HC Deb 29 January 1990 vol 166 cc38-112

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the reasoned amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and his right hon. and hon. Friends.

There is considerable pressure to speak in the debate. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to keep their speeches brief, please. I am not proposing to limit them to 10 minutes today, but if brief speeches are made, most of the hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate will be called.

4.46 pm
The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Howard)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On 29 June 1983, in my maiden speech to this House, 1 referred to the closed shop as a critical area—critical for the personal freedom of individual workers as well as for the link between strikes and unemployment—in which the legislative support given to the individual was inadequate. On 8 November 1983, in the debate on the Second Reading of the Trade Union Bill, in which the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) also took part, I criticised the Government for not taking action to remedy that injustice.

Although progress has been made, since 1983 it remains the case that what has so far been achieved is not enough. It is therefore a particular privilege for me today to move the Second Reading of this Bill, for it will provide the legislative support which for so long has been missing. It takes the final step in making the closed shop unlawful.

It is a hammer blow for the freedom of the individual to choose for himself whether or not he wishes to become a member of a trade union. It puts paid once and for all to the tyranny of forced association, which has for so long been cherished by the trade unions and the Labour party.

The Bill can be seen as the culmination of the long process of reform which began 10 years ago, when the first Employment Bill of this Government was introduced by my right hon. and noble predecessor, Lord Prior.

Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West)

Before my right hon. and learned Friend leaves that point, members of the Select Plymouth Brethren are concerned that they believe it to be a requirement to employ trade unionists as a result of proposals in the Bill. They find that against their consciences. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider their point?

Mr. Howard

I shall carefully consider that, but I fear that I cannot hold out too much hope that it will be possible to accommodate the concern expressed by my hon. Friend.

I pay tribute to all my predecessors who have contributed to that process of reform, in particular my immediate predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who was responsible for the Employment Act 1988 and for the preparation of the Bill.

There can be no doubt about the transformation which has taken place in British industrial relations in the past decade. In the 1970s, this country lost, on average, 13 million days a year through strikes. Over the past three years, the average has been less than a third of that figure. By 1988, strikes were at their lowest level for over 50 years.

At the same time, we have seen the end of many of the most notorious restrictive practices which held back the growth of our economy in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, we have seen improvements in productivity which were wholly out of reach in the previous decade. Manufacturing productivity has grown at over 5 per cent. a year since 1980—far better than the average of 1.5 per cent. in the 1970s. In the 1960s and 1970s, this country was bottom of the international league for productivity growth; since 1980, our record of productivity growth has been better than that of any other major industrialised country.

Nothing did more to drive investment away from this country in the 1970s than our record of strikes, poor productivity and overmanning. Nothing has done more over the past 10 years to convince investors that Britain is the place in which to invest than the reduction in the level of strikes, the improvement in our productivity and the elimination of inefficient and archaic working practices.

That transformation has occurred because this Government, unlike our predecessors, have had the courage to put sensible step-by-step reforms on to the statute book. Without our legislation, flying pickets would still be able to spread disruption far and wide as they did in the winter of discontent, millions more employees would still be working in closed shops imposed on them without the least regard to their wishes, and strikes would still be called by the intimidation of the massed meeting in the company car park, without any recourse to the secret ballot.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the closed shop, but may I return to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell)? For obvious reasons of principle, the Brethren welcome the ending of the closed shop, but they argue that, if they are compelled to employ someone who belongs to a union, he will be compelled to serve two masters, which is unacceptable to them on religious grounds. Will my right hon. and learned Friend reconsider the reply that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West on this important issue?

Mr. Howard

I understand the reasoning behind the concern that has been expressed, but I fear that I can do no more, even for my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), than repeat the assurance that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell). I shall consider the matter, but I am doubtful about the extent to which I shall be able to accommodate it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Minister, who is a lawyer and a member of a closed shop, explain why what has happened in the past two years has been contrary to what he has just been saying? Trade unionists in bus, rail and tube services, the Post Office, the National Health Service and the BBC and the National and Local Government Officers Association have scored victories against employers to ensure that they do not fall behind inflation. If everything is so rosy, why do the Government continue to hammer ambulance workers, who are trying to get a decent wage increase? If everything is so good, why is everything so bad?

Mr. Howard

It is typical of the hon. Gentleman that he relishes and takes such joy and glee from the number of working days lost. I gave the House the figures for 1988—the last year for which figures are available. There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of working days lost through industrial action, and I would have hoped that the House would rejoice in that, because it should appreciate that that has led to tremendous improvements in Britain's economic performance and the economic prospects of our fellow countrymen.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

The Minister appears to want to avoid the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about the legal profession, which has been raised time and again when the closed shop has been discussed. As a lifelong trade unionist and ex-employee of the Trades Union Congress, I can tell the Minister that we like voluntary trade unionism, but we do not like working with free riders.

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman likes voluntary trade unionism, I hope that he will not oppose the first three clauses of the Bill on the closed shop.

It is quite wrong to suggest that the law is a closed shop. Lawyers, like doctors, must obtain qualifications before they practise. Does the hon. Member for Bolsover believe that doctors should not be required to obtain qualifications before practising? That is an entirely absurd analogy, as everyone knows, not least the hon. Member for Sedgefield.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

The Minister feels strongly about geting rid of the closed shop and spoke of "tyranny" in that context. Why did not the Department or his predecessor bother to collect complaints on the closed shop? I wrote a letter to his predecessor, to which I received a reply on 16 November, about the number of employees who have complained about the closed shop since 1979. The reply says: Complaints are received each year on the operation of the closed shop but it is not possible to establish accurately how many were made by employees. Labour Members would be more convinced of the Minister's arguments if he produced some hard evidence of complaints of tyranny.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady evidently fails to understand that there is a clear point of principle at the heart of the Bill—that people should not be refused employment because they are or are not members of a trade union. The breach of that clear principle has led to much injustice in the past.

Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)

The Minister says that the principle has led to "much injustice". What injustice? Will he explain that, because I have negotiated closed shop agreements for 100 per cent. trade union membership? We always made provision for people who held religious convictions and did not want to join a trade union, but that is now being outlawed by the Bill.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman has a short memory. I shall remind him in a moment of some of the injustices that have occurred.

The principle underlying all our legislation has been the need to achieve a fair balance of rights between the rights of trade unions and those with legitimate disputes with their employers and the rights of employers and employees who simply want to get on with their business and protect their jobs. We believe that the role of law in industrial relations is to limit abuses of industrial power and to guarantee the democratic rights of trade union members. That is the principle that underlies the Bill.

The first three clauses of the Bill are on the closed shop and discrimination in recruitment on grounds of union membership. Conservative Members have always taken the view that no one should be refused a job because they do not hold a union card. That restriction on employment has no more place in any civilised society than a refusal to give a job to somone on the grounds of their colour or sex.

It is just as indefensible to deny someone a job because he is a union member as it is to deny someone else a job because he is not. The Bill is therefore entirely even-handed in its approach. It makes it unlawful to refuse a job either on grounds of union membership or on grounds of union non-membership. As a result, once the Bill becomes law, discrimination on grounds of trade union membership or non-membership will be every bit as unlawful as sexual or racial discrimination.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)

Will the Secretary of State explain what right he is giving to trade unionists if he is not giving them the right to have their union negotiate on their behalf? The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the Bill is even-handed, but it is not even-handed if an employer may merely say to the worker, "Of course you can join a trade union but don't expect me to talk to your trade union about your wages and conditions." What does that achieve?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman must know that negotiating rights are an entirely different matter. We are discussing the important principle that no one should be denied a job because he or she is a member of a trade union. That principle will achieve legislative support for the very first time in this Bill.

The Bill defines refusal of employment widely. It makes it unlawful for an employment agency to refuse any of its services to someone because he or she is or is not a trade union member and it specifically prohibits advertisements that discriminate on grounds of union membership. In each case, the remedy is a right of complaint to an industrial tribunal. If a trade union or any other person or organisation brings pressure on an employer to discriminate against people who are or are not union members, the Bill allows them to be joined to the proceedings and made liable for penalties.

Anyone who doubts the violation of civil liberties involved in the closed shop—here I come to the question asked by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Helfer)—need only recall the thousands of people who were forced into union membership against their will by the last Labour Government's illiberal and indefensible legislation of 1974 and 1976. Hundreds of people were thrown out of their jobs without a penny of compensation as a direct result of that legislation, simply because they refused to join a trade union. As a direct result of that legislation, the United Kingdom was held to be in breach of the European convention on human rights. Yet the hon. Member for Walton asks "What injustices?"

The Bill will put an end once and for all to that legacy of shame. It will strip the closed shop of its last vestiges of legal protection, and not a moment too soon.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, although the Bill will make the pre-entry closed shop unenforceable in law, a 100 per cent. voluntary trade union shop will still be legal and acceptable?

Mr. Howard

The terms of the Bill are entirely clear. The Bill will make unlawful the refusal of employment to anyone on the grounds that he is or is not a member of a trade union. There cannot be any doubt about that.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The Secretary of State has made much play of injustices and the closed shop. What does he have to say to members of the National Union of Journalists in Aberdeen, who went on a legitimate strike and were sacked within 48 hours? Management now say that they will not, in any circumstances, discuss with the union the possibility of negotiations to end the dispute. Management say, "It's over. Too bad that they've got the sack, but that's the end of it." Those trade union members have been sacked simply because they tried to exercise their trade union rights. How does the Secretary of State propose to deal with cases such as that?

Mr. Howard

It has always been lawful—it was lawful under the legislation that the last Labour Government passed—for those who go on strike to be dismissed. That is a step that the employers are entitled to take under the law; that is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Howard

No, I must get on.

Mr. Leighton

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. The Secretary of State is not giving way.

Mr. Leighton

I am sure that on reflection—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Howard.

Mr. Howard

We are now given to understand—

Mr. Leighton

But the Secretary of State misled the House—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State has made it clear to me and to the House that he is not giving way at this stage. I suggest that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) should wait a while and put his own points. I am sure that I would want to call him.

Mr. Leighton

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State misled the House, no doubt unintentionally, and I am certain that, on reflection, he would prefer to deal with the point now.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Mr. Howard.

Mr. Howard

I am told that I have already given way eight times. I am anxious to deal with the provisions in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have an opportunity to make a speech in due course, and I must get on.

We are now given to understand that the Opposition share our determination to get rid of the closed shop. I hope that the hon. Member for Sedgefield will make his party's position clear this afternoon. I hope that he will say, without equivocation, that the Labour party will not oppose the first three clauses of the Bill and, if he does, no one will welcome that volte face more warmly than me.

But I confess that I have a lingering doubt. For one thing, the Labour party's policy review is entirely silent on this subject. It has a long section entitled "The Right to Join a Union" but not a word about the right not to join a union. Perhaps that was an oversight. Perhaps the subject was regarded as so unimportant that it did not justify any pronouncement or even thought on the part of the Opposition.

It was not, it appears, until my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) intervened to put a question to the hon. Member for Sedgefield during our debate on the social charter on 29 November that the hon. Gentleman addressed the matter at all. My right hon. Friend asked about the implications of the social charter for the closed shop. As the Library brief delicately put it, the hon. Gentleman found it difficult to respond to Mr. Raison's intervention". The most cursory perusal of Hansard for 29 November will reveal just how much of an understatement that was.

To do the hon. Member for Sedgefield credit, he lost no time in seeking to put the matter right. Within three weeks, he was writing a letter to his constituents in which he clearly set out his support for ending the closed shop. The House might think that such speed of response would evoke warm enthusiasm on the Labour Benches. Judging by Labour Members' faces this afternoon, that enthusiasm is somewhat lacking.

One of the hon. Gentleman's shadow Cabinet colleagues told Tribune that the change of policy was "a gross mistake" and "totally unnecessary", and at the last count, 35 Labour Members had signed early-day motion 282, which says: the closed shop … is of fundamental importance to the workers and the trades union movement". The hon. Member for Walton sagely nods in his place. No doubt we shall hear from him later this afternoon. Various trade union leaders have been putting their own gloss on the situation.

I have high hopes of the hon. Member for Sedgefield. I hope that he will make it clear that the Opposition now believe that strikes to enforce a closed shop should remain unlawful. I hope that he will make it clear that he believes that union-labour-only clauses in contracts should remain unlawful. I hope that he will join me in urging all trade union leaders to take immediate steps to dismantle the closed shops that still cover more than 2 million jobs in this country. There is no need to wait until the Bill is passed. They can take action now, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage them to do so when he speaks in a few moments.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take documents published by the Labour party with a pinch of salt? The Labour party's 1987 manifesto contained a commitment to publish a code of practice on trade union ballots on industrial action, but only last week the Labour party voted against such a document. The specific words of the manifesto that I have in mind are that the Labour party would act by laying down general principles for inclusion in union rule books. These will be based on a right of union members to have secret ballots on decisions relating to strikes". That is the sort of double-talk that we get from the hon. Member for Sedgefield.

Mr. Howard

I can certainly understand my hon. Friend's scepticism, which is no doubt well-founded, given the Labour party's record. But we must have high hopes of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, and we await with great interest his remarks this afternoon.

I want now to consider secondary action. The Government's position on that issue is quite simple. We do not believe that any business should be threatened with disruption unless there is a direct dispute between the employer and his employees. That is the position that the Bill will achieve. The scope for organising lawful secondary action was limited by the Employment Act 1980.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The Secretary of State seems to have finished his consideration of the first three clauses which deal with employment agencies and using information about trade union membership. Will the Secretary of State deal with organisations such as the Eonomic League which, for example, employs paid spies to attend anti-apartheid meetings to discover the names of trade union members who are also members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in order to give false and misleading information to employers? While the Bill states that evidence from agencies like the Economic League might be used at an industrial tribunal, it does not make those organisations illegal. What protection will the Secretary of State provide for people, because those organisations currently get round the law by claiming that they do not keep information on computers?

Mr. Howard

There is no reason to make the activities of those organisations illegal. I understand that the particular organisation to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is prepared to make information on individuals available to people who ask for it. This Bill provides the protection that no one can be denied employment simply for being a trade union member. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed that, instead of introducing red herrings into the discussion which are irrelevant to the point at issue.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

With due respect to the Secretary of State, that is not a red herring. Clause 1(4) specifically makes unlawful the practice of unions holding lists from which they will accept people for jobs. Why should there not be a commensurate provision to allow people to take a case to a tribunal if they are refused a job for being on an employer's blacklist?

Mr. Howard

Those lists have nothing to do with the critical question of membership or non-membership of a trade union. For the purposes of the Bill, the critical criterion is simply whether someone is or is not a trade union member. The hon. Member for Sedgefield is guilty of introducing the same red herring into the discussion as his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes).

Mr. Blair

With great respect, we deserve an answer to this point. Employers' lists may specifically refer to people because of their union membership. In so far as they do that, will the Secretary of State introduce the same provision as that in clause 1(4) in respect of trade union membership?

Mr. Howard

There is no need to introduce any such provision. The provisions in the Bill will be entirely clear. It will be illegal to refuse someone a job because of trade union membership; that is more than sufficient protection. The premise on which the hon. Gentleman bases his intervention is entirely wrong. The lists to which he refers are not simply lists of union members and his parallel is therefore mistaken.

Mr. Blair

I am afraid that the Secretary of State is wrong. Clause 1(4) deals specifically with lists relating to union members. In other words, clause 1(4) could have been subsumed under the general requirement in clause 1(1), but it is not. Clause 1(4) deliberately refers to the practice of using a list to discriminate against people who are not union members. In so far as employers use lists relating to union membership, why will the Secretary of State not have a similar provision banning them?

Mr. Howard

There is no evidence that lists of trade union members are used in the way in which the hon. Gentleman described. However, there is evidence that lists of trade union members—which are dealt with in the Bill—are kept and used for purposes that would circumvent the provisions in the Bill. There is a clear difference.

Mr. Blair

Let me make the Secretary of State this offer—

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt, but some of us want to contribute if we are called. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is guaranteed to be called. Can you protect Back Benchers?

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is totally beyond my control if the Secretary of State wants to give way as he is doing at the moment.

Mr. Blair

It is fair of the Secretary of State to give way, and I am grateful to him. Some of us believe that this point is very important.

Let me make the Secretary of State this offer: if we can produce evidence that such lists, in so far as they relate to union membership, exist and are used, will he undertake to legislate about them?

Mr. Howard

I will undertake to consider any evidence that is adduced. No doubt the evidence will be considered when those matters are dealt with at length and in detail in Committee. That is the appropriate way in which to deal with the matter.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Since the whole issue blew up a couple of years ago, I went out of my way to talk to people who work for the Economic League. It would be advisable if Opposition Members did the same. I understand that the league has approached Labour Members in an attempt to explain what the leagues does, but Labour Members have refused to speak to league representatives. I understand that, far from compiling lists of trade unionists, the league simply compiles lists of individuals who set out quite deliberately to create industrial mayhem and disruption in industry.

Mr. Howard


Mr. Heffer

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Howard

No, I must press on.

Mr. Leighton

Give way.

Mr. Howard

No. My understanding of the matter is entirely in accordance with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). However, we can explore those matters at greater length and in detail in Committee.

Mr. Leighton

Will the Secretary of State give way now?

Mr. Howard

No, we must press on.

Mr. Heffer


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I call the Secretary of State.

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to have to raise this point, but I appear on the Economic League's list twice. Will the Secretary of State tell us how people like me who, over the years, have consistently—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair. A point of order must be something that the Chair can answer, and I cannot respond to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Howard

I hope that the Committee of Selection will recognise the keen interest of the hon. Member for Walton in these matters, and will invite him to join the Committee. I am sure that his presence would give great pleasure to the hon. Member for Sedgefield.

The scope for organising lawful secondary action was limited by the Employment Act 1980 to employees of customers and suppliers of the employer in dispute. However, in March 1988, we saw just how damaging the threat of secondary action could be to British job prospects.

In that year, Ford had planned to invest £40 million in a new electronics plant at Dundee, creating 1,000 jobs. It had negotiated a single-union deal with the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Other unions, led by the Transport and General Workers Union, complained that the AEU had thereby broken TUC rules. Mr. Ron Todd announced that all components from the new plant would be blacked. So Ford took its plant, its £40 million and its 1,000 jobs to Spain.

Mr. Bill Jordan of the AEU rightly described that form of threatened secondary action as the unacceptable face of trade unionism". The Opposition, under their TGWU-sponsored leader uttered not a peep of protest at that wanton loss of jobs. We do not want that to happen again. That is one reason why clause 4 of this Bill will ensure that no union ever again has the protection of the law if it behaves as the TGWU did over Dundee.

The Bill also breaks new ground on tackling the problem of unofficial action. Let us be clear: unofficial action is and always has been a major problem in this country. More than 20 years after the Donovan commission drew attention to the damaging effects of unofficial action, it is still the case that some 75 per cent. of strikes are unofficial. That means that they take place without being authorised in accordance with union rules and without being put to the test of a secret ballot. Last year, some 40 per cent. of days lost through strikes were the result of that sort of unofficial, unauthorised, unballoted industrial action.

Furthermore, unofficial action is almost a unique blight on this country's industrial relations. It is far less common in other countries and virtually unknown in some. And What is perhaps particularly relevant to this debate is that it is unlawful in countries such as Germany, the United States, Canada, Sweden and Denmark.

Unofficial action damages jobs and businesses and, as we saw last saw summer, it can disrupt the life of the community as a whole; and it can do all this without the trade union having to accept any legal liability for the consequences of the action or even having to give financial support to its members who are on strike. Unofficial action is a classic case of power without responsibility.

The Bill corrects two anomalies in the law as it affects unofficial action, and in doing so it will, I believe, significantly discourage such action in the future.

In the first place, the Bill corrects the manifest anomaly that unofficial action—even when organised by shop stewards or other union officials—does not have to be put to the test of a secret ballot. The effect of clause 6 is to put strikes organised by shop stewards and other lay officials on the same basis as strikes organised by national or regional officials.

If a union fails to ensure that strikes organised by its shop stewards have majority support in a secret ballot, that union will forfeit immunity, just as it does now in the case of a strike organised by its national officials. If there has been no ballot and the union wishes to keep its immunity, it will need to repudiate the strike as soon as possible. That repudiation will have to be unequivocal.

That means that it will no longer be possible for unions to ignore unofficial strikes or to use them in order to damage employers without risk to union funds—where they are not confident that the majority of their members would support official action in a secret ballot.

The second anomaly that the Bill will correct concerns the law on unfair dismissal. The law in this country has always provided that anyone who goes on strike in breach of his contract of employment is liable to immediate dismissal. That has been the position under successive Governments, but the law on unfair dismissal means that, if he is to avoid any risk of complaints to a tribunal, an employer must dismiss either every single one of his employees who goes on strike or none at all.

In the context of unofficial action, that is an unreasonable constraint on an employer whose business may be seriously damaged by a strike organised by a handful of troublemakers. We believe that in that situation the employer should have the option of dismissing strikers selectively without the risk of being taken to an industrial tribunal

Mr. Leighton

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Howard

I am sorry, but I must press on. I have already given way generously.

Mr. Leighton


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he will not give way.

Mr. Leighton

The previous Secretary of State was much more courteous.

