HC Deb 23 January 1990 vol 165 cc840-64 10.19 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)

I beg to move, That the draft Code of Practice for Trade Union Ballots for Industrial Action, which was laid before this House on 17th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved. No trade union should call on its members to take industrial action without first getting their approval to do so from a proper secret ballot. Yet until the Trade Union Act 1984 the law gave unions freedom to call members out on strike without any such democratic process. It is true that some had rules requiring ballots in one form or another, but union members could not rely on those rules, as was vividly demonstrated by the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984–85. The Government's step-by-step reform of industrial relations and trade union law has helped to correct the imbalances of power between unions and employers, and between unions and their members, which were among the fundamental causes of the industrial problems of the 1970s.

Requiring trade unions to ballot their members a s a condition for retaining the protection which the law gives to what would otherwise be civil wrongs has been one of the major steps in the process of reform. It has been popular among the public and union members alike.

Perhaps one of the greatest tributes has been the dawning of awareness in the Labour party that even it must at least give the impression of going along with the principle of strike ballots. True, it does not tell us exactly how it will ensure that union members have an effective means of making sure that they are not called to take industrial action without a ballot; that can be applied swiftly, where necessary, and will carry a sanction which will ensure that the union does not ride roughshod over their rights. Nor, for that matter, does it tell us what sort of ballot will be required, or when and how it must be held. However, instructive though it may be to debate Labour party policy, that is not the purpose of the motion.

Section 3 of the Employment Act 1980, as amended by the Employment Act 1988, gives the Secretary of State power to issue Codes of Practice containing such practical guidance … for the purpose of … promoting … desirable practices in relation to the conduct by trade unions of ballots and elections". Ballots by unions of their own members asking whether those members are willing to take part in, or continue with, industrial action which their union may authorise or endorse are the subject of this draft code. Its essential purpose is to promote good practice in the conduct of such ballots.

The Government believe that union members should have sufficient opportunity to indicate whether they are prepared to take part in industrial action before their union proceeds to go out and organise it. We also believe—and this is an equally important principle—that proper standards of democratic conduct should be applied to that balloting process.

Section 3(8) sets out the legal status of a code once it has been approved by Parliament and has been brought into operation. It provides that the code will be admissible in evidence, which means that it can be used in evidence by a party to any proceedings and that it can be taken into account by courts where they think that it is relevant in any proceedings. It is, of course, entirely up to the courts to decide whether a code is relevant and the weight to be attached to any of its recommendations. No one will be able to bring legal proceedings against a union—or anyone else for that matter—solely on the basis that it has failed to observe any provision in such a code. The House should be quite clear about that. A code such as this would not—and indeed could not—add a single ground for legal action to what the law already contains. As with the highway code, it merely explains the law and gives guidance on what is good practice. I emphasise this point to make clear the distinction between this sort of statutory code, which describes and recommends good practice, and the relevant primary legislation which imposes what can properly be called requirements. The code does not—and could not—change primary legislation.

My Department first published a draft code for consultation in November 1988. In the light of representations made during the consultation period, the Secretary of State decided that it should be modified and presented for approval in its present form. The modified draft is now considerably shorter—only 56 paragraphs, plus one annex, as opposed to 103 paragraphs, plus four annexes—despite the fact that it contains some new material.

Four principles have been followed in deciding on the content of the draft code. First, the code would be of most value if it contained within the same set of covers information about both the relevant law and good practice. The passages on blue background are re-statements of the relevant provisions of primary legislation.

Secondly, the detailed recommendations on good practice should take account of existing non-statutory guidance. Hence, for example, account has been taken of the Industrial Society's publication "Conducting Ballots".

Thirdly, we drew on particular ideas put to us once the proposal to take power to issue such a code became known. The Engineering Employers' Federation booklet, "Proposal for a Code on Industrial Action Balloting", was therefore taken into account.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

As the Minister mentioned good practice in relation to ballots for trade unions, can he speculate about the kind of good practice or bad practice that was operated by the Tory party when it had its recent ballot in the leadership contest between the Prime Minister and the challenger, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer)? Is he aware that the conduct of that ballot would not have met the terms of any code because when I went into the Committee Room, although Tory Members were taking part in the ballot, there was not a single polling booth and they were filling in their voting papers on the window ledges? We do not need any lessons from the Government on ballots.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I call Mr. Nicholls.

Mr. Nicholls

The only thing that is more boring than an old record is a boring old cracked record. We have heard those comments so many times before from the hon. Gentleman that we do not need to give them any more credence this evening.

Finally, we also had regard to what is known about how unions actually conduct industrial action ballots. A good many of the recommendations in the draft code do little more than illustrate, in the form of principles and procedures, aspects of what some unions have done and continue to do.

We hope that the code can help raise the standards of all to achieve those of the best.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Can an employer cite the code when seeking an ex parte injunction if he has a complaint about the way in which a ballot was conducted?

Mr. Nicholls

If the employer in the hon. Gentleman's example is alleging a breach of primary legislation and substantive law, it would obviously be open to him to produce the code. It would then be up to the court to attach such weight to its recommendations as the court saw fit. The employer will not be able to go to the court to complain that the code itself has been breached per se. We hope that the code can help raise the standards of all to achieve the standards of the best.

Section A explains the scope and legal status of the code, its intended purpose and the assistance that it can provide to unions, their members and others.

Section B makes recommendations about observing procedure agreements, and other considerations, which should be taken into account before a ballot is held.

Section C restates the law on establishment of entitlement to vote and on reviewing of the "balloting constituency" if the union proposes to aggregate votes across different places of work. Recommendations are made about responsibility for determining such matters within the union and the process of review; the choice between balloting methods; the use and format of voting papers; independent scrutiny; and provision of information to voters.

Section D restates the relevant law on the method of voting; entitlement to vote without interference or constraint; and entitlement to vote in secrecy and without direct cost. It makes recommendations about arrangements to enable those entitled to vote to do so; minimum periods for postal or semi-postal balloting; procedures for checking voting papers for return by post; and arrangements for workplace balloting. Recommendations are then made about arrangements to ensure secrecy of voting.

Finally, section E restates the law on ensuring that votes are accurately and fairly counted and on the notification of details of the ballot result. Recommendations are made about procedures to ensure accurate and fair counting of votes; systems to help ensure that statutory requirements about notification of the result are fully satisfied; notifying details of ballot results; and matters which a union should take into account before deciding to organise industrial action.

