there was a political levy. The reply that I received said that that would be discrimination, as it would show which members were paying and which were not. I looked at my card and found that written on it by hand, in red ink, were the words, "excluding political levy". Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with both points?
§ Mr. Smith
I do not know what those points have to do with the debate, but I am happy to offer my thoughts on them. I have not studied the constitution of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, but, as Ministers sometimes say, if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me about it, I shall be glad to look into that.
On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I think that he is pretending to be a trade unionist for the purposes of his intervention. He should take up that matter with his trade union. If he is still worried about it, he should have a chat with the Secretary of State, who assured some doubting Conservative Members that that was all taken care of as a result of his new agreement with the TUC. The hon. Gentleman should not complain to me, because the Secretary of State is satisfied about all that. He has an agreement with the TUC that will deal with that worry, so the hon. Gentleman should not ask me that question. He should ask the Secretary of State. His answer will be that it is all covered by the deal that he has made with the TUC. Far be it from me to cause disharmony in any quarter on that matter.
§ Mr. Tom King
I take it from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said that he is putting the full authority of his position, with all his right hon. and hon. Friends, behind ensuring that every trade union member has the free and effective right of choice of contracting out if he does not wish to pay the political levy. That is the position of the TUC. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman support it?
§ Mr. Smith
I do not know why I am asked to give special endorsement to the legislative requirements of the Trade Union Act 1913, which has been on the statute book for 71 years, and somehow has to be revalidated by special endorsement. I am flattered that I have the capacity to do that, but I must decline the opportunity to state the obvious again and again. The Secretary of State knows full well that the TUC has agreed to require union members to observe the requirements of the statute. I hope that the Secretary of State will join me in saying to some other people, including his colleagues in the Government, that it is wrong that people should be deprived of their rights as those at GCHQ were.
Why must trade unionists observe the law scrupulously while the Government unilaterally change the law and skip out of their obligations any time they choose? What example is it to others in the community when the Government, having entered into agreements with trade unionists over many years, suddenly decide one fine day that by an Order in Council they will unilaterally change the terms of employment and perhaps cause the people affected—this is still to be tested—to be dismissed from employment to which they have loyally adhered over many years? What example is that to employers? What way is that to treat loyal trade unionists?
§ Mr. Smith
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that excuse was exploded in the earlier debate. The powers that the Government used do not proceed from the employment legislation of the previous Government but from an Order in Council which the Conservative Government introduced in the last Parliament. It is under the powers of that Order in Council that the rights of trade unions were taken away. It has absolutely nothing to do with employment legislation.
That legislation prevented such workers from going to an unfair dismissal tribunal, but the Government have changed the contract under the Order in Council, and that gives them the right to terminate employment. I am surprised that the Secretary of State is so ill-informed on one of the important features of his own Department. It is unfortunate that he should be so behind on what takes place in the House of Commons.
To some extent we forgive the right hon. Gentleman for not knowing about this Bill, because he did not attend the Committee, but when he strays into GCHQ he ought at least to read the debates which took place in the House of Commons, which he will find illuminating and helpful in carrying out his duties.
The right hon. Gentleman has distracted me from dealing with part III of the Bill. The Government have now attempted to frustrate the finances of the Opposition party. That has not been done before in British politics. There has always been a consensus that political parties would not intervene in this area, but that has now ended.
When the Labour party has the opportunity to legislate on such matters, the very least that it will require is that all companies will need the special approval of their shareholders that a political fund be established, out of 837 which—and only out of which—contributions can be made to the Conservative party and others, including the SDP, which receives company contributions from time to time. The Labour party does not.
Our other requirement will be that that political fund will allow people to contract out. It is for consideration whether shareholders only will be allowed to contract out or whether the net should be cast wider so that employees who are genuine members of the company have a say.
The Conservatives have opened this up. They are happy to see trade unionists uniquely restricted, yet are prepared to allow companies to be encouraged to carry on political contributions without any legal restraint. They will have only themselves to blame when a Labour Government legislate to bring equity into this area.
§ Mr. Rowe
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has constantly said that trade unions are uniquely singled out. However, as was mentioned in Committee, a whole category of other organisations with privileges under law are bound by that law as a quid pro quo to establish a political fund or to deal in some other way with their political activities. I am referring to charities, of which there are a large number, and which are bound by the law to establish themselves in some other way if they wish to engage in political activity.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman must know that charities do not have political funds. They are required by law to be non-political in the exercise of their functions, so that puts an end to any parallel. To try to draw a parallel between charities and trade unions, when it is staring us all in the face that the parallel is between trade unions that contribute to the Labour party and companies that contribute to the Conservative party, defies logic. That parallel is clear for anyone to see.
Conservative Members should understand that only diehard Conservatives committed to the financial progress of the Conservative party can support this proposition. The vast majority of people cannot see the equity or justice in special restrictions on trade unions when no such restrictions have been put on companies.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
On Second Reading, I asked a question that I asked again on Report. I ask it once more, and perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take this last opportunity to answer it. Why, if more trade unionists did not vote for the Labour party in the last general election than did, does he assume that this is a raid on Labour party funds or that most trade unionists would wish to contribute to the Labour party only?
§ Mr. Smith
On all the previous occasions when the hon. Gentleman asked this question, I could not understand its relevance, and I am not sure what its relevance is to what I am now saying. I am trying to deal with what the Government propose in the bill by way of legal restrictions on trade unions. They are trying to increase such legal restrictions on political contributions. That must be self-evident, even to the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). I have been trying to point out the unfairness of increasing the restrictions on trade unions while doing nothing about companies. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has that point now, because it is the third time that I have told him this.
