HL Deb 11 March 1975 vol 358 cc157-63


  1. 1. Where a union membership agreement has been made as defined in section 30 of this Act and any independent trade union, being neither a party to the agreement nor specified for the purposes of or in relation to the agreement, claims that it should reason- ably have been so specified, then the independent trade union may refer the matter to the Secretary of State in accordance with the subsequent provisions of this Schedule.
  2. 2.Upon a reference to the Secretary of State under the preceding paragraph then—
    1. (a)the union membership agreement shall cease to be effective in relation to any employee who is for the time being in membership of the independent trade union which referred the matter to the Secretary of State until the conclusion of the proceedings on the reference ; and
    2. (b)the Secretary of State may after consulting with the parties thereto vary the terms of the union membership agreement and may also specify for the purposes of or in relation to the agreement the independent trade union who referred the matter to him.
  3. 3. The Secretary of State may make regulations governing the procedure to be followed on a reference to him under this Schedule and such regulations may contain such supple- mentary and consequential provisions as appear to him to be necessary or expedient.
  4. 4. Regulations made under this Schedule may provide for the Secretary of State to refer the matter in dispute or any part thereof to any person or body appointed under any other enactment dealing with industrial relations whether passed before or after this Act on such terms as the Secretary of State considers necessary or expedient and before exercising any power in paragraph 2(b) hereof the Secretary of State shall consider the report of the person or body to whom the matter was so referred ." "

The noble Earl said: According to my understanding, this Amendment is parallel to but, nevertheless, distinct from the manuscript Amendment of my noble friend. This Amendment is yet another attempt to provide safeguards and a protective mechanism for groups of workers belonging either to small unions or unions independent of the TUC, or even for members of a large union with a small number of members in an establishment. Like our other Amendments, it provides protection for the potentially weak against the potentially strong or overbearing. This, I regret to say, is not a point of view which has so far found general acceptance among your Lordships, at least on the Government side of the Committee. Nevertheless, once more we intend to try to make the Government think again.

As I have said, this Amendment relates to an independent trade union which is not a party to a union membership agreement. Such a union may well be concerned to protect its interests. Under such an Amendment the union concerned would have the right to refer the matter to the Secretary of State. He then has the absolute discretion to follow, or not to follow, procedures laid down in the later sub-paragraphs of the Amendment, and, I suggest, to refer the matter to the TUC Review Committee when it is set up —always supposing, as the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal suggested, that eventually that body has some form of Parliamentary blessing.

I do not suppose that the Government will seek to deny that eventually some form of legislation, such as we are pro-posing, will have to be set up, with, indeed, some form of protective mechanism. There are some unions outside the TUC which, for one reason or another, have been either denied membership or have never sought it. In that case, it may not be possible, or even desirable, to deal with the matter internally, as it were. I am sure that noble Lords opposite accept that there are some unions not affiliated to the TUC who are perfectly respectable in this sense, and who do a perfectly reasonable job for their members. Taking the matter briefly, I suggest the advantages of this Amendment are twofold. First, the Amendment pro-vides a solution to those aggrieved, or merely fearful, who wish to resolve what may be a dispute without having to resort to industrial action. Secondly, the Amendment provides a means which does not entail recourse either to the courts, or to those grasping lawyers whom noble Lords opposite so despise.

Before I sit down, there is one matter that I feel will probably be raised, and at this time I should like to answer it. It may be said that the Bill before your Lordships' Committee merely seeks to restore the situation as it applies to closed shops to what I might call the " pre-1971 era ". I suggest that is a perfectly accept-able point of view, even if one may not agree with it. Equally, I would suggest that in fact the position of the trade unions relative to the pre-1971 era is one of infinitely greater strength, as was said yesterday by many noble Lords. It is, perhaps, the reason why those of us on this side of your Lordships' Committee are nervous for the future, and I am not talking about Communists or anything like that at this juncture. Quite obviously, at least to us, the trade union movement is infinitely stronger than it was even five years ago. So, in my submission, the necessity for such an Amendment as this becomes firm. If I may put it this way, to us at least the friendly and rather cosy cart horse of the Low cartoon, representing the trade union move-ment, has suddenly become, to use a racing term, a " flyer"; but while it is a " flyer ", it is of uncertain temperament and, for the sake of all our safety, of necessity requires certain safeguards. I beg to move.

3.36 p.m.


I find it passing strange to hear recommendations from the Opposition Benches that there shall be a proliferation of trade unions, when over the years they have emphasised the advisability of an industrial trade union in each industry. We in the trade union movement have been dealing with this almost insoluble problem in the best way we could, by getting agreement between the different unions in each industry, and, so far as possible, getting amalgamations between the different unions in each industry in order to get an industrial union. Where it has not been possible to do that, the different unions have set up committees where the inter-union problems are mostly solved without any reference at all to the employers. We take the onus off the employers so that we might get one voice from the trade unions that the employers could understand, one voice instead of a Tower of Babel, as has so often happened.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Salmon, yesterday spoke about infiltration into the trade unions by subversive bodies. I do not treat these subversive bodies lightly as some, even on my own side, attempt to do. I treat them with great seriousness. They are very wise and very well-advised. If we have legislation which not only allows but encourages proliferation of trade unions within one industry, the prospect of the subversive bodies setting up unions for the purpose of causing further disruption is inevitable. I hope that this Amendment will not be pressed from the Opposition Benches. If they are to press it in such a way, it will only add to the chaos that they profess to want to remove.

