HL Deb 08 February 1984 vol 447 cc1224-59

8.44 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to reconsider the proposals contained in the statement of Wednesday 25th January regarding the GCHQ at Cheltenham.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the second occasion within weeks that there has been a debate in this Chamber on an industrial dispute that is currently taking place. During the previous debate I proffered the point of view that only the employer and the employees and their trade union representatives could reach a final settlement acceptable to all concerned. My purpose in raising this debate today is because the employer involved is the Government of the day. Their action on any subject is, or should be, the concern of all of us. Let me say at the outset that not for one moment do I challenge the Government's right to make the final decisions regarding the security of the nation. They are charged with that responsibility and, of course, must carry it out to the best of their ability. But it is the method that is being used on this occasion against a group of employees to achieve that objective which I, and many other people, believe is wrong. We believe that those objectives are attainable without the use of such draconian measures.

Being present in the Chamber when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, repeated the Statement made in another place on the Cheltenham GCHQ—it came like a bolt from the blue in this place, as it did elsewhere—I predicted, as did other noble Lords from this side of the Chamber of various minority parties, that the manner in which these proposals had been reached and announced would be received with deep anger and concern, and that the people involved would be dismayed and distressed by the fact that in their view their loyalty could be called in question by the manner in which this exercise was carried out. Not only was it seen as such by them, but also by other grades and categories of civil servants employed in other Government departments. Events have shown, I think, that a wider section of the population beyond the people directly involved is deeply concerned about the method of this operation. My prediction has proved more than correct. My objective in initiating this debate is to try to point a way out of our present difficulty.

These proposals, I am afraid, are not seen in isolation. They are seen by most civil servants and their representatives as an extension of the Government's action in 1980, when the previous Conservative Government, which is de facto almost the present Government, broke unilaterally and without any negotiations, the Civil Service pay agreement and conditions of employment with Civil Service unions. These agreements had stood for years. They had been honoured by both Labour and Conservative Governments. I would be the last to want to personalise events in a debate; it does not give any credence to the case. However, it has to be said that the Minister mainly responsible for the conveying of this decision—I am talking about the Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe—has not got a good track record in his implementation or his understanding of industrial relations.

One must have regard to the fact that in a previous Conservative Administration, he was responsible for setting up the Industrial Relations Court that was no use to anyone and, almost at everyone's behest, finally had to be aborted and reduced to complete ineffectuality and destroyed. That is the kernel of one of the misunderstandings that have occurred. It is a lack of knowledge by a very senior Minister in Her Majesty's Government who has been found wanting before in his understanding of people in employment and how they will react to particular situations.

Let us look at the reasons being given by the Government for this decision. It is said that, in order to operate in a complete and efficient manner in the interests of national security—and, as I have said, no one would cavil at that—the Cheltenham GCHQ and other similar establishments must be strike free. I do not suppose that, in the final analysis, anybody would argue with that. But such evidence as there is at present does not indicate conclusively that previous industrial action taken there had any adverse effect on the efficiency of the establishment. That is completely underwritten by an Answer given in another place by a previous Secretary of State for Defence, Sir John Nott, who, on 14th April 1981 at col. 136, said: I assure my hon. Friend that there are no circumstances whatsoever under which we would allow the defence, including the deterrent capacities, of this country to be adversely affected in any way by such an industrial dispute. I do not wish to discuss the difficulties surrounding the dispute, but up to now they have not in any way affected operational capability in any area. I can assure my hon. Friend on that point.". I understand from the questions that were raised on that particular dispute that he did pay full tribute to the loyalty of the people involved. It is on record that, in the more recent dispute, the people engaged at Cheltenham also did not respond to industrial action, but were completely loyal and patriotic to the situation as they saw it.

So why have the Government decided suddenly to take the big stick to them? It is almost like whipping the child for behaving itself. It is a puzzle to most fairminded people. Perhaps to use the word "sinister" is to over-emphasise the case. But from what he said in the interview given to the press by Sir Brian Tovey, the previous Head of Establishment at Cheltenham, one could only draw the conclusion that certainly the Americans, or the American Administration, had been leaning quite heavily for some time on the Government of this country to take such action. It is very unwise for any Government of this country to base their policy regarding industrial relations on the recommendation of a nation when one of the first acts of its President, when obtaining office, was to clap in chains the trade unionists who happened to disagree with him.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. This is one of the vital issues that the House must examine tonight. When one thinks of security one thinks of someone giving information or succumbing to some form of blackmail by another nation. Here we have an eminent civil servant saying that a foreign Government——

Lord Denham

My Lords, the noble Lord may of course intervene in his noble friend's speech but merely, please, to ask a question or to raise a point for elucidation.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I want to be quite clear that my noble friend is saying, in quoting as he did, that our Government succumbed to pressure from a foreign Government and that therefore this is just——

Lord Denham

My Lords, I am sorry, we are getting a little beyond the rules of the House. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Dean, would continue?

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, the point that I am trying to make is that I do not think that the intervention—if it was intervention—by the American Government, or by some of its agencies, is the deciding factor, but I think that it is part of the parcel that brought about this misguided decision.

The issue is now being discussed in a blaze of publicity, which certainly brings us no benefit as a nation and which certainly does not help in settling this particular dispute. The publicity is being increased by conflicting statements made by various Ministers of the Crown, including the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for the Civil Service, and the Prime Minister herself, even to the point where there is confusion as to whether redundancy payments will be paid or people dismissed out of hand if they do not accept the new enforced conditions.

I submit that the issue can be solved to the satisfaction of all concerned and to the satisfaction of the nation. I know that the Prime Minister has said that she is ready to meet the trade unions again, and I urge her to convene a meeting of the parties concerned as quickly as possible and to discuss as a basis for settlement the proposals put to her by the Civil Service unions when they met her last week. These would, in the opinion of the trade unions involved, meet the Government's objectives. This course of action also has the full backing of the TUC. I make that point because it is not only members of the Civil Service unions who work at the establishment; there are also members of other trade unions, such as my own, the AUEW, the engineering union, the plumbers' union and so on. I certainly hope that this further meeting can take place because it would satisfy the Government's objectives. There may be a difference of emphasis but I am sure that a settlement could be reached which would be accepted and supported by all, and which would also retain for the workers involved the historical rights to which they have become accustomed and which are being arbitrarily removed by the Government of what we proudly boast is "the cradle of democracy". I believe that that is a totally wrong way to go about solving the situation.

I do not intend to delay your Lordships for long, but in the few remaining minutes available to me I should like to examine the effects in the area of Cheltenham where this dispute is taking place. I ask noble Lords who have not already done so, to take time to read a letter which appears in today's edition of The Times, written by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. No one could put the case more profoundly from the point of view of someone completely removed from the political spectrum, and the letter contains a complete and total denunciation of the action that the Government propose to take. I shall not read the letter because it is available to your Lordships to read. However, it refers to the fact that if a family does not accept the diktat the children will be uprooted as regards their education and that wives who go out to work to sustain the family will also experience difficulty. Nobody—certainly no trade union leader and no person involved at the establishment—could put the case more eloquently than the right reverend Prelate.

I should like to reflect for one moment on the views of another person in the area of Gloucester who has made his views widely known on this issue. I am referring to a former colleague in another place. He is not of my party, but he is a man for whom I have the highest regard in the conduct of his policital affairs and his stewardship on behalf of the people whom he represents. I am referring to Mr Charles Irving, the Member of Parliament for Cheltenham, who has had a lifetime of service in that area—and very distinguished service—as a city councillor and as a Member of Parliament, and who has a reputation for speaking out. Charles Irving is the last man that anyone—in his own party, in this Chamber or indeed any other Chamber—could accuse of disloyalty. He was so aggrieved about the way in which it was being carried out. He does not cavil for one moment about the objectives—he accepts the objectives. But when two prominent people from an area such as Gloucester—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the Member of Parliament, with his deep-seated experience in the area—are profoundly disturbed. I think it is time that the Government reconsidered their position.

I make no comment on the decision taken by the Ministers involved to ban certain individuals in the case from appearing before a Select Committee today in another place. I have no doubt that the Members in another place will raise this matter in an appropriate manner. But it seems a strange way of gaining public support to ban witnesses who may, or may not, give evidence to support the Government's case.

I understand that today at the hearing by the Select Committee concerning this dispute, a Government Back-Bencher who is not renowned for his support of the trade union movement—I am talking about Mr. John Gorst—complained bitterly that Government Whips had been at work instructing, or providing information to Conservative Members of Parliament on the Select Committee, on the type of questions they ought to ask the Ministers who were appearing before them. This is the cradle of democracy, and such practices do no good whatsoever to that cause.

Finally, my Lords, I put the Question to the Minister, which I hope he can answer. This action of the Government has not only caused widespread dismay and concern at Cheltenham, it has caused it among civil servants in various establishments wherever they work. I know that there is an agreement at Faslane, to which some of the engineering workers are party, for a non-disruptive agreement, but it has set in mind for workers involved in all Government establishments a train of thought that this may be the first step along a dangerous road.

I also ask the Question on behalf of public workers employed in other essential service industries in the public sector, because they are greatly worried. I am the first to admit that the Prime Minister and her party had a resounding victory at the last general election. I was one of its rather less notable casualties. But I do not believe that the electorate of this country, when they elected the present Government, thought that it would take arbitrary action of this nature. I hope that in raising this subject that I have perhaps done a service that may make a contribution to ending this unfortunate dispute.

