§ 3.12 p.m.
The Minister of State, Privy Council Office, and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is a very welcome duty for me to rise this afternoon to move the Second Reading of the Bill. As the House will know, I have had the great privilege of being associated with every stage of the Government's programme of industrial relations reform since we came to office in 1979. I certainly regard this programme of reform as among the most significant of the Government's achievements and likely to be among the most enduring. I should certainly not myself like to campaign on a platform of repeals of this particular set of reforms.
In 1980, as Minister of State at the Department of Employment, I put before the House the Employment Bill 1980, which was our first reforming measure. In 1982, despite having moved from the relatively calm waters of the Department of Employment to the more turbulent Northern Irish currents, I was able to play a part in helping my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who we much miss on this side of the House, to pilot through the Employment Bill 1982. In March last year I was allowed to respond to a debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter on the Green Paper on trade union democracy. We are most grateful for the insights of the noble Lord in regard to this legislation. That Green Paper was of course the forerunner of the Bill before us today.
I think it is right to remind the House of this earlier legislation because the Bill now before your Lordships represents the logical next step in the programme of reform which we have been following since 1979.
In 1980 we were concerned with the most pressing needs for reform in industrial relations law: to provide that basic degree of protection for those working in closed shops, which the legislation of the previous Goverment had stripped away; to make secondary picketing unlawful; and to provide a remedy to those whose businesses were put at risk by other forms of indiscriminate and unjustifiable secondary action.
In 1982, following the extensive consultations on our Green Paper on trade union immunities, we thought that the time was right to tackle some of the more deep-rooted problems in our system of industrial relations. So we introduced into the law the concept that all closed shops—not just those being introduced for the first time—should be put to the elementary test of a secret ballot. We tackled the related "union labour 1283 only" practices, which were not only an attack on individual freedom, but also a major barrier to competition and therefore to economic success and to jobs. And, perhaps most importantly of all, we ended the anomaly which had existed virtually uninterrupted since 1906 under which trade unions had almost unlimited immunity against civil proceedings when they and their agents acted unlawfully.
This is not the occasion for a searching inquiry into the effects of this previous legislation. But I think one thing is absolutely clear. Those who in 1980 and 1982 told us that none of this could ever work, that it was simply not possible to legislate on industrial relations without creating confrontation, have long since packed their bags and gone. The remedies that the law has provided have manifestly worked in a succession of cases, of which the Stockport Messenger was the most recent and notable. The expansion of the closed shop has been halted, and its frontiers are gradually being rolled back. In short, we have seen a real change for the better through the creation of a more balanced framework of industrial relations law.
Against that background, I believe that this Trade Union Bill complements what has gone previously. The 1980 and 1982 Acts were concerned with the impact of trade unions on others; on employers, on non-union members, on society at large. This Bill, by contrast, is concerned with the impact trade unions have on the lives of their own members.
When we debated the Green Paper just over a year ago, I pointed out that the absence of legislative safeguards in respect of unions' internal affairs is quite remarkable when compared with the position of other bodies; for example, companies. It is now well over 100 years since the first Companies Act was passed in 1862. Since then the company as a legal entity has been closely controlled and its purpose and behaviour defined and regulated in a succession of statutes. Your Lordships may have noticed that, only last week, the cover—the jaunty cover—of the Economist was devoted to the concept of policing the City.
These legislative safeguards have always been seen as a quid pro quo for the concept, for the privilege, if you like, of limited liability. Before Parliament intervened trading with limited liability was illegal at common law and it was considered a fraud on potential creditors. By contrast, what has been the position of trade unions? Like companies, they have an undoubted great privilege conferred on them by statute—the privilege of immunity against civil proceedings when they are acting in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute. Again, before Parliament intervened, most trade union action was illegal—a criminal conspiracy in restraint of trade. But. as with companies and the concept of limited liability, it came to be accepted that if trade unions were to survive and play their valuable role in society, they must have some protection against actions at common law. And yet there is a great difference. While Parliament has imposed on companies a huge volume of statutory regulations in return for the privilege of limited liability, there has been virtually no attempt to regulate the running of trade unions in return for their great privilege of immunity against actions in tort.
1284 We are told often enough that this is all right and proper, that trade unions are essentially private, voluntary bodies which should be allowed to run their own affairs free from outside interference. But how does that square with common reality? For thousands upon thousands of trade union members working in closed shops there is nothing whatsoever that is voluntary' about their membership. More important still is the plain truth that the activities of trade unions and the decisions which their leaders take on behalf of their members can reach in to every home in the land.
In practice, trade unions enjoy vast monopoly-power—power which enables them to decide literally, in the case of industries such as printing, who will work and who will not: power to force up the price of labour, and hence of goods and jobs, without any regard to what the market will bear; power to compel individuals to become members against their will; and power to affect the supply of basic services.
If that power had always been used with restraint, if trade unions were truly democratic institutions, fully responsive to the needs and wishes of their members, the absence of legal safeguards would be easier to understand and possibly to defend. But that is far from the case. The trade union movement has consistently failed to take the chances offered to democratise itself. And now that the issue of trade union democracy has been forced into the open by this Bill, trade union leaders have sought to defend some of their more archaic practices in ways which are reminiscent of the opposition to the Parliamentary Reform Bills of the last century. The first Duke of Wellington (my noble friend, I could say) would feel at home in their ranks and comforted by the sound of their arguments. I have little doubt that today we shall once again hear from noble Lords opposite the seductive philosophy of benign neglect. On this issue, if on no other, the Labour Party is, as I have often said, the party of legislative abstention, market forces and deeply-entrenched conservative attitudes.
Trade union leaders have tried to defend the fact that many of them are elected by votes cast, often by a show of hands, at branch meetings held away from the workplace, despite all the evidence that branch meetings on average are attended by only a tiny proportion of their members. They have sought to defend the block vote in elections despite all the evidence that its effect is to distort voting intentions and to hide the fact that again only a tiny proportion of their members actually cast a vote.
They have continued to defend the refusal of many unions to ballot their members in any way before calling them out on strike—and, as your Lordships will be aware, that is a strong issue at the present time. Also, some unions have continued to use the coercive power of the closed shop to force their members to strike, as we saw at the time of the notorious health service day of action in 1982 and in the British Rail disputes of the same year.
It cannot even be said that the unsatisfactory nature of these practices has only just been identified. On the contrary, it has been apparent for thirty years and more. As far back as 1952, for example, Joseph Goldstein, in his classic study of the Transport and General Workers Union, The Government of British 1285 Trade Unions, identified the weakness of basing union democracy on the branch meeting. He concluded that, in the TGWU:Branch meetings attract only a small minority of members, who, in meaningless elections, assume apparent control at this basic level and undermine the representative character of constitutional bodies at all higher levels of organisation. The branch has become the forum not of the rank and file but of an active nucleus dominated by a hard core centre.".The author concluded that the branch had become—again I quote him—an oligarchy in democracy's trappings.That was no less than 32 years ago. But more recently the 1980 Workplace Industrial Relations Survey—the latest in the notable series of surveys initiated by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy—has shown that very little has changed. The survey found that in manual unions the average number of members attending branch meetings was 30 out of an average branch membership of 438—an attendance level of 6.8 per cent. It also showed that where the branch covered employees of more than one employer, attendance was even lower—about 3 per cent.; and that for several large branches with about 4,000 members, the average attendance was 10, which is a quarter of one per cent.
If your Lordships would like a more specific example, you need look no further than the voting figures for the 1983 executive elections in one of the largest unions, ASTMS. In those elections, according to the union's own figures, some 400 ASTMS branches (very nearly half of the total) did not register a single vote; only 2 per cent. of members voted in the election of the President and Deputy President; and only about 1.7 per cent. of the union's members voted in the election for the 16 divisional seats on the executive.
I would suggest that, in the face of figures such as these and of the continuing refusal of the trade unions to put their own house in order (as they have frequently been exhorted to do, and exhorted not only by people on this side of the House, so to say) despite the availability of public funds for postal ballot under the 1980 Act, the case for this legislation is now proven and self-evident.
Let me now turn quickly to the provisions of the Bill. Part I concerns elections, Part II concerns strike ballots and Part III concerns the political activities of trade unions. Part I requires all the voting members of a trade union's governing body—its principal executive committee—to be elected at least once every five years in a secret ballot of the union's members. The ballot must be conducted so as to give every member a fair and convenient opportunity to vote and to do so without interference or constraint. Voting must be secret and by the marking of a ballot paper, and the votes must be fairly and accurately counted. This means the end of the block vote and voting by show of hands. Ballots must be held either at the workplace or by post and not at branch meetings. Indirect elections, under which members can vote only for delegates to some intermediate body and then have no control over how those delegates cast their votes for the executive, are also ruled out.
Within these basic principles, however, the Bill provides unions with very considerable flexibility. Flexibility is most important here, because we are 1286 dealing with very plural situations out there in the real world of the economy. To give just one example, unions will remain entirely free to apportion seats on their executives as between different occupations, areas or sections within the union on whatever basis their constitutions provide. Part II of the Bill concerns strike ballots. In effect, it gives trade unions a choice. They may ballot their members before calling them out on strike and keep the immunity that the law now provides, or they may call a strike without a ballot and so forfeit their immunity. That is a simple proposition and, I believe, an entirely fair one. A trade union's immunity from civil proceedings in an industrial dispute is a privilege, as I have said, unique in English law. I do not doubt that it is a necessary privilege if trade unions are to function effectively, but that is not to say that it should be an unconditional privilege or that it should be free of any corresponding obligations. The minimum obligation is surely to ensure that trade unions have consulted their members before calling on them to risk their own livelihood and that of their families and colleagues by going on strike. There can never be any justification for a trade union compelling its members to strike against their will, under the threat of withdrawing their union cards and so effectively throwing them out of work.
The provisions in Part II cover any industrial action in breach of contract, and not just a strike, provided that it is authorised or endorsed by a trade union, as was set out in the 1982 Act. That means that it will cover all official industrial action and any action which trade unions or their paid officials are seen to be supporting.
Part III of the Bill deals with the rights of trade union members in trade unions which engage in political activities. Let me say immediately that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a union from continuing to engage in political activity, if that is the wish of the majority of its members. That was the principle established by the Trade Union Act of 1913, and nothing in this Bill detracts from it in any way. Indeed, Part III builds on the basic principles of the 1913 Act. If the majority of the members of the union wish it, it will be entirely lawful for a union to establish and maintain a political fund and raise a political levy of whatever size it chooses.
All that the Bill does in this respect is to give today's union members the same rights as were given by the 1913 Act to their grandfathers—the right to decide in a secret ballot whether or not they want their union to engage in party political activities. It cannot be right that a decision to establish a political fund taken as long as 70 years ago should continue to bind a union's members for all time, even if not a single present-day member was alive when the original ballot was held. And yet that is the indefensible position now. It simply cannot be right.
There is nothing in this Bill which has not already been put into practice in the real world again by one union or another. It extends the existing rights of union members and it builds on remedies which are already available to them. There is nothing novel about secret ballots for union elections, for calling strikes or for unions with political funds. This Bill does no more than to extend the practice of the best to the rest of the trade union movement.
1287 The Bill lays down minimum basic democratic requirements. It does not set out to impose a uniform framework or procedure on all trade unions. It is no legal straitjacket. There is nothing in this Bill which it is unreasonable or impracticable for a trade union to be expected to do. There is nothing here which will prevent a trade union from doing the job of representing its members and defending their interests. On the contrary, I believe it will ensure that unions are truly representative and that they defend their members' real interests.
When noble Lords on the other side of the House rise to oppose this Bill, I hope that they will explain exactly what it is in the Bill that they object to—not in sweeping generalities, but quite specifically. Do they object, for instance, to union members being able to vote for their leaders in a secret ballot? Do they object to union members being asked whether they want to strike before being ordered to do so? Do they object to union members being given the same opportunity which their grandfathers had to vote in a secret ballot on whether their unions should engage in political activities?
Do they object to members being given a fair and convenient opportunity to vote and to those votes being fairly and accurately counted? Or do they object to union members being able to vote without interference or constraint? Most specifically of all, do they really support and defend a system of internal democracy in trade unions, such as that in ASTMS, in which less than 2 per cent. of the union's members vote for that union's governing body? I hope that these questions will specifically be answered by those noble Lords who speak against the Bill this afternoon. I fear that they will not be.
The case for the Bill is surely self-evident. It meets a need that has been voiced time and time again by members of trade unions, and time and again it has been ignored by their leaders. The vast majority of union members want the rights which this Bill will give them. They voted for this Bill overwhelmingly in the last election. They have supported its provisions in opinion poll after opinion poll. We must not let them down, and that is why I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Earl of Gowrie.)
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, I like to begin, as the House well knows, by saying what I can say in favour of the Government, and it will not take very long. I should like to congratulate them on the title of the Bill. At last we have finished with Employment Bills. We had the first trade union Bill which was called an Employment Bill, and the second trade union Bill which was called an Employment Bill—and all the time the level of unemployment rose—and now we have the third trade union Bill and at least, thank the Lord! it is called a Trade Union Bill. It is half right in that, because of course it is not just a trade union Bill. Like the first two trade union Bills, it is an anti-trade union Bill.
1288 This brings me to a number of preliminary points of a general kind that I want to make, and I must make them quickly because the noble Earl has incited me to go into details. He wants to know in terms what we find wrong with this Bill. So I cannot spend too much time on the preliminary points, because I should like to go into very great detail in terms about what we find in detail wrong with this Bill. But it is necessary to make a number of preliminary points.
The first point is that there is a link, as the noble Earl said, between this Bill and the 1980 and 1982 legislation. This is a further assault on trade union rights. The central point to grasp is that the Government, even without this Bill, have already gone far beyond the most that was proposed by—if I may mention the name—the Heath Government. Their legislation, without this Bill, already restricts trade union rights far more than the 1971 Act intended to restrict trade union rights. They have also already gone far beyond what was done at any time since 1906.
They have made it actionable to enforce UMAs and fair lists; they have made secondary picketing actionable; they have made secondary action of all kinds actionable. Most important of all, they have narrowed the definition of a "trade dispute", so that it covers simply a dispute with one's own employer about one's employment conditions; and, of course, they have made trade unions liable for the acts of their agents outside these narrowly defined areas. All these things have been done before this Bill comes before the House. That is the first point.
The second point is that we can no longer say that employers will not use the existing legislation. I do not know what the noble Earl thinks is proved by the rash of 20 or 30 cases that have been brought under the existing legislation. I do not know what he thinks it has done for industrial relations; what it has done for jobs. I do not know what he thinks it has done for the employers who, as often as not, have abandoned the action halfway through. But it has undoubtedly very considerably added to uncertainty, and I should say that it has significantly added to the deterioration in industrial relations of the past four years. But we cannot say that the legislation will not be used. We cannot say what the consequences will be when it is used. It is ticking away like a time bomb. That is the context in which the Government propose some more.
That brings me to my third point, because the present Bill is only part of a process which continues. A further Bill is promised next year, and if we are to believe what we are told it will deal with the right of strike in emergency services. That will be only the fourth anti-trade union Bill. There will be another and another, if we are to believe what the Prime Minister said as she was reported in The Times of 12th December 1983. She said that a trade union Bill will be required in alternative years "until we get it right." So long as there is a trade union left standing, we shall continue to legislate until we get it right.
That brings me to a question which I should like to ask the noble Earl. What is it that must be got right? Is it the reform of the trade union movement—and what will it look like when it is reformed—or is it the destruction of the trade union movement? The Government have said in relation to this Bill that they 1289 wish to hand the unions back to their members. In what state? In what condition will they hand back the unions to their members when they have finished with them? It seems to me that it is a little like the state in which the Goths handed the mutilated daughters and dead sons of Titus Andronicus back to him, in a position in which they could do no more harm to anyone because they were not in one piece. Is that the thing which must be got right? Must the trade unions be destroyed or, if not, how will we know when the Government have had enough of this and when they can look at the trade union movement and say, "That will do"? It seems to me a reasonable point to ask.
That brings me to my last preliminary point, which is the difference between us and them. There is another question which I should like to ask the noble Earl. We still believe that trade unions have a useful function to perform. Do the Government believe that? We still believe that the employment contract remains a dependent relationship, whatever the level of employment or unemployment, and that workers therefore need the right to combine effectively to match employer power. That has been believed by Conservative Governments since 1876. Do the present Government still believe it? And, if so, are the trade unions to be left with any legal rights at all?
Quite apart from the economic argument for trade unionism, we still believe that there is a democratic, pluralistic argument. We believe that the trade union movement is one of the most important centres of non-state power—which is not in the hands of the establishment. For that reason we believe that it is a cornerstone of a democratic society, and for that reason we believe that tyrants at all times have sought to destroy it. Is that what the Government believe? If so, will they say so? And will they tell us when they will leave the trade union movement alone?
Therefore, I turn to the three parts of the Bill. I heard and noted down the noble Earl's definitions of the three functions of the Bill. I have three slightly different ones. First, it seems to me that the purpose of Part I of the Bill is to impose upon all unions rigid, impractical election models which will lay them open to endless litigation. That is the purpose, if people mean what they write, of Part I of the Bill. It is contrary, we argue, to the ILO Convention which the Government have signed.
The purpose of Part II of the Bill is to impose restrictions on the right to use official strike action by a similarly rigid model, including what I find the most noxious and detestable part of the Bill: what I call the intimidation provision, Clause 8(4), which I would argue is unique in strike legislation anywhere—the infamous intimidation provision of subsection (4).
The third aim of the Bill, in Part III, is to curtail the right of unions to express views of all kinds in areas of social and political controversy and most notably to do this in the case of unions which do not have political levies—unions like NALGO which in the past we thought, were allowed to express opposition to Government policy if that Government policy, they thought, affected their employment opportunities. But as we read it—and we shall be glad to be told we are wrong—their political rights will be denied to them as 1290 a result of Part III of the Bill. As I say, all these points are advanced in the name of democracy.
Now let me say something about the general arguments which have been advanced for all three Parts of the Bill and the comparisons which can be made between what the Bill proposes for trade unions and what exists for other organisations, in particular for limited companies. What strikes one about the arguments which have been used, and they have been used from the Dispatch Box on the other side of the House this afternoon, is their excessive generality. Phrases like "malpractice" are bandied about in relation to Part I of the Bill. Phrases like "an erosion of public confidence" are published in the Green Paper. "Forgery, ballot rigging and other corrupt practices", we are told, abound. Speaking in another place on 8th November, reported at col. 160 of the Official Report, the Secretary of State for Employment referred to the present "scandalous position in some of the largest unions".
Whenever statements of this kind are made one can be certain that no examples will be given, unless of course—and I shall come to this—one goes back to Goldstein. I thought the day was gone when anybody would go back to Goldstein. I have not given a student Goldstein for 30 years. Goldstein was destroyed by Roberts, Clegg, Undy, Martin, Edelstein, Daniel. Goldstein was finished 30 years ago. Goldstein examined one branch. He took no notice of workshop organisations. In fact, it was one of the first systematic studies of industrial relations, but it should not seriously be trotted out today. If the noble Earl wants to quote books, may I ask him to allow me to give him a slightly more up-to-date book list?