On a previous Amendment we have discussed smaller unions and have talked about professional engineers. Before dealing further with that, I want to know just what is a professional engineer. Is he a man who has taken a degree in a university? Is he a man who has taken his apprenticeship and gone on to acquire further qualifications between the university degree and the practical qualifications he already has? If we talk about " professional engineers", what do we mean? I ask that question deliberately, because it will need a week of discussion to define. At the end of that discussion, I can promise your Lordships that the phrase will be incapable of definition.

These matters are discussed within the trade union movement. We must give the trade union movement the responsibility for which it is asking if we are to solve the problems of multiple trade unions inside industry. I hope that, having listened to what I have said, noble Lords opposite will do what they are professing to do; that is, trying to make easier the job of the responsible trade unionists. Imposing such legislation as this will make the job not only difficult, but impossible. We come back to the old saying, " Why make things difficult if you can make them impossible? " That is what this Amendment will inevitably do.

Viscount MONCK

I must be feeling very bold today to venture to speak against my very old friend who has just sat down, who has the same Christian name as myself and who will remain a friend even though I disagree with him. There was a certain amount of criticism yesterday that no employer in industry had spoken in favour of this Bill, and previous Bills were mentioned. I must confess that at the present moment I am merely a consultant, unpaid; but I was an employer in industry for 43 years in commodities ranging from paper to coal. The first thing I did when this Bill was produced was to let my industrial friends see it; this Amendment covers that part of the Bill which they were quite deter-mined was the part that should be covered. Therefore, I very strongly support my noble friend who has moved this Amendment.

3.41 p.m.


May I revert for one moment to what the noble Lord opposite said about the professional engineers. I understand that is a name which has certainly been known about in my part of the world and accepted for a very long time as a trade union within the meaning of the words " trade union ". Even though I have been in another place for very many years and had lots of representations from trade unions of all kinds, the major trade unions, if 1 may put it in that way, have never raised any objection to the existence of the professional engineers. I am quite certain that my noble friend who moved the Amendment which I am now supporting, even though he has withdrawn it, never for one moment took any exception to the professional engineers. The unions never made any representations. The situation was accepted in the industrial world, which is a very large world in the area that I come from. We are not attempting—cer-tanly I am not—to produce a new small union. I should have thought the noble Lord opposite would have been much better able to describe what is recognised as a small trade union, professional engineers; that he would have been much more informed than I of what that union was and what the word " professional" in technical terms means. But we are not asking to increase the number of small unions. All we are saying is that small unions have already been accepted and have worked in a proper trade union manner. They are not professionals like doctors or lawyers, or persons to whom the word " professional " normally applies. I really must assert that this is not an attempt to increase the number of small unions. It has been there, it has been accepted, it has been working within the very big and prestigious industries that we have in the North.

Though I am always ready to hear what the other side has to say, I thought the noble Lord based his speech on an entirely wrong premise, and that is extremely regrettable. I do not know whether he would come and meet the professional engineers in my part of the world. I am sure that if I asked them they would be delighted to explain the full effect of the operation which they cover. I really was very surprised at the attitude the noble Lord took. The professional engineers have been there for years and have been a very responsible body of men working inside the whole industrial scene of the North. I felt I must put this on the Record, because I should hate the professional engineers, who will be reading the debate, to feel that somebody on the opposite side of the Committee has so little knowledge of the body whose services—

Baroness BACON

If I may intervene, perhaps the noble Baroness is not quite aware of the association of my noble friend with the North of England.


That may well be. I apologise. I wanted to put it absolutely right, that the professional engineers are not a new small union. It is not an attempt on my side of the Committee to increase the small unions in order to try and make it more difficult for the larger unions.


May I tell the noble Baroness that I took her point a long time ago. I am quite sure she has not got my point. We can both save the time of the Committee if we can meet over tea or something like that and go into the particular problem she has in mind.


I am delighted. I think I am right in saying, as I have been asked by the professional engineers to put their point of view, that they have just as much right to be heard in the Upper House as anybody else. If I am asked to put forward a view with which I am in sympathy, or even sometimes if I am in disagreement, I put it forward. I think perhaps I will not continue, but I was utterly surprised at the basis of the arguments which were put forward by the noble Lord. I hope that the next time he speaks he will discover something different so that we may perhaps look at another side.


I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to say that I think it might help to cool the atmosphere a little if I were to move that the House be resumed in order that a Statement may be made.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.