Mr. Howard

That option will be available only in cases of unofficial action which is not organised by a shop steward or which has been repudiated by the trade union concerned. Furthermore, the Bill provides that, in cases of repudiation, the option of selective dismissal will not be available until a full working day after the union has taken the decision to repudiate. That will give the union time to let its members know that the strike does not have its support, and time for the strikers to return to work.

The provisions of the Bill will ensure that unions take full responsibility for strikes organised by their officials—whether shop stewards or general secretaries. This Bill will ensure that in future strikes organised by shop stewards are either explicitly repudiated or put to the test of a secret ballot. The Bill will ensure that, in future, everyone will know exactly where he stands in cases of unofficial action—not just the union, but its officials, its members and the employers whose business is the target of action. That is why I believe that the Bill marks a positive step forward in enabling employers and unions alike to tackle the problem of unofficial action which has bedevilled industrial relations in this country for far too long.

Mr. Blair

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us of another country within the European Community that allows the dismissal of people on unofficial strike without recourse to a court or tribunal?

Mr. Howard

There are many EC countries in which all unofficial strikes are unlawful. One must look at the entire legal context before one starts to make comparisons on that point. We can look at this matter in Committee, but the hon. Gentleman is misleading the House if he is suggesting that, for comparative purposes in such matters, one can get a true appreciation of the subject by taking one element in isolation, as he has sought to do, without looking at the general position in its proper context.

Mr. Blair


Mr. Howard

No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity to speak. We shall be able to debate the matter in Committee.

The Bill's provisions on unofficial action are fully in accord with the principles underlying all our previous legislation: that those who exercise industrial power should take responsibility for their actions, that they should be accountable to the people they seek to represent and that they should operate within clear legal limits which protect the community, businesses and jobs.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield and his hon. Friends may oppose the provisions today. I am confident that, in due course, they will become as recognised and as widely accepted a part of our legal framework as have the other reforms which we have introduced in this sphere in the past 10 years.

The remaining clauses amend previous legislation so as to extend the rights and protection the law provides in a number of areas. Clause 5 provides people who work under contracts for services with the same right to a ballot before being called on to take industrial action as people who work under contracts of employment already enjoy. Clause 8 extends the range of issues on which the trade union commissioner can give assistance to trade union members. Clause 10 provides a simplified procedure by which codes of practice may, with the approval of Parliament, be amended in the light of changes in the law.

Clause 11 provides for the merger of the redundancy and national insurance funds. That will simplify their administration, but will not affect the entitlement of employees to redundancy and other payments in any way. Finally, clause 12 will enable all secondary school pupils to benefit from work experience from the beginning of the summer term in their penultimate year at school.

This is the fifth major Bill to reform industrial relations that the Government have introduced since 1979. Each Bill has been opposed by the Labour party, but each Bill in turn has now become an accepted part of the framework of industrial relations in this country. On issue after issue, we have been told by Opposition Members that our legislation was unnecessary and would not work. On issue after issue, they have been proved wrong.

The role of the law in restraining the abuse of trade union powers and in guaranteeing the democratic rights of trade union members is no longer in question. That is why opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that our legislation has the support not only of the overwhelming majority of the British people, but of most trade unionists.

What is the policy of the Labour party on the reforms? The hon. Member for Sedgfield is a master of honeyed words, but the latest authoritative statement on these matters comes not from him, but from his colleague in the shadow Cabinet, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).

The latest issue of The Labour and Trade Union Review contains a long interview with that hon. Gentleman, whose smiling countenance appears on its cover. He deals in some detail with his party's attitudes to these matters. He refers clearly, explicitly and unequivocally to his party's policy towards what he calls the "Tory trade union legislation". He says: We shall repeal all of it. There's no little bits you can keep of it. There is nothing you can keep of this legislation". In fairness to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, he seems to have the clear support of the leader of his party. In 1986, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said that Labour would "undo the lot". In 1988 he said: our commitment is to clear it". Where does the hon. Member for Sedgefield stand? Over the weekend, I wrote to him asking him to repudiate his hon. Friend's statement. I hope that he will do so without equivocation tonight. If he does not, we shall know that the hon. Gentleman's words count for nothing and that he is quite without authority to speak for his party. We shall know that it is to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East that we should look and listen if we want an authoritative statement of the Labour party's position.

Our position is clear. We believe that the law should protect the trade union member and the worker who does not wish to become a trade union member. We believe that the law should protect the community at large from the abuse of trade union power. We believe the law should protect the creation of jobs. That is the philosophy behind all our trade union legislation since 1979. Those are the principles of this Bill.

The Bill will extend personal liberty against the closed shop, and safeguard jobs and prosperity against the threat of unofficial industrial action. It will protect our freedoms, improve our industrial relations and strengthen our economy. I commend it to the House.

5.30 pm
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

The Secretary of State dealt with the provisions relating to secondary action and to unofficial action with less than total enthusiasm. When he spoke on the radio the other morning, he told us that the Bill would be the Government's last piece of trade union legislation, but he left many of us wondering whether he regretted that it is his first. Having heard his speech, we can now see that he himself acknowledges that there are major problems in the legislation, especially with regard to secondary action and unofficial action. I shall deal with those later, because I must first tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Bill is important as much for its priorities as for what it proposes.

We have the highest inflation rate of all comparable countries and the largest balance of payments deficit of all EEC countries, including Greece and Portugal—a deficit which encompasses new industries as well as old, developing nations as well as developed and capital goods as well as consumer items. Our interest rates are higher in real terms than anywhere else in the western world, and added £3 billion to industry's bill in the past year alone. However, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, above all we have a deficit in training skills. We have a forecast shortfall of 80,000 to 100,000 computer analysts alone by the mid-1990s. In any one year, half Britain's work force receives no training. We have gaps in our mathematics, languages and basic educational qualifications. Indeed, the head of the Government's Training Agency said recently: at every level we are towards the bottom of the training league table. The previous Secretary of State for Employment said in a statement that I can only assume was not meant to be complimentary that the results of his own "Training in Britain" survey were "mind-boggling". However, instead of the Government introducing a Bill to improve skills, upgrade training, encourage investment and stimulate innovation, we have a Bill that is a leftover from the old agenda of the industrial cold war. The Secretary of State has introduced a Bill designed not to solve the real problems of Britain today, but to deal with the lingering malaise of the present Conservative party—

Mr. Howard

Was it simply an oversight that the hon. Gentleman omitted to mention not only our productivity and growth in earnings, but the item in our economic performance that is most relevant to the Bill, which is jobs and employment? The hon. Gentleman omitted to mention the 2.75 million jobs that have been created in this country since 1983 and the fact that our unemployment rate is now a fraction of the average in the European Community.

Mr. Blair

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's claim of 2.75 million jobs has been comprehensively debunked, not least by the report published recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife Central, (Mr. McLeish), which has not been challenged in any particular by the Conservative party. I advise the right hon. and learned Gentleman that unemployment is now higher than in 1979, when the Government came to power, and nothing can hide the fact that on inflation, interest rates, our balance of payments, and skills, after 11 years of Tory government this country is now woefully behind.

Despite all that, the first measure that the new Secretary of State for Employment brings before the House as the stamp of the new regime is a Bill about which he has once again given us the ritual incantations about the evils of the trade unions and of the over-regulated workplace. We were told that those were the problems when the Government introduced the Employment Act 1980, we were told that those were the problems when the Government introduced the Trade Union Act 1984, and we were told the same in 1988 and in 1989. Now, 11 years on, when our trade unions are more constrained than unions practically anywhere else in Europe and when our Labour market is less regulated, we are still told that the trade unions and the overregulated workplace are to blame.

It is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's misfortune that the one thing that has changed beyond all doubt is that now, when industry is fighting interest rates of the present level, when our education system is teaching fewer 16 to 19-year-olds than are taught in any comparable country, when out adult work force is now serviced by fewer training managers than there are now anywhere else in the EEC bar Greece and Portugal, the people of this country know that it is not protection in the workplace that is causing Britain's problems, but the fecklessness of Cabinet Ministers in their workplace. They have no one left to blame but themselves.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar)

When is the hon. Gentleman going to get to the Bill?

Mr. Blair

In a moment.

The Secretary of State set a context for the Bill; let me now set it in its true context. The Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress are now probably closer on training than they have been for years, and they are united in their anxiety to deal with 1992 and the greatest competitive challenge facing this country. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must be the only Employment Minister in Europe who wants to spend three or four months in Committee, pitting one side of industry against the other.

If all that we could say about the Bill was that it is merely irrelevant, that would be one thing, but it is not merely irrelevant. Much of it is wrong, damaging and unfair.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

Will the hon. Gentleman note that in my constituency we have an excellent training establishment which is run by a trade union—the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union? Sadly, the rest of the trade unions decided that the EETPU had no right to belong to the TUC, which is a pretty good indication of the sort of trade unions that support the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.

Mr. Blair

There it is. That is the authentic voice of division. The hon. Gentleman does not realise that the CBI and the TUC are today close about the need for training. I am delighted that the training provisions in Esher are so good. The training provisions everywhere in Britain should be good, yet they are not, as is conceded by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

In the Bill the Government have laid down two tests about union membership. First, they have said that the provisions should deal with union membership in the same way as race and sex are dealt with. Secondly, they have said that the provisions should be in line with the European social charter. Clause I contains two major flaws and I should be grateful if these points could be dealt with when the Minister responds. Conclusive presumptions are made in clause 1 in that if people are refused a job when the job requirement is that the person either is or is not a member of a trade union, that person is conclusively presumed to have been refused a job for that reason.

Clause 1(4) also contains the conclusive presumption of refusal of a job for non-membership of a trade union. As far as I am aware, that system is unknown in both race and sex discrimination laws. The conclusive presumption means that the employer cannot even prove that there may have been another reason for dismissal. That is extremely rare in general law, and it would mean that a person could be refused a job for a wholly extraneous reason that had nothing to do with union membership or non-membership, yet he would still be entitled to claim.

I should be obliged if the Minister who winds up would deal with the following example. Five or 10 people apply for the same job. They could be refused on the basis that they were not on an approved list of union members; all five or 10 could then claim unfair dismissal and be conclusively presumed to have been dismissed for that reason in respect of the same job. That cannot possibly be right, and it is way out of line with race and sex discrimination law.

The Bill is not even-handed in its approach. Most people would consider it entirely reasonable that if the Bill describes a requirement for union membership—that is, for a list of people who are union members—the same provisions should apply to lists of people who may be discriminated against on the ground that they are union members. So there is no reason why the Bill cannot include a provision in very much the same terms as clause 1(4) to put an end to the obnoxious practices of the Economic League and the employers who go in for them. If the Secretary of State is serious about dealing with that problem, he should deal with it now. I take it from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said earlier that, if we can provide evidence in Committee, he will legislate to this effect.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, especially as I have to go and make an urgent phone call while he is dealing with this point.

Will my hon. Friend join me—and, I am sure, the Secretary of State—in welcoming the dismantling of organisations in eastern Europe such as the Securitate? Will he also agree that the employment of private spies by public businesses in this country is obnoxious and to be condemned?

Mr. Blair

My hon. Friend is right. One of the problems about the Economic League and the lists that it uses is that they are not published, so people do not know that they are on them. Some of the most horrendous cases that have come to public notice have been in respect of people who had no idea that they were blacklisted.

As the Secretary of State knows, it is unlawful to dismiss someone for his union activities. There are higher penalties at law for dismissing a person for that reason, but it is not wrongful to refuse to employ people on the basis of their union activism. Surely that is a gap that this Bill could fill, and it would be in line with an even-handed approach.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned clause 1 only in the context of two technical amendments which he hopes can be resolved in Committee. Will he confirm here whether the Labour party officially accepts the ending of the closed shop and will not in any circumstances seek to reintroduce it?

Mr. Blair

I have already made that absolutely clear.

The two flaws that I have identified are not technical: they are substantial. If they are dealt with, fine. Let us see whether the Minister will deal with them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I have just answered it. Perhaps Conservative members should wake up. I have made it clear that if the flaws in clause 1 are dealt with we shall be happy to support it—if not, we shall not. We shall support it if it is even-handed and drafted in accordance with the European social charter. I cannot put it more plainly than that.

I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for having passed so quickly through secondary action and unofficial action this afternoon, and I shall expose why he did so. I imagine that he has done his homework rather carefully now that the Bill is having its Second Reading. The Government proposition is that there is no set of circumstances, no matter how close the connection between one group of employees and another, in which the first group in dispute with its employer is entitled to ask the second for assistance. In other words, apart from a limited right in respect of picketing, all forms of sympathy and secondary action are to be forbidden.

That proposition is so manifestly unfair and unreasonable, for the reasons that I shall adduce, that it is fatal to any pretence of even-handedness in the Bill. What is being forbidden is not merely the right to take sympathy action but the right to ask for it. If one group of employees want another to take sympathy action they can only ask: they will still have to go through balloting procedures, and, given the limitations on the generosity of human nature, there are bound not to be many occasions when such a request for action is granted.

To prevent such requests in all circumstances would be unreasonable and unpractical, but hon. Members need not take my word for that. Lord Prior went through all this in detail—the Secretary of State called him in support of his claims this afternoon—on Second Reading of the Employment Act 1980. Lord Prior was quite definite about this: the only other position that we could take would be to say that there will be no immunity for anything other than primary action"— In other words, the Government's position today. I do not believe, for reasons that I shall give, that that is either a practical or reasonable position to take. We have sanctified that there should be no limitations on how far immunities stretch. We are seeking to reach a position which we believe is fair and which recognises the traditional rights of the trade union movement. The ability to take limited secondary action has thus been in existence for 10 years. Where is the clamour to alter it? Where is the desire on the part of employers, let alone the trade unions? Lord Prior went on to utter words that Conservative Members should take to heart: the clause … seeks a position which is balanced and reasonable. Simple repeal of the immunities for all secondary action would not be right. I know that some of my hon. Friends would query that remark. I shall … tell them why. I have said on a number of occasions from this Box that, just as it is not reasonable to leave trade unions with more power than they need in the vain hope that they will not misuse it, so also it would be unreasonable to weaken them to the extent that they are unable to defend their members against attack. Finding the right course calls for enormous effort and thought on the part of us all. It will not be achieved by reburnishing our prejudices."—[Official Report, 17 April 1980; Vol. 982, c. 1490–98.] That is what this Bill is all about.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman has made great play of Lord Prior's words in 1980. Will he now deal with the departure of Ford from Dundee in 1988?

Mr. Blair

That was a dispute between two unions; it had nothing to do with secondary action, and it is ludicrous to suggest that it provided a basis for legislation against all secondary action. Even if it was a case of secondary action, the Government are today proposing a ban on all sympathy action. That would mean that National Health Service managers could contract out ambulance work to a private company and the NHS workers could not even ask the private ambulance men to black the work that they were doing in their place.

Will the Secretary of State confirm the following example of how extreme the proposition is? It applies to circumstances in which a company shuts down its premises and moves the work to another company. That other company could even be an associated employer of the first company. Even if the second company were part of the same group of companies and the workers were part of the same trade union, doing the same work that the other employees were doing, the first group of workers would not be able to ask for support from the second for the primary dispute.

I hope that hon. Members realise how extreme the proposition is. An employer will be free to use his contractual or commercial power in any way he chooses directly to undermine and circumvent the industrial action of the union, but the union will have no commensurate right whatever to ask for sympathy action to make the action effective. I cannot understand how that can be explained as reasonable.

Mr. Heffer

Has my hon. Friend considered what happened at Tate and Lyle in Liverpool? The factory had been open for well over 100 years and had had only one dispute in that time, so it did not face any great problems, yet it was moved out of Liverpool and the building left derelict. Families had worked there for generations. but were put out of work. Does my hon. Friend recall what happened at Birds Eye in Kirkby? The factory was moved to another area. Again, there was no industrial dispute. There was no consultation and the anouncement was made on a Friday afternoon. Does my hon. Friend agree that Tory Members should consider that?

Mr. Blair

Surely hon. Members can see what a grotesque position the proposition leaves us in.

Mr. Eggar

Before the hon. Gentleman replies to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), will he reflect on the way in which he announced the Labour party's policy change on the closed shop? Did he consult his hon. Friends and the trade unions? Was the announcement in accord with the provisions of the social charter that he is enunciating now?

Mr. Blair

We have heard it all now—when a Minister has to get up and ask me about the internal democracy of the Labour party. It is touching to see Tory Members displaying their grief. There they were, all togged up in their party best for the party, and they put their hands into the magician's hat, hoping to pull out a nice white, bright, sprightly, lively rabbit, but instead find that they are holding a very dead fox. That is the truth of the matter. When, during a discussion on secondary action, a Minister has to refer to an earlier debate, we know how weak the Government feel their position to be.

Mr. Ian Taylor

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) as an old dead fox?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I cannot adjudicate on an issue such as that.

Mr. Blair

We can see in the Bill issues which Tory Members do not like to discuss. Unfortunately for them, we will discuss them and discuss them now.

The Minister has consistently said that he wishes Europe and Britain to be the same on issues such as these. Indeed, the Green Paper makes great play of what happens in Europe. In France, sympathy action is allowed where there is a common professional interest between employees. In Italy, it is allowed where there is a "sufficient community of interest" either of an economic or contractual nature. In Denmark, a reasonable and fair interest between employees justifies sympathy action in law. In West Germany, where the position is complicated because of collective bargaining agreements that cover virtually an entire industry, making the position more restrictive, sympathy action is allowed where the employer who is the subject of sympathy action is doing the work of those on strike or where companies are associated. In Belgium, sympathy action is permitted where there is a direct interest, and in Holland it is allowed unless it is manifestly unreasonable. In Spain, it is allowed where those taking part share the same professional interests.

In other words, in every other part of the EEC jurisdiction, sympathy action is permitted, although it is limited; the labour court is given wide discretion when applying those limits; and workers have broader rights in other respects, not least the right not to be dismissed when lawfully on strike. In some jurisdictions, such as West Germany and Italy, an employer, not a union, can be injuncted for his importation of strike-breaking labour into an official dispute. The rights that are given abroad are infinitely more wide-ranging than those in the Bill.

The Government are also moving way out of line with the rest of Europe on unofficial action.

Mr. Howard

Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, I hope that he will tell the House in precisely what circumstances his party would make secondary action lawful.

Mr. Blair

I well understand the Secretary of State's desire to talk about anything other than what is in his Bill—

Mr. Howard


Mr. Blair

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to know the Labour party's policy, he can read the policy review. The only question that is relevant to the Bill is whether we support the Government in abolishing secondary action. We do not.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the policy review talks about making secondary action lawful where there is a "genuine interest" and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) in a letter to The Independent published on 19 October asked for a definition of the phrase "genuine interest". We are still waiting for an answer. Why does the hon. Gentleman not take this opportunity to enlighten us?

Mr. Blair

I shall tell the hon. and learned Gentleman exactly why. We shall debate that in our good time, and we are debating his Bill today.

It is against the background of our being right out of line with Europe on secondary action that we come to unofficial action. In the Bill the Government do not merely seek to extend the procedures whereby a union is liable for unofficial action: they extend them to circumstances involving any official or committee of the union. An official, no matter how low, and any member of any part of any committee of the union will be able to make the union liable to action. That is wholly out of line with the normal agency rules for companies. The union will have to go through arduous procedures to dissociate itself. If a company claims that a union is conniving in unofficial action, it can already take the union to court.

Worst and most obnoxious of all are the provisions that would allow the selective dismissal of people on site without any recourse to an industrial tribunal. The Secretary of State ducked that in his speech and I shall explain why. In particular, I shall explain why he would not give way to me a second time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Only a second time?"] I shall let him intervene in my speech in a moment.

January's Employment Gazette carried an official statement about what the Government wish to do in this area. It stated: The Government believes that employers in this country should have the same freedom to respond to unofficial action as employers in West Germany. That is the test that the Government proposed for this legislation.

At present employees who are on strike officially or unofficially can be dismissed if they are all dismissed and there is no jurisdiction on the part of the tribunal. In other words, an individual has no right to strike, even where a union has immunity, and there is no right of appeal, even to an industrial tribunal. If an employer dismisses employees selectively, as the Government propose he should be able to do, contrary to a common misunderstanding, the dismissal is not automatically unfair; it is simply that the employee then has a right to have the fairness of that dismissal tested before an industrial tribunal. In other words, he cannot be dismissed without the right of appeal. This is for perfectly understandable reasons: there may be circumstances in which such unofficial action is justified.

The proposal in the Bill is to allow selective dismissal, but without any right for employees to go to an industrial tribunal, no matter what the circumstances of the dismissal are. We are told that the justification for that is the position in West Germany and elsewhere. There is no clear rule about that in other countries. Many, such as France and Italy, allow the right to strike, even where the action is unofficial.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made West Germany the test—yet in that country, where an employer can dismiss when unofficial action is taken, the works council must first give its consent and, more important, the employee has the right of recourse to a labour court to claim that his dismissal was unjustified in all the circumstances. In other words, the position in West Germany is the same as it is in Britain today and not as the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends it to be. If the proposed changes are made, the law will be quite unfair.

