HC Deb 20 June 1989 vol 155 cc136-7
8. Mr. Carrington

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will introduce legislation to prevent employers from using the remedy of sequestration of funds against trade unions who refuse to obey court orders; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nicholls

No, Sir. The remedies available to the court in cases involving contempt are a matter for court procedures and rules, not for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Carrington

I am greatly relieved at my hon. Friend's answer. Does he agree that sequestration is frequently the only sanction that the courts have to ensure that trade unions obey the law— [Interruption.]—and that any proposal from another political party to abolish sequestration would be a recipe for industrial anarchy? Far from abolishing it, we should consider expanding sequestration to cover the highly organised, so-called unofficial strikes that affected London's transport so badly over the past few months.

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend is right in his comments about sequestration—and proof of that was the degree of sedentary heckling to which he was subjected when he made mention of it. Sequestration is not a new, Tory remedy—which is how the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) frequently attempts to portray it. It is a remedy that goes back as far as the ecclesiastical courts, as a way of enforcing particular court orders. If they could, the Labour party would ensure that that remedy would be left available for all classes of action except those against trade unions for breaking the law. They are in the business of restoring the power of the trade unions to kick the hell out of the public, and obviously my hon. Friend disapproves of that.

Mr. Leighton

Is not the Government's rhetoric about handing the unions back to their members completely misleading, because the draconian step of sequestering union funds has the effect of taking a union away from its members? Is it not the case that British workers have fewer rights than those of any other western industrial nation? Unions find it completely impossible to have lawful disputes, and that is why there is a rash of unofficial action.

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. It is not impossible to engage in a lawful dispute: recent events back that up to the hilt. The proposition is perfectly simple. It is that trade unions should not be above the law but should be subject to it as the rest of us are, and, if they disobey it, subject to the same penalties. The hon. Gentleman's policy—to allow the right of sequestration to be used against anyone except trade unions that break the law—clearly appeals to the hon. Gentleman and his friends, but it does not appeal to the public.

Mr. Greg Knight

Trade unions should indeed obey the law. Can my hon. Friend think of any reason other than party financial gain for the Labour party to wish to place them above the law?

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. The Labour party tries to present itself as a new, squeaky-clean, moderate party, but it is a creature of the trade union movement and is funded by it.