HC Deb 29 June 1993 vol 227 cc814-6
8. Mrs. Fyfe

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to encourage membership of trade unions.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

It is for trade unions themselves to encourage union membership by demonstrating that they can provide effective services and that they have the ability to adapt to the needs and aspirations of individual employees in the modern working environment.

Mrs. Fyfe

We all expected a reply of that nature from the Minister. Will he turn his attention to the Economic League, which has ceased its activities after 73 years of lying and sneering about trade unionists to discourage activity in the workplace'? Will he find out what happened to the records of the Economic League and will he put an end to discrimination against people in the work force on the grounds of their real or supposed political opinions?

Mr. Forsyth

I have no responsibility for the Economic League, but I gather that the hon. Lady's first attempt at a question was to invite the Government to say what their plans were to discourage trade union membership. I am sure that she will join me in recognising that the reforms that we carried out in the 1980s made trade unions far more willing to consider the interests of their membership and gave the membership far more control over the trade unions. That was a welcome step forward.

The position on discrimination against people on grounds of trade union membership remains the same as it has always been. It is against the law for employers to discriminate against people on the grounds of trade union membership.

Mr. Dunn

The worst example of trade union coercion was in the 1970s when people were forced to join trade unions against their will. Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest disincentive to joining a trade union is the link between the trade union movement and the Labour party?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend. The trade union movement would be much better if it disengaged from the Labour party and the Labour party would be much better if it had the guts, the power and the ability to disengage itself from the trade union movement.

On the point about the closed shop, I also have a long memory. It comes ill from Opposition Members to pose as the champions of individual rights when they consistently opposed our plans to give individuals the right to join a trade union of choice.

Mr. Galbraith

Do not the Government actively discourage trade unionism? Did not the Government ban trade unions at Government communications headquarters and change the trade union Bill now before the House to allow employers to bribe their employees to give up trade union membership? Do not those actions speak louder than any mealy-mouthed words from the Minister?

Mr. Forsyth

No, it is not true that the Government made an amendment to the trade union Bill to allow employers to bribe people not to be members of a trade union. That is against the law and will continue to be against the law. It is true that some people choose not to have their terms and conditions negotiated by collective bargaining arrangements, and the Government believe that they should be free to make that choice while remaining members of a trade union. There are a million trade union members whose terms and conditions are not negotiated by collective bargaining and they must be rather puzzled by the Labour party's position, which is to tell them that their trade union membership is worthless.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Will the Minister commend to the rest of the United Kingdom the practice which applies in Northern Ireland whereby trade unionists who pay their political contribution are denied the right to join the British Labour party?

Mr. Forsyth

My responsibilities do not extend to Northern Ireland, but I will happily draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.