9.3 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I can agree with one expression used by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, and that is that this matter has been conducted in, as he rightly put it, a blaze of publicity. It also appears to me to have been conducted in a mood, in certain quarters, of almost hysteria. I should like first of all to nail one or two of the exaggerations which there have been in this area.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, referred, as though it were taken for granted, to the suggestion that the loyalty of the employees, the staff, at Cheltenham was being impugned. So far as I know, no-one has questioned their loyalty. They are perfectly loyal public servants, and this issue has absolutely nothing to do with the decision that the Government have recently taken.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am not suggesting that anybody else thinks, or has said, that their loyalty has been impugned. But some of the workers themselves have drawn the conclusion that their loyalty is being impugned, not other people.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, frankly, they have no reason whatever so to do. I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that no-one else was suggesting it. If anybody has imagined this, it is a fantasy. They are loyal, trusted and very important parts of the defence system of this country. The fact that the Government have decided that representation by the ordinary trade unions is not appropriate in their case no more reflects on their loyalty than does the fact that similar provisions apply in the case of the security services—MI5, MI6—or, indeed, of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. Let us therefore get this out of the way.

The exaggeration which has been applied here was admirably exemplified by the noble Lord's reference to the letter in The Times today from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester—I think almost certainly the silliest letter that I have seen in The Times for a long time. The right reverend Prelate there says that a basic human freedom is being removed from the staff of Cheltenham.

Lord Dean of Beswick

That is right.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the noble Lord says, "That is right", but I notice he says it in a quiet little voice; because, of course, it is the most arrant nonsense. If membership of a trade union is a basic human freedom, then equally it is a basic human freedom not to be a member of a trade union, and the Labour Party, in their defence of the closed shop, and the TUC, in their defence of the closed shop, deny that absolutely.

Equally, the fact is that although trade union membership is not, as I have already reminded your Lordships, permitted in areas where the defence of the realm is involved, such as the security services, no-one has suggested that the staff of the security services, or of the Armed Forces, are denied basic human freedom. I say to the noble Lord, as I would say to the right reverend Prelate if he were here, that emotional exaggerations of this sort do no good whatever towards a sensible solution of a practical matter.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would the noble Lord give way?

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

No, my Lords. The noble Lord is going to speak later, and he has already intervened once. I hope he will permit me not to accept an invitation from him at this stage. The fact is that the Government, in my view, have really no option in this area apart from preventing trade union representation for exactly and identically the same reasons as those for which it is not allowed, and does not exist, in other areas vital to national defence.

I do not want to rake up past troubles, but it is simply no use the noble Lord, or the House, seeking to evade, as the noble Lord did evade by not mentioning it, the events of 1981. Your Lordships will remember that at that time the Civil Service unions were in dispute with Her Majesty's Government because the Civil Service unions, to put it briefly, wanted more money. They organised a series of disruptive actions in which they specifically included GCHQ at Cheltenham. To refresh the memory of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, I will quote from the statement issued by the Council of Civil Service Unions on 8th March 1981: There will be a range of selective and disruptive action which will affect Britain's secret communications surveillance network. There will be both national and international repercussions". In other words, the Civil Service unions were saying openly that to pursue their campaign to obtain more money from the taxpayer they were quite prepared to endanger the operations of an establishment vital to national security. In the face of that, how could any Government of any colour, of any political view, simply acquiesce in the continuance of a system in which that could be done again? It would be irresponsible for any Government so to acquiesce.

The only question that I have in my mind—it may be the question that is in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick—is why this action was not taken earlier? I should like to hear from my noble friend Lord Trefgarne when he replies why the Government showed so much solicitude for trade union sensitivities and sensibilities that they allowed all this time to elapse before taking action which that statement, dated 8th March 1981, made, in my submission to your Lordships, absolutely inevitable. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene? I am not sure whether he is signalling.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, just briefly, I did refer to that particular dispute, though I did not put a date to it. I said that subseqently when the trade unionists at that establishment were called to become involved in a later dispute it is to their credit that they refused to do so. I said that it looked as though the child is being whipped for behaving itself. That was the dispute I referred to.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the noble Lord with his usual tactical skill was not referring. But this is not merely the action taken. This is the statement of the deliberate intention of the Council of the Civil Service Unions to use a threat to national security as a means of extracting out of the Government more money for their members generally. Faced with that kind of irresponsibility, how could any responsible Government allow this situation to continue?

I know that now that they are faced with this action there is a kind of death-bed repentance and they offer now, as apparently they did not offer years back, a no-strike agreement. They offer that industrial tribunal hearings should take place in secret regardless of the question that they would be informing the members of those tribunals of matters of which there is no necessity for them to be aware. All these things are being offered, but with the greatest of respect to them and to the death-bed repentance atmosphere in which these offers are made, that is not enough. There is no distinction in principle—this is a matter on which I suggest the noble Lord should take another view—that they have to face. There is no distinction in principle between GCHQ and the security services or the Armed Forces generally. They are all bodies operating for the defence of this country and, let your Lordships remember, of the free world. The GCHQ operates in an international sphere in co-operation with our allies. These are bodies whose security is a vital matter for the free world, and, your Lordships must record it, therefore, for the peace of the world.

What is being proposed for them is a treatment no different from that granted and applied in all the other major areas of activities essential to national defence. I think much the worse of the Civil Service unions that they should be agitating in the way in which they are now doing.

The noble Lord did not refer to the £1,000 offer. I think he was wise because it may have occurred to some people in the trade union movement that, were that kind of thing to be applied elsewhere, there might be an embarrassingly large number of trade unionists who might wish to accept it. In the narrow area of this installation, the Civil Service unions have shown themselves utterly irresponsible.

In the last few days they have published as part of their agitation over this matter the locations of the Cheltenham outstations which have always been treated in the past as secret. And the fact that because they are in dispute with the Government they are prepared to take action of that sort I think confirms, if confirmation were needed, the action of Her Majesty's Government in excluding them in the future from this particularly vital station. I hope, therefore, that the Government, who are doing the right thing, in my own view somewhat belatedly, will stand absolutely firm.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, the basic question in this debate is whether at GCHQ the freedom to belong to a trade union—and let me say that I disagree with the noble Lord. Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in that I do regard that as a basic right and liberty—can be reconciled with the need to safeguard national security. It is a matter of judgment and the Government have reached the conclusion that such a reconciliation is not possible. Moreover, it must be acknowledged that, with the exception, perhaps, of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgame, those of us who are speaking cannot be privy to all the factors which led the Government to take their decision. We can speak only on the basis of the exchanges that have occurred in Parliament during the last two weeks and such other information as we have been able to glean for ourselves. I wish that in a matter having such serious implications for our country there could be more objectivity than has been shown by some of those who have already written and spoken on the subject.

Let me therefore concede at the outset that in 1980 a suggestion concerning the establishment of a no-strike agreement at GCHQ was apparently canvassed locally and rejected by the unions. That is my understanding. Similarly, I understand that Mr. Bill McCall, chairman of the Civil Service Unions' Policy Committee, has frankly acknowledged that there has been in the past some deliberate disruption of work at Cheltenham.

The question, however, remains whether, if the unions had been faced more recently with the threat of certificates of exception under the 1975 and 1978 Employment Protection Acts, they might have been willing to enter into negotiations aimed at establishing a no-strike agreement. I would certainly favour one in this instance and, indeed. I am on record on a number of occasions in the past in having expressed the personal view that there is a strong case for introducing agreed, binding, independent arbitration as a last resort in disputes involving those employed in certain key occupations that are vital to the support of life or the security of the state. Clearly GCHQ employees come into that category, and recent events have, in my view, strengthened still further the case for such agreements. Then there is the question of whether some mutually acceptable way of exempting GCHQ employees from the protection of industrial tribunals could have been devised earlier.

On the third issue of substance between the Government and the unions, I understand that classified information is already withheld from full-time union officials and that any such information is dealt with by lay union officers employed at GCHQ, all of whom are subject to strict positive vetting. However, the question arises of whether, in addition, the national officials who are involved should not themselves be subject to positive vetting; and I think that perhaps they should. Ministers seem to have taken the view that it would prove ineffective to consult with the unions on these matters in advance of the announcement of their decision at a few minutes' notice two weeks ago.

But even if the Government's thinking on this score had eventually been validated, might they not now be in a stronger position if they could have demonstrated that, before taking their decision, they had sought to involve the trade unions and had been rebuffed? As it is, I can only say, on the basis of such information as is available to me, that in handling the problem as they did the Government could hardly have done more to offend not only Liberal opinion but large numbers of the general public who have recently shown no great sympathy for either trade unions or civil servants.

In debates in this House on the 1980 and 1982 employment Bills my noble friends and I gave broad support to the Government's legislative proposals, including those concerning the closed shop. But let there be no doubt that we believe very strongly in the right of employees to associate together in unions of their choice. We are therefore deeply concerned about the withdrawal of that right from people who, unlike those employed in areas such as MI5 and MI6, were recruited on the understanding that they might join a union.

Where precisely in all this is the line going to be drawn? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, when he comes to reply, will be good enough to say. We are all the more concerned because, whatever the unions actually did or might have done before the Government took action two weeks ago, they now appear to be willing to find ways of meeting all the points that seem to have been troubling the Government.

Next, there are the questions surrounding the payment of £1,000—and this is a matter on which I do wish to express a view—to every member of GCHQ staff in compensation for the withdrawal of individual rights, and the increases in pay which it seems are simultaneously to be offered to certain key employees. There is also the controversial matter concerning staff who decline to exercise either of the two options extended to them or to accept a suitable alternative posting, and who are therefore liable to dismissal, with the loss of their entitlement to both the £1,000 and the redundancy pay.

I have only two points to make now on those particular matters. First, in my view, the Government might have been wiser openly to have made more reference to them in their initial Statement to Parliament on 25th January—they were certainly given every encouragement by me and others to do so—rather than confining specific information about them to the letters distributed to members of the GCHQ staff on the same day. I say this because the effect of handling matters as the Government did has been to produce further widespread confusion and criticism as, one after the other, these matters have come to public attention.