The draft code, if approved, will be a valuable source of reference for unions, union members and others. Taking account of its recommendations can only help improve the conduct of ballots, and that can only help continue the improvement to this country's industrial relations that has been such a feature of this decade.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

I congratulate the Minister on an admirably set out document. However, one thing seems to be missing from the draft document and from the clear way in Which he has introduced it. What happens when all the procedures have been followed to the letter but the trade union and the body of trade unionists involved—who have properly carried out all the draft agreements—find that the employer has decided, unilaterally, that the procedures are worth nothing and completely rejects any decisions that the men have made and informs them that it is null and void? What will happen to the employer? Why is there no section in the draft to deal with precisely that question?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman must understand what the draft is all about—which is the proper conduct of industrial action ballots. Many of the recommendations are based on what a great many trade unions already do. If those who wish to strike do so—and that is their decision—equally the employer can decide whether to accept that decision. That has been a feature of employment legislation under both Labour and Conservative Administrations.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

What happens if the trade union carries out all that is suggested in the code? I attended a meeting last weekend where a decision was taken to hold a ballot. The rules were followed. However, the employer has said that, even if the ballot is unanimously in favour of a 24-hour strike, the workers will all be looking for new jobs. What sort of protection will the Minister give those workers?

Mr. Nicholls

In launching an attack on the Government's legislation, it appears that the hon. Gentleman is, uncharacteristically, launching an attack also on the previous Labour Government's legislation. Under both Labour and Conservative employment legislation, the employer has had the ability to dismiss strikers. It would be a high watermark, even for the Labour party, if it said that an employer faced with a withdrawal of labour should not be entitled to consider the dismissal of those on strike.

When considering any particular recommendations in the draft code, there are three principal questions to ask. First, would following the recommendation be likely to help ensure that union members have a proper democratic voice in the decision whether their union should call on them to take industrial action? Secondly, would following or taking account of the recommendation be likely to avoid industrial relations problems and, in particular, the breakdown in such relations that a strike or other industrial action undoubtedly represents? Thirdly, is the guidance in the code helpful in explaining the requirements of the relevant law and thereby playing its part in ensuring that the law is observed?

By those tests—and they are relevant tests—the draft code deserves the approval of the House. However, we all keenly await the reaction of the Labour Front Bench spokesman. Sweet words and elegant phrases come ten-a-penny to Members such as the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). What everyone really wants to know is whether the Labour party is prepared to do the deeds that would make a reality of its new-found rhetoric. Even more to the point, can it persuade its union paymasters to co-operate with real industrial democracy, to which the continued existence of, for example, the pre-entry closed shop is such a standing and visible reproach?

I am pleased to say that the Labour party has that opportunity tonight. By its frank and unequivocal support of the code, it could show—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the debate will be confined to the motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Nicholls

By the Labour party's frank and unequivocal support tonight, it would have an opportunity to show that it supports the principle of industrial democracy and that it is not a new-found conversion. Obviously, the hon. Member for Sedgefield has the support of Conservative Members in his struggle to carry forward that principle, but we shall be interested to discover whether the same can be said of other Labour Members. The code can only assist the practice of good industrial relations conduct, and for that reason it demands the support of both sides of the House.

10.33 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I congratulate the Minister on reading his brief well, even if not with much conviction or sincerity. He was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), who rightly said that the code was of no value if the employer, having watched every word of it being put into practice, simply said, "I care not at all for that and I shall sack you all."

I challenge the Minister to say whether he accepts the situation of the Tilbury dockers, for example, who were sacked by the Port of London Authority recently after having followed the balloting procedure to the letter and having had a secret ballot that was above any kind of reproach or condemnation, even in terms of this code of practice. The Port of London Authority nevertheless sacked people such as two British Empire Medallists, Tommy Lane and Georgie Lake, both of whom had many years of service. Georgie Lake in particular was even nominated for the British Empire Medal by the Port of London Authority, which eventually sacked him.

Can the Minister tell us—I will give way to him on this point if he wants—whether he will condemn the actions of the Port of London Authority in failing to abide by this code of practice?

Mr. Nicholls

If the hon. Gentleman would like me to intervene, I am happy to oblige. I will not pass judgment on the actions of any employer in a particular situation. The hon. Gentleman should read the policy documents of his own party and some of the legislation of the Labour Government all those years ago. The hon. Gentleman is apparently saying that once a ballot has been properly conducted according to the law and the code the employer should have no alternative but to agree to all the demands made, and that should be an end of it. That is an extreme position. I have always thought that the Labour party adopted extreme positions, but I would have thought that that was too extreme even for Labour Members. However, I am more than happy to be proved wrong.

Mr. Lloyd

That was very helpful. We now have the rationale behind the Government's argument. The Minister is not prepared to comment on an employer, but he is prepared to comment on every single trade union involved in any industrial dispute. He is prepared to comment adversely on every trade union whether it takes the code of practice in hand or whether it finds that it is, as I will put to the House tonight, so onerous as to make industrial relations a matter of great difficulty.

The problem is that, as with most of the Government's legislation on industrial relations over the years, their motivation has been to arm one side at the expense of the other. There is no notion of conciliation in the Government's approach or in this code of practice—except ironically, of course, where the Government suggest to the trade unions that they should go to ACAS and seek some kind of ordered settlement. There is no conciliation at all when it comes to advice to the employers. No advice whatsoever in this document applies to employers.

Is that any surprise when, in the present dispute with the ambulance workers, with the ambulance workers wanting to go down the recommended road of arbitration by ACAS, the Government have said, "No; we believe in the code of practice for the trade unions but we do not believe in a code of practice or arbitration for employers, particularly when the employer is central Government." That shows the partiality of this Government.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Surely the hon. Gentleman has not even read the title of this document, which states clearly "Trade union ballots on industrial action". Employers do not have any role in trade union ballots. This code of practice, which the Opposition have just condemned, is designated to support the rights and privileges of the membership of the unions and every individual member of a union. That is what it is about.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman may say that I have not read the title, but I have certainly read the entire document and I refer him to the footnote on page 9 where it refers to the role of the employer in terms of the balloting procedure. The Government suggest that it might be helpful if the employer would make premises available, but there is no suggestion of anything else. It says: It does not require the employer to do anything more than permit premises to be used; there is no obligation, for example, to allow employers time off work to vote in a workplace (or any other) ballot. That is how much interest employers really have. Of course, they have an interest in the ballot. But the Government do not propose any course of action for employers, just for trade unions. Did my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) wish to intervene on that point?

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

My hon. Friend has covered precisely the point that I wanted to make.

Mr. Lloyd

The secret ballot is now the norm in industrial relations. ACAS, not the trade union movement, reported not long ago that about 90 per cent. of ballots went in favour of trade union recommendations, and that sticks in the Government's throat. That has made the Government take action, because faced with the fact that their electoral system was not working, they decided, Ceausescu-like, to change the rules. Like outmoded east European dictatorships, they decided to change the electoral system so that eventually they would get the answer right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) questioned the Minister about democracy in the Conservative party. Does the Minister believe that the type of democracy necessary under this code of practice would have applied in recent elections in, say, Clwyd, North-West or Meirionnydd Nant Conwy? I will gladly give way to enable the Minister to answer because his answer is central to the type of democratic processes that we have in society. Does any other institution, private or public, have a code of practice as difficult to operate as that which we are debating?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman obviously needs help with his speech and I make my next observation in a helpful way. I would not have thought these provisions would have had any effect in Clwyd, North-West, but from my understanding of the Labour party's position, they might have been of considerable use in Birkenhead.

