HL Deb 12 July 1984 vol 454 cc1044-55

3.28 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Duty of trade union to hold elections for certain positions]:

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 5, at end insert— ("() Where persons have been elected as voting members of the principal executive committee of a trade union by virtue of the votes of members of a class within the meaning of section 2 below, nothing in this Part shall prevent the rules of the trade union from providing that those persons may co-opt one further voting member to the committee subject to such conditions as the rules may prescribe.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at this point we return to the debate which we had during many sittings at Committee stage and which relates to whether or not trade unions are to be allowed indirect elections. As a Committee we rejected a whole series of alternative ways of providing for an element of indirect election within the general acceptance of the provisions of Clause 1. We decided that we would not allow those alternatives which were related to the question of choice; we would not allow the members of the unions to choose whether or not to have direct elections. We decided that we would not accept an amendment which suggested that if the majority of an executive should be directly elected, perhaps a minority could be indirectly elected. That was rejected.

We rejected what I insist on calling the parliamentary system—although that seems to annoy the noble Earl—which was proposed last time by the noble Lord, Lord Howie. It says that if the election of the executive is direct, why can it not from among its number select an inner committee? That was rejected. Indeed, all kinds of alternative ways of trying to provide for indirect election have been rejected. So we have come along at the Report stage with what I think the House must agree is the de minimis proposal.

What we are saying in this amendment is let the whole of the principal executive committee be directly elected in the classes or groups specified by the provisions of Clause 2 of the Bill; and in each class, as it might be by occupation, grade or region, let that class have the right under the Bill indirectly to elect one person—one single addition to the principle of direct elections; one indirectly elected person for each alternative class. But the great majority of course would be elected directly.

I would remind the House that many speakers on the Government side in this debate were not convinced that it was necessary to make indirect elections an issue of principle, if all the other things introduced in the Bill were to become law. In their own Green Paper at paragraph 39 the Government said: The system of indirect elections, described above in paragraphs 28–29, is deep-rooted in some trade unions. It is argued in its favour that it reflects the basis on which different organisations came together to form present day unions and that, given the diversity of occupational and other groups within many unions, it may be a fairer method than direct elections of ensuring a representative outcome".

Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in moving his amendment (which we shall be discussing subsequently today) said: if, as I hope, the Government accept the principle of this amendment, they should be able at a later stage to introduce a more elaborate version"—

which indeed they have done— which would make special arrangements to fit in with the needs of particular unions, where the circumstances of the workforce make postal ballots difficult to provide (as we dealt with earlier today) for indirect elections where these seem to be more appropriate and are already the practice in certain unions."—[Official Report, 19/6/84; col. 256–7.]

He later pointed out the fact that the principle of indirect elections is very widely spread in all kinds of institutions of great repute and respectability. He mentioned, as I remember, certain heads of state who were indirectly elected.

So far all that the Government have done is to fall back on their principle that unions are different. They are different from clubs, professional associations, employers' organisations, limited companies and Parliament, and because of their difference they cannot have indirect elections. I beg the noble Earl at this late stage to try to give us a rationale for this endless insistence on difference—a difference which goes on to justify an absence of indirect elections. It is no good him saying it is because trade unions are more powerful than clubs. They are not more powerful than nation states. I would argue that on many occasions and in many ways they are not more powerful than employers' associations, professional associations or indeed large companies.

What is it about trade unions in the narrow term which prevents them legitimately asking for a minority of indirectly elected people on their national executives? In so far as the Government have put forward any argument—and I have read the Committee stage with great care in an attempt to find out that argument—it seems to have something to do with what they call the enormity of immunities. So far as employers' associations and companies are concerned, and so far as we are talking about the immunities that trade unions enjoy in a trade dispute, so do employers' associations and companies; yet we do not impose upon them this unique and bizarre restriction that they should not have indirect elections.

If we talk about the principle of indirect elections in connection with Parliament, companies or any other institutions, the reason for it is self-evident. It is accepted that it would be lunatic to expect the electorate to elect every single Member of a Government. How could they know how to match the team—the comparative expertise and skill needed to make up the team. It is accepted that it would be ridiculous to expect companies to let shareholders elect executive directors. How could they possibly know the proper balance of skill and expertise required in the team? Only in trade unions must there be universal direct suffrage.

