HL Deb 12 July 1984 vol 454 cc1058-65

4.25 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord Beswick moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 38, at end insert— ("(7A) Where the conditions mentioned in subsection (7C) below are satisfied, subsection (1) above shall not apply to a person who is a voting member of the principal executive committee of a trade union by virtue of holding a position in that union, the principal purpose of which position is to have responsibility (either by himself or with other members of that union) for:

  1. (a) the finances of the union as a whole; or
  2. (b) the formulation of specialist policy proposals for the union as a whole; or
  3. (c) the relations of the union with a trade union of which it is a member falling within subsection (1) of section 4 below; or
  4. (d) any combination of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) above.
(7B) For the purposes of subsection (7A) above, "specialist policy" means policy relating to one or more aspects of the objects of the trade union, as defined by the rules of that union and "formulation of specialist policy proposals" includes the consideration of such matters as may be necessary or expedient for the formulation of such proposals. (7C) The conditons mentioned in subsection (7A) above are that—
  1. (a) the person holding the office in question has been elected, pursuant to the rules of the trade union, to such office for a period not exceeding five years;
  2. (b) the number of persons to whom subsection (7A) applies does not exceed half the total number of voing members of the principal executive committee of the union;
  3. 1059
  4. (c) there is in effect in relation to the union a resolution (however framed) whereby the trade union resolves that subsection (1) above shall not apply to it (called in this Part an "exempting resolution").").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the third time I am returning to a theme which we have just been discussing. I am proposing to ask for an even more modest concession from the Government, and I hope that on this occasion the noble Earl will be able to say that the Government are prepared to move a little. I suggest that the amendments that I, together with my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon, have tabled are really a test of the Government's readiness to be flexible and to listen to reasonable arguments.

On Second Reading I endeavoured, as did my noble friend Lord Howie, to put the case for certain smaller trade unions for additional flexibility in Part I of this Bill. We wanted to enable those unions to retain the systems of elections to their principal executives which they had developed over the years and which were proving successful in present operation. In saying that they were successful, I am going by the declared and democratically expressed view of the whole of the membership of the organisations which I have in mind. From one or two remarks that were made by noble Lords opposite I gathered that they thought the case was not unreasonable. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord King, has now left his seat because I was hoping that he would confirm what I have to say about the reasonable and responsible behaviour of the members of one union which I have particularly in mind—namely, BALPA. The noble Earl himself said that he would look at the position of BALPA, and we have had certain correspondence.

I did not press the case at the Committee stage because there were other amendments (and we have had two others today) within any one of which it would have been possible to secure what was wanted by the bodies which I had in mind, and they have of course been considered today. But one after the other the Government have resisted these amendment; they have turned down what was said in the discussions.

However, in this amendment we have tried to meet the Government's doubts, and I am moving what is a very narrow and specific proposal indeed. I hope that I can show the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that in this case there is an object to be served. Conceivably the batch of proposed new subsections which I have tabled and the proposed new clause may seem complicated, but the issue is a very simple one. I am advised that the proposed new clause is modelled on the legislation in the Trade Union Act 1913, and the rest on the subsections of the current Bill. There is no point of principle involved in the subsequent amendments standing in my name.

The nub of the case is in Amendment No. 3. This would provide that members elected by the annual delegate conference as chairmen of certain specialist committees would also serve as voting members of the executive committee. This method of indirect election of this limited number of executive committee members—and I emphasise the limited number involved—would be in accordance with rules that have been agreed, and would be agreed in the future, by a secret postal ballot of all individual members of the union. The amendments which I move provide that the expression of opinion on the rules will be by ballot held not less frequently than every five years.

In the correspondence with the noble Earl he points out, quite fairly, that the flexibility already brought into the Bill would permit separately constituted sections within the association to elect their own representatives to the principal executive committee. But the noble Earl went on to say that, in line with the basic principle that he has been setting down so firmly, all voting members will have to be directly elected either by the entire membership or by a particular grouping of that membership.