Mr. Lloyd

It is interesting that the Minister does not seem to feel that there is any value in codes of practice for secret ballots in the Conservative party. But that will not surprise my hon. Friends. It will surprise Conservative Members even less, for they know what the Government are doing in terms of extracting vengeance, and in industrial relations their vengeance is even more vicious.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)


Mr. Lloyd

I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way. I must make progress with my remarks.

We are entitled to ask why we even have this code of practice. The Minister claims that it will not change primary legislation, and he is right; it cannot make such a change. But he admitted to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) that this code, as with other codes of practice, could become the rule through the process of case law. That is why it is of the utmost importance.

This code of practice carries with it a big stick. If the trade union movement says that it is unworkable, further legislation will be introduced. The previous Secretary of State said that the Government would consider carefully any evidence to show that trade unions were failing to take proper account of the code's recommendations and that the Government did not rule out further legislation should that prove necessary. In other words, the Government threat is that further legislation will be on the way if the trade unions do not accept this effectively as the law of the land.

Further, the code seeks to extend the law, just as the code of practice on picket numbers extended the law so that, through case law, it is now common for courts to rule that six is an acceptable number of pickets on a picket line. That is what case law, through that code of practice, has come to mean.

In the same way, this code of practice will extend the law in terms of postal voting and independent scrutiny. After all, the Minister could not say where mandatory postal voting or independent scrutiny exists in the primary legislation. Paragraph 20 of the code says: 'Fully postal' balloting should be the preferred choice wherever the ballot is about the authorisation of industrial action by a union". The Government are clear that that is the preferred choice. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East asked about the possibility of injunctions and touched on the Government's raw nerve. Judges in the middle of the night—the Minister knows more about judges in the middle of the night than I do—would be taken in not only by the seductive words of the Government's lawyers, but by the code of practice and would accept that postal voting was mandatory, de facto, under the law.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I shall not.

The Confederation of British Industry, when commenting on the original draft, made the point on postal voting that a code should allow a greater element of discretion to trade union officials about how the principles of law should be applied. The CBI seems to have been mollified, as the Minister put some colour coding in the draft, and seems to believe that its recommendations had been fully taken on board. The CBI now seems not to be critical, although its substantive point still remains as a difficulty of the code of practice.

The code of practice is a long way from the reality of industrial relations in Britain in 1990. It may exist somewhere in the fantasy world of Ministers and their even more fantastic Back-Bench Members, but it bears no relation to what takes place on the shop floor or in other places where trade unionists organise. A postal vote is not always the most appropriate means of balloting. Not only the labour movement, but the British Institute of Management, which made the point forcefully in its submission on the present code of practice, believes that. It said that workplace balloting was as valid as postal balloting under the law and had its own advantages. The Minister chooses to ignore what a responsible body of management believes on the issue.

Even the Government's own primary legislation accepts that semi-postal voting methods are allowable for refunded moneys. I hope that the Minister will explain later why that is the case, although the Government insist that postal voting is the only legitimate way forward under the code of practice.

The danger of all this is that we have a recipe for unofficial action. The Government have so hemmed in the trade union movement that trade unionists will have no choice but to look not to official but to unofficial action as the quickest and easiest way to solve their problems. Next week, we shall discuss the Employment Bill under which the Government will again seek to plug the loophole that they have created and to act against unofficial action. This charter for unofficial action will mean that the Government will render employers unable even to enter serious negotiations with the trade unions, although the trade unions would be able to get their own members back to work in the interests of the members and of the employers.

The code of practice is riddled with impracticalities. Paragraph 11, for example, insists that the trade unions should "inform every employer" about the balloting process. In the present dispute in the engineering industry over the 35-hour week, does the Minister seriously intend that every engineering employer should be informed of the proposals to ballot?

The Government also insist that every employee should be informed well in advance of where, when and how balloting will take place. Will the Minister tell us exactly what that means? How long is "well in advance"? What would constitute not being sufficiently "well in advance"? Why, when it is in everyone's interests for industrial disputes to be resolved as quickly as possible, does the Minister want to institute further delays in industrial relations procedures? Within the four-week period in which a successful ballot would be effective—these are perhaps the most worrying parts of the code of practice—the union would have to notify its own members of the result of the ballot, it would have to consider a wide range of factors about whether it should proceed with industrial action, it would have to examine all the options and then, if it decided to take action, it would have to inform its members why that action was appropriate, inform any employer, on request, about the result of the ballot and give time for the employer to take the necessary health and safety steps.

The Minister must understand that it is in nobody's interest to build in this kind of delay. This is a charter for frustration and ultimately a charter for unofficial action. If that is what the Minister wants, he should understand that that is precisely what will happen under this code of practice.

I have already said that it is very difficult for Opposition Members to understand why this code of practice is so one-sided. Conservative Members have said that this is nothing to do with the employer, but paragraph 2 of the code says: The code should assist unions and their members who are directly involved in such ballots, and employers, and their customers and suppliers who may be affected by industrial action organised by a union. Of course, employers have an interest in industrial action. If Conservative Members seriously believe that employers are somehow immune to such action, they live in a very different world from the real industrial relations world in Britain. The employer has a direct interest, and that is where the Government should have been even-handed in their approach.

It is not just we in the Opposition who demand that evenness of approach; the British Institute of Management made the powerful point that to leave the employers the power of recourse only through the courts was very one-sided. The BIM stressed that it was not comfortable with recourse to the law as the means of resolving industrial disputes. It said: Any code of practice concerned with industrial disputes should seek to avoid conflict, not generate it.

In reality, the Government are not concerned with the process of conciliation. They are not concerned, as we know from the ambulance dispute, with getting all sides round the table. They are concerned with conflict, with making sure that one side can win at the expense of another and that in all circumstances the odds are so loaded against the trade union movement that the unions are put on the defensive from beginning to end. That is why I say to the Minister that, for all his fine words, the code of practice is destructive to industrial relations. The most sensible advice that the Minister can take is to accept the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and take this code of practice away, because it is unfitted to the reality of industrial relations in this country

10.51 pm
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

I very much welcome the opportunity to debate this code of practice and thus to debate the whole topic of democracy on the shop floor and within industrial relations. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has mentioned, we have a reasonably satisfactory position in primary legislation. The spirit of that primary legislation is also satisfactory. We must ask, however, if the spirit of the law is being implemented on the shop floor. Although in many instances I suspect that it is being implemented in that way, and that what now appears in the draft code of practice is already best practice on the shop floor, there will also be many instances where this is not the case. I hope that the publication of this code of practice will ensure that things are done more often in accordance with the recommendations of the code.