We are saying that even at this late stage the Government should accept that that is frankly a lunatic position to adopt. I believe—and I am trying to be fair—that the Government have blundered into this 100 per cent. insistence on direct elections really because they wanted a whole range of other things, including postal ballots, specifying the way that people should be elected, moving away from branch elections, and so on. Many of those things may well be justified from the point of view of some of their supporters. I am not arguing that at the moment. I am saying that, having had all this, to insist at this late stage on resisting a modest small amendment, which is just trying to suggest that there might be a minute fraction of the members of a national executive who could be selected on in direct principles, is obstinacy taken to the point of lunacy.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, the noble Lord invokes rationality; but in a long speech, wide of this narrow amendment, he gives no justification, and states no purpose for or object that would be served if this de minimis provision were adopted. It appears that this can be nothing other than yet another manifestation of the preconception which was adopted at Second Reading that unions should in some way be treated as if they were a committee of a club.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office, and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, long years of debating with the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, lead me to beware of Greeks when they bring forward gifts, even in the form of very modest amendments like this one. Modest or not, it is in effect very similar to one which we debated at the Committee stage of the Bill on the 19th of last month. On that occasion it was the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, who proposed that only a majority of the voting members of a trade union's governing body should have to be elected directly and by secret ballot, and that unions should be left to elect up to 49 per cent. of their executive members in any way that they thought fit. The House will I think recall that in response I was obliged to say that that would undermine the very simple principle on which Part I of the Bill rests, and surely we should all strive where possible to keep legislation as simple as we can. The principle was that every voting member of a trade union's governing body should be democratically accountable to the union's membership. That is not a complex proposition to understand. The amendment which the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has now moved differs in its approach from the earlier one but it would still undermine this very simple and fundamental principle that those who have votes on a union executive—all of them and not just some of them—should be subject to the Bill's requirements. The noble Lord's amendment would allow any group of executive councillors who had been elected by a particular occupational, geographical or sectional constituency within the union to co-opt a further voting member onto the executive.

Democratic accountability is the keynote of this Bill, and it is essential that the requirements of Part I should apply to every voting member of a union's principal executive committee. These persons are, after all, the key day-to-day decision-makers in a union. The way each and every one of them casts his or her vote can have a profound and immediate effect on the lives and jobs of the union's immediate members, and often on the wider community as well. As I have had to say to the noble Lord so often, that and of course the rather unique privileges which exist (and, we acknowledge, must exist for unions under our law) are the real differences between trade unions and other organisations. It is only reasonable therefore that all those with voting powers should genuinely reflect the views of the union's membership and that the members should feel this to be so.

Having said that, I of course accept that some unions may wish to bring the experience of, say, permanent regional or trade group officials onto their governing bodies without subjecting them to election. The House should be aware, however, that there is nothing in the Bill to stop them doing so provided these co-opted members do not have voting powers. Such persons can under the Bill attend executive meetings, they may speak at meetings, they may advise the elected executive members; the only thing they may not do is to have a vote when it comes to the final decision-making unless they themselves have been elected in accordance with the statutory requirements.

In framing the Bill we have already made ample provision for different interest groups within a union to be represented on the governing body. We took careful note of existing practice within trade unions and we made sure that executive seats could continue to be allocated and elected on an occupational, geographical or sectional basis. It is therefore quite unreasonable to suggest that the Bill will prevent the unions from ensuring that all sections of their membership are properly represented. On the contrary the Bill guarantees union members real representation for the first time in trade union history. The Government therefore cannot accept that co-opted executive councillors would serve members' interests better than councillors whom members have chosen for themselves and chosen directly by means of free and fair elections. I must therefore ask your Lordships to reject this amendment.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, says that we have made no case. The case is the case which justifies this practice existing in all other associations. It is felt by all other associations, including government associations, professional associations and companies, to be helpful if they can have at least some and in many cases all of their executive elected by systems other than direct elections so that they can balance the executive and make sure that they have the right mix of expertise and so on.

That is the case. It is a case which people, strangely enough, accept in all other institutions and they will not accept it in trade unions. Yet these people never argue, prove, or put forward any facts as to why it is that in trade unions the existing practice of using an indirect element has led to all kinds of appalling consequences.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, says that the great thing that is wrong with this is that it would result in his simple, fundamental principle being qualified in some way. This is not simple legislation. The Government have in the past passed much legislation in our field which is infinitely more complicated than the kind of amendment that I am proposing today.