So what we have had are generalisations. There have also been generalisations about Part II. There have been still more general references to "union militants" and to "drumhead mass meetings", but no examples have been given. It is even worse in relation to Part III of the Bill which deals with the levy. As to Part III of the Bill, concrete examples are included in the annual report of the certification officer. If there were any examples of any individual trade unionists who had been imposed upon, discriminated against, let alone dismissed or not allowed entry into a job, they would be contained in the annual report of the certification officer, because in this single respect we have had since 1913 effective legislation to deal with all kinds of discrimination relating to the political levy. What do we find? We find that in 1982 the certification officer had 23 cases and that in 1983 he had 22 cases. That is the degree of escalation which took place. In that year the certification officer did not even have a formal hearing. That is the kind of evidence which is being put forward. As for union elections, since Goldstein was trotted out, I should have thought that the ETU case would also have been trotted out. The ETU case was the last major scandal in union government. It took place in the mid-1950s. If therefore Goldstein can be quoted I should have thought that the ETU case could also be quoted. No concrete evidence has been put forward since that time.
I come to the comparison with other bodies. This is the point which the noble Earl made in his own speech. I should like the House to consider first the election system which is being imposed upon trade 1291 unions: universal, periodic, direct elections by ballot, with no form of indirect election being allowed. Secondly, think of what is being done about the use of sanctions. A ballot has to be held. Even if the ballot is held under the provisions of the Act, the immunity lasts for only four weeks. As I have already said, there is this particular clause in the Bill which we find offensive. Then let us consider the spending of money on political purposes and what has to be done now under the 1913 legislation in order to spend money on political purposes.
Now let us consider the position in other institutions—for instance, limited companies. Let us consider the statutory, regulated professions. Let us consider institutions like Lloyd's, or the Stock Exchange, or the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, or employers' associations. Let us examine even Parliament itself. All of these organisations have a special position in law. They all have various kinds of what the noble Earl calls, when they belong to trade unions—but only when they belong to trade unions— "immunities". Yet they are all to be allowed to continue to enjoy mixed systems of decision-taking. They are all to be allowed to appoint people ex officio, if necessary, who will have votes but who will not be directly elected by all the members or shareholders of the organisation.
Look at Parliament itself. The Prime Minister, most notably, selects her own Cabinet—and no one doubts that if she does not like them, she dismisses them, They are indirectly elected. But what is good enough for Parliament is not good enough for the Transport and General Workers' Union. All those institutions subscribe to what one might call the delegate rather than the referendum theory of democracy. Almost exactly the same arguments which are used by parliamentarians against the referendum and against the plebiscite can be used against the ballot. Parliamentarians are very fond of saying that they know they represent their constituents and that they can be permitted to elect people to committees, sub-committees, Cabinets and government. They say that if they want to vote on important matters, they will put their hands up or march through lobbies and everyone will be able to see what they do. They say that they do not need secret ballots, referenda or plebiscites because they believe in indirect systems of democracy.
Only trade unionists are not allowed to have such a mixed system. Yet if one looks at all the institutions that I have listed—if one looks at Oxford colleges, at employers' associations, at corporate bodies or companies—I submit that the trade union movement has far more direct elections of far more posts, far more regularly, and makes much more use of this despised plebiscitory system that those other powerful organisations that I have mentioned.
Let us turn to politics. If one includes professional bodies, it is true that the BMA engages in politics and that the National Farmers' Union engages in politics. We do not expect them to have a levy—of course not, because they are not trade unions. Let us look at limited companies. I must say that I have always had a soft spot for the present Secretary of State for Industry. He is a man to push his luck. Asked before 1292 a House of Commons employment committee recently:Would you say why there should be any legal regulation on trade union political expenditure?",he actually replied:It puts it on a footing alongside companies who are also required to report and regulate their political expenditure".I believe that something similar was said by the noble Earl.
A man from Mars would think that companies were required to have a ballot to pay a levy. A man from Mars would think that companies were required to give their shareholders the right to contract out. A man from Mars would think that there was a clear definition of what is to count for a political purpose, and that if companies did not have a separate fund committed to their purpose they could not spend a farthing on politics. If trade unions were to be put on a footing alongside companies, what would that mean? It would mean, for example, that Mr. Moss Evans could give as much money as he wanted to the Labour Party from his general fund as long as he could get it through conference, because that is the position in corporate bodies.
So I come to my general criticism concerning the practical consequences of the three Parts of the Bill. Part I of the Bill will require the total rewriting of all union rule books in order to conform with its provisions. There is no union today that carries out the provisions of Part I of the Bill. It will mean. I would argue, that no union could have geographically-based branches, because if one has geographically-based branches, one cannot have equal access to vote.
It will mean in every union an uncertain and unpredictable change in the existing power balance. That is what happens when one moves away from one system of election to another. It will almost certainly mean an increase in factionalism in every union. There is an irreversible connection between the number, regularity and type of elections and the degree to which unions divide factionally. So those unions which so far been free of factionalism—such as the GMBTU—will become factionalised.
There will also be the endless chance of legal challenge on minor infractions which have no effect on the result. In this respect, Part I and Part II of the Bill are worse than parliamentary legislation. As I understand it, in parliamentary elections, if there is some minor infraction of parliamentary law in the course of an election, provided it can be shown that it has no significant effect on the result, then no case will be sustained. That is not so in this Bill. There is nothing in this Bill—in Part I or in Part II—which states that even minor technical infractions cannot lead to the upsetting of an election. That is the consequence of Part I of the Bill, and that is my particular argument against it.
But Part II of the Bill creates very similar risks of legal action by employers and third parties, and threats of interlocutory injunctions. There will almost certainly be an encouragement to take unofficial strike action because officials cannot become involved unless they can first ensure that they will be able to hold a ballot. There will also be endless problems for trade unions in getting an up-to-date register. Because of the 1293 spread of the check-off, the creation of an up-to-date register for strike purposes will depend almost entirely on the good will of the employer.
If the employer does not co-operate (and why should he?) in providing the union with an effective, up-to-date register then the ballot will be unlawful. There will also be difficulties with negotiating beyond the four-week limit. Even if there is a ballot achieved within the limits of the law, then, unless there is a strike, the immunity which the ballot provides runs out after four weeks and there has to be another. Finally, there is the discrimination provision in Clause 8(4). this says that one must place upon the ballot paper the question, "Are you prepared to take part in a strike involving a breach of contract?". That is what it says.
It is as though when one enters a hospital for an operation, one would have to sign a piece of paper that asks '"You realise, of course, that you may die on the operating table—don't you?" Or as though, when you flew British Airways, you had to sign a form which asks, "You do realise,—don't you?—that these planes can fall out of the sky?" This is the kind of intimidation provision which the Government have put into the ballot. There never was a ballot such as this.
Part III of the Bill, as I have said, could mean the loss of some union funds, in the event of the ballot not being successful. I myself do not believe that that is very significant. More significant is the wider definition of what is to count for political purposes (and we shall be saying more about that in Committee) and the fact that, as a result, unions which do not have levies or political funds will not be able to engage in a wide range of political and social activities.
The final point I should like to make relates to the comments made by the noble Earl at the end of his speech about public opinion. The noble Earl said that public opinion was in favour of the Bill. Indeed, he said that the Government actually won the election on it—or that it had been part of their election manifesto. It is not my job to go through all the statements made in the Conservative Party election manifestos, and to ask how far the Government have achieved them or not. I would rather turn to what the noble Earl said about public opinion polls.
It is perfectly true that there have been public opinion polls supporting this Bill, or apparently supporting this Bill. There was a public opinion poll published most recently in the Sunday Telegraph. It was produced by the Gallup organisation, when 993 electors were asked last August questions which purported to be about this Bill. In another place, the Government have made a great deal of this Gallup poll. It suggested that 88 per cent. of the sample approved of electing leaders by ballot and that 83 per cent. agreed that no strikes should be called without a postal ballot. Some 52 per cent. approved of the Government's plans to reform trade union law. The only trouble was that the first two questions were not really straight questions on the Bill. The Government are not asking you to approve the election of leaders by ballot; they are asking you to approve of banning indirect elections whether they are by ballot or not. That is quite a misleading question to ask the public.
1294 On the second question, 83 per cent. agreed that no strikes should be called without a postal ballot. The Government are going far beyond that. They are prescribing the form of the ballot and including what I call the intimidation provision. Nobody asked questions about that. As for the 51 per cent. who favoured a secret ballot on whether the unions should pay a political levy to the Labour Party, of course you have to have a ballot to pay a political levy to the Labour Party. That is not what the Bill proposes. It proposes that there should be a ballot every 10 years on the basis of a much wider definition of what is to count as "political".
These are not balanced questions. They are not the right questions to ask. They do not prove what public opinion thinks one way or another. In any circumstances it is rather strange for this Government to quote public opinion polls at this particular juncture of their fortunes. I seem to remember that there was a public opinion poll with a majority against the use and establishment of cruise missiles in this country. There was a public opinion poll recently which said that we should get out of the Common Market. There was a recent public opinion poll which by a substantial majority said that the Government should stop their attempts to abolish the GLC. I do not hear of the Government deciding to change their policies for reasons of that kind. Therefore, it is not very persuasive for this Government to quote the public opinion polls.
In conclusion, I should say that we take the attitude we do, not because we believe on this side of the House that there is nothing wrong with trade unions or that nothing needs to be done to change them. Indeed, if your reading extends beyond Goldstein you will find in a recent book by Undy on trade unions that a very great deal of change is taking place within trade unions—some good and some bad. What we believe about British trade unions, and what we seek to express from our side of the House, and where we differ from the other side of the House, is that we think that British trade unions are, above all, British. They have the same mixture of myopia and morality which distinguishes all British institutions. They are no more obstinate than the Civil Service. They are no more incompetent than big business. They are no more ruthless than the BMA. They are no more devious than the National Farmers' Union. They are no more narrow and sectarian than the Oxford and Cambridge colleges. I sometimes think that there is great similarity there. I sometimes bore my friends with the similarities between trade unions and Oxford colleges. I could go on for hours about the similarities between the Transport and General Workers' Union and Balliol, but I shall not. Trade Unions are just as sectarian as colleges, but no more so. They are just as inefficient as Parliament. Union leaders are no more corrupt than political leaders, and at least as sober as journalists. Therefore, they do not deserve to be harried and pursued in the name of a half-baked Hayek view of this economy, just because the Prime Minister must get it right.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, from these Benches I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, for 1295 the characteristically clear way in which he has placed this Bill before us. As the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has just reminded us, it has been said that the Bill's underlying aim is to give trade unions back to their members. As an objective, that certainly has our support. However, as I will endeavour to explain in outlining our general reaction to the Bill's three main parts, we think that there are provisions in it which may go too far. There are others which do not go far enough and others, again, which, although acceptable in principle, may in practice and in our fears prove to be counter-productive.
I turn first to Part I dealing with secret ballots for trade union elections. We are in agreement with the proposition set out in Clauses 1 and 2 that at intervals of not more than five years every trade union member should have the right to vote by secret ballot in the election of the union's governing body. We have doubts on two points. The first revolves round the question of the alternative approach set out in paragraph 54 of the Green Paper, Democracy in Trade Unions, which your Lordships debated in March last year. This was that union members should be allowed to decide democratically whether they preferred arrangements other than those now incorporated in the Bill for the election of their governing body. Specifically, it was suggested that established systems of indirect voting might be held better to reflect members' needs and the diversity of interests of the membership. Thus, if a majority in a secret ballot periodically confirm their support for the existing arrangements, other statutory requirements would not apply. If that were the outcome of such exercises, would it not have the advantage that nobody could then claim that arrangements were being imposed on union members from outside against their wishes? If, on the other hand, the members indicated in the ballot that they preferred the arrangements set out in the Bill, would not that strengthen the Government's hands immensely because implementation of their proposals would then have been shown to be willingly accepted by those immediately concerned? At this stage I simply ask these questions.
The second matter arising from Part I that I should like to explore further is quite different from the first. Having regard to the various means by which it has been claimed that working place ballots are open to abuse, are the Government satisfied that, in its present form, Clause 2 goes far enough? To put the question more bluntly, has the time come, despite the attendant practical difficulties—I, for one, do not underestimate those difficulties—to insist on the establishment of the statutory machinery needed to make more extensive use of postal ballots for union elections?
I turn next to Part II and in particular to Clause 7. This is the clause which removes from trade unions immunity from legal action if they do not hold a ballot before authorising or endorsing industrial action which has the effect of interfering with the performance of the contract of employment. Immunity is also to be removed under the Bill if the ballot is held more than four weeks before the industrial action begins. Let me first make it plain that my noble friends and I endorse wholeheartedly the principle underlying this Part of the Bill. However, we are seriously concerned 1296 lest the effect of Clause 7 proves in practice to encourage even more unofficial action than there already is in the form of walk-outs, working to rule, going slow, and so on.
I recall from my own experience how in many cases such actions start spontaneously as a result of some relatively small incident. The personnel manager—I was once one—phones the local union official and asks him to help sort things out. My fear is that in future the union official will be reluctant to respond to such calls lest that should be interpreted as endorsement of the unofficial action and result in the union being sued. Similarly, I fear that the effect of the provision removing immunity if a ballot is held more than four weeks before industrial action begins may be that ballots are held prematurely and that attitudes will then be struck which will increase the likelihood of the action taking place.
There may be other practical problems, including the danger that, if in every case there is a requirement that ballots are held before strikes begin, there will be a corresponding insistence by trade unions that ballots must take place also before strikes are called off. I could go on, but it would be more appropriate clearly to do so in Committee. It is pertinent, however, to observe that the means now chosen to remove immunity did not feature in the Government's Green Paper, so that there has not been the same degree of consultation concerning the merits of this particular proposal as applies to other provisions in the legislation.
I come now to Part III of the Bill concerning political funds and objects. For our part, until such time as there is a fundamental change in the way in which political parties in this country are financed, we see no reason why trade unions should not operate a political fund if by secret ballot at periodic intervals they elect to have one. What is in our view insupportable is that it should then be assumed that all contributions to the fund should be used for the benefit of a particular political party when it is evident—for example, from the outcome of last year's general election—that there are many union members who wish to support not that party but other political parties, or perhaps none at all.
Indeed, it was with that consideration, among others, in mind that my noble friends and I voted for an amendment in the 1972 Employment Bill which would have had the effect of substituting "contracting in" for "contracting out". Had that amendment been incorporated in the Act, it would at least have become easier for effect to be given to the views of union members not wishing to support the Labour Party.
In our view there needs to be a much more even-handed approach as between contributions made by individuals to trade unions and those made by companies to a political party. In saying that, I am aware of the differences between the two cases—for example, in the scale of funding and in the degree of regulation of companies that already exists, as the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has today reminded us.
It has, nevertheless, been encouraging to note that in another place at the Report stage of the Bill on 2nd April, the Conservative Member who sought to introduce a new clause having the effect of substituting 1297 "contracting in" for "contracting out" was principled enough to acknowledge—I quote from column 724 —that if they (that is the Opposition):would vote for contracting in, I would positively campaign to change the law with regard to political donations by companies".We on these Benches consider that there is an urgent need to find ways of financing political parties in this country which are different from and fairer than those that now exist. There is not time to speculate now on what form such changes might take. In any case, it seems that this Bill could not be amended to incorporate them, for it has to do with trade unions alone. This is nevertheless a matter on which your Lordships will see that we feel very strongly.
That brings me to the last point I want to make. Unlike the 1982 Employment Bill, the title of this one is so tightly drawn that we shall not be able to remedy, even to the small extent that was possible in the 1982 Bill, what in this one, too, is in our view its greatest defect. That is the absence of any provision at all positively to improve human relations or to bridge the gap between "us" and "them" in British industry. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has already referred to that concept. Had this Bill afforded us the opportunity to develop our own step-by-step approach to increasing employee involvement by making it a statutory requirement that in both the public and the private sectors every organisation employing more than a certain number of people should establish consultative bodies of some kind, we should certainly have taken that opportunity. I should emphasise that we are not believers in so-called single channel representation. On the contrary, in our view legislation should provide for membership of such consultative bodies to be open to all employees and not be confined to trade union members alone.
I do not apologise for dwelling on this theme, for in our view it is highly relevant to the philosophy which should underlie all legislation affecting industrial relations, Indeed, I was heartened to learn last week that the British Institute of Management had recently conducted a survey of its 74,000 members on the subject of employee participation and consultation. This revealed that, although only 8 per cent. of the respondent managers felt that the Vredeling Directive should be supported, United Kingdom managers would be prepared to accept a broad requirement for participation procedures. Only 21 per cent. of the respondents felt that there should be no further legislation in the United Kingdom, and managers believed that a combination of minimum legislation and voluntarism would help to develop the process of giving more information to employees and of consulting them more often. In the Bill before us there is no evidence of any such vision, and that we greatly regret.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, along with countless others, I welcome legislation which is intended to help trade unions to become more democratic. I particularly welcome initiatives designed to ensure that trade union leaders are representative of their members and more responsive to their wishes. To the extent to which this Bill is designed to achieve these goals, it has my unequivocal support.
1298 The key to bringing about more democracy in trade unions lies in the mechanism for the election of union executives. In the debate in another place, the Government professed a commitment to giving trade unionists the right:to vote without interference or constraint, to have a voting paper supplied to them, to have a fair and convenient opportunity to vote at no cost, in secret, and to have these votes fairly counted".That commitment is surely entirely commendable, but, unfortunately, in its present form the Bill has deeply disappointed very many moderate trade unionists because of the Government's decision to allow work-place ballots, instead of making secret postal ballots mandatory.
As Frank Chapple argued forcefully in Contact in March of this year:There is no satisfactory substitute for representative democracy in our trade unions. That representative aim means that no obstacle should be placed in the way of maximum membership participation in elections. That in turn demands secret postal ballots—the fiddleproof and secret voting method which this union has used to our members' great advantage ever since conspiratorial communist ballot-riggers were exposed in the famous 1961 High Court case. We can be proud of our scrupulous record in elections for office since that time and certain that the results continue to produce a union leadership that broadly conforms to our members' views and wishes. It is therefore all the more remarkable that the Government, which loudly boasts that it will give unions back to their members, has cold-shouldered postal balloting.But it is not only Frank Chapple's union which, having suffered the most notorious ballot rigging in this country's trade union history, supports secret postal ballots. A recent MORI opinion poll showed massive support for secret postal ballots among trade union members—74 per cent. overall, with 71 per cent. among blue collar workers and 80 per cent. among white collar workers. What was especially striking was the overwhelming support among members of some of the largest unions: 75 per cent. in the Transport and General Workers' Union; 81 per cent. in the National Union of Mineworkers and 87 per cent. in the General and Municipal Workers' Union.
Opposition to the concept of secret postal ballots was correspondingly minimal, ranging from 18 per cent. in the TGWU to 12 per cent. in the NUM and a mere 6 per cent. in the GMWU. While acknowledging, of course the limitations of any opinion poll, the consistency of these findings and the size of the majorities cannot be interpreted in any way other than as overriding support for secret postal ballots among those most closely affected. Therefore, in my contribution to this debate, I wish very briefly to present some of the arguments in support of secret postal ballots and to show that they are desirable in principle and feasible in terms of cost and practicalities. In so doing, I will also refer very briefly to some of the dangers and problems associated with workplace ballots.
First, there are logistical problems associated with workplace ballots. For example, the returning officers or scrutineers are likely to be elected from the ranks of branch officers who may well be political activists who were themselves elected by perhaps as few as 2 per cent. of the branch membership. It is they who would be responsible for handing out the ballot papers, for counting them, and for completing and forwarding the returns to head office. They would thus be in a key 1299 position to take advantage of any loopholes in the system. Such loopholes may take various forms, ranging from the so-called "putting to good use" of ballot papers, which for one reason or another may not have been completed, to manipulating the meetings at which voting takes place. I give two examples of ways in which such abuses can occur—and I note that there was earlier a request for examples.
First, in a large complex of buildings or in split site organisations, it is very easy for those handing out forms to miss out some voters—and people rarely complain if they do not receive voting papers. It may therefore be relatively simple for a dishonest official to keep back some forms, especially if the distribution is done at an awkward time. There is an additional danger that some trade union members may not receive notice of meetings at which voting is to take place. Such things have been known.