My concern about this first arose when I received a letter from the chief executive of the port of Tilbury during the dispute on the dock labour scheme. My hon. Friend will remember that at the time I sent him a copy of the letter. The chief executive expressed concern about local voting procedures and about the problems experienced with workplace ballots. I would like briefly to quote a couple of paragraphs from the letter that he sent to me. He said that "a very significant point" was that the voting procedures of the Transport and General Workers' Union were to be questioned, and he added: At national level the counting of votes was probably correctly carried out and reflected the information from local level. However, the two ballots at Tilbury were anything but satisfactory. Voting forms were supplied in very large quantities, and the procedure was, over the days of the voting period, for each man to be given a voting slip which he marked in a private booth. This seemed to be fine but we now understand that the completed slips were then placed in a cardboard box, kept in the custody of a shop steward, which had a hole in the top large enough to put a hand through. He went on to say, in the concluding paragraph: I have no doubt that if the ballot had been conducted by an independent organisation by post then the outcome would have been totally different. The present system of workplace ballots cannot give the quality of balloting that should be insisted upon by law.

Therefore, I am particularly pleased with paragraph 20 in section C of the code of practice which says: 'fully-postal' balloting should be the preferred choice wherever the ballot is about the authorisation of industrial action by a union or wherever the 'balloting constituency'…covers all the members of the union, unless this is impracticable in the time available (for example because it is necessary to obtain members' views sooner than its use would allow)".

Mr. Skinner

I have looked at the Register of Members' Interests and I see that the hon. Gentleman is a consultant to Pinpoint International. Can he tell me whether there was a ballot under this code of practice, a previous code of practice or any code of practice before the company appointed him to that job?

Mr. Janman

I do not think that is a serious question. That question and the question that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) put to my hon. Friend the Minister reduce the standing of the House in the eyes of the public. We are trying to have a serious debate about an important issue. All the hon. Member for Bolsover can do is try to trivialise the issue by the sort of silly remark that he has just made. It is not worth considering further.

The position of the Conservative party on industrial relations is clear—to encourage responsible trade unions, working within the current legal framework, to ballot their members properly within a balanced industrial relations setting, unlike Labour, who, if ever in power, will stop employers obtaining injunctions against illegal strikes, and will scrap pre-strike ballots. We have heard a lot of nonsense about democracy in the Conservative party. We all know that, in the unlikely event of the Opposition winning the next election, they will end the opportunity for people in trade unions to have pre-strike ballots.

The reason Labour Members get so upset in these debates is that they know that it has taken a Conservative Government, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), to bring genuine democracy into the trade union movement. They know that the vast majority of trade union members support that democracy and wish it to continue. They know that their continued threats to undermine it are a serious threat to them losing support at the next election. It is also the Labour party which welcomes secondary industrial action, and whose leader said that secondary picketing is a right that should be enjoyed. It is the Labour party which will prevent the courts from taking effective action against unions via sequestration when those unions break the law.

This code of practice is consistent with the philosophy behind the approach that we have been enacting on a step-by-step basis over the past 10 years to make trade unions more accountable to their members. That approach has been consistently successful and successfully consistent. The proposed code of practice will not alter that position.

10.58 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Hon. Members will be aware, certainly those who were in the House during the last Parliament, that my right hon. Friends have long supported the idea of proper ballots for trade unions. During the proceedings on the Trade Union Act 1984 we tabled amendments to secure a preference for postal ballots, while recognising that there should be flexibility and that they should be mandatory in all cases. For example, the National Union of Seamen, for obvious reasons relating to its work, needs some flexibility so that other means of communication can be used.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said that, with the code of practice, the Government were trying to make law. However, during the passage of the 1984 Act, much against the wishes of my right hon. and hon. Friends who proposed a preference for postal ballots and their independent scrutiny, the Government failed to include such measures. The provisions have been given a place in the code of practice, although that is second best to being included in primary legislation. Therefore, we will support the code of practice in the Division Lobby this evening. However, it is important to sound some caveats about its provisions and the general approach adopted by the Government.

It is well established, and has already emerged during the debate, that in this country—unlike many others—there is no right to strike. I often feel that the Government would like to move towards a position in which striking would be so frowned upon and deplored that, if they wanted to use stronger measures against anyone who dared to strike, they could attempt to get away with using them.

The code of practice lacks any sense of proper proportion and balance. Paragraph 34 states that A union should take steps to ensure that any information it supplies to members in connection with the ballot is accurate and does not mislead voters in the process of forming their opinions It goes on to specify matters which the union should consider. By itself, I would not find that objectionable. However, if a strike takes place and employers wish to communicate with union members, there is no obligation on employers in the code of practice to ensure the accuracy of the information that they give to union members. Therefore, the provision is unbalanced.

It may well be argued that the employers would not dream of providing inaccurate information, but the document is meant to ensure good practice which should oblige employers to provide their employees with accurate information. There should be proper provision to ensure that accurate information is supplied by employers to their employees in those circumstances.

There is a whiff of hypocrisy in some of the Government's proposals. In paragraph 8 they say that An industrial action ballot should not take place until certain procedures have been completed, and that where no such procedures are available, or have been exhausted, consideration has been given to resolving the dispute by other means, including where practicable seeking advice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). It takes two to tango and come together.

In the ambulance dispute, the unions are perfectly prepared to proceed and take the advice given in the code of practice, but the National Health Service, speaking through the Government, is not prepared to meet in that forum and follow the very recipe for proper industrial relations that the Government prescribe.

Another point which should be made perfectly clear is that if unions pursue a proper course through the law and the code of practice with regard to ballots, it can strengthen their hand in negotiations—if there is a successful outcome to the ballot.

Many of us can remember in the summer, at the height of the railwaymen's dispute, listening to commuters who had obviously been grossly inconvenienced and had to bring their cars and park them in Hyde park. Those commuters said that because the Government had put all the barriers in the way of unions taking strike action, the fact that the unions had got so far and crossed all the hurdles meant that they probably had a good case. In that instance they had, and their position strengthened their hand in negotiations.

If, having followed all those procedures, and having obeyed the law and the code's specific provisions, the union proceeds to ballot in favour of industrial action, that will be indicative of the strength of the membership's views on a particular set of negotiations and should strengthen the union's hand.

The code also encourages unofficial action, and we shall debate that aspect when the House considers the Employment Bill. At this stage I only remind the House of the speech made by my late friend David Penhaligon on Second Reading of the Trade Union Bill in 1983, when he said: The second part of the Bill worries me most…However, the Government's basic point sounds reasonable. To say that there should be no immunity for official strikes without a ballot sounds so reasonable that any platform speaker in Britain could carry his audience with him. However, will it work out as well as Conservative Members think on the shop floor, inside the factory gate? It will make wildcat strikes more likely. The Minister said that it would make them less likely, but I would be interested to hear his evidence. At best, the position will be much as it is now."—[Official Report, 8 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 187.] My late friend, with his customary foresight, put his finger on a flaw in the previous proposals that the Government are taking steps to remedy, but that are not in the best interests of industrial relations.