Section 17 of the Employment Act 1980 is acknowledged to be one of the most tortuous pieces of legislation ever put forward in the field of employment law. That has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Donaldson, and others.

We are not suggesting that the Government go away and produce a complicated and tortuous way of providing a place for indirect elections. We are saying in our amendment how it should be done. It would not be complicated. It is no argument to say that trade unions are not the same as clubs. The noble Earl frequently says that the reason why he has to do it this way is because the principal executive of a trade union is a key body whose decisions affect the wider community, all the members and so on.

All these arguments could be made not only in regard to clubs but also in regard to many professional associations, some of which operate closed shops, large national and multinational companies and indeed Parliament itself. So the argument of power and responsibility will not wash and we do not withdraw this amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 22, at end insert— ("() Where the rules of a trade union provide for the indirect election of members of the principal executive committee by an electorate which is itself elected by a secret postal ballot at an election in relation to which section 2 has been satisfied, the principal executive committee may opt to waive the obligations of this section provided that—

  1. (a) within twelve months of the commencement of this section and at intervals of not more than every five years thereafter the trade union holds a secret postal ballot to which the provisions of section 2 apply in which the question is whether the members wish the provisions of this Part to apply or the union's existing procedures for the election of the principal executive committee to apply; and
  2. (b) the members of the union vote in that secret ballot by a majority of those balloted to retain the existing method of election of the principal executive committee of the union.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this takes up where we left off during the Committee stage of the Bill. I must say that, after the debate that we have just had, I turn to Amendment No. 2 with a certain amount of misgiving, which I hope will be totally misplaced.

When we last discussed this, I reminded the Committee that my interest in trade unions was slightly different from that of those on both Front Benches. That is so in this respect: that they were quite naturally concerned about the big trade unions which are such a predominant part of and interesting factor in our economic situation. That is not my line of country at all. I am interested in small trade unions, usually those which recruit from among professional people, white collar workers and especially professional engineers. It is from groups such as that that the amendment which I put down before and which I put down again today emanate. They emanate principally from the engineers and managers' associations with which many of your Lordships will be familiar.

Before going on to deal with Amendment No. 2, in which I have been supported by my noble friend Lord Beswick, who has similar trade union connections to me, I should like to set the scene by reminding your Lordships of the Green Paper entitled Democracy in Trade Unions, which my noble friend Lord McCarthy mentioned earlier on today. The Green Paper preceded this legislation. We all know that a Green Paper is not binding on the Government. It is a consultative document but it must by its very nature be indicative of something about a way of looking at things. It shows not only the views of the general public but, since it is a Green Paper coming from the Government, it must show at least to some extent, though perhaps not entirely, the way the Government look at things.

The provisions of a Green Paper are intended for serious consideration, for reflection, for discussion and with any luck possibly eventually for adoption. The part of the Green Paper, Democracy in Trade Unions, which strikes me most forcibly in this particular context is in paragraph 13, which is headed: "The case for legislation". That must be a very important paragraph in today's considerations. The view expressed in the Green Paper was quite rightly that union members were entitled to expect that their unions were democratic institutions responsive to the wishes of the members. That is what paragraph 13 says. The Government felt that attempts to reform the trade unions and make them live up to that expectation had been few or painfully slow.

Then the paragraph went on to say—and I think this is important and I quote it— The Government therefore believes that the time has now come for legislation to assist this process forward"— that is, the process of reform— Voluntary reform is still the desired aim and the most desirable means. Any legislative steps which are taken must provide a full opportunity for unions to take the initiative, with the support and involvement of their members, in introducing more democratic arrangements". That is a totally unexceptionable comment with which I, for one, entirely agree. The Government Front Bench and I are totally agreed on that proposition. The important words are "voluntary reform". What that should really mean is that legislation is required where voluntary reform is not forthcoming or has not already happened.

As I have tried to explain previously, obviously unconvincingly, that voluntary reform has already happened in the unions with which I am concerned. These unions already are, and, indeed, in the case of one of those for which I speak, this has been the case for no less than 71 years, democratic institutions responsive to the wishes of the members. I am not here using the word "democratic" in the somewhat peculiar way that it is sometimes used in industrial disputes. I am using it in exactly the sense that it is meant in paragraph 13 of the Green Paper and in exactly the sense that the Government understand the word. It is exactly the sense, I am absolutely certain, in which the Minister uses it.