Secondly, there is something about the arbitrarily fixed financial inducement of £1,000 which, to put it bluntly, sticks in my gullet. Whatever it may be called by the Government, in my view the purchase for money of the individual liberty involved is somehow unsavoury. I do not believe that a price can be set on such a loss, and the Government's offer to enter into individual contracts of this kind has left a bad taste in my mouth.

I do not usually speak as strongly as that, and of course this is a personal feeling; but what should concern us all, I suggest, is that in a matter which affects our national security so closely, instead of being able to stand together as compatriots we look like being deeply divided in the views that we express this evening. My fear is that if the Government continue their present rigid attitude and prove unwilling in the next three weeks to reach an accommodation with union representatives that safeguards both our defence capability and the freedom to belong to a trade union, the morale of civil servants will be damaged, the standing of responsible union leaders diminished and the security of the state thus placed more, not less, at risk.

In that case the Government may come to regret their action, but it will be too late, for they will have achieved precisely what they set out to prevent. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, has my support and, I believe, that of my noble friends in asking the Government whether they are prepared to reconsider their proposals.

9.25 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, it seems as if, so far, there is not violent disagreement with the Government's proposal to do something about the so-called divided loyalties of civil servants, especially in this area—very sensitive, responsible and confidential. It is probably the manner of doing it that has excited so much resentment and objection. In particular, it has been very difficult to accept the idea that loyalty has a price and if the price is big enough then you can buy it. That has left a very unpleasant taste in the mouths of many respectable citizens.

But there are one or two points which we have to get into proper perspective, and one is that the Civil Service is not one single entity. It is not of the mass. It is a large body with great variations in responsibilities, in duties and in authority. It is very difficult to talk about a senior inspector of taxes as being a Government employee. He is dressed in statutory authority and many civil servants have the right of entry, the right of seizure and the right of prosecution. They are public officials and they have responsibilities, duties and powers which no private citizen possesses. So that to classify them as employees, having perhaps the same basic rights as all other employees, can be to simplify the problem unduly.

Another point is that we must be careful in talking about basic human rights in this context. If trade union membership is a basic human right in the Civil Service, they have not enjoyed it for very long. It has been interrupted and modified on occasion and, of course, there are other directions in which the civil rights of civil servants are curtailed; for example, in political activity, in candidature for local and central Government services, in financial transactions and in business dealings. They are public servants having to present to the public a status of impartiality and justice in exercising their functions, and they have always accepted some curb on their freedom in order to enable them to do their job properly.

But if we talk about the question of loyalty we ought to get that straight, too. It is a mistake to think of this in terms of loyalty to the state; I do not think that that was ever in question. What is involved here are divided loyalties, as between loyalty to a union and its call, and loyalty to the job that they have to do in the Civil Service. That is really where the loyalty lies. One has loyalty to one's position and loyalty to one's sense of duty, which is not the same as loyalty to the state in the way in which it is often presented.

In my experience, this is the second time that this problem of divided loyalties has occupied the attention of the public and Parliament. I am very surprised indeed that, so far as I know, practically no mention has been made of the events of 1926 when, after the General Strike, the Government of the day—and Mr. Winston Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer—took it upon themselves to reflect public concern on this matter by introducing and passing the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act. That arose not because civil servants were involved in a dispute, because they were not, but because unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress—my own was one—were confronted with the request to give pledges to the General Council of the TUC which seemed to be inconsistent with the duties and loyalties of our members. One pledge we were asked to fulfil was to hand over complete authority to the General Council of the TUC—to be asked to do whatever they wished, including withdrawal of labour, if they saw fit. That was a pledge which they could not extract from me and which they certainly could not extract from representatives of other public service organisations at the time. Only a few officials in an Admirality dockyard got involved in the strike. But it was the claim upon affiliation to outside bodies that concerned the Government most then, and it was that which the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927 abolished.

Civil Service unions had to be approved for membership of civil servants. To be an approved union, it had to be confined to civil servants. It had to have no affiliation to the TUC, no political objects, no political fund, no contact with any body outside which was concerned with negotiations or activities on pay and conditions. We were completely isolated from the general trade union and political movement. Those who had members outside the Civil Service had to get rid of them—and so on. At the same time, the closed shop was abolished in local authorities, and contracting in for the political levy generally instead of contracting out. All that was provided for in the 1927 Act, which lasted for 20 years. Not even during the war could we get it removed. Not even when Bevin was in the War Cabinet could we get it removed, although we tried hard. A number of us saw Winston Churchill. We had to endure that Act for 20 long years, until in 1946 the Labour Government repealed it in its entirety.

Looking back, it is a mistake to promise to repeal Acts of Parliament without consideration of when it may happen and what change in events may take place in the meantime. To go back 20 years in industrial relations proved to be a mistake. The world was changing; the composition of the Civil Service was changing; the mood of many people in it was changing. To have nothing at all in place of the 1927 Act was, I believe, unfortunate. We have here the same problem, basically, as we had in 1926. There is concern about whether civil servants will do what their unions tell them instead of having regard to the responsibilities of their office.

We should have had much more difficulty over the years in the Civil Service had it not been for the tremendous work which was done in getting settlements under three very important headings for the Civil Service in 1955: the agreement on the principles of fixing pay, equal pay for women and a wide extension of the Civil Service superannuation scheme. If one is to acknowledge the authorship of those three measures, all three were the product of the chancellorship of R. A. Butler, strongly supported by the recommendations of the Priestley Commission which he set up. And, probably alone among Chancellors who set up Royal Commissions, R. A. Butler was there to deal with the report when they had finished it. It made an enormous difference to peace in industrial relations with the Civil Service. I may, modestly, say in passing that I was chairman of the Civil Service unions at the time, and may have contributed something to the settlement of 1955. At any rate, it kept the peace for 25 years.

It was only when the pay agreement began to crumble in the latter part of the Labour Government, under economic pressures, followed by the complete abrogation of the agreement by the Conservative Government in 1980, that the whole edifice of peace, tranquillity and mutual confidence was dispelled in the Civil Service.

What should be done to secure what the Government want? Can it be got by negotiation, or will it require enforcement in any sense? If so, who should do it? I certainly believe that an act of this kind should be the subject of an Act of Parliament rather than a decision by Ministers taken under executive powers bestowed upon them by an Act of Parliament for exercise, probably, in very different conditions and with a very different set of people from those covered by the establishment at Cheltenham.

If the machinery for settling Civil Service grievances is there; if it is in place; if it is genuinely used and the Government will support the use of it; if the Government will provide arbitration as a matter of right, if there is a serious difference of opinion between the staff's interests and the Government's own attitudes and policies; if there is access to Parliament in the event of policy decisions being taken by the Government which might be regarded as overriding other considerations—if all those are in place, there is no real reason why the Civil Service should think of striking at all, because it will have a complete network of conciliation, arbitration and appeal to the sovereign power of Parliament, which ought to satisfy all reasonable demands.

There is no confidence that those elements are in place at the present time. There has not yet been a pay settlement arising from recent discussions which have been taking place—and so all this occurs at a very unhappy time so far as the Civil Service is concerned. I believe that the Civil Service should in certain circumstances submit to the need for staff in identified, sensitive positions vital to the maintenance of essential services and the national security to be asked to renounce the right to strike. I believe also that unions with members in such positions should be asked to renounce their right, if they have it, to make a strike call to those members. I would hope that those conditions can be negotiable, although I do not rule out legislation to achieve them if need be. The public are entitled to an uninterrupted service and it is Parliament's responsibility to see that the conditions exist under which that can be done freely and with goodwill.

Parliament has taken little interest in the Civil Service in recent years and the Civil Service has not troubled to understand Parliament on these matters, either. But if the machinery is right, the right to arbitration is there, parliamentary interest is also there, and free access to them all is available to the Civil Service, then there is a possibility that there could start a new era of peace, efficiency and goodwill in the Civil Service.

I hope that we can lift the prestige of the Civil Service out of this somehow. It has been downgraded in recent years. The Civil Service feels that it is a victim of bias on the part of the Government. It is remarkable how many people seem to have rallied around the Civil Service in this particular controversy. I only hope that it is real concern for the Civil Service and that it is not a devil's brew. The Civil Service is, I believe, looking for a rather more civilised outcome to this controversy than seems possible at the present time, with the rumpus in another place over Select Committees, and other trade unions getting excited. Sometimes, I think that the more the drums and the tom-toms are beaten, the less chance the Civil Service has of getting a good deal at the end of the day. I think it is about time that all this was cut through dramatically and swiftly by the Government to try and establish the relationship which we all want.

9.40 p.m.

Lord Bancroft

My Lords, I have three brief and unoriginal points. First, I am not equipped to make a judgment on the precise objectives which the Government had in mind in taking this action with GCHQ. To the extent that they were to safeguard our national security, they must have all our sympathy and support. It is the handling that is my concern. To the extent that this was insensitive and ill-thought through, it attracts and deserves criticism, certainly on management grounds and conceivably on wider grounds. But that is not my area of concern tonight.

No one in his senses would believe that the Government's objectives included turning the Civil Service into a pawn with which some people from more than one political party would, entirely predictably, play games. This has meant that my old service has acquired some political friends and political foes who are emphatically unwanted and unlooked for. As I have said before, who wants friends like the Morning Star or enemies like worried and concerned Government supporters? If, as I am sure was the case, this outcome was not foreseen, let alone deliberately planned, then the handling has been seriously at fault. Neither the public service nor, more importantly, the nation's security will benefit from the continuance of the present sad position. In essence, it is really a question of treating staff fairly, firmly but humanely.

My second point is this. Words have been used in sonic quarters, no doubt inspired by different motives, to the effect that the official side at GCHQ are authoritarian and incompetent, and the staff side unruly and ungovernable. I have to say that in my experience, such as it was, neither charge has any foundation.