Once again, the chairman of the Conservative party has not taken part in the debate on part III. In the Committee 838 sittings, the chairman of the Conservative party, who in his spare time is a Minister, was instructed by somebody not to appear when the Committee dealt with part III, which concerns political contributions by trade unions. Somewhere in the recesses of the Conservative party or the Government, it was thought unseemly for the hon. Gentleman to take part in the debate on the restrictions of the activities of trade unions. I dare say that he took his salary as a Member of Parliament, although he did not appear in session after session of a Committee in which he was charged with responsibility for the Bill. We could not keep him in his seat when we discussed other parts of the Bill, but when we came to part III, he was not there. He was not allowed to speak on it in Report either, and—surprise, surprise—he is not allowed to speak tonight either. The Under-Secretary has come along to give us yet another rendering of his definition of trade unions when he comes to wind up.
The Under-Secretary got GMBATU wrong before, and we have other questions that we shall put to him now about how he would describe other trade unions, and other sets of initials for him to puzzle over when he winds up. If he gets too bored with answering the questions, he cart pop up to Annabel's and have a friendly chat with the barman.
We should expect the Minister of State to wind up this debate, as he played a prominent part in Committee. My hon. Friends who sat on the Committee will agree that at least two thirds of Ministers' time in Committee was taken up by this Minister. The Secretary of State was hardly there at all, so he does not know who was and was not there. Perhaps he needs to be told that the Minister of State was assiduous in his attendance when the Committee discussed parts I and II. There was not a day on which he did not appear, and there was not a day on which he did not speak.
Suddenly, when we came to part III, the hon. Gentleman was prohibited from attending the Committee by some other power. I give him the credit of thinking that he would have liked to attend, but someone else told him that it was unseemly for him to do so. I say that that person, whoever he or she may be, has a greater sense of decency than some other members of the Government. It may have been a stroke of mercy to deprive us of listening to the Minister of State, but there was a conscience ticking away in the background that knew that there was something wrong about this part of the Bill and something unseemly, even indecent, about it. That is the truth of it, and it has been perceived by people as the debate has gone on.
There is something underhand, unseemly and wicked going on if a political party with a large majority tries to raid the financial coffers of the party in opposition. There is something deeply unsettling, almost unconstitutional, about it. People have noted that as the debate has gone on. If the debate had done nothing else, it has alerted the country.
Two factors will change public opinion. The GCHQ affair and part III of the Bill will alert the country to the double standards of the Conservative party. When the Labour party is in a position—it is not that far away—to introduce some equity, the Conservative party will have only itself to thank.
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
If the majority of the people feel that there is something unsettling in part III, 839 it is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not moved immediately to enforce a system of contracting in. That is what the majority of people expected. It is the patient decision of my right hon. Friend to live out a one-year or two-year trial period with the TUC which the majority of people may find unsettling, rather than what appears in part III.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) gave us his usual clever advocate's speech. If I found myself charged with illegal picketing, I should ask him to defend me. He would do the job extremely well. I heard the same speech on Second Reading, on Report and again tonight on Third Reading. But if people read the Hansard report of this debate—it is probably unrealistic of us to assume that anyone reads Hansard reports of debates that take place after 11 o'clock at night—they will come to the conclusion that there was a great deal of posturing on the Third Reading of the Trade Union Bill.
Everyone must realise that if the strike in the coal industry develops further, it is likely at some stage to cause a radical change in our trade union law which will go beyond any of the provisions in the Bill — [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) makes a comment about democracy. That is at the heart of the issue. Everyone must look at what is happening in the coal industry and think that that is a total negation of democracy. Most areas voted against strike action and for a national ballot, yet there is strike action and there has been no national ballot. The situation that has developed over the past few weeks must cause many people to wonder why my right hon. Friend has not gone further in the Bill than he has. People are distressed at what is happening in the coal industry. They cannot understand why the clearly expressed wish of the majority in the coal industry is not being effected and why a national ballot has not taken place.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
The evidence of opinion polls contradicts the hon. Gentleman. What evidence does he have to substantiate his claim? Has he studied the NUM rule book? If he has, will he say which NUM rules have been broken?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. This is a Third Reading debate and we must discuss what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Renton
I am glad that I was asked that question, because, as the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) knows, the Bill calls for secret ballots before official strikes. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is well aware that many of us would rather have in the Bill a specific provision for secret postal ballots. What has happened in the coal industry has shown that the rule book can be used and manipulated so that the wish of the majority is not effective. Most areas voted against the strike and for a national ballot. It is an abdication of democracy that steel plants such as Ravenscraig, and others in south Wales, are threatened with closure because of what is happening in the coal industry. That is achieved through a rolling strike and clever use of the rule book. No specific rule is broken, but the rule book is cleverly manipulated so that the wish of the minority succeeds.
840 Many of us are not happy that the police have to be used as a surrogate for the employer, instead of the employer taking civil action against illegal picketing. That brings me back to the Bill's contents. Far from being a massive upheaval, as the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East described it, the Bill will have to be reinforced soon because of the recent happenings in the coal industry.
We should have liked the Bill to require secret postal ballots. Many of us expected it to contain a requirement for contracting in for the political levy, rather than for the period of grace which is allowed. I cannot help but feel that the Bill is one more step on the road to greater democracy and reform of the trade unions, but that it is likely to have to be reinforced shortly. If the present tragic strike in the coal industry continues, with such a total denial of the wish of the majority in the industry, the day will quickly come when the Bill will have to be reinforced.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, you pointed out to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) that his statement about the strike in the coal industry was a little distant from this matter. Therefore, I shall refrain from commenting at any length on what the hon. Gentleman said. His propositions are a perfect formula for ensuring that there will be no end to that strike and that it will escalate. I am sure that the Secretary of State is one of many people who know that that is the case. It is no wonder that he and his fellow Ministers resisted the pleas of the wild men behind them on the Back Benches for more punitive action against the trade unions than is contained in the Bill.