The unions for which I speak already act in the manner that the Government want. In so far as they already act in that way, the case for legislation in their respect falls. It falls utterly, or so I think. The Green Paper has more to say than that. Paragraph 18, which is also important, says: The Government is conscious that any legislation must take into account the wide variety and complexity of existing electoral arrangements".

My whole case rests upon the fact that this is exactly what the Government's proposals do not do. The federal unions, which I have spoken about and discussed in some detail previously, already have a complex electoral arrangement which fits the Government's fundamental requirements. There is no question that the extremely simple proposal that the Government are intending to impose on everyone does not meet the Government's own requirement in paragraph 13. The Government's proposals are not conscious of the fact that legislation must take into account the wide variety and complexity of existing electoral arrangements.

I do not wish to deal again with paragraph 54. We discussed it in some detail at the Committee stage. Amendment No. 2 is concerned with a proposal that some unions might in some circumstances—noble Lords will see that these are limited circumstances with which the Government cannot possibly disagree—opt out of the proposals in the legislation. It is impossible, I believe, to read the Green Paper without believing that the Government were sensible, or have been sensible, of the complex arrangements to which I referred earlier. I do not see that the Government did not at one time regard as a feasible alternative to their proposals the possibility that, where the arrangements were clearly democratic and clearly defensible, the unions concerned could opt out of the Government's proposals.

It is disappointing to reflect that during the Committee stage and again, I think, today, the Government, for a reason that I do not find convincing, although I understand it, have elevated the idea of direct elections into a principle. During the Committee stage the noble Earl and I had a brief exchange across the Floor about principles. I contended then, and still contend, that the question of whether or not elections are direct or indirect is not a principle. The principle is accountability, and there is no difference between the Government and myself in that respect. We both want accountability. The method of election is merely one means of getting accountability. If it is achieved by direct election, well and good. If it is gained by indirect election, every bit as good.

I believe that the Government have gone further than perhaps they intended. If the accountability is obtained in a manner that is acceptable to trade unionists, who are essentially moderate, well behaved and law-abiding and who fit the Government's stereotype of a good trade unionist in every way, how can it be wrong for them to be allowed to decide how they want to run their own affairs? In this amendment, which has been redrafted since the Committee stage, we have gone as far as we possibly can to try to meet every objection that the Government could make and have made. I hope sincerely that the Government will today think again and this time accept the amendment rather than reject it as they did a week or two ago.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I have great sympathy with the amendment in the terms in which it was proposed. But the problem is that, if it was accepted, the effect, surely, would be unwelcome. One understands, of course, the position of those small groups of white-collar workers—the engineering unions, the professional unions and the federal unions—which are, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, states, in a different position. The problem is that it would be neither practical nor prudent to draw up a list of trade unions to be exempt from the principle of direct elections or accountability—it comes to much the same thing—without driving a carriage and four through Part I of the Bill. For that reason, I oppose the amendment.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, having had from my noble friend Lord McCarthy, in the usual way, the pure milk of moderation in his amendment, my noble friend Lord Howie has produced, if he does not mind my saying so, also characteristically, an amendment of pure milk and water moderation. In many ways, I, and, I am sure, my noble friends are happy to support it, although not perhaps on the ground that it would bring relief from the "dogmatic tight bandage", as the noble Lord himself once called it, of Government regulation of the procedure of internal union affairs for election of the national executive committee, only to small professional trade unions.

I did not follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, when he said that it was understood that some small white-collar trade unions were perhaps in a different position. I did not follow him for a reason regarding which, in some small measure, I may depart, although I am not sure that he implied this, from my noble friend Lord Howie. Of course, it is true that many small professional trade unions have, as he put it, for 71 years, had a record of democracy in their association which it is difficult to fault. But this is also true of many of our larger trade unions.

Indeed, the debates in your Lordships' Committee, when I read them, were notable for a particular phenomenon. That was the difficulty that those who criticise had of finding particular illustrations of a lack of democracy, in concrete illustration, in these trade unions as a whole. So I say that my noble friend has brought forward an amendment which would indeed be useful to trade unions as a whole, as some very small modification of this dogmatic assertion—because that is what is at the root of it—that for these organisations alone in our country this particular method of direct election is the only way to democracy.