Secondly, there is the fact that as many as 50 to 60 per cent. of people throw their ballot papers away. If this happens at the place of work, it is legitimate to ask what happens to these papers. Members of the electricians' union have pointed out, on the basis of their own experience, that the Government's present proposals provide no protection against ballot papers being "put to good use" if they are collected after being discarded.
The Aims of Industry publication, Trade Union Bill is Ballot Riggers' Charter, claims:In last year's ballot in NALGO, where the papers are issued in bulk to branch secretaries for distribution at the place of work, one member boasts of having cast 129 votes; his main strategem was going round the waste paper baskets and filling in discarded ballot papers.In addition to such logistical problems, there are also problems arising from the psychological pressures which may be brought to bear on people who have to vote at their place of work. It is easy for politically motivated officials to arrange things so that contentious issues may be discussed at a meeting on the day of the ballot and for voters then to have to complete their ballot papers in the immediate presence of those same officials. For example, in the Civil and Public Services Association elections in 1983, branch officers held meetings in different rooms, harangued members and then held the ballot in that emotionally charged and politically pressured atmosphere.
It is problems such as these which make it so important to provide for secret postal ballots in which members can vote in the privacy of their own homes, free from pressure. However, as the Government have so far decided in favour of workplace ballots, it is important to consider their reasons for so doing. These seem to fall into four categories. First, there is the turnout of voters. Secondly, there is the possibility of rigging postal ballots. Thirdly, there is the cost and the related fact that insistence on postal ballots would force change on unions which already have adequate balloting systems. Fourthly and finally, there is the public's alleged satisfaction with the idea of workplace ballots. However, consideration of each of these still shows evidence and argument in favour of secret postal ballots.
1300 If I may, I will speak very briefly first on the question of turnout. It is true that some of the highest figures for turnout have been found where voting is organised at the workplace. In the Scargill election of 1981, turnout was claimed to be 80 per cent. of the NUM's membership, but that was hardly typical and took place in the glare of full media coverage. The second highest level of voting in recent elections was found in the CPSA's first election for full-time officers, with a turnout of almost 40 per cent. But that level dropped in 1982 to 30 per cent. for executive elections.
However, unions which already use postal ballots tend to have levels of participation similar to the CPSA's 1981 level. The electricians achieved a 32 per cent. turnout in their election for general secretary. Also, according to the certification officer's report for 1983, 15 unions applied for refunds of expenditure after holding secret ballots. In the 20 ballots involved, the average percentage polled was the impressive figure of 47 per cent. When the Engineering section of the AUEW changed from branch ballots to postal ballots, turnout rose by over 100 per cent. according to Undy and Martin's recent book, but other sources suggest it was as high as a fivefold increase.
So postal ballots do not fare badly in comparison with other forms of balloting. Turnout should not be used as a decisive argument against them. This fact, combined with the advantages they bring in terms of freedom from pressure and the reduction in the loopholes for malpractice, must surely mean that they deserve very serious consideration unless other contra-indications are overriding.
What might those contra-indications be? Some of the main arguments relate to cost. However, the experience of the electricians' union has shown that, far from being a drain on resources, the establishment of the modern, computerised, central register of members required for postal ballots not only eliminates malpractice. It has also streamlined procedures, cut down on administrative costs, saved millions of pounds in subscription arrears and provided a better service to members. Yet another advantage is that the percentage of members not included on the register is kept to only 2 to 4 per cent., thus enabling at least 96 per cent. of members to have the opportunity to vote by receiving a ballot paper at home.
Other experienced trade unionists have argued that the cost of setting up computerised membership records would be recouped over and over again by more efficient collection of membership dues. For example, at a minimum contribution rate of 50 pence per week, every 1 per cent. in arrears costs an organisation of 100,000 members £25,000 per year. It has been estimated that the reduction of arrears in the electricians' union from 1976 to 1983 resulted in savings of millions of pounds.
Another argument used is that if the Government were to insist on postal ballots, some trade unions which already have democratic systems would be required to change them, with no obvious advantage. But. as Undy and Martin point out in a recent book,Legislation which enforced either postal or workplace ballots would, however, still require extensive changes in union rules".1301 That point has already been made in the debate. Therefore, it is recognised that changes are going to be required, of most unions anyway, in order to comply with the proposals of the Bill as they now stand. It thus seems anomalous not to take advantage of inevitable change by implementing systems that would be as democratic and as safe from malpractice as possible.
The third type of counter-argument consists of allegations that postal ballots are themselves vulnerable to rigging. In the debate in another place the point was made that in the notorious case of ballot rigging in the electricians' union it was a postal ballot that was fiddled. However, that is a misrepresentation. It was only partly a postal ballot. Ballot papers were not issued to individual members by an independent body, but were issued in bulk to branch secretaries, thus giving a loophole for rigging. Nowadays the EETPU, among others, uses the Electoral Reform Society for the administration and counting of its ballots.
The final example of arguments used against postal ballots refers to the claim that the public generally has confidence in workplace ballots and that there is no widespread feeling in favour of postal ballots. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is not the case. I have already referred to the opinion poll that found overwhelming support from trade unionists for secret postal ballots. There have also been strong representations in the press from moderate trade unionists expressing dismay that the Government are losing this opportunity to enforce secret postal ballots. For example, Mr. Cottingham, the national treasurer of the Association of Social Democratic Trade Unionists, wrote in The Times on 26th March this year:Is it therefore another example of this Government losing its grip that it has allowed the most significant reform of all—the mandatory secret postal ballot—to be dropped from its proposals? As Frank Chappie, of the electricians' union, has stated, the alternative workplace ballots 'are too easily open to intimidation of the voters, to improper use of discarded ballot papers, to phoney returns and a variety of other illicit behaviour'. The Government has already promised the cash to cover the cost of this reform and other moderate leaders, such as Terry Duffy, should have their hands strengthened by firm legislation to give all union members the right to vote in the privacy of their own homes".Moderates from eight different unions writing in The Times in December 1981 made an impassioned plea for secret postal ballots for the election of union executives. They claimed:This is a measure which is impeccably democratic and one which the majority of the people of our country would wholeheartedly support and certainly not regard as a policy of confrontation with the unions".In conclusion, when all the arguments are considered, it is my belief, shared by many other people across the political spectrum, that this Trade Union Bill, with all its good intentions, will be selling the country short if it does not make the use of secret postal ballots mandatory for the election of the governing bodies of trade unions. The arguments for secret postal ballots are irrefutable at the level of principle. Those concerned with practicalities can, as I have tried to indicate, be met. Such a measure would bring relief to moderate trade unionists up and down the country, who are at present dismayed and disappointed, and it would receive widespread public support as being essentially democratic and virtually 1302 irreversible. It would indeed be a brave, or a totalitarian, Government who would try to take away this right once it had been granted.
It is therefore my sincere hope that your Lordships may consider these arguments sympathetically and that any subsequent proposals for an amendment on these lines might receive the strongest possible support from all parts of the House. Such an amendment could make a vital contribution not only to the economic wellbeing of this country but, more fundamentally, to the protection of democracy and the preservation of the freedom of the individual.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Scanlon
My Lords, the audacity and panache with which noble Lords are today enunciating principles to be applied to others that they would themselves regard as anathema is truly breathtaking. Leaving aside for the time being ILO Convention 87, personally I have no objection whatever not only to the principle of ballots, but also to the principle of postal ballots. As one who has spent 34 years as a full-time officer, never going more than 12 months without either fighting for my survival or seeking to go up the trade union ladder, I can pay respect to those principles. But, before we praise them too highly, let us look at some of the underlying facts.
Prior to the postal ballot, in my own union, I was elected president of that body by the highest vote that has ever been cast in the branches—and that was 12 per cent. of the electorate. Twelve per cent.! We changed to postal ballots. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said that our figures had doubled. Well, twice nothing is still nothing. We increased our potential voting to 30 per cent. by postal ballots. It meant that we not only had to send out 1.5 million envelopes to every member, but also had to enclose a prepaid envelope for return. All that the members had to do was to put a cross on the ballot paper and return it. Seventy per cent. decided that they would not do that. And before your Lordships rush in and condemn them, may I ask, how many shareholders turn up at the annual meeting of any company? One per cent.? Two per cent.? I can perhaps tell your Lordships that when they turn up, it is when something is going wrong. Exactly the same happens in trade unions.
Why do we stop at the governing body when talking about ballots? I do not know. One of the most important aspects of trade union activity involves the local official. Is it because the governing body may feel constrained to dismiss that person if legal action is taken under Part II of this Bill—is that the philosophy behind leaving out the election of local officials by postal ballot? 1 do not know whether it is or not. The principle of being responsible to, and being able to be dismissed by, the members is one that will receive my personal applause, but not if it is brought about by some legalistic manoeuvring. It will receive my applause if and when, or as and when, the members of any individual union decide that that is what they want. I would hope that if anything was done, it would be to encourage unions to go in those directions.
Goodness me, the battle of amalgamation has been around us! We would have had more amalgamations and less variety of unions within each industry but for the principle that has divided the trade union 1303 movement: should officials be appointed or elected? I tell your Lordships now that if you think that you are going to get passive trade union officials as a result of postal ballots, you are making the greatest mistake of your lives. Come a crisis at the time of elections and it takes a very brave man indeed to take the correct rather than the popular action. This is one of the dangers which is inherent in the legislation which is presently before us.
It has been said that today is not the time to go into detail, and certainly I agree with that. I will say only this of Part II. The principle in Part II is no different—the question of a ballot. But many—and I include myself—resent very strongly the implication that somehow trade unionists en masse are moral cowards, unable or unwilling to hold up their hands as to how they want a particular vote to go. In many instances it is not possible to hold a ballot if one wants a quick decision of the members about what to do. How would one go on if a shop steward has been blatantly victimised by an unscrupulous employer? Does one go through all these legal niceties? There is no provision in procedure, because procedure never mentions victimisation; it dare not. All these things are going to get us into considerable legalistic difficulties, which is always the way when legislation is involved in trade union matters.
I say no more regarding Part III. I call a spade a spade. In my view it is blatant political gerryman-dering, a legalistic excuse for financially bankrupting the Labour Party. We may as well see it in that setting, and I am sure more will be said on this during the Committee stage. Yet the sum total of all that has been said, the sum total of all the objections that can be voiced in your Lordships' House, is relatively in-significant compared with the well-known recognition of this Government's paranoic detestation of the trade unions. This is what lies at the back of it. If the 1980 Act does not result in an innocuous trade union movement, the 1982 Act will; if that one does not, the present one will; and if this one does not, there will be further Acts. Surely the time has come when we have to ask ourselves,"When is it going to stop"?
It is not an exaggeration to remind ourselves that the classical way the enemies of democracy seek to destroy democracy is first of all to destroy the trade union movement. It happened in Spain; it happened in Germany; it happened in Chile; it happened in Greece; it happened in many of the Latin American countries, and if we are not very careful it is going to happen here. We on this side of the House are determined that that shall not be.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I find it very interesting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon. I find his speeches always well worth listening to and entirely audible. I should like to take up his point in suggesting that this Government suffer from paranoic detestation of trade unions. I dare to differ from him; this is not the case. Speaking as a life-long Conservative, I want to say that we must have trade unions. As has been mentioned already, the object of this Bill is to get it right. I go so far as to suggest that if the Labour Party is in difficulty today the blame lies very largely with the 1304 trade unions because the man in the street and the woman in the street are fed up with the trade unions, not because they are trade unions but because of the way they have been run. Are we not suffering from it today? I am not talking about the trade union system, the trade union principle, which is absolutely essential to a democratic economic framework; but, with due respect, about the way the trade unions have found themselves being manipulated by stipendiary administrations. When I say "stipendiary" I am talking about the enormous wages now earned by the leaders. I imagine they are out of all proportion to what the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, earned when first he took an official position in a trade union.
This Bill is designed to implement the Conservative Party's promise—and it was a promise—to give trade unions back to the members. That is what it is all about. For that reason it has my ungrudging support and I hope it will be followed by further steps, as promised, on and on to ensure that the promise is kept to the full. This is not union bashing; this is an attempt to get it right.
One could spend a lot of time speculating on what alternatives lie open to us, but this is not the occasion for such speculation other than to say that the major problem that faces industry in this country today may well be that the craft unions are outmoded. It may be that we ought to be planning for industry-wide unions, and I find it extremely interesting to see the terms which Japanese entrepreneurs propose as essential before they will start factories in this country. If this Bill is an attack on anyone it is an attack on some of the present generation of trade union officials. The struggle for freedom has turned full circle and the freedom which the trade union movement rightly slaved for and suffered for in the years gone by is now a freedom for which the. man in the street has got to turn to in order to free himself from a dictatorship.
My mind goes back to the debate that we had on 1st December proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. I was surprised to be given a glimpse of the proceedings of a trade union direction. I will not say that the curtain of which the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, lifted a corner disclosed the workings of a thieves' kitchen, but I will say that it disclosed a planning system for blackmail. If we are not suffering from blackmail today, why are there blank pages in the press? There is something wrong which has got to be put right and this Bill is the way to do it.
I should like to put before my noble friend Lord Gowrie one matter which is not a Committee matter and on which we could speak for ages. First, his speech so covered the ground that it saves me from saying much of what I wanted to say. He set out in every possible detail events which have led to today's situation, culminating in this Bill coming before your Lordships' House. I want to impress one point upon my noble friend. In the face of pressures exercised in particular by the television channels, the success of the Conservative's drive is remarkable, but it is proof of the old saying that you cannot fool people all the time. Why do news reports almost inevitably open with plugs by Bill this or Bill that? When will the opinion of the man in the street come first? Can we hear what the 1305 Government have in mind and what the people have in mind before we hear what Bill says?
I wonder whether any of your Lordships listened to the seven o'clock news this morning, which began with a tremendous plug for one of the largest unions, and it gave no indication of the other points to be made in the particular case. So the radio is almost as bad, with its packed panels and dubious polls. I say "dubious" polls because I remember watching a pollster in a crowded main-line station, and when I asked whether she wanted my view she said, "No, I know what you would say". So my contribution to her poll was not acceptable. There is too much of that going on over these surveys as to who are asked to give their opinions and how they are treated.
I hope that we shall give the Bill a fair wind and cry for more. I say "Good luck!" to the Department of Employment, but I beg the Government not to underrate the power of the radio and television media. Their influence is tremendously powerful and insidious. We must encourage the Government to take whatever means are available to them to rap the television medium over the knuckles.
Further, let us join with all those who wish to support the police in the struggle that they are having today to enable men to work when they want to do so. It might be wise if the Government regularly were to issue a note of the enormous cost of the policing which is taking place, which falls upon the state and the people. It is vast, and will be complicated to calculate. I know of a police officer and his police wife who are having to work an enormous amount of overtime due to the paucity of the men on the beat. So very large sums are being earned by them, and these sums must be taken into the calculation when we work out the costs of this awful wrangle.
I say, "Well done, the Government". As my noble friend Lord Gowrie said, the case for the Bill is self-evident. I repeat what I said earlier; I hope that the Government will go on and on until they have it right. It is our duty to trade union members, many of whom voted this Government into power, to ensure that the Government do get it right.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Lord Beswick
My Lords, I suppose that we would all agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down that we would like to get it right. I am not absolutely certain that the direction in which he was pointing is the right one. I am not absolutely certain that industrial relations in this country are settled by mounted policemen and the kind of scenes which we see on the television at present. I am sure that there is a better way than that. It is a question of getting good human relations, and we must look at this Bill in that context.
In his peroration the noble Earl exhorted us to avoid generalities. I fear that he did not always scrupulously follow his own advice. But he was fair enough to invite us to give the details on which we disagree with this Bill, and I shall hope to respond to that. As briefly as possible, I want to relate Part I of this Bill to an organisation which is affected, the British Airline Pilots Association, which is commonly referred to as BALPA. The problems that they see arising from this 1306 piece of proposed legislation, if not amended, are shared by certain other organisations, but I take BALPA as a test case and I should be most grateful if this evening or, if necessary, later the Minister would answer some questions which greatly concern them.
One way or another I have known BALPA for about 40 years, first as a lowly member and later as a vice-president and then president. In earlier days I think it might be said that, highly professional as those members were as pilots flying aircraft, they were somewhat amateur in trade union organisation. Some individuals might well have been temperamental, but altogether they were a pragmatic lot, and by training and instinct they wanted something that worked. If one spends a great deal of one's life flying an aeroplane, one tends to have a preference for things that work. BALPA's present organisation, which is set out in the agreed rule book, has been developed to suit their needs and the present shape of the airline industry, and it seems to function effectively. The rule book of BALPA is well known to the Minister's department.
Therefore, my first question to the Minister is: what improvement to BALPA's effectiveness or sense of individual and collective responsibility will follow if the provisions of this Bill as it stands are applied to them? I put that question to the noble Earl as a direct and specific question which he was inviting. In particu-lar, in what way will the Bill's proposed procedures for election to the national executive committee be superior to that tailored by BALPA's members to suit BALPA's needs?
I make no criticism of any other body when I say that with BALPA there is no alleged complication of Left-wing/Right-wing struggles; there is no semblance of any Militant Tendency. It has been a matter of getting a proper balance between sectional interests and between the local experience and head office expertise. The results now appear to justify the retention of the present rules. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of some amendment which would enable individuals to decide, by secret postal ballot, which electoral system they want.
There is no question here of evading democratic responsibility. BALPA, I am told, will be quite ready to accept a requirement that such a secret ballot be held by post at stated intervals. The Minister makes a point about flexibility in the Bill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, appeared to think that in Clause 2(3) the Bill was flexible enough to meet the kind of individual requirements of the kind of organisation of which I am speaking. But my advice is that that flexibility would not enable the special needs of an organisation like BALPA properly to be met. If the Minister can tell me, or prove to me, that I am wrong, then there will be many people who will be satisfied; that is to say, if he can show that the present wording provides, or can provide, adequate flexibility to enable the sort of controlled indirect elections that are now provided for in the rule book of an organisation like BALPA.
I should like to indicate the features that have emerged after much discussion, after a good deal of inquiry and subsequent monitoring, and which it 1307 would seem to me sensible to retain. The sectional committees are elected by individual direct ballot by section members. Presumably, this will be permitted by Clause 2(3). But that elected committee, from its number, then elects a chairman who then represents it on the central executive. Is there any sensible reason why the Government should take legislative action to stop a procedure of that kind? If there is a logical, intelligent answer to that question, I really should be grateful if the noble Earl will let me know.
That process certainly ensures proper representation of local opinion on the central executive. Other elements of the National Executive Committee are elected by the annual delegate conference, which itself is elected by ballot. Some of those who are elected by the annual delegate conference are elected by virtue of their holding a specific office. I take as an example here—the noble Earl asked for details and I give him this example—the chairman of the technical committee. Over the years I have developed the most profound respect, not to say a little awe, for the occupants of this post. They have made an invaluable contribution not simply to BALPA but to aviation generally.
Elected indirectly as he now is, the personal qualities of a possible chairman of the technical committee are intimately known to the individuals who have the responsibility of electing him. I am not convinced that the individual qualifications of which I speak would necessarily be so clearly recognised if the election was wide open to every individual member of the organisation. A similar argument could be advanced for other officers, and I shall not go into all the details but there are the chairmen of the industrial, finance and pensions committees. They are elected to the NEC by a similar indirect but basically democratic process.
