HC Deb 16 April 1981 vol 3 c261W
Mr. Beith

asked the Attorney-General what were the grounds given in defence of Her Majesty's Government by the Solicitor-General when he appeared before the European Commission on Human Rights in the case relating to the three dismissed British Railways employees.

The Solicitor-General

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights in March of this year rather than the proceedings in July 1979 before the Commission, though the arguments I presented on these two occasions were essentially the same.

The submissions which I addressed to the Court were that Article 11 of the convention is concerned to guarantee freedom of association, including the right to form and join trade unions, and does not confer—and, as its drafting history shows, was never intended to confer—a right not to be compelled to join an association; that, accordingly, the matters complained of by the applicants in this case did not constitute a breach by the United Kingdom of article 11, nor was there, in respect of those matters, a breach of any of the other articles of the convention; and that British Rail is not an organ of the Government of the United Kingdom.

On behalf of the Government I expressly declined to rely on the argument advanced and relied upon by the Labour Government that what was done to these men, if it constituted an interference with their rights under article 11, was justified under paragraph 2 of that article as being necessary in a democratic society for any of the purposes specified in that paragraph. Neither this Government nor I have ever accepted that what was done could be justified on that or any other ground. On the contrary, I and many others of my colleagues condemned it at the time and have continued to do so ever since.

I also made it clear to the Court that we regarded what was done to these men, and the legislation which permitted it to be done, as absolutely disgraceful and that we had changed the law in this country to prevent it happening again. But that is not the same as saying that it was a violation of the convention, which we do not believe to be so.