That point has never been proved. My noble friend puts forward a modification. Noble Lords seem to be surprised, but that is the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, asked my noble friend Lord McCarthy, "What is the purpose of amendments like this?" The purpose is that the members might want to do it a different way. In this case, there could be many trade unions which might want to adopt something by majority vote. After all, the Government have given their own conditions on the majority vote; their own conditions on the secrecy of the ballot; their own conditions on five-yearly elections; their own conditions on everything except the one dogmatic point for which they have advanced no real argument at all—namely, that there can be no element of indirect election.

As my noble friend has said, it is an element which is in every other association and every other company. Rio Tinto Zinc can do it. RTZ can have a procedure where their national executive committee, with executive functions, can be elected indirectly. Does not the noble Lord think that they have got a certain amount of power? I thought the Government rather felt that that particular organisation was quite powerful just at the moment. Indeed, it has the biggest immunity in this land, and that is limited liabilty.

The noble Earl talks today about rather unique immunities, as opposed to the enormity of the immunities which appeared in Committee. Perhaps some time later he will cite the precise sections which today give to trade unions these rather unique immunities. I put that to him, not necessarily for answer now but when he has a moment for reflection. Perhaps he will tell us which of the trade dispute immunities, which of the restraint of trade immunities, are peculiar to trade unions; and, if they are not peculiar to trade unions, why the other persons and bodies to which they do apply do not appear in this Bill.

So there is no argument in immunity; there is no argument in power. There is an argument that my noble friend has put forward. I think that, with modification, it would be even more useful than he, with his usual moderation, suggested. We on these Benches support it.

4.2 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am glad that after the milk of moderation of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and the milk and water of the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, we have had a slightly stronger brew to cheer us up from the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, told us that he turned to his amendment with a certain amount of misgiving. I think he was right in that. I do not want to repeat all the arguments which we advanced before, both in this House and in another place, during debates on indirect elections, although I would just say to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, that time and again I have endorsed two principles which I hope will console him. One is that I accept altogether the need for immunities from actions in tort for trade unions, but I have always said that there would have to be corresponding responsibilities and liabilities, not least in this field of election. Secondly, on many occasions I have drawn to the noble Lord's attention the fact that over the last 100 years or so company law has not been unforthcoming in your Lordships' House or in another place. I do not think this argument from imbalance is at all well founded. If I could just attend to the amendment, I think we would get on rather faster.

A noble Lord

My Lords, will the noble Earl give way?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I will give way in a moment.

I want to emphasise that the House did express a view on this on an earlier occasion, and my right honourable friend did consider the House's view. I said that we would look at it, and we have. The Government are aware that a number of unions are naturally reluctant to give up their systems of indirect election; and we recognise that all change, particularly when one is comfortable in one's system, is rather unwelcome. But we cannot accept that indirect elections are compatible with our commitment to give every trade union member a real and powerful say in the running of his own union.

The essence of a democratic election is that the voter should have a real choice between rival candidates. If there is no such choice, then any number of good intentions about how such a choice might be made, if there were one, are frankly worth no more than the paper they are written on. To give just one example: the noble Lord's amendment would allow unions to leave the election of their executives in the hands of delegates to the annual conference—precisely the system that is currently in use in a number of major unions such as the postal workers, the post office engineers and the Society of Civil and Public Servants. Typically, their conferences are attended by some 600 or 700 delegates. The reality is that it is wholly unrealistic to expect that there would be a contested election for each and every such delegate, just as it would be unrealistic to expect a union to hold 600 or 700 separate postal ballots.