I would go all the way with the Government if they were devising laws to prevent irresponsible minorities from imposing policy upon an organisation, but in fact in the case of which I speak—and I speak of this only because I happen to have personal knowledge of it—the Government appear to be frustrating the considered procedures agreed by highly responsible people. I hope to get some assurances that the claimed flexibility will actually be provided in amendments, or that the Government will look favourably upon an amendment designed to meet the sort of case of which I speak.
The Minister had an especially sparkling passage about granting individuals the democratic right to decide by secret ballot whether or not they wish to take industrial action. I am now suggesting that there be the democratic right to decide by secret postal ballot how they should elect their principal executive committee, and I look forward to hearing from the noble Earl if he will consider an amendment which will make that possible.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, the, if I may say so, moderate, constructive and limited contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has been in refreshing contrast with other speeches we have heard from noble Lords on the other side of the House, which appear to 1308 me really to have been inspired by blind loyalty. I emphasise the word "blind" because noble Lords opposite have failed to face up to the dissatisfaction of their own members. Perhaps I may reply to a point quite fairly made by the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, when he likened the Members of your Lordships' House to the members of trade unions. I think we can say that your Lordships' House works well and to the satisfaction of its Members, and so many trade unions work badly and to the dissatisfaction of their members.
I had the unusual experience of debating on Tyne Tees Television about two years ago against Mr. Arthur Scargill, along with several other Members from both sides of your Lordships' House, on the question of whether your Lordships' House should be abolished. I am glad to say that Mr. Scargill was outvoted by roughly two to one of those who were able to express their opinions.
First, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Gowrie not only on his forthright presentation of this Bill, but also, I hope without being impertinent, on the evolution of his awareness over the last four years of what needs to be done to meet the wishes of members of trade unions. I welcome the Bill, but before I refer to its contents I should like briefly, as others have done, to outline the historical background into which it fits.
I think that the Labour movement, instead of opposing the Bill, should thank the Government for saving the trade unions from themselves. The Government are performing a service to the Labour movement as such in putting forward this Bill. Of course, the trade unions have played an important part in improving the working conditions, the status, and the influence of their members. In the United States they stuck to doing just that, and did not get mixed up in party politics. As a result, let us face it on both sides, the members of trade unions in the United States have done better than in this country.
However, our trade unions decided—and had the right in our free democracy—to form and support a political party. It was acknowledged by Parliament in 1913 that the Labour Party should be largely financed by a political levy based on the principle of contracting out, and the Bill does not disturb that. So far, so good, so far as the Labour movement is concerned. But, as it developed, in my opinion two major mistakes were made which have caused the increasing difficulties, internal dissensions and falling support which the trade unions and the Labour Party have undoubtedly experienced in recent years. I shall come back to that in a moment.
The first major mistake was committing the party and the unions to socialism. When I spoke of blind loyalty earlier, it was blind loyalty to socialism which inspired the speeches which we have heard from the other side, other than that of the noble Lord. Lord Beswick. The second major mistake—and it resulted from the first one—was the practice of calling strikes with political motives, often disguised as attempts to improve wages but which hit the strikers harder than anyone. That practice has been exploited by militants. May I just remind your Lordships of Red Robbo, who cost the nationalised British Leyland £100 million 1309 through the strikes that he caused? That practice has caused the decline in the London and Liverpool Docks. It has damaged the nation's economy under both Conservative and Labour Governments and, above all, it has angered millions of members of trade unions.
Paradoxically, that practice of calling political strikes has sometimes hit Labour Governments just as hard as Conservative ones. I felt very sorry for Mr. Callaghan and his Government. There are some noble Lords present who were members of it. The Left wing of the Labour movement was brutal to Mr. Callaghan and his Government. The winter of discontent was a major factor in causing the defeat of that Government in 1979.
The Conservative Party, knowing that most people —I talk not only of members of trade unions but generally—were fed up with political and wildcat strikes, promised in 1979, and again further promised in 1983, to change the law so as to make trade unions more responsible, more democratic and obliged to act more in accordance with their members' wishes.
At the last election the Labour Party received only 29 per cent. of the votes polled: a bitter blow to them. But it is a fact which supports the estimate—and it can only be an estimate for there has never been a referen-dum, though there have been public opinion polls, but there have been careful estimates and various of them—that only about 35 per cent. of members of trade unions voted Labour in the last General Election. That tallies with the total of 29 per cent. of those who voted. The reason for that was that most of the trade union members either dislike socialism or dislike politically motivated strikes, or both, and they will not stand for a party which supports those things.
With that background in mind, I turn to the Bill, because those are the facts which are the justification for it. Those are the facts which I say should be causing the party opposite to support the Bill.
As to Part I, it must be right to give the great body of trade union members the right to choose their leaders by secret ballot. This will enable them to ensure that they get the leaders they want instead of politically-minded activists who manipulate the present rules, the present systems, to achieve union power. Similarly, if members suspect that a strike is not genuinely inspired by their own interests—and they may, as I said, lose heavily by striking—they should have the right to make the decision whether or not to strike. The only sure way to ensure that is to have a secret ballot as intended in Part II of the Bill, although we must ensure that it really is secret. There will have to be consideration of this in Committee because I do not think that the Bill is clear enough or firm enough on this as it is. I am sure that all your Lordships were very impressed by the powerful arguments put forward by my noble friend Lady Cox. In that context, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, will remember that, as far as BALPA is concerned, ballots at the work place are not feasible because there are so many different work places and many of his members are in the air all over the world. I should have thought that, if one is to have a proper ballot for BALPA, it needs to be a postal ballot with enough time given for the returns to be sent in.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying that. I obviously misheard the part of his speech in which he seemed to be saying that he did not think that a total ballot of all the members was necessary for all elections. But I apologise. I am glad he has clarified that.
§ Lord Beswick
My Lords, I was referring to a ballot for members of the sectional committees, who then, from among their own numbers, make a further election to the central executive.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, that is a very satisfactory thought for us to bear in mind. I am grateful once more to the noble Lord.
So I come to Part III. The provisions require each trade union to decide by secret ballot at least every 10 years whether it wishes to go on spending money on political objects. That provision would enable the members, if they wish, to avoid the mistakes made by their leaders in the past in committing them to socialism. It would also enable them to prevent their members from engaging in anti-social militant action in support of an extreme form of socialism, generally speaking. But, speaking for myself, I would not urge members of trade unions to subscribe through their unions to the Conservative Party, to which I belong, or to any other party. They can and do—many do—subscribe individually to our party, but it would surely be far better for the trade unions to be above party politics. Then they might truly become what the late Sir Winston Churchill said after the war they had in his opinion become—though they have fallen back a little since then. He referred to them as one of the great estates of the realm. That is what we want to see them become once more.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, would the noble Lord extend his encouragement to public companies, perhaps all companies, which might also be thought of as estates of the realm in the same context, not to contribute to political parties and encourage shareholders to make their own way?
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, quite frankly that is a very big question. There is nothing in the Bill about it. Whatever the answer to that question, that would not invalidate what is in the Bill.That is my answer to the noble Lord.
I have only one major regret about the Bill: that is, it should, in my opinion, have included a redraft in simple, understandable English of Section 17 of the 1980 Act on secondary action. That section has been severely criticised by the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House, and by the Court of Appeal under both the present Master of the Rolls and his predecessor. I think it is regrettable that one Act of Parliament and one Bill should have passed without any attempt to put that right. Apart from that omission, in my opinion the Government have done well to introduce this Bill but it will be capable of improvement by your Lordships at later stages.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Mansfield
My Lords, I listened to the noble Earl with great interest. I thought he unfolded the Bill very well indeed. He waxed most eloquent when he described the need for a greater democratisation of the trade unions. That set my mental mechanism in retrospect. I remember voting by ballot for industrial action, as secretly as it could be under the conditions which were available in the pit yard in 1912. Listening to the noble Earl this afternoon made me wonder whether, since that time, I have been living in a dream world about democracy in the trade union movement.
There is no doubt at all that the Bill before us today is about trade unions in Britain. But, not only that; it is part of a process. This is not the first Bill of its kind since the Tories won the election in 1979. We can state that this Bill is part of a process and that up to now it is the third instalment. But the end of the line in this process has not yet been reached. I wonder whether I may quote an authority for that statement.Such a process may have to continue indefinitely, more or less producing a new trade union Bill in alternate years, until we have got it right.Who said that, my Lords? No less an authority than the Prime Minister herself. So, the indications, on the basis of that statement, are that we are not yet at the end of the line; that this process, like a magazine story, is to be continued.
My noble friend Lord McCarthy, writing the other day, referred to the economic theories of Professor Hayek. I quote from what he said:If a more competitive labour market is to be created, it will need to be supplemented by a sustained and major attack on their legal sources of trade union power. Unless this is fully understood, the degree of the Government's commitment to a succession of trade unions cannot be fully appreciated".In my view the purpose and intention of this Bill (as was the case with the previous Bills of 1980 and 1982) is to weaken, to make impotent, to destroy the influence and power in our society of the trade union movement.
Pursuing the proposals of the Bill, the theme running through it is one of ballots—ballots for this in Part I, ballots for that in Part II, ballots for something else in Part III. The whole of the Bill—and I am not complaining about this—is about ballots for this and that. I have no disagreement with the operation of ballots. When I was in industry—in the industry in which I worked—I was brought up on the principle of ballots. In the coal industry, it was the rule, not the exception, to have ballots on a variety of matters, which I shall mention in a moment or so. All my industrial life I have been used to ballots, and I support them wholeheartedly.
The noble Lord threw out his challenge to us, the Members of the Opposition, when he asked: "What do they object to in the Bill?" So far as I am concerned—and I think that I am speaking for my noble friends—I say that we have no objection to raise to the operation of ballots. The main reasons for this are first, that those who pay the piper should call the tune; and, secondly that, the membership of the trade unions should be consulted and they should be in a position to decide what is the best and safest way so far as the operation of their industry is concerned.
1312 All my lifetime in industry I have belonged to a union which, in every aspect of its functions and administration, especially in the appointment of its officials, both nationally and locally, was in the vanguard of ballot procedure to determine what the rank and file members wanted. Of the National Union of Mineworkers, previously the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, it can be said that they have as good a record as any in providing, in their rules and constitution, the opportunity for their members to decide and also the opportunity to elect the people who would have the responsibility for carrying out the decisions that had been arrived at. Both locally and at the workplace, from the appointment of area officials right up to national levels, in every case where there were more nominations than places to be filled, the procedure was election by ballot. Our forebears over the years were exceedingly good democrats. They showed wonderful foresight in drawing up the rules and the constitutions so far as democratic processes were concerned. I submit to your Lordships that to them we owe a great debt of gratitude.
This new-found enthusiasm—as expressed by the noble Earl—among the Government, their Ministers and supporters, is quite recent. It is not part of past history; it is part of very recent history. The Prime Minister is the first Leader of the Conservative Party to express such enthusiasm. It may be that she is the second to do so; I am not quite sure about that. But even if she is the second, it does not go back very far, because it was not until about 20 years ago that the Leader of the Conservative Party was elected by ballot by the parliamentary members.
To me this shouting from the housetops by members of the Government, the press and the rest of the media is so strange. In retrospect, may I repeat that I am reminded that as far back as 1912 I recorded my first vote on a ballot paper for industrial action to establish a minimum wage for miners. On two other occasions the same procedure by ballot was followed by the miners' union—in 1921 and 1926. Throughout its long history, since the formation of the rules and the constitution, miners have been able to claim democracy in their union. Many times I have participated in ballots for branch officials, county and national officials, and for many years this procedure has applied throughout all of the British coalfields.
I should just like to make a few observations, particularly about Part I of the Bill. In my own mind there is a little confusion here and so far as I am concerned there is a great need for some clarity, which I hope the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate might supply. If so, I should be very grateful and obliged. I know that different unions have varying procedures, and more than likely the confusion and complication which I have experienced in regard to Clause 1 arises because of this. I am not saying, nor implying, which procedure of which union is correct. What I do know is this: over the years unions have sought to bring democracy into their respective organisations and have sought greater participation by the whole of the membership. I believe that that has been an outstanding quality, an outstanding attribute, of all the unions in Britain.
The Government have said that the purpose of this legislation is to give to union members greater 1313 democracy—or, to use the words of the present Secretary of State on the Third Reading of this Bill in another place:The Bill, the third step in our step-by-step approach, contains provisions which will improve the position of trade unions. Above all"—I thought that this was queer language coming from the source that it did—it will give the unions back to their members".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/4/84; col. 83.]I ask, in the light of language of that kind, when was it taken from them?
It is no fault of the unions that branch meetings are so poorly attended. That is the fault of the individuals themselves. I think language of the kind that I have just quoted from the Secretary of State is an affront to the many people who have sought to involve the membership in greater democratisation of the trade union movement in Great Britain, and are still doing it. Such words come from a person representing a party whose philosophy and actions throughout history have not been pro-trade union, and history bears witness to the fact that they, the Tories, in the beginning of the trade union movement not only did not want it but sought to prevent it by deporting the pioneers—namely, the Tolpuddle martyrs—to Botany Bay. In the light of history, my conclusion is that the Tories have at no time been over-burdened with affection for the trade union movement.
Clause 1 refers to the election of the principal executive of a union. How shall it be elected? By ballot—that is fair enough. By what method and for what period? I seek enlightenment from the Government on this aspect. The union with which I am best acquainted, the National Union of Mineworkers, has at present two full-time officials plus national executive representing the whole of the British coalfield. This executive at the moment is drawn from the area associations. They are elected for the area, and in addition the two full-time officials, the president and secretary, by virtue of their office, become members of this national executive body, ex officio. But in the event of a tie in voting—this is the important point—the president, under the rules, is privileged to give a casting vote. Despite the president being a full-time official and one of the executive committee's ex officio members, I wish to ask the Minister whether he would make forfeit the position of a full-time official having been elected by a ballot vote and, by the rules, an ex officio member of the executive committee, with the right not of a vote but, only in the event of a tie, a casting vote. To me this is a very interesting point and perhaps the noble Earl the Minister can and will enlighten your Lordships on this point.
My time has gone, my Lords, I shall say nothing more at this stage. There may be Committee points about Parts II and III of the Bill. The only thing that I shall say about Part III before I sit down is this. To those of you who do not know it, may I tell you, and to those of you who do know it, may I remind you, that the Labour Party is the child of the trade unions and it is only right and proper that it should be helped and sustained by a political levy from the trade union movement.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Fallowfield
May I, as a preamble to my short statement on this Second Reading debate, say that unfortunately I shall not be able to stay to the conclusion of the debate because for family reasons I have to return to Manchester this evening. I hope that the House will forgive me for not being able to stay. I, like my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield, listened with great interest to the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie and his presentation and defence of the Government's Bill. I am sorry that the noble Earl is not in his place at the moment because I wanted to make what I regard, and he may regard too, as a pertinent comment about his presentation. He described the Bill, among other things, as the Government's "most significant achievement". I wonder whether, on reflection, he and others who believe that might prefer to leave the judgment to the historians. For my part, I am prepared to. I do not see it in the light in which it was described by the noble Earl, and I am sure that there are many thousands of people in the United Kingdom today who take a similar view.
I, too, listened with great interest to what the noble Earl had to say and I also noted, by the clock, that he took approximately fourteen minutes to do an attempted demolition job on the trade union movement and roughly six or seven minutes telling us what the Trade Union Bill is all about. The latter, of course, is most welcome but the demolition job that he attempted on the trade union movement was most unwelcome, and there is real reason for inciting fears—fears which have been expressed in this House by those who have preceded me—that the Government's intention may go well beyond that; in other words, to do what they can in the process of time to get rid of the trade union movement. I hope I am wrong, but one cannot help but come to conclusions of that kind after hearing the presentation of this Bill that we have heard today.
Perhaps in talking about the demise of the trade union movement arising from this Bill, or about one's thoughts arising from it, one is being a little too premature. Is that something we have to sit back and wait for? Maybe it is. My criticism of the Bill is a basic and general one. I have no intention now of going into the detail of the various clauses of the Bill. I, like others, believe that the appropriate place for that is in Committee; but I should like to say that in my considered opinion the Bill is of no help to the future of this country in achieving productive industrial relations. It will do little to curb the outbursts we have been seeing every day on our television screens during recent weeks and months which many of us would prefer not to see. This Bill will do nothing to stop that.
The grave danger we are in, as I see it, at the present time is that the dogmatic adherence by the Government to proposed legislation will prevent them from getting on with the jot)—and I see it as part of their job—of assisting in the reform and the extension of collective bargaining in the United Kingdom. The proposed laws embodied in this Bill, like earlier employment laws, do not help to achieve productive industrial relations based on consent and co-operation, as opposed to confrontation. In all my 1315 industrial relations experience, I have never believed that there is any panacea for these kinds of problems—and, if there is, it is not in the form of the Bill before us today.
I have said before in this House, as have many others who have spoken in debates of this kind, that whatever happens the unions should not be forced into a position—that is the risk run by some of the proposals in this Bill unless it is seriously amended—where they acquire the irresponsibility that comes from what may be described by the pundits as mass disobedience. I have always argued, and I see no good grounds for changing my views at the present time, that the best antidote which is needed now and in the near future is good management and sensible, responsible trade union leadership at national, regional and plant level. That will not come by compulsion. It will not come by legislation of the kind that is enshrined in this Trade Union Bill; nor will it show results overnight. They have to be worked for.
Whatever thoughts we may have about the current industrial relations scene, and particularly that part of it which is at present feeding the mass media and receiving much public attention, there can be no denying that the problems facing the United Kingdom are competitiveness, control of inflation, the use of capital and the need for a response to new technology. Lack of growth, unemployment and social inequality, to mention but a few problems, can only be dealt with by a genuine partnership between Government, employers and trade unions. Some of us who have spent many years in the trade union movement in accredited positions have striven very hard to try to secure that; but I regret to say that legislation of this kind fans the urges of the militants, as opposed to those who want to be responsible. So those who hold views contrary to those I have just expressed, whether they be on the trade union side or on the employers' side, and who pursue policies in direct conflict are, wittingly or unwittingly, selling themselves and the country short.
Industrial relations, like pay, is but one of a whole complex of economic, industrial and social factors which are central to our economic future. The policies being pursued by Government now and during recent years are, in my opinion, doomed to fail the nation. The reason must be clear to all who seek the truth. Sadly, there is no rapport between those who believe their policy is right, as evidenced in this Bill, and those who are expected to conform with its operation. Sooner rather than later the accent will have to return to one of co-operation and fulfilment rather than the present confrontation and frustration, if the problems of the 1980s are to be tackled. Good industrial relations, the acceptance of agreed policies by Government, by management and by trade unions are in my view, critical to Britain's competitiveness. It is a matter of deep regret that I do not see this Bill as making a contribution to this objective. It is also regrettable to me, as it is to many others who are interested in this subject, that we do not have an industrial policy—and by policy I refer to the extent and manner of Government intervention in industry and commerce.
1316 However, what we do have is what many would describe as the worst of all worlds; a Government proclaiming a policy of non-intervention in words while intervening extensively in deed. Having said that, I recognise, as I am sure we all do, that success will ultimately lie with companies or the like and not with government. Given this, I acknowledge that the contribution the Government should make is made within a tight framework appropriate to industrial imperatives, and not the law.
Finally, I see in this Bill, as do others who have spoken prior to me, a further attack on the trade union movement from this Government. The Bill itself amounts—and let us not bandy words—to gross interference in trade union affairs. The Government and their spokesman today believe that this Bill will improve democracy. I do not. How can this be justly claimed when the Government, at the same time, propose in the Bill to squeeze union rules and constitutions into the shape that the Government prefer, regardless of the wishes of members or of the varying traditions and practices of unions?