My third and last point is a wider one. It concerns the division of central ministerial responsibility for the Civil Service, the Government's own workforce—well over half a million very disparate men and women. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible, in his spare time, for Civil Service pay, pensions and manpower; the Minister for Arts and Libraries, in his spare time, for management and personnel; the Prime Minister, in her spare time, for efficiency; and now, apparently, the Foreign Secretary appears to have a central role. Naturally, I accept that the Ministers concerned report to the Prime Minister. But then we all, Prime Ministers included, report finally to God. It is not an efficient terrestrial structure. Managing well over half a million people is not a spare time occupation split between three or four busy Ministers, outstandingly able though they are.

It is not appropriate for an outsider to offer advice on the machinery of government at ministerial—I repeat, ministerial—level, but I think the time may have come to consider returning to the ministerial system which operated for all 36 years of my Whitehall life; namely, a single senior Minister having unambiguous day-to-day responsibility for the Civil Service. Until 1968 it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, one of my old political chiefs at the Treasury, "Rab" Butler; he was one of them.

Then, from 1968 to 1981 the post was held with, may I say, distinction, success and efficiency by seven consecutive Leaders of your Lordships' House.

However that may be, I beg the Government to get into quick and quiet conversations with the staff and their representatives in order to bring the present unhappy state of affairs to a prompt end. The present state is not good for anyone. If it were to end I would not exclude that end being ratified by Parliament. It is not a good state, least of all for the non-political health of the public service and for the nation's security.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, speaks with all the authority of a distinguished ex-civil servant. I speak as a politician. I am sure the Government will heed the words that have been spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. However, as an old politician I must say that the handling of this affair by the Government has been disgraceful and insulting. I have looked at the words of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, reported in Hansard on 25th January 1984 at col. 917. Having spelled out what was to happen at GCHQ he said: GCHQ staff are being informed of these measures this afternoon. Those who decide to remain at GCHQ will each receive a payment of £1,000 in recognition of the fact that certain rights that they have hitherto enjoyed are being withdrawn from them in the interests of national security."—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/84; col. 917.] Those were the words he used. There was no debate and no consultation. It was simply announced.

The people who are employed at Cheltenham—I believe about 7,000 in all—all entered the Civil Service on a different basis, not on the basis that has since been spelled out to them. But here they were being offered £1,000 for a withdrawl of their rights. What kind of people did the Government think were serving at GCHQ in Cheltenham? What kind of people are we? The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, twitted the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, by using words teasingly to him—I am not quoting his exact words—"Well, if many other people were paid £1,000 there might well be a different aspect to the trade union movement." If the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, reflects on what he said—this year £1,000, but what about next year, the year after or the year after that?—he will realise the ludicrous gesture that has been made.

My noble friend Lord Rochester is one of the most restrained and moderate of men but he said, although I may not be quoting his exact words, that the words stuck in his gullet. We all understand what he means. I agree with every word which he uttered.

I want to concentrate on one aspect of the matter. This is setting a dreadful precedent. It is disgraceful. There may well be a case for withdrawing union rights, as it were, from the staff at GCHQ. If there is such a case, the Government have not made it out. I say that for this reason. The Employment Protection Act was passed in the other place in 1974. The consolidation Act was in 1978. There were wide-ranging debates at that time, when I happened to be a Member of the other place, as was the noble Lord. There was a great deal of debate over a whole range of subjects. I remember the question was raised concerning the status of the Armed Forces and whether they should be entitled to trade union representation. I, with many others, thought they should not. Nevertheless, the general feeling in the other place was that they had a special position. The same applied to the police, and the same must apply to such services as MI5 and MI6 which, after all, are very small bodies of professional people.

I do not recollect any debate—I hope that I shall be corrected if I am wrong—about the position of civil servants at such places as GCHQ at Cheltenham. I do not think that there were any debates. This has sprung suddenly out of the dark in 1984. We have had very distinguished foreign and defence Ministers since the 1970s. Have they not raised the question? What kind of Government hint darkly about these matters and tell the public that they do not really know what goes on? I do not accept that kind of case. I think that there may very well be a case for giving the employees at Cheltenham a special status and for this House and the other place to have special regard to their position. If that is to come about, the Government must make out the case. There is no use in passing dark hints. That can be done about anything.

I think that it is Section 138(4) of the consolidation Act that really removes from this category of employee the rights that would othewise be extended to Crown employees. It is so clumsy. The fact that these people are offered £1,000 each is absolutely disgraceful. They are civil servants who have taken an oath of loyalty to this country. They are employed and have given excellent service. If there is a case to be made out for the withdrawal of, as it were, union protection at Cheltenham, their hearts and minds must be won—and not by giving a sweetener of £1,000. What kind of precedent does that create? It is a very sorry and sad state of affairs that we have come to here.

I think that there was a great deal in what the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said in outlining the way that this situation could be dealt with in the future. I shall not follow that, save to put on record that I think this matter has been handled in a clumsy way. I think that people were shocked and dismayed, not at the decision itself, although it is very important as it affects not a small number of people but many thousands of people employed at Cheltenham. They were shocked and dismayed at the way in which it was done and because of the implications involved.

9.52 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I find myself very reluctant to address your Lordships on this subject. Over the years one trains oneself not to talk about things which are deeply confidential. Some 20 years ago I was very closely involved in the affairs of GCHQ. It gives me both an advantage and a disadvantage over your Lordships in that perhaps I know a little bit more about the background to this, but some of it I just cannot convey to your Lordships. I hope you will forgive me if I do not put my point as clearly as I should like.

At the end of the war in 1945 we had built up this kind of service in uniform with all three services. When peace came, in the ordinary course of events the fighting forces of this country put those people who served in them but who were not required for operational service in peace-time into plain clothes. The Navy does it with its Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The Army and the Air Force do similar things. It is a normal practice that we always follow. In addition, of course, when this happens, as a matter of course, the people concerned join a trade union; and it works very well, or used to, certainly in 1945.

It is perhaps worth mentioning—because people have mentioned it—that the practice is not carried out to the same extent by the United States armed forces. They tend more to leave people in uniform. For example, the equivalent of their Royal Fleet Auxiliary—the oilers who fuel the ships at sea and that sort of thing—remain members of the United States Navy in combat uniform, as it were.

In the period with which I was particularly concerned up to the 1960s, there were no problems over questions of divided loyalty. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said, that is what we are talking about: where the man's loyalty lies. Is it to his job or is it to his trade union? There was no problem over that, in part because the services ran their own elements of the force separately and they had come in the main, almost entirely, out of the uniformed Navy (in the case with which I was connected) and automatically the trade union officials all understood their task as fully as was needed; and there were no great troubles.

As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, reminded us, it could well be that the Civil Service pay and conditions decisions in the mid 'fifties helped to bring about the strengthening of attitude. I am quite sure that it had a lot to do with it. But I remember in the early 'sixties, when the late Lord Mountbatten had under way his plans to amalgamate the administration of the services, talking to friends about whether the, happy relationship with the people we are talking about would continue. I just say that in passing. It was never anything terribly official; it never got anywhere. But we were concerned to watch the situation because in this area it is so important to preserve what I think has publicly been called continuity. It is this that matters above all things, as well as of course the loyalty to the job, which in the services comes naturally, and which comes naturally to the people who do this work because 90 per cent. of them come from the services.

We thought that the situation as it applied in the mid 'sixties would continue, because it was really only a question of amalgamating people from the other services and we did not see that there would be any real problems. We hoped that in the ordinary course good sense would prevail. But there was a question mark. I left the Navy at about the time I am talking about, in protest against Mr. Healey's defence policy. Therefore, I can speak to your Lordships because I have no continuity of knowledge of the subject since that date.

I must tell your Lordships that hack in the 1980–81 period when I read in the papers that GCHQ had been subjected to the very cleverly devised selective strike process that the Civil Service unions were introducing in order to try to convince the Government when I saw that that place was involved and I thought: it is intolerable; it is quite impossible. I thought that it must not happen because it is one of the areas—and my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have mentioned that there are the other security services—in which one cannot do that kind of thing.

It was also tragic. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, I have sympathy for trade unions, in the right places, and in the right way. But it was tragic that the clever people running the trade unions in the Civil Service—and they were exceptionally clever in the way in which they handled this particular interruption of Government service—were unwise enough to extend the action to GCHQ. If only they had not, it would have been so much better.

However they did, and there was only one thing that we could do. There is no question of whether or not there was American pressure. I expect that there was. In view of the way in which we have worked with the Americans over the years, if the situation had been reversed, if they had done the same kind of thing, we should have been just as concerned. There is absolutely no doubt that the Americans have every right to complain—or had a right three or four years ago. But we need to make sure ourselves that this kind of interruption does not happen—we really do.

I underline my point one step further. It just so happens that I have a childhood friend whom I knew in my own village in the Isle of Wight before I had even joined the Navy and before, at a later stage, he also joined the Navy during the war. He became a naval telegraphist and in due course, in the post-war period, went on into the service we are talking about. I was talking to him last weekend. I said, "What do you think about it?" He said, "Well, we think the Government are absolutely right". I asked, "What do you mean by 'we'?" He said, "The vast majority of my colleagues would agree with this. Of course, there are some who would not, but the vast majority would". Of 1979, when certain actions were taken, he said, "It was highly embarrassing to us and we felt gravely concerned at the fact that our loyalty was being challenged, not loyalty of the state but loyalty to the job".

This underpins what I am trying to say from the level of people who are involved. This whole picture then leads us to ask what the Government should have done. We do not know enough. In the area we are talking about, I hope that we are never told enough. It is terribly important not to go a step too far because clever people can deduce things frightfully quickly. In the first instance, the Government had to do something. They had to take steps to make sure that the situation was never repeated. Whether they have done precisely the right thing, I do not know.