As I listened to the Secretary of State holding forth about democracy, my stomach turned over. We are not, by some queer punctilio, allowed to say in the House that a statement made by another Member is a piece of hypocrisy. I have never understood the reason for that inhibition. I confine myself to saying that, if anyone else in any other place had made the speech made by the Secretary of State, it would have been a piece of nauseating stinking hypocrisy. His idea of democracy is highly selective. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) pointed out, there was not much democracy about GCHQ. Nor is there much democracy in the Conservative party, whose chairman, as Minister of State, Department of Employment, played such a large part in the proceedings on two of the three parts of the Bill. How on earth a member of a Cabinet which is bringing in a Bill to ensure that the elections that were supposed to be held next year for the Greater London council are cancelled so that the Government can appoint an unelected Greater London council can talk about democracy is beyond my comprehension.
The Secretary of State made much of the idea of having a free ballot before a strike is called. That, too, is a piece of selective democracy. Such a proposal can be made only by people unfamiliar with what happens daily in industry. The great majority of strikes start with a piece of spontaneous indignation—for example, a row between a chap and his foreman. Girls in a shop may be fed up because the heating system has broken down on a cold winter's day. They are miserable, their hands are shivering with cold so they cannot hold their jigs properly, and, therefore, they walk out. There may be a change in 841 working conditions, and people walk out. In nine cases out of 10, the employer will ring the local union official, whom he knows well, and say, "Charlie, come down here. We have a bit of trouble. Give us a hand to sort it out." Charlie comes along——
§ Mr. Mikardo
The right hon. Gentleman nods. The Bill will stop that procedure. Charlie will not dare to come along, because — [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman should not copy the habits of some of his young hon. Friends on the Back Benches and constantly mutter during another Member's speech. The responsibilities of his office impose on him an obligation of decent behaviour.
The union official will not go to the shop because that would make the strike official, and his union could be sued. When an employer telephones him and says that the union girls have come out because the shop is cold, he will say, "That is your problem, mate. Get on with it. I will not interfere, or I will fall foul of the Bill." The Bill will ensure that the majority of industrial disputes will be unofficial. I do not understand how anyone thinks that that is a contribution either to good industrial relations or to democracy.
The Secretary of State's passion for democracy is selective in the Bill. If workers put in a wage claim for X per cent. and the employer makes an offer of half that, the workers have to decide whether to accept, to negotiate or to strike. The Bill states that before they can strike they must hold a ballot. Later, there may be negotiation and another offer may be made. The workers on strike have to decide whether to accept the offer, to continue negotiations or to return to work. At that stage there is no requirement to hold a ballot. How on earth can we justify the one without the other?
If the Secretary of State were here, I would tell him that in my union any strike that must start with a ballot will not end without a ballot. The Government will have to put up with that. Ballots take time. It is a slow process. The Bill is a formula not only for ensuring that the majority of disputes are unofficial, but for lengthening each dispute. Charlie will not be able to employ common sense; he will have to go through the whole apparatus.
If there is a ballot, one chap may say that he did not receive his ballot paper. He will go screaming to the certification officer and the matter will go to court. How long will that take? It is a formula to increase the incidence of unofficial disputes and to make it is virtually impossible to end a dispute as quickly as it can now be ended.
Inevitably, in a Third Reading debate comments made on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report are rehashed. I wish to comment on something that has happened since Report. I have a piece of new material for the debate. It concerns the point made so well by my right hon. and learned Friend about the unjustifiable distinction drawn between the use by trade unions of their manifold political purposes and the use by companies of their manifold political purposes. The Secretary of State intervened in my right hon. and learned Friend's speech to say that companies have to report their political donations.
There was much discussion in Committee and on Report about defining what campaigns a union could or could not carry out to be called political or not political. 842 The Fire Brigades Union is very concerned about the proposal to abolish the Greater London council because it believes that one of its effects will be to reduce fire cover in London, to reduce the efficiency of fire prevention and fire fighting in London and, incidentally, to reduce job opportunities in the fire service. The union would like to campaign against the proposal but would not be able to do so, except by its being marked as a political campaign and being subject to restriction.
What would happen if a company or a group of companies decided to campaign in favour of the abolition of the GLC? Would that be political? I quote from The Guardian of 6 April:A company which claims personal backing from the Prime Minister is to fight a propaganda campaign against the Greater London Council. The organisation is chaired by Shirley, Lady Porter, the Tory leader of Westminster City Council, who has written to leading business men appealing for donations of at least £1,000 and pointing out that they will not count as political contributions which would have to be published in company accounts.That seems to me to make nonsense of the intervention of the Secretary of State.
Let us have it clear. The FBU wants to campaign for the retention of the GLC. That is political. It not only has to record and publish it, but it has to get the consent of its members to do it. But if companies want to campaign for the abolition of the GLC, they are assured by Shirley, Lady Porter—and obviously she has taken legal advice from somebody who has had a look at the Bill — donations will not count as political donations. For people who produce a Bill with those contrasting effects to get up and mouth about democracy really is nauseating.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), for the Opposition, did not seem to have many arguments against the extension of democracy within trade unions. We all need to remember that there are probably 200,000 or more shop stewards in the trade union movement who perform an often thankless job, often elected or re-elected without competition, because it is not one of the most gratifying tasks. It is rather like being a churchwarden, or a ward secretary in the Labour party or the Tory party. We are concerned not about people at that level but about people at the top of trade unions, some of whom—not all—appear to try to use their members' money to persuade their members to do things that the members do not want to do.
