[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Trade Union Funding
Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative)
I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce on obtaining the debate. I am a member of Prospect trade union, and it does not give me any money for political campaigning, but I am publishing a pamphlet with Demos in the next couple of weeks, on relations between the unions and the Conservative party, and am deeply interested in the issue.
I want to make three points. First, I believe that it is wrong to lump all trade unions together. Secondly, as Mr Doran said, the Conservative party has a long history of co-operation with unions, on which we should build. Thirdly, we should do more to support the moderate majority of trade union members, most of whom are not political activists.
It is true that some trade unions get subsidies from the Government, as do banks. Yet many unions are, we should acknowledge, capitalist institutions, offering services that are intended directly to replace state provision, such as private health care. The market comparison website privatemedicalinsurance.co.uk shows that the Labour-affiliated union Unison has recently encouraged its members to join private health care schemes such as Medicash.
There are other examples. In 2001, The Daily Telegraph reported that 3.5 million trade unionists—more than half the TUC membership—now have some form of private health cover. That was 10 years ago. Since then the trade union movement has considerably professionalised and strengthened its private health care offer and other services, such as legal insurance. I suggest to my hon. Friends that we need to look at the reality of trade unions, not just the rhetoric of extreme militants.
Unions are still the largest membership associations in Britain. They are hugely more popular in membership terms than all the political parties combined.