I issue a challenge to the right hon. and learned Gentleman: if we can show that the law in West Germany is as I have stated it to be, and given that the test that he has formulated is that Britain must be equivalent to West Germany, will he agree to include provisions to that effect in the Bill?

Mr. Howard

The justice and the legitimacy of the proposed provisions stand by themselves. I justified them during my speech and I shall justify them further in Committee. There is no question of their requiring justification by reference to what happens in any other country.

Mr. Blair

We now know why the right hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with this issue so quickly during his speech. He says that the provisions are self-standing and are not influenced by what happens in other countries. Why, in his Green Paper "Unofficial Action and the Law", did he specifically cite the practice in other countries as justification for this legislation? There is the right to go to a tribunal in the United States, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Japan and Australia. The Government claim to rely on the practice in other countries, hut Britain will be the only country that does not allow that right.

The Employment Gazette is the official newspaper of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department. It said: The Government believes that employers in this country should have the same freedom to respond to unofficial action as employers in West Germany. Why are we not allowed that same freedom, when that was the test which the Government set? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that under the Bill an employer could provoke a walk-out—perhaps by wholly unreasonable behaviour—and sack the trade union officials for reasons wholly extraneous to the unofficial dispute—simply because he does not want trade unionists—yet there will be no right even to claim that a dismissal was unfair?

The Government cannot claim that such a provision is fair or even-handed. It is a typical Government measure. They take an idea—we know that it comes from No. 10 Downing street, as everything else does—push it beyond the bounds of any external validity, carry it to the furthest extreme and end up justifying it no matter what the arguments against it.

This is a shabby, ill-thought-out and bigoted measure. Most of all, it is wrong because it looks back, not forward. We cannot address the challenges of the future through the prejudices of the past. It is the right hon. Gentleman's Government who are reburnishing their prejudices, as Lord Prior put it, in this Bill. A new decade should require a new settlement in industrial relations law, and part of the principles of that settlement should be first, that it is fair and even-handed between employers and unions; secondly, that it contains certain basic individual rights guaranteed by law; thirdly, that it marches in step and moves with the grain of what is happening elsewhere in Europe, especially as we approach 1992; and fourthly, that it should aim for stability in industrial relations, which is the vital prerequisite of the national effort that we require to put this country back on its feet.

If we are serious about the gap between Britain and its competitors—in training and skills, research and development, and technology and innovation—we cannot allow measures that will do nothing to assist the promotion of that stability. The Bill is unfair, it curtails certain individual basic rights, it moves us further out of line with Europe, it will provoke industrial conflict and, frankly, it is a Bill too far. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that; it was evident in his speech. The Bill is irrelevant in the issues it concerns. It is dangerous in much of what it proposes and we shall vote against it.

6.5 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I shall be brief. I do not accept what the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said. His speech was most notable for its omission of any reference to the vast improvement in industrial relations—for example, the reduction in the number of strikes and in the number of days lost. From my entirely independent point of view, the Bill appears to be a piece of legislation that has been brilliantly conceived and excellently put together. It was, of course, magnificently introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

My only sorrow is that the conversion of the hon. Member for Sedgefield—and conversion it was—came too late to enable him to become a sponsor of the Bill. However, I was more convinced about his conversion before he began his speech than I was as I listened to it. He rather skated over the closed shop issue. Indeed, it appeared to come as a shock and a surprise to many of his hon. Friends to be told that that was the Labour party's new policy.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is right in his approach. This Bill will go down in the history books as the Bill that brought to an end the closed shop in Britain—and by any standards that is a significant achievement. It is made doubly significant because it has been accepted by the Opposition. Indeed, the hon. Member for Sedgefield accepted it even before the Bill was published. There is now as broad a consensus as we are ever likely to have in the politics of industrial relations, and it is that the closed shop should be brought to an end. That is a significant political step. In the 1970s, the Labour party spent a great deal of time seeking to legislate to extend and strengthen the closed shop. There is no clearer example of the revolution in industrial relations law in Britain than the attitude that the Labour party now takes and the policy that it now holds.

The Bill is significant for human rights. There was never any justification for men and women being forced to join a trade union if that was not their wish. That was the finding of the European Court, and I do not think that anyone would now challenge it. Above all, the Bill is significant for the future of trade unions because it marks a new era for them. It means that they will have to persuade people into membership rather than force them, as was previously the case.

So often, the closed shop has been a recruiting sergeant for the unions. It was not that people necessarily wanted to join a union, but that they knew only too well that that was the price that was put on the job. That price was sometimes paid willingly and sometimes reluctantly. Sometimes people refused to pay it, and they lost their jobs. That was the inexcusable consequence of the closed shop legislation.

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the respectability, validity and credibility of the trade union movement are enhanced when unions operate on the basis of voluntary membership rather than on the basis of coercing people into becoming members?

Sir Norman Fowler

I agree entirely. It is healthy for trade unions and for the trade union movement. Indeed, I think that some good trade unions—not just the electricians union—have already adopted this practice.

When I worked on Fleet street in the 1960s, a reporter from one of the subsidiaries of The Times had an offer from another Fleet street newspaper. That offer was withdrawn for no reason other than that the reporter was not a member of the requisite trade union. Today, Fleet street is no longer the centre of the newspaper industry. Thanks to the action of a number of brave people, the situation in that industry has changed out of all recognition. But we should not forget that that was the closed shop in operation: no union card, no job. That is why the closed shop is being abolished.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lancashire Publications Ltd., which publishes one of our local newspapers and has for years negotiated with the National Union of Journalists, is now offering a pay rise dependent on there being no trade union activity? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is just as important that people should be entitled to belong to trade unions as to ensure that they may refrain from so doing?

Sir Norman Fowler

Yes. Indeed, that is one of the points of this Bill. As my right hon. Friend so rightly said, it provides that right for the first time. For the first time, people have the right to belong to a trade union. They cannot be excluded from membership. Since the early 1960s, I myself have been a member of the union to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. John Evans

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, throughout the length and breadth of Britain, there have been thousands of recorded cases of people being denied employment because they were trade unionists? Under this Bill, the onus is still on the individual to prove conclusively that an employer's reason for not giving him a job is that he is a member of a trade union. Providing that proof is virtually impossible.

Sir Norman Fowler

I believe that, when the hon. Gentleman goes through the Bill in Committee, he will cease to hold that view. This is the normal way of setting out industrial relations legislation. I am sure that everyone will want to do everything in his power to ensure that a person who is a member of a trade union is not excluded from employment by virtue of that membership. That is the purpose of the legislation. The approach is an even-handed one. This Bill brings the closed shop to an end. The post-entry closed shop and the pre-entry closed shop are both now ended. Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, I hope that unions and employers up and down the country will not wait until this legislation has gone through all its stages in this House and in another place before starting to dismantle the closed shop arrangements.

I hope also that the change will be noted in the public service. I hope that in this regard the Government, as an employer, will take the lead. I do not know what arrangements exist in organisations such as Her Majesty's Stationery Office. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us—if he knows—the extent of the closed shop in that field. But I hope even more that he will assure this House that any closed shop arrangements in the public service will be brought to an end immediately. That is important. The end of the closed shop is a challenge to sensible trade union leaders in this country.

In future, unions will have to attract members by offering services and by taking up issues such as training and pensions—issues about which their members are concerned. Unions that ignore that message will find their members drifting away and will find recruits hard to come by. Whether there is a future for a trade union will be a matter entirely for that union. In this regard, I certainly have no prejudice—as, perhaps, my union membership indicates. This Bill gives new rights in respect of union membership.

Nor am I at all concerned that the Bill's proposals in respect of unofficial action may have the side effect of strengthening the position of official unions in this country. It is ludicrous that we should have suffered such damage from unofficial strikes. What sets us apart from the rest of Europe and other countries is not the particular procedure but the amount of damage that is done to industry by unofficial disputes. It is ludicrous that it should be easier to take unofficial action than to take official action. Obviously I should prefer a situation in which there was no strike action whatsoever, but it seems to me that where there is strike action it should be taken by unions operating in the context of the law and subject to legal restraints such as the secret ballot.

In my view, the reform of industrial relations law is one of the great successes of this Government's period of office. We have seen a reduction in the number of strikes and a reduction in the number of days lost. We have seen union members—as, recently, at Ford's—not simply following their leaders into strike action. Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that the public in this country support the reforms in industrial action that this Government has seen through.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield referred to my legacy to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

But the hon. Gentleman, too, has come into a legacy—a legacy from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). It is just possible, of course, that that was not the most welcome gift he received in 1989. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's position on the closed shop, as would anyone with any common sense. However, I say to him in all seriousness that he will have to answer the serious, important and crucial questions that my right hon. and learned Friend has put to him.

The current position of the Opposition is that they would allow secondary action where a genuine striker has had a genuine interest in the dispute. The Opposition would get rid of injunctions and sequestration. It seems to me that that all adds up to a set of proposals that would make striking very much easier. It is very much in the public interest that it should be known where precisely the Labour party stands on these issues. This is not simply a party political issue; it is an issue on which the public will want to have answers.

Above all—here I have some sympathy with one of the points that the hon. Gentleman made—the question now is, what are the real industrial relations issues in the 1990s? There is no doubt that reform of industrial relations law was the issue of the 1980s, but the process may not be at an end, even after the passage of this Bill.

The whole advantage of the step-by-step approach is that abuses can be corrected, but I should be surprised if the reform of the law were to have such dominating importance in our affairs over the next 10 years as it had over the last 10 years. It seems to me that the 1990s are much more likely to be—indeed, should be—about involving the work force more thoroughly than ever before. That is an issue that goes way beyond the issues of worker directors and worker councils. It goes into employee share ownership and profit sharing; it goes into team working, and all the rest.

The 1990s will also be about using the human resources at our disposal; about providing careers, not just jobs, for women; about providing opportunities for ethnic minorities and for unemployed people. But, above all, the 1990s—here I take up exactly the point that the hon. Member for Sedgefield made—will be about making our work force as professional, as skilled, as good, as it conceivably can be.

The 1990s will be about not only initial training but retraining—training through life. Every right hon. and hon. Member must understand and recognise that both are long-standing issues that go back way beyond this Government and the preceding Labour Government. Training has been a problem for the whole of this century.

Our experience of industrial relations shows that it is possible to tackle long-standing problems successfully. Ten years ago, no problem was seen as more intractable than had industrial relations, which were said to be too difficult an area to tackle. However, our experience over the past 10 years shows that, over a relatively sort period, British industrial relations can be not only changed but transformed.

If our industrial relations had not improved, Britain would not have attracted the kind of inward investment that it has. We would not be enjoying the attractive jobs record that we have. Inward investment also proves—this is an objective test—that other countries recognise the great skills inherent in the British work force. Otherwise, they would not want to base operations in this country.

For the 1990s, we must aim at developing to the full extent the skills of our work force. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State on his speech, but at the same time I look forward to his efforts in other areas of importance to our nation.

6.21 pm
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

The Bill is completely unnecessary and has no relevance to the real needs of British commerce and industry. It is not as though the Bill addresses great abuses. Once again, the Government are churning our anti-union legislation. Every two years a new Bill is introduced proving that the Government still think of the unions as the enemy within. Whereas other countries throughout the world co-operate in industry, the present British Goverment believe that there is some electoral advantage in attacking unions and in union bashing.

I refer first to the reason why the closed shop has persisted in many areas of British industry. As many impartial observers have noted, there is an inherent imbalance between the bargaining power of an individual worker and that of a large employer. Combination and union and collective bargaining offer a countervailing force that can redress the balance. For that reason, many workers seek 100 per cent. union membership, and it is legitimate for them to do so.

In some sectors of industry, such as printing, 100 per cent. union membership is traditional and can be traced back to the guilds. In other trades, craftsmen are reluctant to work alongside those not having the required qualifications, of which union membership is often the hallmark. The question of safety arises in industries such as mining, where men live and work closely together for long periods in dangerous conditions. They may be reluctant to go down in a cage with someone who is not a union member.

It has never been the ark of the covenant of Labour party policy that everyone must be coerced into union membership, whether or not they like it. Instead, Labour has historically recognised that the closed shop is a traditional element of industrial relations practice in many areas of employment. It has therefore adhered to the voluntary principle that the operation of a closed shop is a matter best left to management and workers—specially when one has been operated flexibly and tolerantly in the past, taking account of people having conscientious objections. The fact that the closed shop has lasted is proof that it meets the needs of both employers and employees.

That was graphically proved to be the case by the Industrial Relations Act 1971, introduced by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), which made closed shops null and void. I was not a Member of Parliament at that time but was still working in industry, as a member of a closed shop. I can assure the House that the 1971 legislation had absolutely no effect. During the Committee proceedings of the Employment Bill in 1980, the then Secretary of State for Employment, now Lord Prior, said, "The fact of the matter is, it did not work"—and I know of not one employer who used its closed shop provisions.

When the present Government came to office in 1979, they tried again. The Employment Act 1980 said that it would be unfair to dismiss anyone having a conscientious objection to union membership. It also required all new closed shops to have the support of 80 per cent. of those balloted. The Employment Act 1982 stipulated that any dismissals would be unfair unless the closed shop had received the support of 85 per cent. of those balloted and eligible.

Almost every ballot was in favour of a closed shop, proving its popularity among those most closely concerned. The Employment Act 1988 made post-entry closed shops unenforceable. The former Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), will recall that it outlawed all dismissals even where a ballot had been in favour of the closed shop. The Government said that, even if there had been ballots, they did not intend to take any notice of them; immunity would be withdrawn from actions to establish or maintain a closed shop, whether pre-entry or post-entry.

What has been the effect of 10 years of the closed shop being outlawed by the present Government? The astonishing answer is, very little. In February and March 1989, the Department of Employment undertook a survey, which the former Secretary of State may have commissioned, whose results were published in the October 1989 issue of Employment Gazette. It revealed 1,300,000 workers in pre-entry closed shops and another 1,300,000 in post-entry closed shops. In other words, 2,600,000 workers remained in what are known to the Government as closed shops—that is, 10 per cent. of male workers, 3 per cent. of full-time women workers, and 1 per cent. of part-time women workers. The Employment Gazette article concluded: More importantly perhaps, it has shown the closed shop to be more persistent and widespread than had previously been thought. Passing a law making closed shops null and void does not prevent one from continuing with the agreement of all those concerned.

The closed shop was outlawed—otherwise the former Secretary of State and his colleagues would have been wasting their time for the past 10 years—yet it is still as strong as ever. One reason for that is that many employers support the closed shop because it spares them from splinter groups who would disrupt accepted representational arrangements. It spares them also from fragmented industrial relations and inter-union disputes. The simple truth is that the Tories' long offensive against the closed shop has failed in practice. The closed shop, which is rooted in certain industries, remains—and it has become ingrained because those concerned want it.

Mr. Janman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Leighton

I must not take too long, but I will give way later if I have time, as the hon. Gentleman is a valuable member of the Select Committee on Employment.

Conservative Members consider that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has created a sensation and performed a volte face by conceding the workers' right not to belong to a union. That right, in fact, already exists, but it has not affected the 100 per cent. union membership in areas where such membership is traditional. The social charter—which, incidentally, would not give workers at GCHQ the right to join a trade union—has little to do with the position, which is due to a more significant and fundamental development: the movement away from the idea of immunities towards that of positive rights.

Britain is the only industrialised country in the world with no constitutional right to strike, no right to join a trade union, no right to trade union recognition—and there is no point in joining a union if it is not recognised—no right to collective bargaining and no right to information and consultation. Instead of those simple, basic rights, we have an increasingly unsatisfactory system of immunities. Under our common law, all trade union activity represents an unlawful conspiracy in restraint of trade, but statutes have given us immunities in relation to action taken in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.

Unfortunately, the definition of a trade dispute has become so hedged about and restricted that collective action is now virtually impossible. Any union trying to take such action will almost immediately find itself ensnared by the law. It would be far better to move away from all that, and to devise a clear, comprehensive set of positive rights to enfranchise workers so that their citizenship does not end when they enter the workplace. They should have the right to strike, which should mean the suspension of their contract of employment so that they cannot be sacked if they take strike action. That is the arrangement in virtually every other industrialised country.

The right to join a trade union also embraces the right not to do so, but that need cause us little concern. As we have seen, the right not to join has already existed for 10 years as a result of the Conservative party's efforts, and has had very little effect; we can live with it quite happily and easily. The right to join a union, however, will be of enormous value and will mark an enormous change. We must ensure that amendments are tabled providing such a right, or else exposing the one-sidedness of the Bill.

At present there is no protection against denial of access to employment on grounds of union membership; to gain such protection would constitute an enormous victory for unions and workers. It is very unlikely that anyone has suffered in the past 10 years because of not belonging to a trade union, and I should like the Minister to give us the name and address of anyone who has. We know, however, that thousands have suffered because of belonging to a union: D. C. Thomson in Dundee, along with many other firms, requires employees to sign a document stating that they are not union members.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has said, we want to deal with the pre-entry discrimination imposed by blacklists from such organisations as the Economic League, which often gives employers information that is biased and untrue. They tell employers not to employ certain people because they are union members, and that must be outlawed. I hope that victims of such pre-entry discrimination will be able to go to a tribunal and obtain heavy damages from such employers.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I noticed the Minister shaking his head when my hon. Friend said that people could be refused jobs on grounds of trade union activity. Have not two attempts been made in the House to make blacklisting unlawful, and did not the Government oppose both?

Mr. Leighton

My hon. Friend has made a good point, and I pay tribute to her work in exposing such blacklists since she has been in the House.

Mr. Janman

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has explained, the lists produced by the Economic League catalogue people who are intent on causing disruption once they have gained employment. Why does the hon. Gentleman seem to believe that causing disruption and being a member of a trade union are automatically synonymous?

Mr. Leighton

They are certainly not synonymous. I do not know why Conservative Members are so shy of our looking into the matter to ensure even-handedness. My hon. Friends will table amendments in Committee for that purpose, and, if the Government are not prepared to grant that even-handedness, they will be pilloried and exposed.

Fewer and fewer industries employ a huge number of workers. As far as I know, only one factory in the Greater London area—the Ford motor company—employs 1,000 workers or more. More than 90 per cent. of firms employ 25 or fewer, often in office-based, high-tech services, and it is difficult for unions to exercise industrial muscle in such circumstances. It would be far better to enfranchise those workers with positive rights. That will extend their freedom and such a policy will be very popular, and will aid the unions. We must press our amendments to insert the necessary measures in the Bill, for—as will become clear—the Labour party stands for real rights for workers.

We have already warned that, if official action was made virtually impossible, the result could be an increase in the number of unofficial strikes. Now the Government are trying to legislate to prevent unofficial strikes; most organisations, however, have experienced no unofficial strikes for years. Such disputes are usually spontaneous and of short duration. They are often the result of a deeply felt grievance—over health and safety, for instance—and are generally resolved very quickly. If it were possible to legislate to prevent such action, it would have been done years ago.

The Bill lays down a convoluted, largely impracticable procedure instructing the unions to police and discipline their members. The Government are schizoid in this regard. Previous legislation took away a union's authority to enforce its rules after a strike ballot, but now the Government have performed a U-turn: they want unions to act authoritatively, as policemen. Clauses 6 and 7 are particularly disgraceful, mean, nasty and vicious, for they allow and encourage the targeting of individuals and the victimisation of prominent trade unionists. Lech Walesa, for instance, would be caught immediately by such legislation.

In 1978 Lord Dilhorne ruled that selective sackings amounted to unfair dismissal—and so they do. The Bill changes the law to enable employers to do precisely that. Instead of equity, equality and fair treatment, we see an intent to isolate and victimise prominent trade unionists. That is unfair: it discriminates between individuals, treating some as fish and some as fowl. Some will be singled out vindictively and punitively to have their livelihoods taken away.

An unscrupulous employer could—as Rupert Murdoch did—provoke and engineer a strike or other industrial action and then pick and choose whom to re-employ. That would be a licence for victimisation, with no right of appeal. The word for that is tyranny. That is what is being proposed. The Government would make martyrs of them. They ought to remember the case of the Pentonville Five before they go down that route.

As for unofficial strikes, we all remember the episode that gave birth to the strikes on London Underground. Mr. Roger Straker, the personnel director of London Underground, was interviewed by Personnel Management in October 1989. According to Jane Pickard, who reported on what Mr. Straker said in his interesting interview: It may sound as if he is indulging in jokey understatement when he confides that the recent tube strikes were triggered by a breakdown in communication, but he is, in fact, making a blunt admission of management failure. The report continued: He acknowledges that part of the problem both then and in the run-up to the dispute was a poor management structure. According to the report, Mr. Straker said: We were caught unawares—and I think the unions were caught unawares. It was not that the unions were agitators, stirring up people; even the unions were caught unawares. He also said: We knew there was some discontent, but had not appreciated the momentum. Looking back on it, the major weakness on the management side was lack of awareness of how strong the feeling was. But I think we have to look at how we avoid that happening again. The reason for trouble on London Underground was bad management. There was also bad management on British Rail, which caused trouble. However, that was official. British Rail's personnel manager got the sack because of bad management.

It is wrong to move from the particular to the general and to legislate because of management failure in one case. To amend our law so as to allow the unscrupulous employer, anywhere, to victimise an individual worker would be shameful. The Labour party ought to oppose it with the utmost vigour.