One of the contrasts in the present miners' dispute is that, instead of trying for a national ballot in the way that the National Union of Mineworkers has traditionally done over the years, it is trying to avoid it this time. There is a great deal to be said for making sure that union leaders have the confidence of their members and that that is regularly expressed.
I also believe that, whatever may happen to the political funds of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society in Eltham, where the society operates, and in other co-operative societies, bodies such as the co-ops should be treated like companies, rather than drawing an exact parallel between, say, co-ops and trade unions or companies and trade unions. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman can produce a properly thought out 843 policy to deal with the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, I shall take his attempted analogy between companies and trade unions more seriously.
The argument that the Bill seeks to bankrupt or remove funds from the Labour party is absolutely wrong, as all the arguments on Report made clear. Indeed, as soon as I sit down the SDP will probably say that the Government have not gone far enough. Therefore, most of the arguments advanced by the Labour party are either ill thought out or just plain daft.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)
Mr. Deputy Speaker — [Interruption.] Perhaps you would like me to resume my seat while Labour Members calm down. The sooner they do so, the sooner I can make my speech and not delay their getting to bed any longer than they clearly wish to be delayed.
As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) may know, and as some Opposition Members may know, the position of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society is rather different from that of the other co-operative societies in the United Kingdom in that it is not affiliated to the Co-operative party nationally and organises its political funds and activities in a different way. One characteristic that it shares with all the others, however, is that its rules and activities are very carefully and precisely constrained by the law.
One of the basic co-operative principles — the Rochdale principles—is that of one vote per shareholder irrespective of the number of shares held. The method of democracy in the co-operative movement has been laid down by statute in industrial and provident societies legislation over many decades, so no new principle is being introduced here to deal with the methods of democracy in co-operative and mutual organisations. I made that clear in Committee and I hope that Labour Members will now accept that it is not a new principle.
The question before us today is whether the Bill will improve the operation of the trade union movement and whether it is right in principle. I have no doubt that the extension of trade union members' right to ballot should be supported by the House. That is why we voted for the Bill on Second Reading. [Interruption.] If Labour Members wish to speak on Third Reading, I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing them, but I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will remind them that their comments should be made not from a sedentary position but as contributions later in the debate.
We believe that there is a very powerful case for an extension of the principle of one member one vote in the trade union movement. [Interruption.]
That is the treatment that one expects from the Scargillites who are sitting on the Labour Benches tonight. The country will not be surprised to hear how these Labour Members are behaving. I shall continue my speech, although clearly some Labour Members do not wish to hear it. If any of them wish to speak later in the Debate, we shall listen to them with interest.
It is regrettable that, having introduced a Bill extending the principle of one member, one vote to trade union members, the Government did not permit it to be improved in Committee as we had suggested on Second Reading. 844 For that reason, we do not feel that it is worthy of support this evening. Our arguments are powerful, and I shall outline them.
Having embraced this principle, it is a great pity that the Government did not define its application much more effectively in the statute. The reaction of some Conservative Members demonstrates how badly wrong the Government's line has been. As the Minister said, the procedures proposed in the Bill are already in operation, in large part, in a number of trade unions. These are not violently, radically new ideas. They are not completely new to the trade union movement. It is surprising to hear some Labour Members opposing the principles that are already in practice in their own unions, and procedures already in practice in large sections of the trade union movement.
I shall deal first with part I. It is regrettable that, having introduced the principle of electing the principal executive committee of the union, the Government have not drafted the legislation in such a way as to ensure that people such as Mr. Scargill must be periodically re-elected in the way that the Secretary of State suggested this evening that he would be. Mr. Scargill and a number of other senior leading trade union officials will not be caught by this provision, either because they do not happen to have a vote on the principal executive committee of their union or because the rules can be changed and they can waive the right to that vote. Nobody would suggest that Mr. Scargill is not influential in the affairs of his union. It seems rather ludicrous that a Bill which seeks to introduce the principle of the election of the main senior officers may not catch some of the most influential officers in the trade union movement.
I hope that the Government will reconsider that point in another place and see whether amendments can be introduced to ensure that all the major trade union officers in the country are covered by the provisions for periodical elections, so that they will be much more closely responsible to their members than, in many instances, they are today.
It is also regrettable that the method of election chosen for the principal executive committee is not the one that prefers postal ballots, even though it allows them. There would have to be exceptions to the general rule. Postal ballots could not be adopted in every instance. As we have suggested, there are cases that should be given exemption by the certification officer. However, we believe that such ballots should generally take place by post. An overwhelming case has been made for such provision.
As was demonstrated on Report, even the National Union of Mineworkers, which has a long tradition of balloting which many people admire, has a system of workplace balloting which is open to abuse and manipulation and is not as correct and open to scrutiny as ballots carried out in the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication, and Plumbing Union and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers — [Interruption.] I know that Labour Members want to prolong the debate because they do not want the Bill on the statute book one minute earlier than is necessary. I know that they will remember the early 1970s when the Industrial Relations Act 1971——
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
There is a great deal in the Bill, and I can do that for a long time to ensure that the arguments are not lost and that the House has ample opportunity to debate them before this important Bill, which will have an enormous impact on the trade union movement and, we hear, on the Labour party, reaches the statute book. It will not have escaped some people's attention that, despite the Labour party's apparently fierce opposition to the Bill, we are debating the Bill's Third Reading at a late hour and not during a prominent part of the House's proceedings when the eyes of the country are on us. Many Labour Members are hoping to get away as soon as possible, having passed the Bill. I am sure that we should rehearse the arguments, which are important for the trade union movement.