The Government claim to be giving unions back to their members is utterly false and a sick joke. There can be no justification for imposing on trade union members a single set and final pattern of electoral practices in preference to other forms of trade union democracy which have been tried and tested and which can be, and often are, changed by the membership as a whole.
It is not difficult to see the validity of the unions' case when they claim that all trade unionists should be given the right to vote on whether they wish to keep their existing constitution or to adopt the Government's model. That, I understand, the Government will not accept. I think it appropriate to ask why. Are they worried that, if they give members that choice, they will rally behind their unions and reject the Government's Bill? Those are considerations which are uppermost in the mind when one reads the respective clauses in this Bill and I hope it will be seriously amended at Committee.
§ 5.52 p.m.
Earl De La Warr
My Lords, I intend to confine myself to speaking to Part I of this Bill. The reason for that is that I have always believed that if we could achieve secret elections by all members of the trades unions for their executives we should be achieving the most fundamental requirement that is needed in order to improve the working of the trades union movement and its relations with employers and with the Government.
I believe that this sort of legislation—for legislation it has to be—is far more important than any laws governing behaviour, such as we have had in the past two years. That does not mean that I have not gone along all the way with the last two Acts—the Act of 1980 and the Act of 1982. But I will never depart from my basic premise, which is that the vast majority of trades unionists in this country are moderate men who want only to get on with their job and do not want to play politics.
To that, I will add that I will not depart, either, from a premise that at this moment, to a degree is extremely 1317 dangerous to this country, the trades unions are being manipulated by Left-wing militants who in many cases are doing things which they know to be against the interests of our economy and very often of their own people. I make that assumption as something that is self-evident and I shall not seek to prove it further. So when it is said that what this Bill seeks to do is to return the unions to their members, I understand very well what is meant and I sympathise with the person who put it in those particularly apt words.
Before I go on, it has been said twice in this Chamber that recently a statement was made to the effect that it was necessary to have trades union legislation every two years until we got it right. I must confess that this had passed me by, but I have been told by two people who I trust that this was said by our Prime Minister. Never mind who it was said by. I find myself in the unfortunate position of having to say that if that was said I regard it as dogmatic, obsessive and desperately dangerous, and as a good Tory I dissociate myself utterly from it. I should like to hear other Tories saying the same thing.
I want to deal for a moment with a little of the recent history of legislation and I start with the 1980 Act, because your Lordships will remember that Sections 1 and 2 dealt with the certification officer. They laid upon him duties to help financially with the establishment of secret balloting and at the same time gave him a duty to make sure that these ballots were conducted correctly. Section 3 dealt with codes of practice and I certainly had the impression that fairly shortly after that Act we were going to have a code of practice on the subject of balloting. In a debate in April 1981 on the Green Paper on trades union immunities I recall taking the Government to task because they had been dilatory about the question of balloting, had produced no code of practice and I begged them to get on with it. I think my noble friend Lord Gowrie will remember that because he was sitting there at the time. It did not happen then, and it did not happen in the 1982 Act.
I therefore recall to your Lordships something else, which was an amendment that I proposed on that occasion. I cannot remember the date but I remember the time. It was in fact at 2.40 in the morning. The history of that amendment is that it was instigated by the Conservative trades unionists. It was to have been put in another place by my honourable friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, Mr. Renton, but they ran out of time there and I moved the amendment in this House. It was to the effect that the unions should be given two-and-a-half years in order to reorganise their rule-books in such a way that each union's rules made it obligatory that every five years there should be a secret ballot for the national executive.
That was not accepted by the Government, nor was it accepted by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not here because he was extremely insulting to me at the time—I do not hold it against him, because he is a great friend of mine—and I had it in mind to say something to get back at him. Nevertheless, the Government promised the most recent Green Paper which we had not very long ago and it is as a result of that that this long awaited and important Bill comes to us. I very warmly welcome its intentions. However, I have to say—and I say it with
1318 personal regret to my noble friend Lord Gowrie, because he will remember that I worked closely with him over the first Bill and I am sad that he is the person I have to fall out with—that I object to Clause 2: the "requirements to be satisfied" in relation to elections. I object in particular to subsections (5), (6) and (7) of Clause 2. For example, subsection (7)(a) says:The ballot shall be conducted so as to secure that—(a) so far as is reasonably practicable, those voting do so in secret".I know that the 1980 Act used the same wording; but is it good enough, on a subject so important as this, for us to say "secret in so far as is reasonably practicable"? I find myself unable to accept that wording.
I take as much exception to Clause 3 which deals with the remedy for failure to comply with the balloting requirements. It is left to a member of the trade union to go to the High Court to complain that the very vague requirements set out in Part II have not been complied with. How does the High Court set about obtaining evidence of the circumstances in which these workplace ballots may have been conducted, possibly with malice aforethought? And how on earth do they make what are called in the Bill enforcement orders? I presume this means that they must describe the procedures which should have been followed. Is that the duty of the High Court? I think not.
There are three principles which must be satisfied, and they are not satisfied yet. First, every trade union member must receive ballot papers at home, and the papers must be in a form approved by the certification officer. This means, secondly, that each union will need to keep an updated, central register of the names and addresses of members. This has been referred to as the logistical difficulty. But we know that it can be done. It was done by Mr. Chappie and it was done by the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon. I suggest that it is one of the three cardinal principles. Finally, when filled in, the ballot papers must be posted for processing by an independent body. That is why I welcome so warmly the magnificent case which was so eloquently and brilliantly made by my noble friend Lady Cox.
Some of your Lordships may have read last week a second leader in The Times about postal ballots. That great organ also took the Government to task over this matter. May I read the last three sentences to your Lordships:Since nearly half of the TUC Membership still elects its trade union leadership at branch meetings, a change to postal ballots could have a decisive influence on the character and responsibility of trade union leaders. Not surprisingly, the left-wing element in the TUC is against postal ballots, using the curious argument that postal balloting denies the masses their democratic rights. Moderate trade unionists, on the other hand, must be dismayed at the lack of support they have received from the Government on this point. There is still time to amend the Bill".Yes, indeed, there is still time to amend the Bill, and I must say to the Government that they can confidently expect that they will be pressed very hard from many sides of the House and by many people on a matter of such fundamental importance. I beg my noble friend to take on board not only what I have said but what has been said in a much better way by other people and see whether or not he can go at least some part of the way towards helping us on this matter about which we, and such a large proportion of the public, feel so deeply.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, in the debate which is to follow I notice that almost as many noble Lords wish to discuss the protection and conservation of our heritage as those who wish to take part in this debate. That is how it should be. Frankly, the future of our heritage is probably more important than the future of the trade union movement.
The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, made an observation with which I must deal. He said that on this issue Labour's position is one of abstention. Unfortunately, when trade unions are under discussion, not only do the unions go into the dock; the Labour Party and Labour governments also go into the dock. This is inevitable because of the close relationship between the three. It is not the word "abstention" which should be used against the Labour Government. The word should be "frustration"—long, painful and sometimes bitter frustration. After all, it was a Labour Government which appointed the Donovan Commission. Although six years would appear to be long enough to formulate proposals for reform and change in the structure, constitution and practices of the trade union movement, at that time it proved to be almost impossible.
Your Lordships will remember that the Conservative Party made a manifesto commitment to legislate on trade union law and reform. In 1970 they came to office—as a result of discontent, probably, with the trade unions and the Labour Government—with a commitment to legislate. The result was the Industrial Relations Act 1971. The timing was sadly wrong from a Conservative point of view. Mr. Heath badly needed that second term, from the point of view not only of trade union legislation but of his economic policy, too. But the whole of the trade union movement, and its attitude, was soured by the 1971 Act. On that account, Mr. Heath was never able to overcome its resentment and lack of co-operation.
In 1974, when Mr. Heath badly needed an extension to his period of office and the co-operation of the trade union movement, he did not get it. When he fell, his legislation collapsed with him. The Labour Government came to power with a trade union movement that was so discontented and resentful at the experience they had under the Conservative Government that it took several years for the Labour Government to establish any kind of basis for co-operation and concentration on a change in trade union law. It was a most disappointing experience, but I believe that it was gravely prejudiced by the action in 1971 of the Conservative Government, who had their Bill wrong and their timing wrong.
I believe that the Government have their timing wrong now. In my opinion, this is a very sad time to be discussing the niceties of trade union constitution and elections, when the turmoil outside is very threatening indeed. What is needed now is atttention to the underlying causes of present discontents and militant action. When the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, referred to the manipulation of the trade unions by Left-wing militants, the question can be asked: how can they manage to do this? If moderate leadership finds no response from the Government—or, in the 1320 case of private enterprise, from employers—then militant action and militant leaders will replace them.
I remember a comment made by the late Arthur Deakin at a Trades Union Congress, when he said that moderate leadership is in conflict with the rank and file everywhere. When moderate leadership is in conflict with the Government and employers, then the militants are ready to take over with their more dramatic and drastic remedy for the situation. It gives the members an opportunity to express their emotional discontent.
This is a lesson that has to be learned. At the moment, the Government should be concentrating on why it is that the public sector is in such disarray, turmoil and deep discontent. Why is it that after all this time governments have failed to achieve a satisfactory basis on which to settle the pay of their own employees and those associated with them in state enterprises? What right do the Government have to talk to employers about industrial relations, achieving harmony and establishing a peaceful basis for the settlement of disputes, when the Government's own house is in such a dreadful mess? This is the aspect that should be engaging our attention and not a Bill of marginal importance such as that which is now before us.
Two other points can be made. The first is that greater democratic control comes much better as part of the constitutional evolution of any institution or as a result of the upsurge for change that sometimes erupts in all institutions where substantial change is desired. That is much better than having democracy imposed upon those bodies by an authority whose motive is itself in question. We know why the Conservative Government want changes in the methods of election, free strike ballots and all the rest. They want to achieve different results from the union. They want to get different reactions from the union. They believe that this is the way of doing so. They may prove to be bitterly mistaken. Certainly the motivation behind enforced democracy has to be examined when it is being enforced by political parties.
Political parties, whether in Government or outside, should be very cautious in making proposals for imposing democracy on other institutions. After all, we are not very good at reforming our own. We are really not entitled to talk to the rest of the country about modernisation, and how to adapt our institutions to the pressures of the time and to the demands of the public for this and that. We are very slow to change, and that point has been made already in this debate.
The atmosphere in which this Bill is brought before the House is very unfavourable to dispassionate judgment. I am surprised that we have not had more emotional outbursts from this side of the House, although it is proving to be quite an outspoken debate. I believe that the Committee stage will offer an opportunity for some frank exchanges over how we feel about reforms which, so far as I am aware, have not been demanded by unions. If the unions want what the Bill provides then there would be little difficulty in attaining it—if the unions' members are strong enough in their demands.
1321 This brings me to my second point. We should be loath to impose changes on unions whose members are really capable of bringing those changes about on their own, if only there is the determination to do so. If there was the determination behind moderate councils and moderate policies and moderate steps, then moderation would rule the day. In many cases the moderate point of view is present but unfortunately it becomes the apathetic point of view. It becomes the non-participation point of view. That leaves the field open to those of greater determination and greater conviction about the way in which they want to go. All these are very important aspects of this Bill.
In my remaining minute or two, I want to refer to Part III of the Bill, which concerns the political levy. The House will remember—because, after all, there are enough noble Lords old enough to recall 1926—that after the general strike in 1926, Mr. Winston Churchill, who was then the power in the land although he was not Prime Minister, brought about the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927. That legislation did what the Government have threatened to do again this time. But they have stayed their hand on reaching agreement with the trade unions on an alternative method of approach for the time being; that is to say, the replacement of contracting out of the political levy by contracting in. That provision made grievous inroads into the finances of the Labour Party after 1927. It lasted until the Act was repealed in 1946, when that change was introduced by the Labour Government in 1945.
If that provision was in this Bill, it would be the most wounding aspect of the third part of the Bill. The Government are staying their hand—but the threat is there. They have told the unions that they must publicise the right to contract out. They say if that is not effective they will introduce legislative obligations to make this change. It may be part of what the Government want to see, and that they want to get it right.
I regretfully say that when the Prime Minister says we will go on doing this until we get it right, what she really means is, "I will go on doing it until I get it right". That is what the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, was really hinting at only a few moments ago. But I can say by personal reference what he felt it impolitic to say. That, as I see it, is how this particular matter rests.
One of these days, the whole question of political finances will have to be gone into. This is not a question of whether trade unionists should contract in or contract out of a political levy, or of whether trade unionists should contribute to political parties. This is a matter of how we are going to finance our politics. This applies to all politics. At the same time the question arises on how the Conservative Party finances its political activities. The Trade Union Bill, being a trade union Bill, fastens this problem upon the unions. But how we pay for our politics is a national political matter which goes to the very root of our democratic parliamentary system.
The committee of which I was chairman, along with my noble friends Lord McCarthy and Lord Wedderburn, produced what I would call the presumed wisdom on this subject. What we felt, and 1322 what I feel most strongly, is that both parties are far too heavily dependent on finances from sectional interests. They are both in thrall to sectional interests. That is bad for politics and for democracy. Although our committee recommended the injection of a modest amount of state aid in order to lessen the dependence of the major political parties on their traditional supporters, I would go much further today. The financing of political parties by corporate contributions or subscriptions should be phased out altogether. I see no reason why company boards and union executives should be playing their hands in the name of and with the power of other people in the political arena—because they are playing their hands with that support, although not always, in power politics on the size of their memberships and their contributions to the political funds of both sides.
The Government say that they want to put the unions back into the hands of the members, but they do not at the same time say, "We are going to put the companies back in the hands of the shareholders". They say nothing about that. The Government are not qualified to go for the union side of financing the Labour Party without at the same time owning up to their own weaknesses and coming forward with proposals for corresponding action for shareholders and others with an equity interest in companies which are making political contributions.
I have spoken for a quarter of an hour, which is long enough and probably too long. With the leave of the House, I will sit down.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I am most grateful. Before the noble Lord sits down may I say that he is making such a powerful and eloquent speech that I feel constrained to remind the House that under the Bill the situation remains exactly as it has been since 1913.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, even if on this particular occasion I cannot, unfortunately, agree with any theme of his detailed analysis; in particular the last which is concerned with the state funding of political parties.
To return to the main thrust of the debate, the noble Lords, Lord McCarthy and Lord Scanlon, with their vast experience of union affairs—and I say this with the greatest respect—debate in blinkers unless they recognise that it is the rank and file membership which demands this Bill to avoid the destruction of the trade unions.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, to stand the situation on its head, this sort of ritualistic Humpty-Dumpty attack on Her Majesty's Government suggesting that the Bill is an assault on trade union rights in order to destroy the trade unions, and that unions should be left alone to do as they please, makes no sense at all. Indeed, it savours of unreality and of political gerrymandering—the term used by the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, and laid at the door of Her Majesty's Government.
1323 The Bill stands to be judged not only in relation to Donovan and In Place of Strife but also in the light, or, rather, the darkness of the changed situation today. It is a situation—and let us face it—where militant officials mock the ballot box, put to scorn their members who wish to use it, incite civil disobedience in breach of the civil and criminal law and set member against member on a fratricidal course of violent intimidation. It is a situation which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, truly described as the turmoil outside. In these circumstances—for these are the circumstances—is it surprising that there should have been no response to the invitation afforded in January 1983 by paragraphs 127(a) and (b) of the Green Paper to discuss the subject of Parts I and II of the Bill?
§ Lord Beswick
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord on what evidence he says that there was no response to the invitation to discuss these issues?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, that is my understanding of the matter. If the noble Lord can refute me and give me details I would indeed reply.
§ Lord Beswick
I have a letter dated 4th May 1984 in which the organisation of which I spoke offered to discuss them with the Secretary of State.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, my information—and I may be wrong but, if so, I shall withdraw—is that on paragraphs \27(a) and (b) there was no dialogue. On paragraph (c) of Part III there was. If I am wrong, I shall stand corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, or by my noble friend Lord Gowrie when they reply. But that is my true understanding of the matter.
§ Lord Beswick
I am sorry, my Lords, I gave the wrong date. It was 9th December 1983, when Mr. John Lyons, on behalf of several unions, offered to see the Secretary of State.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, my understanding is that there has been no dialogue. I am afraid that this is taking time and I was trying to make an eight-minute speech. If the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, would be good enough to point to any occasion when there was a dialogue or any occasion when there was a meeting, and who was present, when Parts I and II were discussed, I shall be delighted to withdraw because I believe in consultation. I restate my belief—that is all it is—that on the information I have there has been no consultation on paragraph 127(a) and (b). I shall withdraw if I am wrong.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, and I take the point that my noble friend made about time, but I might be able to clarify the issue. The point is that the TUC refused to discuss the Green Paper on trade union democracy with my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Employment, Mr. Tebbit. That, I believe, is the substantive point that my noble friend is making and he is perfectly right.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am very much obliged to my noble friend because we can all make mistakes and I should have apologised immediately to your Lordships' House if I had been in error.
To draw back the threads of my speech I said, if your Lordships remember, that one has to look at this Bill and judge it in the light of Donovan and in the light of In Place of Strife in order to retain a fair perspective. As to Donovan, the Part I proposals would have been wholly acceptable. That can be found in paragraphs 627 to 647 of the Donovan Report. The Part II proposals, which impose no obligation whatever on the unions to abide by the result of a ballot, were not before the Royal Commission, or so it would appear from paragraphs 426 to 430 of the Donovan Report. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, was good enough to remind us. they are really in essence, in the form proposed in Part II, post-Green Paper. Of course they did not appear in that form in the Green Paper.
As to In Place of Strife, what does it say relative to Part I of the Bill? This is the Labour Party document. It was concluded:the Government considers that the present legal requirements relating to the rules of trade unions are inadequate, and should be extended in the interests both of the unions and of their members".It further says:it is essential that unions should be able, and be seen to be able, to conduct their business according to clear and comprehensive rules, and to deal fairly with any dispute between the union or its officers and the individual member".Those statements are from paragraphs 107 and 108 of In Place of Strife, 20 years ago. This was in the interests of compatability:with generally accepted standards of tolerance and fair play".That was the Labour Party's policy 20 years ago, and I quote it in relation to Part I of the Bill.
I come now to Part II of the Bill and In Place of Strife—the Labour Party's policy 20 years ago. At all events, it was regarded that major official strikes should be the subject of a strike ballot and that the Secretary of State should have discretionary powers to order the holding of a ballot on the question of strike action. That was proposed in paragraph 98 of In Place of Strife—the Labour Party's proposed policy.
The index to Volume III of those Crossman diaries affords the key to much of the relevant discussion in the Labour Party at the time as an aid to the understanding of this approach. But, with the greatest respect, what is not understood is the attitude of the Labour Party on this subject today. It is idle to maintain, in the light of those quotations, that this Bill engenders confrontation. Indeed, against that background and perspective it is wrong to stigmatise its measures as interventionist, for surely it must be common ground that some regulation of the internal management of trade union affairs has been requisite for some 20 years. In his opening speech my noble friend the Minister mentioned a period of 30 years. Is it not apparent that little or nothing has been done by Governments of either party—this is not a party political point—by legislation, and little or nothing has been done by the unions by self-regulation to introduce the requisite reform? Is it not also equally apparent that the unions are either unwilling or unable 1325 to put their own house in order, and hence the need for legislation?
It may be asked, legislation for what? It is legislation for this purpose: quite simply, to seek to ensure that the voice of the rank and file shall be heard, that the will of the rank and file shall be heeded and, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, put it, that he who pays the piper shall call the tune. In all this the Bill affords the minimum which the rank and file trade union member could have been led to expect from our electoral promises; and it also, as I have sought to demonstrate, broadly conforms with Donovan and with In Place of Strife.