6.41 pm
Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

I am privileged to be the first on this side of the House to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). It was his first speech from the Back Benches in 16 years. That is a remarkable track record. It demonstrates my right hon. Friend's contribution to the work of the House, both in government and in opposition. My right hon. Friend continued the style that he set when he was on the Front Bench in the delicacy and sensitivity with which he congratulated my right hon. and learned Friend the new Secretary of State for Employment on introducing his incubus.

My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the difference between the way in which this Government have dealt with employment legislation over the years, on a bit-by-bit basis rather than on the one big chunk basis, as happened in 1970–71. The mistakes that were made then have been well learnt. Consequently, we have a far sounder basis for dealing with industrial relations on a wide front. With my background in manufacturing industry, I welcome the changes and the stability that it has brought to a large sector of manufacturing industry.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

What manufacturing industry?

Mr. Shepherd

Light engineering.

I am mindful of Mr. Speaker's strictures in asking for short speeches. I shall therefore deal with just one narrow but important point that I do not believe is covered by the Bill.

Early last summer, NALGO was in dispute with its employers. It chose to take action in the Hereford constituency in a rather curious way. A firm of large poultry producers, Sun Valley Poultry Limited, is in my constituency. It is obliged by law to employ on its premises poultry meat inspectors who are actually employed by the local authority. In this dispute, NALGO's local organisers decided that the best way to pursue their action was to withdraw the poultry meat inspectors' labour from Sun Valley Poultry Ltd. The firm was therefore unable to discharge its statutory obligations regarding poultry meat inspection. Its operations were subsequently put into jeopardy.

Not unnaturally, the firm took legal advice about obtaining an injunction to stop that action. The answer, I am afraid, was no. It was perfectly clear to me that there was a loophole in the law that enabled a curious, convoluted form of secondary action to be taken which was every bit as damaging as the secondary action that is referred to in the legislation and that has been dealt with by past legislation.

I took up the matter with Ministers in the Department of Employment and was pointed to the case of Barretts and Baird (Wholesale) Limited v. IPCS where the employers had succeeded in obtaining an injunction against NALGO officers who were the meat inspectors of the Meat and Livestock Commission. That, however, was on the basis of lightning strikes. In this instances, there was a long-distance strike. The advice was that there could have been a different judgment if there had been a long strike rather than lightning strikes.

When the matter was referred to counsel who was expert in employment matters he expressed a clear view … that it did not make a difference and that cases subsequent to the Barretts case had made the position worse. Counsel's clear advice to Sun Valley Poultry Ltd. Was that there was nothing that could be done. I asked that this point should be taken into account, but when I looked at the Bill I could find no mention of it. It may be that as I am not a lawyer I was unable to spot it in the phraseology of the Bill. I hope that when he winds up the debate my hon. Friend the Minister of State will tell me whether that contingency is taken into account. If it is not, will he undertake to consider the matter between now and the time when amendments to clause 4 can be tabled? If appropriate, I hope that he will consider tabling a new clause to take that point into account.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State reiterated the assertion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield in his Green Paper of March 1989: in general, there is no good reason why employers who are not a party to a dispute should be at risk of having industrial action organised against them. It cannot be fair that a small group of employees of a different employer should be able to jeopardise the livelihood and activities of the biggest employer in my constituency. That cannot be correct. Therefore, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to take this opportunity to legislate and not to allow this state of affairs to continue for a moment longer.

6.49 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Employment Bill which, whilst it makes welcome provision to make unlawful the refusal of access to employment on grounds relating to trade union membership, nevertheless fails to make any provision for the improvement of good industrial relations, but rather through its proposed amendments to the law relating to strikes and other unofficial industrial action will only serve to embroil employers and employees in further confrontational legal dispute, to the detriment of industrial harmony. Towards the end of his speech, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) set out a list of measures that he foresaw as developments in industrial relations in the 1990s. I would not quarrel for a moment with anything in that list. What troubles me about this Bill is that a major part of it remains a Bill for industrial relations in the 1980s. It contains an unnecessary measure of kicking the trade unions when they are already down and do not need any further kicking, and fails to take the opportunity of starting the 1990s with a Bill for the 1990s.

There can be only one justifiable reason for an Employment Bill—to enhance good industrial relations. If the Bill contained some of the measures outlined by the right hon. Gentleman, introduced changes that would encourage significantly employees' share ownership, included provisions for more effective works councils and aimed for increased partnership between workers at whatever level in the company from the shop floor to the board of directors to involve them in the activities of the company, it would almost certainly have our complete support. But unfortunately it fails to do that. It does not even address improving the administration of trade union procedure—for example, simply by ensuring that all strike ballot forms are sent to the homes of trade union members rather than there still being an option for ballots to be sent either to members' homes or to the workplace.

It is important that we accept the need for an effective trade union movement to protect the interests of trade unionists against oppressive, unfair and mean employers. We should aim for a trade union movement which is ever more effective in ensuring that services are provided which members need. In particular, it should provide a service when employees have been injured or if they feel that they have been unfairly dismissed. In that context, the Government and the Labour party—the Labour party was responsible for starting the iniquity—should agree that legal aid should now be extended to industrial tribunals so that workers at all levels can have proper remedies and effective representation available to them if they claim to have been unfairly dismissed.

During part of the Secretary of State's speech, I heard from behind and around me some dinosaur-like noises about the closed shop, The Labour party really has to recognise that the closed shop is part of its dinosaur attitude to trade unionism. By arguing for the maintenance of the closed shop, Labour Members are giving the trade unions dinosaur food, while the climate changes and kills the dinosaurs.

The trade unions do not need a closed shop to be effective. They have other advantages that sell their membership to those who might join them. Like right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House, I encourage people to join trade unions if there is any risk of their being injured at work or unfairly treated by their employers. If they are in doubt and they ask me, I always say, "Join a trade union because it is a good thing to be a member of a union or a professional body which looks after your interests at all levels and at all times, and is prepared to negotiate for you." Trade unions do not need the closed shop. The closed shop is about as relevant today as compelling all adults to attend religious worship on Sunday whether they like it or not. It has no more logic than that.

We welcome the introduction into an Act of Parliament of a new right—the right to choose whether or not to be a member of a trade union. What troubles me as I listen to the reaction of Labour Back Benchers around me as I speak is that, whatever the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) says, he is hotly opposed on his own Back Benches, in his own party and in the trade unions that support some members of the Labour party. The Labour party has no well understood and genuine interest in improving trade union law. Its interest is in protecting trade unions, be they dinosaurs or not, at least as much as protecting the workers. I join the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield in saying that we should move into the 1990s and aim for trade union structures that really protect working people and ensure that they have as much incentive as managers for their workplaces to be profitable and safe.

I hope that I have made it reasonably clear that we support the abolition of the closed shop. I come to what in our view are severe flaws in the Bill—fatal flaws, at this stage at any rate. The Secretary of State should perhaps have declared an interest. I know that he has not practised at the Bar for some years, but he is a distinguished lawyer. He must know that the Bill could well become a minefield of contention and pedantry. Looking at clauses 4 to 8, I envisage lawyers specialising in labour law rubbing their hands in the Temple. I see the solicitors in Chancery lane who instruct them smiling with glee at the contentions that those clauses present. For example, clause 4 aims to tackle secondary action.

What will happen if the Ford Motor Company decides to split each plant into a separate plc and then split each part of each plant into a separate plc? Under the Bill as it stands, secondary action by workers in one plc to assist workers in another plc—although the group interest is clearly inseparable—will be unlawful. That makes no sense, except for the pockets of the lawyers who will go into court and earn fees for trying to sort out the mess that the Government have created for themselves. Therefore, I invite the Minister to consider the way in which legal artifice may be used to make primary action into secondary action. There is a real risk of that.

I now turn to clause 6. In my constituency there is a charming town called Machynlleth, which has a great tradition of railway workers. There used to be a large railway station, but, because of what is happening to British Rail services west of Shrewsbury, that railway station is about to become an art gallery, although I am sure that it will be an excellent art gallery. Perhaps I had better leave British Rail services out of the debate or I shall be ruled out of order. However, I am pleased to say that there are still railway workers in Machynlleth and most of them are still loyal members of the National Union of Railwaymen. Under clause 6, the unpaid, part-time branch secretary of the Machynlleth branch of the NUR will be an official of the union, who will be able to make the NUR liable in court because of his actions.

I am a lawyer, too, and I recall the Solicitor-General, some years before he became Solicitor-General, appearing in a very well known case called Tesco v. Nattrass in the House of Lords, in which it was held that the only person who could bind a company was someone who could properly be regarded as the eyes and ears of that company. That remains the law for many purposes. Under clause 6, a union will be bound not by its eyes and ears but by people who are so far removed from its eyes and ears that they are barely part of its limbs.

That provision in clause 6 is part of a legal minefield that is unfair to trade unions, because, with the best will in the world, it will have one of two effects. Either it will introduce a new concept of vicarious liability—if it does, I am surprised that as good a lawyer as the Secretary of State is prepared to countenance it—or it will turn trade unions into centralised, authoritarian and unworkable organisations in which the part-time branch secretary at Machynlleth will have no interest. It is extremely important that that provision is reconsidered, because it is nonsense.

Clause 7 provides for an amendment of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 and introduces new section 62A. It says: An employee has no right to complain of unfair dismissal if at the time of dismissal he was taking part in an unofficial strike or other unofficial industrial action … Provided that, a strike or other industrial action shall not be regarded as unofficial if none of those taking part in it are members of a trade union. That, Mr. Deputy Speaker—perhaps as the changeover is taking place I should say Mr. and Madam Deputy Speaker—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Call me Madam.

Mr. Carlile

Certainly, Madam.

That raises serious problems. Why is an unofficial strike not an unofficial strike when no trade unionists are involved? Why does it suddenly become an unlawful unofficial strike when but one trade unionist is involved? There can only be one reason for that—that the Government have decided that trade unionists should be discriminated against merely because they have decided to join a trade union. That is fundamentally wrong and contradicts the right in clause 1, which I applaud, to choose whether to be a member of a trade union.

Mr. Batiste

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile

No, I will not. I have taken up enough time already.

Will the Minister reconsider that discrimination and remove it or justify it if he can?

New section 62A removes the right of an employee to complain to an industrial tribunal that he has been unfairly dismissed for taking part in an unofficial strike. We know what happens in the real world; sometimes unofficial strikes blow up for very good reasons. An employer may unjustifiably decide to lock out part of his work force or discriminate against women employees. The buzz goes round, "We will have an unofficial strike," and a young lad or lass of 17 walks out of the factory with the rest of the work force. Not only youngsters but all workers are susceptible to group pressure. How can the Government justify penalising by possible sacking every worker, whatever their strength of character, age or sex, who takes part in unofficial action? To achieve just and even-handed trade union law, we must give all workers the right of access to a tribunal for it to decide whether their action was reasonable.

Our objection is that the middle and later parts of the Bill remove the possibility of reasonableness being the test of action taken by union officials or workers on the shop floor. The Bill sets rules intended to kick unions, rather than setting standards intended to support working people. We hope that it will be so improved in Committee that we shall be able to support it, but at present that is not possible.

7.5 pm

Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

There have been five major employment and trade union Bills since 1979, four of which have been particularly relevant to industrial relations. Opposition Members made long speeches saying that each Bill would worsen the industrial relations environment and our economic performance, but we have experienced the exact opposite. We ignored those siren voices in the past, so my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State should ignore the siren voices once again warning of grave pitfalls.

The purpose of the legislation introduced since 1979 was to make the trade union movement more accountable to, and therefore more reflective of, the views of its membership, and to put the freedom of the individual first rather than to allow the coercion of the closed shop—certainly the post-entry closed shop—to continue. It made the right to go to work a decision of individual conscience. Under the 1988 Act, we rightly outlawed the disciplining of trade union members because they wanted to go to work when there had been a majority ballot in favour of strike action.

The Bills introduced since 1979 have tried to restore the appalling imbalance that we inherited between the rights of the individual and the trade union movement and between the power and might of organised labour against capital. That policy has been extremely successful. Far fewer days are now lost because of strikes than throughout the 1970s, particularly when the Labour party was last in power. Even with the tightening of the labour market, and even with unemployment falling to about the level of the late 1970s, the number of days lost through strikes is smaller than in the 1970s.

The argument often advanced by Opposition Members—that that results not from our legislation but from the fact that we had high unemployment in the early 1980s—is irrelevant. With more people in employment than before, and with unemployment back to the level of the mid to late 1970s, fewer days are lost because of strikes than before the legislation was introduced between 1979 and 1989.

We have also witnessed substantial improvements in productivity—both in the economy as a whole and in manufacturing. One result of the legislation passed over the past 10 years has been that employers have had much greater respect for trade unions because—even if they have been forced into it, in one sense—trade unions have become more responsive to, and have more closely reflected, the needs, aspirations and views of their members. Employers treat trade unions with more respect now that they know that the trade unions' views have more validity. Conversely, trade unions have, on the whole, more respect for employers.

Now that less energy is being dissipated by the trade union leadership in acts of industrial vandalism and destruction, many trade unions and their leadership have put their energy into more constructive matters, and have sought to try to make genuine improvements in the working conditions of their members. In a wider context, the EEPTU, for example has negotiated a very good private health package for its members. We now have responsible trade unions widening their horizons and expanding the role that they play on behalf of their members.

That is what we have achieved so far. We now need to consider why the Bill is a logical extension of those earlier Acts. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) said that there were still 1.3 million people in pre-entry closed shops and a further 1.3 million people in post-entry closed shops. The hon. Gentleman was making a case for saying that we should not have waited for the Employment Act 1988 and this Bill to deal with the pre-entry closed shop: we should have dealt with it in our first Employment Act back in 1980.

Let me deal first with secondary action. It is logical to extend the removal of immunity in law to secondary action. In my view, it would be morally reprehensible to allow immunity to remain. Immunity should exist only for those directly involved in a dispute with their own employers, and within the definition of a trade dispute. The rhetoric of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East is all well and good, but he knows full well that the Bill will not prevent legitimate action by a group of workers who have a genuine dispute with their own employer and who have been balloted by their local union leaders concerning the kind of industrial action that they would like to take in the context of their terms and conditions of employment, and—where jobs are threatened, for example—provided that the wording on the ballot paper is specific and accurate in stating what the local shop stewards seek a mandate to do. If all those conditions are met and if there is a majority vote, that action can be taken and the right to strike remains.

Secondary action is an entirely different matter. It is completely wrong that a company in dispute with its own employees can have its goods and services blacked by employees of other companies who have nothing to do with the dispute, and that they and their customers should lose as a result. There is no moral case whatever for immunity to be retained in cases of secondary action. I therefore welcome clause 40, which would end such immunity.

Earlier legislation reduced the number of strike days lost, but still the public have to put up with a great deal of wildcat strike action, particularly in the public sector. Earlier in the debate we heard from the Opposition that the raison d'etre—the catalyst—for the Bill was the tube strike. I think that the tube strike was the last straw that broke the camel's back. It was the most recent horrendous example of action taken by unions in the public sector—as it often is—to disrupt the daily lives of millions of people without any democratic mandate from their membership to do so.

It is worth noting that 75 per cent. of strike action taken in Britain at the moment is unofficial. That means that this is not a small problem or a problem limited to one or two strikes—caused by bad management or whatever—or to one or two parts of the public sector. Even given the huge reduction in strike action over the past 10 years, such action remains all too prevalent.

It is fair to say that many options were discussed by the Government in seeking to solve the problem. One was the removal of the right to strike in essential services. I have always had grave doubts about a de facto removal of the right to strike from anyone in Britain, irrespective of whether they work in an essential service or not. The Government were absolutely right to conclude that they would be foolhardy to take that approach. They have decided upon the right solution. First, they propose to make trade unions far more accountable in law. The unions will have to try to ensure—and prove that they have been doing all that they can to ensure—that they can control the wider elements in their midst, and that people cannot stir up feelings and lead employees out on strike without going through the proper channels.

Secondly, the Government propose to change the law so that a person involved in wildcat action or negative, disruptive action within his company can be dismissed and will lose the right to take the case on appeal to an industrial tribunal. I congratulate the Minister on sticking with those two solutions and not taking a route that could have some significant public spending ramifications because of the inevitable tit-for-tat that would have resulted. I congratulate the Government for introducing the solutions suggested in the Bill.

Under all Governments, employers have been able to sack all or none of those on strike. That was the case when the Labour party was in power. I do not think that that fair balance should now apply to people taking or leading strike action when they have no legal, moral or democratic mandate for doing so.

The third provision on which I propose to comment applies to the pre-entry closed shop. As I said, much of the previous legislation has been about individual rights in the workplace and in society generally. The 1980, 1982 and 1988 Acts dealt with the post-entry closed shop and gave people the right to go to work without fear of discipline or of reprisals being taken against them simply because, as a matter of conscience, they happen to want to do one thing when the majority of their colleagues happen to want to do something else. But the pre-entry closed shop remained untouched, and it is therefore logical and desirable—as the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has also concluded—to place it on the same legal footing as the post-entry closed shop. That is all that the Bill would do. There is nothing controversial or contentious about that. It is a natural and logical step forward.

Although the Labour party still opposes pre-strike ballots, supports secondary action and mass picketing and opposes trade unions being held financially responsible for the devastation that they often try to cause, it at least now seems to accept that strong unions are based on voluntary membership and not on coercion.

I hope that that conversion is genuine and does not simply stem from directives coming from Brussels. It seems at the moment that the Labour party embraces with both arms anything that comes out of Brussels. It is interesting to speculate whether, in the hypothetical event of there being a Labour Administration after the next general election, they would warmly embrace a Brussels directive forcing them to allow private companies to run trains on a contract basis on the rail network. It would be interesting to see how the Labour party squirmed or reacted in response to directives from Europe which the Labour Government did not like for what they argued were perfectly valid philosophical and practical reasons.

At the moment, let us give the Opposition the benefit of the doubt. Let us assume that they have been suddenly converted and have jettisoned principles which they have held strongly for decades. If that is the case, when will we see the same conversion in respect of the students' closed shop and the National Union of Students?

I welcome the Bill. It is the next logical step and I am sure that it will be taken ably by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State as he guides the Bill through the House.

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

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) gave us the historical background to the Bill. I want to remind him, the House and the country of the historical background to the trade union movement.

At one time, we had the Combination Acts in this country, which denied workers the right to join or belong to a trade union. Many workers organised illegally in an attempt to get rid of the Combination Acts; as a result, they were hanged, imprisoned or transported abroad. Eventually the Combination Acts were destroyed. after a long and bitter struggle.

The hon. Member for Thurrock referred to big unions and big labour in contrast to the employers. That was reminiscent of the language used by employers in the United States immediately after the second world war. The unions in the United States were very weak until the new deal initiated by Roosevelt. He gave workers rights through legislation. We had not had rights like that in this country because we did not believe in legislation to organise trade unions. In the United States, workers in unions like the steel workers unions and the automobile workers unions began to organise and the Congress of Industrial Organisations was born.

The CIO can be considered alongside the old craft unions in this country, of which I was a member. We organised because we were craftsmen. Lawyers, who are also craftsmen, ensure that no one other than a lawyer enters that organisation. When I was an apprentice, the craftsmen—as in the United States—ensured that only craftsmen entered a union.

In the United States the employers eventually had to accept the CIO because there was tremendous organisation among industrial workers. I am only too pleased to provide the hon. Member for Thurrock with a lecture about the trade unions. He must be aware that after the second world war the employers in the United States referred to the workers' organisations as though they were stronger than the employers.

At one stage, the Conservatives did a similar thing in this country when they produced a pamphlet called "A giant strength". That was the beginning of the Conservatives' campaign against the trade unions. It contained the nonsensical argument that the workers had immense power even greater than that of the employers. That pamphlet was rubbish. Even with the best organisation in the world, the working class and the trade unions were never as strong as the employers' organisations. The balance was always against the workers and trade unions and in favour of the employers. The hon. Member for Thurrock may not like that or agree with me, and that is his right.

Mr. Janman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heffer

No, I will give way in a moment.

The employers have always been stronger than the trade unions. However, the trade unions have always been under pressure, particularly from Conservative Governments. I remember the Industrial Relations Act 1971 under what I must call the Heath Government. I was a member of the Opposition Front Bench at the time, and I fought that legislation every inch of the way. There were arguments then about the closed shop, and the arguments continue today. As long as employers want to use their strength and power against organised working people who want decent working conditions and to live in decent conditions with decent wages, there will always be a struggle for 100 per cent. trade unionism and for the closed shop.

I am upset by the fact that Conservative Members believe that trade unionists want to oppress other workers. That has never been our intention. We have never wanted to place the iron heel on workers' necks because they would not join a trade union. In my time, I have negotiated many 100 per cent. trade union agreements, which people can call closed shops if they like—it does not matter. They were not always pre-entry closed shops, but sometimes they were.

In some cases, Jehovah's Witnesses or members of other religious groups did not want to join the union. Did we say, "Sack them"? Perhaps in some cases they were sacked, but those cases were very few. Trade unionists said, "Right—we are not in favour of sacking those workers, provided that they are not freeloaders going along and getting all the benefits of a trade union organisation. We will make an agreement and they can pay into a charity."