Part II deals with ballots on industrial action. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) made a powerful case for opposing part II, as it will clearly cause major disruption by encouraging unofficial action. The Bill, as drafted, will encourage such action, because only official action must be balloted for if the exemptions from the law are not to be brought to bear against trade unions. Unofficial action will be able to continue without a ballot. We know from the evidence of the past few years that the majority of industrial action is unofficial. The Bill therefore does not deal with balloting for the majority of industrial action and will consequently not ensure that trade union members have an opportunity to express their views in the majority of industrial disputes. It will therefore not achieve the objective which the Government have laid down. Indeed, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, it will make matters worse by encouraging action which might normally have been made official to remain unofficial, to escape the provisions of the Bill.
Part III deals with political funds and contains the most important defects in the Bill. As the House will know, it does not deal with the two major questions about political funding of parties by trade unions in Britain. The first major question is whether the system of contracting out or contracting in should be maintained. The second question which exercises people's minds is whether the affiliation to a particular party should be maintained in the way that it is at present. Other deficiencies arise, but those are the two principal areas of public concern about trade union funding of political activities.
The Bill—I do not know where the Government got the proposal from—deals only with the existence of political funds. Until the Government came forward with that proposal, no anxiety of which I am aware was expressed about the existence of political funds. Whether there should be a political fund in a trade union was not in dispute. What was in dispute was whether people should have the right to contract in to that political fund and whether a union should be allowed to continue to use its political fund for affiliation to one party or another without reference to the full membership by a ballot. Those were the points of contention, and the Bill does not deal with them.
In bringing forward this irrelevant measure in part III, the Government have raised the question of the funding of political parties in Britain. That has been demonstrated once again this evening in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East. He has clearly taken the red rag that has been waved before him and given a commitment that a change will be made in political 846 funding by companies. It is right that he should do that, because it is unfair, as I said on Second Reading, that the Government should introduce legislation of this sort which will have an impact upon only one political party. II was inevitable that the Bill would have such consequences.
A wholesale reform of the political funding system in Britain is needed. We need a package introducing the state funding of political parties and a reform of the system of company law so that political contributions are not made by companies without the prior approval of shareholders. We need other changes along the lines that have already been mentioned and provisions which we sought to introduce in the Bill, such as the long overdue provision for the reintroduction of contracting in and for decisions to be taken by the whole membership of the union as to where the political funds of the union should be spent.
It is also regrettable that in extending democracy within the trade union movement the Government did not go much further than just the introduction of democracy in one part of our industrial scene. They should have introduced the provision, which they are clearly seeking to resist, from the EC to introduce industrial democracy. I hope that the Government, instead of resisting the fifth directive and the Vredeling directives from the European Community, which seek to introduce a modest element of industrial democracy into Britain, will change their view and realise that if they endorse the principle of democracy in trade unions, they should carry it further into all industrial activities.
It is clear that the extension of democracy into all sections of our lives will benefit the community. In those countries that have had greater industrial success——
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springbum)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that you must call speakers from minority parties, but the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) has hogged the show here and has pushed Back-Bench Members such as myself out of the debate. It is unfair that he should speak for longer than the Front-Bench spokesmen, when he represents only a few hon. Members in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that, fortunately or unfortunately, the length of speeches is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) must realise, this is an open-ended debate and he can make a speech, as I am sure he would wish, to keep this debate going through the night and to demonstrate to the trade union movement his opposition to the Bill. I look forward to hearing his speech, and those of his right hon. and hon. Friends, in opposition to the Bill. There is no time limit that I know of on the debate, so we can discuss this important matter at great length. It is important to the trade unions, to industry as a whole and to the country. Therefore, we must ensure that all points of view are put and that adequate consideration is given to the bill before it goes on to the statute book.
The hon. Gentleman said that I represent only a few hon. Members in the House. That may be so, but I remind him that the Labour party received 28 per cent. of the votes at the general election and the alliance received 26 per cent., so we represent opinion that is almost as substantial as that represented by the Labour party. We have every right, which we intend to exercise, to put before the House our views on this Bill and on all legislation. I have no 847 hesitation in ensuring that the views of the alliance are put forward at length so that the opinion of those whom we represent is properly——
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply responding to the comments of the hon. Member for Springburn.
The regrettable fact is that the Government, in introducing this legislation based on the principle of introducing democracy into trade unions, have not gone further and introduced it into the entire industrial sector. That reform is long overdue and I hope that in due course the Minister and his colleagues will bring it before the House. I hope, too, that we shall soon have a debate on the directives that I mentioned earlier so that the House can have an opportunity to consider the proposals of the European Community and to impress upon the Government the need to extend democracy much further than they are doing in the Bill.
The Bill will have a profound impact upon the trade union movement. It is regrettable that the Government have not been prepared to recognise the enormous impact that the Bill will have on the trade union movement by assisting in the reorganisation and changes that will have to take place. There will be a great upheaval in the rule books of trade unions if they are to comply with the legislation.
Even more important in some respects is the fact that the Bill will lead to substantial expenditure for trade unions if they are to comply with the legislation and ballot members on various issues in the way that the Bill proposes. It will be expensive to ballot the whole membership of a trade union in the way proposed by the Bill. There will be the cost of postage for the ballot, together with the administration of the balloting procedure and the register of the members of the trade union that will have to be kept to ensure that the ballot is carried out correctly.
It is regrettable that the Government have not built on the proposal which they previously introduced to provide funds for postal balloting, and that they have not considered the suggestion which we have made for a trade union development fund against which the expenses that will have to be incurred by unions in introducing the balloting can be offset. I hope that the Minister will consider the suggestion.
If the House, quite rightly, is to require trade unions to act in a more democratic way, it should help to provide the resources to enable them to do that effectively. We know that the resources available to the trade union movement are already inadequate for the work that it has to carry out. Trade union officials are heavily overburdened at local and national level with their responsibilities in pay negotiations, redundancies, the terms and conditions of their members, servicing the individual problems of union members, welfare and 848 employment problems, and the problems that arise with the Department of Health and Social Security, the Department of Employment and other local authority and Government Departments. Those responsibilities amount to an enormous task for trade union officials to carry out. The trade union movement, generally speaking, does not have sufficient resources to carry out that task as effectively as it would often wish to.