I think that a lot of people have gone out of their way to try to wrong-foot the Government. That is fair enough for the Opposition. I am not sure that it is fair enough for all the media as well. The Government may have made some mistakes. I take the point that has been made about giving a sum of money which makes it appear simply frightful. I understand, however, from what I have read that there have been negotiations over the past couple of years. It could be that in the first instance the suggestion of money came from some source other than the Government. We do not know. I do not necessarily think that we should be told.

The question really is whether a staff association is a satisfactory alternative to a trade association. Not nearly enough publicity has been given to this. Having had the high privilege of acting as a servant to a group of trade unionists when I was director of an industrial training board, I know that senior trade union officials hate staff associations more than they hate no unions at all. One can well see why, but the fact is that if you are setting up a staff association for several thousand people—there are examples of this—it really can be, in practical terms, just as effective as a so-called independent trade union. I say "so-called" because that is what noble Lords opposite called it in their relevant legislation. The question of independence, is sometimes a little in doubt.

I would have thought that the solution of a staff association is not one that should be decried. There is a great deal to be said for it. If, after it has been given a run for a year or two, it is felt genuinely by the people concerned within the system, who understand what they are dealing with, that it should be re-examined, then perhaps that can be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, suggested that trade union officials might be positively vetted. It is important to remember in the area we are talking about that this cannot be done effectively for people who are not part of the system. So you can forget that one. This is what we are left with. I am sure that the Government have done their best to see if they can come to a conclusion. They seem to have come to the conclusion that a no-strike clause will not do. In my view, what they have done so far has been excellent. I trust and hope that they will not go back on what they have so far committed themselves to.

10.5 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. It is quite normal practice within the Civil Service to refer to the Civil Service unions—for example, the Institute of Professional Civil Servants and all the many organisations within the Civil Service which represent the people who are employed by the Government at certain levels—as the "staff" side, and to refer to those employed by the Government at a much higher level as the "official" side, including all permanent secretaries and all top level civil servants of that character.

It would be distressing if, for example, the gravamen of Lord Boyd-Carpenter's argument was really a fact. It would be distressing if tonight we were astounded and shocked because a number of civil servants in GCHQ had behaved like some civil servants behaved just after the war and were putting our nation in grave distress. Nothing like that has happened at all. I do not know what the noble Lord the Minister is growling about, because I cannot hear him.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, when I speak later I will have to disclaim what the noble Lord says.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the noble Lord can make that point. I am saying that I know of, and have read of, no incident where civil servants have been arrested or where there has been any serious behaviour, which we would deplore, by a group or mass of people like those who work at GCHQ.

There is another absurdity, a crass absurdity. The Government's proposal does not apply to all those who work in GCHQ. The Government's proposals will not apply to contractors, craftsmen and officials working within GCHQ. I am sure that, with his nimble mind, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, would agree that, to be logical, they must apply to all. If we leave 1 per cent. free inside, it is no good bothering with the other 99 per cent. As I understood the essence of his argument, in the name of freedom, the right of association must be restricted and denied. Of course, the noble Lord quite rightly interrupted my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick when he quoted the closed shop. I have on many occasions in this Chamber, in the other place and elsewhere, always stated where I stood vis-à-vis the closed shop, with which I do not agree. I do not agree with it for lawyers, for doctors or for anyone else. They ought to be so imbued with the aspirations of what is hoped to be achieved by their trade union that they would wish, quite voluntarily, to join it. But this proposal would prevent that. I am one who happens to believe that freedom is strengthened by adding further freedoms rather than by taking any away.

What I also found remarkable was the statement made by the Foreign Secretary in another place, to the effect that the Security Commission had not been in any way consulted about what the Government intended to do because there had been no security issue at risk. That was said by the Foreign Secretary. Indeed, Sir Geoffrey went on to say further that he had no intention of referring any of this to the Security Commission because there had been no breaches of security. What on earth are we talking about? It was also clear that, as is customary in such matters, key sectors of the Civil Service were not consulted. We all know that the unions were certainly not consulted. We all know that senior Ministers were not consulted.

What a democratic set-up this Government really is! They cannot even be democratic to one another. They do not even trust one another. This was not even discussed at Cabinet. The Cabinet was not informed, and therefore the Cabinet could not endorse what has been done. Who is left? Who is left? Where, under this Conservative Government, does almighty power in the end rest? It certainly does not rest with the Cabinet. Senior Ministers are not even consulted. No one was consulted. This was an action taken solely, as it seems to me, by the Prime Minister, and then, with all the robust courage that he possesses, supported by the Foreign Secretary, who I am bound to say seemed to be more like a tame hamster than a senior Minister of the Crown.

It is bound to cause distress when one reads in foreign newspapers, "Has Britain degenerated into a banana republic?" It makes me very angry to have to read that sort of thing, and to realise that there was no foundation whatsoever for this action. I think it fair to say—as it has been said, and I have heard it, and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has heard it, from time to time in another place from Ministers of Conservative Governments and of Labour Governments, and of Labour Governments beefed out by the Liberal party—that we are proud that in this country we have probably the finest Civil Service in the world. I think they meant that.

My noble friend Lord Dean quoted Sir John Nott after the incident of 1981. Was that just a blandishment? Was that an untruth? Was he cheating, or did he mean it? I think—and I know—that he meant it. His words are only unacceptable to the Prime Minister. You cannot say they were unacceptable to any other senior Minister because there was no discussion at Cabinet level. This probably is the most unique instance of Prime Ministerial power that we have known this century. That is how serious this House has to understand it. Or are we going to wait, as Orwell indicated in his book 1984, for perhaps some Winston Smith to arise from GCHQ to do the work that either the other place or this place has not got the courage to do?

It is no good the noble Lord, Lord, Mottistone, saying "No, no", because he is not going to do it. He has applauded what has been done.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I said, "Oh, God". I did not say, "Oh, no".

Lord Molloy

Well, take it step by step. We will appeal to the Bishops' Bench first. There is a view in this country that what the Government have done has been done in a most ham-fisted way, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and other noble Lords have said. Of course we would applaud any Government which has had to take what might first of all appear to be an unpopular action when the safety of our nation is as stake. But I do not believe that any Minister of the Crown has made such a statement à propos this particular issue.

These rights were valiantly fought for over the 20-odd years that my noble friend Lord Houghton mentioned—and so far as I am concerned it is more like 25 years—and there was hardly any serious issue that required to be put down by force in this island. One recalls—and I recall with great pride—that the rights of my party in this island race of ours were achieved certainly in the face of the most obstinate and tough opposition, but hardly a single soul had his life deliberately taken away from him. Numbers gave their lives for the Labour movement and died for a variety of reasons, but no one was set on by either Liberal or Conservative Government and liquidated. Much can be said for the Civil Service of those days in the way they behaved.

Have the people at GCHQ any rights whatsoever left? Will the Minister please tell us whether there is now any code for dealing with grievances of these—I use the term advisedly—honourable civil servants? Is the Equal Pay Act 1970 to apply to them? We take away their rights, but at the same time we could say: "Your rights are to protest, but we shall not give you any need to protest". Will the Minister state categorically that the Equal Pay Act 1970 still applies; that the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 will still apply; that the Employment Protection Act of that year will still apply and that the Race Relations Act 1978 will still apply? These people, the nation, and I hope this House, will want an answer to those questions.

What has happened has distressed our admirers in many parts of the world. People, not only in our country but in all parts of the Commonwealth, are distressed that the image of this island has been tarnished. On the other hand, for Britain to behave like this on one edict from one person, the Prime Minister, with no Cabinet consultation, is an activity which encourages anti-democrats everywhere. But we have to ask ourselves whether any other civil rights are in danger.

In conclusion, I should say that I really believe that the Government should think again. The good name of our nation is at stake and that, I submit, is above all parties. All I hope and pray is that our Government will have the courage to acknowledge their failure and will do their best to rectify the grievous error they have made.

10.17 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I find it hard to believe that some of the most loyal supporters of the party Oppposite can doubt that the Government have seriously mishandled this issue of the GCHQ. On one issue I think there is general agreement: that is, that crucially important issues of national security are involved. No one has seriously challenged that proposition. I should make it clear, if that is at all necessary, that my noble friends and I do not regard it as acceptable that trade unions should be allowed to call strikes or organise disruption at an intelligence monitoring agency which is of vital importance to the security of this country, to the United States and to the whole of the North Atlantic Alliance. In these circumstances, I believe that the Government—indeed, any Government—would deserve support when they said that such conduct would not be accepted. I think that that would be the view of the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens.

That being so the Foreign Secretary's achievement in the past two weeks has been truly remarkable. He has succeeded in provoking a major public uproar, in gaining the severe criticism of many of his senior colleagues (as we have all had the benefit of reading in the newspapers) and the censure of some of his most devoted allies in Fleet Street. He has succeeded in making GCHQ and its associated stations possibly the most highly publicised intelligence centre in the western world. On an issue which is of the highest importance to the security of this country, the Foreign Secretary and the few of his colleagues who were involved have established a pattern of muddle, confusion and ineptitude which has few recent parallels.

Let me say at the outset what I believe should have been done in the situation. First, they should have spoken to the leaders of the Civil Service trade unions; they should have attempted to do this on a confidential basis at general secretary level; they should have said that the problems which had arisen in the past at Cheltenham were unacceptable; and they should have insisted on a no-strike and no-disruption agreement. They should have added that they were not prepared to have industrial tribunal cases arising from any disputes at Cheltenham heard in public. In those circumstances, I do not doubt that at that stage the unions would not have liked it, but, as we know from what has happened subsequently, they have indeed conceded on just these issues.