I am sickened by clause 1(b)(ii) which states that it will be unlawful To make payments or suffer deductions in the event of his not being a member of a trade union. That really makes me angry, because that means that everything that I have done over the years as a trade unionist, while accepting that people do not have to belong to a union, will be illegal.

Mr. Eggar

I have been listening extremely carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and in particular to his description of the closed shop as it was. Why has the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) decided that he does not want to oppose the abolition of the closed shop? Why did the hon. Member for Sedgefield not draw attention to the particular subsection to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has referred?

Mr. Heffer

I will come to the point about the social charter in my own terms, and not in the Minister's terms. I do not think that the difference between my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and myself is quite as great as the Minister believes.

Mr. Eggar

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heffer

No. I shall make my case in my own terms and in my own way. There are differences—everybody knows about them—and I shall speak about them in a few moments. I shall not answer in terms of what the Conservative party thinks, because that is not what I think and it never has been.

Let me explain why we argue for a closed shop. I was an apprentice joiner before the second world war in the south of England. My trade union was not that strong, but, on going to work, my Dad said, "There are two things, lad, now that you've gone to work: take your tea caddy with you and join the union." That is what my old feller said, and he was absolutely right.

I joined the union as an apprentice. On some of the sites, the older trade union members would look round and realise that there was a majority of members of the society—that is what we called the union then—on those sites. They would elect a shop steward, and they would then talk to the other workers to try to get them into the union. On most occasions they succeeded. After that, the union would reach an agreement with the employer and it would tell the employer that, as from then, the site was a trade union one and that anyone working on it had to be a member of the union. Conservative Members may say that that is disgraceful, but what is disgraceful about workers working for the benefit of all workers? The union ensured that workers on the sites enjoyed proper trade union conditions and decent pay.

We never had one worker set against another. We were working for the benefit of all that was why we organised other sections of workers and got a federation steward on the job. The National Federation of Building Trade Operatives meant that trade union organisation on the sites was 100 per cent.

Mr. Janman

The hon. Gentleman has spoken about workers not being set against one another. Does that mean some workers were allowed to disagree with the hon. Gentleman and other workers who shared his views?

Mr. Heller

I have always agreed with people disagreeing with me—whether in favour or not, that has happened. I am in favour of people disagreeing, as that is the essence of democracy. The day that such disagreement ends and we impose our view on other people is the end of democracy. We do not need to go into that argument, as most people know where I stand.

I believe that trade union organisation is the essence of democracy. We fought for the right to have the democratic organisation of trade unions. We were part of the Chartist movement. We were the ones who argued for the right to vote and the right to belong to a trade union. My fellow trade unionists and I represent the essence of the trade unionist movement and the essence of democracy.

The forefathers of Conservative Members fought against our rights, and they should not try to give us lessons about democracy. We do not need any lessons about that, because we understand it only too well. That is why some of us fought from the very beginning for the rights of Solidarity and of others in Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe. We did so because we believe in a democratic basis.

What is even more worrying than the provisions in the Bill relating to the closed shop are those relating to unofficial strikes. I have never said this before publicly, but I believe that I have only been on official strike once in my life.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

That was a mistake.

Mr. Heffer

Exactly—because it was an inter-union dispute. I was the steward at the time, and I was told by my executive to pull my workers out because we did not agree with a certain trade union. I said that that was daft, but the executive said that it was instructing me, so I told the lads to go out. There was also a dispute at the Cammell Laird shipyard called the "screwy" strike. I was about to be elected as a full-time official, but I opposed that strike, and my vote went down the drain. People said that I was standing up against their interests.

All the other disputes in which I have been involved related to important worker rights, and they were unofficial. Some of us in the trade union movement have had experience of officials who were almost Conservatives. They never wanted to do anything when it came to the working people. We had to tell them to do something, and we fought for the right of workers to take action.

Imagine working in a bad shop that was full of fumes. Imagine that one had negotiated with the employer for years about getting some machinery to get rid of those fumes so that one could work in decent conditions. I can imagine the day when a number of such workers would say, "That's the end. We have had enough and we're not working here any longer." By walking out of the gates, they are taking unofficial action. Those workers would not ask the executive of their union about it, as it would no doubt say that it was still negotiating. The workers would be right to say, "Never mind that: we're working there and we can't tolerate it any more."

If a shop steward is wrongly sacked, there will not be a great argument about it. The workers will merely say, "We voted for him and we will defend him." That is what happens. That is what unofficial strikes are about. It would be stupid to say that every unofficial strike is right, but workers must take such action sometimes.

Do Conservative Members think that workers like losing their wages? Do they think they like going home to their wives and saying, "I'm sorry, lovey. We're on strike. We'll get no wages at the end of the week and we won't get any dole money. We won't get any money from the union either"? That strike might last three or four weeks. Do Conservative Members think that their wives are understanding and say, "That's all right, love—carry on"? Not likely. I have received a lashing of the tongue sometimes because of unofficial strikes, and so has the average worker with two or three kids. They take such action because they cannot accept the conditions any more.

If the Bill is passed, it will be the equivalent of industrial slavery. It will force workers to do things that they would not normally do because they will be afraid of losing their jobs. They will lose the right to go to the tribunal—they will lose the right to do anything. That is the essence of the Bill. It is the worst piece of class legislation that we have ever had. We have had five nasty pieces of legislation, but this is the worst. They have all been bad, and I have opposed every one of them, as I will this Bill.

Hon. Members have a right to know where I stand about the position adopted by my Front Bench colleagues. I believe that they have been somewhat misled by the European social charter. I do not want to be tied to that charter. I do not believe that any of us should be. I say, "When it is good, support it; when it is not so good, don't support it." That is my view. It is a simple, straightforward working-class view. I say, "If it benefits us, I am all in favour of it, but if it doesn't benefit us, don't support it." Conservative Members support little in the social charter because they think that most of it is in our favour. I think that all the bits that they do not like are worth while, and I am very much in favour of them.

The report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities dealing with the social charter, provides a synopsis at paragraph 8(v): Freedom of association and collective bargaining. This involves the right to organise trade unions and to choose whether or not to join them There is not too great a difference between myself and my hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench about this. I am not denying for one moment that there is a difference, but we all agree that Conservative Members put their emphasis not on the right to organise, but on the right not to be in a union. The Bill gives the right to be an anti-trade unionist. The Bill gives rights to a whole bunch of people who will undermine the trade unions. That is where Conservative and Labour Members differ on this issue. I accept that we should have the right to organise into trade unions; they put the emphasis on the right to choose to do so or to choose not to do so.

I return to the point about the United States of America. I once won a scholarship to go to the United States of America to study the trade union movement, and that is what I did. It was interesting that, particularly in the southern states, there was legislation called "the right to work". In fact, it was anti-trade union legislation which stated that people did not have to belong to a trade union. In the states that had such legislation, workers' wages and conditions of employment were far worse than in the states that did not have such legislation. That is why I am not in favour of this aspect of the social charter.

I believe that my hon. Friends are misled on this issue and that they have got it slightly wrong. I am asking them to rethink this matter. However, I am delighted about one thing: we are all opposed to the Bill and shall vote against it on the Second Reading. I shall join my hon. Friends wholeheartedly in that.

7.42 pm
Mr. David Madei (Bedfordshire, South-West)

The speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton Mr. Heffer) followed a familiar pattern. I have heard him speak on industrial relations on many occasions. Sometimes he raised the temperature high, but sometimes it was much lower. The hon. Gentleman mentioned United Auto Workers of America and trade union practices there. I shall deal with that point a little later; it relates both to the Bill and to my constituency.

As has been said, the Bill follows its predecessors in employment legislation in trying to get as fair a balance as possible between management and trade unions. In many ways, it is a furtherance of the step-by-step approach. However, as has also been said, the European social charter is now elbowing its way onto the scene. British industry should be encouraged to note that the social charter clearly recognises that progress in industrial relations should always take account of national priorities and obligations, arising under national regulations. Therefore, there is a clear recognition that we have a different history of trade unionism and industrial relations in this country compared with our European counterparts. The preamble and more detailed comments of the social charter on industrial relations take note of that.

There has been a considerable change in trade union attitudes during the past decade. However, since the Bill was published, there has also been a simple query by management, which takes the form of the question, "Do we really need any more changes in the law? Is it not our job to manage better?"

Clauses 1 and 2 can be described as the "helpful-access-to-employment" clauses. They are a firm demonstration of the Government's good intentions to make it as trouble free as possible for someone to find a job, be he or she a member of a trade union or not. We must look at that in relation to what is happening in the economy. The job vacancies position is starting to look shaky. High interest rates are still with us and at best we can expect a neutral Budget in March. I hope that, when the Bill is enacted, unemployment benefit offices will go out of their way to explain to people that there are new and welcome protections for individuals who are out of work and who need every encouragement and opportunity to find alternative employment.

The most contentious part of the Bill is that relating to unofficial strike action and to what can be done about it in employment law. The background has been the same throughout the past 10 years. Most strikes in this country are unofficial and do not last very long. However, even if they are of only a short duration, their effect can be considerable. Twenty-one years ago. Donovan recognised that, stating: Unofficial strikes … will continue until the confusion which so often surrounds the exercise by management of its 'rights' has been resolved by the settlement of clear rules and procedures which are accepted as fair and reasonable by all concerned. In other words, 21 years ago Donovan wanted a better understanding of what is expected of each employee when he or she is at work.

We must ask two questions about the proposals relating to unofficial action. First, will the democratic authority of elected trade union officials be strengthened? We have changed the law to ensure that such authority as trade union officials have must come through the ballot box and through democracy. Secondly, by writing to their members repudiating such action, will trade unions be effective in ensuring that the dispute is quickly solved? The Bill goes into considerable detail on that point. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) has already referred to clause 6, which sets out a new subsection (5A) in section 15 of the Employment Act 1982: The notice given to members … must contain the following statement— 'Your union has repudiated any call for industrial action to which this notice relates and will give no support for such action. If you are dismissed while taking unofficial action, you will have no right to complain of unfair dismissal.' In my view, that statement is far too blunt. We must include in the Bill a provision to ensure that the union refers to what it is doing to help to solve the dispute and whether it is seeking immediate outside help to resolve it and to get people back into normal working.

The clause deals with people who are members of trade unions. If we are to say that the union must send out that sort of letter to ensure that it cannot be had up for not taking sufficient action to stop the dispute, we should require the trade union to say more to its members, who may be taking unofficial action, about what the union is trying to do to get the dispute solved. I say that not least because if it is clearly stated in a letter that the union is bending over backwards to get the dispute solved, there is every possibility that the unofficial action will quickly end. In previous Employment Acts we have done all that we can to involve individual trade unionists in the conduct and affairs of their trade unions.

I now refer to two instances where there could be serious consequences if the wrong decision is taken on unofficial action. Privatised electricity is about to be launched. So far, the electricity industry has had a long history of extremely good industrial relations. Every effort has been made by the unions and the management of the industry to ensure that the employees are properly consulted and, above all, to ensure that, even if there are arguments between unions and management, the supply of electricity is uninterrupted. Already Mr. John Lyons, general secretary of the Engineers and Managers Association, has issued a warning. He hopes that when the new owners take over they will not exercise macho management techniques and introduce practices that have not hitherto existed in the electricity supply industry. Once these private companies are operating, they should take the greatest care before implementing this part of the Bill.

I want also to refer to the railway industry. Hon. Members have already mentioned unofficial strikes on tubes. The management have said that their consultative procedures were probably not right and that they may have been out of touch. We should all like rapid movement towards a single union in British Rail. Given the extent to which we shall depend on British Rail in the next 10 years, there should be enough confidence in security of employment for management and unions in that industry never to find that unofficial strikes have started due to a lack of understanding of what either management or trade unions have been trying to do to improve conditions in the industry.

Over the past 10 years, the Government have spent a great deal of public funds on management education. The latest figures available state that in 1987–88 more than £2.5 million was given in the form of recurrent grant to the London business school and £1.6 million to the Manchester business school. That is a good use of public money—to improve management education.

We should now be thinking about what we can do to extend management education to the shop floor. The purpose of management is to improve relations within a company and to make it more profitable and sensitive to markets, so there is surely a case for extending public funds to improving the education of those on the trade union side. After all, they are also in the business of making the company more profitable and sensitive to the market—and of ensuring that the general good of employees is continually enhanced. As we move into the new decade, we should think of ways of improving training opportunities for shop stewards, who play an important part in the running of their firms.

In the business section of The Daily Telegraph today, my hon. Friend the Minister of State refers to failures in business and pointed out that it is often lack of managment expertise that causes businesses to go under. The lack of that expertise is also often the cause of industrial relations not being what they should be.

What can be done to promote a more constructive role for trade unions in the 1990s? What can be done to make them feel more a part of our improving industrial society? First, trade unions in certain industries should merge into single unions. The hon. Member for Walton mentioned the car industry. I dream of the day when a united autoworkers union exists in this country. We can debate ad nauseum what went wrong in Dundee, but one of Ford's problems was the unions there could not speak with a single voice.

By the middle of this decade there will be over-production in the car industry in Europe, and some plants will have to close. Let us ensure that plants in this country do not close. It is imperative that unions in the car industry merge into a single union; that will be better for their members and for the industry. If that proves impossible, I hope that they will at least speak with a single voice in the next decade and beyond. So often, upsets in the car industry have resulted from unions being unable to agree among themselves.

The unions' slogan used to be, "A fair day's pay for a fair day's work". It should now move on to be, "A generous day's pay for complete flexibility of working practices." If we are to ask that of the trade unions, we must ask something of employers, too. As it stands, the Bill could provide certain employers with an opportunity for doing rash and unwise things in industrial relations. That is why the Bill needs thorough scrutiny in Committee.

We have made great progress in industrial relations in the past 10 years. I only hope that this Bill is not a Bill too far. It is up to the Committee considering it to make sure that it is not.

7.55 pm
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

This certainly is a Bill too far. What concerns me about industrial relations legislation under this Government is, first, that there has been far too much of it and, secondly, that it rarely has anything to do with the promotion of good industrial relations. This Bill is no exception to that rule. It purports to be concerned with economic efficiency and individual freedom, but, in fact, in common with all its predecessors of the past 10 years, it is entirely born out of the narrow prejudices of the Conservative party.

If Tory Members really cared about individual freedom, that care would have to extend to views that did not necessarily coincide with their own. But it does not. If it did, staff at GCHQ would be freed from the political strictures imposed on them by the Government. How will they fare under clause 1, in terms of the right to belong to a trade union? While it is a refreshing change to see such a right proposed in Tory legislation, we all know that it is a right not to belong which the Government will promote and encourage.

With certain exceptions, I could live with the inclusion of this section of the European charter in British law, provided that the rest of the provisions of the charter were included, along with the important right of union members to be represented by their union. There is no point in being a member of a union unless a person has the right to be represented by the union to the employer.

Provided that we successfully amend clause 1 in the way outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), I do not believe that it will pose serious threats to union membership. After all, virtually outlawing the closed shop has had little, if any, effect. One hundred per cent. trade union membership shops still continue. The reason is that people know the value of union membership. If anyone working in a factory or shop did not know that value he would only have to read the Government's Green Paper, "Removing Barriers to Employment", which clearly showed that in closed shop employment, wages were anything between 10 and 30 per cent. higher than those elsewhere. So there is some value in a closed shop, and workers should realise that. When the Bill leaks out, closed shops will be springing up throughout the country.

More important, workers will recognise the value of trade unions when they get into trouble with their employers. Many hon. Members on both sides have had the experience of constituents coming to their advice surgeries with a problem connected with work. I will bet that Conservative Members ask the same first question as we do, "Are you a member of a trade union?" Nine times out of 10, the answer is no. They come to the surgery because they are not members. If they had been, we all know that they would not have needed to come, because the union would have resolved their problem.

I repeat the point made earlier: if membership or non-membership of a union is no longer to be relevant to the recruitment of labour, and if it is to be illegal for an employer to take into account membership or non-membership when selecting applicants for a job, the holding of information on people by anti-union organisations for the specific purpose of influencing their employment prospects should be not only irrelevant but no longer legal. I hope that the Government will be forced by their Bill to concede that point. If one result of the Bill is to put a stop to the sinister activities of the Economic League and the like, we will welcome it, although it will undoubtedly come as an unexpected, unintentioned and unwelcome surprise to Tory Members.

During the passage of the Employment Act 1988 we opposed the creation of a Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members, or CROTUM for short. That would be a rather unfortunate acronym if we ever got a senior commissioner for the rights of trade union members. We opposed the office on the grounds that it was unnecessary, provocative and expensive. As it turns out, we were right on all three counts.

The budget set for the functioning of that office was £1.5 million a year. The commissioner has taken up 31 cases, some of which were of doubtful validity.

Mrs. Mahon

Not very cost-effective.

Mr. Clelland


However, the commissioner has had to justify her existence and salary, as we predicted. The provisions in clause 8 demonstrate how badly she has failed even to manufacture enough work to justify her existence, to say nothing of her £1.5 million budget. To avoid an embarrassing admission of wasting public money, the Government decided to help her by extending her responsibilities and building her empire. We would welcome an extension of the responsibilities of the commissioner if it allowed trade unionists to refer to her their complaints about their employer, not just their union but, again, that does not appear to suit Tory dogma.

The post was designed in the first place to harass trade unions by encouraging action against them. The further provisions in this Bill are clearly intended to encourage further mischief and harassment. No other organisation has the dubious distinction of having a special commissioner paid for by the taxpayer with the express purpose of supporting actions against it. Such is the extremity of the Government's prejudices.

By far the most objectionable aspect of the Bill is the intention, once again, to weaken the hand of the employee and to strengthen the hand of the employer. The proposals on secondary and unofficial action are reminiscent of the totalitarian eastern bloc Governments who are now on the wane, and display ignorance or carelessness or both on the part of the Tory party.

Unofficial action is usually a spontaneous event, inflamed by a sudden happening and of short duration. The Green Paper, "Unofficial Action and the Law", cites the case of a manager attacking an employee physically, which resulted in a walk-out by colleagues. The Green Paper then assumes that the fault lies with the employees, not the manager, whereas it was the manager's action which gave rise to the situation and the subsequent loss of production. Under the Bill, those workers are liable to be sacked lawfully by that same manager, with no right to redress for unfair dismissal. Where is the justice or even-handedness in that?

If that is not bad enough, the trade union to which the workers belong will be open to prosecution by the employer unless it repudiates the actions of its members, although it may believe that their action was justified in all the circumstances. Such one-sided, draconian measures have no part in modern industrial relations. They can lead only to inflammation of otherwise resoluble incidents. They will, as all perceived injustice does, cause anger and resentment, possibly leading to ugly confrontations and irreversible damage to industrial harmony.

The Green Paper makes much of the lost production caused by unofficial action. It states that an annual average of 3.6 million days are lost through all industrial action. No figures are given for unofficial action. I want to be generous to the Government's case, so I shall estimate that 2 million days are lost in that way. It is probably an exaggeration, but it helps their case. Are the Government seriously suggesting that those 2 million days lost pose such a massive threat to the economy? We have only to examine the statistics to find out.

At present, the work force is about 25 million people, which is equal to 125 million working days every five-day working week, or 5,750 million working days in a 46-working week year, if we are generous and assume six weeks' holiday. On those figures the number of working days lost in unofficial strikes amounts to less than one thirtieth of 1 per cent. of the total working days. That is what paragraph 1.2 of the Green Paper describes as a substantial amount of unofficial action". Paragraph 1.1 suggests that the elimination of that will make a vital contribution to the improvement of our economy. What rubbish.

If the Government are concerned about the effect of the number of working days lost on the economy, why do they not turn their attention to the 10 million days lost every year through accidents at work? Why not promote good working conditions and good working practices to reduce that figure which is more than 250 per cent. of the number of days lost through all industrial action? No, this Government have presided over a worsening situation in that regard. Indeed, they have even suggested that the imposition of further regulations could be a barrier to business or employment.

If the Government are motivated by damage to the economy caused by days lost from work, why do they not turn their attention to days lost through sickness, which total 300 million a year, which is nearly 100 times the number of days lost by all industrial action? Why do they not improve health screening and health education, invest more in our ailing Health Service or even pay the ambulance crews?

In short, if it is the health of the economy which motivates the Government to examine days lost from work, why do they ignore the major causes and attack the most insignificant in terms of numbers? The answer is that this has nothing to do with the economy. The complete elimination of all industrial action by chaining workers to their desks and benches would hardly register in terms of the totality of working days in this country. The elimination of strikes under such a system, however, would probably be used by Tory Members as evidence of good industrial relations.

This is about the use of Parliament, not to improve the welfare of people or to improve industrial relations, but to pursue unceasingly the political opponents of the Tory party until, as the Prime Minister put it, her main political opponents are "abolished" and Britain becomes a one party Government and she becomes the Ceausescu of Chequers and the dictator of Downing street.

While the call in East Germany, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Poland is for the promotion of free, independent trade unions able to take both industrial and political action—the latter even applauded by the Prime Minister—in Britain, the state is busy shackling the unions and restricting the very freedoms so eagerly sought in the East. In tandem, while the cry in the East is for freedom of political action and expression, in Britain the Government are introducing legislation which creates politically restricted posts in public office so that people are denied political freedom if they are to keep their jobs. Solidarity trade unionists in Poland now have more freedom than trade unionists in Britain.