I wonder whether he properly appreciates what it is that I am asking for here. I am asking for a refinement of the very principle which he has laid down. I am asking that in a limited number of cases certain defined positions on the executive should be filled by direct election not by a particular group, which he said would be in order, but by the representatives of all the groups assembled together at the annual delegate conference. To emphasise the democratic character of this arrangement it is proposed that the rules governing it shall be approved, as I say, by a secret postal ballot held not less than once in five years.

It might be asked why there should be this effort in such a case to seek this refinement. As my noble friend Lord McCarthy has said—and said so often and so well—each union has its own characteristics and each has its own environment within which to work. I think it will be generally agreed that in the case of BALPA there is a rather different environment. There are not large numbers of members working side by side and getting to know each other, and getting to know each other's personal qualities. At any one time a significant number of the membership of BALPA will be spread in different countries throughout the world. Indeed, at any one time I suppose that quite a number will not be on this earth at all.

In such circumstances, it is not unreasonable to assume that the personal and professional qualifications of candidates for the executive committee who are to chair, respectively, the technical, international and financial sub-committees are better known to those more active members who get together at the annual delegate conference. If the entire membership of intelligent and responsible people agree by secret ballot with that assumption, I am now suggesting to noble Lords that really we are not qualified to say that we, or Whitehall, know better than they. I beg to move.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, has threatened to bring this issue back to us at Third Reading. Apart from that possibility, this is the final time of asking. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has put his position and his argument in terms of BALPA in his characteristically moderate and convincing way. He has clearly spelled out once again, as we have tried to spell out on this side, the fundamental functional justification of indirect elections in the case of trade unions. There are many instances—BALPA is one, but there are others—where the membership is so scattered, where the level of turnover is so large, where the knowledge of the detailed experience and expertise required is so thinly spread, that it is only common sense, and where it stands to reason, that some small provision should be made for a form of indirect election. That is the argument. It is an argument which, as we have demonstrated, is accepted for all other institutions because it is a reasonable and sensible argument. In fact, until the passage of this Bill it was accepted for trade unions even by this Government.

We have never been given a satisfactory reason why, in the form put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, or in any of the other eight alternative forms in which we have put this before the Government, it could not be accepted by them. We have even suggested that they might like to say, "We don't like numbers one to eight; we will take it away and come back with number nine". Even at this late stage they could say, "We will go away and think and try to find a way of introducing an element of indirect election". But I am afraid that Lord Beswick's eloquence and persuasiveness are not going to move the Government.

Therefore, as this is the last time of asking I simply want to ask the noble Earl for a second time—not an eighth time, because he did not answer the questions when the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, asked him just now—whether it is not a fact that companies, despite the fact that they have limited liability (which is a form of immunity which far exceeds the immunities granted to trade unions), do not have imposed upon them any system of direct elections. Indeed, they are far freer to decide the way in which they are going to select their principal executive committee than trade unions will be under the Bill. How does the noble Earl justify that?

It is the immunity argument that the noble Earl has used as his last ditch defence again and again. Can he get out of his last ditch and say whether there is any form of immunity granted to trade unions that does not also exist for anybody else involved in a trade dispute? He cannot resist the amendment on those grounds, either.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I rise briefly because I was mentioned by my noble friend a moment ago. It was not my intention to threaten to bring something forward during the Third Reading stage. What I was hoping was that the Government would reflect upon the arguments they have heard today, and will continue to hear today, and which they heard at the Committee stage, and would bring something forward. That would be appropriate. It is especially apposite here because the Government's principle appears to me to be based on a general view of trade unionism as a whole, whether that view is right or wrong; whereas these amendments, which I moved earlier and which are now being moved by my noble friend Lord Beswick with my support, are not general, they are specific.