Secondly, I believe the Government should have told the leaders of the Opposition parties in Parliament on a Privy Counsellor basis what was happening. Issues of national security are not the private property of any one Government, and, in the past, that view has been accepted by both sides in another place. We all know perfectly well that in the days of the then Mr. Attlee, Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Eden there would have been confidential discussions; but today, of course, it is regarded as unfashionable to give even the slightest hint that issues of high national importance can be discussed on such a basis. It has to be confrontation, confrontation, confrontation, all the time!

So as we now know, what the Government did was to make their decision to prohibit trade union membership at Cheltenham and to give the Civil Service unions about ten minutes' notice of their intending pronouncement. Because they were fearful of leaks, few Ministers were consulted and, as a result, some of the most basic issues involved were not subjected to critical examination. So in the days following the Foreign Secretary's announcement we have witnessed some remarkable developments. We have had that offer of £1,000 which was announced on 25th January, and to which my noble friends Lord Hooson and Lord Rochester have referred. I agree with everything that they said. It was a nasty idea, and it has not improved as the matter has been argued out in public since then. The £1,000, we will recall, was to be offered to those who accepted the Government's new terms of employment at Cheltenham. Then, a few days later came the admission from the Inland Revenue—who, of course, had never been consulted on the matter—that such monies would be subject to taxation.

We had then the Foreign Secretary's remarkable appearance on independent television last week during which he disagreed, or appeared to disagree, with the terms of a Written Answer given in another place by the Minister of State at the Treasury on the essential issue of redundancy. On the 26th January, the Foreign Secretary said that every effort would be made to transfer to other departments those GCHQ staff who were unwilling to remain there under the new conditions. Staff for whom it was impossible to arrange transfer would, he said, be eligible for premature retirement on redundancy terms. As we now know, eight days later Mr. Hayhoe said that staff of executive officer grade and above—that is, the mobile grade of the Civil Service—who refused to move would not be treated as redundant and would not be entitled to compensation.

When Sir Alistair Burnet put these very different interpretations of the new policy to the Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey at first distanced himself from what Mr. Hayhoe had said. Then, when the inevitable row broke out, the Government's response was to attack Sir Alistair Burnet. He apparently had asked the wrong question—a very unusual complaint, I should have thought, coming from any politician. To make matters even worse, he went on to say that Thames Television had offered him an apology, and within minutes Thames Television made it quite clear that they had done no such thing.

I would add just this: I am quite sure that Sir Alistair Burnet can look after himself but I must declare an interest of a sort, in that he is an old friend and colleague of mine; but I would hope that the Foreign Secretary was rather above the practice of attacking journalists who ask inconvenient questions, particularly when the journalist is recognised by all who know him as a man of the highest ability and integrity.

It only required the latest development, that is the one we read about in our newspapers today—the Government's order to a union official from Cheltenham who had been invited to give evidence to the Select Committee on Employment in another place, that he should not attend the proceedings of that committee—to round off a fortnight which I am sure all the Ministers concerned will be extremely anxious to forget.

Before that can happen I believe that two things must take place. First, the Government really must think again on the question of banning trade union membership at Cheltenham. I can see absolutely no justification for such a decision. The Civil Service unions have now made so many concessions, particularly on the central issue of a no-disruption agreement, that the Government, I believe, should now respond with some measure of generosity. Nothing would be worse than, having had what has been a painful drubbing, that the Government should persist in an entirely mistaken policy in an attempt to prove that they were right all the time.

Secondly, I hope that some of the wiser members of the Government will encourage some of their colleagues to adopt a rather different attitude to the Civil Service as a whole. Many, I am sure, recognise the deep resentment caused throughout the public service about the treatment of the workers at GCHQ and the national officers of the Civil Service trade unions.

However, there is—and I think it is right to say so in a debate of this character—a far wider issue involved as well. That is the attitude of a number of Ministers that those who work in the public service, as distinct from those who work in the private sector, are in some respects less worthy people. Some Ministers—not Ministers, I may say in his absence, like the noble Viscount the Leader of the House—appear almost to have welcomed the development of a climate of suspicion between some Ministers and the Civil Service and to have encouraged the belief that the members of the Civil Service are in some respects doctrinaire opponents of many of the policies of the Government. I believe that view is absolute nonsense. With all its imperfections, I believe that we possess an admirable Civil Service, containing many people who have served successive governments with energy and with devotion. I hope that as result of this lamentable episode the Government will make a serious effort to establish a more generous-spirited relationship with those who work for them.

I would say this in conclusion, if I may. I very much hope that the Prime Minister, when she next meets the Civil Service trade unions—and I understand she has offered such a meeting—will demonstrate some imagination and some flexibility and withdraw from the quite impossible position that her Government have now got themselves into.

10.30 p.m.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, for initiating what has been one of the most interesting debates that we have had in this House for a very long time on one of the most important subjects that we have discussed in this House for a very long time. I feel it can be said of almost everything that has been said—not everything—that those who have spoken have chosen, quite rightly, to see the issues in this debate as very fundamental; as moral issues, as issues of freedom, as issues of security and, in the end, as issues going to the good faith of the Government themselves. Although we on this side have very little hope at this stage of the debate, and particularly after listening to the Foreign Secretary in what he said this morning to the Select Committee, that this obstinate Government are going to change their mind on this critical issue, we feel that we must try. We feel also—and this is what I want to do in the short time that I shall speak—that we must try to get the record straight on a number of issues, and we must ask once again whether the Government and the Minister will try to clarify some of the contradictions in the various explanations of the things which the Government have done.

To that end, as the Minister will be aware, I gave to the Government a day or so ago a list of questions to which I want to tease out answers tonight. Some of those questions have already been asked by other people, and I do not intend to bore the House with them, but some of them have not been asked, and they require answers. I want to ask questions about the precedents for the acts which the Government have taken, about the reasons which the Government have given for those acts, and about the consequences which have followed from those decisions, and one or two very important questions about what they intend to do in the future, about which they have been extremely vague.

My first question relates to precedents. What is the precedent for demanding new conditions of service, which involve established civil servants resigning from recognised trade unions, unless they accept a transfer to other work? I suggest that there is no precedent, but I ask whether there is one. What is the precedent for taking such a decision and announcing such new conditions of service without first consulting the recognised trade unions? Indeed, as has been said by many people who have spoken in this debate, without consulting almost anyone, including many senior members of the Cabinet, but, in particular, without consulting recognised trade unions. I suggest that there is no precedent, but I ask.

Much has been made by Ministers of the Crown of the so-called precedents. The Foreign Secretary said at column 923 of the Official Report for the other place of 25th January: the provision we are invoking has been invoked by previous Governments". I suggest that that is not so. The Prime Minister said at column 1047 of the Official Report of 26th January: This has been the practice under all Governments. I suggest that that is misleading, and intentionally so. The Minister of State, the Member for Brentford and Isleworth, said at column 18 of the Official Report of 30th January: The action taken…was absolutely in tune with, and based on, the Employment Protection Act 1975 and the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, which were introduced by the then Labour Government". The fact is that the 1975 and 1978 Acts, which go back to the 1971 Act, are a smokescreen. They set aside certain rights to compensation. They enable the Government to say that if certain acts are done there is no compensation. In any case, these powers were established at the Committee stage in this House in 1971.

It is clear from the speeches which were made at that time by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for the Government, that what was being taken was a power to enforce the status quo. The Government were applying to the existing intelligence services what normally applied to the existing Armed Forces. Indeed, it was made clear at the time by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on 10th June, at col. 444 of the Official Report, that what was being imposed, what was being introduced, what was being suggested was that the existing intelligence services should be placed on the same footing as members of the Crown who are excluded under subsection (2) of the section. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, made clear what this meant at col. 432: This Amendment provides an opportunity to emphasise that members of the Armed Forces are not forbidden to belong to a trade union. In fact, the Ministry of Defence have made arrangements with a number of craft unions whereby these unions recognise the training and experience gained in the Services.… So far as the House was aware, we were placing the existing intelligence services on the same basis as the existing Armed Forces which, we were told at that time, had the right to belong to a trade union. This is the authority by which men and women are being denied the right to belong to any trade union.

There is no complete parallel with what the Government have done, even with MI5 and MI6, as has been forced out of the Government successively. There has been no statement by the Government that there is a formal commitment in contracts of service for the existing intelligence services of the kind which the Government have introduced in GCHQ. The unions say that though they never particularly seek to recruit in MI5 and MI6, they may very well have members there. Some people say that the doctors who operate in MI5 and MI6 are members of the BMA. They may or they may not be; nobody knows: and on the whole most people do not ask. The fact is that what this Government are doing for the employees in GCHQ has no precedent. This is something which cannot be authorised by what any previous Government ever did. They are extending legislation which was intended simply to codify the status quo to new groups of workers, and they are doing it by changing their contracts of employment unilaterally. There is no precedent for any of that. I ask the Government to deny it.

Therefore my next question is: do the Government deny that the agreements covering the redeployment of both mobile and non-mobile staff in the Civil Service were not intended to be used in the way in which the Government are now using them? Those collective agreements were not intended to be used to force people, if they are mobile, to move anywhere in the country if they do not want to drop their union cards, or to move to a less attractive job, if they are non-mobile, or to accept dismissal, possibly without redundancy pay. This is all without precedent. Such agreements as were agreed to by the Civil Service trade unions were agreed to in totally different circumstances. Whatever the legal basis, it is a fundamental breach of contract for the Government to use those understandings and agreements in order to impose their will upon civil servants.

Those are the questions I want to ask in regard to precedent. Now I want to ask one or two questions about reasons. The Government have given many different reasons. I do not want to discuss now the reasons which others have suggested that they might have had—the covert reasons. Let me deal with the overt reasons. Let me ask what is the basic reason for the announcement of new conditions of service.

In other words, there are two choices facing the Government. Is it because it is now acknowledged that staff at GCHQ are engaged on highly secret work involving national security? Is it essentially a national security argument? Or is it not just a national security argument—or, as the Prime Minister seems to say when she talks about it, not so much a national security argument but an argument about industrial action? What is it about? Is it about security, or is it about industrial action?