However much we support the concept of properly balloting trade union members when industrial action is in the offing, the law and codes of practice are no substitute for proper and constructive industrial relations. The more that the Government embark on the road to further legal quagmires, as they are in the Employment Bill, the more likely it is that some smart lawyer will find a way around their legislation. There is no substitute for proper industrial democracy and partnership in industry—which the Government have ignored for the whole of their 10 years in office by relying not so much on the law but on high unemployment in restraining strike action and enforcing an apparent degree of good industrial relations.

That approach has failed, as is evidenced by the new phase of ever-increasing wage demands, skills shortages and a fall in unemployment that is not nearly as big as it should be. It is clear that the Government's whole industrial relations strategy is coming unstuck. The law is not a substitute for a proper industrial partnership.

11.7 pm

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

If all that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said about the Government's industrial relations record was true, they would already have been confronted by massive strikes—and wildcat strikes at that. However, the statistics clearly show that the opposite is true. Even in difficult times, when there has been a greater threat of industrial action and people have wanted to improve their rates of pay, there has been little in the way of industrial action.

Mr. Wallace

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there has been little in the way of official and unofficial industrial action, why are the Government taking up the time of the House next week to consider legislation for dealing with such strikes?

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that Opposition Members, desperate for Britain to adopt the European social charter, need the Government to get rid of the pre-entry closed shop that the charter outlaws. However, I do not want to stray into aspects of the Employment Bill in a debate on a code of practice.

I sat through the previous Employment Bill, in 1988, when many of the Opposition speeches in Committee took the approach, "You are introducing legislation that will ensure different rights for trade union members and ballots for this and that. But what will happen in this event, or that event?" The Government are reacting correctly in saying "Here is a code of practice that all sides of industry agree is sensible. If the trade unions keep to this document, it will protect the rights of individuals in the unions, and that is what our industrial legislation has often been about."

The document will help people to know the right way to go about things so that they do not fall foul of the law. I find it incredible that the Government have been criticised for producing such a helpful document, as that is precisely what many hon. Members were demanding during the debates on the previous Employment Bill.

I was a work study engineer, and I advised management when they were faced with the possibility of industrial action in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time we did not have this type of secret ballot. Often, the employer listened to the militant voice of trade union officials and shop stewards, but did not believe that the union members would back up the militants. The advantage of the present full procedure and the secret ballot is that many employers now understand the strength of feeling behind what they see as unreasonable or militant action. Therefore, the employers have settled many disputes at the 11th hour becaue they realise that the union members have expressed their sentiments clearly and fairly.

The number of trade disputes has been reduced because the procedure takes time. How many Labour Ministers at the Department of Employment came to the Dispatch Box when they were in government and talked about cooling-off periods and trying to stop people going on wildcat strikes? I am sure that Barbara Castle, if she were in this place today, would admit that it is a great thing that we have cooling-off periods and a reduction in the speed with which people go out on strike, because it has been extremely good.

The Opposition's claim that all our legislation would cause more strikes has been disproved. During the previous Labour Government, when there were so many strikes, the real rise in wages and employment was very low. We lost jobs and prosperity, and the lowest-paid and unskilled workers were affected most. That trend has been reversed by the Government.

Some hon. Members have spoken about democracy, and compared democracy within political parties with that in trade unions. I do not believe that any hon. Member would vote for a document if every shop steward, because of his position within a trade union, had 100 votes in a strike ballot, but the ordinary member had only one vote.

There has been a comparison of what happened in Clwyd, North-West, Birkenhead and St. Helens, South. There is clearly a big difference between them. In each case there was a rule book, under which the ballots were carried out. There was a secret ballot in Clwyd, North-West and the hon. Gentleman who came through the ballot, having seen that the rule book was adhered to, knowing that there was one man, one vote, agreed that it was a fair ballot and accepted the result.

We all know what happened in Birkenhead and in St. Helens, South—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that we have gone far enough along that line; let us get back to industrial ballots.

Mr. Bruce

I know that I was straying from the subject, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply trying to illustrate my point that industrial ballots are seen to be fair if the rules behind them are seen to be fair. Clearly the Labour party has not convinced its own Members of Parliament of that.

Mr. Leighton

Was not the chairman of the Conservative party elected by a block vote of one?

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. The chairman of the Conservative and Unionist party is voted for by the membership, and constitutes the liaison between the parliamentary party and the grass roots.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Let us get back to the motion.

Mr. Bruce

In answering the intervention by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), I have clearly strayed from the point. I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This is a sensible document, designed to protect the interests of individual union members, and I cannot understand why any Opposition Member should want to vote down such an excellent measure.

11.15 pm
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

It amazes me that any work study engineer—I met such people in my days in the trade union movement—can come here and talk about the freedom of the trade unions and trade union ballots. All that those people ever did was to tell us that we should work harder, with less pay, at the expense of the working class. I remember them very well, and I never took kindly to them.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heffer

No. Sit down.

How hypocritical Conservative Members are. They are saying now that there should be union ballots on industrial action, but I have heard the Prime Minister and others speak in the House about how they have supported the Solidarity members in Poland over the years. I supported them, too, but they never had a ballot; they went on strike because they felt that they had to. Workers in Czechoslovakia also went on strike recently, because they wanted democracy and freedom, and the same has happened in East Germany and elsewhere. They did not have ballots; they took that action because they did not want to live in industrial slavery. Conservative Members are suggesting that we should get rid of our democratic practices and replace them with just that—industrial slavery. That is what it comes down to.

I have studied the document carefully. One section refers to "statutory requirements", and states that for example a 'show of hands" is not sufficient even if it appears to show overwhelming support for taking industrial action". I have been a member of my union for 51 years. That is a long time. I remember many occasions when mass meetings of the workers reached decisions through a show of hands. That was not undemocratic. I do not need any lessons from Conservative Members about democratic practices in the trade union movement. We know about democratic practices: we were the ones who fought for them. Conservative Members are learning about democracy only now. They are in favour of democracy only when it suits them. When it does not suit them—in Chile, Spain and Germany, for instance—their people go against it. I want to put that on the record, because it is what has happened over the years.

I am not ashamed of the trade union movement's record on democratic practices. We have always employed such practices: we have fought for them against Conservative Governments and Conservative class politics in the past. We have always fought for democracy and we shall continue to do so.

The Employment Act and the code of practice based on it represent class legislation against our people in the working-class movement in Britain. The Government do not believe in trade unions. They want to tie us up so that we can never take industrial action when it is necessary. What will happen if a trade union shop steward is elected by the workers in his or her factory and the employer uses the legislation to sack that shop steward? What will the workers do? Will they simply let it happen or will they take action in support of their fellow worker? I know what they will do; they will take action. Never mind the industrial ballot—the Government are proposing legislation to deal with any worker who takes such action. That is industrial slavery. The Government believe in the power of employers against the working class. That is what it is all about. The hon. Member for Dorset, South may laugh, but I spent years fighting people like the hon. Gentleman and I shall continue to fight people like you for as long as I live—[Interruption.] I did not mean Mr. Deputy Speaker, as he is part of my movement. We have fought on the same barricades against such legislation.

