HC Deb 05 February 1985 vol 72 cc729-30
1. Mr. Walden

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many employees are now estimated to be covered by lawful closed shop agreements.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

Only a few thousand out of the 4 million or so employees covered by closed shops have so far been given the chance of voting in a secret ballot. This means that the vast majority of apparent closed shops, including all the large ones, have now lost any protection the law previously gave them and that it is automatically unfair to dismiss any of the employees covered by them on the grounds that they are not union members.

Mr. Walden

Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment at this state of affairs? Is the Department considering what else might be done to encourage people to move in the right direction?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend and the House will appreciate that if a ballot is not held the effect is the same as if a ballot is held and the right number of people do not vote for the continuation of the closed shop. In effect, the closed shop is lost whether it is not balloted for or whether a ballot is held and an insufficient number vote for it.

Mr. Fatchett

Is not the reality that most employers are happy to disregard the Employment Act 1980? Does the Minister agree that they want sensible industrial relations and the maintenance of closed shops without the interference of the Government and/or legislation? Does he accept that that is the best way to preserve good industrial relations?

Mr. Bottomley

Everyone wants sensible industrial relations. Trade unions have shown that, by opposing the holding of ballots, they are happy not to have closed shops.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Will my hon. Friend persuade his ministerial colleagues that the time has come to embark upon a policy of bringing to people's attention the fact that they cannot be dismissed if they choose not to belong to a closed shop?

Mr. Bottomley

Yes, Sir. I have written to hon. Members on both sides of the House giving this information, and I hope that everyone will pass it on to his or her constituents.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not bordering on hypocrisy for the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) to talk about closed shops for trade unionists when he has a moonlighting job as a lawyer at the Temple which supplements his parliamentary salary? The lawyers have the biggest closed shop in Britain. The hon. Gentleman would not be able to make a penny piece in the law courts if he were not a member of a closed shop. Is it not worth noting also that the Government had to tell the coal board when the NACODS agreement was drawn up—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member has made his point.

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) have both demonstrated that they can speak well for themselves. The closed shop legislation gives the same chance to all union members.