The Bill is further evidence of the totalitarian tendencies of the Government. It does nothing for freedom, industrial relations or the image of life in Britain in an increasingly free world. It should be decisively rejected by all those who cherish the freedoms for which our country fought so hard, and in the fight for which the trade union movement played such a principal part.

8.8 pm

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

This has been an extremely interesting debate. It has highlighted many of the serious and real differences in attitude between the Opposition and the Government on industrial relations. The most interesting speech, because it was the clearest and represented most significantly the traditional Labour view of industrial relations, was that of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). I should like to rebut some of the elements in his speech.

One's attitude towards priorities in industrial relations and the industrial scene as a whole inevitably depends on one's experiences. The hon. Gentleman described his experiences as a shop steward in Liverpool. Equally, each of us must look at what formed our opinions. I had the good fortune to become involved in industrial relations law soon after I qualified as a solicitor which was when the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 came into force

For many years, I have been actively involved with Conservative Trade Unionists, and I am now its vice-president. Since coming to the House in 1983, I have served on the Committees of most industrial relations Bills. I hope to serve on the Committee of this Bill, so I shall leave detailed comments on its provisions until then. This evening I want to deal with the strategy behind the Bill.

Much of the debate thus far has been a recitation of history and how we have arrived at our current position. If we put back the timescale far enough, I would be in broad consent with many of the points made by Opposition Members. If there is no alternative to collective bargaining for someone on the shop floor to enforce his rights, obviously that is the right way forward. I do not think that anyone who has been faced with the cases described in times past would deny that as a basic proposition. The difference between my view and that expressed by many Opposition Members is that I believe that there have been dramatic movements forward in recent years. The Opposition's rhetoric always goes deep into distant history, to the communal memories spawned by the 1930s and before; they then carry those forward to present—day circumstances, even though the reality is quite different.

There has been a great sea change in industrial relations, which began not in 1979 but with the ill-fated Industrial Relations Act 1971. The one part of that Act which survived, and which has been of fundamental importance, was that relating to unfair dismissal. Anyone reviewing the industrial developments since 1945 must recognise that one of the great difficulties was that industrial action disrupted industrial production and that many of those industrial disputes related to dismissal. A consensus evolved during the late 1960s in favour of a statutory framework of law to deal with individual rights, and the relevant provision in the 1971 Act has stuck.

I do not think that many Opposition Members appreciate the extent to which the introduction of really important individual rights would fuel the appetite of workers on the shop floor for more rights, or the growing competition that it created between the exercise of those individual rights and the concept of collective action. The unfair dismissal provisions, once they had been assimilated, had one immediate and dramatic impact: whereas dismissals leading to strikes had been commonplace, they became a relative rarity. They have had an even more important and profound impact in that they have shaped the way in which companies have developed their procedures for management. I clearly remember many employers in the 1970s talking of unfair dismissal and echoing almost to the letter the words used tonight by Opposition Members about the role of the law in dealing with strikes. They said that it was impossible to bring the law into industrial relations, that it would not work, that it would be too complex, that it would be a benefit match for lawyers and that no discernible benefits would flow for industrial relations.

I have always argued, and I see no reason to take a different view now, that unfair dismissal rights and the other individual rights that have followed have created an alternative to bringing out a work force on strike to protect an individual's position. It meant that companies, once they understood the regulations, could steer a route through what was previously an industrial relations minefield. The number of applications to industrial tribunals for unfair dismissal have fallen significantly, and the number of strikes caused by dismissal has completely fallen away. I accept that there was a time when the law was unclear, but once people addressed themselves to what the law required and to the route that they had to follow in disciplinary matters, the whole industrial relations scene improved significantly.

The provisions in this and in previous Bills relating to strikes, the circumstances in which they can take place and the manner in which they can be conducted will have precisely the same effect in signposting a route for industrial action that means that it does not happen at the drop of a hat but is considered action that carries a great deal more weight because it is clear that it has the support of the shop floor.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The issue of unfair dismissal was not first highlighted in the Conservative legislation of 1971. During the 1966–70 Parliament, I introduced two Bills under the ten-minute rule to set up tribunals to deal with unfair dismissal.

Mr. Batiste

The hon. Gentleman should read Hansard tomorrow. I acknowledged that the development of unfair dismissal rights evolved from a consensus that was by no means confined to any one party. That probably explains why it was the one part of the 1971 Act that stuck and that had such a profound impact in the years to follow.

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)


Mr. Batiste

I shall give way, but there will be less time for other hon. Members to speak.

Mr. Watson

It is important that the record is set straight. The hon. Gentleman said that the number of unfair dismissal cases being taken to industrial tribunals had been significantly reduced. However, that is the result of the way that the legislation has changed. When the Conservative Government took office, claims could be made after six months. That was then lengthened to one year and then to two years. Fewer people now have the ability to make such claims, which is why the number has been significantly reduced.

Mr. Batiste

The hon. Gentleman should study the figures, as I have done. The main reason why the number of claims for unfair dismissal has fallen is that, when the legislation was new, many employers did not know what was expected of them, many decisions to dismiss were taken arbitrarily and many were procedurally incorrect. With the development of experience of what was permissible within the law, the incidence of successful findings for unfair dismissal has diminished because of the dramatically improved procedures throughout industry.

The development of the unfair dismissal legislation has signposted the way in which the rule of law within industrial relations can have a positive effect in showing routes that actually work, that minimise industrial disputes and that are of lasting industrial benefit. That will carry across, in exactly the same way, into clearer legal definitions of strike action and of the circumstances and the manner in which such strike action can take place.

Even more important than the immediate results of that change has been the way that it has encouraged a new approach to industrial relations and the rights of individuals on the shop floor. One of the growing disputes between the Opposition and the Government has been the way in which the interaction between individual rights and collective action should function, when many aspects of individual protection that hitherto had no redress in law are now met by the law. That is a considerable problem for the Labour party because, inherently, it is about collective action, whereas protection of individual rights is very much associated with the Conservative party.

It has been said several times during the debate that the Bill is a turning point in the step-by-step approach to industrial relations reform. I agree, but I hope that it is not an end to the programme. Most of the 1979 agenda that Conservative Trade Unionists presented to the Government has now been enacted. The closed shop will now end. However, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to recognise that there are closed shops that exist by law but that there are also closed shops that exist by intimidation by a number of employers.

I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to address the situation in respect of certain local authorities where every conceivable step is taken to force people into joining a trade union. Those closed shops are just as much a fact of life as are legal closed shops, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not lose sight of that fact.

It has been said that we have come to a turning point in the step-by-step approach. We must look to the future and recognise what has to be done to build upon the things that we have achieved. The step-by-step approach has been very successful in changing industrial relations attitudes. Indeed, it has changed the whole industrial relations environment. Our approach to legislation now is not just to look back at the 1979 agenda but to recognise that in 1990 things have changed. We have to look forward to the last decade of this century and the first decade of the next century and to reflect that approach in our attitudes to legislation on trade union reform and on industrial relations reform in general.

How can the individual rights that I have described grow and gain even greater strength in the context of trade unions? I believe that in two important respects we have to go further—going with the grain of individual rights. I hope in Committee to table amendments dealing with both points, so I will refer to them only very briefly tonight. First, there is the question of trade union mergers. I am not sure that I agree with the comments that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel). In the United Kingdom the current trend is towards large general unions, to unions breaking away in cases of dispute, to considerable growth in non-TUC affiliated unions, and year by year to contraction of TUC-affiliated unions.

If the individual industrial rights that have been created are to grow and prosper, we must create a competitive framework within the trade union world in which they can operate. I agree with the many hon. Members who have said that, thus far, the need in the United Kingdom has been for the merger of unions. Even now there is a need for further mergers, but all the evidence from around the world of the tendency of organisations to move towards monopolies suggests that, if the process continues without check, we will move towards a relatively small number of very large general unions that are relatively remote from their members. I question whether that is a healthy or sensible way to proceed. The necessary corollary of individual rights is that there should be choice against which people may exercise their judgment and that unions should be responsible and responsive to what their individual members say.

At this stage, we ought to be considering whether some legislation comparable to the companies legislation on monopolies and mergers should be put in place. I make no recommendation as to what that should be. The use of the commissioner in this role may be the best way forward, but it would be better to look at this issue before the realities of the industrial relations world force it upon us. If people are to have real choice, they must be given real options.

That leads me to the second area which my right hon. Friend should consider. I refer to the anti-poaching provisions of the Bridlington agreement. I shall not take up the time of the House by quoting the regulations—

Mrs. Mahon

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Member addressing himself to the Bill? It seems to me that, in talking about the anti-poaching provisions of the Bridlington agreement, he is going into the question of some future Bill about which he is thinking.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The Bill is very widely drawn, and I think that the hon. Gentleman is in order at the moment.

Mr. Batiste

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Clause 1 refers to the right of people either to join or not to join trade unions. The point that I am making is quite simply that that choice is inadequate; people must have the option also to join the union of their choice. It is in that respect that I propose to table amendments for consideration at Committee stage.

Let me refer to two examples that were widely quoted in the press last year. Airline cabin staff approached the British Airline Pilots Association with a view to joining because they disagreed with the attitude, philosophy and tendencies of the Transport and General Workers Union. The Bridlington agreement was invoked, and the cabin staff were barred by the Trades Union Congress from membership of BALPA, despite the fact that that union would have been quite happy to accept them.

A similar case that achieved widespread publicity related to shop workes—members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—who disagreed fundamentally with the position that their union had taken on Sunday trading and wanted to join GMB. USDAW approached the TUC and blocked the transfer of its members to GMB.

If individual rights are to mean anything, it will be in circumstances in which individual members of a trade union in disagreement with their union over policy have the right to transfer to a union that more accurately reflects their hopes and aspirations. That is not an anti-union point. I believe profoundly that competition between unions for members is the most effective way of implementing change in a rapidly changing world.

As we have seen all too often, the difficulty about unions is their very slow response to change. We have seen this in relation to flexibility in working practices, and we have seen it in relation to single union agreements. Dundee has been mentioned many times today. The essential way of speeding up that process of change would be to give to individual members of unions rights similar to those that exist for consumers of services of any other kind.

The Bridlington principles would not be allowed to exist in respect of any other aspect of British industry, and I question whether they should be allowed to exist in the context of trade unions. However, I agree fully with the comment of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that the necessary corollary is that demarcation dispute strikes must be made unlawful.

I have argued this evening for a way of enhancing the framework in which healthy competition for members is an engine for union change. That that change is needed is not in dispute. I believe that it is not disputed seriously even by members of the Opposition. Industrially, we are moving into an era of collaborative management because the successful companies will be the ones that handle their industrial relations well. Bad industrial relations will drive out incompetent companies—and quite properly so—but the corollary of collaborative management is skill and flexibility on the part of unions—skill and flexibility based upon the sure knowledge that they are carrying their members with them without coercion because those members agree with what their unions are doing and can see that it is individually to their interests to follow.

It is therefore with considerable pleasure that I welcome this Bill and the substantial completion of the 1979 agenda. However, I urge upon my right hon. Friend the necessary corollary, which is to look forward and see how we can build upon the successful foundations that have now been laid.

8.28 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

I see, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the tradition of the 1980s is being carried into the 1990s: when I am called to speak in the House, it is usually because you are in the Chair.

Other hon. Members on the Opposition side wish to speak, so I shall be brief. However, I reserve the right to deal in Committee with lots of matters that have been referred to today. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) is not in his place, as I would have congratulated him on accepting voluntary redundancy from the Cabinet—though on more generous terms than are enjoyed by most people in industry.

The reality of this piece of legislation is not so much the Secretary of State's argument about tyranny and about freedom. Indeed, it is rich, in the first place, that it should come from the Minister who introduced the poll tax legislation—one of the most tyrannical and unfair pieces of legislation in this century. His speech was all about the freedom of employers to take action against trade unionists and unions—not so much a step-by-step approach as a bit-by-bit attack on trade unionists and their organisations.

The Bill is really about undermining the ability of unions to secure excellent working conditions, proper training, the right to collective action, and the facility to work alongside union officials when taking official or unofficial action. The Bill is also aimed at prohibiting unions from operating in areas where trade unionism has hitherto not been strong.

As a result of Britain's employment pattern in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, unions are looking to non-traditional areas for their membership. The Government are attempting to prohibit the extension of trade unionism in that way. The Bill is not so much about closed shop arrangements as about the ability of management to manipulate trade unions, by crippling their ability to organise in the workplace.

In many debates over the past few years, the Government have often spoken of the principle of a level playing field. They used it in relation to private sector housing, the balance between public and private transport, deregulation of old people's homes—when they gave subsidies of about £1 billion to make it easier for people to open homes in the private sector—pensions provision, and even refuse collection. That principle of a level playing field has been introduced in every area except industrial relations, where it would give people the right to take action individually and collectively to protect themselves.

The Government abolished the fair wages clause, and they have an abysmal record of vocational training. The Government also abolished wages councils so that young, unskilled and disabled workers can easily be exploited. The only bodies capable of preventing that were the wages councils, but the Government chose to destroy them.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McCartney

No, I shall not do so—not least because the hon. Gentleman has not been present in the Chamber the whole evening. I prefer to allow other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to speak. On any other occasion I shall be happy to debate with the hon. Gentleman his unfair attitude towards trade unions and working people. We have heard it all before from him, and I do not intend to hear it all again this evening.

The Government have also restricted worker representation at tribunals. Whereas they introduced measures allowing employers to take trade unions to court, unions wishing to take employers to court are severely restricted by Government legislation. Under the present Government, 10 million working days have been lost through industrial injury, yet the resources of the Health and Safety Executive have been reduced time and again. At the same time, no legislation exists to protect workers against unfair dismissal.

The Government's training schemes are the biggest scandal of all. Young workers live in a twilight world of low wages, little or no training, exploitation, and virtually no health and safety provision. That is the Government's record of level playing fields in industrial relations.

As to responsibility for unofficial action, I shall give three examples of workers legitimately taking action to protect themselves and other workers that would be the subject of crippling penalties under the Bill, were they to be repeated in future. Twelve months ago in my own constituency, two workers at a factory collapsed with heart attacks caused by zinc poisoning. Attempts by the work force to persuade management to bring in the Health and Safety Executive and the alkali inspectorate to take action about the conditions in the factory were rejected. The workers walked out for their own safety. Within 30 minutes of taking that action, they were sacked. Under the Bill, workers taking similar action will find themselves hauled up before a court by their unscrupulous employer.

So far this year, five workers have been killed on the Channel tunnel construction site. Despite efforts by the trade unions and the Health and Safety Executive, the employers have done little to improve safety. Under the Bill, Channel tunnel workers taking unofficial action will render their unions liable to unfair court penalties. On some sites it is necessary for workers to take action against sub-contractors for reasons of health and safety. Again, under the Bill, unions will be liable for any such action.

I refer also to the National Union of Seamen members working for P and O Ferries who took action after the bow door incident because of the company's appalling safety record, and who were summarily dismissed. They were fighting not for increased wages but for their safety and that of their passengers on the Channel routes. The Government will also make such action illegal.

A fortnight ago, the British Leyland Volvo manager jetted in to Manchester airport from Sweden and informed the work force that 400 of them would be down the road in 14 days. Later that day, union members took action in support of their right to negotiate their redundancy terms. I presume that under the Bill, those members individually and their union could be taken to court.

I refer also to sexual harassment at work by unscrupulous employers and—unfortunately, on occasions—by other employees. A female who walks off the job to escape sexual harassment and to prevent some pervert from continuing to molest her could be taken to court along with her trade union if the very employer guilty of molesting her decides to take that action. Such cases are not isolated. I know of a young girl who was molested by her employer. Her mother came to me because the girl was too frightened to report the matter to the police or the Training Agency. She was too frightened to speak out because that job was her only hope of employment. Any union taking unofficial action over sexual harassment of its members will also be liable to court action.

The Bill is a tacky piece of legislation and the latest in a long line of Government activities designed to undermine trade unionists and their unions. Intellectually, the Government find trade unionism incompatible with the type of society that they wish to create. They want to see in the 1990s a society in which young people are on training schemes or in low-paid work with no opportunity to organise themselves and to take collective action to improve their working conditions and health and safety at work.

When the Minister winds up, it will be useful if he replies to the telling points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) about blacklisting and the Economic League. If the Government are serious about individual and trade union rights, the Minister will give a promise that the Government will introduce amendments to the Bill to outlaw the activities of organisations such as the Economic League.

The Minister does not need to look far for evidence. Its blacklist includes myself and other right hon. and hon. Members. I was on the dole for three years because of that organisation's activities after I organised an attempt to secure trade union recognition. I could not find a job in the industry in which I had been working.

Organisations such as the Economic League are a blot on our democratic society and should be outlawed. I hope that the Minister will reassure the thousands of workers who are unfairly blacklisted and who may consequently lose their right to work, not just for a few days or weeks but for year after year because of such eastern European, Stasi-type organisations. Their days should be numbered, and the Minister can ensure that they are by amending the Bill in Committee.

There is much to be done in Committee, and if the Minister thinks that he will get off lightly, given the attitude of Conservative Back Benchers and Opposition Front Benchers, he has another think coming. We shall welcome the opportunity to use the Bill to test the Government's intentions in relation to individual trade unions rights, the European Community and the wider role of trade unionists throughout Britain. We shall table positive amendments to improve the Bill, and to test the Government: let us hope that the Minister is not found wanting.

8.40 pm
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) in his place. He is the storm trooper of the unions, and he and I have debated the issue once or twice in the past.

I apologise for having been absent for about an hour and a half this evening; I had a long-standing arrangement to participate in a debate on the Broadcasting Bill in one of the Committee Rooms upstairs. At one stage, members of the audience were asked to raise their hands if they worked in broadcasting—in other words, if they had a vested interest. A number raised their hands, and several of those then spoke in favour of their industry.

I could do the same here: I could ask Opposition Members to raise their hands if they were sponsored by a trade union. Some 50 per cent. of Labour Members are sponsored by unions, and it is therefore in their interests not to go against the arguments of those unions and not to allow their power to be diluted. I do not object to hon. Members having such vested interests; I make the point only to put into context Labour's opposition to any moves that the Government make on the trade union front.

As we know, it was the last Labour Government who effectively enshrined the closed shop within employment law, and it was the abuse of that legal entity by over-mighty and over-powerful trade unions that—more than anything else—encouraged my interest in politics. Then, as now, I regarded the closed shop as a gross infringement of individual rights, and I welcome the Bill as another of the extensions of basic human freedom that have been behind so many of the Government's actions over the past 11 years.

I also welcome the Labour party's apparent conversion to the belief that people should be free to make up their own minds whether or not to belong to a trade union. I believe, however, that that conversion is only skin deep, and that it owes more to electoral considerations than to a genuine change of opinion. Just as the Polish people would be wise not to trust the new, as yet unnamed, successor to the Communist party that was proclaimed over the weekend—because the new players in the new party will no doubt prove to be the old players in the old party, with the same Communist beliefs—so the British people would be wise not to take at face value the supposed conversion of Labour to the primacy of individual rights over collectivist trade union action.

At least a number of Opposition Members are honest enough not to go along with the sham propounded by their Front Benchers. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on making their beliefs entirely clear in an early-day motion. They believe that the closed shop should exist, and I have no doubt that the vast majority of Opposition Members feel the same: they help to remind us that a streak of authoritarian trade union collectivism is alive and well in the Labour party.

The House may be amused to learn about the Morning Star's approach to the issue. I understand that Opposition Members occasionally read that organ, and even make occasional contributions to it. On 11 October last year, the paper described the three-pronged attack on workers' rights". It continued: The labour and trade union movement has to take up the challenge. The further attempt to screw down working people must be resisted all the way. It is interesting to contrast that with what the paper had said on 3 October, under the headline, "Soviet MPs legalise right to strike": Soviet MPs passed a law yesterday legalising the right to strike except in key industries including power and rail. It is the first time in Soviet legislation", the Morning Star blandly reported, that the right to strike has been enshrined. The exceptions—which include also civil aviation, city transport, communications, defence and law and order bodies—were clearly regarded by practically all deputies as necessary in the present grave economic situation…According to the new law, it will be up to the courts to decide whether a strike is legal or not after it has been declared. What on earth would be the reaction of the Morning Star if the British Government had, for instance, declared all transport or telecommunications strikes illegal? That is a clear demonstration of the hypocrisy of the political Left in this country.

One wonders whether anything has really changed, and whether the Labour party is really no longer in the pockets of the trade unions. Labour would end the sequestration of trade union funds, thereby making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for courts to collect fines imposed on trade unions. It seems that Labour is still prepared to allow secondary picketing, and perhaps—who knows?—mass secondary picketing at that. We must remember that the party is financed largely by unions, and therefore cannot really afford not to do what it is told by them. I found the performance of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) extremely unconvincing, and I do not believe that he or his colleagues have experienced a conversion at all.

I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to his new role; I hope, however, that he will forgive me if I contradict his reported comment on his appointment, that this was likely to be the last Employment Bill. A number of significant improvements remain to be made to employment law. The Bill would not, in fact, make the closed shop illegal, although it would make it unenforceable.