Mr. Thurnham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heffer


I have read the legislation very closely. It adds up to the fact that Conservative Members are underlining their class legislation with further restrictions against ordinary working people in Britain. I am glad that my party will vote against it tonight and I hope that next week we shall go further and vote against legislation that would further restrict workers in Britain.

11.21 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

I rise to support my hon. Friends. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) typifies a lifetime of struggle in the labour movement—a daily struggle against the iniquitous activities and industrial power of unscrupulous employers. If Conservative Members have ever fought for anything in their lives it is usually for a couple of seats at Ascot. They have no understanding of the daily activities of working people in the trade union movement fighting for their rights in the workplace.

Throughout the 1980s the Government tried to create the myth and the lie that trade unions did not belong to their membership but to some trade union barons. First, they introduced the principle of ballots to decide political activities. Unfortunately for them, the Government were proved wrong. The unions belonged to the members who voted in massive numbers to continue the political activities of the trade unions. Then the Government argued that trade unionists were being led by the nose in industrial activities. Throughout the 1980s 90 per cent. of trade union members who were balloted on industrial action supported the views of the union as expressed by their shop stewards or full-time officials.

Having preached a lie and been found to be dishonest, the Government now want to introduce a code of practice not to improve industrial relations or to facilitate better activities in the workplace to prevent industrial action, but to cripple the ability of trade unions to take industrial action. During industrial action unscrupulous employers will exploit the code to take trade unions and individual trade unionists to court.

This code of practice attempts to impose on trade unions additional obligations in respect of the Employment Act 1988 and the Trade Union Act 1984. It tries to create the longest possible delays in the implementation of decisions by the work force. It facilitates that process by providing as many grounds as possible for injunctions by unscrupulous employers. It attempts to induce ballot votes against industrial action, and when that cannot be done it attempts to discourage official action by trade unionists. That is the reality of this piece of legislation.

If the Government were really honest about parliamentary scrutiny and about the need for a code of practice, they should have been prepared to include such provision in clause 5 of the Employment Bill which the House will be discussing on Monday. In that way there could have been proper parliamentary scrutiny of their activities, instead of an hour-and-a-half's debate to rubber-stamp an instrument that will be used by unscrupulous employers and by the courts to hamstring trade unions involved in legitimate activities.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. McCartney

No. The hon. Member will have an opportunity to make his speech as he wants to make it. Other hon. Members on this side want to contribute. On various occasions the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) has refused to give way to me, so he has given up the right to debate with me on matters such as this.

The reality is that it is not just trade unionists or employers who are saying that the Government's code of practice is unjust and will promote confrontation instead of good industrial relations. Of this proposal, the International Labour Organisation, which is probably less popular in Britain than even General Noriega, had this to say: The effect of piecemeal reforms, often introduced in order to achieve quite narrow objectives, has been to generate uncertainty in some areas of the law. This in turn may lead to unintentional breaches of Convention 87 and may inhibit lawful industrial action". That is the International Labour Organisation's view of the Government's attempt to impose this type of industrial law on trade unionists.

Throughout this instrument there are paragraphs whose wording shows that the Government are attempting, formally and informally, to undermine the ability of workers to take action. For example, paragraph 8(a) places on unions an obligation to complete any agreed procedure, whether formal or informal, which might lead to the resolution of a dispute before a ballot is held. That is absurdly wide. What is meant by an "agreed procedure, either formal or informal"? Does it mean all procedures or only those agreed for the avoidance of disputes? What if an employer breaches the agreed procedures? There is nothing here to protect trade unionists in that situation. Unscrupulous employers will use paragraph 8(a) to obstruct and undermine, and to prevent trade unionists from taking specific action that is allowed under current legislation. Those people will be able to go to the courts and obtain support in their attempts to neuter trade unionists.

This code is not about improving industrial relations or the right of workers to take legitimate industrial action. As my hon. Friends have said, it is the latest item in a long catalogue over a decade during which trade unionists have been undermined in their attempts to improve conditions in the workplace.

But the Government have not crushed working people. They have not crushed industrial trade unions, and they will never crush them. While there are Conservatives and unscrupulous employers, working people in the East and in the West will never bend to any kind of legislation that would undermine them. That has been proved by the history of the working-class struggle. In a decade's time this shoddy piece of legislation will be in the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, in the meantime many of the positive things that need to be done to improve industrial relations in this country are being neglected by the Government.

With the return of a Labour Government, it will be up to people who are now on this side of the House and to trade unionists to restore the rights of trade unionists, and to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the right of people in the workplace to go about their lawful business without having their position undermined by unscrupulous employers and an unscrupulous Government.


Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

In a debate such as this the only contribution that can be made is to give one's opinion and experience. The main criticism and the main thrust of opposition to the code of practice on industrial ballots is that it is defective, because it does not consider what, after all, is the hallmark of solving industrial disputes—conciliation. I make no apologies for saying that throughout my industrial life I have believed in conciliation rather than confrontation. I shall explain later why the legislation is defective.

It is an abuse of this mother of Parliaments to present the code to us in a debate of one and half hours. It cannot be debated adequately in that time. I paid particular attention to the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). Some of the criticisms that he invoked are the same as mine. The only difference is that he will vote with the Government whereas I shall oppose them.

The code is defective and will not provide for any measure of conciliation. It will not solve the problem of industrial relations and industrial action. Certainly it will not solve the problem of what is generally described as rag-outs, or unofficial action. The more that one examines it in detail, the more it seems that it will be a prescription for unofficial industrial action and rag-outs.

The Minister made extravagant claims about what the code will achieve. It will not solve our industrial problems. We could ballot until the kings come home and at the end of the day the employer can still say, "Yes, you have a ballot, but you will get nothing." There is no provision in the legislation to compel the employer to seek conciliation rather than confrontation. I was thinking during the debate about an experience that I had. One can have all the ballots under the sun, but if the men decide to take action they will take action to resolve the problem.

I have belonged to a trade union since 1934. My union is the National Union of Mineworkers, about which the Minister made some snide comments. Before I came to the House, my trade union had not had a national official industrial strike for more than 40 years. That is as good a record as that of any trade union in Britain. I know what I am talking about when I say that we should seek conciliation rather than confrontation.

We had a particular problem in the mines—rats. They are rather filthy things to have in the mines. As a boy of 14, I remember being terrified. I was with my father and the roof was coming in. A flitting of rats came rushing out of the road. Despite the fact that I was only 14, I shall never forget that experience for as long as I live. The miners knew that if there was a flitting of rats in the pit, the place was unsafe and they should not go into it. I remember my father saying to me, "We'll sit here. I know what's going to happen. The roof is going to collapse", and an hour or two later the whole place collapsed and the roof came in.