In comparison with the trade union movements in other countries, our trade union movement is not as well off as it should be. If one compares trade union subscriptions in this country with the trade union subscriptions and incomes in France, in Germany or in other European countries—or, indeed, in the United States—one finds that the resources available to the trade union movement in this country are very limited. It would be right and proper for the Government to introduce a fund to help trade unions offset the substantial burden that the bill will put upon their shoulders. When the Bill comes before the other place, I hope that the Minister will look more favourably at this proposal because of the financial burden that is being put on the trade union movement, the Government should consider introducing a trade union development fund to help it meet that increased financial burden.
It is regrettable that the opportunity available to the Government in the Bill has not been taken to extend trade union democracy in a way that will be more effective than it has been in the past, and to ensure that trade union leaders are more responsive to the wishes of their memebers by balloting in the case of industrial disputes and the election of executive committees. It is a pity that the method adopted in the Bill by the Government is not more effective than it has turned out to be.
We very much regret that the Government were not prepared to respond to the proposals put forward by myself and my hon. Friends during the passage of the Bill. We hope that when the Bill comes before the other place the Government will respond much more enthusiastically and gain the support of our right hon. and hon. Friends there, which, unfortunately, they have not justified in this place because of the way in which they have brought the Bill back on Third Reading.
§ 12.5 am
§ Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)
The hour is late—it is now after midnight—and the House has just suffered a long, boring and mostly irrelevant speech by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth), to which scarcely any hon. Member paid attention. Probably the reason was that most hon. Members appreciate that, while the Committee had about 37 sittings and sat for over 100 hours, the hon. Member for Stockton, South would have been lucky if he put in two and a half hours. He did not put forward one amendment. When he voted, he usually voted with the Government. It is also interesting to note that the hon. Gentleman said that the Social Democratic party would not support the Government on Third Reading, but he did not say that it would oppose the Government and vote with the Opposition against Third Reading. I suspect that one or two members of the Social Democratic party will vote with the Opposition, but the majority will be safely tucked up in bed.
Once again the trade unions and trade unionism are at the centre of British politics. British trade unionism has had a long and proud tradition of honesty and integrity of 849 purpose throughout many years. It has had no history of dishonesty. There has never been any corruption in the British trade union movement that has scarred its development. It was brought about and built up by the efforts of millions of ordinary men and women, many of whom did not have much in the way of formal education. They put hours of their lives into building the trade union movement.
The truth is that the trade union movement is not in the ownership of one or two trade union barons; it is in the ownership of about 11.5 million ordinary men and women. It is a scandal that the Tory Government and party constantly denigrate attack and sneer at the trade union movement, when British people should be proud of its great history and tradition of democracy and the fact that the British trade union movement is the proudest and most honourable trade union movement in the world.
Throughout the past five years of Tory Government, there has been a series of denigrating attacks and legislation aimed at shackling the trade union movement. Throughout, the Tory party has been supported by the Liberal party, and of late, since it was formed, by the Social Democratic party. It always sticks in Labour Opposition Members' gullets when we hear members of the Social Democratic party, most of whom were members of the Labour party for a long time and lived off the back of the trade union movement, attacking the unions. We treat their arguments with the contempt that they deserve.
The Bill is further evidence of the march to a corporate state by the present masters of the Tory party. The Bill is a dictatorial instruction to formerly free trade unions, railroaded through Parliament by the huge majority that the Tory party now enjoys. Unfortunately, that majority scarcely listens and never thinks about the issues placed before the House. The general principle for the overwhelming majority of the Tory party, when dealing with trade union matters, seems to be that if it attacks the trade union movement, it must be good. Tory Members do not ask important questions such as: will the Bill improve industrial relations? The answer is that it will worsen industrial relations. They do not ask whether it will reduce unemployment — the greatest scourge that now faces society — because it will not. They do not even ask whether the Bill is necessary—an important question—because if it does nothing to improve industrial relations or reduce unemployment, it is obvious that it is totally and absolutely unnecessary.
As has been said, part I of the Bill forces a stereotype on unions when electing their executive committees. Already, every union elects its executive committee, in one democratic form or another, for periods ranging from one year to six years. There is a mixture of lay members and full-time members, and there are directly and indirectly elected executive councils.
The Bill will go against the grain of the past 20 years with regard to union mergers, one of the features of which was to ensure that the smaller union involved in a merger had a place reserved on the executive council. That will not apply under the Bill. Once we insist that executive councils must be directly elected in the same manner, that will not apply.
Who is to pass a qualitative judgment that, for example, the AUEW (Engineering Section) is a better-organised, better-run union that GMBATU simply because it has a different method of electing its executive council? It will 850 be the Minister in Whitehall. It is significant that in 1984 we have yet another example of Big Brother in Whitehall knowing best.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said, part II is by far the most ridiculous part of the Bill. It will be a charter for militants and extremists who will exploit it in future. It is nonsense that ballots should be demanded only for official action but not for unofficial action. As we have argued in Committee, some interesting questions will appear on ballot papers in the years ahead.
It is significant that the Government are insisting on the inclusion of phrases such as "breaking one's contract of employment." In Committee we asked why the Government had not gone the whole hog and insisted on writing the questions. If Conservative Members think that phrases such as "breaking one's contract of employment" will deter individuals from taking legitimate strike action, they have another think coming.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) pointed out, it is inevitable that union memberships will insist that their rule books be amended to ensure that before strikes are called off they will be balloted on whether they accept offers that union negotiators propose to accept. That will seriously weaken industrial relations and industrial activity.