Why do I say the minimum? It is because Part I of the Bill in no way seeks, on any objective analysis, to impose model rules (they were considered in Donovan) but merely superimposes and provides for enforcement machinery in the courts—a superimposition on about 150 different sets of varying rules—on an aspect which impinges upon freedom of association, which is a fundamental democratic concept. Is there not a compelling case for this reform as a minimum, if only to end the iniquity of the block vote?
I should like to deal in passing with the objection of my noble friend Lord De La Warr. With the greatest respect to him, it simply is not understood. The courts would have no problem, apart from the ordinary problems which exist in every case, of finding the facts and making an adjudication, and the decision of enforcement is really quite ordinary and totally straightforward.
Why is Part II of the Bill a minumum? It is because it in no way—
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, may I just ask for a little clarity from my noble friend on his point about the courts? In The Times leader of 10th May is mentioned the case of the CPSA and Mr. Butcher and Mr. Elliot, who go to court to complain about the malpractices of certain officials, and they had to be stopped because they ran out of both money and time.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am of course grateful to my noble friend. Money is a problem for any litigant, unless he has legal aid. I am afraid there is nothing that the courts can do about that. As to the facts of the case to which he refers, if he had given me notice of the question, I should have been able to look at them and perhaps give him a slightly more satisfactory reply. But in view of his most helpful and courteous intervention, I should like to say that, as a rule, the courts do not have difficulty in assessing and adjudicating upon matters of fact, and certainly not the High Court.
I come back to Part II of the Bill, if I may. This relates to the point that I was seeking to make to your Lordships—that this Bill affords the minimum. It affords the minimum in Part I in the way that I have sought to demonstrate. I now seek, if I may, to demonstrate that it affords the minimum in Part II. Why?—because it in no way binds the union to adopt the result of the ballot. The union is enjoined to hold 1326 a ballot only in accordance with statutory requirements before industrial action is authorised or endorsed, in which event industrial action may be taken without loss of immunity. This is a minimum measure of safeguard which affords a very wide measure of self-regulation to the unions, and the objection which was taken to Clause 8(4) is simply not understood.
As to Part III of the Bill, of course I understand the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, which to some degree marry to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. But, as I understand it—and I speak always subject to correction by any of your Lordships—there was a positive response by the unions to paragraph 127(c) of the Green Paper. The form of Part III represents the measure of accommodation struck between the unions and the department in the result. If that is right, it is a very good thing. It opens the door to a fair, reasonable and practicable solution to the problem of stale contracting-out resolutions—and this by self-regulation. This is, again, the barest minimum of measures of safeguard, which in the absence of self-regulation will take effect on 31st March 1986—which is, after all, your Lordships may think, a fair period within which to get matters straight.
I come to the end. Before I conclude, I must deal with the question of mandatory postal ballots. Although it had been dealt with otherwise, this affects all three parts of the Bill. This attracted the views in favour of mandatory postal ballots, expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, my noble friend Lady Cox, perhaps to some degree my noble friend Lord Renton and certainly my noble friend Lord De La Warr. With the greatest respect, I beg leave to take a different view. I agree that to some degree it is an open question but I favour workplace ballots. Of course, I only speak from what little knowledge and experience I have—and it is little.
What are the reasons? First of all there is a meretricious attraction in this concept of a postal ballot. It is meretricious because it is evident from the decision of Mr. Justice Walton in the case of Brown v. AUEW in 1976, which concerned an election for the post of a union divisional organiser by postal ballot and indeed from the infamous ETU case, that the holding of a postal ballot affords no safeguard against malpractice. I referred to the Brown decision. I am relieved to see that the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, is in his place. The noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, will have occasion to remember that he was directly concerned in the case, and indeed mentioned in the judgment.
That is the case, far more than the ETU case which is different on the facts, on which I rely to seek to persuade your Lordships, on later examination that there really is no safeguard against malpractice in the system of a postal ballot, as distinct from a workplace ballot. If the object is to avoid malpractice—and that must be the object—this object is surely best achieved by consultation. It is best achieved by self-regulation by the unions who support the democratic process and wish to ensure that ballots are fairly conducted. In my submission, that is far preferable. The problem of the discarded forms can easily be dealt with by a system of control which can be devised quite simply. It would be 1327 contrary to the general principle of this Bill to over-legislate. This could produce an unacceptable rigidity and engender resentment without affording any safeguard.
Furthermore, on terms of practicability on turn-out, if the voice of the rank and file is to be heard, according to my information as to current general practice, more than twice as many members vote in the workplace ballots than in the postal ballots. At this stage the case against the workplace ballots in favour of postal ballots is therefore not sufficiently clear to warrant acceptance of the views of Frank Chappie, some of the opinion polls, Aims of Industry, and some views expressed in their favour in your Lordships' House today.
Earl De La Warr
My Lords, would my noble friend give way for one minute? Would he be good enough to include the Conservative trade unionists in his list of people, please?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I apologise for speaking so long but I have had to seek to deal with questions that have been put. Yes, I will include anyone in the list whom any noble Lord wishes me to include.
I agree that if trade unions are to contribute as a powerful essential institution to our way of life, a vital machinery of collective bargaining, one hopes perhaps as the agency for the conclusion of no-strike agreements having a legally binding effect with built-in arbitration procedures, then the members must have a fair say in their choice of voting members on the principal executive committee and in the taking of industrial action.
This Bill, in all its aspects, reflects the minimum measures of safeguard and reform which the electorate and the rank and file were led to expect by this administration when it was returned to office. The nature of the current internecine struggle between the membership of the NUM affords but one example of the need to introduce these proposed reforms into the internal management of trade union affairs. I hope your Lordships will accept my apology: I have never spoken so long in your Lordships' House and it is a most sincere apology.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder if he would agree with me. He says the members demand a change. He says they demand Part I of the Bill. Would he therefore accept an amendment which was designed to find out whether the members would prefer their existing arrangements, so that Part I of the Bill only came into operation if members voted against their existing arrangements? Would he support an amendment of that sort?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it was first of all put, "Would I accept?" I cannot accept. I am not in a position to accept anything. But if this were put forward I would have to consider the position. I am certainly not prepared at this stage to pre-empt my attitude to that.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Bottomley
My Lords, the noble Earl the Minister in opening the debate said that, of the legislation passed by Conservative Governments since 1979, this piece would be most endurable. In his heart he cannot believe that. I should be very disappointed if a future Labour Government did not repeal this vindictive legislation. The trade union movement was in the forefront of the struggle for freedom. It was freedom from want, freedom of the people, freedom of the press. Now their own freedom is being challenged by the Government. For the first time in trade union history, a Government are attempting to regulate the internal affairs of trade unions.
Trade unions know how best to run their own affairs. They do it in accordance with the rules democratically determined by their members. The membership will resent being told what to do by their employers and the state. The present Bill assumes that the trade union leaders force their members to go on strike. I know from personal experience, as a trade union officer in the past, that this is not so. Indeed, those members directly involved by an injustice or something that they want put right are eager to take strike action. Trade union leaders very often have to create a situation where they control it. Also many employers and experts in industrial relations recognise the part played by trade union leaders in making things easier and not aggravating them in the way suggested by those who are arguing in support of this Bill.
Indeed, the assumption that trade union leaders force their members to go on strike is totally false. Trade union leaders are conscious that if they have a strike it dissipates the financial resources, money which could be used in other areas much more beneficial to the membership of the trade union.
This Bill will require unions to hold ballots before there can be a strike. However, if members of a trade union take unofficial action, they will not be liable to the penalties that would be imposed if the strike was official. This is a ridiculous situation. If a ballot is required to authorise a strike, then, equally, there should be a ballot to say when the members go back to work. It should not be the state which determines the form of democracy and constitution. Each union is able to decide the system which is best for its members by its own methods. This is also true of countries. Democratic procedures and constitutions vary in different lands. The United States, European countries, and others, have different systems to ours of electing a Parliament. Are we, therefore, to say that their systems are less democratic than our own?
I am not alone in criticising the Bill. The informed press has had its say about the matter. The Financial Times said that it was,needless interference in trade union affairs".The Guardian said that the legislation was "one-sided and unfair". The Observer called the Government's Green Paper:a shallow, poorly researched document".What the Bill does is to alter the balance of industrial power. It is equivalent to a government introducing legislation which required a board of 1329 directors to ballot a company's shareholders every time it wished to make a major change in its business. The board of a company is best able to judge what is in the best interests of the company. If it is wrong, the shareholders will soon let it know. The same is true of a trade union. An executive is elected to do what is required to meet the best interests of its members. If it does not do that, the members soon let it know. Indeed, there are more changes in trade union executives than on boards of directors. Trade union leaders, like company directors, are desirous of giving the best possible service to their supporters. A working man without capital has nothing to sell but his labour. When a capitalist has a product to sell, he dictates the price and is certainly not blackmailed or compelled by legislation to accept less than what he considers it worth.
That part of the Bill dealing with the political levy has been mentioned by many. Naturally, I want to comment upon it myself. No member of a trade union is compelled to pay the political levy if he chooses not to do so. Over the past 50 years, there has been no resolution before any trade union seeking to end the political levy. My own union, the National Union of Public Employees, is at present in conference at Bournemouth. I was down there myself. It is carrying out a revision of rules. The proposed alterations amount to 44 pages. There are 850 delegates representing 1,500 branches. In addition, there are 500 official observers. However, to my knowledge—and there is still a day or two to go—on these proposed changes in rules, not one question has been raised about the political levy.
The entire legal and economic environment which shapes the lives of trade unionists at work and at home is determined by political decisions. The purpose of the political levy is not solely for making contributions to the Labour Party. Contributions are made to a great variety of causes and campaigns, such as those concerned with peace, and civil liberties. There are also many occasions when trade unions may feel it necessary to take some political action, such as protesting against hospital closures or decisions by local authorities. The trade unions will be restricted while business organisations will be free to promote all kinds of actions to protect their own interests or to attack national and municipal enterprise. The last thing that a Conservative Government are qualified to do is to tell trade unions how to manage their affairs.
The Labour Party came into being through the trade unions setting up the Labour Representation Committee. They were compelled to do that because, by trade union strength and organisation, they won concessions from the employers. But the governments of those days were mainly composed of employers' representatives, and the gains of the trade unions were whittled away by legislation. The Government are doing their best to weaken the use by trade unions of that kind of political power in order to protect themselves against big business and vested interests.
I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Houghton had to say. Instead of political levies being left to vested interests, whether big business or trade unions, there should be some kind of state contribution. After all, the principle has existed for a 1330 long time. When there is a general election, the election address is delivered free. In the best interests of our parliamentary democracy, it would be better if political levies were done away with and the state enabled to make contributions direct to the major political parties.
This piece of legislation is a blatant attempt to silence trade union opposition to government policies and to limit unions' political activities. It will override established trade union practices and impose complicated procedures which will effectively prevent the unions from taking industrial action. It is in my judgment a mean and petty Bill. I hope that the Bill will at least be amended in Committee, but preferably I should like to see it destroyed altogether.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, it seems to me that the noble Lord. Lord Bottomley, has totally failed to understand the purpose of the Bill. In this regard, it appears that he is in a numerous company. The whole Opposition seem to have fallen into the same error. After all, companies are wrapped up in a legislative framework. So, why not the trade unions? I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, on his spirited attempt to become a military Duke. My noble friend, Lord Gowrie, in his speech, showed the great necessity for this Bill. However, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, would defend the status quo as did the Duke of Wellington the unreformed constitution of 1832.
The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, fulfilled our wildest dreams. He defended the muddled old English institutions. The great Duke of Wellington could not have done better himself. My two noble friends Lady Cox and Lord De La Warr have pointed out that the Bill is intended to remedy the lack of provision for postal ballots. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway produced the novel idea that postal ballots are meretricious. I cannot sec anything pertaining to harlotry about postal ballots, but that is what he said, and obviously his imagination is a very keenly developed one.
If Her Majesty's Government are determined to keep Clause 2 as it stands, I cannot add anything to what was put forward by my noble friends Lady Cox and Lord De La Warr about the necessity for postal ballots. Would it not then be possible to put in as an alternative to Clause 2 a reserve clause ensuring a postal ballot, but only as a reminder that if Clause 2 does not work in the way we hope it will, then the postal ballots would come in? This would have two effects. It would limit the temptation to fiddle, which my noble friend Lady Cox has shown to be possible, and also it would reinforce Clause 3, which my noble friend Lord De La Warr showed to be very weak because it provides little check on the abuse of Clause 2. Surely there should be proper provision for debarring corrupt or dishonest officials. After all, lawyers, doctors, local councillors, and even opticians can be banned for misbehaviour.
The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, made the very valid point that the Government are not anti-trades union, but are anti the abuse of trades union power and pro a strong, democratic and forward-looking trades union 1331 movement. The recent agreement about one-union factories in Sunderland for the Japanese is a great sign that some people are saying that the secret of wealth and an increasing standard of living lies in producing things and in producing them as well and as efficiently as possible. Once that happens, we can all argue about who gets paid what. There is a big pot to argue over. For heaven's sake let us create the pot first before we argue about what we are going to get paid out of it!
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, also made his point with clarity. Admittedly, with my proposal of reserve post-electoral power to be brought into play only when Clause 2 as it stands has been shown to be defective, and with the possible elections fiddle mentioned by my noble friend Lord De La Warr, there is a great difficulty of showing, or challenging, union voting practice. This is shown by a recent argument in the CPSA, involving a Mr. Elliot and a Mr. Butcher. It has been put well in a leading article in The Times. They write better English than I can speak, so I shall let them speak for me:In the case of the CPSA, interminable legal arguments about discovery so postponed matters that the following year's election came along before Mr. Elliot and Mr. Butcher had a chance to make their case. They thus abandoned the proceedings, facing a bill for 60 per cent, of the total costs, with the CPSA's share being 40 per cent. There could be no more effective deterrent to any trade unionist challenging elections which he feels to have been abused than the prospect of having to meet a bill for thousands of pounds".We know that lawyers run the most effective trades union and have to be very well paid, so we could not possibly deprive them of that privilege.
I cannot refrain from saying that I love the comment of the Welsh miners' leader that the day of the ballot is over because it means that the masses are denied their democratic rights. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, may have wanted to emulate the Iron Duke, but that Welsh miner's yearning for a trial at Westminster Hall and a January trip to Whitehall and the axeman, possibly followed by a nice statute in Trafalgar Square, shows that Emlyn Williams' view on divine rights are even more archaic than those of Charles I.
§ 7.5 p.m.
My Lords, 40 years ago, during the course of the Second World War, Sir William Beveridge wrote a book which he called Pillars of Security. In it he envisaged a post-war Britain in which five giants would have been overcome—the giants of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. Among the weapons which he envisaged would be needed to overcome those giants he included the state, to take direct responsibility for the control of vital industries, and trade unions as an essential element in the British democracy.
Today, day by day, Beveridge's pillars of security are being undermined and the giants are coming back. In some respects the Government disclaim responsibility for what is happening. For instance, they claim that unemployment—the giant idleness—is due to the world recession. They claim that cuts in social services are inevitable if we are to balance the nation's books. But elsewhere I do not think the Government try to disclaim responsibility, because in state industries 1332 demolition is proceeding apace, and certainly in relation to trade unions we have in this Bill a further deliberate blast at the foundation of trade union strength. It is on the trade unions that the working people of this country have relied, and still rely, for a major part of their security against Beveridge's giants.
Turning to the Bill, I want to say that there are three aspects of it which I find objectionable, and I believe that they will prove to be unworkable. The first is the attempt in Part I to impose a stereotyped form of democracy on trade unions. The second—this has not been mentioned much in the debate—is the way in which, at several points, the affairs of trade unions are increasingly to be subject to the jurisdiction of the courts. The third is the attempt in Part III to circumscribe political activity by trade unions, so as to keep their industrial and their political functions in virtually watertight compartments.
That is the order in which these three elements appear in the Bill, but I should like to take them in reverse order and thus deal first with the political question. The Bill proposes a much tighter procedure for the establishment of a political fund, and in Clause 15 it proposes a major amendment of the 1913 Act. The noble Earl. Lord Gowrie. said that the position remains as in 1913. If that is so, why is Clause 15—a major amendment of it—necessary? As I have said, the purpose of Clause 15 is to separate even more sharply than at the moment the industrial functions of a trade union and the funds that it uses for industrial purposes from its political function and its political funds. I do not believe that in practice it is possible to separate those two functions in that way.
For instance, how is it possible for a union such as N ALGO, or any of the Civil Service unions which do not have a political fund, to keep separate compartments—on the one hand a compartment of industrial activity, and on the other hand, a compart-ment of political activity? If they are anxious to take political action to defend their members' jobs, perhaps as a result of some Government decision, and if on the other hand they want to convene meetings or issue literature to persuade their members to exercise their votes against the Government who are taking that action, how can they possibly separate the industrial and the political functions in that way? I suggest that there is a vast grey area which is impossible of precise definition either by Parliament or by the courts, where industrial and political action impinge upon one another. It is because of that that I believe that Part III of the Bill can only make matters much more difficult and more contentious. On that point. I would call in aid the views of Winston Churchill. He has already been quoted twice in this debate. I shall quote from an earlier and more liberal Churchill, who said:I should have no hesitation in saying that it is quite impossible to prevent trade unions from entering the political field. The sphere of industrial and political activity is often indistinguishable, always overlaps, and representation in Parliament is absolutely necessary to trade unions, even if they confine themselves to the most purely industrial forms of action".As I have indicated, my second main objection to this Bill is that, together with its predecessor Acts—those of 1980 and 1982—it increases to a great degree the likelihood of action in the courts. In recent years we have seen the unfortunate consequences of 1333 action in the courts so far as industrial relations are concerned, and I believe that the increased litigation which will arise out of this Bill will lead to an embitterment of industrial relations and a prolongation of disputes.
The whole of Clause 3, the whole of Clause 7, and the whole of Clause 13 are open invitations for employers or for aggrieved members to take unions to court. And, as trade unions and trade unionists tend to be like that strange animal which, when attacked, defends itself, I envisage that those clauses will exacerbate industrial relations time after time in cases which could far better be resolved by negotiation and compromise, by conciliation rather than by confrontation in the courts. Once again, I would call in aid the wisdom of Winston Churchill on this matter as well, because he said:It is not good for trade unions that they should be brought in contact with the courts, and it is not good for the courts".I come to my third point. Perhaps I may explain why I believe that the Bill is wrong in seeking to impose on the vast complex and variegated trade union movement a uniform constitutional requirement for the election of the executive committees of trade unions. We have had speeches from a number of leading trade unionists from this side of the House today. Those with experience of the trade union movement know that the essence of trade union democracy is that it is a growth from below and cannot be imposed from above by the state or by legislation.
It is true that trade union democracy is untidy; it is illogical; it is very often very awkward; and it is human. It is a human institution. But it is a complex amalgam of, in some cases, direct elections and, in others, indirect elections. My noble friend Lord Beswick gave a very apt illustration. It is an amalgam of formal procedures with informal procedures, of large units for which, on the one hand, one form of constitution and organisation is appropriate, and very small units which, on the other hand, need to be organised in a very different way. In my view, it is quite impossible to impose by legislation any system of democratic control which will not create more problems than it solves.
Let us take the speeches that we have heard from this side of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that most of the speakers here failed to understand the purpose of the Bill. I would suggest that the experience of trade union democracy, which has been behind the speeches of my noble friends, and the understanding that my noble friends have of the real purposes of this Bill has been illustrated as being far more pertinent than the speeches that we have heard from the Government Benches. Let me take the list. We have had my noble friend Lord Scanlon from the engineers; we have had my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield from the miners; we have had my noble friends Lord Houghton and Lord Bottomley speaking for two sections of the Civil Service; we have had the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Fallowfield, from the distributive workers; and we had that important contribution from my noble friend Lord Beswick about the airline pilots. Just that simple list of five or six unions, well represented by spokesmen on this side of the House, represents a vast complex of different 1334 constitutions and of different ways of managing democratic procedures.
