HC Deb 24 June 1986 vol 100 cc163-4
2. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Paymaster General if he has any plans to see the Trades Union Congress to discuss industrial relations.

The Paymaster General and Minister for Employment (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I have no plans at present to meet the Trades Union Congress to discuss industrial relations.

Mr. Hoyle

Why is it that neither the Secretary of State for Employment nor the Paymaster General will meet the TUC, yet they will meet any reactionary small employer? Why will they not meet the representatives of employees? Does it mean that the Government's policy is one of confrontation rather than consultation?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman will agree that we have the best industrial relations that we have had for generations. The figures for the past 12 months show that the number of hours lost through industrial disputes is the lowest we have known for 24 years, and that the total number of strikes is the lowest for 50 years.

Mr. John Townend

If in the distant future my right hon. and learned Friend meets representatives of the TUC, will he discuss with them the adequacy of the safeguards for trade union members who wish to contract out of the political levy? Will he make it clear that if the undertakings given previously are not fulfilled the Government will not hesitate to change the law and move to contracting in rather than contracting out?

Mr. Clarke

We believe that members of trade unions have an undoubted right not to pay a contribution to a political fund if they do not wish to do so. We trust that the unions, some of whom have been less than frank with their members in their recent campaigns on political funds, will now carry out their obligations and make it clear to members that they do not have to pay for party political activities of which they do not approve.

Mr. Winnick

What about the right of working people to belong to a trade union? Is the Paymaster General aware that if he met the TUC it would express to him its strong opposition to the way in which people are being penalised at GCHQ for the mere crime of wanting to belong to a trade union? Why have the Government taken that democratic right away from our fellow citizens?

Mr. Clarke

I think that about 99 per cent. of employees at GCHQ have accepted the new conditions of service. The people who were recently disciplined in accordance with the Civil Service code originally undertook to accept those conditions and to renounce trade union membership, but went back on that undertaking.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that industrial relations are now generally so good in our factories and that there are so few strikes that industrial workers can often set a good example to other professions with a less good record, such as the National Union of Teachers?

Mr. Clarke

I agree. Those industrial workers would be well advised to listen to the speeches of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who continues to reiterate the Labour party's determination to repeal all of what he describes as Tory anti-trade union laws.

Mr. Prescott

Will the Paymaster General accept that more working days have been lost during this Government's period of office than during a comparable period under the Labour Government? I repeat that we shall repeal all that legislation. If the Paymaster General is so concerned about individual rights, why does he not reconsider his decision not to consult the TUC about the right of employees to belong to a trade union, the right of the printers to redundancy payments and the right to return to work when one has been found innocent, as is the case with the miners in the light of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service decision?

Mr. Clarke

It seems that the Labour movement is having difficulty in describing what it is prepared to draw up as the individual rights of trade union members. I shall wait for some further formulation of the Labour party proposals before I comment on what the hon. Gentleman says. He is clear that he will repeal all the legislation and deny people the access to the courts that we have provided when they are aggrieved by union misconduct.

As to the total number of working days lost, the hon. Gentleman repeats a figure that he knows is entirely inflated by one dispute— the miners' strike, for which the Labour party argued throughout. Were he to repeal all the trades union legislation, the general picture of industrial relations would cease to reflect the improvements about which I have already told the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle).

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