What we are asking the Government to do is to think, first, whether their general view is right; secondly, whether their proposals, which are based on their general view, are right; and, thirdly, whether they should now think of some of the specific problems which their general view and general solution have thrown up. We are asking them, they having had some time to view these matters and listen to us, and still having some time to think about them, perhaps to think that the specific views might be more important than they think and might in the end be less damaging to the Government's general view than they themselves fear.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, the case of BALPA as argued by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, worries me because it seems to be a special case. It seems to be a reasonable argument, and I do not quite see how one can fit it into the general structure of Part I. But if there were a way, surely some consideration ought to be given to the sheer reasonableness of the case as against the practical problems that arise in that special case.

4.40 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, and to his noble friend Lord Howie of Troon for reminding us that with these amendments we are once again concerned with the proposition that not all voting members of a union's principal executive committee should be subject to the Bill's election requirements. In saying that, I appreciate that the noble Lord. Lord Beswick, who moved the amendment—unlike the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, who was seeking to widen the principle—was looking for an exemption for a limited and specific range of executive members. He made a very good case indeed, if I may say so, and it was obviously a case that impressed itself on my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway.

I must say quickly to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that on the wider issue of immunities, as I said in an intervention in the previous debate, I do not contest the issue of immunities though I think immunities bring with them rather specific rights and responsibilities. My point in respect of companies was that companies are liable to over 100 different criminal offences. Almost any objective observer would feel that the policing of companies was rather greater in legislative terms than that of trade unions. It was the noble Lord rather than I who was seeking to make a balance of that kind.

In respect of what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said on the narrower rather than the general principle, I appreciate that he provided for such exemptions to be allowed only where the members of the union agree to such a proposal in a secret ballot. I must congratulate him not only on the way in which he moved the amendment, but on the careful drafting of the amendments to which he has clearly given a great deal of thought. I am afraid that I must repeat that I can see no justification for moving away from the simple and basic—and I would say admirable and rather beautiful—proposition of this legislation that those who have a vote on a union executive should be directly accountable to the union's members through an individual secret ballot.

I do not want to go over ground which has been covered previously, but I would merely remind the House that there is nothing in Part I of the Bill to prevent a union bringing specialists onto its executive by any means of election or appointment it chooses provided only that these specialists are not given voting rights. There are already a number of major trade unions which have for example, finance officers, solicitors, trustees or research officers on their governing bodies in a purely advisory capacity. Similarly, it is the norm, rather than the exception, for union general secretaries not to have a vote on their union executives even though they may be members of them. In BALPA the general secretary, the deputy general secretary and the treasurer, while they may not vote on the executive, have—and I quote from the BALPA rule book: full liberty to express their opinions and advise the Council on any matter relating to the affairs of the Association". So it is quite clear that there is nothing novel in the proposition that I am putting forward that union executives comprise two groups of members—those who have voting rights and those who do not.

I suggest that it is also another example of the Bill's flexibility that it does nothing to inhibit unions from bringing specialist, non-voting members on to their executives, but where executive members are given direct power to take executive decisions—those decisions which can affect members of the wider community—through exercising voting rights, then the Government believe that they should, without exception, be simply and directly accountable to the union's members.

Turning once more to BALPA I am aware that there are a number of what might be called ex officio seats on the national executive council which are currently elected at the annual delegates' conference. As I have explained, there will be nothing to prevent BALPA from continuing to select these officers in this way when the Bill is in force, so long as they do not have voting rights on the executive. While I can understand BALPA's reluctance to change its present arrangements, I must ask the House to recognise that a fundamental point of principle is at stake here. If a union chooses to give an officer voting powers on its executive then it is only reasonable that that officer should be democratically and directly elected by the union's members in accordance with the fundamental principles of Part I of the Bill. Even with the sympathy given by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway to the amendment, I do not think, as he acknowledged, that we can quite get past that hurdle. Therefore, while I appreciate the great care that has gone into the drafting of these amendments, regrettably, I do not think that that alone can make them acceptable. They would undermine one of the very basic principles of legislation, and I hope that with those considerations in mind the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, would agree to withdraw them.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, in my fairly long existence in this House I do not think I have ever heard a Minister from the Box opposite be so kind about an amendment and then refuse to accept it. On the points with which he disagreed, I am afraid the noble Earl is under a misapprehension. I am not talking about two categories of executive members of the committee; I am talking about pilot members. The chairman of the technical committee of BALPA is not an executive; he is a member of BALPA, like anyone else. I am asking that if he is elected by fellow members to the central executive committee he should not be a second-class member, able to talk but not able to vote.