Worst of all, again as my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar pointed out, union officers will in future refuse to get involved in unofficial action. That will cause astonishment to employers who in the past have always depended on union officers to end unofficial strikes. In future, as the Secretary of State knows, they will not get involved, because they will be in danger of placing their unions' funds at risk.
Part III is the most significant part of the Bill. it is the third prong of the Tory Government's attack on the trade union movement and trade unionists. In 1980 and in 1982, Employment Acts diminished the ability of trade unions to defend their membership in industrial circumstances. This Bill is an attempt to diminish their ability to defend their members in the political context. We already have it on record that the costs of campaigns such as that mounted by the National and Local Government Officers Association last year in which it sought to defend its members against the attacks of the Government, will not be allowed to be deducted from the general fund, but 'will have to come from political funds. NALGO, like other unions in the public sector, does not have a political fund, so it will not be able to mount a campaign to defend its members.
What is more—the Secretary of State cannot deny this — the Bill seeks to smash the link between the unions and the Labour party—a link of which we are proud, and which we shall continue to defend. This is a major example of the Tory bully-boy tactics of silencing and stifling any opposition. As my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, we have seen these tactics with GCHQ, with the rate capping measure and with the abolition of the elections for the GLC and the metropolitan counties. The country will be amazed that there is no countervailing measure against company donations to the Tory party. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, we have taken note of that, and we shall be delighted to do something about it when we return to government.
The Bill will not succeed. Indeed, paradoxically it will politicise the unions more than they have ever been in the 851 past. Unions, particularly in the public sector and the Civil Service, that have never before had or required a political fund will go out and campaign among their members to get one, and to make their members fully aware that if they intend to campaign against the Tory Government, as their employer, on wages and conditions, it will have to be through a political campaign that will require a political fund. Unions that do not have a political fund will acquire one over the next two years.
More significantly, unions, particularly the industrial ones, which have a political fund, will campaign ferociously to maintain it. Once they do so, it will strengthen the links between them and the Labour party.
The Bill is iniquitous, one-sided and dangerous to democracy. I trust that every one who believes in democracy will deny this awful Bill a Third Reading.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Alan Clark)
In this debate, Labour Members have not added one new line of argument, or one that has not been advanced, elaborated and rejected in the 120 hours or so of debate that we have had in the Chamber and in Committee since December last. I do not impugn the motives of hon. Members in so doing, but their attitude and this obdurate resistance is years out of date. They are resisting a tide of history, and those who read Karl Marx will know how perilous it is to do that. It is a tide that comes from the public, has been tested in every opinion poll that has been taken on the subject, from the trade unions themselves, and from the electorate less than 12 months ago.
The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) put forward certain superficially constructive suggestions, the principal one of which was that certain categories of union leader, as he put it, avoided facing re-election. The test that we have applied is simply whether such an official has the right to cast a vote on the principal executive committee of the union. The fact that he may for various other reasons exercise power—it may be that he has a television personality or the ability to attract attention to himself — does not alter the position that he remains the servant of his executive. Unless he has that vote—the hon. Gentleman gave the example of Mr. Scargill, who has a casting vote and will be caught by the provisions of the Bill — it is not appropriate to include him.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about permitting the use of workplace ballots rather than postal votes, which he criticised. The workplace ballot has a higher attendance and does not have the practical difficulties attaching to a postal vote. The Government do not allege that there is fraudulent intention on the part of unions and that it is their objective to rig ballots — the classic case of ballot rigging was a postal ballot that was rigged — but we have not closed our mind completely to postal ballots. As the Bill stands, we are satisfied that workplace ballots will give the highest attendance and will pose the least practical difficulties.
The hon. Gentleman alleged that the Bill failed to tackle adequately the problems associated with the funding of political parties. We know the problems of funding that afflict his party. They are the problems of credit card subscribers deciding to cancel their subscriptions. The 852 hon. Gentleman wants to solve these problems by putting the burden on the taxpayer because his party cannot attract the voluntary subscriptions which support the Labour and Conservative parties. It is hard to think of a more discreditable solution than that.
§ Mr. Skinner
I wanted to remind the Minister, who did not know what GMBATU stood for when we considered the Bill in Committee, that, when it came to money for the plastic party, in 1982 the accounts of the Social Democratic party showed a drop in membership subscriptions of £155,000 but an increase in suspicious, undisclosed donations of £300,000. We all remember those cheques for £2,000 that were sent round to Social Democratic MPs.
§ Mr. Clark
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for helping me in my argument. It is perfectly possible that the misgivings which led the hon. Member for Stockton, South to advance these arguments are that the so-called undisclosed donations may start to wither and that he will then have no other course than to legislate to impose his levy on the taxpayer.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) trailed various red herrings about GCHQ, Vredeling and industrial democracy. He did that because he had run out of argument after 120"hours or so. But when he moved on to part III, he referred to the intention to minimise the financial resources of the Labour party. These resources will only be minimised if the members wish that to happen. To say that the Government are raiding the coffers of the Labour party is preposterous. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would not want to fill his coffers with money raised against the wishes of trade union members, would he?
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
I should like to clear the Minister of the charge that he did anything nasty to the Labour party, because I remember the entire Conservative membership of the House going through the Lobby to keep the resources. I heard the Minister refer to taxpayers' money financing political parties. What is the golden crock which provides the £2 million or £3 million which the Tories are spending on the European campaign from Brussels? If that is not taxpayers' money, where does it come from?
§ Mr. Clark
The intricacies of finance relating to the European Community have always been a closed book to me.