Over the years we put up with the inconveniences of being down the pit and with the rats. A miner might be sitting having his piece when a rat would crawl across his leg. If a miner went out for his piece, he might discover that a rat had been in his jacket and stolen his piece. We could see them in the waste, looking at us as we were eating our piece. It was unpleasant and, of course, rats in pits cause both industrial and health problems. Rats are infectious animals. If a miner who was working in a low seam which was wet should happen to cut his finger, he ran the risk of getting what is called Weil's disease, which we knew as "rat jaundice".

We had meeting after meeting with the management for years and years, saying, "It is absolutely intolerable that we should work trying to wrest the treasures of nature from the earth, and have to do so alongside these diseased creatures." But then a crisis erupted when a couple of miners in my pit, who had been working in a low seam and had cut their fingers, developed Weil's disease, or rat jaundice, which is caused by the urine of rats. I advise those who have not seen anybody who has developed Weil's disease that it is a pretty horrible sight because the victims slowly get blacker and blacker and then they die.

We said that we were absolutely fed up with it in our area. We had tried to negotiate and conciliate. The whole coalfield was alive with unofficial industrial action. We said to the board, "Look, we've lost a couple of lives. We're no longer going to work down the pit if there are rats in it. You must do something about it." It was strange that after 40 or 50 years we had to sacrifice four or five days' wages and then, like magic, the employers came up with an answer. They said that they would clear the pit of rats. They developed something that many people with heart disease know about nowadays, Warfarin, and within a week there was not a rat in the place—

Mr. Skinner

They are all on the Conservative Benches.

Mr. Eadie


The Minister is saying that, if an industrial work force is thinking about industrial ballots, it will stand still once it has tried to negotiate and conciliate, but I must tell him that if he is developing these provisions as a panacea to prevent industrial action, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

Mr. Skinner

He is a lawyer.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)


Mr. Eadie

Perhaps my hon. Friend will let me carry on.

The Minister is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. If he is concerned, as I and my hon. Friends are concerned, about having orderly industrial relations that have been thought out and developed, he will take back his proposition, re-examine it, rectify its imbalances and force the employers to indulge in consultation and conciliation following the result of an industrial ballot.

11.38 pm
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I wish to speak only briefly. The whole House has listened with attention to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) talking about Weil's disease and rats in mines, but tonight we are debating the danger of us once again having the "English disease" and becoming the sick man of Europe. That is why I am so disappointed that the Opposition intend to divide the House and to vote against this code of practice which can only help to improve industrial relations.

It is important that the country should have good industrial relations. The Labour party should remember its record when it was in power, when every year millions of days were lost through strikes. Between 1974 and 1978 in the private sector, some 390 working days were lost per 1,000 employees. Since then, the figure has dropped to 236 per 1,000. That shows that the legislation is working and that we should encourage its use.

I have today received a report from the Manchester Chamber of Commerce about a survey of the north-west chambers of commerce. It shows that there is confidence in future profitability. How on earth could exporters continue to have confidence in their profitability were it not for employment legislation that enabled them to run their businesses properly? The report states: One heartening result is an increase in orders for local exporters. Nearly half of those involved in foreign trade reported an increase in both deliveries and orders overseas. That shows that the north-west is performing well. I do not want it to return to the days when there was a Labour Government, when industries were riddled with strikes and there was no hope of manufacturers and exporters looking forward with confidence.

I hope that Labour Members will stop and think before they divide the House tonight. I want to hear from them exactly what policy the Labour party has on such legislation. What position, in law, do they expect the unions to have? Do they expect real sanctions? Does the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who has spoken about sanctions for the courts? Where does the Labour party stand on sequestration?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should stick to the motion before the House.

Mr. Thurnham

The Labour party's policy on points of the law is relevant to this motion, and I should be pleased to hear more about that policy.

11.42 pm
Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

I speak in this debate with some experience of the issue as I was a trade union official for 12 years and during recent years have been involved in industrial ballots. I am not opposed in principle to ballots, but I am opposed to the one-sided nature of codes of practice such as the one before us tonight. It has nothing to do with democracy or with improving industrial practices. The section headings in the code include: Whether an industrial action ballot would be appropriate. Preparing for an industrial action ballot. Holding an industrial action ballot. Following an industrial action ballot. Assuming a vote is in favour of industrial action, that then takes place. Where is the code for when a dispute is resolved? Where is the democracy and the good industrial practice when it is possible to end an industrial dispute with only a show of hands? I accuse the Minister of sheer hypocrisy in peddling this shoddy little document as an act of democracy. It is as undemocratic to return to work on a show of hands as it is to strike on a show of hands.

The code has nothing to do with democracy. It is a further step down the road of anti-trade union action. It makes it as difficult as possible to strike and as easy as possible to return to work. It should be rejected for those reasons, if for no other.

11.43 pm
Mr. Patrick Nicholls

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say that, in such a short debate, it is not possible to do justice to all the points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I shall try to extract the common themes in what has been said.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) opened the debate for the Opposition on the basis that the code could be criticised for what it was not, not what it was. He said that it had nothing to say about employers' roles in these matters. The important point to remember is that this is not a code about employers calling strikes. It is not a code about what employers might be doing. It is a code about strikes and about the trade unions that call them. It is surely right in a situation such as this that there should be a ballot. The argument that the code can be criticised simply because it does not address the role of employers in the situation seems to me not to be tenable.

The hon. Member for Stretford also seemed to be criticising the code for the fact that it would not automatically solve the problem of strikes. Quite obviously no code will do that. It is impossible to outlaw strikes and it would not be right to attempt to do so. At the end of the day there will always be situations in which working people will feel that they have to withdraw their labour. So criticism of the code on the basis that it will not stop strikes does not seem to me to have any validity whatsoever.

The code addresses a very important principle. Withdrawal of its labour by a work force is obviously a serious step that should not be taken lightly. All the working people involved ought to be able to ensure that they are given a vote and that it is conducted in a proper way. That is the purpose behind this document.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I thank the Minister for giving way when time is so short. Does all this mean that the Government are to put forward a code for employers in industrial disputes?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Lady misses the point. We are not dealing today with a code about employers; we are dealing with a code about the conduct of strikes. The hon. Lady will have to make a decision in due course—very soon, indeed—about this code, not some code that her party would introduce in the somewhat unlikely event that it was ever called to govern.