Many different issues and questions flow from the answers which the Government give to that question. If it is basically a question of national security, and if it is a question of the quality, degree of secrecy, confidentiality and importance of the work these people do, then there are many other groups of workers in the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and Private Office at Downing Street who ought reasonably to fall under the same ban. If such levels of security are incompatible with trade union membership, the ban should not stop at GCHQ.

On the other hand, if it is not so much a matter of security but also a matter of strike action, then there are a number of different questions we can ask. If it has to be a matter both of high security and strike action, then I should like to ask the Government what percentage of the staff at GCHQ, subject to their new conditions of service, were involved in industrial action of any kind since 1979. If it be the case that 30 per cent., 40 per cent., 50 per cent., or even 60 per cent. of the staff subject to the new conditions of service have not been involved in any industrial action at all, and if it be the case that this is not just a matter of security and confidentiality, but of security and confidentiality combined with industrial action, then in God's name, how can the Government justify seeking to impose new conditions of service on staff who have not been involved in any kind of industrial action since 1979?

In fact, there is no justification to impose, even upon those who have engaged in industrial action, the kind of penalties which the Government seek to impose because, as has been said by many speakers in this debate, the unions have now agreed to meet the Government on three out of four of their central demands. I will come to the fourth demand in a moment.

The unions are prepared to accept an effective non-disruption, non-strike agreement. They are prepared to accept what one might call the "domestication" of the disputes procedure, so that any issue of confidentiality and any classified matter can be dealt with by members of GCHQ staff who may be members of the unions, without in any way involving a trade union official.

On the other issues, the unions are prepared to accept what the Government want. They are prepared to accept no access to industrial tribunals. There is one issue which the Government still stand out on, and I will come to it in a moment. But on all the other issues, even with those who have engaged in industrial action, as other speakers have said, the Government have had everything they could conceivably ask for.

I know what the Government will say, because they have said it already. They will say, "The unions should have made these offers before. They should have made them in 1980"—or in 1981, because there is some confusion in the record, as to when the request was made. Or the Government will say, "It is not just that they should have made these offers before—we cannot believe them now".

Several speakers have touched on these points. On the first point, I would say that what one has to appreciate is that the trade unions in the Civil Service at that time, between 1979 and 1981, were engaged in what they thought was a fundamental dispute over the unilateral cancellation by the Government of an agreement on pay and arbitration which had stood the test of 24 or 25 years. The Government were unilaterally winding up that agreement, and that was the basis on which those disputes took place.

Secondly, the Government, for reasons of their own which I must say I have never completely understood, believed that it was not in their interest to avow that GCHQ did what everybody has known it did since the mid-1940s. For some reason, which is totally inexplicable, it was thought that if we did not say what was going on at GCHQ the Russians would not know about it. In fact, of course, they had been there for years. Therefore, GCHQ was not avowed, whatever that meant, and so far as its formal position was concerned, industrial action was permitted there in the same way as anywhere else in the Civil Service. From 1979 up to the present time, at any time—nothing to do with the recent decision to avow—at any time from 1979, if the Government did not like that, they should have told the trade unions about it; and the moment they did, they found that the unions were prepared to negotiate the kind of agreements that have been mentioned tonight.

So I come to my final questions about the consequences of what the Government have done. First, do the Government know and can they tell us what percentage of staff affected by the new conditions of service are (a) mobile officers and (b) non-mobile officers who can be offered alternative employment? We are told there will be very little redundancy; we are not given any figures. Can the Government tell us what proportion of these people, if they do not give in their union card, will be either made redundant or offered jobs which they will not find acceptable and therefore will be declared not redundant but dismissed with no compensation?

Next I want to ask about the ex gratia payment of £1,000. How did the Government arrive at the figure? Let me say I have little hope that I shall be told, because the Foreign Secretary was asked this on four separate occasions this morning and each time he said it was the best judgment available. The Minister may have other words but I suspect it will come to the same. How did the Government arrive at £1,000, and how does this figure relate to the much higher sums which are available in industrial tribunals in cases of discrimination against trade unionists outside GCHQ?

I hope the Minister will not say, as was said this morning, "Of course, that is only paid"—figures between £7,500 and £30,000—"if people are dismissed". That is not so; that money is available for action short of dismissal, and what is being done to these people is that action is being taken against them short of dismissal, although in some eases it will involve dismissal, and the maximum compensation is £1,000. It does not relate to individual circumstances, as it would do in industrial tribunals, and it does not reach even the minimum special award of £7,500. I ask again where does the figure come from?

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I have been following the noble Lord's argument carefully. Does he suggest that the amount should be increased? Is he in favour of this?

Lord McCarthy

No, my Lords, I am not in favour. I do not think people should be bought in this way, but if people pick figures out of the air, particularly if they are rather small, mean figures, they are entitled to be asked where they got them from. If they are asked four times and they do not answer I intend to ask a fifth time. Where did they get the figure of £1,000 from? They must have got it from somewhere. Even the thirty pieces of silver must have been calculated on some basis. Therefore, I ask them what the basis is.

I have two final questions. One is about the legality of what the Government have done. Are they happy about the legality? Some people say that the Government are in breach of the implied terms of contract, and that arises from the fact that in the management notes to new employees at GCHQ the staff are encouraged to join recognised staff unions. Common law lawyers say that is a breach of contract. Many say that the Government are in breach of ILO Convention 87. Many say that they are in breach of Article 22 of the International Convention on Civil Rights; and others say they are in breach of Article 11(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights. If they are, considerable sums of money—as in the case of the three railwaymen—will have to be found by the British taxpayer.

My final question relates to the future, and to the future of consultation. The Government have said, and Sir Geoffrey has repeatedly said, that they have no further territorial claims to make on the British trade union movement, and that they do not intend that any further groups of workers will be deprived of their union cards by the threat of removal or the sack. Nevertheless, nobody can tell or know what the womb of time will reveal. Therefore, I ask a rather more limited question. I do not ask whether the Government will do it again, but will the Government state that, should they decide at some future date that reasons of national security require similar changes in conditions of service, they will first inform the unions involved of their change of view and will seek to consult them fully?

If the Government cannot say that, I come to their final condition which they state the unions cannot meet. The Government have said that they want no disruption, no disclosure, no intrusion and no conflict of loyalty. It has been suggested by almost every speaker in this debate that on no disruption, no disclosure and no intrusion the Government have been met, and more than met. Therefore, it is "no conflict of loyalty" that stops them, and it is not industrial action, in the end, which is the problem. It is that they believe there are certain, as yet unspecified, groups of employees in the public sector whose level of work and confidentiality is just too high for it to be compatible with their being trade unionists.

Again and again this morning Sir Geoffrey fell into the use of phrases of this sort. When forced against the ropes by being asked why he wanted still to say that he could not make any move, he said that the Government must go for what he called a freestanding staff association, or that they must put a ring fence round this group of trade unionists, or that they must have them unlinked with other groups so that there is no conflict of loyalty. I suggest to the Government that to say that while at the same time saying, as Sir Geoffrey said, I have no doubt of the loyalty and professional dedication of the staff of GCHQ. They have for many years displayed a high degree of devotion to duty". is to say that the source of disloyalty is the fact of trade union membership. That is what is found fundamentally offensive on this side of the House. What is being said is that at certain levels trade union membership is unreliable and unpatriotic. Unless the Government deny that, they can change their mind.

10.54 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, has raised a subject today which commands considerable interest at the present time. I hope I may therefore explain again to your Lordships why the Government found it necessary to take the decision that they did in this matter, as well as answering some of the specific questions put to me by noble Lords tonight. As some of your Lordships will be aware, and as the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, reminded us, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary this morning appeared before the Select Committee on Employment in another place, and I make no apology for the fact that much of what I say will reflect the statement made by my right honourable friend.

The Government Communication Headquarters plays a unique and vital role in the security of the United Kingdom, by providing signals intelligence and ensuring the security of military and official communications. Its work must be conducted in secret, and it must provide an absolutely reliable and uninterrupted service, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

Let me say very clearly at the outset that I have no doubt of the loyalty and professional dedication of the staff at GCHQ. They have for many years displayed a high degree of devotion to duty. This was particularly highlighted, for example, during the Falklands campaign, during which their contribution was invaluable. But the fact remains that between February 1979 and April 1981 the continuity of GCHQ operation was disrupted seven times. Over 10,000 working days were lost. Over 25 per cent. of the staff were at one stage involved, and on one so-called day of action, on 9th March 1981, parts of GCHQ were virtually shut down because of industrial disruption.

On some of these occasions national unions, in the course of a general dispute with the Government not specifically related to GCHQ, deliberately chose to direct action against what they correctly saw as a very sensitive and vital agency of the Government, with the avowed intent of causing both national and international repercussions; and this in spite of a specific appeal to them not to involve GCHQ. Staff at GCHQ were thus placed in a position where their national unions were pressing them to place their loyalty to their union above their loyalty to the service. The Government have accordingly decided that it is right to place GCHQ on the same basis as the other security and intelligence agencies. This means requiring GCHQ staff to accept the loss of their rights under the Employment Protection Acts and a diminution of their freedom to associate, in the sense that the revised conditions of service allow them to belong to a departmental staff association approved by the Director of GCHQ but not to continue in membership of any other trade union.

This action could not have been decided upon at a time when the intelligence role of GCHQ had not been publicly acknowledged or avowed. This role was for the first time avowed when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made a statement in another place on 12th May last year. The decision which my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary announced on 25th January was taken by Ministers after very careful consideration in the light of these new circumstances.