If we think only of that list, and leave aside the many other trade unions that there are, I envisage that a mountain of difficulty is before us if we try to apply the methods proposed in this Bill. Given that complexity, in my view it is impossible to legislate for simplicity without running foul of a multitude of traditions, customs and well-tried procedures which are embodied in centuries of trade union history. It is for that reason that I believe that Part I will also fail.
I should now like to turn to my personal experience in democracy in commercial affairs, not because I have had any experience of organising trade union elections, but because I have experience in the broadly comparable sphere of democracy in the co-operative movement. Enshrined in the co-operative principles is that of one man, one vote, and that is accepted by co-operators throughout the world. Wherever it is possible, that principle is implemented by co-operators. But, like the trade union movement, our co-operative movement has grown enormously from its small beginnings, when simple democracy was possible, into a vast complex of businesses in insurance, banking, wholesaling, farming, and many other spheres. I know from practical experience that it would be utterly impossible to impose on that complex set of working-class organisations a uniform system of democratic elections.
Of course, what happens is that co-operators devise their own methods of election—their own systems of democracy. They register their rules with the registrar, who takes a pragmatic view as to whether they represent the methods of a proper co-operative society. That I suggest is the only practical way of applying democracy in the trade union movement which, likewise, is a multi-million membership of a voluntary organisation. In my view, any attempt to make them conform to stereotype patterns—as this Bill is attempting to do—is bound to fail.
If one steps back from this Bill and looks at society as a whole, one is bound to ask the Government: "If it is democratic control that you want, why single out the trade unions?" The point has been made by a number of my noble friends. Trade union democracy is indeed imperfect, but there are plenty of other examples around of imperfections in the commercial sphere. Building societies have quite rightly been described as self-perpetuating oligarchies. Why not introduce some form of greater democracy there by legislation if it were possible?
Our company law gives scarcely any power to the small investor in practice, whatever the general theory may be. The stock exchange is no shining example of accountability. As my noble friend Lord McCarthy did, we could go through the whole gamut of social and commercial institutions which are imperfect in their democracy.
Therefore, I repeat my question: why pick on the trade unions? We, of course, know the answer. The Government are wedded to the doctrine of the freedom of the market place. They see trade union power and trade union practices as obstructing the free play of market forces. Therefore, in this series of attacks, in 1980 and 1982, now in 1984 and with 1335 perhaps more to come, the Government are seeking to strip the unions of their basic powers. That is the purpose of this Bill, and my noble friends have not been mistaken in pointing to that as being the purpose of the Bill. The Government will no doubt succeed in putting this Bill on the statute book. But I believe that as to their hope of suppressing trade union power, it is for certain that in the long run they will fail in that objective.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, at this time in the evening, with an important debate with 16 speakers to follow, I intend to be brief. First, may I say that I agreed with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby made—that it is unfortunate that at this stage, in the middle of a major industrial dispute, we should be discussing this Bill. But the Government are not to blame. It was part of their programme, and it is perhaps a matter of chance that it has come on at this time. There is perhaps never a right time, because there is always something going on in industry which makes it difficult to discuss a Bill of this sort.
During the debate it has been made absolutely clear, without a shadow of doubt at all, that the House is completely divided, as it was on the two Employment Bills of 1980 and 1982. I recall them both, as Members of the House must do, having taken part in both of them. I must say at this stage to the Government that those two earlier Bills have done very little indeed to improve industrial relations in this country. Nevertheless, the Government's objective was to introduce more democracy, or electoral democracy, into the trade union movement, and in that respect of course we support them.
Her Majesty's Opposition stand exactly where they have always stood, squarely behind the trade union movement, rightly or wrongly. The Opposition may understand that attitude, and I think I understand it, but I am quite sure that the country does not. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, made the position clear when he said that the Labour Party is a child of the trade union movement, as indeed it is. I understand it; I do not think that the country does.
There has been much talk in this Chamber recently about programmes and manifestoes from the Government Bench, and promises from the Opposition Front Bench of what is likely to be included in their programme when the next general election takes place. I should like to make our position clear to the house at this stage by, if I may, reading a short quotation from the programme of the Alliance during the last general election, which said:Employee democracy in industry can only be extended if trade unions are made genuinely representative of their members since they are bound to have an important role in participation".That is where we stand. That is what we believe. We support the Bill in the main but, as my noble friend Lord Rochester pointed out, we have a number of reservations which will be made clear during the Committee stage.
We are certainly of the opinion that there would be little public fear or worry about the power of the trade 1336 union movement, or the strength of the trade unions, if the so often self-appointed leadership truly reflected the views of the majority of the membership. The question that is generally asked in public is, do they? If anyone has any doubt about that, let them attend public meetings these days in connection with any of the local or national by-elections when the questions come up.
The Alliance believe that people who wish to do so have the right to join a trade union. But equally we believe—and this was made clear in the two debates in 1980 and 1982—that those who do not wish to join a trade union have the right not to do so, and have the right to be protected. We believe too that, so far as is practicable—and it is not clear in every case, and it is not made as simple as A. B. C in every case—the individual trade unionist should have the right to choose his executive officers and to choose them by ballot; and, we think, by secret postal ballot.
It has been argued in the debate this afternoon that a postal ballot would never work; that ballot papers would be sent out to many hundreds of thousands of trade unionists who would not return them. May I remind the House that if we get a 74 or 75 per cent, result in a general election we are doing pretty well, and therefore one could hardly anticipate getting much more. If we got 50 to 56 per cent, of people replying and sending in their ballot papers, I would regard it as an absolute success. In Part I, we would support secret postal ballots, which we think are preferable to handing out a batch of ballot papers at the place of work. We are not suggesting that they would be misused, but they could be, and might be.
We are concerned about trade union effects in the public services. We are of the opinion that so far as is possible—and I repeat, so far as is possible, because it may not be possible on every occasion—we should use arbitration; statutory arbitration, where it is possible. In this respect. I should like to pay tribute to ACAS for the work that they are doing and endeavouring to do in all cases of industrial dispute.
As I said at the beginning. I am not going to take up very much time, but I must refer to Part III of the Bill because—and I have seen different figures—a fair figure would be that something like 95 per cent, of all trade unionists pay the political levy. Do they consciously all pay the political levy, or do they just say "Yes" when they join the trade union movement of their choice? In my view, there is no way of dealing with this problem other than by the trade unionist contracting in to pay a political levy, rather than the present position where he pays it unless he contracts out.
In this respect, I must refer to what has been described as the long and detailed consultation between Government and the trade union movement about Part III of the Bill. What did it come up with? It came up with a proposal that after something like 70 years there is no change, except that every 10 years they will decide whether or not the political fund should be reformed. That is the only change. It makes one rather suspicious. What was the deal? What was the whole consultation about? Did the question of contracting-in not arise? Did the Government sell out on that point simply to get agreement on something 1337 else? We are particularly anxious to hear what happened in that respect.
The present trade union system is anything but completely democratic. I have spoken in this House on the occasions when we have debated the two earlier Bills and have paid tribute to the National Union of Mineworkers for its system of balloting, which at that time required a 55 per cent, result in favour of a strike or whatever action was being contemplated. That has now been reduced to a simple majority—I should think constitutionally reduced to that figure. But why, in heaven's name, (I do not want to talk about the industrial trouble at the moment) did the union not then hold a ballot, having achieved the necessary machinery to do so? These things make one wonder. There are things within the trade union movement that worry a great many people. They worry people such as myself.
I was a member of a trade union for well over 40 years, until I reached the point when I had to retire. There is no pleasure for me, or for many of the rest of us, to see brother trade unionists righting each other over some point or another. It has happened before, and we do not particularly like it. Whether this Bill will go some way in terms of democratic action which will make less trouble between the unions is a moot point. I do not know; it may. or it may not. We shall support this Bill and, when the time comes, we shall try with others to make improvements at the Committe stage. We shall do so with the object of making the trade unions a respected and an understood part of the work of this country and its people. At the present, I am afraid, they are not.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, the noble Earl when he introduced this Bill adverted to the fact that he has been here before with similar measures. Indeed that is true, but 1 was disappointed that today did not bring about a recurrence of the usual opening. In 1979, introducing the orders of that year, he said on 25th July:In the words of the old song: 'Something's got to give'; and in our case it is the ability of our economy to sustain, without the raging inflation which has the same job-destroying effects in the end, the levels of employment to which we have become accustomed".—[Official Report, 25/7/1979; col. 1942.]He came in with a song in his heart. The same was true in 1980. In 1980, introducing the Employment Bill, he said that it was an ambitious measure and he continued:As Professor Higgins said of Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady', 'By Jove, she's got it!'"—[Official Report, 20/5/1980; col. 736.]I have waited for tonight's song, but it did not come. I thought that perhaps, as he surveyed the efforts of the Government on industrial relations legislation of the last five years, the noble Earl would be forced to come in with yet another anti-trade union measure and—as we all know with more to come until they have got it right—with a classic rendering of the Rolling Stones' "I Can't Get No Satisfaction". The Government's position appears to be that they are always coming back for more.
Indeed there was no clear theme behind the Government tonight, I fancied, about why this measure is necessary. On this side of the House, I 1338 venture to suggest that there were two things. First, there was a clear restatement, as my noble friend Lord Oram stated clearly, that the vast majority of working men and women in this country rely for the standard of their livelihood and for their freedom upon the collective strength and reality that supplements their individual weakness. That truth is the same today as it was in better days of the economy.
Secondly, the contributions of my noble friends, which again my noble friend Lord Oram listed—those of Lord Scanlon, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, Lord Bottomley, Lord Allen of Fallowfield, Lord Beswick—demonstrated the variety which was representative of the British trade union movement, as it would be of any democratic movement; the variety of practice and the approach to democracy that members were entitled to decide the way in which their organsation was to be governed. When contrasting that with the Bill, we find that its first characteristic in Part I is a dogmatic assertion that only one form of direct election to the National Executive through the constrictive procedures of Clause 2 is what the Government will allow to be democracy for trade unions.
It has been put to the Government before and I want to put it to the noble Earl again tonight that this is not in accordance with our obligations under the International Labour Organisation conventions. The noble Earl will know that I refer to Convention 87 of the Conventions on Freedom of Association, the Right to Organise, to which this country adhered many years ago. It was one of the first to adhere to it. Article 3 gives to workers and employers' organisations,the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom"—and—public authorities shall refrain from any interference".When this has been put to the Government in debates in another place on this Bill the Government have replied in this way—and I quote the Minister of State on 8th November at col. 233. He said:in its general survey on the application of conventions and the freedom of association, the committee of experts of the ILO said that when legislation contained rules intended to promote democratic principles in trade union organisations, or to ensure that the electoral procedure is conducted in a normal manner and with due respect for the rights of members, such provisions do not involve a violation of the principles of the freedom of association".— [Official Report, Commons, 8/11/1983; col. 233.]He justified the measure on that basis, as well he might, because that is an almost direct quotation from paragraph 168 of the Fifth Report of the Committee of Experts of the ILO in 1983. But why do the Government stop reading at paragraphs 168 to 169? If they go on to paragraph 172—this is the authoritative statement from the ILO that I wish to put to the noble Earl—they will find it stated:The Committee considers that legislation which regulates in detail the internal election procedures of trade unions is incompatible with the rights of trade unions recognised by Convention No.87.".What is this legislation but detailed legislation on the internal election procedures of trade unions? Do the Government abide by Convention No. 87 or will they denounce that ILO convention as they denounced conventions Nos. 94 and 26 to get rid of fair wages resolutions and protection for the low paid: 1339 international labour standards to which this country was proud to adhere for many years, a tradition sullied by the denunciation of conventions which are literally recognised by countries from Swaziland to Sarawak? What will the Government do about Convention No. 87? Do they accept that detailed internal legislation on elections, as the committee authoritatively states, is a breach of the convention or not?
That is not merely a legalistic point upon an international convention. It is a point which sums up, at the level of international labour standards, the experience which my noble friends have been giving to your Lordships' House tonight. The ILO is nothing more than the collective and distilled wisdom of employers, governments and labour movements throughout the world. It is putting to governments the care that they must take not to infringe the fundamental civil liberties which we are quick enough to prate about in Gdansk but which apply just as much in Grimsby as they do the other side of the Iron Curtain.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, can the noble Lord think of a single job or a single piece of wealth that the ILO has ever created?
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
Yes, my Lords, I canindeed. It is by giving standards throughout the world to governments that would otherwise accept the exploitation of workers. If the noble Earl, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, is denouncing the International Labour Organisation, if he is now saying that, let him say it. Let him say that the Government wish to denounce the ILO as never having contributed to the wealth of workers throughout the world. Is that what he is saying?
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I am not denouncing any organisation. All that I am saying is that the noble Lord, with his customary skill, is drawing an international red herring over a sensible and local provision.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, I will accept the noble Earl's compliment as to skill. But he must look at the text and he must decide whether or not the Government are going to accept that judgment on the convention throughout the rest of the debates on this Bill.
Secondly, there is another curiosity about the way in which these matters are discussed. There is a special technique which is applied to trade unions. It is done in the Green Paper of 1983, in paragraph 12, which begins:Public confidence is inevitably eroded when allegations are made of forgery, ballot rigging and other corrupt practices".That is what has happened tonight. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox. the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, all, in their own way, have attacked and treble-criticised the trade union movement, or parts of it, for gerrymandering, for—
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, if I may finish the sentence, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, spoke of gerrymandering. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, spoke of malpractices and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also spoke about malpractices. She nearly gave an illustration. But we can read Hansard and see how many illustrations were given. My point is that for the number of occasions that the charge is made, the number of illustrations is minimal.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I did use the expression "political gerrymandering". It was only because the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon—and he will confirm it—suggested that Her Majesty's Government were guilty of such practice in producing this Bill. I was suggesting, with great respect to the noble Lord, that he had stood the problem on its head. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, it is not really right to suggest that I am accusing the trade unions of gerrymandering. Quite the reverse. He knows that 1 support the trade unions as a responsible institution and always have done.
§ Lord Wedderburn of Charlton
My Lords, the fault is entirely mine. I understood the noble Lord wrongly and I am glad that he accepts that there is not any case of gerrymandering proven in that area. For the rest, we can read Hansard. My point is that there are no examples given. There is the case of someone who boasts of having filled up 129 ballot papers. Really, if one had to go into court on evidence of this sort, one would simply be laughed out of court. And noble Lords know it. There really cannot be any case for control of trade union rules for elections based upon malpractice. The Freedom Association has tried very hard.
Contrast the sort of pictures that one finds elsewhere in the history of trade union movements. If you look at the United States in the 1950s, you find an unhappy state of affairs of massive corruption and malpractice and it was proven and the Landrum Griffin Act ensued. I may mention to the noble Earl, while he is about it, that the Landrum Griffin Act is a control of labour union electoral practice in the United States which is one of the reasons why that govenment would be unable to ratify Convention No. 87.
Another reason is given—although it has been played rather softly tonight; but we shall hear it in Committee—and that is that trade unions need this control like some kind of bridle because they enjoy immunities. This is ground that we have gone over before but this time the Minister of State on the 8th November surpassed himself, at col. 235 by saying:The link between immunities and democracy must be absolute".It is useful to ask what these immunities are. First of all. it is curious that new controls should be introduced on the ground that there are immunites at a time when the Government have reduced these so-called immunities to a level which one would have thought was as near to the ground as you can get.
Secondly, the only two immunities of which we are speaking are, first the defence of trade unions against the doctrine of restraint of trade which would otherwise make them unlawful associations, which has been there since 1871, and, secondly, the protection of 1341 an act of a person—any person, the noble Earl might notice, because he spoke of trade union immunities in trade disputes; and it is an immunity for any person—who is acting in a way which would cause a breach of a contract in a trade dispute which, if the protection were not there, would make all withdrawals of labour on a concerted basis unlawful.
So we are speaking about the two things which in other countries are called the right to associate—the law would otherwise make trade unions unlawful—and the right to withdraw labour, which would otherwise be common law liability for inducing a breach of contract. No Frenchman or Italian on either side of the political divide would regard it as anything other than humorous that someone should suggest that trade unions, because they have this great privilege of associating together and organising withdrawals of labour, should therefore subject their rules about elections to the whim of Her Majesty's Government. That is an absurd proposition. It is only the rather crazy history of British labour law which introduces the word "immunity" which allows for the argument to be made.
There is a perhaps even more important parallel on which the Government try to rely and on which they cannot. That, the noble Earl put forward by saying (I think more than once; but I noted it once) that companies were subjected, under the Companies Acts, to safeguards of a parallel kind. With great respect, that is not true. As far as the election of the board of directors is concerned. Table A to the 1948 Companies Act can be displaced. Companies have a wide discretion as to the manner in which the board would be elected. Only one section is a parallel; and that is Section 184 of the 1948 Act which allows the ordinary resolution of the general meeting of shareholders to dismiss a director. There is that one parallel. So far as the electoral process is concerned, there is nothing.
Of course, if we looked at malpractice, if the Government really wanted to legislate on malpractice, there is a whole history of inspectors' reports to which they could turn. And if we are looking for immunities, the biggest immunity enjoyed by anybody in this country today is that of limited liability. Those of us who pay our debts to the full are contrasted with those, and those organisations, who avoid millions, and hundreds of millions, of pounds-worth of debt by limited liability. That is not the same parallel control of companies. If the noble Earl would like to have a Bill presented, through him, for a parallel, I would be happy to do so.
Nor is it true—to take one point that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, made—that there is any evidence that particular forms of control in organisations like trade unions necessarily produce any particular result. I myself would not want to rely upon such an argument because I do not think one ought to legislate to get a result. But it appears that it is not even true that that is the case, as the recent book of Roger Undy and Roderick Martin showed. It would be better, I think, for the Government to rely on the research on ballots of 1984 than, as my noble friend Lord McCarthy suggested, the rather antiquated research of 1952 by Dr. Goldstein.
1342 Nor is it true; as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, suggested, that the Donovan Report supports Part I of the Bill. Without reading them all, I may say to him that if we look at paragraphs 640 to 641 of the Donovan Report we find—and I shall quote just a sentence; for I do not think I am carrying him with me—that it says:No rules, however elaborate, would be proof against organised fraudulent and determined rigging of an election such as occurred in the case of the electrical trade union in 1959 but a great deal could be done by filling gaps in existing rules to reduce the possibility of election irregularities.".I pause to say that it just is not true to say that trade unions have done nothing in the last few years. In the last 10 years at least 10 major trade unions have revised their constitutions in very radical ways. That is quite apart from the mere incidence of amalgamation.
The Donovan Report went on to say something which must be said and which I do not think has been said in the debate so far. It pointed out:Dependent as trade unions are on voluntary labour to a large extent, it cannot be expected that their elections will be conducted impeccably in every detail".It is a fact of life that voluntary organisations such as trade unions, which rely in many cases upon the voluntary work of lay officials, cannot be expected to get the precise detail of a parliamentary election. Indeed, about two years ago, Sir John Boyd said that the AUEW should be congratulated on having a clear register of more than 800,000 of its one million members. He made the case in a passage that is well known to those who have studied the subject—it must be available to the Government—in quite a clear way. The Government must know that, for a trade union with a million members, Clause 2 is a series of trip wires. Of course they know. It is a jungle of man traps to any large union and certainly to even a small union with mobility of labour in its industry and a shifting membership.