The curious thing about what the hon. Lady has said—and it has been echoed in a number of Opposition speeches—is that it is based on the really ridiculous proposition that if a ballot is conducted lawfully and in accordance with the code that should be an end of the matter. At that stage the employer should be expected to say that the workers have broken their contract of employment but it does not matter; they all agreed on what they would do, therefore he will not take any further action. That is a bizarre proposition—so bizarre that it was not adopted even by the last Labour Government; and if it was so bizarre as not to be adopted by them, one would not expect it to be advanced by the Labour party now. But that is the line that is being taken today.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the code being one-sided and laying great stress on using only postal ballots. I really wonder at times what it is that so upsets the hon. Gentleman when he considers this code. Surely he will be the first to admit that there are circumstances in which ballots can be conducted in a way of which he would thoroughly disapprove. That has happened before, and it may happen again. It is surely right that there should be some arrangement to ensure that it does not happen.

When the hon. Gentleman says that this is effectively a code which is to be used against working people and not against employers, he simply could not be more wrong. He was supported in that view by a number of other hon. Members. When the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) talks about the Alliance having had a good, consistent and clear record on matters of this sort he takes a highly selective view of history. But I suppose that if one cannot decide what one's own party is called, one cannot decide what its policies are either.

What we have to face is this. In a few moments' time Labour Members will go into the Lobbies and apparently vote against this proposition, against the idea that there should be postal ballots. There are no "Hear, hears" for that, and I am surprised. They will say that they disagree with independent scrutiny, with the idea that a ballot should be conducted secretly. For all their yuppie convictions as espoused by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), they will say at the end of the day that it is the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who still represents the real soul of the Labour party—time warped, locked into the language of the class war and knowing nothing about the world in which we live. We have moved beyond the ragged-trousered philanthropist, but the Labour party does not know it.

Question put:—

The House divide:— Ayes 204, Noes 142.

Division No. 43] [11.49 pm
Alexander, Richard Gorst, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Gow, Ian
Alton, David Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Amess, David Gregory, Conal
Amos, Alan Grist, Ian
Arbuthnot, James Hague, William
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Ashby, David Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Atkinson, David Hanley, Jeremy
Baldry, Tony Harris, David
Batiste, Spencer Hayes, Jerry
Beith, A. J. Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Bevan, David Gilroy Howells, Geraint
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Irvine, Michael
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Janman, Tim
Boscawen, Hon Robert Kennedy, Charles
Boswell, Tim Kirkhope, Timothy
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Kirkwood, Archy
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Knapman, Roger
Bowis, John Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Brazier, Julian Knowles, Michael
Bright, Graham Knox, David
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Lang, Ian
Browne, John (Winchester) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Lightbown, David
Buck, Sir Antony Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Burns, Simon Lord, Michael
Burt, Alistair Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Butcher, John Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Butterfill, John Maclean, David
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) McLoughlin, Patrick
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Carrington, Matthew Malins, Humfrey
Carttiss, Michael Mans, Keith
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Maples, John
Chope, Christopher Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Maude, Hon Francis
Colvin, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Miller, Sir Hal
Couchman, James Mills, Iain
Cran, James Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Mitchell, Sir David
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Monro, Sir Hector
Davis, David (Boothferry) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Day, Stephen Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Devlin, Tim Morrison, Sir Charles
Dicks, Terry Moss, Malcolm
Dorrell, Stephen Moynihan, Hon Colin
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Neale, Gerrard
Dover, Den Nelson, Anthony
Dunn, Bob Neubert, Michael
Durant, Tony Nicholls, Patrick
Dykes, Hugh Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Evennett, David Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Norris, Steve
Fallon, Michael Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Favell, Tony Oppenheim, Phillip
Fenner, Dame Peggy Page, Richard
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Paice, James
Fishburn, John Dudley Patnick, Irvine
Fookes, Dame Janet Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Forman, Nigel Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Porter, David (Waveney)
Forth, Eric Portillo, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Price, Sir David
Franks, Cecil Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Freeman, Roger Redwood, John
French, Douglas Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Garel-Jones, Tristan Rhodes James, Robert
Gill, Christopher Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Roe, Mrs Marion
Goodlad, Alastair Rossi, Sir Hugh
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Rowe, Andrew
Ryder, Richard Tredinnick, David
Shaw, David (Dover) Trippier, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Trotter, Neville
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Twinn, Dr Ian
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walden, George
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Sims, Roger Wallace, James
Skeet, Sir Trevor Waller, Gary
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Ward, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Soames, Hon Nicholas Watts, John
Speller, Tony Wheeler, Sir John
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Whitney, Ray
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Widdecombe, Ann
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Wilkinson, John
Steen, Anthony Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stern, Michael Winterton, Nicholas
Stevens, Lewis Wolfson, Mark
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Wood, Timothy
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Summerson, Hugo Yeo, Tim
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Thurnham, Peter Mr.Sydney Chapman and
Townend, John (Bridlington) Mr. Nicholas Baker.
Allen, Graham Corbyn, Jeremy
Anderson, Donald Cousins, Jim
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cox, Tom
Armstrong, Hilary Crowther, Stan
Ashton, Joe Cryer, Bob
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cummings, John
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Battle, John Dalyell, Tam
Blair, Tony Darling, Alistair
Blunkett, David Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Boyes, Roland Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Bradley, Keith Dixon, Don
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Doran, Frank
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Dunnachie, Jimmy
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Eadie, Alexander
Buckley, George J. Eastham, Ken
Caborn, Richard Evans, John (St Helens N)
Callaghan, Jim Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Fatchett, Derek
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Clay, Bob Fisher, Mark
Clelland, David Flynn, Paul
Cohen, Harry Foster, Derek
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George Morgan, Rhodri
Godman, Dr Norman A. Mowlam, Marjorie
Golding, Mrs Llin Mullin, Chris
Gordon, Mildred Murphy, Paul
Graham, Thomas Nellist, Dave
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) O'Brien, William
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) O'Neill, Martin
Hardy, Peter Parry, Robert
Harman, Ms Harriet Pike, Peter L.
Heffer, Eric S. Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Henderson, Doug Primarolo, Dawn
Hinchliffe, David Quin, Ms Joyce
Home Robertson, John Redmond, Martin
Hood, Jimmy Reid, Dr John
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Robertson, George
Hoyle, Doug Rogers, Allan
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Illsley, Eric Ruddock, Joan
Ingram, Adam Sheerman, Barry
Jones, leuan (Ynys MÔn) Short, Clare
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Sillars, Jim
Lambie, David Skinner, Dennis
Leadbitter, Ted Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Leighton, Ron Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Spearing, Nigel
Loyden, Eddie Steinberg, Gerry
McAllion, John Strang, Gavin
McAvoy, Thomas Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
McCartney, Ian Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Macdonald, Calum A. Turner, Dennis
McFall, John Vaz, Keith
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Walley, Joan
McLeish, Henry Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McNamara, Kevin Wareing, Robert N.
McWilliam, John Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Madden, Max Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Marek, Dr John Wilson, Brian
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Winnick, David
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Wray, Jimmy
Martlew, Eric Young, David (Bolton SE)
Maxton, John
Meale, Alan Tellers for the Noes:
Michael, Alun Mr. Frank Haynes and
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Mr. Frank Cook.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft Code of Practice for Trade Union Ballots for Industrial Action, which was laid before this House on 17th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.