Employment Bill [Lords]
Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye, Labour)
I must confess a prejudice. My prejudice is against the BNPthere are some other political parties that I do not like either, but I forgive them. The BNP are an obnoxious bunch, and many hon. Members agree. Fascists, like chameleons, change their appearances. My first concern is how unions can clearly define the sorts of organisations that are contrary to their purpose, although my hon. Friend the Minister has dealt with this point to some extent. I am grateful to him for defining the point about the term political party being wide enough so as not to be too prescriptive in excluding or including groups that are contrary to the purpose of trade unions.
I do not understand why trade unions should not be able, in the main, to do as they wantpolitical parties do. If one cannot join political parties in some parts of the countrythat is not so much the case these days but certainly was in the pastthat creates detriment. As political parties, we can decide who we want in our membership, and if someone has already joined a party whose views are inconsistent with ours, we do not have to take them on. Even the Fabian Society states that one must not be ineligible for membership of the Labour party, which means that one cannot be a Tory, because one cannot be a member of the Labour party if one is a Tory party member. Those sorts of thing seem to be obvious.
It seems perfectly proper that voluntary organisations should be able to exclude people who are not their fellow travellers. My worry is that that might still be too restrictive. We now know that the ECHR has decided that the right to association by the unions will, in all but one situation, lead to that having prominence over the human rights of the individual. The exception to that is laid out in proposed new subsection (4G), to which the Minister referred this morning, in cases where
the individual would lose his livelihood or suffer other exceptional hardship.
The loss of livelihood could never occur now because there are no longer such things as closed shops, so I am not sure what the exceptional hardship could be. I cannot think of an example in which exceptional hardship could be imposed on anyone simply because they could not join the club. This morning we heard all sorts of examples of inconvenience, such as not being able to go on holiday in the west country and losing the right to free legal advice, but exceptional hardship seems to be such a test that it is almost inconceivable that simply losing ones union membership could be so described, and we discussed that earlier.
Furthermore, the other issues set out in the new clauses that the House of Lords suggests are imposed make me worry about the possibility of significant litigation on some issues. An example is the business of the reasonable practicality of knowledge. What is the reasonable practicality of knowing whether the union had brought a policy that the new member did not know about? The test in proposed new subsection (4D) creates a test of reasonable practicality in the knowing of the objectivesit looks like a minefield. A BNP member might well find a fellow traveller who is happy to come along and say that he did not know about the objectives of the union. What will happen? Is the trade union to bring a bus-load of shop stewards and say that everybody should know about it if they turn up to their branch meetings? I just do not know why it is all necessary.
I have not tabled an amendment this afternoon. The Minister has worked really hard to strike the right balance in the Bill, and whatever he does, there will be people who will disagree with himhe has a tough job and I congratulate him on his efforts. As far as I can see, however, the bottom line is that the ECHR has made clear its point that under very rare circumstances onlyexceptional hardship, for examplea trade union might be unable to expel someone. Unless he knows of other such circumstances and if all the other provisions are simply window dressing designed to comply with what the House of Lords said, will he reconsider whether the provisions are necessary? Would it not be just as simple to return to the drafting in the original Bill? Might that not serve his purposes well and do what he has been trying to do throughout the Bill, which is to simplify and clarify employment legislation, so that the employeethe union member, in this caseknows precisely what is intended? Perhaps the BNP will not even bother to join unions in which they are not welcome.