I find it inconceivable that the noble Earl should resist this amendment. He said that we had gone so very far to meet the doubts he expressed, whether rightly held or otherwise; but he had these doubts, and we have tried to meet them. There really is a special case here, and if the noble Earl cannot meet it I am afraid that he is exhibiting that kind of dogmatic—I was going too far I think, but that kind of resistance to discussion and reasonable democratic argument that is the cause of this Government crumbling today. That is what is the trouble with this Government: they will not, or apparently cannot, listen to an argument when it is reasonably put forward. I have endeavoured to put it forward reasonably, and I think I ought to ask the House to express its opinion upon the amendment.

4.47 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 58; Not-Contents, 124.

Ardwick, L. Listowel, E.
Bernstein, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B
Beswick, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Birk, B. Lockwood, B.
Bottomley, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Brockway, L. McCarthy, L.
Caradon, L. Mishcon, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Molloy, L.
Collison, L. Mulley, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Oram, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Phillips, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Denington, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Ennals, L. Scanlon, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Shackleton, L.
Gaitskell, B. Stallard, L.
Gallacher, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Gosford, E. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L. [Teller.]
Hayter, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stone, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Strauss, L.
Hughes, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Ilchester, E. Underhill, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Jacques, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Jeger, B. White, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Willis, L.
Kearton, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Leatherland, L.
Abercorn, D. Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Alport, L. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Ampthill, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Ashbourne, L, Cathcart, E.
Auckland, L. Clitheroe, L.
Avon, E. Cockfield, L.
Bathurst, E. Coleraine, L.
Bauer, L. Cork and Orrery, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Cottesloe, L.
Beloff, L. Cox, B.
Belstead, L. Craigavon, V.
Berkeley, B. Croft, L.
Bessborough, E. Dacre of Glanton, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Denham, L. [Teller.]
Broxbourne, L. Denning, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Digby, L.
Caithness, E. Dilhorne, V.
Dormer, L. Middleton, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Milverton, L.
Dundee, E. Minto, E.
Eccles, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L
Ellenborough, L. Munster, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Elton, L. Norfolk, D.
Faithfull, B. Northchurch, B.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Ferrier, L. Onslow, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Orkney, E.
Gisborough, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Glanusk, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Glenarthur, L. Polwarth, L.
Gormanston, V, Portland, D.
Gowrie, E. Reigate, L.
Greenway, L. Renton, L.
Gridley, L. Renwick, L.
Halsbury, E. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Hankey, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. St. Davids, V.
Hawke, L. Saltoun, Ly.
Henley, L. Selborne, E.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Selkirk, E.
Hylton-Foster, B. Sempill, Ly.
Inglewood, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Ingrow, L. Somers, L.
Ironside, L. Spens, L.
King of Wartnaby, L. Stamp, L.
Kinnaird, L. Strathspey, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Lauderdale, E. Terrington, L.
Lawrence, L. Teviot, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Teynham, L.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L
McFadzean, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Macleod of Borve, B. Trefgarne, L.
Mancroft, L. Ullswater, V.
Margadale, L. Vaizey, L.
Marley, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Marsh, L. Vickers, B.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Vivian, L.
Vlaude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L. Waldegrave, E.
Whitelaw, V.
Merrivale, L. Wise, L.
Mersey V.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.