My local council, Kirklees metropolitan district council, currently has a union membership agreement—that is, a closed shop—with five trade unions. Nothing in the Bill would force Kirklees to tear up that agreement. While I would not expect it to try to enforce the agreement—I say that rather optimistically, but none the less in good faith—it would still be there for the trade unions to use when trying to persuade, cajole or mislead non-union employees to join the union. In such circumstances, many people tend to join just for a quiet life, and are not prepared to go to a tribunal, as the Bill would require.

Mr. McCartney

Give an example.

Mr. Riddick

I can give the hon. Gentleman an example. Constituents have approached me about the problem and have asked for my help and support. I was able to point out that Kirklees council is unable legally to enforce a closed shop agreement.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman another example of people acquiescing in such circumstances. That is what happened after NALGO's strike last year.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that Kirklees Labour council members became involved with the unions above the heads of their employers to ensure that the union closed shop agreement was introduced ahead of Government legislation. Those poor workers were forced into unions, although the vast majority of them did not want to be union members.

Mr. Riddick

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. He knows a good deal about Kirklees council. He lived in Huddersfield. When Labour party members hammered out the agreement with the trade unions, they did not bother, even once, to talk to individual trade unionists and ask them whether it was what they wanted. They talked to the trade union leaders but not to the individual members.

After last year's strike, individual NALGO shop stewards cajoled and threatened a significant number of NALGO members who did not strike in an effort to persuade them to leave the union. That directly contravened section 3 of the Employment Act 1988. A number of such cases have gone to industrial tribunals. Compensation has been awarded against NALGO. However, the majority of people, when so requested, have acquiesced.

People find it difficult to put their heads above the parapet and take their case to a tribunal. They have never appeared before a tribunal. Even if they have a cast-iron case, they are reluctant to take it to a tribunal. They opt for a quiet life. We may have to tighten the closed shop legislation so that unscrupulous employers—in particular, some Labour-controlled local authorities and intimidatory trade unions—cannot exploit the loopholes that will certainly exist, even after the Bill becomes law.

Those who feel that they have suffered discrimination at the hands of a closed shop employer should have the right to ask the Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members to provide advice and assistance. I draw to the attention of the House a letter that I received today from some people who are very concerned about the provision that employers should not discriminate against individual people because of union membership. Mr. Pollard and Mr. Bruce say in their letter: Our lives centre around the Lords' Supper and the Scriptures which contain many references to Masters having direct relationships with their employees…a nd the need to be separate from other associations…Consequently we do not employ members of trade unions or professional associations, likewise we do not join employers associations, nor do we negotiate with these bodies…we would appeal for provision to be made so that we might be able to continue with a clear conscience in this way. If the Government were hesitant about providing a general conscience clause, perhaps a provision at tribunal stage could be considered". A few of my hon. Friends intervened during the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. He said that he would consider the point. It certainly deserves to be considered.

One abuse is not tackled by the Bill, which I understand is still fairly widely practised. Union members in a number of industries, notably the docks, demand to see a lorry driver's union card before he is allowed to unload his cargo. I have received a number of complaints from the managers and employees of transport companies. They have complained bitterly that they have to belong to a union, usually the Transport and General Workers Union, if they are to obtain contracts as hauliers. I am not sure whether such a practice is covered by the existing employment law. If it is, the law needs to be strengthened and more clearly defined, since this gross abuse of trade union power continues.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has an important part to play in industrial disputes, but its terms of reference have not changed since the Employment Protection Act 1975. That Act placed a duty on ACAS of encouraging the extension of collective bargaining. That means the encouragement of trade union membership. The role of ACAS should be wholly neutral. The reference to encouraging the extension of collective bargaining should be struck out.

The 1990s will see markets both in this country and worldwide becoming more open and competitive. It is vital, therefore, that all sectors of British industry should operate at maximum efficiency and with the minimum of restrictive practices. The public sector should no longer be sheltered, as it still is, by over-powerful unions and managers without the tools to tackle the problems. Britain's rigid labour market is characterised by central bargaining and traditional systems of pay negotiations that do not properly reward individual performance. That stifles new methods of working and attempts to improve productivity. The dispute in the ambulance service, together with last year's dispute on London Underground and on London buses and British Rail, are classic examples.

Changes to the way in which these organisations are run will come about as a direct result of policy decisions and management implementation, but it is likely that such changes will not be brought about unless more liberalising reforms in the employment law are introduced in the years to come.

The Bill is another important step in this Government's brilliantly successful step-by-step approach to reforming the industrial relations law. The changes have been brought about in the face of relentless and often venomous opposition by the Labour party. The reforms have played a highly significant role in Britain's economic and industrial regeneration during the last 11 years. I fear that they will not be the last reforms that will be necessary if we are to be fully competitive with our industrial competitors. However, I am delighted to add my strong support for this Bill to that of my colleagues.

8.57 pm
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

I am not a supporter of mandatory closed shops and I am not a sponsored Member of Parliament. However, I come from a community which has always had a high trade union membership because its members believe in the principles of trade unionism. Compunction to join a trade union is always a poor second to the desire to belong to a trade union because of what it stands for.

I am deeply concerned about and unhappy with certain clauses, especially clauses 6 and 7, which extend the liability of union members in tort of certain actions. Trade unions have a constructive role to play in society and they have played that role even in the most fractious of industries. Certainly in the past decade there has been no more fractious industry than the coal industry. Yet in my experience the management in the coal industry, like that in many other industries, prefers to deal with the representatives of a disciplined and organised work force than with a work force that displays anarchy and is willing to take action wherever and whenever it feels like it.

Trade unions, from their national executives to individual shop stewards, frequently play a most constructive role in the production process. Unions are and always have been part of the disciplinary machinery of large sections of British industry. I am sure that some Conservative Members understand that role—I wish that more of them did. They will also understand that even the most disciplined trade unionist may find himself or herself carried along by the sheer force of events, whether inspired by a perceived injustice or by any one of a thousand combinations of circumstances. Clauses 6 and 7 seek to discover and punish scapegoats in those cases.

The Minister knows that the right to strike is an individual and not a collective one. He knows that trade unions give the individual right to strike practical application. Trade unions were forced to allow combinations of individuals—free-born men and women—to band together to help redress the imbalance that dominated industrial relations.

For most of this century, legislation by Governments of all political shades has recognised the role of those in trade unions who are chosen by their fellows to act as spokespersons and local organisers—a task which is frequently difficult and thankless and requires more than a little personal courage as well as ability. One of the most astute and courageous trade union leaders this century was the late Will Paynter, whose analyses of industrial relations in the late 1960s led him to be criticised as frequently by the so-called Left as by the self-proclaimed Right. He once told me in the midst of the most bitter and damaging post-war strikes in Britain that, while it can take some courage and ability to order men and women out on strike, it takes infinitely more courage to order them back to work when it looks as though the tactical worth of a strike has become exhausted or redundant.

Clauses 6 and 7 threaten to take away even the fragile protection of existing legislation from men and women who are local trade union officials. The clauses threaten to undermine one of the central pillars of responsible and valuable trade unionism. No one in his or her right mind will put himself forward for a trade union position if, as a result of unofficial industrial action which he may have opposed in the first place, he finds himself at the wrong end of the law.

There may be those in the Government who rejoice at such a prospect, but I fear that theirs will prove an extremely limited prospective, for they will be undermining a central pillar of that often fragile platform on which industrial harmony is based. Ironically, I suspect that any sense of triumphalism which may be evident among the Government will be shared only by the nutters who occasionally surface in the trade union movement claiming that all strikes are good strikes. All strikes are not good strikes, but it makes no sense to use scattergun legislation to control irresponsibility. It will injure and destroy precisely those elements in the trade union movement that bring to the movement a sense of discipline and industrial perspective which all industries and services desire.

Instead of encouraging and enhancing the spirit of democracy and responsibility, the clauses will promote demagogy and anarchy—qualities which have a nasty habit of surfacing within work forces in which a sense of order has been replaced by disillusionment and helplessness. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider again the likely long-term implications of the clauses becoming law.

9.4 pm

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

I am saddened when I listen to Labour Members dealing with industrial and employment matters. I well remember the days of strife when the Labour Government experienced great difficulty in the governance of the land because of problems with unofficial action and discord in industry. That was harmful not only to the Government and the people but to trade union members, who were often used as the tools of extremists. I well remember as a young industrial engineer that often young people who were brought out on strike by extremists were unsure why they were on strike and returned to work after about a week disillusioned about why their leadership had called the strike. I have always welcomed the sensible step-by-step approach of the Government in bringing industrial relations into the 1990s.

I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick)—as one of his constituents I had the great honour of voting for him when he was first elected to this place—congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. I recall serving on the Committee which considered the Employment Bill of 1988. Many Conservative Members told my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) that the closed shop legislation would not be sufficient to deal with the problem.

I cannot understand any hon. Member saying that people should not be allowed to follow their calling because they do not have a trade union card. It is difficult to get into the acting profession or to work in the docks without trade union sponsorship. No Labour Member, bearing in mind the fairness of treatment of individuals, could disagree with that.



Mr. Bruce

I shall continue my speech. I am showing the hon. Lady the courtesy that she always shows me when I try to intervene in her speeches—I am ignoring her.

The closed shop works against the rights of the individual. I was pleased to see the chink in the armour of Labour employment spokesmen when we were debating the social charter. They were willing to embrace not only the right of everyone to belong to the trade union of their choice—as an employer, I have always believed that people should have such a choice—but their right not to be a member of a trade union.

I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) will state the Labour party's policy more clearly than the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who hedged on the issue. People join a trade union for the extra benefits that membership offers and because it will fight for them. However, one must have the right to say, "I do not want the union to fight on my behalf," or, "I do not like the way that it is doing it." Such a right should be supported by all hon. Members.

Clause 2, which deals with employment agencies, is interesting. I must admit that until I had read the Bill I had not realised that the Government were aware of the abuses that occur. Having spoken to my right hon. and hon. Friends, I still am not sure whether they fully understand those abuses. I ran an employment agency in Yorkshire, and I was extremely surprised to discover that one company—I shall not mention its name as my information may be two or three years out of date and it may have changed its methods—gave trade union membership forms to all those who filled in an application for temporary work. Applicants were clearly told that they could not be taken on by that company unless they became a member of a trade union.

Perhaps that in itself was not so worrying, but there is another side to the story. I was asked by one company to set up an employment agency dealing with drivers. We were told that we would have the co-operation of the trade union involved, the Transport and General Workers Union, as long as we signed up not only every driver we sent to the company as a member of the TGWU—admittedly, that was not too difficult, because most of the drivers wanted to be members—but all our staff.

Even that would not have been so harmful, were it not for the fact that the members whom we were signing up and from whom we were taking subscriptions were not getting any rights in exchange. Negotiations took place between the temporary driver controller and the trade union; there was no real negotiation between drivers and the management of the company. Once the trade union got the money—to my mind, protection money—Bos-Recruitment could send the drivers without harassment from the rest of the trade union.

I submit that that was a harmful way for a trade union to use its rights. By all means let the union ask for rights to organise my temporary drivers if it was prepared to give those drivers their negotiating rights, but it was not interested in that. It was interested only in the money that it could take from our company in return for giving us an Okay—the assurance that it would not cause us any problems provided that we signed up all our people. Clause 2 is an interesting and long overdue clause.

Clauses 4 to 7 will help to prevent unofficial industrial action. People tend to say that the Bill is an employer's charter and helps only employers. But often it is the ordinary trade unionist whose life is ruined—the person on a low income who lives from one pay cheque to the next. He is the person likely to suffer most. Often companies involved in a dispute cannot help such workers. They find that some form of secondary action is taking place and they cannot get rid of it. Although the changes in this respect are marginal, they are to be welcomed. The provision that introduced a tribunal to look after trade union members' rights was also a fairly marginal proposal, but, clearly, if even one individual is not being supported by his trade union and needs to take action against it, we ought to support that person.

Clause 12 is interesting, and I am surprised that the Government have not gone further with it. I hope that they will consider the matter carefully in Committee. To my mind, work experience represents an important way of showing schoolchildren what they are likely to encounter when they leave school. The technical and vocational education initiative has allowed schoolchildren to see what the working environment looks like. I see no reason why we should not have work experience for children from the age of five onwards. If there is any stop in law to allowing schools to set up work experience schemes appropriate to children's needs, it should be removed. To say that children may undertake work experience only from the last term of the first year of their GCSE course is to limit their opportunities to benefit from it.

Two of my children are engaged in GCSE courses, one in the first year and the other in the second year. I am aware of the difficulties that face schools with the requirement to fit in all the aspects of the national curriculum and also find time for work experience. Properly supervised work experience at the behest of the school should be available to children at an early age, and I believe that the school and the governors are best able to judge those matters. Many children leave school at 16 or 18 years of age without experiencing a week of real work.

The Bill is good and it follows on from other Conservative employment legislation which has primarily looked after the interests of workers. By doing that, Conservative employment legislation has been good for them and has ensured that there is peace for the employers and for the trade unions. Earnings and productivity have risen as a result of industrial peace. I commend the Bill to the House.

9.15 pm
Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

I want at the outset to declare that I am a skilled member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. I am proud also to be a member of section 1 of the AEU and a sponsored Member of it. I am proud of that for a variety of reasons, but the main one is that it is the most democratic organisation in Great Britain. It sticks in one's gullet to be lectured on democracy by Conservative Members when the Conservative party does not have an ounce of democracy in its ranks.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) said that the Labour party is dependent upon finances from the trade union movement. It will be a wonderful day when the Conservative party publishes its accounts so that the world can see where its finances come from. It will also be a wonderful day when members of the Conservative party vote to elect their party chairman, who is at present elected on the block vote of the Prime Minister.

Because of the constraints on time, I, like my colleagues, will concentrate on clauses 6 and 7 which relate to unofficial action. I was a convenor and shop steward for most of my working life in the ship repair yards on Tyneside. We operated a pre-entry closed shop, but no problems arose from it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), I found that most of the disputes in which I was involved were unofficial. The employers regularly sought to change the terms and conditions, wages and health and safety arrangements of employees. Our only recourse in response to the employers' action was to walk out of the yards.

Clauses 6 and 7 are based on the Green Paper entitled "Unofficial Action and The Law". The clauses are based on prejudice, anecdotal evidence and, in some cases, sheer invention. Paragraphs 1.4 to 1.9 in the Green Paper seek to paint a horrific picture of Britain in turmoil as a result of unofficial strikes. The Green Paper refers to the coal industry, the motor manufacturing industry, the docks, shipbuilding, construction, the North sea oil platforms, British Rail, London Underground and the Post Office.The suggestion is that turmoil existed in those industries. Paragraph 1.6 states: A broad categorisation of the stoppages covered by the Employment Department's industrial disputes statistics shows that three-quarters of those which could be classified were official. I tried to discover the truth and I tabled several written questions to the Department of Employment, to which I received answers in December. I asked how many unofficial strikes took place in each industry over a five year period to 1989 and how long those disputes lasted. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment replied: The information is not available except at disproportionate cost."—[Official Report, 21 December 1989; Vol. 164, c. 449.] I tabled another couple of questions, and asked to be told how many unofficial strikes took place in Great Britain in 1989…the total number of days lost through unofficial strikes in Great Britain in 1989; and what were the comparable figures for the five previous years. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State replied: Separate statistics on unofficial strikes ceased to be published as a regular series in 1981."—[Official Report, 12 January 1990; Vol. 164, c. 786.] In other words, the Department has no hard evidence about the extent of unofficial strikes in Great Britain.

If the Bill is implemented, it will be the most draconian legislation ever put on the statute book. It will simply amount to a denial of the right to strike in any circumstances.

Why is unofficial action taken in the first place? Some 95 per cent. of unofficial action is caused by employers who arbitrarily change the terms and conditions of employment, arbitrarily withdraw bonus payments, arbitrarily alter health and safety conditions or sack employees arbitrarily. The overwhelming majority of such strikes are settled within two or three working days and they are unknown to the respective union. Frequently, the first that the union hears about such an unofficial strike is when the district officer is rung up by the employer, who asks him to get the lads and lasses back to work. They frequently return to work on the understanding that the status quo will be reintroduced.

The Green Paper has said that unofficial strikes take place because the proper procedures are not followed. Frequently it is the employer who has not proceeded with the official disputes procedure. What do the Government propose to do in those circumstances? They seek to clobber not the employer but the employee who is seeking to defend himself and his terms and conditions.

If the Bill goes through, clause 7 will be worse than anything that now applies in eastern Europe. The Bill will be condemned by the International Labour Organisation because it contravenes its statutes, but it will almost certainly be condemned by eastern European countries as they move towards greater democratisation.

An employee who is sacked for taking unofficial action will have no right to go before an industrial tribunal. The Bill goes further, however, as the trade union or the work force will be denied the right to take any action to protect that sacked employee. A number of my hon. Friends have already said that that is tantamount to slavery.

If an employer physically or verbally abuses one of his work force, that person and the rest of the work force might respond by walking out. If one of those workers is a shop steward, the employer could demand that the trade union should refuse to acknowledge that action. That power effectively denies workers the right to take such action, because, should they do so, the employer may take his employees to court. A worker who lost his job through the actions of his employer will have no right of recourse to an industrial tribunal, and his union will have no right to take action on his behalf. The union will have no right to protect that worker or his colleagues. Many of my hon. Friends have already said that, as a result of the Bill, our workers will have fewer rights than the workers in any other EEC country. Our work force will be entirely exposed to the actions of the employers.

Mrs. Mahon

My hon. Friend has talked about fairness and about how workers are treated. Two of my constituents have just lost a case for unfair dismissal on the basis that they were casual employees. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill would give them the dubious rights that he has just outlined? Does he further agree that such workers will be treated unfairly, having extra duties imposed on them on the one hand, while on the other hand they will not be able to go to an industrial tribunal and to win?

Mr. Evans

My hon. Friend is perfectly right. The workers to whom she has referred will have no rights whatsoever.

We shall pursue every element of the Bill in Committee. We shall test the Government's integrity, because we intend to seek to table many amendments to ensure once and for all that the Government will be seen by everyone to be an anti-trade union Government.

9.25 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The debate has been like many of our previous debates on trade unions. Many of my hon. Friends' speeches have been based on their experience, whereas all that we have heard from Conservative Members has been the usual massaging of prejudices and the lunatic fringe—[Interruption.] Conservative Members may laugh, but we know full well that the Government were running short of Members willing to speak this evening. Indeed, those who spoke in the debate were, even by the Government's standards, those who urge the Secretary of State to go just that little bit further.

We also know that the Bill has almost no role in terms of the industrial relations framework of Britain in the 1990s. Ironically, the former Secretary of State for Employment, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) virtually said as much. Having been the author of the Bill—I shall explain a little later why he was the author—he then sought to explain why he had handed to his right hon. and learned Friend the present Secretary of State perhaps not a poisoned chalice but a slightly leaky chalice, which has little merit in terms of the realities.

Tonight the former Secretary of State began to address some of the issues that he so signally failed to address when he was in government. I welcome him to the Back Benches because perhaps we can now begin to have the kind of meaningful debate with him that was not possible over the Dispatch Box. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to serve on the Committee, Opposition Members will certainly give him a great and sincere welcome.

The Bill owes its existence to two factors. The first is the fact that the Prime Minister, ever spiteful, was faced with a massive deficit in the opinion polls and said to herself and to the former Secretary of State for Employment, "I'm in a hole, Secretary of State, can we not knock the unions once again? We have tried it before in the past 10 years. Can we rattle the same old skeleton once again?" The second factor was the summer of discontent and the belief that political gains could be made from the Government's promises to reform industrial relations, which had begun to come unstuck at the seams last year.

It is interesting that even a magazine such as The Economist has advised the Government: The government's achievement to date has probably captured most of the gains available through the courts. I must emphasise that I do not agree with that first sentence, which relates to industrial relations. The article then states: Going further could be to sail close to the invisible line where the loss of individual freedom outweighs the good for the economy and society. I charge the Government on that latter point. Under the Bill, the individual freedoms of our citizens will be so undermined that the Bill cannot be regarded simply as an extension of the previous legislation. In its own right, it is a particularly obnoxious, nasty and vindictive piece of legislation which will do real damage.

It was only when my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) made it quite clear where Labour stood on this piece of legislation that the Government realised that they could not possibly justify being seen to penalise people at their place of work simply because they were members of a trade union. At that point, the Government were bounced into trying to bring in some form of equity. I congratulate my hon. Friend on that achievement. We have already won the first argument in the battle on the Bill.

Sir Norman Fowler

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that what he has just said is wholly untrue?

Mr. Lloyd

In that case the right hon. Gentleman must tell the House why this was not in the Green Paper and why it was only after my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield had made his announcement that the then Secretary of State leapt to his feet, metaphorically speaking, to tell the world—he even advertised it in the Employment Gazette—that the Government were falling into line with the social charter.

Sir Norman Fowler

If the hon. Gentleman reads my intervention on the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) he will see that the hon. Gentleman put himself on the hook of abolishing the closed shop. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) has said something totally untrue. The House wants to know whether the Opposition are saying that they are opposed to the closed shop and will remain so.