Moreover, even if all the lower-tier elections were contested, and even if they were conducted by an impeccable secret postal ballot, there could still be no guarantee that those elected would cast their votes for the governing body in the way in which the union members themselves would wish. If anyone doubts what I am saying, they need only cast their minds back to the sorry spectacle of some of the elections within the Labour Party itself in recent years. One such was the election of the deputy leader of the party as recently as 1981. In that election, the House will remember, the TGWU consulted their members, who indicated majority support for Mr. Healey. But when their so-called representatives came to the casting of the union's 1¼ million block vote at the conference they cast it first for Mr. Silkin and then for Mr. Benn. I doubt that on that occasion Mr. Healey was too impressed with indirect election as a system.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, referred to paragraph 54 of the Green Paper, where the Government did indeed put forward the possibility of an opting-out clause in any legislation on union elections. But I have to say that that proposal did not meet with wide support in the consultations on the Green Paper. At that stage the Government had not decided what final form the legislation should take. The House will recall that a variety of legislative forms were canvassed in the Green Paper; for example, directly requiring detailed changes in union rules along the lines of companies' legislation and requiring unions to secure approval of their electoral arrangements from some public authority. It is arguable that an opting-out clause might have made sense if the Government had adopted one of these very detailed approaches. But there can be no justification for allowing unions to exempt themselves from the fundamental democratic principles which are all that the Bill before your Lordships contains.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, said that in the context of union elections the views of union members should be paramount. The Government do not dispute that. We believe that every trade unionist should have the chance to vote directly for one or more members of his union's principal executive committee. That is what the Bill provides, and, as I said on the previous amendment, it will for the first time give many union members a real choice of executive members and real influence over their decisions. I have to say that systems of indirect election cannot, for the reasons I have given, guarantee that effective say which members both deserve and desire and for which, as I do not tire of reminding the House, they voted overwhelmingly. Therefore, I must ask your Lordships to reject the amendment.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that it might have been better to put this question to him before he ranged widely over the Bill and the Labour Party Conference? Perhaps I may put it now. He made a statement at least to the effect that it was different for companies with their limited liability immunity because they were regulated by law; and trade unions' immunity in trade disputes was the one that he cited for trade unions. Would he not accept that, in respect of the massive immunity for limited liability, there is no structure of regulation for one single type of election to the executive boards or committees or bodies of companies, and nothing whatever like it?

Secondly, would the noble Earl accept or not that the immunity in trade disputes attaches to every person who acts in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute, which includes employers as well as trade unions? I am sure the noble Earl will not mind my adding that he will know that I regard this as a legal form of a right to withdraw labour and a right on the employers' side to take action in a trade dispute. It does not specifically, in any law whatever, apply to a trade union as such.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, no one doubts the right to withdraw labour, but I would remind the noble Lord that it is not the commercial companies of this country that are presently disrupting its industrial recovery.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, it is not the unions for which I speak, either, who are disrupting anything. I must refer very obliquely and kindlily to the intervention of my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Wedderburn. When I distinguished between little and big unions I was not making much of a point except that the ones which I had particularly in mind were peculiarly innocent of any of the alleged and unproven charges of crimes which have been bandied back and forth across the Floor of this House and elsewhere. That was all I meant—no more than that.

As I said at the outset, I was a little dismayed by the tone of the ministerial reply to the last amendment. I must say that I am even more dismayed having heard the ministerial reply to this amendment. As my noble friend Lord Wedderburn reminded your Lordships, we have gone as far as possible to meet every single one of the Government's conditions as to how the elections ought to be run. That is a very strong point in support of this particular amendment. We have tried to meet the problems and difficulties which the Government foresee might arise.

I was particularly dismayed when, in the middle of his speech, the noble Earl the Minister drew attention to trade union conferences. This amendment is not about trade union conferences. I was even more dismayed when he drew attention to the mode of electing the leadership of the Labour Party. This issue is not about electing the leadership of the Labour Party. It so happens that I regard the method adopted by the Labour Party, of which I have been a member for quite a long time, as—and I think that this is the proper word—demented. At any rate, it is not very good. I would agree with the noble Earl in many of the things that he said about it, but that has nothing whatever to do with the amendment. It was in the nature of a herring of one colour or another—a smokescreen drawn across the argument. There is nothing about it in the amendment.

We are talking here about indirect elections by electorates which themselves are elected by a system of secret ballots. It has no relevance to the type of trade union conferences to which the noble Earl referred, nor to the leadership elections in the Labour Party. I am amazed that the noble Earl should produce such an argument, especially in debate with me. He knows perfectly well how much I agree with many of the things that he says. He can bandy that type of argument about wherever he likes, but this is no place for it. It demeans the debate between us. The whole strength of this House is that the Government should be swayed by debate, at least to some extent, and in replying to the debate one should in fact reply to the debate.

However, it is quite clear that the Government have no intention of moving in this matter, although I and my friends have gone as far as humanly possible to meet the Government and their particular difficulties and worries. I do not intend to divide the House. I said before when we debated this matter that the Government should have time to think again. There is still Third Reading to come. Perhaps the Minister and his colleagues will heed what I have said and will pay attention to my strictures because they are sincerely meant. I hope that they will think again about this matter and come back to it on Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.