The overall objective is of course to ensure that staff at GCHQ are not in future subject to the kind of pressures put upon them in the past. This implies four detailed objectives: first, that staff at GCHQ must be deprived of the right to access to industrial tribunals, for security reasons; secondly, that it needs to be part of the conditions of service of GCHQ staff that there will be no interference in GCHQ's activities and operations by industrial disruption, whether in pursuit of national or of local disputes; thirdly, that negotiations on departmental issues, including questions of structure must, for security reasons, be carried out by departmental staff representatives answerable to the staff of GCHQ and to no one else; fourthly, that the maintenance of GCHQ's service must not be put at risk by any conflict of loyalty of the staff. These remain our objectives. They are of the highest importance, and I think will be generally recognised as such.

There is nothing new in principle in this. Successive Employment Protection Acts, repeating the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act 1971, have provided for the need to except certain categories of employment on grounds of national security. These categories are designated by the issue of ministerial certificates like the ones my right honourable friend has recently signed. Such certificates have been in force since 1971 for the other intelligence and security agencies. They have been signed by the responsible Ministers of previous Governments of both parties.

The main result of the certificates is to remove from employees rights arising from the unfair dismissal provisions of the 1978 Act, including the right to complain to an industrial tribunal and also the right of recourse to such a tribunal in connection with restrictions on their union membership or activities. Many of the statutory rights thus removed continue to be provided for all civil servants, including members of GCHQ, by the Civil Service pay and conditions code and the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme. For example, these guarantee time off for public duties, maternity pay, the right to return to work and redundancy provisions.

Further if an appeal needs to be made against dismissal, that can be taken to the Civil Service Appeals Board. This procedure, as with the medical appeal boards, will continue to apply to GCHQ staff. So does other relevant legislation, including that on health and safety, equal pay, and sex and race discrimination; and that point was in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, when he spoke. GCHQ staff will remain members of the home Civil Service. Conditions of service, other than those relating to union membership or activities, are unchanged. Thus GCHQ staff will, for example, continue to receive the benefits of national pay settlements.

The issue of certificates does not of itself remove the right to be a member of a trade union. That right is removed as a result of the changes in conditions of service now being introduced at GCHQ. These changes will ensure, first, that discussion of local and departmental issues at GCHQ is dealt with not by officials of national trade unions, but by departmental staff representatives, answerable only to GCHQ staff through the departmental staff association; and, secondly, that GCHQ staff cannot be instructed by, or in the name of, national unions to interfere in or interrupt GCHQ's operations and activities in pursuit of an industrial dispute. The proposed staff association will be able to represent all members of GCHQ, industrial and non-industrial, and will be able, if so desired, to have sections for the different disciplines; for example, radio, science and technology, administration and support. Staff experienced in Whitley and industrial trade union affairs have already been invited to help in forming the association, but all members of GCHQ will be eligible. Within the new arrangements, the association will be encouraged to negotiate on the departmental issues covered by previous trade union arrangements; for instance, pay, allowances, conditions of service, procedures, equipment and individual cases.

The Government's decision on these changes was an important one, which needed first to be announced in Parliament. Moreover, given the large numbers of staff involved, it would have been very difficult to ensure confidentiality on a matter of this kind if members of GCHQ had been informed beforehand. As soon as my right honourable friend had made his Statement in another place—which was repeated in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lady Young—every member of GCHQ individually received a detailed explanation.

Staff have thus been given the choice between continuing to be employed at GCHQ under the new conditions or requesting a transfer to suitable alternative employment elsewhere in the Civil Service. If it proves impossible to arrange such a transfer, they will be eligible for premature retirement on redundancy terms. In accordance with rules which apply generally throughout the Civil Service, anyone who refused an offer of a suitable alternative post would not be eligible for redundancy terms——

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question on that point. Why did his right honourable friend not make that clear on 25th January?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I did not hear the broadcast to which the noble Lord refers, but I think——

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I am talking about the Statement which was made on 25th January. Why was the latter point—the one which the noble Lord has just mentioned—not made absolutely clear in the Statement made in both Houses?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is always a matter of choice as to how much detail on these particular kind of issues it is right to put into a Statement. My right honourable friend was certainly willing to clarify that point when he was subsequently asked.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is fundamental. It is one of the main issues we are arguing about. The Government, over the last few years, in 1980 and now, have broken two agreements——

Lord Denham


Lord Dean of Beswick

I am going to ask a question. They have broken two agreements with civil servants. What guarantees can the Minister give, even if these proposals go through, that the Government will not break them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the Government have broken no agreements with the Civil Service as he suggests.

Lord Dean of Beswick


Lord Trefgarne

The issue put by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is one that I have answered.

Anyone who refused an offer of a suitable alternative post would not be eligible for redundancy terms. I hope that it will not come to that and that staff will accept the offer that has been made to them. But if it did come to that, the person concerned would be liable, as I say, to have his employment terminated. It has been suggested that the Government could have achieved the objectives I have stated by other means. The Government did not take their decision lightly, and the offer of an ex gratia payment in recognition of loss of statutory rights to staff choosing to remain at GCHQ is only one indication of the importance we attach to the principles at stake.

We concluded, however, that the way to ensure freedom from disruption at GCHQ, and that staff would not be subject to the kind of problems which had been apparent in the past, was to treat them in the same way as other intelligence agencies, by excluding national trade unions. We remain ready to listen to any proposals the unions may have, but we continue to believe that the measures announced on 25th January are the surest and safest way of ensuring our national security.

May I now turn to some of the specific points raised by your Lordships tonight. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, posed a large number of questions and I hope I have already managed to answer a high proportion of these. Of those that I have not covered so far, the noble Lord asked me about the agreements covering the redeployment of staff. The agreements were negotiated with the Council of Civil Service Unions representing the trade union side of the National Whitley Council, and were, of course, intended to cover all circumstances involving redeployment of staff.

The noble Lord asked me about any United States pressure in this matter.

Lord McCarthy

No, I did not.

Lord Trefgarne

Perhaps I have identified the wrong noble Lord. Perhaps it was the noble Lord, Lord Dean. These measures have been taken solely at the Government's initiative. Like us, the United States authorities were naturally concerned about industrial action at GCHQ. But at no time did they apply any sort of pressure on us to take any action. When told of the Government's action on 26th January they regarded it as sensible but saw it as our own affair. I can also confirm that the Security Commission report on the Prime case did not propose the recent changes in condition of service at GCHQ.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Lord explain? He has just stated that the United States Government were upset over what had happened at Cheltenham. How do we know that they were upset? Who, in the British Government, was told by the United States Government that they, as the Minister says, were upset?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the United States is, I suppose, our closest ally. I am afraid that it would take me more than a few moments to explain to the noble Lord the channels of communication that we have with the United States.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asked for some figures relating to the staff at GCHQ. I understand that something over three-quarters of the staff are mobile officers, and one quarter non-mobile. But, of course, until we know how many have signed the option form, we will not know how many will require alternative employment. In reply to another question from the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, in cases of compulsory redundancy we will, indeed, serve at least the minimum period of notice required under the 1978 Employment Protection Act.

Turning to other points, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asked me about the precedents for imposing arrangements such as this. I have to say that the circumstances at GCHQ are unique. GCHQ was the only intelligence and security agency where there has been a tradition of trade union membership.

The noble Lord, Lord Molloy, during the course of his remarks asked about whether the arrangements are to apply to the other Government employees who enter GCHQ to do maintenance work. A number of PSA, CISCO and contractor personnel work in support roles at GCHQ on a full-time or a part-time basis. They are covered by the conditions of service and management arrangements of their parent organisations, which have wider responsibilities. It would be impracticable to extend to those individuals the exclusion from the Employment Protection Acts or the conditions of service now applicable to GCHQ as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris—and I think the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, took up this theme as well—asked me why it was not better to have a guarantee of no disruption than to ban union membership at GCHQ. There are doubts about the future strength and interpretation of a "no disruption" agreement in the light of the four objectives to which I referred in my speech. In particular, there is a conflict of loyalties in national Civil Service disputes which would still be likely to arise. Union influence would remain. It would be difficult to define departmental issues from which national unions are to be excluded, and the force of the provisions of the Employment Protection Acts against restrictions on trade union activities would remain. It is not better, therefore, to have a guarantee of no disruption because unions have never, not before 25th January anyway, indicated willingness to give such a guarantee—quite the contrary in fact. Even if they are now willing, they might find it difficult to convince us that they would be able to honour it in future in what might well be different circumstances.

Past experience is that GCHQ has been singled out as an attractive target for disruptive action. Enforcement of a "no disruption" agreement would be very difficult as the source of disruption, whether it was union or individual, might not be easy to identify. Union action has clearly led to deliberate and undesirable publicity for GCHQ.

I was also asked whether, given the fact that unions have been recognised at GCHQ for such a long time and that in the book about "Notes for new Employees" the staff are encouraged to join trade unions, the Government did not consider this to be a right or an implied term of contract. In introducing the new conditions of service at GCHQ my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has acted by virtue of the Civil Service Order in Council 1982 which authorises her from time to time to make regulations or give instructions for controlling the conduct of the service and for the conditions of service of those employed in it. Staff at GCHQ are being offered the choice either of agreeing to accept the new conditions of service or of seeking a transfer elsewhere in the Civil Service.

On one very important point I should like to repeat what my right honourable friend said in another place on 25th January: The Government fully respect the right of civil servants to be members of a trade union. It is only the critical importance and the special nature of the work of GCHQ which has led us to take the measures that I have announced.

This is no part of any wider campaign. It is emphatically not the Government's intention to introduce similar measures outside the field of security and intelligence.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask him whether he would not agree that I have in fact asked him a whole series of questions which he has not even begun to answer? Will he answer them subsequently, or will he not answer them at all?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have endeavoured to answer quite a number of points during the speech I have made. I will cull the words of the noble Lord, and if there is anything I can add I will write to him.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past eleven o'clock.