Mr. Lloyd

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that we are saying that we shall live in conformity with the social charter—the Government are not prepared to do that. They are not prepared, for example, to live with a regime that guarantees people rights at work because they are trade unionists. The Secretary of State was repeatedly challenged in the debate to say whether he would take action against blacklists; he declined to do so. He knows that the ILO has condemned the Government for their unfair practices perpetrated on GCHQ.

Mr. Howard

Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw that allegation? The ILO has not condemned the Government. Indeed, the latest complaint that the TUC put to it has been withdrawn by the TUC. Does he not know that?

Mr. Lloyd

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman reads the ILO's "Observation 1989" he will see that the organisation roundly condemns the Government's action on GCHQ, and on secondary action. I have no doubt that the ILO will also condemn this Bill, especially its provisions on secondary industrial action.

The Bill is even-handed neither on the right to be a trade unionist nor in its treatment of employer and employee. I remind the Secretary of State that one of his predecessors, Lord Prior, made it clear that he thought it necessary to leave in the law what he described as a gateway to legality. If the freedom to strike was not to be rendered illusory, he said, trade union members should have the right to take strike action. Tonight, the Government are trying to close that gateway.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State's speech and I hope that the Minister of State will tell us what has changed. We have heard no justification—[Interruption.] Does the Secretary of State want to intervene? I thought I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman mutter a defence. I shall educate him a little in industrial relations law.

The Bill is not necessary to achieve what the Secretary of State claimed it would achieve. The Government's previous legislation has already clarified the legality or otherwise of these provisions. This legislation is a fraud if the Minister claims that it has been brought in for these reasons.

The nastiest part of the Bill concerns unofficial action, and we are entitled to ask why it was introduced. My hon. Friends have already pointed out that the Government referred in several ways to the great problem of unofficial action. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) has just told us that the Government's claims were bogus. The Green Paper suggested that unofficial action was a uniquely British practice, but neither the Secretary of State, nor his predecessor, nor the Minister of State will tell the House why unofficial action in this country is a different proposition: it is because we have a completely different legal framework. The German legal framework encourages official action, but in this country the legal framework increasingly makes official action more and more difficult. The Government were warned of that. If anything, the surprise is that unofficial action is not more widespread.

The Government may claim that clause 1 gives an individual the right to be a trade union member. What will happen to a trade unionist, perhaps the only one at a place of work, when unofficial action takes place and he is sacked? Will he have any rights under clause 1 to maintain his place as an employee there? The Minister looks puzzled. I hope that he will address that question because we will return to it until we receive an adequate answer.

In the Green Paper the Government argue: The unofficial strike action earlier this year by steel erectors on construction sites in London was not only damaging in itself; it also threatened to undermine the industrial agreement in the engineering construction industry. Presumably that is the view of Ministers. I talked to the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which organises steel erectors, about the dispute. The union made it clear to me that on each and every occasion it had done exactly what the Government seek to provide in the Bill: the union made it clear to its members that the action was unofficial and not approved of by the union. Its members were under no illusions. The Government prayed in aid that dispute, but what difference will clause 6 make to such a dispute? The answer is none.

During the dispute on London Underground earlier this year, the management said: The management made more mistakes when the first unofficial one-day strikes began in April. Tunnicliffe announced there would be no attempt to punish the ringleaders because he did not want to create martyrs. Most sensible employers will recognise that the creation of martyrs is ridiculous, but that is far from a universal view.

Mr. Brian Ward Lilley, director of the Institute of Personnel Management, warned the Government that some employers might misuse the legislation. He said: I hate to say this, but there are some managers who could use this as a way of avoiding redundancies: by provoking a strike, dismissing some people then hiring back the ones they wanted, thus getting rid of the few too many. I challenge the Minister to tell us how the Bill will prevent such action by unscrupulous employers.

I have already challenged the Secretary of State once on this next matter, but I do not think that he understood. I hope that he will reply this time. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) raised the important issue of health and safety. Under German legislation, for example, it is not necessary to take unofficial action when equipment is defective or unsafe, because regulations protect employees and allow them not to work until it has been inspected and declared safe or declared unsafe and corrected. In Britain there is no parallel right.

I hope that Ministers understand that: if employees stopped working because equipment was unsafe, it would count as unofficial action. Under the Bill employers are likely to say to the instigators of such unofficial strike, "I am sacking the troublemakers who brought their colleagues out on strike." Those workers would have no right of appeal.

The Under-Secretary of State was challenged late last year during the construction safety campaign about the rights of employees working on unsafe construction sites. His advice was clear. He told construction workers that they had the right to walk off the job. He incited them to take unofficial action, and I applaud his decision. I challenge the Minister to say whether my interpretation is correct. If I am not correct, I shall withdraw my charge. However, if I am correct I expect the Minister to say that he will accept amendments that will take away that nasty, vindictive and spiteful part of the Bill that will do so much damage not only to individuals at their place of work but to the whole concept of health and safety in our society.

The Bill is not simply a step beyond what has gone before. It has a number of nasty features that will damage industrial relations. Above all, it has nasty features that, in the final analysis, may kill people at the workplace.

9.40 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar)

It has been an enjoyable and interesting debate, not least because of the separate debate on the Opposition Benches, not only between Front-Bench and Back-Bench Members, but between Back Bencher and Back Bencher. The speeches of the hon. Members for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) and for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) represented different attitudes to the whole question of industrial relations legislation. That added to the interest of the debate.

I much enjoyed listening once again to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will not take it amiss if I say that it was a pleasure to hear my right hon. Friend's dulcet tones. However, the highlight of the debate was the vintage voice of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). During a fascinating perambulation of a speech, he announced that he had been on official strike only once, and that any other industrial action, as a union official, was on the basis of something that we are now making illegal. I was not entirely sure whether he was recommending or opposing the Bill. But it was an interesting comment.

The Bill is our latest stage in our reform of industrial relations legislation. It places the last nail in the coffin of the tyrannical closed shop practices that were actively promoted by the last Labour Government. It is a further reinforcement of the rights of the individual. The Bill will remove legal protection from all forms of secondary action, and so will protect jobs. It will bring unofficial action within the scope of the law, and so improve the climate of industrial relations.

No one seriously doubts that, finally, there is a wide consensus to end the closed shop. As recently as 1984, Tony Dubbins, the general secretary of the National Graphical Association, said: To us a closed shop is as natural as getting up in the morning and having breakfast. The reality is much less homely. In fact, the closed shop is a euphamism for a blatant and outrageous denial of individual rights. It is wholly indefensible in a free society.

The Government have reduced the scope of the closed shop, through successive pieces of legislation. We have already made the post-entry closed shop unenforceable, and now is the time to deny the closed shop any legal status. The Bill's provisions on the closed shop are entirely even-handed. Clause 1 makes it unlawful to deny someone a job because he is not a member of a trade union, and it represents a major step forward for civil liberties.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) adduced two reasons for his concern about clause 1. First, he said that it had a conclusive presumption. The fact is that conclusive presumptions can be made only in two particular sets of circumstances—they do not apply right across the board. Both sets of circumstances apply to the position of an employer. I must say that I welcome the hon. Gentleman's concern for the position of an employer. In both sets of circumstances, the remedy is in the employer's own hands.

The hon. Member for Sedgefield considered the sanctions in these two instances to be extreme—I think "extreme" is the word that he used. I do not deny for a moment that they are severe. They need to be severe, because we must bring an end to the most blatant and most extreme of the closed shop practices. That subsection refers to blatantly discriminatory advertisements and to union-controlled recruitment, such as that at Smithfield market. I cannot see why the hon. Gentleman is concerned about that. If he is genuinely opposed to the closed shop, why is he not opposed to strong action being taken in those two sets of circumstances?

Then the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) referred to the problem—they saw it as a problem—of the Economic League. The hon. Gentlemen know full well that the Economic League does not submit candidates for employment and that employers do not agree to employ only persons that the Economic League puts forward. The Economic League simply supplies information to employers on request from them. If, acting on that information, an employer were to turn an applicant down because of his union membership, the Bill would catch that employer.

The claim that the Bill is not even-handed because it has no effect on the activities of the Economic League is therefore simply nonsense, and unsustainable. The hon. Gentleman's expression of concern about those two provisions is nothing more than a cop-out. He wants to find an excuse for not supporting clauses 1 to 3, despite the fact that he claims to support abolition of the closed shop.

Mr. Blair

Let me repeat something that I said earlier: if the two points that I have made are so small and so feeble, let the Minister deal with them and we will support the provision. Now, will he deal with them?

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman has simply not understood the provisions of the Bill, and has misconstrued the relevant clauses. I very much look forward to debating this matter with him in Committee. Undoubtedly I shall be able to explain to him in considerable detail why he is wrong.

The Bill will close the last remaining loopholes that might permit secondary action. Of course, we know from the Leader of the Opposition—

Mr. Heffer


Mr. Eggar

I am talking about the hon. Member's leader, so he ought to pay attention.

We know from the Leader of the Opposition that he believes that secondary picketing is "a right that should be enjoyed". The hon. Member for Sedgefield, and the Leader of the Opposition, should recall that there was precious little to enjoy in the 1970s, when secondary picketing prevented food deliveries, blocked hospital treatment, and left the dead unburied. Those were the effects of secondary picketing.

There was precious little for the people of Dundee to enjoy when they lost 1,000 jobs and £40 million of investment because of threats from the Transport and General Workers' Union. The Labour party has never condemned the threat by Mr. Ron Todd. I am sure that it was an oversight on the part of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, who, of course, is sponsored by the TGWU, that he should fail to condemn that union for the disgraceful action that prevented jobs and investment from going to Dundee.

Mr. Heffer

I return to my point concerning the Economic League and similar agencies. The Minister says that they supply names only if requested to do so by employers. If an employer decides not to appoint an applicant, giving a reason other than his trade union activities, but if that is the real reason for his non-appointment, how will the applicant ever know? Such agencies will stop people being employed, and that is not something that the Bill or any other measure can deal with.

Mr. Eggar

I know that the hon. Member for Walton is totally opposed to the position of his hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield, and I understand his concerns about the Bill's provisions. The hon. Member for Walton opposes not only those subsections that worry the hon. Member for Sedgefield but clauses 1 to 3 overall, because he is in favour of keeping closed shops.

Mr. Robert Hughes


Mr. Blair


Mr. Speaker

Order. I call Mr. Eggar.

Mr. Eggar

The third main plank of the Bill is the provision that brings unofficial strike action within the scope of the law. All too often, unofficial and unballoted industrial action causes damage and disruption to British employers. The Bill removes the anomaly whereby a union is protected by statutory immunities when a shop steward organises unofficial action even if no ballot has been held.

The Bill will make unions responsible for industrial action caused by any of its officials down to and including shop stewards. No longer will union leaders be able to give tacit encouragement to unofficial strikes caused by any of their officials. The unions will be required to repudiate unofficial action effectively and speedily if they wish to retain their legal immunities. They will retain the option to ballot for an official and legally protected strike. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) that the Bill's provisions do not in any way prevent a union from adding words to the notice of official repudiation, provided that those words do not undermine the effect of the repudiation.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the Minister give way now?

Mr. Eggar

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have only a little time left and I must move on. He will have plenty of opportunity to make his points in Committee.

Employers will be permitted selectively to dismiss anyone taking official action, and that will be an important and necessary deterrent—as the CBI has recognised.

The Bill will mark a further major advance for industrial relations. The hon. Member for Sedgefield, with no little effrontery, suggested that the Bill shows that the Government are seeking to refight the battles of the past, but the opposite is true. The Bill is designed to ensure that this country never revisits the industrial battlefields of the 1960s and 1970s. Still less do we want to revisit the trade unionism and attitudes of the 1930s so well described by the hon. Member for Walton. It is clear that it is the Labour party that is stuck in a time warp, for it wants to take us straight back to the rampant trade union power, widespread strikes and industrial chaos of the late 1970s.

When the hon. Member for Sedgefield reads his speech tomorrow morning, he should feel a little embarrassed, because it was all about making it easier to strike and to bring about the industrial disruption that has caused this country so much harm. The hon. Gentleman's message was clear. His message from Labour's Front Bench was, strike long and strike often. He was propounding a strikers' charter. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to deny that, why did he not take up the challenge laid down by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State? Why has he not clearly denied the statement made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)—who has been conspicuous by his absence—who said that Labour would repeal all the Government's employment laws? The reason for the hon. Gentleman's silence is clear: he will not deny his hon. Friend's proposition, because he knows that what his hon. Friend says represents the true voice of the Labour party. If he does not believe me, let him look behind him at all the stern faces of the 35 hon. Members who signed the early-day motion in favour of the closed shop. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is clearly right: Labour would get rid of all the Government's employment legislation—it would "get rid of the lot".

I sat patiently through the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, but he did not deny that Labour would repeal every last one of the union reforms of the past 10 years. Let me give him another opportunity. Will he now deny that the Labour party will repeal our legislation? Clearly he has not sorted out his little internal differences with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East.

The fact is that Labour never condemns any strike, however much damage it does to the public. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Howells) had the courage to recognise that not all strikes are good strikes; I wish that the hon. Member for Sedgefield would show the same courage. Whatever a strike may put at risk—the rail network, export orders, energy supplies or even the Health Service—the Labour party will always endorse it, encourage it and wish it effective success.

There has been one exception during the past 10 years: Labour's leaders have condemned one strike. You may be as surprised as I am by that information, Mr. Speaker, and I see Labour Front Benchers furrowing their brows, wondering what on earth that strike could be. They did condemn a strike, however; they even—let me whisper it —supported a management that threatened to suspend striking staff without pay. Who was that ruthless employer? Yes, it was the Labour party at Walworth road, which engaged in a bitter dispute with its own staff from the National Union of Journalists only last August. According to the Labour party, only one employer in Britain should be allowed protection against industrial action: itself. That is the only occasion in the past 10 years when Labour Front Benchers have condemned a strike: what an appalling record.

I have some sympathy for the hon. Member for Sedgefield: he has sat through the debate with little company on the Opposition Front Bench. Where were his shadow Cabinet colleagues? 1 think that we have a right to know—or at least the hon. Gentleman has a right to know—which of those colleagues told Tribune that his policy was a "gross mistake" and "totally unnecessary". For the hon. Gentleman's sake, will the author of those remarks stand up and be counted? Was it the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East? Was it the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who seems reluctant to relinquish his old habits and responsibilities? Was it the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who looks thoroughly puzzled? Was it perhaps the Leader of the Opposition himself? Answer comes there none: no one is prepared to own up.

According to the terms of its policy review, the Labour party has ducked the challenge and faked the change. The Opposition oppose the Bill because they do not want union leaders to be responsible for their members. To Labour, a trade union ballot is either an administrative inconvenience or a means of compelling employers to concede to union demands. To us the ballot is an essential democratic right to protect members against abuses of union power.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order (Amendment on Second or Third Reading:

The House divided: Ayes 255, Noes 198.

Division No. 53] [10 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Bowis, John
Alexander, Richard Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Amess, David Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Amos, Alan Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Arbuthnot, James Bright, Graham
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Ashby, David Buck, Sir Antony
Aspinwall, Jack Burns, Simon
Atkins, Robert Burt, Alistair
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Butler, Chris
Baldry, Tony Butterfill, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Batiste, Spencer Carrington, Matthew
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Carttiss, Michael
Bellingham, Henry Cartwright, John
Bendall, Vivian Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Benyon, W. Chapman, Sydney
Biffen, Rt Hon John Chope, Christopher
Blackburn, Dr John G. Churchill, Mr
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Body, Sir Richard Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Bottomley, Peter Colvin, Michael
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Conway, Derek
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jones, Robert B (Herb W)
Cope, Rt Hon John Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, Patrick Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Couchman, James Key, Robert
Cran, James King, Roger (B'ham N' thfield)
Critchley, Julian Kirkhope, Timothy
Currie, Mrs Edwina Knapman, Roger
Davis, David (Boothferry) Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Day, Stephen Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Devlin, Tim Knox, David
Dicks, Terry Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Dorrell, Stephen Latham, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lawrence, Ivan
Dover, Den Lee, John (Pendle)
Durant, Tony Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Eggar, Tim Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Emery, Sir Peter Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lightbown, David
Evennett, David Lilley, Peter
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Fishburn, John Dudley Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Fookes, Dame Janet MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Forman, Nigel MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Maclean, David
Forth, Eric McLoughlin, Patrick
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Franks, Cecil Madel, David
Freeman, Roger Malins, Humfrey
French, Douglas Mans, Keith
Fry, Peter Maples, John
Gale, Roger Marlow, Tony
Gardiner, George Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gill, Christopher Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mates, Michael
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Maude, Hon Francis
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Goodlad, Alastair Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Miscampbell, Norman
Gorst, John Mitchell, Andrew (GedIbig)
Gow, Ian Montgomery, Sir Fergus,
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Moss, Malcolm
Gregory, Conal Neale, Gerrard
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Neubert, Michael
Grist, Ian Nicholls, Patrick
Ground, Patrick Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Grylls, Michael Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hague, William Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Page, Richard
Hampson, Dr Keith Paice, James
Hanley, Jeremy Patnick, Irvine
Hannam, John Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'Il Gr') Pawsey, James
Harris, David Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Haselhurst, Alan Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hawkins, Christopher Riddick, Graham
Hayes, Jerry Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hayward, Robert Rost, Peter
Heathcoat-Amory, David Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Ryder, Richard
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Sayeed, Jonathan
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Hordern, Sir Peter Shaw, David (Dover)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarh')
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Shersby, Michael
Hunter, Andrew Sims, Roger
Irvine, Michael Skeet, Sir Trevor
Jack, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Janman, Tim Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Stanbrook, Ivor
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Steen, Anthony
Stern, Michael Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Stevens, Lewis Waller, Gary
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Warren, Kenneth
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N) Watts, John
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Wells, Bowen
Sumberg, David Wheeler, Sir John
Summerson, Hugo Whitney, Ray
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wiggin, Jerry
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Wilshire, David
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Winterton, Nicholas
Temple-Morris, Peter Wolfson, Mark
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Yeo, Tim
Thornton, Malcolm Young, Sir George (Acton)
Townend, John (Bridlington) Younger, Rt Hon George
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Tracey, Richard Tellers for the Ayes:
Trippier, David Mr. Tom Sackville and
Trotter, Neville Mr. Nicholas Baker.
Walden. George
Abbott, Ms Diane Crowther, Stan
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Cryer, Bob
Allen, Graham Cummings, John
Alton, David Cunliffe, Lawrence
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dalyell, Tam
Armstrong, Hilary Darling, Alistair
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Ashton, Joe Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Dewar, Donald
Barron, Kevin Dixon, Don
Battle, John Dobson, Frank
Beckett, Margaret Doran, Frank
Bell, Stuart Douglas, Dick
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Duffy, A. E. P.
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Dunnachie, Jimmy
Bermingham, Gerald Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Bidwell, Sydney Eadie, Alexander
Blair, Tony Eastham, Ken
Blunkett, David Evans, John (St Helens N)
Boateng, Paul Fatchett, Derek
Boyes, Roland Fearn, Ronald
Bradley, Keith Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Flannery, Martin
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Flynn, Paul
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Foster, Derek
Buchan, Norman Foulkes, George
Caborn, Richard Fraser, John
Callaghan, Jim Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Galloway, George
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. George, Bruce
Canavan, Dennis Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Gordon, Mildred
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Gould, Bryan
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Graham, Thomas
Clay, Bob Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Clelland, David Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Grocott, Bruce
Cohen, Harry Harman, Ms Harriet
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Haynes, Frank
Corbett, Robin Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Corbyn, Jeremy Heller, Eric S.
Cousins, Jim Henderson, Doug
Hinchliffe, David Nellist, Dave
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) O'Brien, William
Home Robertson, John O'Neill, Martin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Patchett, Terry
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Pendry, Tom
Hoyle, Doug Pike, Peter L.
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Prescott, John
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Primarolo, Dawn
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Quin, Ms Joyce
Illsley, Eric Randall, Stuart
Ingram, Adam Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Janner, Greville Reid, Dr John
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Richardson, Jo
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Robinson, Geoffrey
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Rogers, Allan
Kennedy, Charles Rooker, Jeff
Lamond, James Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Leadbitter, Ted Rowlands, Ted
Leighton, Ron Ruddock, Joan
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Sedgemore, Brian
Litherland, Robert Sheerman, Barry
Livingstone, Ken Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Short, Clare
Loyden, Eddie Sillars, Jim
McAllion, John Skinner, Dennis
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McCartney, Ian Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McFall, John Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
McKelvey, William Snape, Peter
McLeish, Henry Soley, Clive
McNamara, Kevin Stott, Roger
McWilliam, John Straw, Jack
Madden, Max Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Turner, Dennis
Marek, Dr John Vaz, Keith
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Walley, Joan
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wareing, Robert N.
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Watson, Mike (Glasgow. C)
Martlew, Eric Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Maxton, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Meacher, Michael Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Meale, Alan Wilson, Brian
Michael, Alun Winnick, David
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Worthington, Tony
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wray, Jimmy
Morgan, Rhodri Young, David (Bolton SE)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Tellers for the Noes:
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Mrs. Llin Golding and
Murphy. Paul Mr. Allen McKay.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second Time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 ( Committal of Bills).