Part II of the Bill imposes a ballot. I shall confine myself to saying only two or three things about it. First, it marks the giant step that we have taken away from Donovan. Even in 1971 the package that was put forward by the Conservative Government at the time at least ostensibly relied—and its authors really believed that it relied—on the Donovan philosophy. This Bill does not rely on the Donovan philosophy, as can be shown by a simple illustration. In the Donovan era, if one weighted the law any way, one usually weighted it against unofficial action and for official action. Although I have been at odds with some friends as to exactly how that should or should not be done, nevertheless, if one were going to weight it in any way, that surely has something to commend. But this Bill weights the law in favour of unofficial action. It is the unofficial action which retains the trade disputes immunity whether or not there is a ballot. And the trade union—and, my Lords, let us note, the trade union and its officials, because they lose the immunity, too—loses the immunity if there is no ballot, if there is no ballot within the precise procedures of Clause 7 as it now is, and if more than four weeks have passed when action is called after such a ballot. It is a ballot, as my noble friend Lord McCarthy has said, with the loaded question which has to be, "Will you take part in the action in breach of your contracts of employment?"
1343 It is a curiosity of our employment law that in industrial action there is a breach of the employment contract. In most modern systems the employment contract is suspended. But the Government are building upon the curiosity that in Britain the employment contract is technically broken in strike or other industrial action and they demand that workers be asked by their union. "Will you come out in breach of your contracts of employment?" Of course that is an intimidatory question and the Government know it. It is a loaded question. When the workers of Germany voted by 80 per cent, in favour of yesterday's strikes for a 35-hour week, true, they did something that has been put up to us very often as a model. They did so in an orderly way in a ballot, but they did not have to vote on a loaded question set by the Government. That is a measure of the way in which the Government are moving to an autocratic labour relations law.
Nor indeed is it clear what the Government mean by including in Part II of the Bill industrial action which either breaks a contract of employment or interferes with it. I confine myself to saying this. It is not yet clear what it is that a worker is not entitled to do in the Government's eyes if it is not a breach of his contract of employment. In Committee we shall press for the removal of this doctrine of interference from Part II of the Bill because it is quite plainly a covert way of extending liabilities beyond those that necessarily currently exist.
In Part III of the Bill my noble friends have illustrated the ways in which the autocratic and non-democratic approach of the Government is sustained. Those of my noble friends who commented, as many did, on the natural way in which trade unions have a political role to play, will find that the ILO again is in agreement with them. Perhaps the noble Earl the Minister, when he is looking at the Fifth Report of the Committee of Experts, would like to look at paragraph 195 as well, where he will rind spelt out at length the reason why trade union movements in the modern world cannot avoid being involved in.
matters of general interest—i.e. "political" in the broadest sense of the word".In this country, again, the Government are building upon a curiosity. What is curious about our structure? What is curious is that in 1910 in the Osborne case the Judicial Committee of this House, in one of the most biased decisions ever taken by it. decided that, because the definition of a trade union in the 19th century statutes did not mention political activity, trade unions could not lawfully adopt that role. It is little known, although most of my noble friends will probably know it. that it was the trade union movement that invented the political fund. It was the trade union movement between 1910 and 1912 which invented separate funds, which the judges then struck down again and again as not being sufficient. Therefore it was that that was ratified in the 1913 compromise whereby trade unions, and trade unions alone, are permitted political rights only if they have a separate fund, only if members can contract out, and only if that fund is established by a ballot.
Now when the noble Earl the Minister says that nothing in this Bill changes anything after 1913, of course I understand that he did not mean that it made 1344 no changes, or else it would not have been introduced. The noble Earl was arguing that the structure is the same. But. my Lords, with great respect, the structure is not entirely the same and even if it were, since we are questioning fundamental things and asking fundamental questions, why should it be that the trade union alone has to satisfy these conditions before it is allowed political activity of any kind? What about partnerships and what about co-operatives? I do not make the point against co-operatives or for them. What about companies?—that is the usual one. What about building societies and all sorts of organisations which will have their own ways of being limited but not this sort of special statutory structure? Let us clear one thing out of the way. It is not true that companies suffer from the same kind of limitation. All that companies suffer is under Section 19 of the 1967 Act, whereby they must disclose political payments which have already been made with charitable donations over £200 in total. Even the Police Federation seems to be in a position superior to the ordinary trade union.
Any changes to put further limitations on trade unions are a denial of democratic rights. One cannot base the argument on figures if they are not right. With great respect to the noble Lord. Lord Aylestone, the figure for payments to the trade union levy is not 95 per cent, of all trade union members, but is 81 per cent, of the 63 unions with a political fund. As some of my noble friends have said, there are many trade unions which do not have a political fund and for them the alteration in the definition of political objects is perhaps even more important than for those unions which have a political fund in their make-up.
In 1980 the Post Office Engineering Union contributed to a campaign called "a Campaign against the Cuts". It made its donation from the general fund. It was challenged by a member, and the challenges in the past few years, as everyone knows, have increased because the Freedom Association and other organisations have been looking for cases to take, and have said to the certification officer that they are brought by members of the Freedom Association. But in this case the certification officer applied the law as it is and as it was stated to be in the great guiding case of Funster in 1925—a case with which the noble Lord will be perfectly familiar, on this basis. I now quote the chief registrar inForster's case, who said:Political as it is used in this section"—the definition section of political objects—is not the adjectival form of polity, but the adjectival form of party politics.The Government have changed that definition and extended it. First, they have knocked out the exception for the so-called statutory objects: that is to say, the exception that used to be there for expenditure on mainly industrial purposes. Secondly, they have made a number of other changes, and on Second Reading it is important to mention an important one; that any expenditure:that seeks to persuade any person to vote or. as the case may be, not to vote for a political party or candidate".is within the area of political expenditure now. It was not necessarily so before. That was because as the Colman case showed and as the POEU case showed you could make donations or spend money on general 1345 social issues. So if I may treat the matter dramatically, in fact the Government have now changed "political" from the adjectival form of party politics into the adjectival form of policy, because anything that can be seen as seeking to persuade a person to vote or not to vote for any party would be within the clause.
It has therefore rendered as a prohibited area the entire area of social controversy for unions that do not have a political fund. This is not just a small change from the 1913 scheme. For those unions which do not have a political fund it is a monstrous prohibition upon their civil and political rights. What right have the Government to tell a Civil Service union that it cannot make a donation out of its general fund to a general campaign in regard to environmental or similar issues that may be reflected in the party political programme of one party or another? The Government are acting without any evidence of any kind of abuse. They have not even made a case for abuse. They have taken the opportunity under cover of updating the definition—because that is what the Secretary of State said—to introduce this fundamental change.
If there is so little ground for the Bill, why on earth is it brought forward? The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said that it was to save the trade unions from themselves. He said: "Look at the United States". The noble Lord is no longer in his place but I am sure he will not mind if I say in reply to him that, looking at the United States, you find that trade unionism is somewhere about 20 per cent, of the density of the labour-force, and dropping. The whole point of the United States industrial relations is the new practice of de-unionising enterprises; and that is what we will get next in this country. In this country, considering the recession in jobs, the trade union movement has maintained a remarkable degree of density of membership in the workforce.
The reasons for this measure, for the next measure, and for the last two measures, as my noble friend Lord McCarthy suggested, are to be found in that area of writing which the Prime Minister referred to on 10th March 1981 at col. 756 of Hansard (if anybody is interested in reading it) where she said people should look at these writings; she had great admiration for them and in fact they were absolutely supreme. Those writings say that the chief causes of inefficiency, poverty and unemployment are the privileges and force used by trade unions, which are rapidly destroying the economic order, provoking a critical test of democracy and unless unions are deprived of their coercive power an economic recovery for Great Britain is impossible. Instead of just giving phrases, as I have been doing, I will quote a full sentence—So there can be no salvation for Britain until these special privileges granted to trade unions three-quarters of a century ago are revoked.".All those questions, of course, are from Professor Hayek, to whom my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield adverted. They are the basis of Government policy. I do not know why anyone should be coy about it. The Government's economic advisers believe that one of the major causes of unemployment is trade union organisation. They think that trade unions are an obstacle in the market-place. They believe that is so and the longer trade unions are there with effect, the 1346 longer they will go on until, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said they would do, they get it right. On this philosophy, they must reduce trade unions to a point where they have no influence of any appreciable kind; and as these legislative measures rain upon the labour movement like the cutlasses of the cavalry in St. Peter's Field 165 years ago, the Government will go on not creating one job through them, not solving one industrial crisis through them, contributing nothing to the national prosperity through them, and in a word, my Lords, that is why, as my noble friend Lord Allen said, the nation will return soon to consultation and co-operation; and that is why these measures must be repealed.
§ 8.5 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I am not going to be tempted too far by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, to try and define what the signature tune or special song of this particular piece of legislation should be. Various Members of your Lordships' House might propose some various tunes, such as, for instance, Sir Harry Lauder's "Keep Right on to the End of the Road". Or, since the Rolling Stones were mentioned, we might have the more co-operative song of the Beatles, "I Wanna Hold your Hand" where democratic and electoral procedures are concerned. For myself—I think the House will forgive me if I relapse into the role of Minister for the Arts and financier of grand opera just for a moment—I would prefer the great duet between Florestan and Leonora in "Fidelio", just after the prisoners are liberated.
Throughout this debate, noble Lords opposite—in fact I will redefine that and say "noble Lords on the Labour Benches"—have consistently failed to understand that the impetus, the dynamic and the mandate for this legislation come from trade union members themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, talked about the Government's paranoic hatred of trade unions, and he said:First destroy the trade unions and then you destroy democracy".But while I find that a thoroughly offensive idea in connection with this Government, and assuming for the sake of argument that the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, will not take assurances from me, whom does he find supporting this legislation from the Government in this House, let alone in the greater world outside it? He finds the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, a former Labour Chief Whip, who delivered that speech sitting beside the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, a former Labour Chief Secretary of the Treasury. Does he think that Mrs. Williams, Mr. Rodgers, and Dr. Owen are all in thrall to Professor Hayek?
It really is not good enough to try and discover the roots of this legislation in some, to my mind, sensible and interesting current philosophical deliberations in the field of political science. I am delighted to argue political science with the noble Lord here, or in the bar, any time he wishes; but I think he knows perfectly well that that political science is not at the core of these legislative proposals.
I do not think I could put it better—and I am sorry to find myself in what is to be a genuine, but unnatural, alliance, so to say, for a brief period of time—than as 1347 it was put by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, who said, talking about some union traditions and habits: "These things do worry a great many people." My Lords, they not only worry a great many people in the Conservative Party, but they worry a great many people in the Labour Party—who have accordingly left it, and who deserted it in droves at the general election; and they also worry a great many people in the trade union movement itself.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, cited the phrase—and others have also done so—Give the unions back to their members".The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, asked: When were they taken from them? But as a Nottinghamshire miner, perhaps the noble Lord could ask that question of his later colleagues. Again, my noble friend Lord Renton put it very pithily, when he said that noble Lords opposite have failed to face up to the dissatisfaction of their own members. He answered the objections of the noble Lords, Lord Bottomley, Lord Oram, and Lord Allen of Fallowfield, who simply lapsed into a somewhat Pavlovian or automatic response of thinking that this is some kind of Tory attack on the unions. The real opposition that the Government are facing in respect of this legislation comes from behind me, not from in front of me. That is well illustrated by the immensely powerful and able speech of my noble friend Lady Cox, to which I shall return in just a few moments.
Before I leave the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, so to say, I must say that I should not have been teased by him about the ILO. I should be too old a hand now to rise to my feet on those occasions. But while I admire it, I find an almost colossal irrelevance in the noble Lord's citing of these international issues to legislation as modest as this. If the noble Lord wants a technical answer, he knows what my honourable friend the Minister of State has said in another place.
But I can add a little flesh to it, as he challenged me to do, because my understanding is that so far as Article 3 of the Convention 87 is concerned, it is clear that the basic aim is to protect trade unions against interference by Governments with the right of trade unions inter alia to elect their representatives in full freedom. The types of interference which have been criticised by the ILO supervisory bodies as being in contradiction of this right have been, for example, that the legislation contains unduly detailed rules relating to trade union elections, and even provides for intervention by the authorities in the supervision of the electoral process; that the legislation provides for the approval or ratification of the results of trade union elections by the Minister of Labour, or that at least part of the executive committee shall be nominated by the public authorities; or, again, that the legislation provides for the obligatory presence of labour inspectors or other public officials during voting, or for their participation in the counting of votes.
In fact, cases in which the legislation of other countries provides for secret ballots for trade union elections are frequent, and in some countries—for instance, Australia and Japan—it is the constitution or rules of the union that must provide for secrecy in the election of trade union leaders. In most cases where 1348 secret ballots are necessary the sole purpose of this requirement is to ensure the application of democratic principles and, in particular, respect the right of every member to make his choice in full freedom. To this extent, such provisions have not given rise to criticism by the supervisory bodies. The quotation referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, might apply if the Bill laid down detailed rules and requirements on every aspect of trade union elections. But it does no such thing. It merely lays down basic fundamental democratic principles, and the noble Lord knows that perfectly well.
The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, gave a charactistic bravura performance and he, like the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, has nothing to learn about debating techniques. It was, however, the wretched, and no doubt lamented, Mr. Goldstein, rather than myself, who caught the full fury of his academic scorn—a tornado of High Table abuse. But there was no mention in the noble Lord's splendid speech of the evidence of last year's elections within the ASTMS, in which fewer than 2 per cent, of the union's members voted. There was not a word about the appalling level of participation in branch meetings disclosed in the workplace industrial relations survey.
The House will remember that in my opening speech I invited noble Lords opposite to answer a number of specific questions. I asked them whether they objected to union members being able to vote for their leaders in a secret ballot. I asked them whether they objected to union members being asked whether they want to strike before being ordered to do so. I asked them whether they objected to union members being able to vote without interference or constraint. I think there is no more telling demonstration of the paucity of the official Opposition's case on this Bill than that not a single answer to any of those questions has been forthcoming—
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, may I finish the point? It is astonishing, too, that the posing of such questions, and our attempts to answer them, should be looked upon in this House as an attack on the trade union movement.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, I should like to make it quite clear in answer to all those questions—which I think the noble Earl will find I did answer, but I shall answer again—that we are not against any of those things in union rule books. We are against the Government attempting to impose their way of doing it through the law.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, this point has been made earlier in the House, and by more experienced people than I. It was my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway who reminded the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby—who, I remember, in 1980 was himself very aware of this point—that every chance had been given to trade unions to reform themselves. It is simply the reluctance of trade unions to do this, the reluctance of trade unions even to come into consultations on this issue with my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State, Mr. 1349 Tebbit; and it should not surprise anybody if we go on without them. But I do not myself accept that we are going on without them. I think that we are simply going on without the co-operation of the present generation of trade union leaders.
One of the key issues which has been raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Rochester and Lord Aylestone from the Liberal and Alliance Benches, and by my noble friends Lord De La Warr and Lord Onslow, is postal balloting. I mentioned a little earlier the immensely powerful and well-argued case put by my noble friend Lady Cox, and I shall certainly draw that speech and every aspect of it to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. No doubt my noble friend will be returning to some of the themes at a later stage.
There is no doubt that from many standpoints the ideal way of conducting an election ballot is by post. I do not believe that that removes all opportunities for malpractice, but there is little doubt that it is harder to rig a postal ballot than to rig a workplace ballot. But the House must be a little cautious—and I am grateful for the support given to me here by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway—in too hastily drawing conclusions from this fact.
The Government's view of the existing electoral procedures in most of our major unions is well-known. The methods of election in use, such as voting at branch meetings and the block vote, are guaranteed to reduce participation to a minimum and to distort the results. One need not be a daily reader of the works of Professor Hayek to take that view. But we do not suggest that trade unions in general go about operating these arrangements corruptly or fraudulently.
We are attempting, as I said in my opening speech, to bring about conditions where best practice can prevail; and I make that point particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. But I do not think there is any evidence to back up any general statement about corruption or fraudulence, and I should never make such a statement. I would ask the House not to assume that trade unions are incapable of conducting ballots in the proper way.
There are also two other relevant considerations, the first of which is turnout. I think few noble Lords on either side of the House would dispute the fact that the best guarantee of representative trade union leaders is that as many members as possible should take part in their election. But we must recognise that turnouts of the order of 40 to 50 per cent, and more are recorded in those unions which employ individual workplace ballots. By contrast, the turnout in the engineering union elections in 1982 was 23.7 per cent. Again, I tried to stress in my opening speech that we are dealing with the economics and the practices of the real world in this step-by-step process of legislation. We want to bring people with us each step of the way. That, rather than some indeterminate posture of threat, is what we are trying to achieve.
I believe that our first objective should be to raise the level of participation in union elections. The major change which the Bill will make is to force unions to abandon both the block vote and voting by show of hands at branch meetings, which are inevitably attended only by activists. It will be a great achieve- 1350 ment if the Bill boosts substantially the number of union members actually voting in elections. It was in the light of these and other considerations that we concluded that it was right for the Bill to allow for both workplace ballots and postal ballots. Your Lordships should note that I do not include branch ballots. These are quite clearly ruled out.
§ Lord Beswick
My Lords, in seeking this objective of a democratically elected national committee, is the noble Earl going to answer my question, in which I asked him how the proposals in the Bill which are to be imposed upon unions will improve the system now carried out by the British Airline Pilots' Association?
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, my understanding is that we have been in discussion, by correspondence, with the British Airline Pilots' Association. When I know the results of that discussion, I shall bring them to the attention of the noble Lord. However, as I said in my opening speech, the fact of the matter is that we are talking not about general malpractice but about bringing the rest up to the standard of the best. If the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, feels—and no doubt he has good reasons for doing so—that BALPA enjoys the best standards, they have nothing whatsoever to fear. I acknowledge, however, that this is not a simple issue. We shall give very careful consideration to the arguments which have been put forward today by those noble Lords who favour compulsory postal ballots, but our current view remains that a requirement which from the outset imposed postal ballots for all elections in all unions would be so impracticable as to negate the inherent desirability of the move.
The House gave me a good hearing at the beginning of the debate. While I am aware that one or two points of detail have been put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and others, perhaps I may take them up in correspondence and now make just one final point. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, took the Government to task for the 1980 and 1982 Acts, for making actionable, as he put it, closed shop agreements, secondary picketing, secondary action and what he, I thought a little quaintly, referred to as "the fair list"; in other words, the means by which the print unions sought to force non-union firms out of business. That is the famous "fair list".
I can only repeat that I very much welcomed what I believe the noble Lord, Lord Oram, said; or it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Botttomley, who took the view that the next Labour Government would repeal this legislation. At that election I enormously look forward to reading the manifesto of the party immediately opposite me. I wonder whether it will contain a pledge to bring back the flying picket, a pledge to restore the closed shop to the position in law which it enjoyed before 1980, and which led directly to this country being found in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. I wonder whether it will contain a pledge to repeal this Bill in order to give the block vote back to the British people, who are thirsting for it, a pledge to banish the ballot box from the realm, and a pledge to restore that most cherished of our freedoms, which is, of course, the right to vote by show of hands in the car park meeting, with militants packed at the front and the hands counted by 1351 stewards on the platform. That would be a nonsensical political programme. While it would give me no special displeasure, I must warn the party opposite that if they do campaign on that platform, they will have an even worse result than they did in 1983.
The plain truth is that the reforms in this Bill are, if anything, shamingly overdue. They are supported by not just the great mass of our people, but also the mass of trade unionists. For that reason they will endure, despite the wrath of the Labour Party. In that spirit, I would ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.