Yet again the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) gave an example of a campaign which could be caught by the provisions of part III. He referred to the campaign to resist the abolition of the GLC. Yet again, I have to tell him that that campaign will be lawful and could be paid for out of the general fund. Unless it is couched in such terms as to recommend people to vote for or against a political party it is immune. I hope that that is the last occasion on which I have to enlighten the hon. Gentleman about those provisions.
853 The most striking characteristic of all the contributions by Labour Members is the lack of anything constructive. They simply resist all change. Their attitude is purely nihilistic. They should ask themselves whether they want unions to be perpetual oligarchies run by cliques the political motives of which rank before their concern for the welfare and conditions of their members, or whether they accept that the real health and dignity of the trade union movement should reside in their being responsive—and generally seen to be responsive — to the wishes and aspirations of their membership. Do they really want a leadership which is able to commitee a whole union to strike action without consulting members first?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) asked, do they accept that if a man wishes to work he has a right to express that view? Are hon. Members really content to subsist on levies drawn from those who, whether from diffidence, indolence or apprehension, do not subscribe voluntarily?
It is plain that, if hon. Members devoted their minds to the issue in a dispassionate manner, they would welcome the Bill. They should welcome it because it contains much which, when put into practice, will allow trade unionists to go some way towards recovering that level of public recognition and responsibility which in former times they enjoyed.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 231, Noes 149.856
|Division No. 253]||[12.30 am|
|Ancram, Michael||Gale, Roger|
|Arnold, Tom||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Baldry, Anthony||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Body, Richard||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gorst, John|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gow, Ian|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Greenway, Harry|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Gregory, Conal|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Grist, Ian|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Ground, Patrick|
|Budgen, Nick||Grylls, Michael|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Hannam, John|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Harg reaves, Kenneth|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Harris, David|
|Cockeram, Eric||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Colvin, Michael||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Conway, Derek||Hawksley, Warren|
|Cope, John||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hayward, Robert|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Dicks, Terry||Heddle, John|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Henderson, Barry|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Hickmet, Richard|
|Durant, Tony||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Farr, John||Hind, Kenneth|
|Favell, Anthony||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Holt, Richard|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Hooson, Tom|
|Forman, Nigel||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Fox, Marcus||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Franks, Cecil||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Freeman, Roger||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Renton, Tim|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Hunter, Andrew||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Jessel, Toby||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Key, Robert||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Rost, Peter|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Rowe, Andrew|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Knowles, Michael||Ryder, Richard|
|Knox, David||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Lamont, Norman||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Latham, Michael||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Silvester, Fred|
|Lester, Jim||Sims, Roger|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Lightbown, David||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lilley, Peter||Speed, Keith|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Speller, Tony|
|Lord, Michael||Spencer, Derek|
|Luce, Richard||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|McCrindle, Robert||Squire, Robin|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Steen, Anthony|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Stern, Michael|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Maclean, David John||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Madel, David||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Major, John||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Malins, Humfrey||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Maples, John||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Marland, Paul||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Marlow, Antony||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Mather, Carol||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Thome, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Mellor, David||Thurnham, Peter|
|Merchant, Piers||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Tracey, Richard|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Mills, lain (Meriden)||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Viggers, Peter|
|Moate, Roger||Waddington, David|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Walden, George|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Walker, Bill (Tside N)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Needham, Richard||Waller, Gary|
|Neubert, Michael||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Warren, Kenneth|
|Norris, Steven||Watson, John|
|Onslow, Cranley||Watts, John|
|Oppenheim, Philip||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.||Wheeler, John|
|Osborn, Sir John||Whitfield, John|
|Ottaway, Richard||Whitney, Raymond|
|Page, John (Harrow W)||Wilkinson, John|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Parris, Matthew||Wood, Timothy|
|Pawsey, James||Woodcock, Michael|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Yeo, Tim|
|Porter, Barry||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Powell, William (Corby)|
|Powley, John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Mr. Archie Hamilton and Mr. Tim Sainsbury.|
|Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Anderson, Donald||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Deakins, Eric|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Dewar, Donald|
|Barnett, Guy||Dobson, Frank|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Dormand, Jack|
|Bell, Stuart||Douglas, Dick|
|Benn, Tony||Dubs, Alfred|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Blair, Anthony||Eadie, Alex|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Eastham, Ken|
|Boyes, Roland||Ellis, Raymond|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Fatchett, Derek|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Fisher, Mark|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Caborn, Richard||Foster, Derek|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Foulkes, George|
|Campbell, Ian||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||George, Bruce|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Golding, John|
|Clarke, Thomas||Gould, Bryan|
|Clay, Robert||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Cohen, Harry||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Coleman, Donald||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Home Robertson, John|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Craigen, J. M.||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Crowther, Stan||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||John, Brynmor|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Dalyell, Tam||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Lambie, David|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Radice, Giles|
|Leighton, Ronald||Randall, Stuart|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Redmond, M.|
|Litherland, Robert||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Robertson, George|
|McCartney, Hugh||Rogers, Allan|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Rooker, J. W.|
|McGuire, Michael||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McKelvey, William||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|McNamara, Kevin||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|McTaggart, Robert||Short, Mrs H.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|McWilliam, John||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Madden, Max||Skinner, Dennis|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|Martin, Michael||Snape, Peter|
|Maxton, John||Soley, Clive|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Spearing, Nigel|
|Meacher, Michael||Stott, Roger|
|Michie, William||Strang, Gavin|
|Mikardo, Ian||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Tinn, James|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Torney, Tom|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Wareing, Robert|
|O'Neill, Martin||Welsh, Michael|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Park, George||Wilson, Gordon|
|Parry, Robert||Winnick, David|
|Patchett, Terry||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Pike, Peter||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Mr. Don Dixon and Mr. Frank Hayes.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.